KGYSAK: 에 vs 에서

Thus begins the first of a series of simple grammar points that intermediate speakers should already know but for some reason still are not 100% confident on. What better way to start out this series than the bane of my linguistic existence:

에 versus 에서
(locative particles)
(조사 = particles)

I freaking hate these two. I mix them up and all they do is piss me off. Really.

The problem is complicated. "~에" is versatile and performs many functions. It can indicate time as in:
"다섯 시 반 끝나요" (It ends at 5:30)
"7시 약속 있는데" (I have plans at 7:00)
"지난 월요일 사무실에 안 갔어" (I didn't go to work last Monday)
"다음 달 시험 있어요?" (Do we have a test next time [class]?)

"~에서" wears many faces, too. When combined with "~까지", they form a cute little duo that help to indicate where and when someone is coming from and going to as in:
"7시에서 10시까지 수업 있어요" (I have class from 7pm to 10pm)
"KTX로 서울에서 부산까지 갈 수 있어요" (You can ride the KTX from Seoul to Busan)

I'm embarrassed that I even get them confused. I have been getting better at learning to use the proper one but still... One thing that I hear that helps to remember is that "~에서" is attached to a static location such as a restaurant, a room, a movie theater, swimming pool or home. But what, you say, is different between a location and a static location? Isn't it all just the same?

Yes. Basically.

For example, someone tells me that Starbucks is a static location (or an inanimate object) because it just sits there and can't move. This contrasts with a place that constantly moves like a car or your mother. Fair enough. I should use "~에서" As in "스타벅스에서 만나자!" (let's meet up at Starbucks!)

But then tell me why 서울 (Seoul) the city, the huge metropolis, the home of 18 million plus souls, is considered not a static location cause it can move, apparently. If you want to reference a place like Seoul, in this context, one must use "~에" as in "서울 만나자!" (let's meet up in Seoul!)

"Oh, simple Matthew..." you say with a grin, "..that's because in English "in" means "~에" and "at" means "~에서"." Okay smart guy. Let's try it, shall we?

"이화여자대학교에서 공부해요" (I study at Ewha)
"도서관에서 공부해요" (I study in the library) no...wait. (I study at the library) that right? how about (To the library I study)...umm.. what about (Library is the place in which I study) yeah that's better.

See my confusion and sarcasm? It's confusing because it's not a 1:1 translation. For the most part, "책" equals "book" and thus a 1:1 translation between English and Korean does occur. However, the same cannot be true for our little location particles. These simple little particles seems to mess me up all the time.

So, keep in mind that "~에' can mean (at, on, in, to) and "~에서" can mean (in, at, from) but not exclusively limited to these definitions. Think outside the box. Try thinking in Korean when trying to speak Korean instead of translating what you want to say from English to Korean. Easier said than done, I know. This is when I turn to rote memorization. My secret weapon and quite an effective one, I might add.

What do I commit to memory? This:

"~에서" is used with "만나다", "왔어" and other verbs
"~" is used with "있다" "없다" "가다" "오다" and other verbs.

Proper examples of "~에서" include:
"오늘 학교에서 싸웠어" (Today I fought at school)
"방금 공원에서 이효리 봤어" (I just saw Hyori Lee at the park)
"집에서 낮잠을 잤어요" (I took a nap at home)
"어디에서 왔어요?" (Where did you come from?)
"미국에서 왔어요." (I came from America)
"광화문역 오호선에서 만나래?" (Do you wanna meet up at Gwanghwamun Station Line 5?)
"중국에서 중국어를 배웠어요" (I learned Chinese in China)

Proper examples of "~에" include:
"지금 사무실 있어" (I'm at the office right now)
"내일 우리 집 오세요 (Tomorrow, come over to my house)
"어디 갔다왔어?" (Where did you go [just now]/[on vacation]?)
"호주 갔다왔어" (I went to [and came back from] Australia)
"어디 살아요?" (Where do you live?)
"한국 살고있어" ([Right now] I live in Korea [but it's just temporary])
"어제 현대백화점 갔어" (Yesterday, I went to [the] Hyundai Department Store)
"책상위 열쇠 있어" (The keys are on my desk)
"창문 앞 있어" (It's in front of the window)
"서울 사람이 많아" (There are a lot of people in Seoul)
"지금 형이 집 없다고?" (Did you say that your brother is not home right now?)
"집 가" (Go home)

But this doesn't always work. One can find contradictions to this 'rule' easily. If I were to translate "There are many flowers at the park" or "There are many beautiful women in Sinchon" can you guess what I use? That's right. I would break the 'rule' and use "~에". Thus, my rule is lame. I guess what really helps me is context. The more I hear "~에" and "~에서" being properly used in a Korean context, the more I understand it. When I do accidentally reverse them, it does seem kind of funny. One time I meant to say:
"집 왔어요" (I'm home [while talking on the phone to your wife])
but instead said this:
"집에서 왔어요" (I am a citizen of a place "HOME"; lit. I come from home)

And of course the part that just adds the icing to the already sour cake, "~에" isn't even needed sometimes. In some short sentences, just omit them. As in:
"학교 가자" (let's go to school)
"어디 있어?" (where is it?)

But it seems "~에서" is always needed and is never omitted.

FML. The first of many Korean Grammar You Should Already Know.

6 Responses to “KGYSAK: 에 vs 에서”

blueoceanpalm said...

I get super-frustrated with this one too. I tend to use ~에서 a lot with action verbs, but then there are always those pesky exceptions you mentioned. For example, is it 여기(에)서 앉으세요 or 여기에 앉으세요?

Matthew Smith said...

@blueoceanpalm - good to know that it's not just me who's confused :)

Oh and '여기(에) 앉으세요' is the correct one ^^

Anonymous said...

I came here randomly; you probably have this already cleared but just in case you don't:

I can put it simply,
에서 - This is a location where the verb [the action in the sentence] takes place.

X에서 Y까지 - This 에서 is following a different grammatical context and doesn't apply to this rule. Here it is more like a "from X to Y"

에 - This is just a location. Such as a location you are going to or where an item is.

Matthew Smith said...

@ kyohei - thanks for the input. I've been getting a lot better but I do still occasionally make this mistake. Thanks for dropping by ^^

Unknown said...

Thanks for lesson <3 im on my korean class right now and read this <3

bygo said...

@Matthew Smith what kyohei it's saying it's true. We also learned at school that 에 it's for location (at) and 에서 it's where the action take place.. more like (in / inside). If you learn them like this, there is no way to confuse them anymore.