Korean Counters – Essential Words to Use with Numbers

Last Updated on August 30, 2022 by 90 Day Korean
Illustration of hands that are counting on their fingers

Korean counters are essential in using numbers in everyday life! These magical counting words help us talk about things like slices of pizza to share evenly with your group of friends or the number of apples you want to buy at the market as you go shopping. Many counters are used to help us count different things better!

Here is a list of the most common Korean counters:

  • Things – 개 (gae)
  • People – 명 (myeong)
  • Animals – 마리 (mari)
  • Slices – 조각 (jogak)
  • Books – 권 (gwon)
  • Bottles – 병 (byeong)
  • Clothing – 벌 (beol)
  • Days – 일 (il)
  • Months – 월 (wol)
  • Years – 년 (nyeon)

Illustration of hands that are counting on their fingers

In this lesson, we’ll show you the easy way to use the most essential counters for Korean language learning.

Below, we’ll show you how to use these counter words along with Korean numbers. We’ll also give you some examples of Korean numbers and counting words in everyday conversations.

Here is a free PDF guide that you can download and take with you:

Complete List of Korean Counters

Below is a list of the common Korean counters for people, objects, date, time, and measurement.

Korean Counting WordsMeaning
개 (gae)a general counter for items and units
명 (myeong) a counter for people
사람 (saram) a counter for people
분 (bun)a counter for people
마리 (mari)a counter for animals
조각 (jogak)a counter for slices
장 (jang)a counter for pieces of paper
권 (gwon)a counter for books and notebooks
병 (byeong)a counter for bottles
대 (dae)a counter for cars and machines
채 (chae)a counter for houses and buildings
그루 (geuru)a counter for trees
벌 (beol)a counter for clothes
켤레 (kyeolle)a counter for pairs of shoes
가지 (gaji)a counter for kinds, varieties, sorts
군데 (gunde)a counter for places
번 (beon)a counter for times
일 (il)
a counter for days
월 (wol)a counter for months
개월 (gaewol) a counter for duration of months
년 (nyeon)a counter for years
분 (bun)a counter for minutes
초 (cho)a counter for seconds
층 (cheung)a counter for floors in a building
킬로그램 (killogeuraem)a counter for kilograms
미터 (miteo)a counter for meters
원 (won)a counter for Korean won (Korean currency)
시 (si)a counter for time
시간 (sigan)a counter for duration in hours
주일 (juil)a counter for weeks
주간 (jugan)a counter for weeks
달 (dal)a counter for duration in months
해 (hae)a counter for years
살 (sal)a counter for age
그릇 (geureut)a counter for a bowl of something

The Korean Number Systems

The Korean language has two different number systems. One is called the Sino-Korean numbers system which is of Chinese origin, and the other is the Native Korean numbers system. If you don’t know them yet, you might want to start today’s learning from the Korean numbers first, before coming back to the counters.

If you know the Korean numbers systems already, then continue on!

How to Use Korean Counting Words

Most of the item counters in the Korean language are accompanied by the Native Korean number system. However, there are some important counters that are used with the Sino-Korean numerals as well.

Structure for Using Counters with Native Korean Numbers

When using counter words with the native Korean numbers system, the order is to use the object or item + number + Korean counting word. You would put a space between the Korean words.

For example, if you were going to talk about 1 slice of pizza using, you would use the Native Korean numbers system in this format:

item + number + counter

피자 한 조각 (pija han jogak)

1 slice of pizza

**Note: When using the Native Korean number counters, the first 4 numbers 하나, 둘, 셋, and 넷 becomes 한, 두, 세, and 네.

For example:

피자 하나 조각 (pija hana jogak) (X)
피자 한 조각 (pija han jogak) (O)

These are special cases. You should change these for any numbers that end in 1- 4. For example, you’d use 열한개 instead of 열하나 개. The rest of the numbers will stay the same.

Structure for Using Counters with Sino-Korean Numbers

When using counters with the Sino-Korean number system (China System), you usually wouldn’t use the item word.  The order would be number + counter.

For example, to talk about “5 minutes”, you’d use the Sino-Korean numbers like this:

number + counter

(o bun)

5 minutes

Writing Numbers vs. Number Words with Counters

You can use the number or the number word for Korean counters (i.e. “1” vs. “one”). Typically the number word (i.e. “one”) is used for the Native Korean number system.

For example:

This is the more common way used for writing with the Native Korean number system with counters:

피자 한 조각 (pija han jogak)

one slice of pizza 

This is the less common way used for writing Native Korean numbers with counters:

피자 1조각 (pija han jogak)

one slice of pizza 

With the Sino-Korean number system (China system), you can use either native Korean numerals or the word version of the Korean numbers.

For example, here is a common way of writing Sino-Korean numbers with counting words:

(o bun)

five minutes

This is also a common way of writing Sino-Korean numbers with counters:

5(o bun)

five minutes

Note that when writing Korean numbers, there is no space between the number and the counting word. When using Korean numbers written out as Korean words, there is a space between the number word and the counter.

Most Common Counters and Numbers

It can be confusing when trying to figure out which counter and number system to use. If in doubt, use 개 (gae), which is a general counting word used for various items and inanimate objects. With that counter, you would use the Native Korean numbers system.

Let’s say you want to count things like oranges in the examples below. We’ll use the Korean numbers one, two, and three.

오렌지 한 (orenji han gae)

One orange

오렌지 두 (orenji du gae)

Two oranges

오렌지 세 (orenji se gae)

Three oranges

You can easily plug in 명 (myeong) with the above examples to count people. The word 명 (myeong) is another common Korean word used for counting people:

사람 한 (saram han myeong)

One person

사람 두 (saram du myeong)

Two people

사람 세 (saram se myeong)

Three people

If you don’t know the specific counting word to use, just do your best to pick the one that you think is the best match. You will be understood. However, it just might sound a bit strange because it’s not the correct word used to count that item.

List of item counters with native Korean numbers

These counters are used along with the numbers from the Korean number system. If you used the numbers from the Sino-Korean system, Korean people would still understand you. However, since the numbers don’t match the counters, it would sound a bit strange.

The examples below are written in Hangeul (Korean Alphabet) and romanized English. Knowing Hangeul will help with pronunciation and with understanding the sample sentences. If you can’t read the Korean alphabet yet, go here for a simple guide on how to read in about 1 hour: https://www.90daykorean.com/how-to-learn-the-korean-alphabet/.

개 (gae) → a general counter for things, items, and units. Use this as your default for counting things you’re not sure of as this is used to count most inanimate objects.

바나나 다섯 와 사과 여섯 주세요 (banana daseot gaewa sagwa yeoseot gae juseyo)

Five bananas and six apples, please

 

살 (sal) → a counter used for age

저는 29 이에요. (jeoneun seumurahop sarieyo.)

I am twenty-nine years old.

 

명(myeong) → a counter used to describe how many people are there

내일 여섯 예약할 수 있을까요? (naeil yeoseot myeong yeyakal su isseulkkayo?)

Can I make a reservation for six people for tomorrow?

 

사람 (saram) → a counter used for people

오늘 모임은 세 사람이 더 왔구나! (oneul moimeun se sarami deo watguna!)

Today three more people came to the meeting!

 

분 (bun) → a counter used for people

저녁 식사에 총 열두 맞으세요? (jeonyeok siksae  chong yeoldu bun majeuseyo?)

Is it correct that there will be twelve people total at dinner?

 

마리 (mari) → a counter used for animals

우리 가족은 고양이를 네 마리 키우고 있어요. (uri gajogeun goyangireul ne mari kiugo isseoyo)

Our family is raising four cats

 

조각 (jogak) → a word used to count slices

피자를 여덟 조각으로 자르자. (pijareul yeodeol jogageuro jareuja)

Let’s cut the pizza into eight slices

 

장 (jang) → a word used to count pieces of paper

인쇄용지가 몇 필요하세요? (inswaeyongjiga myeot jang pillyohaseyo?)

How many pieces of printing paper do you need?

 

권 (gwon) → a word used to count books and notebooks

오늘 도서관에 가서 책을 세 빌렸어요. (oneul doseogwane gaseo chaegeul se gwon billyeosseoyo)

Today I went to the library and borrowed three books

 

잔 (jan) → a counter for drinks

오늘 커피를 세 마셨기 때문에 못 자고 있어요. (oneul keopireul se jan masyeotgi ttaemune mot jago isseoyo)

I can’t sleep because I had three cups of coffee today

 

병 (byeong) → a word used to count bottles

마트에 가서 나한테 콜라를 두 사 줘. (mateue gaseo nahante kollareul du byeong sa jwo)

Please buy me two bottles of coke when you go to the grocery store

 

대 (dae) → a word used to count  cars and machines

어제 새 자동차 두 를 보고 왔는데, 아주 멋졌어! (eoje sae jadongcha du daereul bogo wanneunde, aju meotjyeosseo!)

Yesterday I saw two new cars, very cool!

 

그릇 (geureut) A counter for a bowl of something.

아줌마, 여기 국밥 다섯 그릇 주세요. (ajumma, yeogi gukbap daseot geureut juseyo.)

Madame, please give us five bowls of rice soup here.

채 (chae) → a counter for houses and buildings

부모님이 아파트를 한 마련하셨습니다. (bumonimi apateureul han chae maryeonhasyeotseumnida.)

Our parents prepared one apartment. 

 

그루 (geuru) → a word used for counting trees

식목일에 나무 열 그루를 심는 게 목표예요. (singmogire namu yeol geurureul simneun ge mokpyoyeyo.)

Our goal is to plant ten trees on Arbor Day.

 

벌 (beol) → a counter for clothes

회사를 다니기 위해서 새 옷을 두 샀어요. (hoesareul danigi wihaeseo sae oseul du beol sasseoyo.)

I bought two new sets of clothes to wear for work.

 

켤레 (kyeolle) → a specific counter for pairs of shoes

결혼식을 위해 구두 두 켤레를 샀어요. (gyeolhonsigeul wihae gudu du kyeollereul sasseoyo.)

I bought two pairs of shoes for the wedding.

 

가지 (gaji) → a counter for kinds, varieties, sorts

사람은 다섯 가지 감각이 있습니다. (sarameun daseot gaji gamgagi itseumnida.)

Humans have five senses.

 

군데 (gunde) → a counter for places

국내 여행을 세 군데 생각해 봤어. (gungnae yeohaengeul se gunde saenggakae bwasseo.)

I thought about three places to travel domestically

 

번 (beon) → a counter for times

벌써 세 연락해봤어. (beolsseo se beon yeollakaebwasseo.)

I already tried calling three times.

 

시 (si) → a counter for time

지금 오후 한 예요? (jigeum ohu han siyeyo)

Is it 1:00 pm now?

 

달 (dal) → a word used to count months

다섯 전에 한국에 왔어요. (daseot daljeone hanguge wasseoyo)

I came to Korea five months ago.

 

해 (hae) → a counter for years

여기서 일 한지 벌써 여섯 야. (yeogiseo il hanji beolsseo yeoseot haeya)

It has been six years since I started working here.

 

시간 (sigan) → a counter for duration in hours

이 시험은 네 시간 걸릴 거예요. (i siheomeun ne sigan geollil geoyeyo.)

This exam will take four hours.

List of item counters with Sino-Korean numbers

The counters in the previous section use the numbers from the Korean number system. The counters below use the Sino-Korean number system instead. Below are some counting words, as well as some examples of counting items using Korean numbers with the counting words.

일 (il) → a counter for days

뒤에 다시 갈 거야. (sam il dwie dasi gal geoya.)

I’ll go again three days later

주일 (juil) → a counter for weeks

개학하고 나서 삼 주일이나 학교에 못 갔어. (gaehakago naseo sam juirina hakgyoe mot gasseo..)

Even though classes have already started, I couldn’t go to school for three long weeks.

월 (wol) → a counter for months

오늘은 오 십이 입니다. (oneul o wol sibi irimnida.)

Today is May 12th.

 

개월 (gaewol) → a counter for duration of months

지금까지 남자친구랑 칠 개월 동안 만나고 있어요. (jigeumkkaji namjachingurang chil gaewol dongan mannago isseoyo.)

I have been dating my boyfriend for seven months until now.

 

년 (nyeon) → a counter for years

뒤에 승진할 수 있어! (il nyeon dwie seungjinhal su isseo!)

I can get promoted after one year!

 

분 (bun) → a counter for minutes

10 만 이따 전화할게. (sip bunman itta jeonhwahalge.)

I’ll call you in ten minutes.

 

초 (cho) → a counter for seconds

나는 34 20에 5킬러미터를 달릴 수 있어요.(naneun samsipsabun isipchoe okilleomiteoreul dallil su isseoyo.)

I can run five kilometers in thirty-four minutes and twenty seconds.

 

층 (cheung) → a counter for floors in a building

우리 건물은 6이 있어요. (uri geonmureun yukcheungi isseoyo.)

Our building has six floors.

 

킬로그램 (killogeuraem) → a counter for kilograms

기내 수화물은 15킬로그램까지 가능합니다. (ginae suhwamureun sibokillogeuraemkkaji ganeunghamnida)

In-flight baggage may be up to fifteen kilograms.

 

미터 (miteo) → a counter for meters

가로 길이는 삼 미터이고, 세로 길이는 일 미터인 테이블이 좋겠어! (garo girineun sam miteoigo, sero girineun il miteoin teibeuri jokesseo!)

I’d like a table three meters wide and 1 meter long!

 

원 (won) → a counter for Korean won (Korean currency)

커피 4100, 머핀 3800 해서 총 7900 입니다. (keopi sacheonbaek won, meopin samcheonpalbaek won haeseo chong chilcheongubaek wonimnida.)

The coffee is 4,000 won and the muffin is 3,800 won so the total is 7,900 won.

Congratulations! You have now successfully gone through all of the Korean counters to help you identify and count things better. You can now use these words in counting animals, people, food, or any other things, and it helps improve your Korean grammar too! Which counter do you use most often? Let us know in the comments below!

    38 replies to "Korean Counters – Essential Words to Use with Numbers"

    • Avatar for Hanna Hanna

      Hello! Good day may I ask if what are the difference of “Juil and Jugan” in using to phrase?

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        주일 is used when saying number of weeks. e.g. 1주일=one week, 2주일=two weeks, 3주일=three weeks
        주간 is used when saying “for ~ weeks”. e.g. 2주간=for 2 weeks, 3주간=for 3 weeks.

    • Avatar for Nazma Nazma

      Can I know the exact sound of the hangeul letterㄹ when it comes in batchim

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        ㄹ batchim is similar to the ‘L’ sound e.g. 물=mool, 술=sool

    • Avatar for Ester Ester

      Hello. Thank you for the article. But how would you say: Only three thoughs are coming to my mind. 생각 세 (개)벆에 안 나온다.

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        You can say 세 가지 생각 for ‘three thoughts,’ using the counter 가지 (=a kind, a sort, a variety). So it would be 세 가지 생각 밖에 안 나온다.

        • Avatar for Maria Maria

          sorry, autocorrect :/
          I meant why is it number+noun+counter? and not noun+number+counter?

          Thanks so much!

    • Avatar for Neryn Neryn

      Hi. I was wondering what counters do you put for counting steps? For example, ‘one step’ or ‘two steps’. TIA.

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        Step in Korean is 걸음. You can say 한 걸음 for ‘one step’ and 두 걸음 for ‘two steps.’

    • Avatar for Noelle Noelle

      Hi, 90 Day Korean! May I know the difference between the counter 명, 사람 and 분 when used for people? Thank you so much and your content are really helpful 🙂

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        명 and 사람 are interchangeable. e.g. 두 명=두 사람=2 people
        분 is honorific, which should be used for elders. e.g. 할머니 두 분=2 grandmothers(old woman)

      • Avatar for jabzxc jabzxc

        if im not mistaken 사람 and 명 is formal form and 분 is honorific.

        • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

          Counter words can be used both in formal and informal speeches. Regardless of formality 분(honorific) is used instead of 명 to show respect. e.g. customers, elders.

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