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The Korean Alphabet:
An Introduction

History and Form
Syllable Positions
Korean Alphabet Chart
Handy Word and Phrase List
Grammar Notes

 

History and Form

    The Korean alphabet (called "Hangul" in Korean) was developed by a team of scholars under King Se-jong (1397-1450) of the Yi Dynasty and is the most recently invented and most scientifically designed alphabet in the world. "Hangul" has only 21 vowel/vowel combinations and 19 consonants, 5 of which are the same symbol repeated twice and 5 of them are simply a consonant with the addition of an accent mark. That makes a total of only 30 basic character shapes to be learned.

    Due to western influence "Hangul" is often written from left to right and top to bottom like English, but can also be written from top to bottom and right to left like Chinese.

    Each letter of the alphabet is a simple shape that represents a sound, (some characters change sounds or just have a harder sound depending on their location in the syllable). Example: The Korean letter "ㄱ" sounds like a G in the initial position in a syllable and like a K in the final position in a syllable as we can see in the word " Guk,"

Here the letter "" sounds like G because it is in the initial position in the syllable.
Between the two consonants is the vowel ""; it is represented by a U and sounds like the oo in Pool.
And the "" here in the final position sounds like a K.

"Guk" is the Korean word for country. (The sound changes are recorded on the last page and are easy to follow).

    Each word in Korean is broken down into syllables which are composed of 2 to 4 characters; every syllable starts with a consonant and has a vowel in it. For example: The word for Korea in Korean is  "한국 Han guk"; here is a breakdown of the letters and syllables for the word "Han guk"

    Syllable #1.

Consonant; "" sounds like the letter H as in hotel.
Vowel; "" sounds like the letter A as in father.
And the "" here in the final position sounds like an N.

    Syllable #2.

Consonant; "" sounds like the letter G in the initial position.
Vowel; "" is represented by the letter U and sounds like oo as in pool.
Consonant; "" same as the first letter but sounds like a K because it is in the final position in the syllable.

    Although the words are written in syllables they are pronounced in a continuous flow.

    Every word in Korean starts with a consonant and has a vowel; however, the location of the vowel can change in relation to the first consonant depending on which vowel is used.  For  example; "" is a consonant which is silent and has no voiced sound in the initial position and "" is a vowel which sounds like the i in machine. Because the long axis of the vowel "" is up and down it is placed on the right side of the consonant like this "" so this syllable sounds like ee as in Lee, the first letter is silent and the second letter sounds like the i in machine. Other vowels like "", which sounds like the oo in good have a long axis that runs from side to side; therefore, they are placed underneath the initial consonant like this "" so this syllable will sound like the oo from good.

Every one of the vowels fits into either the group with the long axis up and down like ",,,,,,,and" which are placed on the right of the consonant; into the group with the long axis from left to right like ",,,and " which are placed under the consonant; or those vowels which have both an up and down long axis and a left to right long axis in the same vowel. These vowels are combinations of 2 vowels like "" which is a combination of "" and "" or "" which is a  combination of  ""  and ""; and the following ",,,," which go under and to the right of the consonant like this  ","

 

Syllable Positions

    1. Words in Korean are formed by groups of syllables.
    2. Every syllable must start with a consonant and have a vowel.
    3. The following vertical vowels go along side the initial consonant like this: "아,,,,,,,,"
    4. The following horizontal vowels go under the initial consonant like this: "오,,,,"
    5. These vowel combinations go to the right and under the consonant like this; "와,,,,,,"
    6. There are only six patterns for the formation of syllables. C = Consonant, V = Vowel.

C

V

 as in "" (green onion)

C

V

as in "" (nose)

 

C

V

C

 as in "" (urgent)

C

V

C

 as in ""(seaweed)

these are the 4 most common forms.

    Those that have two different consonants in the final position like

C

V

C

C

 as in "" (chicken)

C

V

C

C

 as in "(dirt)

are not that common.

    7. The sounds of some consonants change depending on their position in the syllable, for example: "" has an S sound when it is the first (initial) consonant in a syllable but changes to a T sound when it is the last (final) consonant in a syllable.

 

Korean Alphabet Chart

CONSONANTS

VOWELS

Sounds in the initial and final positions.

Romanization

  INITIAL FINAL      
G/K(1) K A as in Father
N N AE Pay
D T YA Yacht
R/L(2) L YAE Yea!
M M EO Young
B P(3) E Set
S T YEO Young
silent(4) NG YE Yet
J T O Yo Yo
CH T WA Water
K K WAE Waiter
T T OI Wait
P P YO YO YO
H T U Cool
GG(5) K WEO Won
DD T WE Wet
BB PP UI We
SS T YU You
JJ T U Good
      UI UI
      I(6) Sheep
1. Sounds like a cross between a G and a K.
2.
Sounds like a cross between an R and an L.
3.
When this character (in the final position) is directly followed by a "" in the next syllable its sound changes to an M.
4.
Because every syllable must start with a consonant the silent "" is sometimes used. In syllables that begin with this consonant the first sound pronounced is the vowel.
5.
All the double consonants have a harder sound than their single counterparts and are pronounced with no expulsion of air.
6.
Except when preceded by an "" in which case it sounds like I as in it.

 

Handy Word and Phrase List

The following is a list of words phrases in "Hangul" that you can use to practice reading. If you practice with these words you will quickly develop an understanding of "Hangul," and your visit to Korea will be much more enjoyable as you will have a better understanding of the language, and hence the country, you are visiting.

Vocabulary

 

Handy phrases

 

한국사람 Korean (person) 반갑습니다 Pleased to meet you.
미국사람 American (person) 오래간만입나다 Long time no see
언제 When noun + 주세요 Please give me + noun.
오늘 Today 갑시다 Let's go!
내일 Tomorrow 한국돈 Korean money
지금 Now 미국돈 American money
어제 Yesterday noun + 좋아합니다 I like noun.
나중에 Later 어떻게지냈어요 How have you been?
친구 Friend 어디갑니까? Where are you going?
여자 Woman 들어오세요 Please come in.
남자 Man 앉으세요 Please sit down.
안녕하세요 Hi 얼마입니까? How much is it?
아침식사 Breakfast 감사합니다 Thank You.
점심식사 Lunch 당신 이름이 무엇입니까? What's your name?
저녁식사 Dinner 제이름이 + name + 입니다  My name is + name.
좋습니다 Good 이것이 무엇입니까? What is this?
나쁩니다 Bad 다시 말해주세요 Please say it again.
아가씨 Young lady 천천히 말해주세요 Please speak slowly.
아줌마 Ma'am 영어 할줄압니까? Can you speak English?
아저씨 Mister, Sir 실례합니다 Excuse me!
미안합니다 Sorry 또봅시다 See you again.
식당 Restaurant noun + 어디 있읍니까? Where is the noun?
화장실 Bathroom noun + 원합니다 I want a + noun.
전화 Telephone 가고 싶습니다 I want to go.
아니요 No noun + 먹고 싶습니다 I want to eat + noun.
Yes noun + 사고 싶습니다 I want to buy + noun.
어디 Where 저는 피곤합니다 I'm tired.
왜요 Why 저는 배고픕니다 I'm hungry.

 

Grammar Notes

    1. Korean sentence structure follows this pattern:


Subject
(Subject marker) Verb, as in:
식당() 어디 있읍니까? (where is a restaurant?)


    More complex sentences incorporate an Object and an Object marker:

 Subject (subject marker) Object (Object marker) Verb, like this;
() 한국() 좋아합니다 (I like Korea.)

    2. The understood subject is often dropped in Korean as it is in English; so the sentence above can become:
한국() 좋아합니다 ([I] like Korea), the understood subject "I" is dropped.

    3. Adjectives always go in front of the nouns:
Adjective
Subject (Subject marker) Adjective Object (Object marker) Verb, like this:
미국 사람() 매운 음식() 좋아합니다 (which means; Americans like spicy food) 매운 = spicy.

    4. Adverbs go in front of the Verb:
Ad
verb Verb, as in:
많이 주세요 (give me a lot).

 

Used with permission