How to Say 'How Are You' in Korean

How to Say ‘How Are You’ in Korean

Imagine suddenly running into a friend you haven’t seen in a while.

Or imagine needing to make some small talk with an acquaintance you met by chance.

You’ll probably want to show good manners and ask about that person’s well being.

More specifically, you’ll want to know how they are doing!

Today, we’ll show you how to say “how are you?’ in Korean! The way you ask this question isn’t an exact direct translation, so we’ll explain the nuances so you can understand how to properly use these Korean phrases.

As usual, we’ll cover the formal, standard, and informal versions of the question. Then we’ll give you some bonus Korean phrases at the end of this post.

Let’s jump right in!

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Formal ‘How Are You?’ in Korean

Formal How Are You in Korean

The formal phrases below are used to ask ‘How are you?’ to people higher in the social rank than you, or people you’ve just met.

You might use the formal version with professors, teachers, bosses, the president, people much older than you, or someone you don’t know well that is similar in age to you.

If someone asks you a question using the formal, make sure you reply with the standard form. It’s okay to ask questions in the formal, but using the formal about you would sound strange!

1. 잘 지내셨어요? (jal jinaesyeoeoyo)

잘 = well

지내셨어요 = to spend time or live (formal past tense)

This means “have you spent your time well?” or “have you lived well?” You can answer with a yes/no.

2. 어떻게 지내셨어요? (eotteoge jinaesyeoeoyo?)

어떻게 = how

지내셨어요 = spend time or live (formal past tense)

This question is more similar to ‘how have you been? You would answer with an explanation rather than a yes/no reply.


Standard ‘How Are You?’ in Korean

Standard How Are You in Korean

If you were going to learn one version of how to say ‘how are you ‘ in Korean, then the standard would be the way to go!

That is because it is the most versatile and can be used with the largest group of people. Normally, you’d use this level of formality with people that are similar in age/rank as you, but you may not be on close terms with.

You can use this with people below you in the social hierarchy, but you’d be being unnecessarily polite. You can also use it with people higher in the social hierarchy. However, it wouldn’t be as polite as using the formal.

Since you’re learning Korean as a second language, most Koreans would forgive you using the standard form if you’re supposed to use the formal.

Learn the standard version first, and then make it a point to learn the formal next. You’ll be sure to make a good impression on the people you run into again and again.

1. 잘 지냈어요? (jal jinaesseoyo?)

잘 = well

지냈어요 = to spend time or live (standard past tense)

Use this phrase to ask ‘how are you’ in standard form.

2. 잘 있었어요? (jal isseosseoyo?)

잘 = well

있었어요 = to be (standard past tense)

This is the same as asking, “have you been well?” Use this with coworkers or acquaintances in your hiking club.

3. 어떻게 지냈어요? (eotteoge jinaesseoeoyo?)

어떻게 = how

지냈어요 = to spend time or live (standard past tense)

To find out how your next door neighbor has been, ask ‘어떻게 지냈어요?’


Informal ‘How Are You?’ in Korean

Informal How Are You in Korean

The informal version of ‘how are you’ in Korean is used with people who are lower in the social rank than you. An example might be a small child or someone much younger than you who you’re on familiar terms with.

You can also use the informal with close friends that are similar in age, or with spouses/significant others. If you’re unsure as to whether or not to use the informal, ask the other person if it’s ok to use 반말 (banmal), which is the word for informal Korean.

1. 잘 지냈어? (jal jinaesseo?)

잘 = well

지냈어 = to spend time or live (informal past tense)

If you meet a close friend who you haven’t seen in a while, ask ‘잘 지냈어?’

2. 잘 있었어? (jal isseosseo?)

잘 = well

있었어 = to be (informal past tense)

If you’re a university professor, you might use this with students who used to be in your class that you run into.

3. 어떻게 지냈어? (eotteoge jinaesseoeo?)

어떻게 = how

지냈어 = to spend time or live (informal past tense)

Use ‘어떻게 지냈어?’ to ask your hometown friend how he or she has been.


Bonus ‘How Are You’ in Korean Phrases

1. 밥 먹었어요? (bap meogeosseoyo?)

밥 = rice or food/meal

먹었어요 = to eat (standard past tense)

Koreans will often greet each other by asking if the other person has eaten. It’s doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re asking if they’ve literally eaten food. It’s more often used to show that you’re interested in the well being of the other person. Therefore, you can use this phrase to ask ‘how are you?’ in Korean.

Since this is in standard form, you can use it with people who are on the same level or lower than you in the social hierarchy.

Here are some examples of how you might use this in conversation:

A: 밥 먹었어요? (bap meogeosseoyo?)

B: 네, 먹었어요 (ne, meogeosseoyo)


A: 밥 먹었어요? (bap meogeosseoyo?)

B: 아니요, 아직 안 먹었어요 (aniyo, ajik an meogeosseoyo)

You wouldn’t use these phrases with someone you met for the first time—it would sound a bit strange! Make sure to use them with people you’ve already met, such as friends, classmates, or coworkers.


Now that you know how to say ‘how are you’ in Korean, it’s a great time to get out there and get some practice!


*Want more Korean phrases? Go to our Korean Phrases Page for a complete list!

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