Korean Alphabet: The Hangul Letters And Pronunciation

22 October 2022
By Sarah Angela Almaden
Japanese House

Unsplash: Suzi Kim

In order to learn Korean, you must first learn Hangul or Hangeul (한글). This writing system is referred to as a syllabic alphabet, because it includes elements of the alphabetic and syllabic writing systems.

Hangeul was introduced in 1444 by King Sejong the Great in an effort to increase literacy among his people. The original alphabet was called Hunmin chŏngŭm which means “The Proper Sounds for the instruction of the people.” However, the Korean elite and other Korean Confucian scholars fiercely criticized and opposed the decision because they saw this as a danger to their position and the country of China. Nevertheless, King Sejong persisted and continued to introduce the alphabet around 1446. After that, the Korean alphabet rose in popularity, particularly among women and popular fiction writers.

Flash forward, the Korean alphabet is still simple and easy to learn, just as it was intended to be. In fact, notable scholars like John K. Fairbank and Edwin O. Reischauer from Harvard University (1988) even said that “Hangul is perhaps the most scientific system of writing in general use in any country.” Furthermore, Frits Vos from Leiden University (1973) in the Netherlands added that King Sejong "invented the world's best alphabet…it is clear that the Korean alphabet is not only simple and logical, but has, moreover, been constructed in a purely scientific way."

So, to the language aficionados of this world and beyond who are interested in learning Korean for any reason — whether it is to master Kpop songs or memorize Kdrama dialogues— here is a fantastic place to start: studying the Korean alphabet. Hwaiting! 화이팅!

Korean Consonants (자음 or jaeum)
  • velar consonants – ㄱ, ㅋ, ㄲ
  • coronal consonants – ㄴ, ㄷ, ㅌ, ㄹ, ㄸ
  • bilabial consonants – ㅁ , ㅂ, ㅍ, ㅃ
  • sibilant consonants – ㅅ, ㅈ, ㅊ, ㅆ, ㅉ
  • dorsal consonants – ㅇ, ㅎ
Korean Consonant
Name of the
Romanized Spelling
k/g 기역 giyeok
kk 쌍기역 ssangiyeok
n 니은 nieun
d/t 디귿 digeut
tt 쌍디귿 ssangdigeut
l 리을 rieul
m 미음 mieum
b/p 비읍 bieup
pp 쌍비읍 ssangbieup
s 시옷 siot
ss 쌍시옷 ssangsiot
ng 이응 ieung
j 지읒 jieut
jj 쌍지읒 ssangjieut
ch 치읓 chieut
k 키읔 kieuk
t 티읕 tieut
p 피읖 pieup
h 히읗 hieut

Korean Vowels ( 모음 or moeum)

There are 21 vowels in the Hangul alphabet: 10 basic vowels and 11 double vowels. And the vowels are designed after three elements:

  • yin – the horizontal line (ㅡ) represents the earth
  • neutral – the vertical line (ㅣ) serves as the link between heaven and earth and it is a symbol for the upright Human
  • yang – the dot (ㆍ) or in modern Hangul it is a short line marks as the point for the sun
Korean Vowels ( 모음 or moeum)
  • the name of the vowel corresponds to the sound it makes
  • when a ㅇ is added to a vowel, it works as a filler and makes no sound when it appears at the beginning of a word
  • if the vowel has a long vertical line (ㅏ, ㅑ, ㅓ, ㅕ, or ㅣ) then the consonant is placed on the left half, and the vowel is placed on the right half
          ◦    ㅇ + ㅏ = 아 [a]
          ◦    ㅂ + ㅣ = 비 [bi]
  • if the vowel has a long horizontal line like ㅗ, ㅛ, ㅜ, ㅠ, or ㅡ then the consonant is placed on the upper half and vowel is placed on the lower half
          ◦    ㅇ + ㅗ = 오 [o]
          ◦    ㅋ + ㅠ = 큐 [kyu]

      Korean Vowel
      Name of the Vowel
      Romanized Spelling
      a ah
      e ae
      ya ya
      ye yae
      eo eo
      e e
      yeo yeo
      ye ye
      o o
      wa wa
      we wae
      we oe
      yo yo
      u u
      weo wo
      we we
      wi wi
      yu yu
      eu eu
      eui eui
      i i

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