Depending on which part of Korea you go to different dialects of Korean are spoken. The standard in South Korea is based on the Seoul dialect, which is spoken in Seoul and Gyeonggi province as well as the city of Kaesong in North Korea, while the standard in North Korea is based on the Pyongan dialect, which is spoken in Pyongyang as well as North and South Pyongan provinces. Other dialects include the Gyeongsang dialect spoken in Busan, Daegu, Ulsan and the provinces of North and South Gyeongsang, the Jeju dialect spoken on the island of Jeju, and the Hamgyong dialect spoken in North and South Hamgyong provinces, as well as most of the ethnic Korean minority in China. This guide is based on the standard in South Korea.
Korean sentence structure is very similar to that of Japanese, so speakers of Japanese will find many aspects of Korean grammar familiar.
Korean word order is subject-object-verb: "I-subject him-object see-verb." Subjects (especially I and you) are often omitted if these are clear from the context.
There are no articles, genders, or declensions. It has extensive verb conjugations indicating tense and honorific level. There is a plural form, but it is very often omitted.
Korean has postpositions instead of prepositions: hanguk-e, "Korea-in" instead of "in Korea."
Koreans refer to each other rather in terms like elder brother, elder sister, younger sibling, uncle, aunt, grandmother, grandfather, manager, teacher etc. than by using the word you. It's not uncommon to refer to yourself by using such an expression. You can also call somebody an aunt, uncle or brother if this person is actually not. Most Korean girls call even their boyfriend "oppa" (older brother).
Depending on the relation to the person you have conversation with, it's necessary to find the correct level of politeness. If the person is considered to be higher in the hierarchy, a very polite form has to be used, while this person will use a less polite form to address you as a lower person. Koreans often ask very personal questions (about your age, occupation, income, family status etc.) in order to find out in which form they should use when talking to you. This phrasebook assumes the highest speech level in most cases.
The good news is unlike Chinese, Korean is not tonal, so you don't need to worry about changing your pitch to get the meaning right. The bad news is that Korean has a few too many vowels for comfort and small distinctions between many consonants, so pronouncing things exactly right is still a bit of a challenge.
This phrasebook uses the Revised Romanization of Korean, which is overwhelmingly the most popular system in South Korea. The McCune-Reischauer romanization, used in North Korea and older South Korean texts, is noted in parentheses when different.
Korean vowels can be short or long, but this is not indicated in writing and the distinction rarely if ever affects meaning.
like 'a' in "father"
like 'o' in "tone"
eo (ŏ) ㅓ
like 'aw' in "lawyer"
like 'oo' in "hoop"
eu (ŭ) ㅡ
like 'i' in "cousin"
like the 'i' in "ship" (short) OR the 'ee' in "sheep" (long)
like the 'e' in "bed"
similar to the beginning of "ai" in "main"
Korean has two standalone diphthongs:
like 'whe' in "when" or say 'e' in "hey", but with rounded lips
like 'ŭ' + 'i'; often reduces to 'i' when preceded by a consonant (eg. 희 hui, pronounced "hee")
In addition, most vowels can be modified by prefixing them with 'y' or 'w':
like 'wa' in "watch"
like 'wa' in "wagon"
like 'wa' in "was"
like "we" or 'e' in "she" with rounded lips
like 'we' in "west"
like 'ya' in "yard"
like 'yo' in "hey! yo~"
yeo (yŏ) ㅕ
like 'you' in "young"
like 'ye' in "yes"
like 'ye' in "yes", not same as 'ㅖ', but it's a very similar sound
Most Korean consonants come in three versions, namely unaspirated (without a puff of air), aspirated (with a puff of air) and tensed (stressed). Unaspirated consonants exist in English too, but never alone: compare the sound of 'p' in "pot" (aspirated) and "spot" (unaspirated). Many English speakers find it helpful to pronounce an imperceptible little "m" in front to 'stop' the puff. Tensing isn't really found in English, but pronouncing the consonant quick and hard is a reasonable substitute.
b (p) ㅂ
like 'p' in "spit" (unaspirated)
p (p', ph) ㅍ
like 'p' in "pig" (aspirated)
tensed 'p', like 'p' in "petit" in French
d (t) ㄷ
like 't' in "stab" (unaspirated)
t (t', th) ㅌ
like 't' in "top" (aspirated)
g (k) ㄱ
like 'k' in "skate" (unaspirated)
k (k', k) ㅋ
like 'c' in "cat" (aspirated)
j (ch) ㅈ
like 'g' in "gin" (unaspirated)
ch (ch') ㅊ
like 'ch' in "chin" (aspirated). Usually pronounced as a light aspiratd 't' as a final consonant
like 's' in "soon", 'sh' before i or any "y" dipthong. Usually pronounced as a very light 't' as a final consonant
tensed 's', 's' in 'sea', never 'sh'
like 'n' in "nice"
like 'm' in "mother"
somewhere between 'l', 'r' and 'n', original sound is 'r' or 'l'. and 'n' sound occurs through initial consonant mutation.
like 'h' in "help"
like 'ng' in "sing". Unpronounced (placeholder) when at the start of a syllable.
While the rules above are usually correct for the first consonant, those in the middle of a word are usually (but not always) voiced, which means that ㅂㄷㅈㄱ turn into English "b", "d", "j" and "k". The best rule of thumb is to concentrate on remembering that the first consonant is "special" and the rest are more or less as in English: bibimbap (비빔밥) is pronounced "pee-bim-bap", not "bee-bim-bap" or "p'ee-bim-bap".
The aspirated spellings with "h" are used only in the official North Korean orthography.
Native Korean words can end only in vowels or the consonants k, l, m, n, ng, p or s, and any words imported into Korean are shoehorned to fit this pattern, usually by padding any errant consonants with the vowel eu (ㅡ). For example, any English word ending in "t" will be pronounced as teu (트) in Korean, eg. Baeteumaen (배트맨) for "Batman". In addition, the English sound "f" is turned into p and has that vowel tacked on, so "golf" becomes golpeu (골프).
A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days. --King Sejong on hangul
Korean is generally written using a native alphabet known as hangul (chosongul in North Korea and China). Designed by a committee and rather scary-looking at first, it's in fact a very logical alphabetic writing system far simpler than Chinese characters or even the Japanese kana syllabary, and it's well worth putting in the time to learn them if staying in Korea for more than a day or two.
The basic idea is simple: hangul consists of letters called jamo combined into square blocks, where each block represents a syllable. The block is always in the order (consonant)-vowel-(consonant), stacked from top to bottom, where ㅇ is used as the first jamo if the first consonant is missing, and the space for the last consonant can be left empty is missing. For example, the word Seoul (서울) consists of the syllables seo (ㅅ s plus ㅓ eo, no final consonant) and ul (ㅇ plus ㅜ u plus ㄹ l). Tensed consonants are created by doubling the jamo
(ㅅ s → ㅆ ss) and y-vowel diphthongs have an extra dash tacked on (ㅏ a → ㅑ ya). And that's pretty much it!
Many Korean words can also be written using Chinese characters, known as hanja in Korean. These are still occasionally seen in newspapers, formal documents and official signs, but are in general rarely used and have even been completely abolished in North Korea. While they remain official in South Korea, their use is largely restricted to the elderly, and many youths are unable to recognize even their own names written in hanja.
Phrases in this section are not consistently transcribed with Revised Romanization of Korean and Wikitravel's romanization guidelines. If you are familiar with the language, please help fix them up!
안녕 하십니까. (annyeong hasimnikka) Common in North Korea, provincial South Korea.
안녕하세요. (annyeonghaseyo) Common in South Korea. to older people or to the people to meet first
안녕. (annyeong) to your friend or younger people
Hello. (on the phone)
여보세요. (yeoboseyo) when you answer the phone.
How are you?
어떻게 지내십니까? (eotteoke jinaesimnikka?)
Fine, thank you.
잘 지냅니다, 감사합니다. (jal jinaemnida, gamsahamnida)
What is your name?
성함이 어떻게 되세요? (seonghami eotteoke doeseyo?)
My name is ______ .
제 이름은 ______입니다. (je ireumeun ____ imnida)
Nice to meet you.
만나서 반갑습니다. (mannaseo bangapseumnida)
Excuse me. (getting attention)
실례합니다. (shill(y)e hamnida)
안녕히 가십시오/계십시오. (annyeonghi gasipsio/gyesipsio)
Is there someone here who speaks English?
여기에 영어를 하시는 분 계십니까? (yeogie yeong-eoreul hasineun bun gyesimnikka?)
Korean has two sets of numbers, namely native Korean numbers and Sino-Korean numbers (which are borrowed from Chinese). Both come in handy, but in a pinch, the Sino-Korean series is more important to learn.
Sino-Korean numbers are used for amounts of currency, telephone numbers, the 24-hour clock and counting minutes.
공 (gong) / 영 (yeong)
1,000,000 (one million)
1,000,000,000 (one billion)
1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion)
number _____ (train, bus, etc.)
_____ 번 (열차, 버스, etc.) (beon (yeolcha, beoseu, etc.))
Native Korean numbers
Native Korean numbers are used for hours and with counting words.
When counting objects, Korean uses special counter words. For example, "two beers" is maekju dubyeong (맥주 2병), where du is "two" and -byeong means "bottles". There are many counters, but the most useful ones are myeong (명) for people, jang (장) for papers including tickets, and gae (개) for pretty much anything else (which is not always strictly correct, but will usually be understood and is growing in colloquial usage).
objects (apples, sweets)
명 -myeong, 분 -bun (polite)
flat paper-like objects (papers, tickets, pages)
bottles (or other glass or ceramic containers for liquid with a narrow mouth)
machines (cars, computers)
long objects (pens, rifles)
letters, telegrams, phone calls, e-mails
bunches of things such as flowers
Note that when combined with a counting word, the last letter of numbers 1 through 4 as well as 20 is dropped: one person is hanmyeong (hana+myeong), two tickets is dujang (dul+jang), three things is segae (set+gae), four things is negae (net+gae), twenty things is seumugae (seumul+gae).
Numbers above 100 are always counted with Sino-Korean numbers.
one o'clock AM
오전 한 시 (ojeon hansi)
two o'clock AM
오전 두 시 (ojeon dusi)
one o'clock PM
오후 한 시 (ohu hansi)
two o'clock PM
오후 두 시 (ohu dusi)
_____ 분 (___ bun)
_____ 시간 (___ sigan)
_____ 일 (___ il)
_____ 주 (___ ju)
_____ 달 (___ dal)
_____ 년 (___ nyeon)
이번 주 (ibeon ju)
지난 주 (jinan ju)
다음 주 (da-eum ju)
The names of the months in Korean are simply the Sino-Korean numbers 1 through 12 followed by the word 월 (month).
1월 (일월) ilwol
2월 (이월) iwol
3월 (삼월) samwol
4월 (사월) sawol
5월 (오월) owol
6월 (유월) yuwol
7월 (칠월) chilwol
8월 (팔월) palwol
9월 (구월) guwol
10월 (시월) siwol
11월 (십일월) sibilwol
12월 (십이월) sibiwol
The number component of 6월 and 10월 drop the final consonant for purposes of liaison.
Writing time and date
Koreans generally write the date in yyyy.mm.dd format (e.g. 2006.12.25 for December 25th, 2006).
March 1st, 2005
2005년 3월 1일 (이천오년 삼월 일일) icheon-onyeon samwol il-il (____year, _____month, ____day)
Bus and train
How much is a ticket to _____?
_____에 가는 표가 얼마입니까? (_____e ganeun pyoga eolmaimnikka?)
One ticket to _____, please.
_____에 가는 표 한 장이요. (_____e ganeun pyo han jang-iyo)
Where does this train/bus go?
이 기차/버스는 어디로 갑니까? (i gicha/beoseu-neun eodiro gamnikka?)
Where is the train/bus to _____?
_____에 가는 기차/버스는 어디에 있습니까? (_____e ganeun gicha/beoseuneun eodi-e isseumnikka?)
Does this train/bus stop in _____?
이 기차/버스는 _____에 섭니까? (i gicha/beoseu-neun _____e seomnikka?)
When does the train/bus for _____ leave?
_____에 가는 기차/버스는 언제 출발합니까? (_____e ganeun gicha/beoseu-neun eonje chulbalhamnikka?)
When will this train/bus arrive in _____?
이 기차/버스는 _____에 언제 도착합니까? (i gicha/beoseu-neun _____e eonje dochakamnikka?)
How do I get to _____ ?
_____에 가려면 어떻게 해야 합니까 ? (____e garyeomyeon eotteoke haeya hamnikka?)