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What are Korean honorifics?
They are ways of speaking in Korean that communicate the relationship between the speaker and the subject or the listener. Korean has this built into the language with special words, titles, and grammar.
Some of the honorifics you’ll hear all the time, and some of them are so rare you likely will never hear them.
We’ll explain what you need to know so you can make the best use of your time studying the Korean language.
- 1 Korean Speech Levels
- 2 Honorific Terms in Korean
- 3 Common Korean Honorific Phrase Responses
- 4 Korean Business Honorifics
- 5 Getting Clear on Korean Honorifics
- 6 7 Common Korean Honorific Phrases
- 7 Korean Honorifics Summary Chart
Korean Speech Levels
The Korean language has seven different speech levels. A lot of the levels are built right into the language through special nouns, verb endings, and titles.
The reason they use different speech levels is because Korean culture is hierarchical, where age and status play a big part. That’s one of the reasons why you’ll frequently hear Koreans ask your age when they first meet you, they’re trying to determine where you fit in on the hierarchy (Korean age is different than international age, by the way)
Additionally, Korean honorifics can be used to indicate how close you are to someone. So when you first meet someone, they might use honorific terms to show both respect and lack of familiarity. Then as you get to know each other, they will use fewer or different honorifics and more terms to show that you are closer.
Honorific Terms in Korean
Honorifics are generally broken down into nouns, pronouns, titles, and verbs. We’ll cover them all below, and also let you know which ones you need to know!
Korean Noun Honorifics
There are going to be some cases where you’ll want to use special Korean nouns to show your relationship to someone else. For example, it could be by using a title or a formal version of a word to someone who is more senior to you.
|집 (jip)||댁 (daek)||house|
|이름 (ireum)||성함 (seongham)||name|
|사람 (saram)||분 (bun)||person|
|생일 (saengil)||생신 (saengsin)||birthday|
|밥 (bap)||식사 (siksa)||rice (meal)|
|나이 (nai)||연세 (yeonse)||age|
|병 (byeong)||병환 (byeonghwan)||disease or sickness|
|술 (sul)||약주 (yakju)||Liquor, alcohol|
|아이 자녀분 (ai janyeobun)||자제분 (jajebun)||someone's child|
|이 (i)||치아 (chia)||tooth|
Korean Pronoun Honorifics
|내가||제가||I + subject marker|
Korean Family Title Honorifics
Here’s a list of the honorific version of Korean family titles.
|Base noun||Honorific English||Translation|
|할아버지 (harabeoji)||할아버님 (har-abeonim)||paternal grandfather|
|할머니 (halmeoni)||할머님 (halmeonim)||paternal grandmother|
|아버지 (abeoji)||아버님 (abeonim)||father|
|어머니 (eomeoni)||어머님 (eomeonim)||mother|
For parents, you’ll use different titles depending on whether or not it’s your mothers parents or your fathers parents.
|Base noun||Honorific English||Translation|
|형 (hyeong)||형님 (hyeongnim)||a male’s older brother|
|누나 (nuna)||누님 (nunim)||a male’s older sister|
|오빠 (oppa)||오라버니 (orabeoni)||a female’s older brother|
|언니 (eonni)||언니 (eonni)||a female’s older sister|
|아들 (adeul)||아드님 (adeunim)||son|
|딸 (ttal)||따님 (ttanim)||daughter|
Women would say 오빠 (oppa), meaning older brother. Men would say 형 (hyeong).
Korean Verb Honorifics
Here is a list of the common verbs and their honorific form. Make sure you use the honorific form of the verb.
|보다 (boda)||뵙다 (boepda)||To see or meet|
|말하다 (malhada)||말씀하다 (malsseumhada)||To say or speak|
|먹다 (meokda)||드시다 (deusida)||To eat|
|묻다 (mutda)||여쭈다 (yeojjuda)||To ask|
|배고프다 (baegopeuda)||시장하시다 (sijanghasida)||To be hungry|
|데리고 가다 (derigo gada)||모시고 가다 (mosigo gada)||Take someone somewhere|
|주다 (juda)||드리다 (deurida)||To give|
|있다 (itda)||계시다 (gyesida)||To be somewhere or exist|
|마시다 (masida)||드시다 (deusida)||To drink|
|죽다 (jukda)||돌아가시다 (doragasida)||To die|
|자다 (jada)||주무시다 (jumusida)||To sleep|
|아프다 (apeuda)||편찮으시다 (pyeonchaneusida)||To be hurt, be in pain|
Common Korean Honorific Phrase Responses
Here are some useful responses you can use when someone uses an honorific phrase in conversation with you.
|드리다 준비해 드릴게요 (deurida junbihae deurilgeyo)||I'll prepare for you||고맙습니다 (gomapseumnida)||Thank you|
|준비해 드릴까요? (junbihae deurilkkayo?)||Shall I prepare for you?||네 준비해 주세요 (ne junbihae juseyo)||Yes please prepare for me|
|주무시다 안녕히 주무세요 (jumusida annyeonghi jumuseyo)||Sleep well)||잘 자요 (jal jayo)||Sleep Well|
|안녕히 주무셨어요? (annyeonghi jumusyeosseoyo?)||Did you sleep well?||네 잘 잤어요 (ne jal jasseoyo)||Yes I slept well|
|들다 많이 드세요 (deulda mani deuseyo)||Eat as much as you'd like||잘 먹겠습니다 (jal meokgetseumnida)||I will eat well|
|식사하다 식사하셨어요? (siksahada siksahasyeosseoyo?)||Have you eaten?||네 먹었어요 (ne meogeosseoyo)||Yes I have eaten|
|말씀하다 말씀하세요 (malsseumhada malsseumhaseyo)||Please speak||Don't be shy–start talking!|
|계시다 필림님 계세요? (gyesida pillimnim gyeseyo?)||Is Philip there?||아니요 필립 없어요 (aniyo pillip eopseoyo)||No Philip isn't here|
|필림님 계세요? (pillimnim gyeseyo?)||Is Philip there?||네 잠시만요 (ne jamsimanyo)||Yes just a moment please|
|뵈다 어머니 봬요? (boeda eomeoni bwaeyo?)||Will you meet your mom?||네 어머니 봬요 (ne eomeoni bwaeyo)||Yes I will meet my mom|
Korean Business Honorifics
Basically, you’re going to add the 님 to the end of the workplace title. If you have close friends at work, you can just call them by their given name.
|사장님 (sajangnim)||President or CEO|
|부장님 (bujangnim)||Head of Department|
|차장님 (chajangnim)||Deputy Head of Department|
|과장님 (gwajangnim)||Section Chief|
|대리님 (daerinim)||Assistant Manager|
|계장님 (gyejangnim)||Subsection Chief|
|팀장님 (timjangnim)||Team Leader|
|실장님 (siljangnim)||General Manager|
Getting Clear on Korean Honorifics
Korean has a few different levels of speech, which could be new to native English speakers. These levels are integrated into the grammar and vocabulary, and are used according to the differences in social rank between the people who are communicating. There are various ways of breaking them down, but we can do it by simply saying there are three levels of speech: Formal, standard, and informal.
The formal is to show respect, the standard is for everyday speech, and the informal is for close relationships.
You can get by in almost all situations in Korean if you learn the standard and a bit of the formal. The standard will be polite enough to interact with new acquaintances and people who are higher up in the social rank than you. Knowing a small amount of the formal will allow you to recognize what people are saying to you in certain situations.
For example, a store clerk may ask you a question in the formal. It’s perfectly polite for you to reply using the standard. Store and restaurant employees will usually talk to you in the formal since you’re the customer and they are showing respect to you.
Korean honorifics are a different category, and are used to show very high levels of respect.
The nouns and verbs are not as useful as their standard counterparts, so you likely won’t use them as often. However, they do pop up in certain situations, so let’s cover the common ones so you know how to respond.
First, we’ll go over a sample phrase, explain the verb, and give you the everyday version of the verb. Next, we’ll illustrate with some examples and bonus expressions.
At the end of the post, we’ll give you a summary of the Korean phrases along with some sample responses so you can swiftly and effortlessly power glide through these pitfalls.
7 Common Korean Honorific Phrases
1. 준비해 드릴게요 (junbihae deurilgeyo)
You’ll hear this expression and forms of it very often when you’re in the customer role. This could be at a cafe, gym, restaurant, or phone repair shop. The store employee is going to be either saying what will be done for you, or asking what can be done for you. The base formal verb here is “드리다”. Let’s meet this verb head on:
|드리다 (to give)|
|Same As||주다||To give|
|Formal Example||준비해 드릴게요||I'll prepare for you|
|Standard Example||준비해 줄게요||I'll prepare for you|
You may also hear this used as a question.
|Formal Example||준비해 드릴까요?||Shall I prepare for you?|
|Standard Example||준비해 줄까요?||Shall I prepare for you?|
So feel free to use either form of this verb and know that they are interchangeable. If you want to simplify your life, stick with using “주다” and know how to recognize “드리다.”
If you’re feeling brave, then mix in “드리다” with people you don’t know well or who are higher in the social rank than you are.
2. 안녕히 주무세요 (annyeonghi jumuseyo)
Imagine, it’s the end of the night, and you’re ready for bed. You check your phone and read a text message from your Korean friend that says “안녕히 주무세요”. You suspect that it has something to do with sleep, but that doesn’t sound right. After all, the verb for sleep is much simpler than that!
Your Korean friend is being extra polite using the special formal of the verb for sleep. “주무시다” is the honorific version of the verb “자다”, which means to sleep. The first part “안녕히” is similar to “farewell”, and is used in a variety of expressions. We’ll focus on the “주무시다” for this part, since it’s the main key verb. Here’s the breakdown:
|주무시다 (to sleep)|
|Formal Example||안녕히 주무세요||Sleep well|
|Standard Example||잘 자요||Sleep well|
And get read for this question in the morning!
|Formal Example||안녕히 주무셨어요?||Did you sleep well?|
|Standard Example||잘 잤어요?||Did you sleep well?|
Here’s one more alternative bonus phrase:
|Standard Example||좋은 꿈 꿔요||(I wish you) sweet dreams|
|Standard Example||좋은 꿈 꿨어요?||Did you have good dreams?|
The verb “주무시다” isn’t used very often in Korean, but best to be prepared when you hear it so you can reply appropriately!
3. 많이 드세요 (mani deuseyo)
Get ready to hear this one right before you’re about to chow down on some tasty bokkeumbap or samgyeopsal. What does it mean? Do I have something on my face? Or did I forget to take off my name tag from the language exchange meetup I went to earlier in the afternoon?
The showcase verb here is “들다”, which has two meanings. It can be used to express eating or drinking. In the case of this expression, the speaker is wishing you a good meal. The literal translation is “eat as much as you like”. Let’s cover this one is more detail.
|들다 (to eat or drink)|
|Same As||먹다||To eat|
|Same As||마시다||To drink|
|Formal Example||많이 드세요||Eat as much as you'd like|
|Standard Example||많이 먹어요||Eat as much as you'd like|
|Standard Example||많이 마셔요||Drink as much as you'd like|
You’ll also hear another variation of this Korean phrase:
|Formal Example||맛있게 드세요||Have a good meal|
|Standard Example||맛잇게 먹어요||Have a good meal|
It sounds a little funny to use “delicious” as an adverb in English. For example, you wouldn’t say “eat deliciously” when sitting down with your family at the dinner table. However, this makes more sense in Korean. Remember to wait until the oldest person at the table starts eating before you do!
4. 식사하셨어요? (siksahasyeosseoyo)
Just when you thought you were out of the woods with the eating verbs, they come right back again! In this case, the word “식사” means “meal” or “eat”. However, if you couple it together with the verb “하다”, it can be used as a special Korean honorific verb meaning “to eat”. This one comes up fairly often, so commit to memory and get used to hearing it in your conversations.
|식사하다 (to eat)|
|Same As||먹다||To eat|
|Formal Example||식사하셨어요?||Have you eaten?|
|Standard Example||밥 먹었어요?||Have you eaten?|
All of this food talk is making me hungry! Keep these eating-related verbs in mind, and march into your nearest restaurant to put them to the test!
5. 말씀하세요 (malsseumhaseyo)
Image, you’re trying to find a repair store to fix your favorite watch, but you can’t seem to locate one in Seoul. You decide to call the information hotline “120”, and come to find that all of the English-speaking operators are busy. The helpline employee says in very basic English to call back later, but you decide that you’re not going to wait a minute longer. Bravely, you tell the counselor that although you don’t speak Korean fluently, you’ll try to express what you’re looking for in Korean. The counselor responds with “말씀하세요”.
This one might be one of the easier ones to remember, since it resembles it’s mid-level counterpart, “말하다”. If you guessed that this word means “to say or speak”, then you’d be spot on!
Let’s get an overview:
|말씀하다 (to say or speak)|
|Same As||말하다||To say or speak|
|Formal Example||말씀하세요||Please speak|
|Standard Example||말하세요||Please speak|
6. 필립님 계세요? (pillimnim gyeseyo?)
Let’s say you place an Internet order through Gmarket. Let’s also say your name is Philip. You get a phone call from an unrecognized number, and the voice on the other end says “필립님 계세요?”. You recognize the Philip part, and that it’s probably the delivery person, but the rest is a mystery. What is this person saying?
The verb “계시다” is the special honorific form of the verb “to be”. You may also hear “안 계세요”, which means “not to be”. Let’s piece together this puzzle!
|계시다 (to be)|
|Same As||있다||To be|
|Same As||없다||To not be|
|Formal Example||필립님 계세요?||Is Philip there?|
|Standard Example||필립님 없어요?||Is Philip not there?|
This one will often come up when talking on the phone, so be prepared the next time you press the “answer” button and start chatting.
7. 어머니 봬요? (eomeoni bwaeyo)
What are you up to this weekend? Heading out to see Mom, right? If you’re Korean friends know this, then they may confirm by asking you “어머니 봬요?
What on earth are they talking about? Koreans highly value respect towards those higher in the social rank, and parents definitely fall into this category! Accordingly, expect to hear and see the verb “뵈다” when talking about meeting people higher up the ladder.
|뵈다 (to see or meet)|
|Same As||보다||To see or meet|
|Formal Example||어머니 봬요?||Will you meet your mom?|
|Standard Example||어머니 봐요?||Will you meet your mom?|
Generally, a Korean wouldn’t say “어머니 봤어요” because they would use the more polite verb to talk about their mom. However, if you’re not Korean, you can get away with it!
Korean Honorifics Summary Chart
As promised, we’ll make sure to wrap up with a summary chart so you how to navigate these honorific hazards.
As you use theses, remember that you shouldn’t use Korean honorifics to talk about yourself (i.e. first person).
|드리다||준비해 드릴게요 (I'll prepare for you)||고맙습니다 (Thank you)|
|준비해 드릴까요? (Shall I prepare for you?)||네 준비해 주세요 (Yes please prepare for me)|
|주무시다||안녕히 주무세요 (Sleep well)||잘 자요 (Sleep Well)|
|안녕히 주무셨어요? (Did you sleep well?)||네 잘 잤어요 (Yes I slept well)|
|들다||많이 드세요 (eat as much as you'd like)||잘 먹겠습니다 (I will eat well)|
|식사하다||식사하셨어요? (Have you eaten?)||네 먹었어요 (Yes I have eaten)|
|말씀하다||말씀하세요 (Please speak)||(Don't be shy–start talking!)|
|계시다||필림님 계세요? (Is Philip there?)||아니요 필립 없어요 (No Philip isn't here)|
|필림님 계세요? (Is Philip there?)||네 잠시만요 (Yes just a moment please)|
|뵈다||어머니 봬요? (Will you meet your mom?)||네 어머니 봬요 (Yes I will meet my mom)|
Nice, you are now an honorary honorific hero! You can proudly strut through the streets of Korea, knowing that any curve balls that are thrown your way will easily get knocked out of the ballpark.