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Some Korean phrases are confusing because they have cultural subtleties. Others, like proverbs, can have deeper meanings. If you learn Korean as a second language, they can be hard to understand. In some cases, they’re hard for even Koreans to explain!
Below are some common everyday Korean phrases that you’ll hear on a regular basis. Below the phrase is the literal translation, and the explanation of what it really means.
Uncover the mysteries of these expressions, and feel confident using them yourself!
The expressions are written in Hangeul, the Korean alphabet. If you haven’t learned to read Hangeul yet and want to study Korean, you can learn how to read in about 1 hour for free by downloading the 90 Minute Challenge here.
시작! (sijak | Let’s start!)
1. 우리 나라 (uri nara)
Literal Translation: “Our country”
This Korean Phrase Really Means: “My country”, with the “our” meaning “Korean people”
Explanation: If you study Korean history, you’ll find that Koreans have a long past. They think of themselves as one collective group of people. Therefore, instead of saying “my country”, Koreans say “our country” to show they share this with all Koreans.
2. 우리 집 (uri jip)
Literal Translation: “Our house”
This Korean Phrase Really Means: “My house”, with the “our” meaning “my family”.
Explanation: Whoa, whoa! Slow down, it’s a little soon to be talking about becoming roommates!
This is the same concept as with “우리 나라 (uri nara)” above. Basically it is the idea of the house belonging to a collective group (family) instead of just one person.
3. 잘 먹었습니다 (jal meogeotseumnida)
Literal Translation: “I ate well”
This Korean Phrase Really Means: “The meal was good” or “Thank You”
Explanation: It does mean, “I ate well”, but it also has some different uses. For example, if someone treats you to a meal, you would say this instead of “thank you”. Think of it as an indirect thank you.
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4. 잘 먹겠습니다 (jal meokgetseumnida)
Literal Translation: “I will eat well”
This Korean Phrase Really Means: “I will eat well because of your effort”
Explanation: Koreans say this before eating to show appreciation to the person who prepared for the food. It’s kind of like saying “thanks for preparing this, I’m going to have a good meal because of you”.
5. 많이 드세요 (mani deuseyo)
Literal Translation: “Eat a lot”
This Korean Phrase Really Means: “Have a great meal”
Explanation: This is similar to saying “Bon appetite” in English. In the post-Korean war times, Koreans had food shortages. Therefore, this was a polite thing to say to make sure the people eating had enough to eat. It shows consideration for the other people.
6. 맛있게 드세요 (masitge deuseyo)
Literal Translation: “Eat deliciously”
This Korean Phrase Really Means: “I hope the food is delicious” or “Enjoy the food you’re about to eat”
Explanation: In English, it would sound funny to use “delicious” to describe the way in which you’d eat food. In Korean, it means to wish that the other person would have a delicious meal.
7. 밥 먹었어요? (bap meogeosseoyo?)
Literal Translation: “Did you eat?”
This Korean Phrase Really Means: “How are you?” or “Did you eat?”
Explanation: As mentioned before, Korea was devastated after the war, and food was harder to come by. Therefore, to show your concern for someone’s well being, you’d ask if they had eaten. While Korea has an abundance of food now, the phrase has still carried on as a greeting to show concern for other people you know. You can tell that food is really important in Korea, so make sure you’ve mastered the basics of table manners here.
8. 가세요 (gaseyo)
Literal Translation: “Please go”
This Korean Phrase Really Means: “Have a good day and proceed safely”
Explanation: Wow!! If you want me to leave, you could be a little less direct!
While this expression seems a little harsh when you translate it directly, it’s actually quite polite. If you study Korean, you’ll notice that this has a polite “세요” ending. This Korean phrase means that you wish the other person a safe journey wherever he or she is going to. You can use this regardless if you know the other person’s destination or not.
9. 들어가세요 (deureogaseyo)
Literal Translation: “Please enter”
This Korean Phrase Really Means: “Have a good day and arrive safely at your destination”
Explanation: This is similar to “가세요 (gaseyo)”, except it’s used more often when you know the person’s destination. That way, you can say that you wish they would enter it safely!
10. 화이팅 (hwaiting)
Literal Translation: “Fighting!”
This Korean Phrase Really Means: “Hurray!”, “Go team!” or “You can do it!”
Explanation: A fight? Ok, you grab the video camera, and I’ll take the tripod! Let’s go!
While the word sounds very close to “fighting” in English, it’s more of a cheer that Koreans use to show encouragement and enthusiasm for some kind of competition. It can be used for a sports cheer, to encourage someone to pass a test, or to wish them good luck on a blind date.
Now that you’ve got a few more phrases for your flash cards, try using them the next time you’re out with your Korean friends, classmates, or coworkers! Take them out for a meal and impress them with all you know about Korean culture. ^^
Have you had any mysterious Korean phrase that you’ve solved? Let us know in the comments below!