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Leon's Blogs

 Korean Lessons 

by Leon of Leon's Planet, 2000-present

Foreword:  "Origin of Korean Script"

(skip Foreword)

The Korean script is called HanguelThe word Hanguel is composed of two morphemes: Han (Korean) and Geul (script).

The Korea script was created (or "invented" as it is commonly written) by a team of scholars commissioned by King SeJong in 15th century A.D..  All of the Koreans I've ever met (and I've met quite a lot in ten years of living in Korea) believe that their script is unique in that it was not modeled after any existing script.  This belief is perpetuated through school textbooks, teachers, and websites.  An example of Korean collective thought can be found on various websites, one of which is, and which reads:

Unlike almost every other alphabet in the world, the Korean alphabet did not evolve. It was invented in 1443 (promulgated in 1446) by a team of linguists and intellectuals commissioned by King Sejong the Great.

However, anyone who does his/her research can clearly see that there are some remarkable similarities between the Korean consonants and Tibetan consonants., in an article about the Korean writing system, has this written on its website:

King Sejong and his scholars probably based some of the letter shapes of the Korean alphabet on other scripts such as Mongolian and 'Phags Pa.

With all due respect to, I disagree.  I can see very little similarity between the said scripts.  HOWEVER, I like the fact that somebody has used logic by suggesting that the script was based partly (at least) on some other script that existed at the time.  Both the Tibetan and Mongolian scripts were modeled after Sanskrit, so there may be some truth to omniglot's claims.  However, I can see a much more distinct similarity between the Tibetan script and the Korean script. has an article about "Hangul" [Hangeul].  In that article, the following is written:

King Sejong was one of the best phoneticians of his country, and his interest in phonetics is confirmed by the fact that he sent his researchers 13 times to a Chinese phonetician living in exile in Manchuria, near the border between Korea and China.

That, if true, would clearly suggest that King SeJong (the founder of the Korean script) had research done before (and during) the making/inventing of the new script.  Furthermore, would it not be logical to assume that King SeJong's "team" of script-inventors were highly educated individuals, who knew of and researched existing scripts of the times?

The article on Wikipedia & the Wright-House article show how the Korean script (Hangeul) was based upon the articulations of the mouth.  I do not wish to dispute that.  It is a very interesting idea.  Incidentally, the Tibetan alphabet is categorized almost exactly the same way.  And it is possible that the Tibetan script (and the script after which it was modeled, namely Sanskrit) were invented in similar ways.

Other similarities between the Tibetan script and the Korean one include:

     - both are written left to right (although Hangeul can also be written top-down)
     - both are written in syllabic clusters
               - Tibetan syllables are separated by dots.
- I believe that the same was done in Hangeul anciently.


Now you may judge for yourself

Tibetan Script & Hangeul (Korean Script)


If you are an expatriate English teacher in Korea, I would caution you NOT to try and enlighten your students about the above information, because you will quickly become the most unpopular teacher in the school, and your job will be in jeopardy.  Whenever your students start to brag about the originality of their script (Hangeul), just smile and say, "That's what you think."  And leave it at that.  I tried to enlighten my students once... notice the word "once".  Believe me, it's not a good idea, and you won't succeed in convincing them, no matter how well you present your arguments.  So, I'd advise not getting into it with them.  If you want, you may give your students the URL for this page, and let them discover the truth on their own.  And, I'd appreciate the "hits" on my website.

For more info on the Tibetan script, click here.


Now, without further ado,

Let's start to learn Korean!


Table of Contents

Preface:  How to learn Korean

Lesson 1:  Romanization of Korean letters

Lesson 2:  Numbers

Lesson 3:  Consonant Pronunciation

Lesson 4:  How to read Korean words

Lesson 5:  Korean Honorifics

Lesson 6:  The Korean Imperative

Lesson 7:  The Korean Interrogative

Lesson 8:  Requesting in Korean

Lesson 9:  Korean Honorifics:  Word Changes

Lesson 10:  Korean Culture and Language (TITLES)

Lesson 11:  Restroom Talk (Where is the restroom?)

Lesson 12:  Restaurant Talk 

Lesson 13:  Korean Grammar 

Also, please visit my other
Korean pages:

My Expat Blog
  (Re: My 10-yr Life in Korea)

Korean Food Translated
  (fairly comprehensive list)

Korean Origins
  (Where did they come from?)

Konglish 1
  (Konglish Interlanguage)

Konglish 2
  (Konglish Lexis)

Konglish 3
  (Konglish Pronunciation)

Korean Dictionary Errors
  (quite the list)





Preface:  How to learn Korean

(This is a "must read" for any serious learner of the Korean language!)

Recently, I've received some inquiries about the best way to learn Korean.  So, I'd like to address that issue here, in the preface.

I always say that the best way to learn any language is "every way".  And what I mean by that is using a multitude of methods.  Here are some things to consider when learning any foreign language, BUT MOST ESPECIALLY WHEN LEARNING KOREAN:


It is perhaps best to decide what one's purpose is for learning the language.  For example, If one wishes to only read the language, then it is not necessary to speak it or comprehend it when spoken.

Once you decide what your purpose for learning the language is, it would be good to set goals.


The next thing to consider, is exposure to the target language.  Obviously, the more exposure to authentic language, the better.  Immersion in the culture is by far the best way to learn a language because it is learned in a meaningful context.


Text books do not always give "authentic" language, and YET, they are not totally worthless.  They are good for beginners, and for increasing vocabulary knowledge.  The big problem I have with textbooks and learning the Korean language is they generally do not teach honorifics, which is a HUGE part of the Korean language.  For more information about honorifics, please see my lesson #5.

I used textbooks mainly as ideas for topics to study and to increase my vocabulary.  I learned a lot through language exchanges with the Korean people.  A warm-blooded person is so much better than a cold, dead textbook.


In the information age, we have come (most of us) to expect a certain standard from certain sources of information.  One thing I never did when growing up was question the authority of a dictionary (lexicon).  I may have thought, well, this dictionary has more lucid definitions than another one, but they are were correct.

The problem is with bilingual lexicons/dictionaries there are no definitions, only TRANSLATIONS.  And I hate to burst your bubble, but some of those translations are WRONG!  I have studied Korean for 10 years and I have made a list of the errors commonly found in the English-to-Korean & Korean-to-English bilingual dictionaries.  To see the list, click on the link below:



Please be advised that Korean collective English grammar is atrocious.  The reason for this is of course, faulty teaching and faulty reference materials.  The collective errors of the Korean English Education system have been perpetuated for years.  For example Mr. Seong Mun's English Grammar Guide is considered a "BIBLE" of ENGLISH GRAMMAR in Korea.  And yet, it is replete with errors.

This has repercussions upon the would-be Korean-language Learner.  Let me explain by example.

Koreans are taught that the way to say:

"Naneun ((sth)) shirheoyo," is:  "I hate ((sth))."  [sth = something].


It gets confusing, because most Koreans do not really understand their own grammar.  Every Korean I've ever met (who addressed the topic) has told me that their Korean grammar classes were harder than their English classes.  And, yet, I do not agree that the Korean grammar is all that difficult.  Yes!  It is different from English grammar, but fully apprehensible.

In the example given above, "Na" is a pronoun which refers to oneself.  The particle "neun" which is attached thereto is ambiguous to Koreans, because they don't know how to classify it.  By default, the word "Naneun" usually gets translated as "I", and yet this is usually incorrect.  [Notice, I wrote "usually", because there is ONE instance when it would be correct and that is when it is used with the copula.  Copula = be.]  Dr. Ramstedt, a Finnish linguist, classifies the "neun" (or sometimes "eun") particle as the "emphatic particle".  Therefore, the correct translation of "Naneun" would be:  "In my case" or "Regarding myself".  It is NOT the subject of the sentence, except with the copula (be verb).

Therefore, the sentence: "Naneun ((sth)) shirheoyo," should be translated: "In my case, ((sth)) is hated."  The word "Shirheoyo" is an intransitive verb.  There is no object in the sentence.

So, keep this in mind when learning Korean.

And, I've just decided that I need to add some lessons on Korean Grammar, which I will do as soon as I get the time.


Any resources that were printed before the year 2000, will have a different Romanization than the one currently used in Korea.  This is another thing to be aware of.  I admit that the current Romanization, which is the one I use on this webpage, is better than the previous one, it still presents some problems for Korean-language Learners.  This will become apparent in Lesson 1.


I recommend that you start with two things:

(a) Start memorizing some useful phrases.  When I first went to Korea in 1995, I only knew three phrases:  Eolmaimnigga?  (How much?), Gamsahamnida. (I'm grateful.), & Annyeonghashimnigga? (Are you safe & peaceful?)--the common greeting in Korea.  [Note:  Please note that most textbooks will translate Annyeonghashimnigga? as "How are you?"  That would be an incorrect translation.  There is a correct way to say, "How are you?" but nobody uses that greeting in Korea.]

(b) Start, also, building your base vocabulary.  The way I did this was two-fold.  Firstly, every night I would make a list of words that I wanted to learn, and I would look them up in a bilingual dictionary.  Then, I would memorize them.  Secondly, I carried a bilingual dictionary with me every where I went and I would look up the words on the signboard in my dictionary.  My favorite bilingual dictionary in Korea is Dong-A PRIME, because it has the most up-to-date and most accurate translations (although it still is not perfect).  You can buy it online by clicking on the link(s) below:

Dong-a's Prime English-Korean Dictionary

Dong-A's Prime Korean-English Dictionary

Then, once you have about 100 words memorized, I would start learning to make sentences.  Korean is a SOV language.  That means that the syntax is Subject-Object-Verb.  One consistent thing about the Korean language is that the verb is ALWAYS the last word of the sentence.  Quite often, the subject is dropped, when it is implied.  Other languages do this as well.  They are called "pro-drop" languages.  But, Korean is unique in that it can also drop the object when it is implied.  For example, Koreans will often say:  "Saranghaeyo," which is the verb "love".  There is no subject and there is no object needed when you are talking to the object of one's affection.  It is implied, and therefore understood by one's interlocutor.


I made it possible to study Korean without needing Korean fonts.  I've done this by putting the Korean letters on gif (picture) files and uploading them to the webpage.

Lesson 1:  Romanization of Korean letters

Please notice that some letters are listed twice on the table below.  That's because they have more than one sound.

If you wish to learn to read Korean, your first task will be to memorize the following information.  You might want to make flash cards and put the Korean letter on one side and the sound on the other side.

In Lesson 4, you will learn how the letters are put together to make words.


THE MAGIC CHEERIO:  Korean letter:  O

I NEED to mention the magic "cheerio".  It is a circle.  It has two usages.

(1) at the end of a syllable (at the bottom), it functions as the /ng/ sound, as in the word "sing". 

(2) When situated either at the left-hand side or top of a vowel (or vowel team), it has no sound.
[See table above].  The "magic cheerio" is needed there, because vowels are not allowed to "dangle" alone in the Korean written language.

* APA = American Phonetic Alphabet
** IPA = International Phonetica Alphabet



Lesson 2:  Numbers:  Korean Has 2 Numbering Systems

As if learning a foreign language wasn't hard enough, Koreans have to have TWO numbering systems.  It can get kind of confusing knowing when to use each numbering system, but then again, it is rather simple.  The Sino-Korean numbering systems comes from China.  This is not a hard-and-fast rule, but generally whenever a number collocates with a Sino-Korean word, the Sino-Korean number is used.  And whenever a number collocates with a pure Korean word, the pure Korean numbers are used.  As a beginner, you cannot be expected to know which words are pure Korean and which are Sino-Korean.  If you wish to find out, simply look up the word in a bilingual dictionary.  If there are Chinese characters next to the word, it is a Sino-Korean word.  If not, it is a pure Korean word.

The Korean word for its currency is Weon or Won [pronounced: wuhn].  It comes from the same Chinese ideograph as the Chinese word for its currency, namely Yuan, and coincidentally, the Japanese word Yen come from the same Chinese ideograph as well.  Since the word is Chinese in origin, the Sino-Korean numbering system is used when dealing with money.

Eventually, you will need to know both numbering systems, but at first, I recommend the Sino-Korean numbering system, since that is the one used with money, and you will need it to buy and negotiate prices.

I will teach both here.  [Note:  Koreans use Arabic numbers when writing.]

Arabic #s Romanized
Pure Korean
Sounds like this
in North Amer.
Sounds like this
in North Amer.
1 hana hahnah il ill
2 dul dool i ee
3 set set sam sahm
4 net net sa sah
5 daseot tahsuht o oh
yeoseot yuhsuht yuk yook
7 ilgop ill-gope chil chill
8 yeodeol yuhduhl pal pall
9 ahop ah-hope ku koo
10 yeol yuhl shib ship
11 yeol-hana yuhl-hahnah shib-il shibbill
12 yeol-dul yuhl-dool shib-i shibbee
13 yeol-set yuhl-set shib-sam ship-sahm
14 yeol-net yuhl-net shib-sa ship-sah
15 yeol-daseot yuhl-tahsuht shib-o shibboh
16 yeol-yeoseot yuhl-yuhsuht shib-yuk shim-yook
17 yeol-ilgop yuhl-ill-gope shib-chil ship-chill
18 yeol-yeodeol yuhl-yuhduhl shib-pal ship-pall
19 yeol-ahop yuhl-ah-hope shib-ku ship-koo
20 seumeul soomool i-shipb ee-ship
30 seoreun suhroon sam-shipb sahm-ship
40 x x sa-shipb sah-ship
50 x x o-shib oh-ship!
60 x x yuk-shib yook-ship
70 x x chil-shipb chill-ship
80 x x pal-shib pall-ship
90 x x gu-shib koo-ship
100 x x baek back
1000 x x cheon chun
10000 x x man mahn

See any patterns? 

10,000 Won is like $10 U.S., so you'll need to count higher than that.

It's easy.  20,000 is just 2 x 10,000; say:  "ee-mahn".

Koreans count the same way the Chinese do.  Like this:

33,333 = 3 x 10,000 + 3 x 1,000 + 3 x 100 + 3 x 10 + 3

Say:  "sahm mahn, sahm chun, sahm back, sahm ship, sahm".

100,000 = 10 x 10,000

Say:  "ship mahn".

1,000,000 = 100 x 10,000

Say:  "back mahn".

That's really as high is you'll need to count.

1,000,000 Won is about $1,000 U.S.

Lesson 3: Pronunciation of Korean Consonants

When I first endeavored to learn the Korean language, I was introduced to many new phonemes that I had never been exposed to previously.  I was then 26 years old, way past the so-called "critical period".  I made friends with a patient native speaker of Korea, who endeavored to teach me these new sounds.

At first, I could not produce them, because I could not hear them.

After listening over and over and given the opportunity to hear similar sounds juxtaposed (temporally), I soon came to distinguish (auditorily) the various sounds.

The vowels did not give me trouble except one.  And I'll get to that one later.

The consonants provided quite a challenge.

Korean has 13 consonants, but FOUR in particular, CAN BE DOUBLED UP.  Those four, plus four others provided me with quite a challenge.  The resulting twelve phonemes can be taxonimized into four sets of three.  Each set contains three consonants that are remarkably similar to the untrained ear.  In fact, they were quite undistinguishable to me at the time I first heard them.

The sets cannot be adequately transliterated into Roman letters (the letters you see here).  But, I'll make do.

g soft /k/ gg accentuated
k aspirated
d soft /t/ dd accentuated
t aspirated
b soft /p/ bb accentuated
p aspirated
j soft /ch/ jj accentuated
ch aspirated

 This is what the Korean consonant-phonemes look like, respectively:

One can plainly see that not only do the consonants (from left to right) share a phonetic nearness, but they also share a symbolic nearness.

As soon as I could distinguish the sounds auditorily (from left to right), I could produce them linguistically (i.e., with my vocal apparatuses).

The vowel sound that I had trouble with took a couple years before it could be heard and produced (by me), but I eventually got it.  And it should be noted that it only took years, because I did not devote as much time and energy into learning it as I did the consonants.

The reason I did not dedicate so much time to the one renegade vowel, was because I was generally understood by my interlocutors, despite the error.  I was using the English schwa sound, which is phonetically close, but is more like the backwards "c" (in IPA).



Lesson 4:  How to read Korean

Please refer to the above chart on How to read Korean for this lesson

Vowels can be attached to the right side of a consonant (as in 1), or below the consonant (as in 2), but it must be noted that only CERTAIN vowels can go to the right and CERTAIN others can go below.

If you look at lesson one: vowels.  The top eight vowels can go to the right, while the next five go below, and the last one goes to the right.

Number 1 is Romanized as "ga", but since it is a beginning sound, the "g" is pronounced like a soft "k".  It means "go" (but it is the most familiar and least honorific, i.e., not honorific at all).  [See lesson five about Korean honorifics].

Number 2 is Romanized as "go", but since it is a beginning sound, the "g" is pronounced like a soft "k".  It is a family name in Korea.  It also means "high".

Number 3 is "ga" + "go".  Since the "ga" is first, it sounds more like a soft "ka".  Since "go" is second, it is pronounced as it is written.  The word "kago" could mean:  "a fresh start", or present participle of 'to go', or "go, and...".

Number 4 is Romanized as "jab", but the "j" (at the beginning) sounds more like a soft "ch", and the "b" is NOT pronounced (i.e., voiceless).  It sounds more like "chap".  It means: miscellaneous, or root of the verb 'to grab'/'to take'.

Any consonant at the bottom of a syllable is NOT pronounced (I mean it is voiceless), except "n", "m", "l".

Number 5 is Romanized "a".  The "magic cheerio" is not pronounced.  It is just there to groom the vowel "a".  If one were to ad 5 to 4, one would get "chaba".  By adding a vowel, the previous consonant becomes "activated" and voiced.  "Chaba" (with a very SOFT "ch" sound) means grab (in the familiar or least honorific sense).

Number 6 is Romanized "eung".  It would be like this (in IPA) :

/ /

      It means "uh, huh" or "yep".

[You can see the magic cheerio at the top (no sound), and at the bottom, (sounding like "ng"].

Number 7 show some Korean dipthongs:  "oa"  and  "oi".

      "oa" is pronounced like IPA /wa/, and "oi" is pronounced like IPA /we/.

      "oa" means 'and'.  "oe" means 'outside' / 'extra~'

Number 8 show some more Korean dipthongs:  "oae" and "ui".

      "oae" is pronounced like IPA /we/, "ui" is pronounced like IPA /wi/.

      "oae" means "why" (but more familiar and least honorific).  "ui-e" means 'up' (adv.) / and "ui-jang" means 'stomach' (as in the organ).


Lesson 5:  Korean Honorifics

Let's go with some of the examples used above for reinforcement and extrapolation.

We've learned that ga (pronounced "ka") is the familiar and least honorific form of "go".

Korean Honorifics is a bit complex, but in time, you'll get it.

Many books will tell you that there are three levels.  This is false.  There are actually FOUR levels, and usage is of paramount importance.

Here are the levels, using "ga":

infinitive low middle high highest
gada ga gayo gamnida gashimnida


ga is used to someone who is familiar AND of equal or inferior status.

gayo is used to someone who is not familiar, but appears to be of equal or inferior status.

gamnida is used to someone who is clearly of superior status, and only when talking about one's self or others of equal or inferior status.

gashimnida is used to someone who is clearly of superior status, and only when talking about one who is of superior status.

Further extrapolation:

There are other forms as well, with other usages.  It gets extremely complex, and you may not care to know any more at this point, but if you do, here you are:

gashyeo is used to a familiar person of equal or inferior status when talking about someone of superior status.

gashyeoyo is used to someone less familiar of equal or inferior status when talking about someone of superior status.

Then, you can add tenses and moods and imperatives and it gets REALLY complex.

     Are you freaked out yet?

I was oblivious to all the forms when I first started learning Korean and ignorance is bliss, I guess.  Later, when I started learning all the forms, I started freaking, but only a little.  I actually thought it was cool, because Korean has many forms that don't exist in English, but are lovely and useful.

Many ideas, moods, feelings, illocution in English are expressed by suprasegmental features of the SPOKEN language and cannot be written down (well not with type writers or word processors).  But, in Korean, many such ideas, moods, feelings and such can be expressed both in spoken AND written form.  This is an advantage of Korean over the English language.

This is also why Koreans have never won a prize for literature, ... because it is impossible to translate the Korean forms into English and maintain the same nuance.

Korean is a very, very beautiful language, and I hope it never gets lost from this earth or this universe.


Another example:  Above, I wrote that "oa"  (pronounced /wa/) means "and", and that is correct, but it also means "come" in the lowest form.  It is an irregular verb and the conjugation is a bit strange.  See table below:

Infinitive low middle high highest
oda oa oayo omnida oshimnida



Lesson 6:  The Korean Imperative

It is imperative that you know how to use the Korean imperative correctly.  Otherwise you could get into trouble.

There are, of course different levels of "honorifics" involved in using the imperative.  Let's look at the verb ga which means "go".

You can say, "Ga," which means: "Go."  But it conveys the same usage as in English, i.e., a command to someone of equal or inferior status and to someone who is familiar.  You could also say, "Gara," which carries heavy weight if the speaker has definite authority over the audience.  It also implies that there is no option, for to disobey means serious consequences.  There is no equivalent in the English language, but perhaps a very good translation would be:  "Thou shalt go."  Finally, you can add the suffix "seyo" (middle form) or "shipshio" (highest form) to the verb stem ga as honorific commands.

Korean also has what I call 'compound verbs' (i.e., two verbs attached).  If one were to add the verb juda (give) to another verb (used in the imperative mood), then it becomes more polite.  It is a lot like adding "please" in English, which originally was used as a verb thusly:  "...if you please", but has been shortened to "please" in modern times.

So, this is what it all looks like:

No. form word-for-word
1 ga go go go
2 ga-ra go shalt [thou] shalt go thou shalt go
3 ga-seyo go
[+ mid honorific suffix]
[cannot translate honorifics]
go, if you please
4 ga-shipshio go
[+ highest honorific suffix]
[cannot translate honorifics]
go, if you wouldn't mind, please
5 ga-jueo go give
[+ low honorific, i.e, no suffix]
[familiar form]
give [me your] going
I think it means:
"Give me the pleasure of your going."  But, loosely translated, it means:

Please go

6 ga-juseyo go give
[+ mid honor]
give [me your] going
[cannot translate honorifics]
Pretty Please, go
7 ga-jushipshio go give
[+ highest honor]
give [me your] going
[cannot translate honorifics]
Pretty Please With Sugar and Honey on top, Go

Notice that there are three kinds of translation:

1.  word-for-word, where the words are translated exactly in the order that they appear in the first language and no other words are added.

2.  literal translation, where the words are rearranged to match the syntax of the second (target) language, and necessary words (or suffixes) are added to give the appropriate meaning.

3.  free translation, where words, suffixes and syntax are disregarded and only meaning is translated (and I should add... "as best as possible").

[Note:  I hope many Koreans read this page, because it is generally assumed by Koreans that English does not have levels of politeness in its imperatives.  Of course, they should know "please", but often fail to use it, thinking erroneously that it is not needed.  If you are an English teacher, please do what you can to eradicate these myths about English that exist in the collective Korean mentality.]

Now for usage.  Refer to the table above and the numbers of the forms...

1.  usage mentioned above

2.  usage mentioned above

3.  usage is to someone less familiar of equal or inferior status

4.  usage is to someone more familiar of superior status

5.  usage is to someone very familiar of equal status (to be polite)

6.  usage is to someone not familiar at all of equal status, or to someone familiar of superior status

     Like, you would use this form to a taxi driver, stating the destination first.

7.  usage is to someone clearly of superior status (to show ultimate respect)


Determining STATUS in Korean society.

One might ask (if she/he is a foreigner/expatriate):  "How do I determine social status of my interlocutor?"

This is not so simply answered.  In fact, it can get quite complex at times.

There are several factors involved in determining status:

Color code:  red = more honor;  blue = less honor

1.  Age (older vs. younger)

2.  Marital status (has married  vs. has not)

3.  Relationship (ex.: teacher : student; employer : employee; customer : host

4.  Perhaps ages ago: gender, but not now.

5.  Occupation (professional vs. laborer)

Simple?  WRONG!

Here are some "what-ifs" to consider:

1.  What if your the teacher in an academy and one of your adult students is older than you?

2.  What if your spouse is the youngest child in his/her family and his/her ELDER sibling is younger than you?

3.  What if you are the customer (customer is king in Korea), but your host is older than you?

4.  What if your colleague is older than you, but you are married and she isn't?

5.  What if you are a single professor, and your acquaintance of equal age is a married laborer?


In the past (according the Confucian values), I'm sure there were "rules" for all such hypothetical (and real) scenarios, such as the ones above.  However, Koreans are not being formally educated about the Confucian values and they are sometimes confused themselves (as I have asked them).

But, this was the general consensus from my students:

Scenario 1:  Teacher is one of the highest positions in the Confucian system.  In fact, there is a saying:  King, Scholar, Father: one in the same.  (and a teacher is considered a scholar).  The teacher, therefore, deserves the utmost respect.  HOWEVER, (and this is a big however), in Korean society, an academy teacher is considered of lower status than a public school teacher, who is of lower status than a professor.  FURTHERMORE, the student in an academy is also a customer and customer is king.  In short, my students said that both should be offered equal respect in the highest honorifics.

Scenario 2:  This was a true scenario.  My wife was the youngest.  Her elder brother was younger than I.  Upon asking, I was told that my status in the family was equal to my wife's status, therefore, I was lower than her brother.  However, (they added), that is in the past, and we should offer equal respect in the middle form to each other.

Scenario 3:  In this case, you are higher, but I've found that the more respect you give to your host, the better the service you get.

Scenario 4:  This is a toughie, because in Korean and China a woman is not considered a "woman" until she gets married;  BUT, Age is a line that rarely crossed when dealing with honorifics.  It could go either way.  A second factor would have to come into play (and usually does).  For example, if you have children, you would definitely be higher.  If she had seniority in the company, she would definitely be higher (based upon the relationship).  (Seniority is determined by how long one has worked for the company).

Scenario 5: This one is a toughie!  One would have to be an expert in the Confucian value system in order the answer this definitely.  It all depends on which is valued more, education or marriage.  If I had to guess, knowing that the whole Confucian value system is base upon education, I would guess that the professor would be higher and would command more respect, but would be constantly chided by others about his single status.

In Korean society (and this may have NOTHING to do with Confucius) a man is not a "man" until he gets married.  So, this case is really a toughie.  Thus, when in doubt, always use the highest form.

I'll tell you a story.   (It's true).

One day, in Korea, I met a elderly blind woman.  We started talking (in Korean, of course).  She couldn't see how old I was (I was 26, and academy instructor, and unmarried at the time).

She asked, "How old are you?"  (always the first question Koreans ask, and she used the ultra high/polite form of the Korean honorific system).

I answered, "I'm twenty six."  {in the high form (which is the highest form for talking about one's self)}

Then she asked, "What work do you do?"  (dropping down one level in honorifics).

I answered, "I'm a teacher."  (staying with the same form as I previously used).

Then she asked, "Where do you work?  A public school or an academy?"  (same form as before).

I answered, "In an academy."

She, then asked, "Have you gotten married?"  (dropping down a notch in honorifics).

I answered, "No."

She, then, said, "Oh, you are a boy!"  (in the lowest form possible).



Lesson 7:  The Korean Interrogative

Using ga (the verb "go")...

"Where do you go?"  can have four different forms, depending upon one's interlocutor.  See table below:

low mid high highest
eodi ga? eodi gayo? eodi gamnigga? eodi gashimnigga?

What I wrote about usage of the honorifics in lesson five, applies here.

Special Grammar Note:  there are only two words in the Korean sentence, and four in the English sentence.  This is because grammar is different.

Korean is what is called a "pro-drop" language.  That means the subject can be dropped.  English (and possibly other Germanic languages) is/are the only language(s) that use "do" in the interrogative, so you can forget about that.

So, the Korean sentence is:  "Where go?"

It is very comfortable AND convenient to leave off the subject when the subject is known.  It didn't take me long to get used to it, because Spanish is another pro-drop language and I was already used to that.


Lesson 8:  Requesting in Korean

Requesting is a very useful function of language.  Like, I didn't like using the Korean imperative (as polite as it may be).  I was more comfortable with the request.

Let's use the Korean word hada (which means: "do").

By dropping the infinitive ending "da" & adding a suffix (lae, laeyo, shilaeyo), without tone, you can say, ((sb)) "Want to do" ((sth)).

By using a rising tone at the end (just like English), you can say, ((sb)) "Want to do?" ((sth)).

Interjection:  I mentioned in the previous lesson that Korean is a subject-pro-drop language.  It is also an object-pro-drop language, which means the object of the sentence can be dropped, when previously mentioned, and therefore is known.

This form "Want to do" can function as an question OR a request.  See table below


Description Korean English
infinitive hada to do
low halae want to do
mid halaeyo want to do
high/highest halaeyo want to do
haejulae would do
haejulaeyo would do
haejushilaeyo would do


Some examples:

1.  to one's wife:  "Bap halae?"

          word-for-word translation:  "Rice do-want?"

          literal translation:  "Do you want to do rice?"

          free translation:  "Do you want to make rice?"

          illocution:  "Will you make rice?" (request)

          nuance:  a little rude, if you ask me, but many Korean men use this form, or the even ruder form "bap jueo" (Give rice!);  However, to be fair, they do say it sweetly, and softly.

2.  to one's wife:  "Bap haejulae?"

          word-for-word translation:  "Rice do-give-want?"

          literal translation:  "Do you want to give [for me] the doing of rice?"

          free translation:  "Would you make rice for me?"

          nuance:  a lot more polite; it's the form I would use.

          applied linguistic note:  SOME (not all) older Koreans insist upon using middle form to one's spouse, by adding the "yo" on the end.  But, the X-generation of Koreans do not insist upon it.  There appears to be a variation in usage based upon social status, and region.

3.  to waitress:  "Bap julaeyo?"

          word-for-word translation:  "Rice give-want?"

          literal translation:  "Do you want to give rice?"

          free translation:  "Would you give rice?"

          nuance:  This form is very polite to a waitress, but not polite to one's mother-in-law.  Most Koreans say, "Bad juseyo." (Please give rice.), but I find that using the request rather than the imperative makes the waitress very happy, and she happily serves you the rice.  And isn't that what we all should be doing... is spreading a little cheer here and there?  Then again, if everyone used the request instead of the imperative, it wouldn't make the waitress any happier than normal, would it?  In my case, I prefer to have my food served without bugs, hair, and/or saliva in it.  Plus I like good service.  That's why I use the more polite forms to waiters/waitresses.


To one's mother-in-law or boss's wife, if (and only if) one is offered rice, AND if one eats all and wants more, one can say, "Bap jeom deo jushilaeyo?"

          word-for-word translation:  "Rice a little more give want?"

          literal translation:  "Do you want to give me a little more rice?"

          free translation:  "Would you give me just a little more rice, please?"




Lesson 9:  Korean Honorifics (word changes)

Sometimes, one must use a completely different word in order to be "honorific" in one's speech.

For instance, see the table below:

English regular Korean word If you have
honorific Korean word If you have
eat meokda 먹다 japsushida* 잡수시다
be (exist) itda 있다 gyeshida* 계시다
drink mashida 마시다 deushida* 드시다
sleep jada 자다 jumushida* 주무시다
house/home jip daek

*NOTE:  These are the infinitive forms of the verbs.  So, they must be conjugated with honorific suffixes!  See lesson five to learn how to do so.


Lesson 10:  Korean Culture and Language:  Titles and Pronouns  VERY IMPORTANT!

You cannot separate language and culture.  Culture is imbedded in the language.  In no other language that I know, except perhaps Japanese, is that more true, than in the Korean language.

Of course, the Confucian value system has influenced the honorifics (or perhaps the Koreans had a similar value system long before Confucius came along).  I don't know, and I don't know anyone who does.  But, the point is, the values of the Korean people have influenced their language.

Furthermore, the usage of titles and pronouns is very, VERY important (to Koreans).  Knowing when to use which titles and which pronouns (if at all) is very helpful when speaking Korean.

For instance, in English, we throw around the second person pronoun "you" with no though about honorifics or about possibly offending somebody with its use.  [Of course it is the honorific form, and the more familiar "thou" has become completely obsolete].  Korean has four forms of the pronoun "you".  Terms (metalanguage) for the four forms does NOT exist in English, so I'll have be creative...

Korean Romanization lay-man's APA IPA Meaning and Usage
neo nuh n second person singular, low form
  (i.e., not honorific)
너희들 neo-heui-deul nuh-hee-dl n-hi:-dl second person plural, low form
당신 dang-shin dahng-sheen dang-shi:n second person singular, high form (honorific, but used today with spouse only)
To others, titles are used (NOT "you") More info below about titles.
당신들 dang-shin-deul dahng-sheen-dl dang-shi:n-dl second person plural, high form
(I've never heard this used, as nobody has more than one spouse).

After learning these, I was under the natural assumption that the honorific form could be used toward strangers, much like the "usted" form in Spanish.  Oh, how wrong I was!

One day, I went into a bakery with a Korean friend to buy some bread.  I saw a picture of a little girl, and I asked the shop owner, "Dangshin-eui ddal imnigga?" [Is that your daughter?]  I used the honorific form of the verb, even.  My Korean friend said that I was so rude.  I said, "What are you talking about?  I used the honorific form!  Why am I rude?"

My Korean friend explained that in Korean, one only addresses one's betrothed or spouse with the "dangshin" title.  I said, "How was I supposed to know that?  Nobody taught me that!"  Not even the book that I was using to learn Korean mentioned anything about that.  In fact, I think you won't find any book on the market that teaches Korean that will tell you that.

So, I asked my friend, "What am I supposed to say, then?  How do I address people?"  He replied, "With the titles ajeoshi and ajuma."

Now, the bilingual dictionaries all translate ajeoshi as uncle and ajuma as aunt.  This is SOOOOOOOO wrong.  [See my Bilingual Dictionary Errors Page for more egregious errors.]

NO KOREAN would EVER call their blood uncle or aunt by either of those titles.  In fact, to do so would be so extremely rude that they would get a beating for doing so.  So,  we cannot trust the bilingual dictionaries.

Ajuma  is a title for a woman, who is married (or has been), AND has a child approximately your same age (give or take 10 years).  [From my research, the word is composed of 2 morphemes: aju (just like) + ma (mother).  So, it refers to a woman who is just like one's mother].

Ajeoshi  is a title for a man, who is older than one's self AND married AND has a child approximately your same age (give or take 10 years).  [The word is obviously composed of 2 morphemes: ajeo (?) + shi (kin).  If I had to guess, I'd guess that ajeo is a variation of aju.  So, my best guess is it literally means:  just like kin.]

Those explanations of ajuma & ajeoshi are quite apropos, because in Korean culture, all women and men who are near the same age as one's parents are considered like kin.


Samchon:  /sahm-chone/  [literally means one's father's brother]  can be used for a man who is not a blood relative, but is a close friend of one's father.

Imo:  /ee-moh/  [literally means one's mother's sister] can be used for a woman who is not a blood relative, but who is a close friend of one's mother or simply a female mentor.

Hyeongnim:  /hyung-neem/  [literally means elder brother of a male + respectful suffix "nim"]  can be used only by males to an older male, who is not old enough to be an ajeoshiNOTE:  because of the suffix, it is considered very formal.  To be informal, just drop the suffix.  Generally, from my observations, children do not use the suffix to older children.  But, men use it to older men.

Obba:  /oh-BBah/  [literally means elder brother of a female] can be used by females to an older male, who is not old enough to be an ajeoshiNOTE:  considered informal.  If females wish to be formal, I think they use the title seon-seng-nim  /sun-seng-neem/ [literally means: firstborn].

Jamaenim:  /jahmay-neem/  [literally means elder sister + respectful suffix "nim"]  can be used to a woman who is older but not old enough to be an ajumaNOTE: it is considered very formal.  It appears to be used by both men and women.

Nuna:  /noo-nah/  [literally means elder sister of a male]  can be used by any male to any older female, who is not old enough to be an ajumaNOTE:  considered informal.

Eoni:  /uh-nee/  [literally means elder sister of a female] can be used by any female to any older female, who is not old enough to be an ajumaNOTE:  considered informal.

You will notice that all of the titles mentioned above are for persons older than oneself.  If one is addressing a person younger, one may use the person's name.

However, if one does not know the name of his/her younger interlocutor, there are some titles that can be used:

Agashi:  /ah-gah-shi/  [composed of 2 morphemes:  aga (baby) + shi (kin)]  can be used by any adult male to any younger adult female.  NOTE: I've never heard a female Korean use the word, so I guess it is forbidden.  It is generally used by older men to younger women.

Aideul:  Sounds like "Idle"  [literally means children]  can be used to a group of children (obviously younger than oneself).

Ai:  Sounds like "I"  [singular of above] can be used when talking about a child

Aga:  /ah-gah/  [literally means baby]  can be used to babies and toddlers (obviously younger than oneself.

Aegi:  /ay-gee/  [variation of aga]



Seon Seng Nim.

Seon means first (from Chinese);  Seng means born (from Chinese);  Nim is a suffix of respect, much like Sir or Ma'am (It is pure Korean).

It has two usages:

1.  To any person who is older and respected as a kind of mentor.

2.  To any teacher (regardless of age).

Incidentally, in China, it (xian sheng) is used only in the first sense.




Lesson 11: Restroom Talk

Probably the most important thing you will ever learn in any foreign language is:  "Where is the restroom/toilet?"

Koreans have only one way to say it, but that "way" can be different depending upon the level of "honorifics" chosen by the speaker.  If you really want to learn all about Korean honorifics, see lesson 5.

Honorific level For those with Korean fonts For those without
high form "화장실(이) 어디 입니까?" "Hoa-jang-shil (i)  oe-di  ibniGGA?"
middle form "화장실(이) 어디 이예요?" "Hoa-jang-shil (i)  oe-di  i-ye-yo?"
low form (rude) "화장실(이) 어디 야?" "Hoa-jang-shil (i)  oe-di-ya?" (rude)

Linguistic Notes:

The "i" or "ee" in parentheses is optional.  It is the subject marker, indicating that the noun is being used as the subject of the sentence.  It may seem strange to have subject and object markers, as Korean does; but, actually, it makes for a convenience sometimes, because the subject can be dropped and only an object used.  See lesson 12 for more information on this.

The "GGA" is capitalized, because it should be stressed.  As mentioned above, All syllables containing double consonants must be stressed.  In English, we don't usually stress the last syllable of a sentence, unless we are angry.  So, Koreans often sound as if they are angry to us foreigners.  It takes a long time to get used to it. 


Not that you would want to, but...

Here's How to talk about excrement in Korean:

똥/응가/대변 (ddong, eung-a, dae-byeon)

1. excrement = 배설물 /bae-seol-mul/
2. dung = animal solid excrement
3. poo / poo poo / poop = young child's word = 응가 /eung-ga/ 
or /eung-a/ (origin: sound of squeezing "eung" + sound of relief "ahhh")
4. doo / doo doo/ doodie = (see #3) (also see:
5. crap = [from French] general word for waste (but often: human waste)
6. shit = abusive word (Ex. You are a little shit!)
7. manure = [from French "hand"] farmers' word, because the farmer shovels the animals' manure by hand and uses it to fertilize the crops = 두엄 /du-eom/, 퇴비 /twe-bi/
8. feces = scientists' word = 대변 /dae-byeon/
9. stool = doctors' word = 대변 /dae-byeon/

1. go poo poo = 응가를 하다 /eung-ga-reul ha-da/
2. take a crap/shit = idiom (not nice) = 똥을 쌓다 /ddong-eul ssah-da/
3. go #2 = idiom (nice) = 대변을 쌓다 /dae-byeon-eul ssahda/


And:  Liquid Excrement

RE: 오줌/쉬/소변 (o-jum, shee, so-byeon)

1. pee /pee pee = young child's word = 쉬 /shee/
2. urine = scientist and doctors' word = 소변 /so-byeon/
3. piss = slang word (not nice)

1. go pee = 쉬를 마리다 /shee-reul ma-ri-da/
2. urinate = 소변을 쌓다 /so-byeon-eul ssah-da/
3. piss = (not nice) 오줌을 쌓다 /o-jum-eul ssah-da/
4. go #1 = (nice) 


RE: Korean Restroom Idioms

1. I have to answer a "nature" call. = 볼일 보고 오께요. /bo-ril bo-go o-gge-yo/

[literally means:  I'll see about something and come back.]

2. Did everything come out all right? = 시원하세요? /shi-weon ha-se-yo?/

[literally means:  Are you cooled-off now?  (because you know... you get a breeze when you pull your pants down.  But, that word has another slang meaning, which is:  do you feel better now?  So, because of the double meaning, it's a kind of Korean double entendra.... pretty funny when you think about it.]

Lesson 12:  Restaurant Talk

If you want to eat:  I suggest you start learning the vocabulary on my KOREAN FOOD page.

Here's some other useful words/phrases in Korean language when  eating out in Korea.

Korean Word (Romanized)
(See above for pronunciation)
Translation (Word-for-word)
Note: Korean syntax used here:
 subject [often dropped]-object-adverb-verb
Mnemonic Device
menyu menu (abstract meaning) X
menyu pan menu card/board pan is pronounced like 'pawn' in North American English.

So, think that the menu is like a pawn in the whole process of getting you what you want:  namely FOOD!

Menyu pan jeom juseyo. Menu-card (?) give please.
(Honorific version)
Menu-Pawn, jump! Joo say, "Oh!"
An-mepge hae-juseyo. Not-spicily make please.
(Honorific version)
On map Gaigh; Hey! Joo say, "Oh!"
Mepge hae-jusheyo. Spicily make please. Map Gaigh; Hey! Joo say, "Oh!"
Mash(i) isseoyo. Taste (flavor) exists.
(meaning: it's delicious).
Marsh [salt] is so [?] Yo!
Mash(i) eopseumnida. Taste (flavor) doesn't exist.
(meaning: it's not delicious).
Marsh [salt] up! some need, Ah!.
"Service" jo-a-yo. [The] service is good. Service:  Joe-Ahhhhhhhh--Yo!
"Service" an-jo-a-yo. [The] service is not good. X
"Service" juseyo. Service, please. Service:  Joo say, "Yo!"
Mul Water [Makes me cool] = Mool
Mul juseyo. Water, please. Mool, Joo say, "Yo!"
Maek-ju Beer Make you [drunk].
Maek-ju deo juseyo. Beer, more please. X
Bap [Cooked] Rice "Bop!" [is the sound that the rice-cooker makes when the rice is done].
for more food items... see my KOREAN FOOD page X


Lesson 13:  Korean Grammar: Syntax

OOOOO!  Thirteen!  Scary!  Right?  Well, it is true that the number 13 does signify "death" in numerology, but it is more a figurative death, rather than a literal one.  Think of this lesson as the "death" of your fear of Korean grammar.  He, he.

Please do not be frightened of Korean Grammar.  While it is different from English grammar, it is learnable.  Sometimes translation may be difficult, and metalanguage (for describing Korean grammar) may be somewhat lacking, but I am confident that we can "make do".  So, for those of you who are getting really serious about learning Korean, I give you:

My Explanation of the Korean Grammar (with help from the late, great Dr. Ramstedt of Finland).

I think that the best place to start is I give you a sentence with every part of speech in it.  So, that's what I shall do.  I will translate the following English sentence into Korean for you, so that you might learn Korean syntax.

I truly like  the lovely Korean language.
noun adverb verb article
adjective adjective noun
subject adverb verb object of sentence
Now, have a look at the grammar of the
Korean Language, if you would.
내가   아름다운 한국 어를 진심으로 좋아함니다
Naega - areumdaun hangug eoreul jinshimeuro joh-a-hamnida.
noun + sub. particle
no articles
in Korean
nominative adjective
noun + obj. particle
subject X object of sentence adverb verb

Need I say more?

Well, actually, yes.  I forgot prepositions, which are actually postpositions in Korean.

Let's analyze what we've learned, before I teach postpositions.

Korean is a S-O-V language.  That means Subject-Object-Verb.

One thing is constant in the Korean language: the verb is ALWAYS last.

The subject can be dropped, but if it isn't dropped it is usually first.

The object comes in the middle.

Adjectives come before the nouns.

Adverbs come before the verb.

Okay, now... About postpositions in Korean.

Elvis is in the house.
preposition article
(object of preposition)
엘비스 안에 있습니다.
Elvis i jib an-e isseumnida.
(object of postposition)

As you can see the postpositions come after the noun.

Adjectives and Adverbs (AKA: Modifiers) come before the word they modify.

So, now you know Korean syntax.  It's as simple as that.

So, start making your own sentences!

Of course there is a lot more to grammar than just syntax... maybe I'll teach more later.


 Contact me

Recommended books to learn Korean


Recommended Links related to Korea

Please visit my other
Korean pages:

My Expat Blog
  (Re: My 10-yr Life in Korea)

Korean Food Translated
  (fairly comprehensive list)

Korean Origins
  (Where did they come from?)

Konglish 1
  (Konglish Interlanguage)

Konglish 2
  (Konglish Lexis)

Konglish 3
  (Konglish Pronunciation)

Korean Dictionary Errors
  (quite the list)