Korean Double Consonants: The Terrible Twos

Two young girls waving hello

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Having trouble with figuring out how to pronounce Korean double consonantsYou’re not alone!

No doubt that Korean consonants are a challenge to pronounce. This is especially true when you’re first learning Korean.

We’ll show you everything you need to know about the double consonants in Korean so they’ll be easy breezy!

Two young girls waving hello

The key here is to be patient and understand that this pronunciation isn’t easy for anyone learning Korean.

However, there is a silver lining to this problem! If you’ve studied the Korean double consonants, then pat yourself on the back. By learning Hangul (Korean alphabet), you’ve taken the first step towards making massive Korean language progress.

If you are reading this and haven’t learned Hangul, then you can find out great ways to learn it here. It will only take you about 90 minutes to learn. You can also use it if you’ve learned Hangul but don’t feel too confident with the Korean alphabet yet.

There are two different versions of the Korean double consonants:

  • Identical Twin Consonants: Two of the same letters next to each other
  • Fraternal Twin Consonants: Two different letters next to each other

We’ll go over both versions below!

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1. Identical Twin Consonants

Five of the Korean consonants have twin counterparts, known as “쌍”s. For example:

  • ㄱ = 기역
  • ㄲ = 쌍기역

So you can simply put a “쌍” before the name of the single consonant to describe the twin consonants.  The five twin consonants are ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅉ, ㅃ, and ㅆ.

The tough part is making the pronunciation distinction. The twin consonant is basically the same as the single consonant, except it’s said with emphasis. Here is a list of the single consonant sounds, their twin counterparts, and the pronunciation:

HangulSounds like
k
kk
d
dd
j
jj
b
bb
s
ss

If you were going to say the word “상” in Korean, then it would sound like “saang”.

If you were going to say the word “쌍” in Korean, then it would sound like “ssaang”.

The difference is in the emphasis and the strength of the “s” sound. The twin consonants sound almost aggressive because they are so sharp. 

This will take a while to get used to, so don’t stress about them too much. You can practice by typing in the words in Korean dictionaries, like the Naver Korean dictionary, and pressing the pronunciation button and repeating correctly.

Korean double consonants Naver Dictionary

You can use the Naver Dictionary to practice Korean double consonants!

For example:

Also, you can ask Koreans to correct you if your pronunciation is wrong and make a note to focus on that point.

2a. Fraternal Twins (single-syllable)

The other kinds of “double consonants” that you’ll run into appear in the bottom two positions of syllables.

For clarity, let’s define the positions of the letters in the syllable. We’ll use the syllable “앉”.

  • First position: “ㅇ”
  • Second position: “ㅏ”
  • Third position: “ㄴ”
  • Fourth Position: “ㅈ”

These double syllables are quite challenging because they produce different sounds than what you’d expect based on the standard pronunciation rules. Also, they’ll make different sounds based on whether they have syllables trailing behind or not.

Let’s start with the ones without trailing syllables, which we will refer to as “single syllables”.

i. Fourth Position ㅈ

If you have this combo in the third and fourth positions, the “ㅈ” becomes silent.

The way it looksThe way it’s pronounced
[안]

ii. Fourth Position ㅎ

If you have this combo in the third and fourth positions, the “ㅎ” becomes silent.

The way it looksThe way it’s pronounced
[찬]
[잔]
[실]
[만]

iii. Fourth Position ㅅ

If you have this combo in the third and fourth positions, the “ㅅ” becomes silent.

The way it looksThe way it’s pronounced
[갑]
[업]

iv. Third Position ㄹ

If you have this combo in the third and fourth positions, the “ㄹ” becomes silent.

The way it looksThe way it’s pronounced
[밥]
[익]
[읖]
[묵]

2b. Fraternal Twins (multi-syllable)

Do you remember the four-letter positions from above? If not, make sure you do! They’ll be important here as well.

If you have a double consonant in the third and fourth positions and the next syllable contains an “ㅇ” in the first position, then the pronunciation may change.

In most cases, the fourth position letter in the first syllable jumps over and takes the position of the “ㅇ” position in the second syllable.

For example, if you have the word “읽어”, it’s pronounced “일거”. That’s because the “ㄱ” jumps over and replaces the “ㅇ”.

Let’s cover four situations above, and see how they act when there is a “ㅇ” in the trailing syllable first position.

i. Fourth Position ㅈ

If you have this combo in the third and fourth positions, the “ㅈ” moves to replace the “ㅇ”.

The way it looksThe way it’s pronounced
앉아[안자]

ii. Fourth Position ㅎ

If you have this combo in the third and fourth positions, the “ㅎ” stays silent. The third position letter replaces the “ㅇ”.

The way it looksThe way it’s pronounced
찮아[차나]
잖아[자나]
싫어[시러]
많아[마나]

iii. Fourth Position ㅅ

If you have this combo in the third and fourth positions, the “ㅅ” moves to replace the “ㅇ”.

The way it looksThe way it’s pronounced
값아[갑사]
없어[업서]

iv. Third Position ㄹ

If you have this combo in the third and fourth positions, the “ㄹ” is pronounced and the fourth position letters move to replace the “ㅇ”.

The way it looksThe way it’s pronounced
밟아[발바]
읽어[일거]
읊어[을퍼]
묽어[물거]

If you’re uncertain about the pronunciation, you can always look it up in the Naver Korean Dictionary to check!

What Korean words do you find most challenging to pronounce? Share them with us in the comments below!

    7 replies to "Korean Double Consonants: The Terrible Twos"

    • Nathalia Ergon

      Since Hangul is such a logical and scientifically created language, why do these apparent anomalies show up? In almost all cases, with Hangul, what you see is what you hear and say. Why aren’t these fraternal twin syllables simply written the way that they are pronounced to begin with?

    • Pheng Sovannarong

      I don’t understand where it said that when you see this combo in the third or fourth position ㄹ become silent and the other one said that if you see this combo in the third or fourth position ㄹ is pronounce …..

      • Aryan

        the ㄹ is only pronounced in third position if the next syllable starts with ㅇ and the consonant in fourth position is pronounced like the start of that syllable.

    • Judith McGlashan

      What if the next syllable isn’t ㅇ? What if it is a different consonant? Do you follow regular rules such as aspiration and nasalization?

      • irmar

        If you read carefully, it’s said:
        “If you have a double consonant in the third and fourth positions and the next syllable contains an “ㅇ” in the first position, then the pronunciation may change.”
        This means that what follows is only applicable when there is an “ㅇ” in the first position.
        If it’s a different consonant these consonants follow the previous rule, and remain silent.
        They jump to the next place because there’s a free place before a vowel. Because “o” before a character isn’t a sound, only a placeholder before a vowel. Now, if there is an available consonant to go before the vowel, the placeholder is not needed.
        The real question would be, why not take that consonant from the 4th place and write it together with the next vowel.

      • Project A8/16 a.k.a. DRE

        Let’s not forget as well that ㅎ tends to make preceeding and following consonants aspirated. 싫다 and 많다 (for example) should be read 실타 and 만타 instead of 실다 and 만다

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