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Useful Notes / Korean Honorifics

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Korean, like Japanese, has an extensive system of honorifics, words usually appended to the ends of names or pronouns to indicate the relative ages and social positions of the speakers. Immigrants to the Koreas often find this idea difficult to grasp, but it is a very important feature of language. Using the wrong honorific can and will cause offense.

Generic honorifics

  • Ssi (씨; pronounced shee): When appended to a full name or personal name, it indicates that the speaker considers the speakee to be of the same or a higher social level than themselves, and is most commonly used to refer to strangers or acquaintances. When appended to a surname, it indicates that the speaker considers themselves to be of a higher station than the speakee, and has a "distant" connotation that is considered rude if applied to elders.
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  • Gun (군): Used in the same context as Ssi but applied to unmarried men/male minors only.
  • Yang (양): Used in the same context as Ssi but applied to unmarried women/female minors only.
  • Seonsaeng (선생): Very respectful, commonly translated as master or teacher. On its own, it is applied to doctors and teachers. Shares the same Chinese characters as the Japanese word sensei.
  • Gwiha (귀하): Reserved for letters and messages, when referring to the recipient. Dropped for informal situations. Roughly translates to Your honored self.
  • Gakha (각하): Reserved for high-ranking government officials, including the president. Equivalent to His Excellency. This honorific is no longer used in the Republic of Korea (South Korea) nowadays as it is the equivalent of the Japanese honorific Kakka and considered an unpleasant reminder of the Japanese rule.
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  • Seonbae (선배): Used in a company for senior employees, or in schools for those in higher classes. May be used as both an honorific and a title. Equivalent to Japanese -senpai.
  • Hubae (후배): Junior; may be used as an honorific or a title. Equivalent to Japanese -kohai.
  • Junha (전하): Archaic honorific from the Choson dynasty, used to refer to a King. Usually translated His Majesty. It is honorific for a king, but it is less dignified than Pyeha (폐하), which is an imperial honorific.
  • Pyeha (폐하): His Imperial Majesty. Honorific specific for an emperor.
  • Jeoha (저하): His Royal Highnesss. Specific honorific for the crown prince.
  • Hapha (합하): His Highness, His Serene Highness, or His Grace. Honorific for very high ranking officials and high nobility, such as a prime minister or a close royal relative (say, an uncle of the king). Increasingly uncommon even on Korean historical dramas these days.
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  • Nari (나리 or 나으리): Archaic honorific from the Choson dynasty. Used by commoners to refer to nobles below the king. Equivalent of His Lordship or His Honor.
  • Nim (님): Reserved for anyone of a higher station than the speaker, or those whom the speaker holds in high regard. For example, students may call their upperclassmen Seonbae-nim. It may be dropped if the parties involved are close enough that such formalities are unnecessary, such as with family and close friends. However, this honorific is mandatory for the formal use of the word Seonsaeng: Seonseang-nim is respectful, but just Seonsaeng is considered (in some cases) very rude.
  • Dongmu (동무; "Tongmu" according to the McCune-Reischauer transliteration used in North Korea): The Korean equivalent to the word "comrade". In North Korea, just like in the Soviet Union and many other Eastern Bloc countries, this word replaced most of the existing titles and honorifics as a standard form of address meaning "fellow revolutionary", whereas in the South it has mostly gone out of use due to its association with the Dirty Communists.
  • Dongji or Tongji (동지): There are two separate terms used for "comrade" in North Korea. Dongji is used to address someone with a higher standing, while Dongmu is someone with equal or lower standing. So, Kim Il Sung would never be a Dongmu, but always a Dongji.


  • Oppa (오빠): For a female's older brother (literally and figuratively) and for older (but not that much older) men whom the women trust. Women often use it for their boyfriends as well. The sister equivalent is "Unni" (언니). Men never use either of these, except when using it as a title. For example, a dad might ask his younger daughter, "Where is Unni?" referring to his older daughter, using the term his younger daughter would use to refer to his older daughter (similar to English where the dad might ask "Where is Mom?" to ask where his wife is, when speaking to his children).
  • Hyung(형): For a male's older brother (literally and figuratively) and for men they're close to/respect. The sister equivalent is "Nuna" (누나). Women never use either of these.


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