Korean Syllables – Master the Correct Hangeul Structure

Korean syllables are building blocks for words in Korean. Each Korean syllable is made up of:

  • an initial consonant (초성 | choseong)
  • a vowel (중성 | jungseong)
  • an optional final consonant (종성 | jongseong)

There are a few rules about syllables that will help you learn Korean fast. We’ll cover them below!

A boy and a girl playing with building blocks

In this article, we’ll talk about Korean syllables, including their structure, pronunciation, and formation rules. Let’s get to it!

Quick Summary

  • Each Korean syllable is comprised of an initial consonant (초성 | choseong), a vowel (중성 | jungseong), and an optional final consonant (종성 | jongseong).
  • To create a valid syllable, a consonant must always precede the vowel, and consonant clusters only occur at the end.
  • Korean syllables range from two-letter syllables to complex four-letter syllables.
  • Double consonants (like ㄲ and ㅆ) and vowel combinations create complex syllables.

Korean Syllable Structure

Korean syllables are like little blocks of sound, and each one fits neatly together to form Korean words. Each syllable block has at least two parts: the initial sound, called 초성 (choseong), and the middle sound, known as 중성 (jungseong). The initial sound is always a consonant, while the middle sound is a vowel.

Sometimes, there’s also a final sound, called 종성 (jongseong), another consonant at the end. This part is optional.

Note: If you haven’t learned Hangeul (Korean Alphabet) yet, we suggest doing that first before learning about syllables. This is because you need to know Korean letters in order to form syllables.

There are total 19 Korean consonants used as the initial sound or 초성 (choseong):

ㄱ, ㄲ, ㄴ, ㄷ, ㄸ, ㄹ, ㅁ, ㅂ, ㅃ, ㅅ, ㅆ, ㅇ, ㅈ, ㅉ, ㅊ, ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, ㅎ

There are total 21 Korean vowels used in the middle sound or 중성 (jungseong):

ㅏ, ㅐ, ㅑ, ㅒ, ㅓ, ㅔ, ㅕ, ㅖ, ㅗ, ㅘ, ㅙ, ㅚ, ㅛ, ㅜ, ㅝ, ㅞ, ㅟ, ㅠ, ㅡ, ㅢ, ㅣ

There are total 27 Korean consonants used as the final sound or 종성 (jongseong):

ㄱ, ㄲ, ㄳ, ㄴ, ㄵ, ㄶ, ㄷ, ㄹ, ㄺ, ㄻ, ㄼ, ㄽ, ㄾ, ㄿ, ㅀ, ㅁ, ㅂ, ㅄ, ㅅ, ㅆ, ㅇ, ㅈ, ㅊ, ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, ㅎ

How to form a syllable block

To form a syllable, you always start with a consonant and then add a vowel. Sometimes, you put another one or two consonants at the bottom.

Order of Korean syllable letters

Korean syllable uses a systematic order of letters. This structure is designed for the user to have clear pronunciation and readability.

Korean syllable structure

Here’s how the letters in a Korean syllable are organized:

Initial Consonant (초성 | choseong): Every Korean syllable begins with a consonant. This includes the silent ㅇ, which is a placeholder. When used at the beginning of a syllable, it makes the vowel stand out.

Vowel (중성 | jungseong): After the initial consonant, there is a vowel. This can be a basic vowel (such as ㅏ, ㅓ, ㅗ, ㅜ) or a complex vowel (also known as a diphthong, such as ㅐ, ㅔ, ㅚ, ㅟ).

Final Consonant (종성 | jongseong): This is an optional part of a syllable. A syllable can end with a final consonant or a cluster of consonants. The final consonant can affect the pronunciation. On a related note, there are special pronunciation rules to look out for, which we’ll talk more about later!

Here is how the letters in the syllable “산” are formed:

ㅅ (s) – Initial Consonant (choseong)

ㅏ (a) – Vowel (jungseong)

ㄴ (n) – Final Consonant (jongseong)

Like the building blocks, Korean syllables combine each letter into square-shaped characters. Each square makes a syllable and is read from left to right, top to bottom. Organizing it this way is important for making Hangeul easy to read and use.

Variations in syllable structures 

There are three variations in syllable structure. Here are examples for each variation:

Two-letter syllable (Consonant + Vowel):

  • 차 (cha | car or tea) : ㅊ  + ㅏ 

Three-letter syllable (Consonant + Vowel + Consonant):

  • 밥 (bab | rice) : ㅂ + ㅏ + ㅂ

Four-letter syllable (Consonant + Vowel + Consonant + Consonant)

There’s only a limited number of possible combinations. These are 11 of them which are: ㄳ, ㄵ, ㄶ, ㄺ, ㄻ, ㄼ, ㄽ, ㄾ, ㄿ, ㅀ, and ㅄ.

  • *삶 (sam | life, living) : ㅅ + ㅏ + ㄹ + ㅁ

*The ㄹ in the final position is not pronounced.

Korean syllable formation

Pronunciation of Korean syllables

Here are the different pronunciation rules that you should look out for as you form syllables in Korean.

Basic pronunciation rule

Always start with a consonant, which is the initial sound in a syllable. You say it just like you would start any word in English.

After the initial consonant, you add the vowel. This part flows smoothly right after the consonant.

For example, if the initial sound is “ㄴ“ (n) and the middle sound is “ㅏ“(a), together it makes a syllable, “나” (na).

Some consonants are pronounced differently when used in the final position. This last sound can also change depending on what comes next.

For example, when there is a final sound, “ㅁ” (m) added to “나” (na), it makes a syllable, “남” (nam).

Special pronunciation rules

Now, let’s talk about those special pronunciation rules.

Resyllabification (Word Breakdown)

When a syllable’s final consonants meet a vowel in the following syllable, the consonant is carried over to the following syllable and becomes its initial consonant pronunciation.


  • 언어 (language) is pronounced [어너] (eoneo)
  • 음악 (music) is pronounced like [으막] (eumak)

Consonant Assimilation (Sound Matching)

When certain consonants come next to each other, one of them can change its sound to be more like the other. For example, when “ㄴ” (n) and “ㄹ” (l/r) meet, the “ㄴ” changes to “ㄹ”.


  • 원래 (originally) is pronounced like [월래] (wollae).

Tensification (Sound Strength)

Some consonants become stronger when followed by another consonant. They are:

  • ㄱ (g) ➝ ㄲ (kk)
  • ㄷ (d) ➝ ㄸ (dd)
  • ㅂ (b) ➝ ㅃ (pp)
  • ㅈ (j) ➝ ㅉ (jj)

For example:

  • 학교 (school) is pronounced like [학꾜] (hakkyo)
  • 식당 (restaurant) is pronounced like [식땅] (sikttang)

Palatalization (Softening Sounds)

Some consonants change sounds when followed by the vowel “ㅣ” (i). They are:

  • ㄷ (d) ➝ ㅈ (j)
  • ㅌ (t) ➝ ㅊ (ch)

For example:

  • 굳이 (obstinately) is pronounced [구지] (guji)
  • 같이 (together) is pronounced [가치] (gachi)

Nasal assimilation (Nose Sound Matching)

When followed by either ㅁ or ㄴ, the following consonants change pronunciation:

  • ㅂ (b), ㅍ (p)  ➝ ㅁ (m)
  • ㄷ (d), ㅌ (t), ㅅ (s), ㅆ (ss), ㅈ (j) , ㅊ (ch), ㅎ (h) ➝ ㄴ (n)
  • ㄱ (g), ㅋ (k),ㄲ (kk) ➝ ㅇ(ng)

For example:

  • 입니다 (to be) is pronounced [임니다] (imnida)
  • 걷는 (walking) is pronounced [건는] (geonneun)
  • 국내 (domestic) is pronounced [궁내] (gungnae)

Syllable Formation Rules

Here are some rules to consider when forming Korean syllables.

Rules for Creating Valid Syllables in Korean

There are 3 rules to remember as you create syllables in Korean:

Basic structure

A syllable must have at least one consonant and one vowel.

Initial consonant

Every syllable should start with a consonant, and this includes the silent “ㅇ.”

Only one vowel

Each syllable contains only one vowel or diphthong.

Common exceptions and irregularities

Here are also some irregularities to take note of.

Irregular Verbs and Adjectives

Some verbs and adjectives change their stems during conjugation. For example:

  • “듣다” (to hear) becomes “들어” (not “듣어”) when conjugating into polite speech form, 들어요 (deureoyo).
  • “돕다” (to help) becomes “도와” (not “돕아”) when conjugating into polite speech form, 도와요 (dowayo).

‘의’ Pronunciation

The letter ㅢ can sound different depending on where it is in a word. At the start, it’s pronounced as normal, as in the Korean word for doctor, 의사 (uisa).

As a possessive marker, it often becomes ㅔ (e) like in 나의 (my), which is actually pronounced as 나에 (nae).

Mid-word, ㅢ typically sounds like “ㅣ”(i or ee), found in the word for convenience store, 편의점 (pyeonijeom). Also, the common Korean name ending 희 is said as 히 (hee), like in 민희 (Minhee).

Advanced Concepts in Syllable Structure

Once you are familiar with the basic ideas, let’s head on to the next level of Korean syllable formation.

Double consonants and complex vowels

There are 11,172 possible combinations to form Korean syllables. The letters used in modern Hangeul are as follows.

Basic Consonants and Double Consonants

There are 14 basic consonants of Korean:




There are 5 double consonants, or “tense consonants,” which are written with two of the same consonant letter. These are pronounced with more tension, making them sound stronger:

Double ConsonantsRomanization

Consonant combinations used in Korean syllables, typically found in the final position:

There are also some consonant combinations used only in the final position of a syllable. These are not double consonants but combinations of different consonants that merge to form a single sound unit at the end of a syllable.

Consonant Combination
ㄱ (g/k) + ㅅ (s)
ㄴ (n) + ㅈ (j)
ㄴ (n) + ㅎ (h)
ㄹ (r/l) + ㄱ (g/k)
ㄹ (r/l) + ㅁ (m)
ㄹ (r/l) + ㅂ (b/p)
ㄹ (r/l) + ㅅ (s)
ㄹ (r/l) + ㅌ (t)
ㄹ (r/l) + ㅍ (p)
ㄹ (r/l) + ㅎ (h)
ㅂ (b/p) + ㅅ (s)

Basic Vowels and Vowel combinations

There are the 10 basic vowels in Korean:


There are Korean vowel combinations or diphthongs, which are combinations of basic vowels that create a blended sound. These form various syllable sounds in Korean:

Korean Vowel Combinations
ㅐ (ae)blending ㅏ (a) and ㅣ (i)
ㅒ (yae)blending ㅑ (ya) and ㅣ (i)
ㅔ (e)blending ㅓ (eo) and ㅣ (i)
ㅖ (ye)blending ㅕ (yeo) and ㅣ (i)
ㅘ (wa)blending ㅗ (o) and ㅏ (a)
ㅙ (wae)blending ㅗ (o) and ㅐ (ae)
ㅚ (oe)blending ㅗ (o) and ㅣ (i)
ㅝ (wo)blending ㅜ (u) and ㅓ (eo)
ㅞ (we)blending ㅜ (u) and ㅔ (e)
ㅟ (wi)blending ㅜ (u) and ㅣ (i)
ㅢ (ui)blending ㅡ (eu) and ㅣ (i)

Syllable contraction 

Sometimes, syllable contraction happens for more efficient or faster pronunciation.

Syllable contraction is when syllables are combined into simpler forms. This happens because of the historical phonetic changes, where certain sounds have dropped or merged over time. Also, this naturally appears in casual speeches, as people often try to say things more quickly and easily, so they naturally shorten words and combine syllables.

Here are some common examples:

When subject marker 이 [i] follows certain pronouns, they can be contracted as follows:

  • 이것 (this, this thing) + 이 (subject marker): 이것이  (igeot-i) -> 이게 (ige)
  • 저것 (that, that thing) + 이 (subject marker): 저것이 (jeogeot-i) -> 저게 (jeoge) 

The topic marker 는 is also commonly contracted:

  • 저는 (jeo-neun | formal “I am“) -> 전 (jeon)
  • 나는 (na-neun | casual “I am“) -> 난 (nan)

These are especially common in speaking, making words quicker and easier to pronounce.

What to learn next after Korean Syllables:

After learning how to form Korean syllables, you might consider expanding your Korean language skills by exploring these additional resources:

  1. Korean Words – Start learning common nouns, verbs, and adjectives.
  2. Korean Sentence StructureNext, get familiarized with basic sentence structure (subject-object-verb) with basic verb conjugations (present, past, and future tense) and particles that indicate subjects, objects, or locations.
  3. Korean Verbs For Beginners – Learn the most common verbs and how to conjugate them to express actions in different tenses properly.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Below, we included some of the most asked questions related to Korean syllables:

How many Korean syllables are there?

There are a total of 11,172 possible combinations of Korean letters to form syllables. This includes 399 combinations of two-letter syllables and 10,773 combinations of syllables with final endings.

Can a Korean syllable have more than one vowel?

No, a single Korean syllable can only contain one vowel component. This can be a simple vowel or a diphthong (combined vowel), but it counts as one vowel sound in the structure of the syllable.

Are Korean syllables written top to bottom or left to right?

It depends on whether the baseline of the vowel symbol is horizontal or vertical.

If the baseline is vertical (such as ㅏ, ㅑ, ㅓ, ㅣ), the first consonant and vowel are written left to right (such as 아, 히), and then the final consonant at the bottom (such as 안, 힘). 

If the baseline is horizontal (such as ㅗ, ㅜ, ㅡ, ㅛ), the first consonant, vowel, and the final consonant are written from top to bottom (such as 름, 목). 

How do final consonants affect the pronunciation of a syllable?

Final consonants can affect pronunciation, especially when the next syllable begins with a vowel. This can lead to phonetic changes where the final consonant sound of one syllable blends with the initial consonant of the next syllable. For example, 없어요 is pronounced like [업서요] (eopseoyo). 

Additionally, some final consonants may not be fully pronounced when they are at the end of a Korean word or sentence, depending on the context and conversational style. For example, 읽다 is pronounced like [익따] (iktta), but 읽고 is pronounced like [일꼬] (ilkko).


As we wrap up, we learned that Korean syllables are used to form words in Korean. They start with an initial consonant followed by a vowel and sometimes end with an optional final consonant. 

Keep in mind that after learning the basics of Korean syllables, there are special pronunciation rules that influence their pronunciation. An example of this would be resyllabification. 

What questions or thoughts do you have about Korean syllables? Share them in the comments below!

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