How do I write my name in Korean?

Need a good conversation starter for your Korean friends? 
Write your name in Korean and show it to them.  They will be impressed!
   
   

In a Korean dictionary, what would be the order of words?  Believe it or not, you already know the answer -- the alphabetical order!  

Unlike in English dictionaries, however, words in Korean dictionaries are sorted based on their first consonant. What do they do with words starting with a vowel?  Here is the trick: there is a special symbol for a "zero sound "consonant.  So, even when a word is pronounced starting with a vowel, in the written form, it starts with a consonant, the "zero sound" consonant, followed by the sounded vowel.  The "zero sound " consonant looks like the figure zero ("0"). (The similarity is merely an interesting coincidence.  The Korean alphabet was invented in the 16th century, hundreds of years before the Arabic numerals were introduced into Korea.)  One has to be careful, however, as the same Korean letter "0" signifies the /ng/ sound  when it comes at the end of a syllable (a syllable is each of the tiny square units you see in Korean texts). 

A friend of mine once said she figured out how to tell Korean texts from Chinese or Japanese only Korean has the character O.  And she is right.

Here is an example.  It's a Korean phrase meaning "How are you?"

If this looks hopelessly complicated - it's not!  Let me walk you through step by step.  First of all, what did you notice graphically?  Yes! You are a keen observer there are five aggregates or clusters of letters.  Korean is written in "clusters" of letters rather than "strings" of letters as in English.  Each cluster corresponds to one syllable.

Now, let's go one step further.  Can you count how many parts (component letters) each cluster has?  Do they all have two?  Three?  As you can see (or will see), the first two clusters in the example above have 3 parts each, and the 3rd, 4th and 5th clusters consist of only two parts each.  A Korean syllabic cluster has either 2 or 3 letters in it.

The basic structure of a cluster looks like this:

    

The first part of a cluster is always a constant (real or null) ("C" in the figure).  Then comes the vowel (V).  Some vowels are written vertically as in the left example of the figure; some are written horizontally as shown on the right.  The third part, if there is one, is always a constant (C) and is written at the bottom of a cluster - its called a "pedestal".

Some syllables don't have the last consonant and simply end with a vowel without a pedestal.  Such a cluster looks like this:

If you scroll up and revisit the Korean equivalent of "How are you?", you may recognize that the first two are C-V-C clusters and the rest are C-V clusters.  If you can't see it right away, that's because you haven't seen the individual letters of the Korean alphabet yet.  It's time to learn Korean consonants and vowels.

The Korean alphabet has 14 basic consonants and 10 basic vowels.  So, there are only 24 letters to learn.  Yes, that's two less than the English alphabet.  (In addition to these, there are some intuitively-obvious mixed compounds these will be dealt with shortly.)

Take a look at the Korean alphabet by clicking the links in the table below.

  • The Consonants link will show the 14 basic Korean consonants.
  • The Vowels link will show the 10 basic Korean vowels.
  • Compound consonants and compound vowels are shown separately.
  • For all consonants and vowels, pronunciation keys are given in English.

Korean Alphabet

Consonants (basic)
Pronunciation Keys

Consonants (compound)
Pronunciation Keys

Vowels (basic)
Pronunciation Keys

Vowels (compound)
Pronunciation Keys


Writing Your Name in Korean Alphabet

Some of you may be thinking, "Well, then I think I can write my name in Korean."  But, wait, there is another step that I want to take you through.  After this short step, you can really write your name in Korean!

Look at the 14 basic Korean consonants.  They are easy to learn, as each has a distinct shape and there is a fairly good one-to-one correlation between the Korean and the English consonants in terms of the sound.  There are exceptions, of course, as you would expect in any language.

What about the vowels?  At first glance, some Korean vowels may look very similar.  But, if you invest a few minutes of your time, you can easily tell them apart.  If you need help in training your eye for Korean vowels, click this link.

We saw that some Korean vowels are written on the right side of a consonant, whereas some are written underneath a consonant.  Is there a rule about this?  The key is the shape of the vowel.

   - If the overall shape of the vowel is vertical,
          it is placed on the right side of the preceding consonant. 

   - If the overall shape of the vowel is horizontal,
          it is is placed underneath the preceding consonant. 

When you write a Korean cluster, you always write the first consonant first, then the vowel, and finally, the "pedestal" (final consonant), if there is one.

Let's revisit the phrase we saw earlier.

In this example, you are looking at five syllabic clusters arranged from left to right and a question mark.  The first cluster has three elements: a null (no-sound) consonant, then /ah/ sound followed by /n/ sound.  The second syllable has 3 elements: /n/ followed by /yu/ followed by /ng/.   The third has only two:  /h/ sound followed by /ah/.  The fourth is a soft /s/ followed by /eh/. The fifth is a null consonant followed by a /yo/ sound. 

Now you can pronounce the whole phrase: ahn-nyung-hah-seh-yo?  
This is the most general greeting that you can use in any occasion, at any time of the day.   

At this point you may be wondering:  "Where should I put the accent?"  Well, here is the thing.  Korean words and sentences generally have no stress points.  You can simply pronounce these five syllables more or less monotonously.  Some Korean dialects spoken in rural provinces have strong ups and downs and strict rules for applying these stress points.  But the language spoken in the region of Seoul (the "standard" Korean language) is almost free of stress points.   In fact, the more monotonously you utter a Korean sentence, the more sophisticated it would sound to Korean ears.  So, stress is one thing you don't need to worry about.  Don't you think this makes Korean easy to learn?  After all, you've just mastered one Korean phrase -- that's wonderful.

If you review what has been explained so far, you should be able to write your name in Korean.  Do you need some more examples?  O.K., here are some common English first names written in the Korean alphabet.  Please remember that the phonetic correlation between English and Korean is pretty good but not perfect.  As such, there can be several different ways to write English names in Korean alphabet; and the Korean rendition that you will see here is by no means the only version.  By clicking the following links, you agree that you won't use these spellings for any official or legal purposes.

 

My Name Written in Korean Alphabet

For entertainment purposes only, not for official or legal documents

Name starting with: (click your choice)

   [ A ]           [ B ]           [ C ]              [ D ]             [ E-F ]           [ G-H-I ]           [ J ]

   [ K ]           [ L ]           [ M ]           [ N-O ]           [ P-R ]              [ S ]         [ T-V-W-X ]

Hope this article was helpful.  Enjoy writing names in Korean!

By the way, if you want to test how well you can read Korean, click here.

 

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A Brief History of the Korean Alphabet  

The Korean alphabet system was invented in the early part of the Yi Dynasty by a group of scholars,  who carried out the research at the Palace Library of Classics ("Jip Hyun Jun"), which was an institution organized within the royal palace in Seoul (the palace is preserved and open to tourists).  When the result of their research was published in 1446, it marked a dramatic departure from the practice of relying on the Chinese characters, which the Koreans had been using for more than a thousand years.  Chinese characters are stylized symbols of things and ideas, whereas the Korean alphabet represents consonants and vowels.   

Because the Korean alphabet was invented "overnight" rather than having evolved over centuries, the inventors wanted to have a test-run to see if the new system could really capture all aspects of the linguistic reality that existed in Korean at the time.   For this purpose, they authored a series of epic poems with such titles as  Moonlight Shining on One Thousand Rivers (1447) and Six Flying Dragons (1447).  The latter glorifies, understandably, the King who commissioned the project (King Se-Jong: 1397-1450).   He was an unusually scholarly monarch, who not only sponsored the work but was also deeply involved in it personally.  It was rumored that at least one of the letters was his own invention.  He wrote the preface to the 1446 publication that first explained the Korean alphabet. This preface represents the first sentences written in Korean. 

 

Copyright 2008 - 2012 by Enunce, LLC. All rights reserved

 

 

 

Korean Alphabet

Consonants (basic)
     Pronunciation Keys

Consonants (compound)
     Pronunciation Keys

Vowels (basic)
     Pronunciation Keys

Vowels (compound)
     Pronunciation Keys

 

 

How to Write Korean by Hand

How to Type Korean on a Computer

Korean Greeting Cards

Korean Quiz
       (Quiz 1, Quiz 2, Quiz 3)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

English Korean Dictionary

Click here for
Korean dictionary
 
A B C D
E F G H
 I J K L
M N O P
Q R S T
U V W XYZ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Korean Alphabet

Consonants (basic)
     Pronunciation Keys

Consonants (compound)
     Pronunciation Keys

Vowels (basic)
     Pronunciation Keys

Vowels (compound)
     Pronunciation Keys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Koreans call the Korean alphabet "Hangul".  This word, "Hangul", is written below in three different fonts.  The first is a simple font with no decoration first time learners can recognize these letters quite easily.  The second is a font commonly used in Korean books and newspapers.  The third one mimics traditional brush calligraphy.
 

 

 

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