Script and pronunciation

The Korean script is called "hangeul" (sometimes written "hangul" but not in the Romanization used in this wiki). It was created by a team of scholars under King Sejong in the mid-15th Century.

This information is a rough guide only. Listen carefully to how native speakers pronounce words and adjust your pronunciation accordingly.

Consonants in Korean script order

It is worth learning the names of the consonants, as they indicate how a letter is pronounced at the beginning and end of a syllable. For example, ㅅ siot is pronounced S at the beginning and T at the end of a syllable.

Pay attention to how Korean words ending in consonants are pronounced. They stop abruptly to English ears, whereas English words ending in consonants often have aspiration. Aspiration means “breath”. If you pronounce an unaspirated consonant in front of a candle, it should not go out; aspirated consonants make the flame flicker.

 

Listen to this sound file (.m4a) as you read the entries below.

 

ㄱ giyeok G. K at the end of a syllable. Note how the letter sounds more like a K than a G at the beginning of a word, but with no aspiration.

Imagine the corner is the back of your mouth, where the sound is made.

The letter also looks like a sickle. There is a Korean proverb: 낫 놓고 기역 자도 모른다 “put down a sickle and not know the letter giyeok”, i.e. ignorant.

Examples: 개 "dog", 사과 "apple", 미국 "America"


ㄲ ssanggiyeok KK a tense k sound with no aspiration.

Examples: 꺼요 "switch off", 깎아요 "haggle"

 

ㄴ nieun N

Examples: 나 "I", 눈 "eye; snow"


ㄷ digeut D. T at the end of a word. Note how the letter sounds more like a T than a D at the beginning of a word, but with no aspiration.

Examples: 다리 "leg; bridge", 달 "moon", 합니다 "do (formal)"


ㄸ ssangdigeut TT a tense t sound with no aspiration.

Examples: 뛰어요 "run", 땀 "sweat"

 

ㄹ rieul R (L at the end of a syllable)

Examples: 러시아 "Russia", 별 "star", 텔레비전 "television"


ㅁ mieum M

Examples: 모자 "hat", 암기 "memorization"


ㅂ bieup B. P at the end of a syllable. Note how the letter sounds more like a P than a B at the beginning of a word, but with no aspiration.

Examples: 바지 "trousers", 아버지 "father", 밥 "steamed rice"


ㅃ ssangbieup PP

Examples: 빵 "bread", 바빠요 "busy"


ㅅ siot S. Also the most common way of writing a T sound at the end of a syllable. Before i and y sounds like English sh.

Examples: 선생 "teacher", 인터넷 "Internet", 시장 "market", 쉬워요 "easy"


ㅆ ssangsiot SS. A tense s sound.

Examples: 쌀 "rice", 있어요 "there is"


ㅇ nieung NG at the end of a syllable, not pronounced at the start of a syllable.

Examples: 강 "river", 고양이 "cat"


ㅈ jieut J. T at the end of a syllable. Pronounced like English ch but without aspiration at the beginning of a word.

Examples: 저 "I", 앉아요 "sit", 낮 "daytime"


ㅉ ssangjieut JJ. A tense English ch without aspiration.

Examples: 짜요 "it's salty", 찍어요 "take (a photo)"


ㅊ chieut CH. T at the end of a syllable.

Examples: 친구 "friend", 김치 "gimchi", 꽃 "flower"


ㅋ kiyeuk K. Pronounced with aspiration except at the end of a syllable. Adding a line to ㄱ giyeok indicates the breath.

Examples: 코 "nose", 홍콩 "Hong Kong", 부엌 "kitchen"


ㅌ tieut T. Pronounced with aspiration except at the end of a syllable. Adding a line to ㄷ digeut indicates the breath.

Examples: 토마토 "tomato", 토끼 "rabbit"


ㅍ pieup P. Pronounced with aspiration except at the end of a syllable.

Examples: 프랑스 "France", 앞 "front"


ㅎ hieut H. T at the end of a syllable. One doesn't hear much h sound between vowels or after n.

The circle is your throat; the dot and line is aspiration.

Examples: 한국 "Korea", 호주 "Australia", 좋아요 "it's good"

Vowels

A diphthong is a vowel composed of two vowels; it starts with one and ends with the other.

 

ㅏ a

Examples: 아이 "child", 사랑 "love"


ㅐ ae An e vowel pronounced with an open mouth.

Examples: 새 "bird", 캐나다 "Canada"


ㅑ ya

Examples: 야구 "baseball", 야채 "vegetable"


ㅒ yae

Examples: 얘기 "story", 걔 "that person (colloq.)"


ㅓ eo An o vowel without rounding one’s lips.

Examples: 서울 "Seoul", 더 "more"


ㅔ e An e vowel pronounced with a half open mouth. In Seoul, pronounced the same as ㅐ.

Examples: 네 "yes", 게다가 "besides"


ㅕ yeo

Examples: 여자 "woman", 여우 "fox"


ㅖ ye. Only pronounced like this at the beginning of a word; otherwise pronounced the same as ㅔ.

Examples: 예뻐요 "pretty", 관계 "relation"


ㅗ o An o vowel pronounced with rounded lips (but make sure you don’t pronounce a diphthong; this is a pure vowel).

Examples: 소 "ox", 오늘 "today"


ㅘ wa

Examples: 과자 "cake", 완전히 "completely"


ㅙ wae

Examples: 왜 "why", 괜찮아요 "it's all right"


ㅚ oe The same sound asㅞ we below. Most Korean words use this (ㅚ) spelling, some words, especially foreign words, use the other () spelling.

Examples: 외국 "foreign country", 회사 "company"


ㅛ yo

Examples: 요리 "cooking", 쇼핑 "shopping"


ㅜ u A u vowel pronounced with the lips rounded.

Examples: 우리 "we", 우유 "milk"


ㅝ wo The vowel is eo NOT o.

Examples: 원 "won", 뭣 "what"


ㅞ we

Examples: 웬 "what kind of; a certain", 웨일즈 Wales


ㅟ wi

Examples: 귀 "ear", 뒤 "back"


ㅠ yu

Examples: 유리 "glass", 이유 "reason"


ㅡ eu A u vowel pronounced with the lips flat.

Examples: 은행 "bank",  음식 "food and drink"


ㅢ ui This is a combination of eu and i (NOT u and i). It only has this pronunciation in the first syllable of a word; otherwise it is pronounced the same as . When it means "'s, of", it is often pronounced 에.

Examples: 의사 "doctor", 크리스의 의자 "Chris' chair"


ㅣ i The sound is a short version of the vowel in English beet, rather than the vowel in English bit.

Examples: 이 "tooth", 기계 "machine"

Sound changes

Nasalization

ㅂ is pronounced as ㅁ before ㄴ e.g. 처음 뵙겠습니다 Cheoeum boepgesseumnida “pleased to meet you”.

Final stop consonants e.g. ㄱ make following consonants tense if they aren’t already aspirated or tense:

ㅅ is pronounced tense after a final ㄱ e.g. 한국 사람 “a Korean person”

H before a consonant adds aspiration (if it’s not already aspirated or tense):

ㅎ + ㄷ = ㅌ e.g. 그렇다 geurotha “be so”