Learn Sloppy Korean

By Ken Eckert



May 2008, August 2009, January 2010, December 2013

“Fake books” are quasi-legal books of musical tablature for guitarists in a hurry, or those lacking skill, who want to learn the basic outline of a song. I suppose this is a sort of “fake book” website for Korean. Purists might condemn this project with some justice, for I have simplified things greatly in order to let you speak not grammatically perfect Korean, but Korean that is passably good enough to make you understood as a foreigner. In short, this is sloppy Korean, written for teachers already in Korea or planning to come to teach English, or for anyone who wants a brief skiff of Korean for whatever purpose.

Why have I done this when I am not myself anywhere near fluency in Korean? For several reasons. There aren’t any books or sites like this that I know of. Most Korean books that I’ve seen either:

  • Teach you an outdated form of Korean that was useful in 1952 but make you sound like Shakespeare to a Korean now,        
  • Teach you a pile of preformed phrases without telling you anything about how they fit together or how to say new things, or
  • Immediately jump to a skill level so high that you give up in exasperation, go back to looking at bikini girls on the internet, and never come back to it.

So this book will teach you a rough but serviceable basic form of Korean that will let you get by and build confidence so that you can move on to better books written by specialists. It will not make you sound like a native Korean speaker, but if you’re not Korean you’re not going to be expected to speak like one anyway. This is a difficult language to learn, but not impossible, and the good news is that Koreans are usually flattered by any foreigner who at least tries. Maybe at some point a Korean will tell you sue-go heh-say-o … good try! That’s all I will try to accomplish on this website.

I must immediately cover myself by thanking my wife, who will be helping by checking things and helping supply Korean letterings. Most of these phrases have been picked up from her and from co-workers, students, and generally from living in Korea for seven years. As my own proficiency rises I will add to this site.

I have occasionally cribbed a phrase or concept from Richard Harris' Roadmap to Korean (Hollym, 2005), a helpful guide to the language once you outgrow this website. The book is an exception to my complaint that there are no good Korean tutorials in print. Being the internet, I've also shamelessly borrowed from various internet sites and online forums.

A Pep Talk

I have been lazy to learn Korean myself, partly because as a professor in an English program I am usually surrounded by students who can speak English, and because on so many occasions I was so intimidated by Korean that I stopped trying. Before living in Korea I taught in Mexico, and this spoiled me, because an English speaker can gain proficiency in Spanish quickly, but it takes years of studying Korean to get anywhere near conversational level. “Let’s go to the beach,” Vamos a la playa, sounds romantic, and is easy to learn because Spanish is a European language and the word order and vocabulary all feel comfortable. When you begin to learn Korean, and the words and grammar have no familiarity, it is a disconcerting project.

It doesn’t help that travel books and even language books romanticize and exoticize Korea and Korean. The assumption many people are left with is that the language is impossible and the culture impenetrably different. Neither is true. Koreans are humans like anyone else with the same emotions and needs; the language has many differences but has predictable rules. Korean children learn it; they are not space aliens. At any rate, it is not an all-or-nothing project. You can learn a little Korean to get by in a few weeks, or spend years mastering it. I am not going to wax poetic about how learning Korean will open new worlds, etc., although I do think that’s somewhat true. A language is a tool, and if you have confidence you can learn to use it skillfully.

I'm not fully practicing what I'm preaching, because I am still what I would call a high-level beginner. But because I'm a native English speaker and an English professor, maybe I have an insight into what basic problems most trouble new learners of Korean because I've experienced them too. As I get better I will add to this website. As ever, if you don’t like it... take your money back.

Basic Differences Between Korean and English

I wish I had understood these concepts when I first came to Korea in 2003. It would have saved me a great deal of confusion.

1. Korean is a high-context language. English is a low-context language. This is not a value judgment of either tongue but a statement of grammatical difference. English sentences are long but convey a great deal of exact information as free-standing statements. The boy ate some grapes tells us there was a boy, we both understand what boy, there was only one boy, and he ate a certain amount of grapes in the past. Korean would literally say boy-grape-did-eat. English might then say He went to school. Korean would render this school-to-did-go. One certain contexts and relationships are established, extra words aren’t necessary.

Korean has no articles (a, the), pronouns and plurals are usually omitted, and even verb tenses can be loosey-goosey. There is no separate preposition (to); a prepositional marker is simply connected to school. How can the language communicate meaning with so much seemingly necessary information missing? Because in spoken conversation the situation is visibly clear, and because there would be other sentences establishing and supporting what is going on. Written Korean would be perhaps (but not necessarily) more exact.

2. Korean is an agglutinative language. English is an analytical language. By this, I mean that English indicates meaning by word order. In The dog bit the man, we know that the man did not bite the dog because dog came first. This seems perfectly natural and obvious, but not all languages do this. A language such as Latin would say hominem mordet canis, and the word order would be largely irrelevant because the endings (-em and -is) tell us who bit who. Korean would say dog-subject-man-object-did-bite, with the biter and bitee marked with particle endings.

But Korean is agglutinative and Latin is something else (a synthetic language, because conjugations can change as well as add to words). Korean doesn’t really make ’sentences' in the sense of linking together discrete words. Rather, it glues them (thus agglutinative) into a statement: dog-subject-man-object-did-bite.

3. The word order is not only different in that the verb is at the end, but Korean does not always even require sentences to have a verb in them like an English sentence does. For convenience, I translate a statement like shib-da as it’s easy, but technically shib means easy and da is just a marker indicating that shib is acting as a completed adjective. There is no verb in the sentence! You need to let go of that English concept that every sentence needs a verb.

4. Respect. Korean is much more sensitive and nuanced to showing levels of familiarity or respect in its grammar. English used to have two grammatical levels of respect (you, formal, and thou, familiar), but these have atrophied in favor of distinctions in tone and vocabulary. Korean, being a Confucian-influenced society, does not have this easygoing flatness of western society and employs numerous levels of respect, which provides a further layer of meaning. In his book, Richard Harris gives an example of some 24 verb conjugations for respect that could theoretically be used, all in one tense. Fortunately, this site, and many Korean books, teaches only the most common familiar and polite forms which correspond loosely to dual European language forms such as du/sie and tu/usted, but do remember that there are many more levels and gradations, just in case you are addressing a king.

Some of these differences will feel weird to a non-native speaker, but with time they will feel natural, just as a German or French speaker feels that all nouns need a gender.

Go on to Part 1

1. Learning Hangul

Hangul, hawn-gull, is the written form of Korean, just like English has its own alphabet. Some books spend their entire length just teaching you how to write Hangul, which is useless for those who chiefly want to speak it (99% of us)—or they don’t teach Hangul at all. This really limits your ability to learn any Korean, firstly because you won’t be able to read street or bus signs, and secondly because the correspondence between English letters and Hangul isn’t great, and sometimes it’s difficult to represent Korean sounds. If you doubt this, try to represent musical notes and signs in alphabetic letters!

There are a few recognized systems in Korea for transliterating Hangul, but I am going to use my own because I think it’s easier and a better phonetic match. It sounds arrogant, but it has helped me to use the way my brain thinks of English letter patterns to learn Korean, and maybe it will help you as well. In my defense, Korean systems for rendering Korean into English seem to be more for the use of Koreans than for Korean learners. But do remember that English can’t perfectly represent Hangul, and vice versa. It will be best in the long run for you to learn it.

Hangul was created around 1446 by the famed King Sejong and his scholars to replace the Chinese characters then used to represent Korean words. Although it possibly has influences from Mongolian, It is one of the only successful artificially created writing systems in the world, and one of the few alphabetic writing systems in Asia, as each character represents an individual sound rather than a syllable or word or concept. Technically the language cheats a little because characters are lumped into threes, or occasionally fours, and these combinations often form regularly appearing syllables, but new words can still be made by combining individual characters. Modern Hangul is written left to right, and some non-alphabetic marks such as punctuation or Arabic numbers have also been added. There are exceptions such as movie subtitles, where the Hangul runs up to down.

Koreans can sometimes lay it on a little thick about how great Hangul is. It’s pretty awful at representing English words. But it is admittedly a very efficient system for representing Korean words, and it has boosted literacy immensely in this country over the last two centuries. It is, in fact, a better match between symbol and sound than the English alphabet is as you won’t be so troubled by silent letters or exceptions. Once you’ve learned it, you can pronounce most things without needing to be taught that you don’t pronounce the k or the gh in knight. Korean is difficult, but the writing system is actually not so bad as you are only memorizing 24 related characters, rather than learning a character for each word or word-part as you would in Chinese.

Korean also does not have stress patterns. In other words, whereas in English people argue about how to say distributing (DISS-trib-you-ting or dis-TRIB-you-ting), all Korean syllables are said with the same volume and emphasis. This is a mixed blessing, because sometimes it is hard to turn off the impulse to accent syllables, but you must do so in order to be clearly understood. Korean also does not have pitched sounds such as Vietnamese or Chinese (though there are a few places where Korean does cheat and inflect by pitch slightly), and so pitch is also irrelevant to pronouncing words correctly. 

Spoken Korean does have its own rhythms and sentence inflection. Like English, a question ends in a raised pitch, and a command might end in a slightly dropped pitch. When children or young women have a whining, pleading tone they often have a slow vibrato sound.

How to Pronounce the Characters

The original script had 28 characters. Modern Korean has 24 (or so) characters, depending on whether you call combinations discrete letters. There aren’t as many consonants as English has, but more vowels. I haven’t listed all of the combinations, but here are the most frequently used ones that we'll cover.

ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅅ ㅇ ㅈ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ ㅏ ㅑ ㅓ ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜㅠ ㅡ ㅣ ㅔ ㅐ ㅢ  ㅖ ㅟ ㅚ

I lived in Korea for many months without being able to read Hangul, and then one day I simply 'got it', just like Bart Simpson who suddenly realizes he can speak fluent French after going on an exchange program all summer. The key was when I realized that many of the characters look like the shape your mouth makes when you are saying it. Some of Sejong’s men grumbled that perhaps Hangul was too easy to learn and was diminishing the exclusive dignity of literacy. Hangul was mockingly called 'women’s letters,' because ostensibly even a woman could learn to read. It actually wasn’t widely used until the Christian missionaries employed it to teach and evangelize Koreans in the nineteenth century.

The first character I learned was ㅅs. When you say ‘s’, notice that your upper lip forms a sort of tent, making the opening in your mouth triangle-shaped.

ㅈ j is just a variation ofㅅs. Now imagine that your tongue is a flat line. Notice that your tongue is in the middle of your mouth when you make aㅈ j sound. Now put the flat line on top of the character.

ㅊ ch is a harder ㅈ j. Think of the smaller line as a short flow of air moving over your tongue.

Now let’s look at a second group of consonants.

ㅁmm. Imagine that there’s a big square space in your mouth to make this sound.
ㅂb. This is aㅁmm with puffs of air coming out of the top corners of your mouth.
ㅍ p. This is a harderㅂb. And theㅍlooks like the Pillars of the Parthenon.

Here’s another group of consonants.

ㄷ d. Think about your mouth with a large opening to let out this sound.
ㅌ t. Think of this sound as aㄷ d with your tongue sticking in the middle.
ㄴ n. Your tongue sort of lies on the bottom of your mouth when you say this.
ㄱ g. Your tongue sort of sticks to the top of your mouth when you say this.
ㅋ k. This is aㄱ g with your tongue sticking in the middle.
ㄹ r/l. Think about the way your tongue bends around the top of your mouth to say r, and then put it on top of the shape your tongue makes at the bottom of your mouth to say l. Or else think of the zig-zag your tongue makes to create this sound, which is halfway between r and l.

Some English words such as “Rachel” or “falafel” are very difficult to render in Korean, as the language doesn’t differentiate between r and l. There’s an unkind stereotype about Asians saying “roud you rike remon on your lice”, but Koreans who learn the difference between the two English sounds can distinguish them just fine. It’s no harder than an English speaker learning to say Beijing or arrivaderchi, two sounds which don’t occur in English.

ㅇ nothing/ ng. When it begins a group of three characters, theㅇis like a zero (0)—it indicates nothing more than a placeholder. At the end of a group, it means ‘ng’, as in “she sung very well”. Imagine this sound coming from the back of your round throat.

ㅎ h/wh. Air is moving out of your round throat, and the only thing modifying it is your tongue in the middle of your mouth (the long line) as a short bit of air flows over it (the short line on top).

Vowel Sounds

Vowels were not planned by Sejong’s scholars to have visual meaning but to correspond to philosophical concepts of earth, sky, and humanity, but I am attempting to give them spatial meanings in hopes that you will have a useful visual mnemonic.

ㅏ ah (father). Here there’s a big up-and-down line because your mouth is open the widest. Imagine your tongue in the middle of your mouth.

ㅑ yah. The same, except your tongue has to do twice as much work to make the vowel—thus two lines.

ㅓ uh (mutt). Your mouth doesn’t change position much from ㅏ ah, but the sound comes from further back in your mouth, closer to your gut.

ㅕ yuh. The same, except your tongue has to do twice as much work.

ㅗ oh (boat). Your tongue is on the bottom of your mouth, but it feels like there’s a bend in your tongue upwards in the middle.

ㅛ yo!. Again, the same, except your tongue has to do two movements.

ㅜ oo (boot). Your tongue is higher in your mouth but sags down a little in the middle.

ㅠ you. Your tongue has to do this with two movements.

Other Vowels

ㅡ uh (put). This is a very simple sound, with a simple character. Your tongue is simply hanging in the middle of your mouth, doing nothing. Korean usually doesn’t like to end a word with a consonant sound, so this is can be a sort of subtle vowel ending. It is the equivalent of the phonetic schwa (ə).

ㅣee (meet). Imagine that you are creating a lot of airflow in your mouth by a sort of invisible barrier in the middle.

ㅔ eh (set). Your tongue is now getting into the action by standing before that invisible barrier, lowering the vowel sound.

ㅐ eh! (sat). I get this sound mixed up with ㅔ eh. It is closer to ah-pple.

ㅚ weh (water is wet). I can’t think of a visual for this one. But you won’t see it all that often anyway. Even native Korean speakers have difficulty making this sound perfectly, and if you want to approach the right pronunciation, go very softly on the w part.

Character Blocks

Characters are typically grouped into threes, starting with the top left. An example is 잔 (jan, salty). Sometimes two is enough to finish the set, such as 네 (neh, yes). Occasionally four are necessary, but that’s unusual. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that each group is a discrete word; a set may only indicate a syllable or a conjugational ending. Beer is 맥주, mek-joo.

Again, character blocks cannot begin with a vowel, and so you will sometimes see a dummy ㅇ character beginning a block. Two other quirks (among others) recognizable in English loanwords into Korean are that native Korean avoids double consonants (Breakfast turns into buh-rek-fast) and the sound patterns of Korean discourage ending words with sounds like ch (church is often pronounced as chuch-uh or church-ee).

Okay, the next page will be about some basic emergency expressions. Use the English transliteration to help you, but your goal should be to eventually read the Hangul. There are, unfortunately, a few places where the Hangul has a pronunciation exception and my transliteration is actually closer to the real sound, but that doesn’t happen often— certainly far more seldom than English words whose pronunciation has drifted away from their spelling (Worcestershire, thorough).

Go on to Part 2

2. Basic Getting By

There are a few basic utterances which you should just flat out memorize, because you will be using them constantly when you speak to someone in Korean.

안녕 하세요

안녕 히 가세요

Because these two statements are used so often and sound so similar, don’t worry if you accidently say an-yong-ha-seyo as you leave. Koreans treat it a little like aloha, a multi-purpose phrase. An-yong is a quick form, analogous to “hi!", but it is very informal and usually only said to or between children. It is a long greeting but do not be tempted to abbreviate it.

What exactly anyong-haseyo means is controversial in Korean manuals. My wife is insistent that literally it is a question which asks, “Are you at peace?,” reflecting a tumultuous past in the country. Semantically, I would translate it as “Are you doing all right?” Although it is such a formulaic statement that it can be said with straight intonation, I notice that some Koreans in fact do lift their pitch a little at the end like a question, and this explains why a common answer to anyong-haseyo is neh 네, yes. Anyong-hee-gaseyo, said in parting, is actually an imperative: go in peace.

감사 합니다
Thank you

Here is an example of a place where the actual pronunciation has drifted slightly from the spelling. Technically, you should say kam-sa-hab-ni-da but normally the b and n are so fused together that it sounds like a soft m, and so I've written it this way. I've heard people in bars quickly say kam-sah as a slang form, but it’s also not a good habit to learn and will sound a little weird if a new speaker says it.

죄송 합니다
I’m sorry.

실례 합니다
Excuse me.

North Americans, and particularly Canadians, are very apologetic by Asian standards. Koreans will not say “excuse me” for minor bumps or burps, so don’t overuse this. Shil-lay-ham-nida is more likely to be used before you do something, such as nudging through a crowd to get to your seat.


This is pronounced like Bugs Bunny saying, “Neehhh, what’s up doc?” Koreans will sometimes stretch out the neehhh quite a ways, and it is often a friendly response to “thank you” in place of “you're welcome." It can also be used to end a telephone call.

Yes (Familiar)

Three Levels of Respect

There are numerous levels of respect in Korean, and one reason Koreans seem to ask a lot of personal questions when introduced is so that they can use the right level, which can vary considerably based on age and social position. I've oversimplified things by using only the three most common forms:

High jon-de-mal 존댓말: Formal address for introductions or special politeness

Low jon-de-mal 존댓말: Polite address for co-workers, elder family members, people you don’t know

Ban-mal 반말: Familiar address for close friends or younger family members, children

These levels of address are like those found in European languages, but are perhaps used with more strictness and formality in Korean culture. Basically, if someone is older than you— even a sibling or friend— you would use jondemal unless everyone is comfortable with changing. It would be common to address one’s parents in polite form, and you might need to become quite close to in-laws before switching to familiar; in very traditional households even a wife will address her husband in jondemal. A Korean student speaking to a teacher in banmal would be severely disciplined.

For a foreigner in Korea, I think a simple rule applies: Use high jondemal on a formal occasion or in introductions, but mainly use low jondemal. I list the banmal forms on this website for grammatical information, but you should never use it except with a small child, a pet, or a friend/boy-girlfriend who is comfortable with it. Otherwise it’s rude and you will be told so. You of course are a foreigner and have certain liberties, but using banmal consistently will antagonize people.

Usually you can make a phrase polite by adding the polite marker -yo (as in yo-yo or yo! wassup!).

아니 (요)
Anie (yo)

One problem with rendering Hangul is that English a covers a few different sounds, from ant to August to talk. The a in anie sounds like rough, and not like Annie. Where that’s not obvious, I will indicate use [a] to mean a short a.

First Grammar

Ee-yeh-yo 이에요 (polite, low jondemal) and im-nee-da 입니다 (more formal, high jondemal) mean is, are, or am. They end a statement.

켄 이에요
Ken ee-yeh-yo
My name is Ken (I am Ken.)

Think about this: in English even in rather casual situations your introductions might be more formal: May I introduce myself; ladies and gentlemen; pleased to meet you. In Korean also these day-to-day greeting phrases use more elevated styles.

켄 입니다
Ken im-nee-da
My name is Ken (I am Ken.)

If you introduced yourself to someone in a soju tent you could perhaps say 켄 이다 (Ken ee-da) in banmal, but it’s just not commonly used. That’s not a good Hangul rendering of Ken, but you can of course use any name. If your western name is written in Hangul, you can see some interesting manglings of the pronunciation. Again, because Korean doesn’t usually end a word with a consonant sound, at a doctor’s office I tend to hear ken-ess-uh, Kenneth.

선생 입니다
San-seng im-nee-da
I am a teacher.

Your occupation is phrased the same way, teacher + I am. I'm going to write 입니다 as im-nee-da on this site as it’s closest to the English, but again, there’s a bit of a 'b' sound there— not really ib-nee-da, but close.

A saram is a person, so if you are asking someone if they are Korean:

한국 사람 입니다?
Hang-guk saram imnida?
Are you Korean?

Koreans call their country Hanguk. A foreigner will be called a way-gook saram (외국 사람).

Other common nations are Japan, ill-bone (일본), China, chung-gook (중국), U.S.A, mee-gook (미국)— a Japanese corruption of ah-mee-rica— and England, young-gook (영국). Canada is, well, canada (캐나다). Newer countries are less likely to have a native Korean word. Thus Germany is dok-il (독일) but The Netherlands are nedehlanduh (네덜란드). Oddly, Australia is ho-ju (호주).

여기 요!
Here, please!

This is used to call a waiter or waitress to your table. It sounds awfully impertinent to call out “here, please!” and it takes some time to conquer the feeling that you are being rude, but that’s how it’s done, and people won’t be offended.

Cheers! (Salut, Prosit!)

After offering too many toasts, you'll need to go to the bathroom (literally, a powder room; isn’t that delicate?):

화장실 어디 있어요?
Hwah-jang-shill oh-dee-sayo?
Where is the bathroom?

If you forget this phrase, many Koreans will know toilet, but try to remember at least hwah-jang-shill? (bathroom?)

여보 세요?
Hello? (Telephone only)

Yobo is also an affectionate term similar to dear, used between husband and wife, but to answer a telephone it has more the meaning of “look here.” Most telephone conversations I hear end not in anyong-hee-gaseyo, but simply in a drawn-out neehh (Yes, 네).

알겠 습니다
Okay, I understand (polite)

Koreans don’t really have a set way of ending a telephone conversation. I've noticed that friends and intimates usually say neehh and a business call often ends with all-get-sim-nida, which is saying, all right, I got it as a polite closure.

Here are some more short interjections or expressions.

그래 (요)?
Grey (yo)?

Well, let’s see…

This interjection is equivalent to “Uh...” You can say this when you are simply trying to buy time.

It hurts.

You need to pronounce this carefully, because up-puh (아빠 ) is “daddy.” I find it helps to pronounce aww-pahh quite slowly.

안녕 히 주무세요
Have a good night.

I once told my Korean parents-in-law anyong-ee-moo-joo-seyo, confusing it with the phrase for “goodbye.” I was telling them, “Hi, give me a radish!” Try to get it right. I've been teased about it for years.

누구 세요?
Who is it?

어서 오세요.
Oh-so oh-sey-o
Welcome, come in.

You will hear this frequently as a greeting when you enter a shop or restaurant.

잘 먹겠습니다
(I) will eat well.

This is what you (the customer) says after being served if you wish to be very polite.

잘 먹었습니다
(I) ate well.

You can say this after the meal as a compliment if you like. Note that the guh followed by a harsh ssss changes the meaning of the phrase from future to past tense. More on that later.

잘 지냈어요?
Have you been well?

잘 지내나?(부산 사투리)
Have you been well? (Busan)

This is a simple conversation starter, i.e. “How are things?” Note that the second is Busan dialect from the south of the country, and is informal address. Koreans, particularly those from the southern coast, will find it amusing if you know a few dialect expressions, and for best effect Busan dialect is a little more gutteral and steps quite hard on the naaah at the end.

괘 찮 아 (요)
Kin-chan-nah (yo)
(It’s / I'm) Fine, okay, no problem.

This is a useful multipurpose expression which corresponds well to English no problem, I'm fine, okay. It can reassure someone that you're not offended or hurt: I'm fine, It’s alright. It is used as a question or for reassurance. You fell—are you okay? (괘찮아요?) Yes, yes, I'm fine! (괘찮아요!)

Notice that the It’s and I'm are in parentheses in my translation, meaning that the statement can mean anyone. It’s a high-context language, meaning that normally who it is applied to is obvious. We can all visually see who bumped their head! If necessary, there are ways of stating who, and we will get to them.

Easy Loan Words

For a confidence builder, learn these words which have been imported from English into Korean. Remember not to use word stress.

라디오, radio (rah-di-o)

스파게티, spaghetti (su-pah-geh-tee)

치즈, cheese (chi-zhuh)

토마토, tomato (toe-mah-toe)

피아노, piano (piano)

티셔츠, t-shirt (tee-shuh-tuh)

크리스마스, Christmas (kuh-riss-muh-suh)

카메라, camera (camera)

나이트 클럽, nightclub (nah-eye-tuh kuh-lub)

컴퓨터, computer (kum-pyoo-tuh)

Go on to Part 3

3. People

This section is all noun vocabulary for people and personal relations. You need to know some nouns if you're going to say anything beyond surface greetings, and this is a good place to begin learning because nouns aren’t usually conjugated in Korean. It’s possible to pluralize nouns by adding -dool, 들, but it’s usually omitted, or there is a number anyway (four budgies).





Big sister (from a male)

Korean, like British English, tends to use these titles instead of actual names, and what makes things more complicated is that these terms are gender-marked. Thus only men say Nu-nah, and only to older sisters, although I've had older female friends who like being called “big sister” and find it affectionately friendly. Koreans are very family conscious, and there is a huge vocabulary of specific titles, such as 'younger brother-in-law, from man, through wife,' but I'm trying to give the basics. It’s not surprising that the language usually omits pronouns!

Sister (from a younger sister)

I've heard foreign men say this to all women generally, but it sounds a little effeminate.



Say this with a bit of yuh in it, but it’s not quite Yuh-juh.

Girl, teenage girl

Ad-jush-ee (ajoshi)
Married man

Ad-joom-ma (ajumma)
Married woman

As I said, it’s a sexist language. Men are all ajoshis (Mr.), but women are marked as single or married (Miss, Mrs). Ajumma also has a variety of nuances, ranging from “lady” to “auntie” to “frumpy, meddling old chatterbox,” depending on how and where you use the word, but I've never offended women who are obviously married by using it. If you're not sure, just use zero address. It’s more acceptable (and easier grammatically) in Korean than in English to simply not use any name at all.

In titles Korean doesn’t distinguish between Mr. / Mrs. / Miss. If you do need to address someone in title form you can say [name] + she 씨. This seems to be done with first names, resulting in jen-ee-puh-she ee-yey-yo 제니퍼 씨 이에요? Are you Miss Jennifer?



These are, obviously, kiddy terms and shouldn’t be used by men except in fun.

Don’t confuse uppa 아빠 with oppa 오빠. Oppa is technically what a younger girl calls an older brother but is often used for an older male friend or boyfriend. In “Gangnam Style” it has the even broader slang meaning of 'daddy' or 'dude.'


Pastor’s wife

A “salmon-im” is the wife of a “fisher of men"? Well, sometimes dumb mnemomics like this will help you remember words. A salmon-im can actually be any kind of important man’s wife, such as a teacher, but I typically hear it applied to pastor’s wives.




Educational titles are important in Korea. You may also hear 조교수, joe-gyoh-sue, assistant professor or 부교수, boo-gyoh-sue, associate professor. Getting those titles wrong can make for a frosty faculty meeting.

Home room teacher




These last two are somewhat slangy terms, but younger people will understand what you mean.

부인 or 집사람
Boo-in (or) Jeep-saram

Literally, a “Jeep-saram” is a house-person. For some reason, these terms aren’t used to address other people’s wives. This is a little odd, but Koreans will usually say “your child’s mom.” If the wife you want to address has a girl named Sun-hi, then Sun-hi ah-ma. This can be done in second person address straight to the person, and even husbands and wives might use these titles familiarly.


A nam-jah is a male person (man), and a yah-juh (여자) is a female person (woman), so you'll see these nam- and yo-, ya- prefixes often.

부 부
Boo boo
Married couple

This should be easy to remember for anyone married, who some days thinks he or she made a boo-boo.

Elder brother (from male only)

Older brother, honorific

You wouldn’t often use such an over-formal term to address an older brother except in humor, but here it is. In third person people will refer to the 교수님, “honorable professor,” but a professor wouldn’t call him or herself this as it would sound pompous.

Younger sibling

This is a unisex term. You can say 여동생 (ya-dong-seng, younger sister) or 남동생 (nam-dong-seng, younger brother) if you need to be specific. If the person is standing in front of you a Korean probably wouldn’t bother to differentiate.

Let’s also list a few body parts:





This can also mean hair. If you have a headache, you can complain that mah-ree aw-pah 머리 아파!


Go on to Part 4

4. Slang Terms for People

Obviously you need to be careful about where you use such terms. For some reason these were some of the first expressions I learned in Korean, and often they just fit well!


I remember that Mexicans get quite angry if they are called stupido, but this word isn’t quite so strong in Korean; its nuance is closer to foolish.

Bird brain

Block head

These are interesting. Sometimes insults don’t translate well, but these two mean the same thing in English.

사장 님
Hey, boss!

This is a half-humorous way of calling for service. It can bring a laugh, but a male waiter probably wouldn’t like it if a foreign woman uses it. Korea is a fairly sexist culture; you're better off knowing this in advance.

식당 아줌마
Shik-dung ah-joom-ma
Lunch lady

You should probably not call your wife this unless you can duck fast or she can take a joke!

백조 or 백수)
Beck-joe (or) Beck-sue
Lazy party girl (or boy)

This is a slacker who sleeps all day and doesn’t want to work, only go to parties (i.e. half the people I lived in dorm with in college). You must remember that the -joe ending is a woman and the -sue ending is a man, the opposite of what the words cause you to think!

이 런!
Oh, shoot!


오리 발!
Horsefeathers! (Literally, “Goosefeet!")

These are all slightly kiddy interjections, equivalent to “rats!” or “darn it!” and “yahoo!” But no one will mind. Remember to pronounce all syllables in Korean with equal emphasis.

Nop-pun nome
Bad man

Be careful. I thought this had the meaning of 'naughty boy' and jokingly called my father this in front of my Korean parents-in-law, who nearly fell over. Its nuance is closer to “bastard,” “a—hole,” or something else unprintable applied to men.

Crazy bitch (vulgar)

This is a strong vulgarity. The nuance is closer to 'f—-d up bitch' and the phrase would almost never be used in fun. Be careful.

Cursing is less acceptable in Korea than in North America, with our 21st century potty mouths. The nome (guy, dude) and yun (chick, bitch) can be interchanged in these two phrases to make mitch-in-nome, etc... Again, you have some built-in forgiveness being a foreigner, but don’t abuse it by deliberately insulting someone with these obscenities. They also sound silly when a foreigner doesn’t know the exact nuance for the situation. Think of Star Trek IV where Spock is trying to use 20th-century swear words and sounds ridiculous.

잔소리 여왕 (대 왕)
Chancery yo-wong (day-wong)
Queen of nagging (king)

Back to safe ground. These amusing epithets can be said in fun. There is a cultural difference, though, in that the “nasty mother-in-law" stereotype is usually the wife’s and not the husband’s problem, and so Korean men wouldn’t normally use such jokes with their wife’s mother.



Yobo is really only used between husband and wife, where joggy is more for sweethearts.

구제 패션
Goo-jay pashion
Second-hand fashion

Koreans tend to be pretty fashion-conscious, and someone whose dress is sloppy or hopelessly out of date will be described like this: did they get their clothes second-hand at a charity store?

닭살 커플
Dock-saul couple
Over-cutesy couple

"Dock-saul" is goosebumps, like the eye-rolling, gagging feeling one gets when boyfriend and girlfriend are wearing matching clothes and spoonfeeding each other.

Sponger (Literally, lice)

Jun-dory (rhyming with run)

A bin-deh is worse, someone who wants others to pay the bill. A jun-dory is simply a cheapskate. Note that the term is male, referring to a traditionally common Korean boy’s name. A miserly woman is a jun-soony, 짠순이. Jun is salty. If someone tries to save money on food by adding salt to stretch out the flavor, they are a “salty Jack” or a “salty Jill."

Gigolo, Player

Company man

This is a 9-to-5 man who comes straight home when the work-bell rings “deng!" For some women this is a boast, and for others this expresses maybe a little boredom!

Frumpy old woman

This is a little nasty; an old hag.

주첵 아줌마
Joo-chegg ajumma
An immature older woman

This is hard to translate and sounds wooden, but describes an older, married woman who acts and dresses like a teenage girl. It’s a milder and possibly good-natured insult, but not one to be used to someone’s face.

A “country” girl (pejorative)

This describes a woman, usually older, with coarse manners associated with someone from the countryside— literally, a “country chicken.” Okay, let’s try to give women a break and find a male insult. You could say chom-nome to describe a male hillbilly, but I think the term is less common.

대머리 아저씨
Dem-oree ajoshi
Bald man

This has the humorous suggestion of “old, bald guy.” Like it or not, it’s usually applied to westerners as we tend to lose our hair at a younger age than Korean men do.

Hot girl or guy (unisex)

Phony girl who pretends to be feminine

Koreans are traditionalists who value femininity in a woman, and this insult describes a dissembling woman who acts like a helpless little girl around men and a truck driver around other women. Women who smoke cigarettes have a definite stigma.

Slow person

A dweet-boog is “playing the back drum"; that is, they're playing a drum at the back of the band and are out of time. Use this for someone who gets the joke five minutes later or asks the question someone just answered— “third rock from the sun!"

Outcast, “fifth wheel"

Innocent girl, Sunday girl

This isn’t necessarily pejorative, although more and more, I think, young women have a touch of sarcasm in calling themselves “good girls” when they're obviously dressed for a nightclub.


I remember this because the person is “good for nothing"— null.


Two left feet— Someone who can’t dance.

No sense of direction — Someone who gets lost easily.

숏 다리
Girl with short legs

Because this is Konglish slang and not standard Korean it may be spelled differently. Now we are getting a culture lesson, as Koreans seem to think a woman with short legs is less attractive. The phrase isn’t a strong insult and can be used humorously, though of course not directly to them. To many Koreans the taller the better, for women as well as men, and being too short makes one a 왕따 in dating!

Notice the first syllable block, 숏, shoaht. Some characters do funny things when they end blocks, and one of them is ㅅ, which takes an s sound in initial position and a t sound in final position. Notice above that 뒷북 has that character but is pronounced dweet-boog.

쭉쭉 빵빵
Joog-joog bong-bong
Busty, leggy girl

A girl who is “stacked.” This is also the sort of thing you say with other men in the bar, and not directly to a woman!


This is sort of a kiddy term, but it really does have the adult nuance of tits.

뽕 브라
Bong bra
A padded bra

This is a humorous term for a women with “false advertising.” There is a growing awareness of the western obsession with cleavage. Older Koreans and North Koreans tend to think that women with large breasts are unattractive, but more westernized college students will understand the sentiment.

Don’t get bong confused with bang, room, which is pronounced similarly but with slightly more 'a'. A norebang (노래방) is a private singing lounge for karaoke. If someone tells you they only went to “Bang-kok” for the weekend, it’s a Korean pun meaning they went nowhere— they were stuck in their own room.


To finish this classy section of the tutorial, pyon-tay ajoshi has a strong meaning in Korean, and will make people giggle, but it seldom has the meaning of “criminal” that it can have in English.

Okay, one more:

Buh-buh-ree man

Literally, a "Burberry Man,” named for the brand of coats. Perverts who expose themselves are fortunately less common in recent years, I'm told, as Korean girls are less sheltered and aren’t frightened by flashers anymore— they tend to laugh, or even worse, take cell-phone pictures!

Go on to Part 5

5. Food

Here is a whole page on nouns for food, because you're going to need to eat when you're in Korea!


This is literally rice, but can be used to refer to food generally.

Meal, dinner





Al Bundy on Married With Children calls his daughter Kelly pumpkin as an endearing term, but in Korean culture it means an ugly girl!



오 렌지 주스
Orange-ee joo-suh
Orange juice

This is pretty much a no-brainer, and you can combine any of the other fruit names with joo-suh.

Green onion

Garden leaves for wrapping galbi 갈비 (roasted meat, usually marinated pork)

꿀꿀 이죽
Pig food

Obviously, be careful where you use this joke if the dinner is terrible.

샐러 드

This can mean a lettuce salad, but can also mean any sort of vegetable or fruit salad with dressing, typically a “Thousand Island” variation.

So go-gee

돼지 고기
Deh-jee go-gee

닭 고기
Dak go-gee

These three phrases all say beef meet, pork meat, etc. If you are asked to choose one, you could probably omit the go-gee (meat).


Red pepper sauce

Gochujung looks like ketchup, but it is spicy pepper sauce. A gochoo is also slang for penis, so be prepared for jokes.

고 춧가루
Red pepper powder



Don’t say koh-pee; that’s a nosebleed. A traditional Korean coffee shop is a tah-bang, 다방, but these tend to be seedy places and often fronts for prostitution, and so I would not use that translation. It’s trendy for university students to hang out in western-style coffee shops, and you are probably better off with caw-pee shop-uh (커피 숍).


Pronounce this like the dance cha-cha. Cha can also mean car, but the context obviously should make it clear. There will be many types of traditional tea, from green tea, knock-cha 녹차, to Chinese jasmine-cha, to bori-cha 보리차, barley tea. If you really want western, Indian-style tea, ask for hong-cha 홍차, black tea.


If you like lemon in your tea, this one is easy. Just remember to say the “l" with a little “r” in it without making it sound like the Asian cliché remon sound.



Unfortunately, saul-tung sounds like “salt,” and so you need to remember that the association is wrong. I suppose too much salt gives you sow-gum—"sore gums"?

I haven’t included a word for table pepper because you will rarely see it except in western restaurants, and in those places you can just say “pepper” anyway. A menu is the same, 메뉴, but you'll find many Korean restaurants just have the menu on the wall or on the placemat anyway. If you find you're not adept yet with chopsticks, you might need to ask for a fork (pork-uh 레몬).

Your table setting will probably already have utinsils, but if they don’t, here are some words:


젓 가 락

One last amusing warning: expect teasing if you talk about “chips and salsa.” Sulsa 설사 in Korean means diarrhea. I once went to a supermarket and asked for salsa, and the clerk pointed to the bathrooms! 

Go on to Part 6

6. Nouns: Things & Places

Here is one more page on nouns for places and general abstractions. To ask where something is: (place) + Odi yay-yo 어디에요? So to ask where the bank is, Un-heng odi-yay-yo? 은행 어디에요?


Convenience store (e.g. 7-11)

Department store

Note the jum 점 ending, which often marks where something is sold. A bookstore is a suh-jum 서점. But not always; won 원 often seems to indicate something institutional:





Here are more places. Note that some of the word parts also sometimes have connections to each other.



Beauty salon


Pastor’s parsonage


Let’s learn some easy grammar here with preposition at/in eh 에:

커피 숍 에 있어요
Kohpee shob-eh issoyo
I'm at the coffee shop.



Car (or tea)

Car (or tea)

Gasoline is simply gass-uh 가스 and oil is gear-um 기름 (which makes the gears move).

Parking lot


Motorcycle, scooter

You won’t see many Harley-Davidsons, but you will see a lot of scooters zooming around with commuters or people delivering things, and this is straight Konglish. For a bicycle, you might be able to say buh-ike-uh with youngsters, but it would be better to learn jah-jang-gah 자전거.


House, home

Key money

Korean apartments are typically not sold but a long-term deposit ("key money") is paid to the owner. The owner invests this deposit, which can be hundreds of thousands of dollars, and (hopefully) pays it back when the tenants leave.

Monthly rent

Alternatively, a small key money payment might be made and then monthly rent payments can be made.



A university is a dae- “universe” school.

Private school

I suppose the hog should be more like hawk, but I think perhaps Koreans are getting used to the pronunciation used by western ESL teachers.




City hall

Subway station

연금 카드
Yun-gumm cah-duh
Bank card

신용 카드
Shin-yong cah-duh
Credit card

Many Koreans will recognize bank-uh if you need a bank machine, or even ATM, but it would be better to learn the proper words.

Doohickey, thingamajig

This is Jolla dialect (South-west) for some nameless object. Be aware that for teenagers, it can be a kiddy term for penis (What Ned Flanders calls Homer’s doodle). It can also be used when you know what the word is and definitely don’t want to say it!

Korean language

You can describe every language with this word. Because England is young-gook 영국, English is young-uhh 영어. French is Pu-ranss-uhh 프랑스어 and Spanish is Su-pein-uhh 스페인어.

Informal speech

This is the term for common speech between intimates, with no pesky -yos. Again, formal speech is 존댓말, jon-de-mal.



Staff party (night)

There isn’t a clear English term for this. It’s when the staff go out together to a restaurant in the evening to socialize and drink.

First round (ill-cha, 차) may be a restaurant, second round (ee-cha, 이차) may be a norebang. If anyone’s still standing the remaining revelers may go to a pub with food (hope-uh, 호프) or a bar (sool-jib, 술집). Very naughty men may go to a massage parlor (ahn-ma, 안마).

At the bar, you may be given soju 소주, potato liquor, and encouraged to drink with toast! (gonbey, 건배!) or one shot! (wun-shot, 원샷!) There may be small dishes of food ordered (an-joo, 안주) such as corn, potatoes, fruit, or squid. These can be expensive, but if the table is drinking a great deal it’s common for the house to bring some free food as a ’service' (serbiss-uh, 서비스).

Feeling of attachment, empathy

Again, this is difficult to translate, but suggests a kind of 'kinship' or 'karma' friends or lovers have for each other. Koreans don’t believe homosexuals have jung, and so there will be no misunderstanding if two men (or two women) have jung for each other; it’s totally fraternal outside marriage.


Literally, eye water. A very poetic word.

선 택

Death from overwork

This is associated with the Japanese, but Koreans are reported in the newspaper sometimes of dying from work stress. Unfortunately, Ja-sal 자살, suicide, is also a phenomenon in this competitive culture.


Ehh-ee con
Air conditioning



Although pets are increasingly popular in the country, among the many Korean expressions formed with geh-, probably none are complimentary. If your meal is truly awful, you might call it geh-bab (개 밥), dog food!




You might indeed feel a little gummy if you walk through a spiderweb. It’s these silly mnemonics that will help you remember.

Go on to Part 7

7. Description Statements

Here I am going to cover some adjectives so that you can describe situations or feelings. Let’s look at a simple adjective statement.

엽기 다
It’s weird

In this phrase, yup-key is the root, and the basic form of the adjective is yup-key-da— which is also the conjugation in familiar address for the word; the polite ending would be, surprise, -yo. The -da / -yo ending corresponds loosely to “it’s” in translation, but keep in mind that technically it is simply a marker ending the phrase as an adjectival statement. Korean statements do not require a verb.

웃긴 다
It’s humorous

어렵 다
It’s difficult

쉽 다.
It’s easy.

썰렁 하다
It’s not funny.

You can say this when a joke isn’t funny— the joke “bombed.” The hah- class of adjective is the most common in Korean, although these words actually normally come from Chinese. The hah- is a grammatical marker and needs to be conjugated with -da or -yo. The hah- 하 will turn into heh-yo 해요.

먹을 만 해요
Mug-il mun-heyo
It’s edible

Korean as a rule is not a language which uses sarcasm (banap-bub, 반어법) very much. If it’s raining and you say, “Oh, nice day!” you will need to make it very emphatic to get across the idea that you don’t really think it’s a nice day, and you may still confuse some people. But this phrase is a rather snide way of saying “It’s edible... but just barely."

귀엽 다
It’s cute

예쁘 다                        
It’s pretty

These are rather feminine things to say ("Isn’t it the most darling thing!"), but men might say them.

비싸 다
It’s expensive

싸다 (싸요)
Sa-da (Polite: Sah-yo)
It’s cheap

Notice how similar these are? The bee- is here a negating prefix— i.e. it’s not cheap. For fun, you can refer to a price as a rip-off: bog-uh-jee-da (바가 지다 ).

유치 하다
It’s childish, cheesy

Korean doesn’t really have the concept of cheesy, and you'll have a tough time answering the question, “Why cheese?", but this expression comes close.

느끼 하다 (해요)
Nookie-hada (heh-yo)
It’s greasy, oily

This expression can be used literally for a woman’s leaking car engine or figuratively for the mechanic with the girlie posters trying to pick her up.

매워 (or) 맵다 (요)
Meh-wuh, mep-da (yo)
It’s spicy

When you eat a Korean meal you might be saying this a great deal. I'm told meh-wuh is slightly more “masculine,” but both mean essentially the same thing.

시 다
It’s sour.

It’s salty.

Salty in adjective form before a noun is jan, as in the expression noted earlier, Jan-dory, 짠돌이, salty Jack.

배고 파 (요)
Beh-go-pah (yo)

Typically, this is for yourself, i.e. I'm hungry— literally, stomach empty. Again, the situation usually explains who is hungry without a pronoun— “who else would be hungry, how can you feel her stomach?” There is a formal way to form questions in Korean, but a foreigner can usually get away with just raising his or her intonation at the end of the statement. Thus beh-go-pah-yo? is are you hungry?

If you're not hungry, you can say you're fine— kin-channah-yo (괘찮 아요). Or, if you want to emphasize that you are not hungry, say 배안고 파 (요) beh-ahn-go-pah-yo. The ahn (안) negates hungry. But notice that the ahn particle goes before the verb and not at the beginning of the statement: i.e. My stomach (is not) empty.

징그 럽다
It’s creepy

집요 하다
(Someone is) too questioning

This is said when someone is being too persistent or pestering you with too many questions. Other people can see who you are looking at or pointing to! Korean does use more pronouns in writing, where these visual clues are absent, but I'm not teaching you to write Korean— this is quick and dirty, remember? By the way, if you point at someone, use your entire hand. Pointing with one finger is only for dogs and will be seen as rude.

지랄 한다 !
(Someone is) crazy like an animal

You might say this to someone not there, such as when you're angry at another driver in traffic! (Or, you could mutter, 아이씨! 이놈들아 ! aish! ga-zah, ee-nom-dur-ah! Sheesh! Move it, buddy!) But remember that Koreans don’t generally use animal expressions with each other like “Hey, dawg!” as endearing terms. Aish! is an all-purpose statement of disgust, for stronger effect half-spat.

Oh, my.

This is something mostly said by old women, to the effect of Lordy, Lordy, or oh dear, what a day, as they sink into their chair.

(Something is) light

무겁다 / 무거워요
Moo-gub-da / Moo-ga-wayo
(Something is) heavy

시끄 러
It’s noisy

호기 심이 많다
(Someone is) curious

It’s easy.

취했 어(요)
Chee-heso (yo)
(Someone is) drunk

내꺼 야!
Neck-go ya!
It’s mine!

Notice the neh prefix indicating me/my/mine. As usual, this suggests emphasis: keep your grubby hands off of it, it’s mine!

내 것 입니다
Nehgut imnida.
The thing is mine.

This says the same thing but is a little more polite.

시원 하다
It feels cool.

기분 좋아 (요)
Gib-bun joe-ah (yo)
It feels good, it’s comfortable.

Because joe-ah is a verb meaning like, you are saying you like the feeling. These two phrases can sometimes mean the same thing— a “cool” feeling can also mean it is refreshing (I know a Korean girl named She-wan). Note that the latter can also describe someone in a good mood — i.e. they feel good.

For someone who is angry or in a bad mood we can simply say 기분 안좋아 (요) gib-bun an-joe-ah (yo), meaning they don’t like the feeling. To make the nuance stronger we need an adjective for bad, 나쁜 (nop-pun), here conjugated as an adjective phrase:

기분 나 빠 요
Gib-bun nah-pah-yo
(Someone is) angry or in a bad mood.

Let’s go on to learn some more emotion phrases.

(Someone is) sad, depressed.

심각 해요
(Someone is) serious.

If you want to emphasize that you mean something in earnest, you can also say 진짜, jin-cha. The statement can be an intensifier (really, truly) but can also just mean that you're not joking. It can also be used in exasperation, for Pete’s sake!

장난 스 럽다
(Someone is) playful, being playful.

착하 다
(Someone is) nice, thoughtful, considerate

Remember that the root of the adjective is chalk, and chalk-hada simply completes the statement. These something-ha words are generally derived from Chinese nouns. The ha- also becomes han 한 when combined with a noun instead of forming a finished phrase: thoughtful Misan is chalk-han Misan.

뜨거 워요
1 (Something is) hot

더 워요
2 I am hot (e.g. hot weather)

차가 와요
3 (Something is) cold

추 워요
4 I am cold (it’s cold outside)

These four statements need to be understood correctly. Something is hot / cold, 1 and 3, means something other than you has a high or low temperature— the hamburger, the car seat, the bath water, something you can touch. It does not mean spicy. However, I am hot / cold, 2 and 4, mean you are hot or cold, usually because of the weather or the room temperature; Koreans say this instead of “It’s hot / cold today.”

Notice also that some adjective roots take -da, -yo in conjugation for familiar / polite address, and sometimes they take -wuh-yo or wah-yo (depending on the type of vowel that precedes the ending). This requires some explanation. These last temperature phrases are actually dig-ub-da and chub-da, but are usually shortened. Adjectives ending in a b sound (ㅂ) end in wuh-yo or wah-yo in polite address because the pronunciation of going straight from a b sound to yo is difficult. Thus 쉽다 (shib-da, it’s easy), for example, becomes 쉬워요, shih-wuh-yo.

Go on to Part 8

8. Verb Statements

Verbs are the hardest aspect of Korean for an English speaker because of the complexity of conjugations for respect and for verb tense, but it can be done and it is the most crucial subject to be learned in the language.

Let’s begin discussing verbs with the basic but important verb statement there is. We forget that in English is is a verb. “There is a frog” is a verb statement. Korean also has a way of saying something exists.

있어 요
Iss-so (yo)
There is (something)

없어 요
Up-so (yo)
There isn’t (something)

These are two very important verbs, which are used to say there is or there isn’t something in a statement or question. They come at the end of the phrase in either statement or question form:

맥주 있어요?
Mek-joo iss-soyo?
Is there beer?

아 니, 맥주 없어요
Uh-nee, mek-joo up-soyo
No, there isn’t any beer.

Time to go to a different bar. Alcoholic drinks usually end with -joo, such as Korean potato liquor, soju 소주. Koreans sometimes translate iss-so literally into English as exist, and will write “beer exists?” This isn’t really the same nuance in English as “Is there any beer?” but because it ends the sentence you can see the logic. As usual, context would indicate whether you are being specific ("There is a goose") or philosophical ("Does truth exist?")

(Someone is) sleeping

Remember that the -da is just a marker, except that here it is indicating that the verb statement is complete instead of an adjective statement. Sleep is happening.

Try to keep the distinction clear between -da and -issoyo (cha issoyo, there is a car). Issoyo does not mark an action phrase; it is used to say that something exists or is available.

배고 파 죽겠어요
Beh-go-pah juk-it-seyo
(Someone is— I am) starving to death.

The Beh-go-pah (beh, stomach, go-pah, empty) tells us, “I'm hungry.” The additional part adds emphasis. Korean uses that doing something to death form, juk-it-seyo, quite a lot. You can also say after dinner that your stomach is full to death. It makes sense just fine in Korean.

배 불러(요)
Beh-boo-luh (yo)
My stomach is full

배 터지겠어(요)
Beh-tuh-jee ga-seh (yo)
My stomach is bursting

좋아 (요)
Joe-ah (yo)
I like it

안 좋아(요)
An-joah (yo)
I don’t like it

In some ways the language is more subjective than English. You don’t usually say that something is good in Korean— only that you like or don’t like it.

좋습 니다
I like it (more formal)

좋습 니까?
Do you like it? (more formal)

The -cah ending formally indicates a question, but again, you can usually get away with saying the same thing and raising your voice at the end. You might want to know this form because a lot of older textbooks insist on it.

싫어 (요)
Sheer-ruh (yo)
I hate it

목 말라요
Mong ma-leyo.
I’m thirsty (i.e. My throat is dry.)

미쳤 어(요)?
Mitch-uh-so (yo)?
Are you crazy?

Again, don’t say this to your boss. Its meaning is stronger than it might be in English, where we talk about insanity in a more joking way. Every culture has its own taboo insults.

몰라 (요)
Mole-ah (yo)
I don’t know.

알았 어(요)
Are-ah-so (yo)
I got it, I understand

알아 요
Arah (yo)
I already knew it.

There is a fine distinction between these two. The first suggests, “Now I understand,” and the second politely indicates, “I knew that already.” Remember the expression 알겠 습니다, All-get-sim-nida, which also means okay, got it, but is more polite and often used to end a telephone call.

알았 다
Okay, I know!

This is often spoken with a little irritation: “Okay, okay— I got the point!” It’s perhaps the closest Korean gets to a sarcastic “Yes, dear!"

지겹 다
I’m sick of it.

짜증 나
I’m annoyed.

피곤 해요
Pig-on-heh yo
I’m tired.

I'm worn out.

This is a slightly humorous whine people use when their whole body is tired out. It’s really a noun and not a verb statement but I list it here because it is related.

머리 아파(요)
More-ee-aw-pah (yo)
My head aches

배 아파(요)
Beh-aw-pah (yo)
My stomach hurts

This is just body part + hurts. Or, you could just say ay-uh, 아야 (ouch!) and point to what is bothering you!

다리 아파
Da-ree aw-pah
My leg hurts.

Remember not to say da-ree up-uh (daddy’s leg?) and to elongate the aww-pahh.

방구 뀌었어요!
Ban-goo guh-ttseyo
(Someone) farted!

The tt is putting this statement in the past— someone has farted. A popular Korean children’s cartoon show has a character named “Doctor Fart,” with appropriate sound effects!

코 골다
(Someone is) snoring

In English snore is probably onomatopoeic, but in Korean you are saying that someone’s nose (koh) is making sound. 코피, koh-pee, is a nosebleed.

I’m leaving for work (slang)

This is something a Korean husband might say to his wife quickly as he leaves for work. Otherwise it is not very polite.

수고 했어요
Sue-go heh-seyo
Good effort, nice try.

잘 했어요
Jall het-sseyo
You did a good job.

It’s tasty

This is something you will hear often. Literally, you are saying that there is a taste to something. Say m[a]sh like father and not like the TV show.

맛없 어요
It’s not tasty.

Logically, you could say m[a]sh-ih-up-soyo, but this is more common. Literally, you're saying something has no taste, but the sense of the phrase is that something tastes unpleasant, not that it is bland.

멋있 어요
(It / You) look good.

I've put this here because saying someone looks pretty or handsome that day sounds very much like saying that they are delicious! Say muh (like mutt). I once get confused when I heard a girl tell a park ranger on a horse that he looked hunky, and it sounded to me like she was saying the horse was tasty.

부럽 지?
Aren’t you jealous?

I've thrown this in, but it’s actually a little tricky as the phrase is saying, “You're jealous, aren’t you?” Thus the -jee ending, which indicates a question tag. As a statement it would be burub-da. “Isn’t it delicious?” would similarly be 맛있지, m[a]sh-ut-jee?

죽인 다!
It kills me! (it’s so good)

지긴 다!(부산 사투리)
It kills me! (Busan dialect)

Something is so good (a good-looking girl, a great meal) that it’s killer! The second form is another Busan (Gyung-san province) dialect expression, and for best effect make the jee a little gutteral.

재미 있다 (재미 있어요)
Jemmy-ta (Jemmy-issoyo)
It’s fun

재미 없다 (재미 없어요)
Jemmy-opta (Jemmy-upsoyo)
It’s not fun (It’s boring)

Another way of saying “I'm bored!” is shim-shim-heh (심심 해).

비 (가) 와요
Bee-ga wayo
It’s raining.

Don’t say pee-ga wayo, which would suggest your nose is bleeding (blood is coming?).

눈 (이) 와요
Noon-ee wayo
It’s snowing.

바람 이 불어요
Ba-rahm-ee bool-uyo
It’s windy.

Weather terms are difficult in Korean because you can’t use the same “it’s (windy, rainy, snowing)” frame you would in English; different types of weather have different forms. But rain and snow are phrased as something 'coming'. Some of the Hangul here is in parentheses because these are actually particle markers. More on that later.

Okay, now that we have the basic form, let’s pile on some additional words. I'll list casual and polite forms.

운동하다 / 운동 해요
Un-dong hada / Un-dong heyo
(Someone is) exercising

샤워 하다 / 샤워 해요
Showah-hada / Showah-heyo
(Someone is) showering, taking a shower

하다 / 해요
Ill-hada / Ill-heyo
(Someone is) working

공부 하다 / 공부 해요
Gong-boo hada / Gong-boo heyo
(Someone is) studying

요리 하다 / 요리 해요
Oary-hada / Oary-heyo
(Someone is) cooking

(Someone is) Speaking

Korean as a language is 한국 어 (hanguk uhh), but Korean speech is 한국 말 (hanguk mall). Note that just talking in conversation as a verb is 이야기 하다 (Ee-yagi-hada).

Not every verb has a Chinese 하 conjugation. These can have rather odd forms in polite use.

가다 / 가요
Ga-da / Gayo
(Someone is) going

오다 / 와요
Oh-da / Why-oh
(Someone is) coming

춤추다 / 춤춰요
Chum-Choo-da / Chum-choo-wayo
(Someone is) dancing

Go on to Part 9

9. Requests & Questions

Now we need to learn how to get simple things done by asking and commanding. Grammatically, the latter is called the imperative mode in English, but we of course don’t mean being imperious or arrogant, but simply requesting that someone do something.

A. Everyday Living

저거 (요)
Chug-uh (yo)
That, please

Korean does not have articles such as a and the, but it does have this and that, which often does the same job.

이거 (요)
Ego (yo)
This, please

If you are choosing something, you can point to it and say “this one!” with this phrase.

여기 (요)
Yogi (yo)
Here, please

We had this already to call for service, but you might also need this phrase to say “that’s me" or “put my dinner here, please,” or "stop the taxi here, please."

이 버스
This bus

We've dropped the -go (thing, object) from e-go because here the noun is already supplied (bus). Korean doesn’t like to end words with a sound like sss and so the English loan word is more like bus-uh.

저 버스
That bus

가 (요)!
Gah (yo)!
Go, I’m going!

와 (요)!
Why (yo)!
Come, I’m coming!

어디 가(요)?
Odie gah (yo)?
Where are you going?

Odie asks where? (Just like Jon always asks Garfield where 'Odie' is.) Literally, you are just asking “where go?", but as usual the language assumes that the situation is visually clear. Koreans can think that English’s obsession with pronouns can be a little silly— “he’s walking out the door, isn’t it perfectly obvious who is leaving?"

아파 트 어디 있어요?
Ah-paht-uh o-dih-soyo?
Where is the apartment?

A hotel 호텔 is the same in Korean. We'll talk about directing a taxi 택시 a little later. Some of these tourist words are simple Konglish, and must greatly confuse north Korean refugees! Imagine walking straight out of the medieval period to hear people discussing the in-tuh-net (인터 넷) and all the technical vocabulary relating to it.

I'm trying to introduce the grammar of sentence order here gently. English is an analytical language, meaning that words are separate units in a sentence, and the order tells us the meaning. “The boy ate the grapes” means that the boy did the eating, not the grapes, because boy comes first. Korean is an agglutinative language, meaning that word parts stick together, like “glue.” In real Korean there would not be spaces between the character blocks, but they are here for learning purposes. For our purposes right now, notice the last sentence says apartment-where-is? and the verb comes last.

Inn, love motel

Bed & breakfast

A yuh-gwan is the Korean equivalent of a “Motel 6” or some cheapie hotel. Usually what is being referred to is a love motel, which are simple hotel rooms often used for quickie affairs or for airplane or bus layovers. Usually the buildings are covered in neon. Young people might just use the word 모텔, motel. A minn-b[a]k, with the a like father, is a little nicer and will be like a B&B.

Additionally, you might also see a pension. The word is borrowed from French, and will be a hotel suite like a small apartment, often with a kitchenette.

조용 히 하세요
Cho-yong-hee haseyo.
Be quiet, please (polite)

Take a seat.

이름이  뭐예요?
Ee-rum-ee moi-yeh-yo?
What is your name?

The 'moi' 뭐, what, sounds a lot like French moi? We covered how to answer earlier: (name) + imnida. Note again that Hangul often has a dead ㅇcharacter as you cannot begin a character set with a vowel. You also use this moi to ask this:

뭐 해(요)?
Muh heh-yo?
What are you doing?

무슨일 하세요?
Moo-sun-eel ha-seyo?
What do you do? (For a living)

한 번 보세요
Let me show you

보 자 !
Gimme! Let’s see it!

This is a slangy thing to say, and boja-yo is apparently a silly way to make it polite, but I seem to get away with it.

이거 뭐예요?
Ego moi-eyo?
What is it?

Again, note that the e-go is “this thing."

이거 얼마예요?
Ego ole-mayo?
How much is it?

It helps to learn some numbers when you hear the answer, but many shopkeepers will keep a small calculator to show you a price if fingers aren’t adequate. More on numbers later.

이리 오세요
Iri oseyo
Come this way, please.

물 마실래요
Mool mash-ih-leyo.
I want to drink water.

먹 을래(요)?
Muh-gih-leh (yo)?
Something to eat?

I have trouble keeping eat and drink apart, and my mnemonic is that whiskey (drink) is mashed, and soup (food) can come in a mug. It’s dumb but you will inevitably come up with similar ways to remember phrases such as these.

드 실래요?
Would you like something (to eat or drink)?

This is more formal, somewhat akin to asking if you will “take” something at tea-time. Say du like wood, soften the sss and don’t say dijj-ih-leho—do you want to die?

B. Imperatives

Eat! (less formal)

더 주세요
D[a]h joo-seyo
Bring me more, please.

아줌마! 좀, 더 주세요!
Ajumma, chome, dah joo-seyo!
Waitress, give me a little more, please!

As we said earlier, “ajumma” is only for obviously older women. This is something for you to say in the lunch line up in the cafeteria and not in a nice restaurant!

Time to go to bed. (very casual)

Cook me something (very casual)

니가 해라!
Nee-ga heh-ra!
Do it yourself! (very casual)

The nee-ga is a very informal pronoun, here used to emphasize youyou do it, not me. If you need to identify someone else politely, the easiest way is to just use their name, even in second person address: Amani kinchenayo? Mom, are you alright?

Ee-rah-na (yo)!
Time to get up!

Hurry up!

You can of course add -yo to make it polite, but “Get the lead out—-please” does sound a little odd. It is an enduring Confucian quirk that two people yelling insults at each other in traffic will still use proper respect conjugations!

Let’s go! (informal)

Let’s go. (formal)

걸으러 갑시다
Guh-ruh-ra gup-see-duh
Let’s go for a walk.

To do some, well, 'guh-rull watching.'

반 사!
Back at you!

Literally, “reflection!", turning the word back to whoever said it: “I know you are, but what am I?"

뽀뽀 해 주세요
Po-po heh chew-sayo.
Give me a kiss (smooch!).

Give me a hug.

Hug + give me. Here the joo in casual speech becomes joe. You can say 안아주세요 aun-ah-choo-seyo, but it sounds silly to be so polite with a hug. Koreans are relatively hands-off and you would almost never hug someone unless they were quite close. Some of these distinctions are common sense.

또 하자
Doe ha-ja (yo).
Do it again.

Ha-jee-ma! (yo)
Stop it!

Ha-jima is a useful phrase, because you can tell anyone to stop doing anything by putting the word in front:

욕 하지마 !
Yoke-ha-jima (yo)!
Stop swearing!

짜증나게 하지마!
Ja-jang-nah geh ha-jima!
Stop irritating me!

Don’t make fun of me!

시작  하지마
Shee-jack hah-jima
Don’t start!

Hah-jima is a general statement meaning “don’t do it” or “stop doing it.” The nuance of shee-jack hah-jima is more immediate: “musn’t touch!” or “get away from there!” Don’t do something that you were just about to do!

I hear shee-jack a lot when people are practicing a musical instrument: “1, 2, 3, shee-jack 시작 (ok, start!)."

천천히 (요)
Chun-chunny (yo)
Slow down.

잠깐만 (요)
Chum-kan man (yo)
Wait a moment.

This can mean “Wait for me!” But I also use this when the telephone rings with a Korean speaker and I need to call my wife to take over. “I'll be right back."

Gong-bu hera!
Do your homework!

깎아 주세요
Give me a discount.

죽었다 (죽었어요)
Joog-ut-da (Joog-ut-seyo)
I'm dead.

You want to die?

This can mean “Stop it!” when you are annoyed. You want a piece of me?

Another way of forming this type of sentence is to use verb + 지 마세요, jee mah-seyo, “Don’t do.. something."

밀지 마세요
Mill-jee mah-seyo
Don’t shove, please.

울지 마세요
Ool-jee mah-seyo
Don’t cry.

By now you might have noticed that there are several ways to make an imperative. There is the “stop doing something” form, -hajima, and there are several “do something” forms: [verb] -heh, herra, and haseyo. The difference between these three is tone. You can say moolheh! casually to family: pour me some water. You might say showuh-herra (rhymes with sour) to your son: go have a shower! That’s a slightly more formal command. But the hah-seyo ending is polite.

The “give me” commands are similar. You can say anajoe to your girlfriend (hug + give me) because it’s obviously an intimate, but say mekju chooseyo, please bring some beer, to a waiter.

Go on to Part 10

10. Numbers & Counting

Numbers and money can be confusing in Korean because the language uses Chinese-derived names and Korean-derived names. I've tried to simplify. This part is fairly short but it requires a great deal of rote memorization. In a pinch, if you don’t have enough fingers you might have a calculator handy to display numbers.

Although is a maddening number of variations and exceptions, in general, for sloppy Korean, use Chinese-derived numbers for money and for telephone numbers, and Korean-derived numbers for most other things. If it makes you feel any better, I find as a teacher that Koreans also have trouble distinguishing between cardinal (one, two, three) and ordinal (first, second, third) numbers in English.






천 Chun

한 개 Hana

한 시 Han-si


이 천 E-chun

두 개 Dugeh

두 시 Du-si


삼 천 Sam-chun

세 개 Segeh

세 시 Se-si


사 천 Sah-chun

네 개 Negeh

네 시 Neh-si


오 천 O-chun

다섯 개 Dasut-geh

다섯 시 Dasut-si


육 천 Yuk-chun

여섯 개 Yeset-geh

여섯 시 Yeset-si


칠 천 Chill-chun

일곱 개 Ilgop-geh

일곱 시 Ilgop-si


팔 천 Pal-chun

여덟 개 Yodelb-geh

여덟 시 Yodelb-si


구 천 Goo-chun

아홉 개 Ahop-geh

아홉 시 Ahop-si



열 개 Yull-geh

열 시 Yull-si

          열한 시
11:00 Yull han si

           열두 시
12:00 Yull du si

A clock or watch is a si-gyeh, 시 계.

A note about money. Korean says “two thousand won” 이천 ". But for 10,000 won, which is the most common large bill and is worth about $10, there is an expression, 만 man-won, rather than literally saying “ten thousand."

맥주 두병 주세요
Mekjoo doo-byung jooseyo.
Two bottles of beer, please.

I've gotten away with mekjoo doo-geh 멕주 두개, two beers, but the situation needs to be clear.


Chill-beck, 칠백, will give us 700. 1300 will be chun sam beck, 천삼백. A 100 won coin is 백 원 beck-won, and so a 500 won coin will be 오백 원, oh-beck won.

생맥주 오백씨씨 주세요
Sang-mek-joo oh-beg see see joo-seyo
500cc draft beer, please.

Draft beer tends to be sold in metric sizes, and there are usually 250 / 500 / 2000cc sizes. You might order some an-joo 언주, pub grub, if you're munchy; or, you might be given ser-biss-uh 설비사, complimentary bar snacks, if you're in a group drinking beer. If you're drinking a lot, the snacks might be quite substantial!

If you run out of money, you might have to tell your friends:

돈 없어요!
Doan up-soyo.
I have no money.

Pronounce doan like don’t without the t, or like Homer saying doh! with an n added. I keep using these Simpson references to keep this light. Don’t panic if you have trouble with your numbers. You can always write down numbers, as Koreans use the same Arabic numerals North Americans do.

Numbers can be tricky. In general, you will probably need numbers mostly for money. If you are working in dollars, the Korean is, of course, doll-uh 달러, but Korean also bul 블, something akin to English “bucks."


Admission is $5. oh bul 오 블, five bucks.

Admission is $10. sum bul 십 블, ten bucks.

Admission is $20. ee ship-bul 이 십 블, twenty bucks. (Note what happened: 2 x 10 bucks. The 2 came first, multiplying the ten.)

Admission is $13. ship-sam bul 십 삼 블, thirteen bucks. (Here we have 10 + 3 bucks. The 3 came second, after the ten, and so it is added.)

Be careful when you say ship-bul 십 블 or ship-pal 십팔; they are close to “the F-word” in Korean, which ends in ball, not bul or pal. It’s probably not a good idea for someone named Cybil to live in Korea, as the Korean pronunciation will sound like an obscenity!

Where do you live?

Say your address is building 103, suite 1405.

Beck sam dong, chun sah beck oh ho.
동, 천 호.

The dong 동 is your apartment building and ho 호 is your suite number. Buildings go first, suites second.

Another interesting piece of trivia. Remember gwarosa, 과로사, death from overwork? That “sah” sound is a homonym for Korean four, 사. Koreans often avoid this number like westerners avoid 13 as unlucky. Elevators often use English F instead of 4, and sometimes Asian airplanes have no row four as no one wants to sit there!

Go on to Part 11

11. Helping Words

Verbs, nouns, and adjectives get all the girls, but you need to know how to put things together with conjunctions and qualifiers, the words which do all the heavy lifting. Here are some frequently-needed ones.

와,과, 하고
Wah, Gwah, Hago

If the previous word ends with a vowel, you use the wah, and if it ends with a consonant, gwah. Alternatively, you can just use hago 하고 to mean and, as I do for everything.

빵 하고 우유 주세요?
Pang hago uyu joah-yo?
Do you like bread and milk?

Literally, “bread and milk do you like?” As these statements are becoming longer, keep noticing the word order in these short sentences; the verb is going to the end. Bread was not native to Korean culture, and so you might recognize the loan-word from southern Europe (pan). Koreans are also fond of soy milk, doo-yoo 두유.


Let’s use this in an example.

빵 아니면 우유 주세요?
Pang anie-myun uyu joahyo?
Do you like bread or milk?

Another useful interjection is sah 서, which sounds like “so,” and means the same thing; x is true, and so y is true.

바빠서 못가요
Bop-boh sah mote-gayo
I’m busy, so I can’t go.


A furry friend I know is always hungry; Hong-song beh-go pie-yo (항상 배고파 요).

모든 것
Moe-den got

The got 것 part means thing, and so you can replace it with other nouns: 모든 차 — moe-den cha, every car, etc.

A little bit

How much spice do you want? joe-gim joo-seyo. Just a little bit.

조금 밖에 없어요.
Joe-gim bak-eh upsoyo
Not much is left.



I want a lot! Maney joo-seyo!

Very much (Busan dialect)

I really like beebimbop (mixed rice and vegetables): bee-bim-bop ox-soo-roe joe-ah-yo.

Very much (Jolla dialect)

너무 많아요
Nuh-moo maneyo
It’s too much

진짜 맛있어요
Jin-cha mush-ih-soyo
It’s truly delicious!

As I said earlier, jin-cha is also used as an interjection of exasperation: aishh... jincha! (sheesh... honestly!)

Nah-do (yo)
Me too.

Weh (yo)


파티 언제 해요?
Potty-neun onje-heyo?
When is your party?

방학 언제 해요?
Bong-hawk onje-heyo?
When is your vacation?

Notice again the word order: “vacation when?"

언제 비행기 도착해요?
On-jeh bee-hen-gee doh-chack-heyo?
When does (the / your) flight arrive?

언제 비행기 떠나요?
On-jeh bee-hen-gee dan-ayo?
When does (the / your) flight leave?



Bul-suh (yo)?
Already, so soon?

뭐라고 했어요?
Maw-rago hess-sayo?
What did you say?

I sometimes hear this shortened to 뭐라, morah, what was that? But this would be very casual.

둘다 요.
Dul-da yo.
Both of them.

둘다 아니에요.
Dul-da ane-yeyo.
Neither of them.

A useful particle ending to learn is 나, na, which will add the meaning ever, every, any to the question words:

언제 나  On-jeh-na  Whenever.

어디나  Oh-dee-na  Everywhere.




잠시 후
Coming up in a moment

Korean GPS units will (constantly) say something like this: “coming up, highway 2."

조금 있다가
Joe-gum eet-uh gah
A little later



Every day (informal)

You can also say men-nar, 맨날 for the same meaning, but it is more slangy. To differentiate, Hong-song, 항상 has the meaning more of always or constantly, whereas mail or mennar suggest daily.




왼쪽으로 가 주세요
Wen-joke-uh-row joo-seyo
Turn left, please.

오른쪽 으로 가 주세요
Oron-joke-uh-row joo-seyo
Turn right, please.

These are directions you might give a taxi driver to tell him where to turn. Wen-joke-ee-yo 왼쪽이요 and oron-joke-ee-yo 오른쪽이요 are fine too if the context is clear, meaning “Left, please” and “Right, please,” respectively.

Ga-kah weyo
(Something is) near by, close by.

(Something is) far away.

Don’t confuse this with mole-ayo (몰라요), I don’t know. These statements work with statements of proximity: “Is Chicago near here?” “It’s close / far away.” You can also, as in English, indicate emotional distance. “Are you close to your brother?” Ga-kah weyo (가까워요) would then mean “We are close.”

Go on to Part 12

12. Needs & Activities

Here are some specific ways to cover everyday speech situations and some important 'helping' phrases and verbs to express desires or activities. By the standards of this website, this material is a little more difficult and it might take you some time to get the concepts and to internalize them. Don’t rush this section.

A. Ability

할 수 있어요
hal-sue issoyo

This is the basic frame for being able to do something. There are usually two ways to do this, based on the type of word preceding.

1. activity + do ability + there is

action + halsue 할 수 + issoyo 있어요

공부 할 수 있어요.
Gong-boo halsue issoyo.
I can study.

Study make ability there is: “I have the ability to do studying."

한국말 할 수 있어요.
Hanguk-mal halsue issoyo.
I can speak Korean.

“Korean-speech” is something I have the ability to do. Hangul is the written system and Hanguk-mal refers to Korean speech.

2. root of activity + ability + there is

root action + l-sue ㄹ수 + issoyo 있어요

갈 수 있어요.
Galsue issoyo.
I can go.

Remember ga-za, let’s go? The root, ga 가, also gave us odie gah-yo 어디가요, where are you going? Here the root produces ga + lsue + issoyo: go ability there is.

잘 수 없어요.
Jalsue upsoyo.
I can’t sleep.

Ja is the root for sleep; remember ja-ja, let’s sleep?

지금 올수 있어요?
Jiggum ole-sue issoyo?
Are you coming, are you able to come?

Oseyo, “come", gives us the root o; o+lsue gives us ole-sue. Ga gives us go:

지금 갈수 있어요
Jiggum gal-sue issoyo
I'm coming, I am able to come.

B. Desire

Wanting something or to do something is formed similarly: the root of the word + go-shib-da or go-ship-ah-yo.

자 고 싶어요
Jah go-ship ah-yo
I want to go to bed.

먹고 싶어요
Maw go shib-ah-yo.
I want to eat something. (Polite)

호떡 먹고 싶다
Hote-duck mug go-shib-da (or shih-wayo)
I want to eat some cinnamon pancakes.

영화배우가 되고 싶어요
Yong-ha bay-o-gah day-go ship-ah-yo.
I want to be a movie star.

커피 마시고 싶다
Caw-pee muh-shee-go ship-duh
I want to drink some coffee.

커피 마시러 가고 싶다
Caw-pee muh-shuh-rah gah-go ship-duh
I want to go out for coffee.

You might be able to get away with “Dunkin' Donuts kup-sida!” if you know the name of the cafe.

C. Possession

Add kah-jee-go 가지고. Usually just saying issoyo is enough, but if you need to emphasize ownership, you can put this phrase in between.

핸드폰 가지고 있어요.
Hand-uh-pone kah-jee-go issoyo
I have a cell phone.

This is another example of “Konglish"— a 'hand phone' is what Koreans call a cell phone.

D. Let’s Do Something

우리 집에 갑시다
Uri jeep-eh gap-see-da.
Let’s go home.

Literally, we/our home to let’s go.

우리 텔레비젼 봅시다
Uri telibijion bop-see-da
Let’s watch television.

Another Korean adaptation of an English word. Try to 'muddy up' your pronunciation of tele-vizz-un. The v and zz sound don’t occur in Korea. If you just want to comment that we are watching television, it’s done like this:

우리 텔레비젼 봐요.
Uri telibijion bwayo.
We're watching television.

E. Lending & Borrowing

Koreans use one word for both lending and borrowing, and find the English distinction confusing. The frame is object + lend (bill-yuh) + give me (joo-seyo).

펜 빌려 주세요.
Pen bill-yuh jooseyo.
Lend me a pen.

F. Shopping & Buying

쇼핑 해요.
Shopping heyo.
We’re shopping.

Another Konglish: “we're doing shopping."

쇼핑 했어요.
Shopping hesseyo.
We were shopping.

신발 사요.
Shin-ball ssigh-yo.
I’m buying shoes.

사탕 샀어요.
Satung suh-ssuh-yo.
I bought some candy.

Sometimes the addition of sss-es will indicate past-ness, such as haseyo / hesseyo. The sss in suh-ssuh-yo is quite pinched and is almost (but not quite) a t sound. Another thing you should be aware of is that suh-yo 사요 sounds an awful lot like sah-yo 싸요, the polite form for “it’s cheap.” Some sadist obviously designed things this way as this is something you would likely say when you are shopping, and so do your best. One tip recommended by Richard Harris is that whether Koreans admit it or not, sometimes these complex sounds do have a slight pitch marker to them, and you might try raising your pitch as you say ssigh-o.

G. Preferences

이 컴퓨터가  더  좋아요
Ee com-pyoo-tah-gah da joe-ah-yo
This computer is better.

Literally, I like this computer more. If you must stress that something works better regardless of your feelings, you can say this:

이 컴퓨터가  더  나아요
Ee com-pyoo-tah-gah da nah-ah-yo
This computer works better.

H. Adverbs

Adverbs are formed by verb + gae 게

맛있게 먹어요
Ma-sheet-geh muw-gae-yo
Eat well (Eat deliciously, i.e. bon apetit).

맛있게 드세요
Ma-sheet-geh dih-seyo.
Eat well (polite).

These two mean the same thing, but the first is for intimates or children, and the second is more polite and what you might hear from a restaurant server.

재미있게 놀아요
Jem-me eat-geh nora-yo
Have a good time ("Play interestingly").

Go on to Part 13

13. More Advanced Phrases & Vocabulary Quirks

A. Occupations

의사 입니다
Oo-wee-sa im-nee-da
I am a doctor.

In English, you might say “he is a teacher” but “I teach in a high school” in order to avoid sounding conceited. Korean does the same. As I wrote earlier, I am a teacher is san-seng im-nee-da 선생 입니다, but in third person you add nim 님.

선생님 입니다
San-seng-nim im-nee-da
He/she is a teacher.

교수님 입니다
Gyoo-soo-nim im-nee-da
He/she is a professor.

B. Qualifiers

별로 안좋아 해요.
Byal-yo anjoah-heyo.
I don’t like it much.

조금 밖에 없어요
Joe-gim bach-eh up-soyo
There is not much left.

조금 있어요
Joe-gim is-soyo
There a little bit left.

The bach-eh is only used in negative constructions: “there isn’t much left.” Bach is like the composer, rhyming with rock.

C. Neccessity

필요 해요?
Peer-o hey-yo?
Do you need it?

밥 필요 없어요.
Bap peer-o up-seyo.
I don’t need any rice.

고추장 필요 없어요
Go-chew jung peer-o up-seyo.
I don’t need any pepper sauce.

Really, you are saying “the need doesn’t exist” for these things.

D. More Past Tense

메일 받았어 요?
Me-il bad-uh-sseyo?
Did you get my mail?

You could also be asking about 이 메일, e-mail.

Bap mug-ut-sayo?
Have you eaten?

Here again, see how bap is used commonly for any food.

타이타닉 봤어요?
Tai-tan-ic bwass-sayo?
Have you seen ’titanic'?

Some Harder Grammar

A. Particle markers

English has a great number of prepositions (over, under, at, with) and articles (a, the) and other helping words that tell you who is doing what in the sentence. Korean doesn’t, but the trade-off is that Korean has markers after words to indicate subjects (who is doing it) and objects (who it’s done to). Let’s look at our basic English sentence again:

The boy eats the apple.

We know that the apple isn’t eating the boy, not only because it’s ridiculous but because of the word order. Because Korean would mush the words together, it would phrase the sentence like this with markers to indicate subject and object:

boy + subject-marker + apple + object-marker + eat:

nam-jah-noon sag-wah-rool mut-noon-da (남자는 사과를 먹는다)

The good news for foreigners is that, although getting all of these subject-object particle markers is difficult, you can often omit them when the sentence is as obvious as this one anyway. But to develop any kind of fluency in the language it is inevitable that you grasp these markers, especially ones which indicate directions (prepositions). You should at least know what’s going on when you hear them used.

Simple sentences use an -ee ending if the subject ends in a consonant sound, and -gah if it is a vowel sound.

집이 있어요.
Jeep-ee issoyo.
House + subject marker (consonant) + there is

아줌마가 있어요.
Ajumma-gah issoyo.
Married woman + subject marker (vowel) + there is

Sentences with objects use -ul if following a consonant sound, and -rul if following a vowel sound. The rul 를 is difficult to pronounce, and what I try to do is rhyme with pull while my mouth is shaped to say rule.

내가 밥을 해요
Nay-ga bap-ul heyo.
I am making dinner.

I + subject marker (vowel) + rice + object marker (consonant) + do + polite marker

미영이 공부를 해요.
Mi-Young-ee gong-bu-rul heyo.
Mi-Young is doing her homework.

Mi-Young + subject marker (consonant) + study + object marker (vowel) + do + polite marker

B. Prepositions

노래방에 갑시다
No-reh-bang-ehh gup-see-da
Let’s go to the Norebong.

A norebang is a “singing room” where people rent booths for small groups to sing karaoke in and drink. The “ehh” is a marker indicating motion toward somewhere. Jeep-ehh guy-o is “I'm going (to) home.” Don’t confuse the subject ending -ee with the preposition for to, -ehh.

C. Miscellaneous Conjugations

저는 공부해요
Ja-nun gong-boo hey-yo
I'm going to study.

I + subject marker + study + do + polite marker

Because the pronoun 'I' is the subject here, it’s possible to say juh-gah, but Koreans usually say ja-nun in situations where they need to emphasize that it’s me doing something.

꽃 예쁘다!
Got yeah-poo-duh!
The flowers are nice.
Flower + pretty + is.

예쁜 꽃 있어요.
Yehpun got issoyo.
There are some nice flowers.
Pretty + adj. Marker + flower + there is.

This isn’t a very macho sentence; feel free to say that the cigarettes, daum-beh 담, are nice, but notice how the grammar changes here. The first sentence has a different conjugation of nice, yeh-poo-da, from the second, yeh-pun, because the second is a “there is” sentence. Try to see how the two differ.

D. Making Things Polite

I've listed most of the adjectival statements with -da endings, such as shib-da, it’s easy. I told you earlier that you can often make an utterance polite simply by adding -yo, but that doesn’t work with -da statements. Depending on the ending sound of the root, there are two ways, one of which we covered briefly earlier.

1. Words which don’t end in 'b' sounds:

맥주가 비싸다.
Mek-ju-ga bee-sada.
The beer + subject marker (vowel) + is expensive.

맥주가 비싸요.
Mek-ju-ga bee-sayo.
Polite ending: drop da and add yo.

정원이 예쁘다.
Jung-won-ee yeah-poo-da.
The garden + subject marker (consonant) + is pretty.

정원이 예뻐요.
Jung-won-ee yeah-puh-yo.

Adjectives ending with oo sounds become more like uuh sounds when they are made polite.

2. Words which end in 'b' sounds:

저거 귀엽다.
Chug-uh kee-yob-da.
(Something) is cute.

저거 귀여워요.
Chug-uh kee-yo-wayo.
(Something) is cute (polite).
Polite ending: change b-da suffix to wayo.

It’s easy.

It’s easy (polite).

김치가 맵다.
Kim-chi-ga meb-da.
The kimchi is spicy.

김치가 매워요.
Kim-chi-ga may-wayo.
The kimchi is spicy (polite).

시 다
It’s sour.

It’s sour (polite).

There are some oddball exceptions such as this one, where the pronunciation changes in short words. This one is difficult to pronounce and is said in two syllables: shuh-eye + yo.

By now, you might be objecting, why not use -imnida to replace -da, as we did with my name: Ken e-da, informal, Ken imnida, polite? We can. What’s happening here is that these are two different conjugations based on different levels of respect. For example, a hawk-seng 학셍 is a student.

학생 이예요
Hawk-seng ee-yeh-yo.
(Someone is) a student (polite).

학셍 입니다
Hawk-seng imnida.
(Someone is) a student (formal).

You might use the first form in explaining what someone else does, but in introducing yourself you would use the -imnida form. Why, if it’s so overly polite? But when we think about it, we have the same unusual formality in English when we introduce ourselves. We say, “Pleased to meet you,” even if it’s at an informal party. We write “Dear Sir,” using a word for strangers we usually use only for lovers. To remind you, put a bit of 'b' into the imnida so that it’s a little like ib-nee-da.

I'm also told that men should favor the -imnida form and avoid the -way-yo one as the latter sounds a little feminine. So I think it’s worth covering the conjugation in more detail, if only because you will hear more older men using it.

More on adjective statements

1. Describing the status of something (adjectives)

It’s salty.

It’s salty (formal)

Here the root (jah) takes on the adjective form (jan) and merges into -imnida. Remember to say it slightly like jubb-nee-da.

It’s easy (formal).

Be aware that words ending with a hard consonant sound might take an sss sound before the -imnida to facilitate pronunciation.

2. Describing the action of something (verbs)

똑똑 해요
Doke-doke hey-yo
(Someone is) clever.

똑똑 합니다
Doke-doke ha(b)n-nida
(Someone is) clever (formal).

우을 해요
Oo-ul hey-yo
(Someone is) depressed.

우울 합니다
Oo-ul ha(b)m-nida
(Someone is) depressed (formal).

Here words which require the heh (do) change into han-mida. Are you sure this is easier than learning the -way-yo conjugation?

My own advice is, apart from basic statements, just use the -way-yo form. As a foreigner, you will not be accused of being a little girly-man for using -way-yo, but it might sound humorously stuffy if you insist on using -imnida where it is over-elaborately formal.

Go on to Part 14

14. Conversational Sentences

I'll close this website with some conversational sentences for everyday situations, trusting that by now you can work out the sentence logic used. These are among the newest sentences I've added to this project, as I'm still learning and working out new things in Korean.

있잖 아...
So, anyway...

The meaning is something like “this is..” but this interjection is used to start a conversation.

아이고, 힘들다.
Aigo, him-dull-dah
Oh dear, it’s too much work.

We mentioned aigo, but as a complete expression it’s really something an older person would say as they sit down— “oy, oy, oy, what a day.” But you can say it. Again, aigo is a softer expression of dismay than aissh, which suggests real disgust.

무엇 해요?
Muh heyo?
What are you doing?

설겆이 해요
Sal-gut-chee heyo.
I'm doing the dishes.

수영 해요
Sue-young heyo.
I'm swimming.

By now you should know how to conjugate this. Are you swimming? Sue-young heyo? Let’s go swimming! Sue-young ka-za! Do you like to swim? Sue-young joe-uh-yo?

편해 요?
Are you comfortable?

어머 니는요?
Ah-man-ee nun-yo?
And how about you, mother?

어떻 게 지내요?
Auto-keh jee-neh-yo?
How are you doing?

민규 는 어떻게 지내요?
Ming-you auto-keh jee-ney-yo?
How is Mingyou?

어떻 게 지내세요?
Auto-keh jee-neh-seyo?
How are you? (More polite)

책 많이 읽고 있어요
Check mahn-ee eel-go ee-sayo.
I’m reading many books now.

뚱보 되고 있어요
Toong-bo day-go iss-oyo. (bo rhymes with snow)
I’m becoming a fat slob.

맨날 잔소리해요
Men-nar chancery hey-yo.
She nags me everyday.

새 컴퓨터 사고싶어요
Seh com-pyoo-tuh sah-go shib-ah-yo
I want to buy a new computer.

You want a new (seh) computer. Remember the verb ssuy-yo, used for shopping and buying.

맞아 요?
Is that correct?

발음 맞게 했어요
Bar-um mat-geh hess-oyo?
Did I pronounce it correctly?

집사 람이  경상도여자 입니다
Jib-saram-ee kyung-san-do yo-juh im-nida.
My wife is a Gyungsan province woman.

Gyungsan province is in the south-east of the country, home of Busan dialect. Women from this area have a reputation for being tomboys, and I get teased a little about being henpecked. Correspondingly, the stereotype about Gyungsan men is that they don’t speak very much!

집사 람이  한국사람입니다
Jib-saram-ee han-gook saram im-nida.
My wife is Korean.

And if you don’t want to have a conversation, you might use these:

I don’t know.. no reason!

No comment!

"Honey, do you think I'm fat?” “Jub.” Leave me out of it, I'm not saying anything to incriminate myself. You need to shut off the 'b' very quickly, almost like a fast p, to suggest that your mouth is sealed.


The end (for now). If you are asked, can you speak Korean? (Hanguk mal halsue issoyo? 한국말 할 수 있어요?) you can answer:

쥐꼬리 만큼요
Chee-goree man-koom-yo
Just a little bit.

Literally, “the tip of a mouse’s tail!"

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