Let’s keep things simple today!
Some people only want to know simple and easy Korean phrases. The challenge is, travel and tour books are often filled with outdated or overly formal expressions.
In some cases, they’re just plain weird!
We got you covered. Below are 15 super easy Korean phrases. These are the most common phrases that you will hear while visiting or living in Korea.
Along with each phrase, we’ll give you a short writeup of what the expression means.
They are all written in Hangul (Korean Alphabet), so if you don’t know how to read the characters yet, no problem. You will be reading Korean in an hour after you take a look at this Hangul guide.
Why are they written in Hangul and not in English? It’s actually faster and easier to learn these Korean phrases using the Korean alphabet.
More importantly, you can actually use them! One of the biggest complaints about phrase books is that the pronunciation is incorrect, so people don’t understand you when you speak. Using Hangul is much more precise, you should try to use textbooks that use Hangul whenever possible.
These phrases are all polite enough to use with any Korean, but also not so formal that you will seem uptight and unfriendly. It’s that perfect middle ground where you can talk to anyone comfortably.
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Let’s get to it!
1. 고맙습니다 = Thank you
Always a crowd pleaser.
This is the formal way of saying thank you, but it’s good for all situations. Since you’re thanking someone, might as well be as polite as possible!
If extra syllables are getting you down, you can try the less formal version, which is “고마워요”. It has the same meaning, but it’s slightly less polite.
고맙습니다 = thank you
2. 미안합니다 = I’m sorry
Saying sorry is an important phrase in any country. Use this one in a variety of situations.
- You’re late to meet friends and they’re waiting outside in the -15 degree celsius weather for you
- You step on a businessman’s shoes as soon as he leaves the shoe shine booth
- You have secretly been pouring water into your soju glass so you don’t have a hangover the next day, and someone in your group notices
These are opportune times to polish up your “미안합니다”s!
미안함니다 = I’m sorry
3. 얼마예요? = How much is it?
This one is handy to have around anytime you are in a place that doesn’t have prices clearly marked and you want to ask how much. Some examples would be food or clothing markets, a scarf kiosk in a subway station, or the neighborhood cell phone case shop.
Prices are fairly set in Korea, so generally there aren’t massive markups on the products. If you wanted to see if you can score a bit of a discount at a clothing market such as Dongdaemun, try throwing out a “좀 깎아 주세요”, which means “please give me a discount.”
If you do get a discount, it’s typically about 10%.
얼마예요? = How much is it?
4. 카드 돼요? = Do you take credit cards?
Korea is one of the most credit-card friendly places in the world. It’s hard to find a store, shop, or restaurant that doesn’t accept credit cards. That goes for most cards, including Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and international credit cards. Korea is a great place to start using credit cards if you haven’t before.
However, some places try to avoid using credit cards if possible. They have to pay fees for the purchase to the credit card processing company. Some stores offer a discount if you pay cash.
If you’re set on paying with card, make sure you ask “카드 돼요?” first to avoid any embarrassing situations!
카드 = card (credit card is implied)
되요 = verb for “to become” (means “is it possible”?)
5. 만나서 반갑습니다 = Nice to meet you
Saying nice to meet you is a great one to keep good relations. Whenever you meet someone new, feel free to throw out a “만나서 반갑습니다”.
Bonus fact: Koreans use this phrase even after they meet you. So, it may be possible to run into a Korean that you’ve met on a few occasions and hear it. You may think “we’ve already met!”. Koreans also use this as a way of saying “nice to see you” as well.
만나서 = verb for “to meet”
반갑습니다 = happy or glad
6. 이름이 뭐예요? = What is your name?
While this might be one of the first questions that come up in conversation in many countries, it’s not always the case in Korea. The reason is that you can’t directly call someone by their name if they are older than you. They use titles instead of names and this is important to remember.
A Korean may not ask the name question before knowing your age, so you can initiate by asking “이름이 뭐예요?”. Often times, they will tell you how they prefer to be called. It will usually be their Korean name, a version of their Korean name, or their English name.
이름 = name
뭐예요? = what is?
7. 몇 살이에요? = How old are you?
The age old question about your age!
Koreans need to know this in order to know where to place you in the social hierarchy. That will determine what form of Korean they will use when they talk to you.
Don’t be surprised if it comes up early in conversation. It might even be the first question they ask!
Bonus fact: Koreans calculate age slightly different than in most countries. They typically say they are one year older than you’d expect. Because of that, you may want to talk in terms of birth year.
몇 = how many
살 = age
이에요 = verb for “to be”
8. 결혼 했어요? = Are you married?
깜짝이야! (What a surprise!)
This one might come as a surprise, but expect to hear it early on in conversation. This is especially true if they think you are at the age when Koreans typically get married.
결혼 = marry
했어요 = past tense of “to do”
9. 매운 음식 먹을 수 있어요? = Can you eat spicy food?
Early on in grade school, Koreans are told that foreigners can’t eat spicy food.
Nobody is sure exactly what the reason is, but it comes up often in conversation.
Also, Koreans view their food as extremely spicy (and it certainly can be). Often at restaurants, you’ll see signs asking what level of spiciness you want (ex. level 1, 2, 3).
If you’re not a big fan of spicy food, you’ll be happy they asked you before you ordered your meal!
매운 = spicy
음식 = food
먹을 수 있어요? = can you eat?
10. 화장실 어디에 있어요? = Where is the bathroom?
This one you’ll end up using often. The reason is that in many places in Korea, the bathrooms aren’t clearly marked. This is especially true in local Korean cafes and restaurants, where the restroom might be on the 3rd floor in the building two doors down.
화장실 = bathroom
어디에 = where
있어요 = verb for “to have or exist”
11. 신사역에 가요? = Do you go to Shinsa Station?
This one will come in handy when you’re boarding a bus.
When you first get to Korea, the bus system can seem quite confusing. It’s fast paced. The drivers accelerate and brake quickly, and people hustle to get on and off the bus. It’s somewhat similar to a formula 1 race car pit stop area, where the team changes the car tires in a matter of seconds.
If you’re not able to read the bus route fast enough, you can simply ask the driver if his bus goes do your destination before you pay the bus fare. Replace “신사역” with your destination, and you’re good to go. For example, if you’re planning on going to “어린이대공원” (Children’s Grand Park), you can ask “어린이대공원에 가요?”
가요 = verb for “to go”
12. 도와 주세요 = Please help me
We can all use a little help sometimes!
Here are a few situations you might ask for help:
- You need someone to talk to the deliveryman who has called you on the phone
- Your beer glass is empty, there is a full beer on the table, but nobody has poured it for you
- Your pet cheetah has gotten out of it’s cage, and you’re afraid to go into your house
도와 = help
주세요 = please give me
13. 잠깐만요 = Just a minute or excuse me
Imagine: After your morning shower, you hear the doorbell ring. It’s your landlord, but you’re not ready to answer the door. This is the perfect time to call out a “잠깐만요!”.
Koreans are often impatient at the door, so don’t be surprised if you hear a second doorbell ring!
Also, you can use this Korean phrase to ask someone to move out of your way. If you’re walking up the escalator and the people in front of you are standing still, you can use this expression as well. However, since you’re not supposed to be walking on the escalator anyway, don’t be surprised if you don’t get a response!
잠깐만요 = just a minute or excuse me
14. 괜찮아요 = I’m OK or that’s OK
Think of saying ok as the Swiss Army Knife of super easy Korean phrases. It has many uses!
A: 고맙습니다! (Thank you!)
B: 괜찮아요! (No problem!)
A: 아파요? (Are you hurt?)
B: 괜찮아요 (I’m OK)
A: 물 줄까요? (Would you like some water?)
B: 괜찮아요 (I’m OK)
괜찮다 = to be OK
15. ______ 주세요 = Please give me ______
Use this workhorse phrase to ask people to give you something.
In this case, you’ll put nouns in blank space. For example:
콜라 주세요 (please give me cola)
카페라떼 주세요 (please give me a cafe latte)
참치김밥 주세요 (please give me a tuna gimbap)
If you want someone to do something for you, then you need to add in the conjugated verb. You could tell a taxi driver to take you to Myeongdong by saying “명동에 가 주세요”.
It may seem impolite to give commands, but Koreans use this more often than asking for something. In English, you might say “could you give me some coffee?”, but Koreans would say “please give me some coffee”.
주세요 = please give me
If you like this set of super easy Korean phrases and want to beef up your phrase repertoire, check out the full list of Korean phrases here.
What Korean phrases do you use most often? Leave us your favorite Korean phrases in the comments below!