Direct quotations

Sometimes when we’re talking to someone, we need or want to reference what someone else said, or when we want to say that someone thought something. In English, we would just say “X said…” or “X thought…” or something along those lines. How would we quote someone or a thought in Korean? Let’s find out!

There are five direct quotation endings, one for each of the four sentence types and one for 이다/아니다. If you’re familiar with 하십시오체 conjugation, you are already aware of the four sentence types because you cannot properly conjugate that high-formality form without knowing what type of sentence it is. The four sentence types are:

Declarative (statement)— 학교에 갑니다. (I go/am going to school.)

Interrogative (question)— 학교에 갑니까? (Do you go/are you going to school?)

Imperative (command)— 학교에 가십시오. (Go to school.)

Propositive (suggestion)— 학교에 갑시다. (Let’s go to school.)

Now, let’s see how we can make direct quotations with the different sentence types.


이다 / 아니다 — ~(이)라고

I’ll start with 이다 and 아니다 since they’re a bit of a special case! When they are used in the present tense, which includes their being used to make the future tense, you use ~(이)라고 to mark the quotation. ~이라고 is for when the noun it attaches to ends with a consonant, and ~라고 is used when the noun ends with a vowel. 이다 and 아니다 in the past tense are quoted using the normal declarative form.

한비 씨의 필통이라고 했어요. ([Subject] said it’s Hanbi’s pencil case.)

선생님은 이게 숙제가 아니라고 하셨어요. (The teacher said that this is not homework.)

제 이름은 스튜디어스비즈라고 합니다. (My name is StudiousBees.)

내일 갈 거라고 (것이라고) 했잖아. (I said I’ll go tomorrow.)

Note that I ended all of these sentences with the verb 하다. Direct quotes are followed by some sort of verb indicating speech, similar to how in English we might see something like, “’I’ll see you later,’ he said”. 하다 and 말하다 are perhaps the most common verbs to follow quotes with, but you can also play around with those and use more descriptive words like 외치다 (to scream/yell), 하품하다 (to sigh), and so on.

Declarative — ~(ㄴ/는)다고

The declarative direct quotation marker has three forms depending on if the verb is in past or present tense and, if it is in present tense, if it’s an action verb or a descriptive verb.


Regardless of whether the verb is an action or descriptive verb, if it is in past tense, it will simple use ~다고.

그 가방을 어제 샀다고 해요. (She says she bought that bag yesterday.)

꽃이 정말 예뻤다고 했어요. ([Subject] said the flowers were really pretty.)

그 빌딩은 공장이었다고 알려줬어요. ([Subject] told me/let me know that that building was a factory.)

Note how the last example uses 이다, but since it’s past tense, it follows the normal declarative rule!

PRESENT TENSE (action verbs) — ~ㄴ/는다고

Action verbs in present tense declarative sentences will take ~ㄴ다고 if the verb root ends with a vowel and ~는다고 if it ends with a consonant.

커피를 별로 안 마신다고 해요. ([Subject] says they don’t really drink coffee.)

아라 씨는 매년 일본 여행 간다고 해요. (Ara says she travels to Japan once a year.)

어머니는 의사한테 아기가 잘 먹는다고 했어요. (The mother told the doctor that the baby eats well.)

PRESENT TENSE (descriptive verbs) — ~다고

Descriptive verbs are easy! Just slap ~다고 on the end of a descriptive verb root.

오로라가 예쁘다고 들었어요. (I heard that the aurora is beautiful.)

아빠는 저 차가 너무 비싸다고 불평하셨어요. (Dad complained that that car is too expensive.)

고수가 맛없다고 생각해요. (I think cilantro is disgusting.)

Interrogative — ~냐고

To quote a question, just add ~냐고 to the verb root for present tense, or add it after the past tense conjugation for past tense. Action verbs and descriptive verbs are both treated the same way!

선생님은 학생들에게 숙제를 했냐고 물어봤어요. (The teacher asked the students if they did their homework.)

친구는 몇 시에 퇴근하냐고 물어봤어요. (My friend asked, “What time do you get off work?”)

파티가 재미있었냐고 물어봤어요. ([Subject] asked if the party was fun.)

Imperative — ~(으)라고

Only present tense action verbs can be used with the imperative (command) structure. Simply add ~으라고 if the verb root ends with a consonant or ~라고 if it ends with a vowel. It looks similar to the 이다/아니다 quotation form, but since they are used in entirely different ways, you will be able to tell the difference easily.

2시에 오라고 했어요. ([Subject] said, “Come at 2.”)

아버지는 아이에게 채소를 먹으라고 했어요. (The father told the child to eat vegetables.)

만지지 말라고요! (I said don’t touch it!)

Propositive — ~자고

Whew, almost done! Like with the imperative structure, only present tense action verbs can be used with the propositive (suggestion) structure.

규민 씨는 숙제를 같이 하자고 제안했어요. (Gyumin suggested, “Let’s do our homework together.”)

남친은 피자를 먹자고 했어요. (My boyfriend said, “Let’s eat pizza.”)

친구들에게 같이 가자고 했어요. (I said to my friends, “Let’s go together.”)


BONUS—Short forms

We can shorten all of the quotation forms up! This is done in speaking only.

  • 이다/아니다: ~(이)라고 –> ~(이)래
    • 한비 씨의 필통이라고 했어요. –> 한비 씨의 필통이래요.
  • Declarative: ~(ㄴ/는)다고 –> ~(ㄴ/는)대
    • 꽃이 정말 예뻤다고 했어요. –> 꽃이 정말 예뻤대요.
  • Interrogative:  ~냐고 –> ~냬
    • 선생님은 학생들에게 숙제를 했냐고 물어봤어요. –> 선생님은 학생들에게 숙제를 했냬요.
  • Imperative:~(으)라고 –> ~(으)래
    • 2시에 오라고 했어요. –> 2시에 오래요.
  • Propositive: ~자고 –> ~재
    • 규민 씨는 숙제를 같이 하자고 제안했어요. –> 규민 씨는 숙제를 같이 하재요.


This post got pretty long! Quotes are fairly simple to do if you can remember the forms for each of the sentence types. Using these forms in your speech will definitely help you sound more natural, and it will allow you to talk about a greater variety of things 🙂

Happy studying~