Follow TV Tropes

Following

Useful Notes / Korean Honorifics

Go To

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.
  • Advertisement:
  • Gun (군): Used similarly to Ssi but applied to unmarried men/male minors only. Usually used by old people when addressing teenagers or young adults, such as when professors address their students, or when referring to the groom in weddings. Otherwise only used in formal writing, such as newspaper articles or in letters.
  • Yang (양): Used similarly to Ssi but applied to unmarried women/female minors only. Usually used by old people when addressing teenagers or young adults, such as when professors address their students, or when referring to the bride in weddings. Otherwise only used in formal writing, such as newspaper articles or in letters.
  • Seonsaeng (선생): Very respectful, commonly translated as master or teacher. On its own, it is applied to doctors, teachers, and some historical figures (e.g. Kim Ku seonsaeng) or artists. Shares the same Chinese characters as the Japanese word sensei.
  • Advertisement:
  • 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 was used to address the military dictators. This honorific is considered an unpleasant reminder of the Japanese rule and the military dictatorships.
  • 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.
  • Advertisement:
  • 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.
  • 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 in the 2nd person: Seonseang-nim is respectful, but just Seonsaeng is considered (in some cases) very rude in the 2nd person. It is acceptable when referring to historical figures.
  • 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.

Familial honorifics

The following are honorifics that are used to address family members or individuals that the speaker is close with. They can be attached to the end of a person's name, or can be used as standalone titles. The usage of these pronouns depends on both the age and gender of the speaker and the addressee; males will never use female pronouns, an individual would never use a pronoun designated for older figures to address a younger person, and so on and so forth. However, they can still be used as titles by a third party. For example, a dad might ask his younger daughter, "Where is your 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 his children "Where's Mom?" to find out where his wife is, even though he's not actually asking for his own mother, (ie the children's grandmother)).

  • Oppa (오빠): Used by a female to address an older male. It can be used for the female's actual older brother/male relative, or for other older men (but not that much older) that she trusts. Women often use it for their (older) significant others as well.
  • Hyung/Hyeong(형): Used by a male to address an older male. It can be used for the male's actual older brother/male relative, or for other older men (but not that much older) that he trusts. In the 80s, with the introduction of feminism, some females would address older males as hyung, but it did not catch on.
  • Unnie/Eonni (언니): Used by a female to address an older female. It can be used for the female's actual older sister/female relative, or other older women (but not that much older) that she trusts. Until the early 20th century, it was a gender-neutral honorific.
  • Nuna/Noona (누나): Used by a male to address an older female. It can be used for an actual older sister/female relative, or for other older women (but not that much older) that he trusts.
  • Samchon (삼촌): Means uncle. Used to address men who are too old to be an oppa or hyung, but too young to be a grandpa. In the Jeju dialect, this is a gender-neutral honorific.
  • Imo (이모): Uset to address women who are too old to be an unnie or nuna, but too young to be a grandma. Sometimes used to call waitresses and store clerks.

Top