From Jonathan Gardner's Korean Notebook
Jump to: navigation, search


This is not so much a cheatsheet as all the most important bits about Korean.

For specificity, I am assuming that you are speaking English with a Western US-Canadian Accent. This is especially important for vowels.

Hangeul 한글

Hangeul is the writing system for Korean.

Each square in Hangul is filled with a single syllable. Syllables are formed with a beginning consonant, a middle vowel, and one or two optional ending consonants. There are many, many syllables but they are broken down and read by how each part sounds.


Basic vowels:

  • 아 (a): short "o" as in "hot"
  • 어 (eo): shallow "o". Make the shape of 아 and move your tongue forward.
  • 이 (i): "i" in between "pit" and "peat".
  • 오 (o): deep "o" as in "boat".
  • 우 (u): deep "u" as in "boot"
  • 으 (eu): shallow "u" as in "about"

"y" vowels have an extra little stick and add a very short "이" in front:

  • 야 (ya)
  • 여 (yeo)
  • 요 (yo)
  • 유 (yu)


  • 애 (e) = 아 + 이: Short "e" as in "get" (not "git"!)
  • 에 (e) = 어 + 이: Long "a" as in "gate" but with out the final "이" sound.
  • 와 (wa) = 오 + 아: "water"
  • 왜 (we) = 오 + 애: "wet"
  • 외 (we) = 오 + 이 but sounds like 오 + 애: "wet"
  • 워 (weo) = 우 + 어: "what" but no "h" sound at all.
  • 웨 (we) = 우 + 에: "wet"
  • 위 (wi) = 우 + 이: "wheat" but no "h" sound at all.
  • 의 (eui)= 으 + 이: Makes one of 3 sounds: "에", "이", or "으이", depending on context.


Hard Consonants

Koreans don't distinguish voiced vs. unvoiced ("k" vs. "g"), but on aspiration.

The aspirated versions have an "h" sound added on. IE, "ㅋ" is pronounced "kh".

The normal version can be voiced or unvoiced, it doesn't matter. Typically, there is a little voice when it is in the middle of a word, but no voice if it starts a word or ends it.

The stop version means you have to stop all the air when you pronounce it, and let it explode, but without much air.

Aspirated Normal Stop Equivalent

"Soft" Consonants

  • ㅇ: Silent. At the end of a syllable it does "ng". (nasal)
  • ㄴ: n (nasal)
  • ㅁ: m (nasal)
  • ㄹ: Like a Spanish 'r', or a very, very short 'd'. At the end of a syllable, 'l'.
  • ㅅ: Short, soft s.
  • ㅆ: Long, stiff s.
  • ㅎ: h, aspirated silent consonant.

Putting It Together

  • The initial consonant replace the ㅇ in the vowel.
  • Final consonant(s) fill the bottom.

Sounding it Out

  • When you have two syllables together, fill ㅇ's with the preceding final consonant, if any. EX: 들을 -> 드를
  • Final consonants in a syllable are not voiced with any vowel. Just end the syllable with the shape of the consonant. Thus, 앚, 앋, 앗 all sound like "at" (but not "a-tuh")
  • When you have two "hard" consonants next to each other, you have to stop the air. "악기" and "아끼" sound the same. "앋기" would sound the same as "앋끼"
  • One of the "t"-type hard consonants followed by an ㅅ turn into ㅅ and becomes ㅆ. (Rare)
  • Hard consonants turn to their nasal equivalents when followed by nasals ㅁ, ㄴ and ㄹ. ㄱ->ㅇ, ㅂ->ㅁ, and the rest go to ㄴ. Ex: "합니" -> "함니"
  • Two ㄹ's make an "l" sound.

The general rule of thumb is to remember that there is absolutely no vowels between syllables. The consonants must mix if they can.


Basic sentence structure is usually:

  • Topic - Subject - Phrases - Object - Verb

Verbs always, always, always go last.


Korean uses post-positional markers to denote which phrases are the topic, subject and object.

(The first follows phrases that end in a vowel, and the second follows phrases that end in a consonant. IE, "우리는" and "첵은")

The most import markers:

  • 는/은: Topic marker
  • 가/이: Subject marker
  • 를/을: Object marker

Other common markers:

  • 에: To, at (a thing)
  • 에서: From (a thing)
  • 에게: To, at (a person)
  • 에게서: From (a person)
  • 로/으로: Through

Verb Formation

Verbs are formed by taking their root and applying various endings.

The root of a verb is formed by dropping "다" from the dictionary form. IE, the root of "읽다" is "읽-".

Glue is commonly used. The rules for glue are:

  • Look at the final vowel.
    • If it's one of the "bright vowels" 아 or 오 or one of their diphthongs, then the glue is "아"
    • If it's something else, then the glue is "어".
    • If it ends with 으 with no final consonants, then replace ㅡ with ㅓ.
  • Exception: the glue for "하다" is "여", with "하여" often abbreviated as "해".
  • There are numerous other exceptions, typically for verbs that end with "르". These will be noted.

If you're going to memorize a verb, memorize its root and memorize its root + Glue.

There are numerous, numerous verb endings in Korean. Some of them are "final" endings, meaning, you can't apply any more endings. The others are "non-final" meaning you must apply more endings.

The various endings typically convey time and other information. Final endings usually contain formality and such as well.

Phrase Formation

You can create phrases within a sentence by applying phrase endings to the verb and its endings.

Adjectives / Descriptive Verbs

In Korean, there are only a handful of "pure" adjectives. The vast majority of adjectives are actually descriptive verbs with adjective verb endings. These are:

  • ㄴ/은: Typical adjective ending.
  • ㄹ/을: Future or uncertainty ending (rare!)

It is best to memorize them along with the descriptive verbs. IE, memorize "예쁜 -" along "예쁘다/예뻐-"

What to learn?

  • Nouns
  • Pure adjectives (numbers, place, etc..)
  • Action verbs
  • Descriptive Verbs
  • Chinese.
  • Verb endings.