Must-Know Korean Words for Beginners

Learn about the most basic Korean words for all beginners

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By Keehwan Kim · May 27, 2024 · 11 minute read

Learning the basic Korean words used in daily life is one of the first steps to learning to speak Korean. Simple words like ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and basic greetings like ‘goodbye’ and ‘see you tomorrow’ are useful in everyday situations. So in this article, we’ll cover the basic Korean words and phrases you must know as a beginning Korean learner.

Cheo-eum boep-ge-seum-ni-da! Great to see you here!

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The table below has some useful greeting phrases you can use on your next visit to Korea. For a more detailed description, check out our article on how to say hello in Korean.

Basic hellos and goodbyes in Korean

Korean Pronunciation English translation
안녕. [An-nyeong] Hello or goodbye. (casual)
안녕하세요. [An-nyeong-ha-se-yo] Hello. (formal)
안녕히 가세요. [An-nyeong-hi ga-se-yo] Goodbye. (to someone leaving)
안녕히 계세요. [An-nyeong-hi gye-se-yo] Goodbye. (to someone staying)
다음에 봐요. [Da-eum-e bwa-yo] See you next time.
내일 봐요. [Nae-il bwa-yo] See you tomorrow.

There are two formal ways of saying goodbye in Korean. If you want to say goodbye to someone leaving your house, you can say 안녕히 가세요. However, if you’re leaving someone’s house and want to say goodbye to the host of the house, you can say 안녕히 계세요.

Everyday phrases

The table below shows the absolute must-know words and phrases used in basic social interactions. You’ll use these every day if you’re visiting Korea!

Essential basic Korean words and phrases

Korean Pronunciation English translation
[Ne] Yes
아니요 [A-ni-yo] No
감사합니다. [Gam-sa-ham-ni-da] Thank you.
아니에요. [A-ni-eyo] You’re welcome (literally “Not at all”).
미안해요. [Mi-an-hae-yo] Sorry.
죄송해요. [Joe-song-hae-yo] Sorry.
괜찮아요. [Gwaen-chan-a-yo] It’s okay.
실례합니다. [Sil-le-ham-ni-da.] Excuse me.
저기요. [Jeo-gi-yo.] Excuse me.

Note that there are two ways to say ‘excuse me.’ 실례합니다 is the most general and common way of saying excuse me. 저기요 is another common way of saying excuse me, but we only use this phrase to catch someone’s attention. So if you want to exit a crowded elevator, you can say 실례합니다, but if someone drops their wallet and walks away, you can say 저기요 to catch that person’s attention.

Talking about food

For many people, visiting Korea is all about the food and drinks, so if you are a foodie (like me😋), then these are some of the must-know words related to food and drinks.

Basic Korean words for food and drink

Korean Pronunciation English translation
음식 [eum-sik] food
[bap] steamed rice
반찬 [ban-chan] side dish
김치 [kim-chi] kimchi
[guk] soup
찌개 [jji-gae] broth
음료수 [eum-nyo-su] soup
[mul] water
주스 [ju-seu] juice
커피 [keo-pi] coffee
[sul] alcoholic drink
맥주 [maek-ju] beer
소주 [so-ju] soju
맛있어요. [ma-si-sseo-yo] It’s delicious.
매워요. [mae-wo-yo] It’s spicy.
뜨거워요. [tteu-geo-eo-yo] It’s hot.
차가워요. [cha-ga-wo-yo] It’s cold.

Talking about transportation

Now that you know the names of places around town, you need to find a mode of transportation to get to where you want to get to. The following words and phrases will help you do that.

Korean words for forms of transportation

Korean Pronunciation English translation
자동차 / 차 [ja-dong-cha / cha] car
택시 [taek-shi] taxi
버스 [beo-seu] bus
기차 [gi-cha] train
지하철 [ji-ha-cheol] underground train
자전거 [ja-jeon-geo] bicycle
비행기 [bi-haeng-gi] plane
[bae] boat

Common everyday objects

There are some things we carry around all the time, so you really should learn how to say them in Korean. After all, if you lose your cellphone in a department store, how are you going to tell the store what you lost? Let’s learn some useful words for everyday objects.

Basic Korean words for everyday objects

Korean Pronunciation English translation
핸드폰 [haen-deu-pon] cellphone
지갑 [ji-gap] wallet
가방 [ga-bang] bag
열쇠 [yeol-soe] key
차 키 [cha ki] car key
[don] money
지폐 [ji-pe] a bill
동전 [dong-jeon] coin
현금 카드 [hyeon-geum ka-deu] debit card
신용 카드 [sin-yong ka-deu] credit card
화장품 [hwa-jang-pum] makeup
[pen] pen

Talking about family and friends

Talking about family and friends must be one of the most common topics of conversation when meeting someone for the first time. In Korea, family life is very important, so if you meet a Korean person, they will want to know something about your family and friends. Let’s take a look at some of the most common and important words related to family and friends.

Basic Korean words for family and friends

Korean Pronunciation English
가족 [ga-jok] family
부모님 [bu-mo-nim] parents
아버지 [a-beo-ji] father
어머니 [eo-meo-ni] mother
아빠 [a-ppa] dad
엄마 [eom-ma] mom
[hyeong] older brother (when the speaker is male)
누나 [nu-na] older sister (when the speaker is male)
오빠 [o-ppa] older brother (when the speaker is female)
언니 [eon-ni] older sister (when the speaker is female)
동생 [dong-saeng] younger sibling
남동생 [nam-dong-saeng] younger brother
여동생 [yeo-dong-saeng] younger sister
친구 [chin-gu] friend
남자 친구 [nam-ja-chin-gu] boyfriend
여자 친구 [yeo-ja-chin-gu] girlfriend
와이프 [wa-i-peu] wife
남편 [nam-pyeon] husband
아들 [a-deul] son
[ttal] daughter

Talking about time and dates

Another important language skill is being able to talk about time and dates. If you’re making plans to meet someone, or if you want to talk about each other’s birthdays, you’ll need the words in the following table.

Talking about time and dates in Korean

Korean Pronunciation English translation
날짜 [nal-jja] date
[wol] month
[il] specific date
오늘 [o-neul] today
어제 [eo-je] yesterday
내일 [nae-il] tomorrow
올해 [ol-hae] this year
작년 [jak-nyeon] last year
내년 [nae-nyeon] next year
월요일 [wol-yo-il] Monday
화요일 [hwa-yo-il] Tuesday
수요일 [su-yo-il] Wednesday
목요일 [mok-yo-il] Thursday
금요일 [geum-yo-il] Friday
토요일 [to-yo-il] Saturday
일요일 [il-yo-il] Sunday

To say the month, we use Sino-Korean numbers with the word 월. So to say April, we use the number 사 (4) and the word 월 (month) together, so 사월 is April. To say the specific date, we use Sino-Korean numbers with the word 일 (date). So to say the 10th, we use the number 십 (10) and the word 일 (date) together, so 10th is 십일. Combining the two phrases together to say April 10, we say 사월 십일.

Talking about the time in Korean

Korean Pronunciation English translation
시간 [shi-gan] time
[shi] hour
[bun] minute
[cho] second

To say the time, we use number words with the words 시 (hour) and 분 (minute). We use native Korean numbers with 시 (hour), and Sino-Korean numbers with 분 (minute). So to say 4:10, we say 네 시 십 분. (The native Korean number for four is 네.)

Confused about the difference between native Korean and Sino-Korean numbers? Take a look at our complete guide to Korean numbers to make things clear!

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Basic Korean verbs and adjectives

To talk about what we do in our daily lives, we have to learn the verbs, and to describe the world around us, we have to learn the adjectives. So the two tables below show the must-know Korean verbs and adjectives for beginning learners.

Basic Korean verbs

Korean Pronunciation English translation
하다 [ha-da] to do
이다 [i-da] to be
있다 [it-da] to be present
없다 [eop-da] not to be present
가다 [ga-da] to go
오다 [o-da] to come
먹다 [meok-da] to eat
마시다 [ma-shi-da] to drink
주다 [ju-da] to give
받다 [bat-da] to receive
말하다 [mal-ha-da] to speak
듣다 [deut-da] to listen
보다 [bo-da] to see, watch, look
놀다 [nol-da] to play, hang out
만나다 [man-na-da] to meet
자다 [ja-da] to sleep
일어나다 [il-eo-na-da] to get up, stand up
읽다 [ik-da] to read
일하다 [il-ha-da] to work
배우다 [bae-u-da] to learn
알다 [al-da] to know
모르다 [mo-reu-da] not to know
공부하다 [gong-bu-ha-da] to study
운동하다 [un-dong-ha-da] to exercise, work out

Basic Korean adjectives

Korean Pronunciation English translation
좋다 [jo-ta] to be good
나쁘다 [na-ppeu-da] to be bad
크다 [keu-da] to be big
작다 [jak-da] to be small
빠르다 [ppa-reu-da] to be fast
느리다 [neu-ri-da] to be slow
예쁘다 [ye-ppeu-da] to be pretty
귀엽다 [gwi-yeop-da] to be cute
아름답다 [a-reum-dap-da] to be beautiful
잘생기다 [jal-saeng-gi-da] to be good-looking
못생기다 [mot-saeng-gi-da] to not be good-looking, to be ugly
맛있다 [ma-sit-da] to be delicious
맛없다 [ma-deop-da] to not be delicious
덥다 [deop-da] to be hot (air temperature)
춥다 [choop-da] to be cold (air temperature)
뜨겁다 [tteu-geop-da] to be hot (to touch)
차갑다 [cha-gap-da] to be cold (to touch)
비싸다 [bi-ssa-da] to be expensive
싸다 [ssa-da] to be cheap
재미있다 [jae-mi-eop-da] to be fun
재미없다 [jae-mi-it-da] to not be fun
쉽다 [swip-da] to be easy
어렵다 [ro-ryeop-da] to be hard, difficult
무섭다 [mu-seop-da] to be scary

You might have noticed that the table has two different words for ‘hot’ and two for ‘cold.’ In Korean, we have two sets of words for hot and cold. To describe the air temperature as hot and cold, we use 덥다 (hot) and 춥다 (cold). However, if something is hot or cold to touch or drink, we use 뜨겁다 (hot) and 차갑다 (cold).

Basic Korean adverbs

Just like in English, we mainly use adverbs in Korean to modify verbs. For example, we can use the words ‘slowly’ and ‘quickly’ to describe how we did an action (as in “I walked slowly to the bus stop.”) So words like ‘slowly’ and ‘quickly’ are adverbs. We call these adverbs of manner.

However, like English, we can also use adverbs to modify adjectives, so words like ‘very’ and ‘really’ are also adverbs. We use these words to say phrases like ‘very cold’ or ‘really delicious.’ These are called adverbs of degree.

The tables below show some of the most common adverbs of manner and degree in Korean.

Basic Korean adverbs of manner

Korean Pronunciation English translation
천천히 [cheon-cheon-hi] slowly
빨리 [ppal-li] quickly
늦게 [neut-ge] late
일찍 [il-jjik] early
조심히 [jo-shim-hi] carefully
조용히 [jo-yong-hi] quietly
시끄럽게 [shi-kkeu-reop-ge] loudly
쉽게 [swip-ge] easily
어렵게 [eo-ryeop-ge] in a hard way
간단히 [gan-dan-hi] simply
약하게 [yak-ha-ge] weakly, lightly
강하게 [gang-ha-ge] strongly, firmly
심하게 [shim-ha-ge] severely
적당히 [jeok-dang-hi] appropriately
귀엽게 [gwi-yeop-ge] cutely, in a cute way

Basic Korean adverbs of degree

Korean Pronunciation English translation
엄청 [eom-chung] extremely, very
매우 [mae-wu] very
너무 [neo-mu] so, too
정말 [jeong-mal] really
진짜 [jin-jja] really
[kkwae] quite, somewhat
조금 [jo-geum] a little
약간 [yak-gan] slightly
전혀 [jeon-hyeo] (not) at all

Another common adverb type is adverbs of frequency. These are words like ‘always,’ ‘sometimes’ and ‘never.’ We use these words to say how often we do something.

Basic Korean adverbs of degree

Korean Pronunciation English translation
항상 [hang-sang] always
자주 [ja-ju] often
가끔 [ga-kkeum] sometimes
종종 [jong-jong] occasionally
거의 안 [geo-ui an] rarely
보통 [bo-tong] usually, normally
절대 안 [jeol-dae an] never

Wrapping up basic Korean words

Whenever you learn a new language, you have to learn all the words that are essential in your daily life. In this article, we’ve covered some of the most basic Korean words and phrases which will help you to communicate in many common settings, such as when you meet people for the first time and when you go to Korean restaurants.

Now that you have a basic knowledge of Korean words, it’s important to build on this knowledge and continue to study Korean regularly – after all, the more words you know, the more you’ll be able to communicate. 다음에 봐요! (See you next time!)

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