Korean Quotes – 15 Wise and Poetic Expressions

Korean quotes are often captivating, providing wisdom and poetic expressions to their readers. Sometimes, we come across them in popular Korean dramas and movies.

A girl reading a book while sitting on a pile of big books

In this post, we’ll explore some of the most popular and inspirational Korean quotes. We’ll dive into the meanings behind these expressions and learn Korean along the way. So, get ready to discover the beauty of Korean wisdom through these fascinating quotes!

“Quotes” in Korean

The word for “quotes” in Korean is 인용문 (inyongmun).

Korean Quotes

Here are some popular and inspirational Korean quotes that you’ve probably heard in a Korean drama or Korean movie.


Meaning: Laughter is the best medicine

Literal Translation: Laughter is the best healer

Laughter is the Best Medicine

When to use it: You can use this Korean quote to suggest that trying to be happy or thinking happy thoughts will help you overcome worry or depression. For example, you could suggest this expression to a friend after they break up with their boyfriend.


Meaning: To make trouble and then give help

Literal Translation: Give a disease, then give medicine

When to use it: This Korean proverb is used for someone who helps after causing trouble. You could use this in the case where someone gives an insult, then kind words after. For example, “Your style isn’t great, but I love your personality.” Or, someone says insulting words to you but then offers to buy you lunch.


Meaning: A piece of cake

Literal Translation: Eat tteok while lying down

A piece of cake

When to use it: This is a great Korean quote to express how easy something is. For example, imagine your best friend is a chef, and he makes you dinner. You say it’s delicious, and he says, “누워서 떡 먹기야 (nuwoseo tteok meokgiya),” meaning it was as easy to cook as “lying down and eating tteok.”


Meaning: Genius shows itself from an early age

Literal Translation: You can know a promising tree from when it’s a baby tree

Genius displays itself from an early age

When to use it: Use this Korean quote to describe a person with a bright future from an early age. You can apply it to a smart child who you think will grow up to be a brilliant adult. Or, say it about a child who is great at basketball and you think will be a basketball star later in life.


Meaning: Birds of a feather flock together

Literal Translation: The crayfish sides with the crab

Birds of a feather flock together

When to use it: Since a crayfish and a crab have many similar traits, this saying implies that they would side with each other. Use this Korean proverb to describe how similar characters, appearances, or backgrounds tend to stick together.


Meaning: Even a monkey sometimes falls from the tree

Literal Translation: There is a time when even monkeys fall from trees

Even a monkey sometimes falls from the tree

When to use it: Use this Korean quote to suggest that even experts sometimes make mistakes. Monkeys are great climbers but sometimes fall. If a friend is really beating themself up over a mistake, use this expression to suggest that mistakes happen.


Meaning: The parish priest forgets that he was once a parish clerk

Literal Translation: The frog can’t remember the times when he was a tadpole

The parish priest forgets that he was once a parish clerk

When to use it: There may be times when a professional or experienced person thinks highly of him or herself. He or she can’t relate to beginners, even though that’s where he or she started.

Imagine that you’re a great dancer, and you keep bragging to your best friend, who is a novice. Then your mom enters the room and says the Korean proverb “개구리 올챙이 적 생각도 못 한다 (gaeguri olchaengi jeok saenggakdo mot handa)” about you.


Meaning: The new replaces the old

Literal Translation: A rolling stone extracts a stone that is embedded.

The new replaces the old

When to use it: Let’s say that you’re the manager of your team at work, but you’re doing mediocre work at your job. A newcomer joins your team, does a great job, and soon becomes the new manager. The president of the company then pops in and says this Korean proverb about the rolling stone.


Meaning: Better to ask the way than to go astray

Literal Translation: Ask first, then go, even if it’s a road you know

It is better to ask the way

When to use it: This Korean quote is great for situations when someone should be careful and work hard on a task, regardless of its significance. Let’s say your brother is taking the Japanese proficiency test and knows Japanese really well. He is confident, so he thinks he doesn’t have to study. Use “아는 길도 물어가라 (aneun gildo mureogara)” to motivate him to prepare and ensure success properly!


Meaning: Clothes make the man

Literal Translation: Clothes are your wings

Clothes Make the man

When to use it: Use this Korean quote to emphasize the importance of dressing well. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to say, “dress well,” remember this Korean proverb. It means the same thing as the English expression “Clothes make the man.”

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Meaning: A pie in the sky

Literal Translation: A picture of tteok (rice cake)

A pie in the sky

When to use it: Imagine that you’re heading to the department store while you’re reading this Korean proverb. Your friend spots an amazing bag, and she wants to buy it. It’s eight times her monthly salary, so she can’t afford to buy it. You chime in with “그림의 떡이야 (geurimui tteogiya).”


Meaning: One good turn deserves another

Literal Translation: If going words are beautiful, coming words will be beautiful

One good turn deserves another

When to use it: Use this Korean quote to encourage people to talk nicely about others. For example, if your friend is talking poorly about another friend, you can say “가는 말이 고와야오는 말이 곱다 (ganeun mari gowayaoneun mari gopda).” If your friend talks nicely about others, then good things will come back his or her way!


Meaning: Bad timing

Literal Translation: Going day is the fair day

Bad Timing

When to use it: This means bad timing, so you could use it to express that your timing for something wasn’t good.

Imagine you go to your favorite restaurant with your family. As you approach the door, there is a sign on the door that says “Closed for Children’s Day.” In that case, you can use this Korean proverb: “가는 날이 장날 (ganeun nari jangnal).”


Meaning: It’s often difficult to see what is right in front of you

Literal Translation: The bottom of the lamp is dark

 It is often difficult to see what is right in front of you

When to use it: This is a great Korean proverb that you can use to talk about things you overlook. An example would be if you are criticizing your neighbor for not shoveling the snow off of his doorstep, but your doorstep needs shoveling as well. It means that you should pay attention to things in front of you.


Meaning: Don’t try to teach a fish how to swim

Literal Translation: Write hanja in front of Confucius (Hanja is the Korean name of the traditional writing system consisting mainly of Traditional Chinese characters)

Don’t try to teach a fish how to swim

When to use it: You can say this proverb to someone so arrogant that they are trying to teach an expert how to do something. For example, this would be good to say if someone was trying to teach 김연아 (Yuna Kim | A South Korean former competitive figure skater) how to ice skate. “공자 앞에서 문자 쓴다 (gongja apeseo munja sseunda)!”

Wrap Up

And that’s it for Korean Quotes! You can impress your friends just by knowing a few of these quotes. But other than that, these quotes also teach you actual life lessons, so ponder on them as you learn Korean!

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