Saying ‘excuse me’ in Korean is more of an adventure than you might expect!
The phrase used depends on the situation, the speaker, and the listener. Once you consider these three factors, you will know how to say ‘excuse me’ in Korean naturally. Therefore, it is important that you listen and observe Korean life to get a feeling of how different words are used.
Here are the ways to say ‘excuse me’ in Korean.
Formal ‘Excuse Me’ in Korean
1. 실례합니다 (sillyehamnida)
This word is used when trying to get somebody’s attention and is very polite and formal. If in doubt, use 실례합니다 because even if you are wrong, at least you aren’t being rude. You can use this word if you want to approach a stranger on the street, for example if you need to ask for directions.
실례합니다, 혹시 화장실 어딘지 아세요? (sillyehamnida, hoksi hwajangsil eodinji aseyo)
Excuse me, do you happen to know where the bathroom is?
Standard ‘Excuse Me’ in Korean
1. 잠깐만요 (jamkkanmanyo)
2. 잠시만요 (jamsimanyo)
These two words literally mean ‘wait a moment’ but are sometimes used to mean ‘excuse me’. They should be used if you need somebody to move out of your way. For example, you might use them if you are on a subway and need people to step aside so you can get through.
As a cultural note, you will probably notice that people often push past others without saying anything. Saying ‘excuse me’ is far less common in Korea than it is in other countries.
Nevertheless, if you want to show good manners then use one of these two words when pushing past somebody. If you need to choose, use 잠시만요 (jamsimanyo) as it sounds less rude when said to strangers.
3. 여기요 (yeogiyo)
4. 저기요 (jeogiyo)
You can shout one of these two words when trying to get somebody’s attention. An example of when to use this would be with the waiter in a restaurant.
5. Titles: 아저씨 (ajeossi) / 아줌마 (ajumma) / 이모 (imo) / 누나 (nuna) / 언니 (eonni) /사장님(sajangnim) etc.
Rather than shouting out 여기요, you might hear somebody using one of these words in order to call somebody over.
The word you use depends on the other person’s gender and age compared to you. It might feel a bit strange at first shouting ‘이모’ (literally meaning ‘aunt’) across the room, but if you feel confident then give it a go.
When addressing females, guess low when judging their age as to not cause offense. These words are useful when you need to get the attention of somebody who isn’t in a restaurant, for example a bus driver.
아저씨, 문 열어 주세요 (ajeossi, mun yeoreo juseyo)
Bus driver, can you open the door, please?
If you want to use these kinds of words, follow the usage guide below:
이모 = older woman who you are close to
누나 = slightly older woman (used by males)
언니 = slightly older woman (used by females)
아줌마 = older woman
아저씨 = older man
사장님 = boss / shop owner
Informal ‘Excuse Me’ in Korean
1. 잠깐만 (jamkkanman)
2. 잠시만 (jamsiman)
These are the same as the ‘Standard’ versions, except without the ‘요’ at the end. Make sure you’re using this with people you are close to and who are lower in the social hierarchy than you are.
In situations where you could potentially replace excuse me with ‘sorry’, then you can say ‘죄송합니다.’
Sorry can be used in situations when you need to ask for a favor (such as asking for a picture to be taken) and would most likely be translated as ‘excuse me’ in these situations. Read our guide to How to Say ‘I’m Sorry’ in Korean for more details.
There are many different ways of saying ‘excuse me’. The best way to learn how to say ‘excuse me’ in Korean correctly is to listen and observe how Koreans use these words. Then try to copy them.
Now’s a great time to ‘excuse’ yourself and practice this expression!