Korean Cultural Phrases – Expressions with secret meanings

Have you ever encountered some Korean cultural phrases? These are phrases that can be quite confusing because they have cultural subtleties

A girl and a boy holding Korean flags

For example, when Koreans ask if you’ve eaten, it often means something different than you think.

We’re going to cover the top cultural phrases you need to know in this article.

시작! (sijak | Let’s start!)

Korean Cultural Phrases Pronunciation

Here is how to pronounce the Korean Cultural Phrases:

Korean Cultural Phrases and what they mean

Below are some common everyday Korean phrases that you’ll hear on a regular basis. Take note of their literal translation in the Korean language and the explanation of what it really means.

1. 우리나라 (urinara)

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. This is a common phrase in the Korean language

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 “우리나라 (urinara)” 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.

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 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 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, South 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 South Korea has an abundance of food now, the phrase is still carried on as a greeting to show concern for other people you know. You can tell that food is really important in South 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. You can use this regardless of whether 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 sports cheer, to encourage someone to pass a test, or to wish them good luck on a blind date. You might hear this a lot as you watch Korean dramas.

Common Korean expressions

Learn about each Korean expression below used in everyday life and what they actually mean. Knowing these can make conversations with locals a lot easier, and they’ll be surprised that you know them, too!

What do Koreans say before eating?

잘 먹겠습니다 (jal meokgetseumnida)

Koreans say 잘 먹겠습니다 (jal meokgetseumnida) before meals. This means “I’ll eat well.” It is an expression that says you are thankful for the person who prepared the food you’re about to eat.

Sample Dialogue:

어서 와서 점심 드세요.(eoseo waseo jeomsim deuseyo.)

Come and have your lunch.

네, 잘 먹겠습니다. (ne, jal meokgetseumnida.)

Yes, thank you for the food.

What do Koreans say after eating?

Koreans say 잘 먹었습니다 (jal meogeotseumnida) after meals. This means, “I ate well,” and is an expression that shows you appreciate the person who prepared the meal.

“I ate well” in Korean

잘 먹었습니다 (jal meogeotseumnida)

This means “I ate well,” and it is also the same as “Thank you for the meal.” When you finish your meal, you can say to the person who prepared the food, or even who bought you the food.

Sample Dialogue:

다 드셨어요? (da deusyeosseoyo?)

Are you done eating?

네, 요리 정말 잘 하시네요. 잘 먹었습니다! (ne, yori jeongmal jal hasineyo. jal meogeotseumnida!)

Yes, you’re such a good cook. Thank you for the food!

“Did you eat?” in Korean

밥 먹었어요? (bap meogeosseoyo?)

This can be just asking about a meal, but it is also used as a greeting to show concern for the person’s well-being. It is a greeting used until now from the time when food was important and hard to come by due to war.

Sample Dialogue:

인규 씨, 이렇게 이른 아침에 어디 가세요? (ingyu ssi, ireoke ireun achime eodi gaseyo?)

Where are you going this early in the morning, Ingyu?

일하러 가는 중이에요. (ilhareo ganeun jungieyo.)

I’m on my way to work.

밥 먹었어요? (bab meogeosseoyo?)

Did you eat?

네. 민수 씨는요? (ne. minsu ssineunyo?)

Yes. What about you, Minsu?

네, 저도요. (ne, jeodoyo.)

Yes, me too.

“My country” in Korean

우리나라 (urinara)

When referring to “my country” in Korean, you’ll hear the phrase 우리나라 (urinara). There is an understood concept in Korean society about having a community mindset, so they’ll often use 우리나라 (our country) instead of 내 나라 (my country), even when it just means “my country.”

Sample sentence:

나는 네가 우리나라에 와서 기뻐. (naneun nega urinarae waseo gippeo.)

I’m glad you came to my country.

“My house” in Korean

우리 집 (uri jip)

Same as 우리나라 (urinara), you’ll notice that Koreans refer to their own house with 우리 집 (uri jip | our house) instead of 내 집 (nae jip | my house) even when it means “my house.” It is also very common to refer to one’s own family as 우리 가족 (uri gajok | our family), even when it means “my family.”

Sample sentence:

언제 한 번 우리 집에 놀러 오지 않을래? (eonje han beon uri jibe nolleo oji aneullae?)

Why don’t you come over to my house sometime?

“Bon Appetit” in Korean

맛있게 드세요 (masitge deuseyo)

You can say this when someone is about to eat their meal, wishing them to enjoy the food.

Sample sentence:

오늘의 특별 요리입니다. 맛있게 드세요! (oneurui teukbyeol yoriimnida. masitge deuseyo)

This is today’s special dish. Bon Appetit!

“Have a great meal” in Korean

맛있게 드세요 (masitge deuseyo)

This phrase can be used by someone who is about to start their meal. This could be in a restaurant, at home, or during a gathering.

If you’re hosting a meal or working as a server in a restaurant, you can say this to your guests or customers before they begin eating, as it’s considered a polite gesture.

Sample sentence:

주문하신 김치찌개 나왔습니다, 맛있게 드세요. (jumunhasin gimchijjigae nawatseumnida, masitge deuseyo.)

Here’s the kimchi stew you ordered, and enjoy your meal.

“Enjoy your meal” in Korean

맛있게 드세요 (masitge deuseyo)

You can say this phrase to someone as they are about to begin their meal. This expression also reflects the value placed on food and meals in Korean culture.

Sample sentence:

저녁 맛있게 드세요. (jeonyeok masitge deuseyo.)

Enjoy your dinner.

“Help yourself” in Korean

많이 드세요 (mani deuseyo)

This means, “Please eat a lot (as you want).” You can say this to the person who is about to eat the food you prepared.

The expressions above 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.

Sample Dialogue:

우와, 이 음식을 다 직접 만드셨어요? (uwa, i eumsigeul da jikjeop mandeusyeosseoyo?)

Wow, did you make all this food yourself?

네, 많이 드세요. (ne, mani deuseyo.)

Yes, please help yourself.

Other helpful resources

If you’re ready to have some basic Korean conversations, here are some fantastic resources to get you started:

How to introduce yourself in Korean – https://www.90daykorean.com/introduce-yourself-in-korean/

Korean Name – https://www.90daykorean.com/korean-name/

Speak Korean – https://www.90daykorean.com/speak-korean/

Korean Phrases – https://www.90daykorean.com/korean-phrases/

Korean Vocabulary – https://www.90daykorean.com/korean-words/

Wrap Up

Other phrases, like proverbs, can have deeper meanings. If you learn Korean as a second language, it can be hard to understand. In some cases, they’re hard for even Koreans to explain, so knowing this is a huge feat!

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. ^^

If you’d like to speak more like a local, learning more Korean slang words and phrases is for you! Learn Korean slang words in this article.

Have you had any mysterious Korean phrases that you’ve solved? Let us know in the comments below!

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23 thoughts on “Korean Cultural Phrases – Expressions with secret meanings”

  1. 안녕하세요! I wanted to say that I appreciate how many phrases and how often Korean culture values eating as a form of greeting. There is a strong sense of care for the person’s wellbeing– have you eaten? are you eating well?– rather than simple- how are you? 밥 먹었어요?

  2. Hi, I seek to know what does a Korean that is a student in US mean if they ask where can they go “healthy” near their school?

  3. Heyy, is there a phrase where people say ‘stop eating’ jokingly to their friends? Like usually that is taken to be fat phobic in western culture but I read that it’s not the case in korea?

    1. Hi, Sally! You can say “그만 먹어” or “그만 먹으세요” to say “stop eating”. Korea is also a highly fat phobic country, but because of the culture where we share food, it usually means ‘stop eating (mine)’. ^^

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