Learn Basic Korean Words (That Are Used Often)

You will need to begin somewhere when learning a new language. A great place to start is making yourself acquainted with common Korean phrases.

It’s a matter of learning the right basic Korean words first. In this post, a variety of terms will eventually help you master the Korean language.

Courtesies and Greetings

To casually strike up a conversation in Korean, you need to observe common courtesies. Learning the Korean language becomes much easier when you practice with a native speaker. But first, if you want Koreans to talk and open up with you, you should start by being courteous yourself.

Spice up the conversation with these Korean phrases:

  • Hello or Goodbye: An-nyeong-ha-se-yo
  • Excuse Me: Jam-shi-man-yo
  • Thank You: Kam-sa-ham-ni-da
  • You’re Welcome: Chun-mahn-eh-yo
  • I’m Sorry: Chway-seong-ham-ni-da
  • Yes: Ye
  • No: Aniyo

Basic Questions

The Korean language is melodic that glides up and down in tone. When you ask a question in Korean, you don’t have to use words like “what,” “where,” or “who,” you just have to end the statement on a high note.

Elevating the pitch of a single word when you speak Korean can turn it into a question. For example, you can turn “Jinjja” or really into a question by simply raising the intonation.

With that said, here are some Korean questions you should know:

  1. (Who?) Noo-goo?
  2. (What?) Mwo?
  3. (Where?) Uh-dee?
  4. (When?) Uhn-jae?
  5. (Why?) Weh?
  6. (How?) Uh-dduh-kah?
  7. (What’s your name?) Ireumi mwoyeyo?
  8. (Where are you from?) Eodi chulsiniseyo?
  9. (How are you?) Eotteoke jinaeseyo?
  10. (What’s this?) Igeo mwoyeyo?
  11. (What did you say?) Mworago haesseoyo?

Family Words

Family is important in Korean culture, and absolute respect is given to elders. The Korean family is both conservative and traditional. Unlike western families, it’s not proper to be on a first-name basis with your mom or dad.

Here are some commonly-used Korean words related to the family:

  • Family: Gajok
  • Parents: Boo-mo-ni
  • Father: A-buh-ji
  • Husband: Nampyeon
  • Mother: Uh-muh-ni
  • Wife: Anae
  • Grandfather: Hal-ah-buh-ji
  • Grandmother: Hal-muh-ni
  • Relatives: Chincheok


If you’re into KDramas, then you already know how important hierarchy is in Korea. Age allows Koreans to organize themselves in the social hierarchy. As a matter of fact, don’t be insulted when asked about your age or salary. They’re just trying to determine how to address you correctly.

Honorifics are attached after the first name, not the last name.

Here are some examples:

  • Nim – This is used to speak formally to persons older than you. It’s usually used after professions, like teachers or teachers.
  • Shi – This is used for specific names. It’s the Korean version of “Mr” or “Ms.”
  • Ajusshi – This is used to address middle-aged men (40s to late 50s) and is similar to the “mister” in English.
  • Ajumoni – This one is used to address middle-aged women. It’s a little bit more formal than Ajumma and used as a sign of respect for somebody older than you. Since this is the equivalent of the English word “Ma’am,” some might not like it as it makes them feel old.
  • Oppa – Korean girls usually use this to refer to an older brother. But over time, it has evolved to including older “guy friends” and also now mean “boyfriend.”
  • Hyung – This is what Korean boys call guys who are older than them, which means “older brother.” But its use has expanded to include guy friends, but older.
  • Unnie – This is what Korean girls call other girls who are older than them. It means “older sister” but can also be used in a friendly setting.
  • Noona – As a male counterpart of “Unnie,” this is how boys call older friends who are females.
  • Dongsaeng – If you’re an “Oppa” or a “Noona,” the person calling you is your “Dongsaeng.” You can use this to refer to male and female friends younger than you.
  • Sunbae – This is a person who has seniority in the context of work or school. Maybe they have a higher rank or came to the company earlier than you, this person wields respect and influence in the organization.
  • Hubae – This is a junior person in an organization who is younger or less experienced. He or she is expected to speak politely to a “Sunbae.”

Koreans take seniority seriously. Most of them will not get into a romantic relationship with somebody just because they consider the other as a “Dongsaeng.”


The native Korean number system, which only goes as high as “99,” is used when counting something like “one orange,” “three bananas,” and “10 fingers.” Age, which is important in Korean society, uses this counting system.

Below are the first 10 Korean counting numbers:

  • Hana
  • Dool
  • Set
  • Net
  • Dasut
  • Yusut
  • Eelgop
  • Yudulb
  • Ahop
  • Yul

Practice Until You Get It

There’s plenty of things to absorb in this post, even though these are not all the Korean words you need to know. But don’t lose hope! As you keep practicing basic Korean phrases little by little, you’ll get the hang of it.

Learning to speak Korean will be hard work. Start with one Korean word, then eventually, move on to more challenging Korean phrases. It will be difficult at first, but constant practice will definitely help you master the language.

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