If you are in a bar in Korea and everybody raises their glass, do you know what to say? Whether it is with co-workers, friends, or if you are on a date, knowing how to say cheers in Korean will help you make friends quickly and will help you enjoy your time in Korea. So raise your glasses and say ‘Cheers!’
Cheers in Korean
The word 건배 (geonbae) literally means ’empty glass’, so is similar to the expression ‘bottom’s up’.
Japanese and Chinese speakers will notice the similarities between this word and the word for ‘cheers’ in those languages (‘ganbei’ in Chinese and ‘kanpai’ in Japanese). This is because the word is based on Chinese characters. Remembering the meaning of these characters can help you learn words quickly when your Korean reaches an intermediate level.
To use this word, raise your glass in the air, say 건배 (geonbae), and clink your glass with your friend’s glass.
The word implies that you should then drink the whole of your drink, but this is not actually necessary.
The word 건배 (geonbae) is usually said by itself, rather than as part of a phrase or sentence.
If somebody says 건배 (geonbae) to you, then the correct response is simply to say 건배 (geonbae) back to them.
May I propose a toast?
우리의 건강을 위하여 건배 (uriui geongangeul wihayeo geonbae)
To our health, bottoms up!
Cheers in Korean: Limits on Use
In British English, ‘cheers’ can also mean ‘thanks’. However, 건배 can only be used as a way to say ‘cheers’ as in ‘bottom’s up’.
Bonus Ways to Say ‘Cheers’ in Korean
1. 위하여 (wihayeo)
This word literally means ‘for the sake of’. You may come across the 위해서 (wihaeseo) version of this word in your grammar lessons. 위하여 is used in the same way as 건배 but it is much less common and is mainly used by businessmen, often after they have made a long speech while drinking. Students and alumni of Korea University often replace the 여 at the end of this word with 고 to make 위하고 (wihago).
2. 원샷! (wonsyat)
This word, derived from the English words ‘one shot’, means that you have to drink your whole drink in one go. Be careful when using this word as it has been known to cause headaches the next day!
Be Careful When Using Romanization
Learning how to read Korean will improve your Korean dramatically. While Romanization can have some benefits when you are just starting to learn Korean, you should try and make the transition to Hangeul (the Korean alphabet) as soon as you can. Hangeul is incredibly simple to learn, and will allow you to read signs in Korean, not to mention improve your pronunciation and word learning abilities. It only takes a couple of hours so why not learn it today?
Now that you know how to say ‘cheers’ in Korean, you can fully enjoy Korea’s many bars and restaurants. Just remember, soju can be strong so don’t celebrate too much!