Learn the Korean Alphabet: Hangeul

When King Sejong announced the invention of a Korean writing system 550 years ago, he claimed “A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.” No pressure.

The Korean alphabet, hangeul (한글)

The letters of the hangeul alphabet are listed here in the order they appear in standard dictionaries. You can also visit the Sogang Korean Program website’s Introductory Korean page for more help with learning hangeul.

Hangeul is written and pronounced in syllables, represented by character blocks, from top left to bottom right. For instance, the word 한글 is read in this order: ㅎㅏㄴㄱㅡㄹ. Also, the powers that have been have decided that every Korean syllable must begin with a consonant. Therefore, if a syllable sounds like it begins with a vowel, the Korean language puts a silent consonant placeholder first: ㅇ.  The result is writing 입 instead of ㅣㅂ.  (ㅇ only makes a sound when it comes at the end of a syllable, in which case it makes an ng sound.)

Lastly, a note on writing hangeul: since the character blocks are syllabic, reading hangeul is no problem, but writing it is more difficult. You have to learn word spellings word by word just as our own endearingly unphonetic English. For instance, although the pronunciation is the same, you would write 먹어요 (eat) instead of 머거요.

When you finish learning these, pay special attention to these difficult Korean sounds.

Korean Consonants

Korean letter, Hangeul English letter Korean word example English pronunciation
g/k 고기 (meat) ko-gi
double/hard g … 드릴까요 (May I bring you…) deu-ril-gga-yo
n 뉴스 (news) nyu-seu
double/hard d 어떻게 (how) eo-ddeo-ke
r/l 라테 (latte), 아래 (under) latte, are [flick tongue on top of mouth to make r; NOT as in right]
m 몸 (body) mom
b/p 밥 (rice) bap
double/hard b 바빠요 (I’m busy) ba-bba-yo
s/sh 사 (four) / 도시 (city) sa / do-shi
double/hard s 쌀 (raw rice) ssal
ng / silent 강 (river) / 아싸! (score! Yes!) kang / a-ssah!
j/ch 쥬스 (juice) / 집 (house) jyu-seu / cheep
double / hard j 짜요 (It’s salty) jja-yo
breathy ch 카푸치노 (cappuccino) ka-pu-chi-no
breathy k 커피 (coffee) ko-pi
breathy t 택시 (taxi) taek-shi
breathy p 핸드폰 (cellphone) haen-deu-pon
h 호수 (lake) ho-su

Korean Vowels

Korean letter, Hangeul English letter Korean word example English pronunciation
a [pronounce: “all”] 아파트 (apartment) a-pa-teu
ae 개 (dog) gae
ya 야! (Hey!) ya!
yae 얘기해요 (I/You/etc. talk) yae-gi-hae-yo
eo [pronounce: British “hot” or “awe”] 헐! (No way! / Awesome!) hol
e 게 (crab) ge
yeo 열어요? (Are you open?) yeol-eo-yo?
ye 예 (yes) yeh
o [pronounce: “open”] 오늘 (today) o-neul
oa 와! (Wow!) wa
oae 왜? (why?) wae?
oi 됬어요 (It’s OK) dwess-eo-yo
yo 닫아요. (It’s closed.) dad-a-yo
u 우산 (umbrella) u-san
ueo 원 (won) weon
ue 웨딩 (wedding) weding
ui 위에 (on top) wi-e
yu 유리 (glass) yu-ri
eu [pronounce: shwa, “uh”] 은행 (bank) eun-haeng
eui [pronounce: “way” by keeping air in the throat, then letting it out hard to make the w sound] 김 선생님의 (Mr. / Teacher Kim’s; possessive) Kim seon-saeng-nim-ui
i [pronounce: “feet”] ~씨 (Mr.) shi

Back to the Learn Korean start page.

Continue: Pronouncing Difficult Korean Sounds


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