Aegyo: How to Be Cute in Korean

Girl making a heart with her hands

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If you want to add some cuteness and adorability into the way you speak Korean, then aegyo may just the thing you need!

You may be asking, “what is the meaning of the Korean word aegyo?”

We’ll explain what it means, and what you need to know to up your aegyo game!

Girl making a heart with her hands

We’ve included a FREE PDF version of this lesson that you can take with you on the go. Check it out below:

What is Aegyo (애교) ?

Aegyo (애교)  is a way of acting cute that is popular in Korean culture, especially among K Pop idols. It is when a person acts in a cute or childish way, despite not being a young child themselves. The purpose of aegyo is to act adorable, especially to get your own way or something you want.

The definition of aegyo is to use cute and babyish actions in your voice and facial expressions in order to achieve a result. You can demonstrate aegyo cuteness through the way you speak, act, dress, decorate your room, and your overall demeanor.

Aegyo (애교) Pronunciation

The word 애교 (aegyo) is pronounced similar to “egg-yo”. However, it should sound a bit more like “e-ggyo”.

Why Do People Use Aegyo (애교) ?

One reason for using aegyo to act cute is to try and flirt with or a guy or girl that you like. It can also be used to get something that you want. Aegyo is a great way to show affection to your friends, family, or loved ones and is a fixture of modern Korean culture. However, aegyo is not for everyone–we’ll explain why a bit later!

If you are impressed by somebody’s aegyo, then you can say ‘귀여워요’ (gwiyeowoyo) which means ‘cute’ in Korean (dictionary form: 귀엽다 | gwiyeopda). This article contains words written in Hangul, the Korean alphabet. If you can’t read the Hangul it is possible to learn in just ninety minutes using stories and associations. 

She is excited about Korean aegyo

Who Uses Aegyo?

Korean Aegyo is generally performed by women, although some more feminine guys might use it too from time to time. If a regular guy uses aegyo, then you may feel uncomfortable or weirded out. Having that kind of aegyo experience might even cause you to get 닭살 (dakssal | goosebumps)!

Of course, most people don’t use aegyo in an extreme way. In fact, quite a lot of people really hate it!

The more ridiculous examples of aegyo can often be found in Korean dramas or on comedy shows. Those examples are very different from how people might use it in real life, since Korean dramas themselves aren’t a particularly accurate portrayal of Korea.

These days you can see lots of idols and celebrities using aegyo. If you live in Korea or are traveling through Korea, you can see aegyo being used in many places. 

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How to do Aegyo

There are different levels of aegyo. Some aegyo cuteness is used by the general public and is mild. Other aegyo is used by celebrities and K Pop idols, and can be quite extreme!

Take a look at the different levels of aegyo cuteness below. Decide which levels of aegyo you think are appropriate to be used on a date, and which levels should be left to the K Pop idols and gag shows.

Stretching the final vowel of a word aegyo

This type of aegyo cuteness can be used if a word ends in a vowel. In this case, the vowel would be stretched to sound cuter (or whiny depending on your perspective, this guy in particular hates it). The word ‘오빠 (oppa)’ is a good example of this kind of aegyo. For those not familiar with ‘오빠 (oppa)’, it literally means ‘older brother’. It is used by girls to refer to a guy who is a little bit older than them.

Since lots of guys like being called ‘oppa’, using this word in a cute aegyo manner has more effect than other words might. Unfortunately for guys, using aegyo to show cuteness in this way with the word ‘누나 (nuna)’ will not have quite the same effect.

Extra ‘ㅁ’s and ‘ㅇ’s aegyo

In English, it is very hard to show some features of the Korean language. An example of this would be using sarcasm when sending a text message or email. In Korea, if you want to express cuteness by using aegyo in a text message, then you have a few options.

One option to spice up your texts with aegyo is to add extra consonants and wavy line symbols at the end of every word that ends in a vowel. Another option that people use is to add the letters ‘m’ or ‘ng’. 

Here are a few examples of how aegyo can be used with the consonants:

1. Changing 오빠 (oppa) to 오빵 (oppang)

2. Changing 배고파 (baegopa) to 배 고팡 (baegopang)

3. Changing 헬로 (hello) to 헬롱 (hellong)

4. Changing 어디야? (eodiya) to 어디얌? (eodiyam)

Be warned, this can drive you mad if you are using a dictionary to translate somebody’s 애교 (aegyo) text messages! 

If you’re looking for a Korean dictionary to help translate some of this aegyo, check these out

The ‘요 (yo)’ at the end of many Korean sentences is also often written as ‘용 (yong)’ when people are using this sort of aegyo. For example, ‘뭐해요 (mwohaeyo)?’ may be changed to ‘뭐해용 (mwohaeyong)?’.

Texting in this manner is not uncommon. Some people also take their aegyo a step further by adding these extra consonants (자음 | jaeum) when speaking as well.

Using basic hand gestures aegyo

Korean aegyo hand gesture

Korean aegyo hand gesture

This expression of aegyo is when someone uses their hands to make cute symbols like a heart or ‘V’ sign (The Korean ‘V’, not the English ‘V’) in situations outside of having their photograph taken. Sometimes even ajjoshis (older Korean men) can be seen making the ‘V’ sign on occasions.

The hands can also be used to accentuate cuteness in the face by creating mock dimples or a ‘V’ shaped chin. Watch the hand gestures in ‘Gee’ if you want to learn some new aegyo hand gestures. Pouting is also included in this level of Korean aegyo.

Wearing Lotte World hairbands outside of Lotte World aegyo

Aegyo hairbands

Lotte World in Korea is an indoor amusement park near Jamsil Station that is open all year round. Many people have dates there, and it’s a great spot  to see aegyo cuteness being used. At Lotte Word, a very popular item on sale is animal ear hairbands. They look cute and you will see lots of people wearing these around Lotte World.

Whilst wearing these inside Lotte World is, of course, aegyo too. It is a generally accepted thing to do. After all, you are in a world with fairies and pirates so why not wear 호피무늬 (hopimunui | leopard print) cat’s ears? Wearing these in public is not a common thing to do, but is a sign of extra aegyo.

Full on body movement aegyo

This next level of aegyo is similar to using hand gestures. The difference is that now this level of aegyo uses the whole body (including foot stomps and noises to go with the gestures). By this stage, we are definitely entering TV drama aegyo territory, which is a great resource for learning Korean by the way.

At this point, some readers may wish to address these aegyo ways of the people they are around. One way to do this is by using the verb ‘척하다 (cheokada)’.  You can use it to say:

KoreanRomanizationMeaning
귀여운 척하다gwiyowoon chokhadato pretend to be cute
예쁜 척하다yeppun chokhadato pretend to be pretty

If someone’s aegyo is getting on your nerves, then you might want to say:

KoreanRomanizationMeaning
귀여운 척하지 마세요kwiyowoon chokhaji maseyostop pretending to be cute

Using the 뿌잉뿌잉 Hand Gesture aegyo

Although this is a hand gesture, it is so closely associated with Korean aegyo. It is the more ridiculous type of aegyo that you see with K Pop idols and on Korean gag shows, so it needs its own level.

There are several long running jokes on Korean comedy shows which involve actors doing the ‘ppuing ppuing’ aegyo.

Choosing to sing this Korean aegyo song in a noraebang

This Korean aegyo song sums up the concept nicely. Watch this video to see some more hand gestures associated with aegyo.

VIEWER WARNING: this song will get stuck in your head so if you really don’t like aegyo, don’t watch this video!

Korean Aegyo Words and Phrases

Here is a summary list of common Korean aegyo phrases and words. We’ll show the comparison between the standard form and the aegyo form. Then, we’ll give you the English meaning.

Standard KoreanAegyoMeaning
오빠오빵older brother
배고파배고팡I'm hungry (informal)
배고파요배고파용I'm hungry (standard)
보고싶어요보고싶어용I miss you (standard)
보고싶어보고팡I miss you (informal)
어디야?어다얌?Where are you? (informal)

For more Korean terms of endearment, go here

Now that you know the different levels of aegyo, you can more easily recognize these expressions of cuteness when you see them. Of course, most people don’t use a lot of the high levels of aegyo seriously except for on TV or in dramas, but the first few levels are used quite regularly.

If you liked this and want to improve your Korean language skills, then head over then go to our Korean Phrases resource page

Which level of aegyo would you use with your partner, and which levels do you think are unacceptable in public? Let us know in the comments below!

 

Photo Credit: Bigstock.com

    25 replies to "Aegyo: How to Be Cute in Korean"

    • Avatar for Bahasht Bahasht

      Good explain, but Koreans get annoyed when foreigners use Aigo, it’s a special thing and it only looks good on Koreans, or you will be look like a koreaboo.

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        Hi, Bahasht! I’m not sure about that. “Aigo” sounds native, but everybody can use it! ^^

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