Oppa, Hyung, Noona, Unnie, Sunbae, and Hubae – Learn Essential Korean Words

In this article, we will explain the meaning of 오빠 (oppa), 형 (hyung), 누나 (noona), and 언니 (unnie). 

You might be wondering why some of these words are romanized differently. We’ll tell you more in a minute!

Two men and two men labeled Oppa, Hyung, Nuna, and Unnie

We created a special cheat sheet that will help you practice what you learn in this lesson. It has a simple chart that tells you which Korean titles to use when speaking to people so you don’t sound rude. Check it out below:

In this article, we’ll give you the romanized form of the Korean words as well as their version in the Korean alphabet (한글 | hangeul). If you can’t read the Korean alphabet yet, we highly recommend learning it. It’ll help improve the speed of your Korean learning!

Quick Summary

오빠 (oppa), 형 (hyung), 누나 (noona), and 언니 (unnie) are used based on the speaker’s gender and the age of the person they are addressing. These terms also reflect closeness and respect.

선배 (seonbae) and 후배 (hubae) are terms used in schools and workplaces to indicate seniority and experience level. These emphasize respect in professional and academic settings.

✅ In Korean culture, age significantly influences how individuals are addressed.


The Difference between Oppa vs Hyung, and Nuna vs Unnie

The direct translations for oppa, hyung, nuna, and unnie are:

  • Oppa meaning: older brother
  • Hyung meaning: older brother
  • Nuna meaning: older sister
  • Unnie meaning: older sister

At first glance, oppa and hyung and nuna and unnie have the same translation. However, the actual meanings are quite different than the translations in English.

We’ll explain what they mean and when to use them. Here’s how to use each one.

Oppa in Korean

오빠 (Oppa) is a commonly used term in Korean. You’ve probably heard of this word in Korean Dramas, K-Pop Idols, or among your Korean friends.

Before we get into the details, watch this video below:

What does OPPA (오빠) mean?

What does oppa mean in Korean?

The direct meaning of oppa in Korean is “older brother” and is used when you are a woman and talking with an older Korean guy (related to you or not). For example, it is used to address an older male friend, even if he is not your own brother by blood.

If you’re a woman who has a male friend older than you are, you call him oppa. If you’re a man and a female person’s older brother, your little sister will also call you oppa.

Oppa Pronunciation

You can say “older brother” in Korean as oppa. It is pronounced exactly how it’s spelled.

Listen Here: = older brother (females speaking to older males)


How to write oppa in Korean

In Korean, “oppa” is written as 오빠. It is commonly romanized as “oppa” as well. 

Unnie in Korean

The word “unnie” refers to an “older sister.” You’ve probably heard this one before on TV, social media, or with your Korean friends.

Check out the video below about the word 언니 (unnie):

What does the Korean word "unnie" (언니 | eonni) mean?

What does unnie mean?

The word 언니 (unnie) is used if you are a woman talking to another older woman, even though that person is not related to you. You can use this to refer to your actual sister, family member, or to an older female friend.

Unnie Pronunciation

You can say “older sister” in Korean as unnie (언니). Like “oppa,” it is also pronounced exactly how it’s spelled.

Listen here: = older sister (younger female speaking to an older female)


How to write unnie in Korean

You can write “unnie” in Korean as 언니.

The most common way to write 언니 in romanized English is “unnie.” If you follow the romanization rules, it is spelled “eonni.” Less commonly, you may also see the word written as “oni” or “uni.”

Hyung in Korean

형 (Hyung) in Korean means “older brother” and is used by males to call other males. Koreans use this word to refer to their actual brothers, family members, or friends.

Check out the video below to learn more about the word Hyung (형):

What does the Korean word 형 (HYUNG) mean?

What does hyung mean?

Korean guys in the company of older males refer to their older brothers as hyung (형). Blood relatives can use this title (like your older brother or older male cousin). Males can also use it for non-relatives as well.

Hyung Pronunciation

You can say “older brother” in Korean as 형 (hyung). There’s no difference in how it’s spelled and pronounced.

Listen here: =  older brother (males speaking to older males)


How to write hyung in Korean

You can write “Hyung” in Korean as 형. 

The title in romanized English is “hyung.” It may also be written as “hyeong.”

Nuna in Korean

누나 (Nuna) in the Korean language, often romanized as “noona,” means “older sister.” Males use it to refer to older females. They can use this for family members or friends alike.

Check out the video below to learn more about nuna (누나):

What does 누나 (noona) mean?

What does nuna mean?

A younger brother or a younger man will use the word 누나 (nuna) to address a female friend who is older. For example, 누나 (nuna) is used to address an older female for males, even if she is not your sister by blood.

So, if you’re a man who has a female friend older than you are, you call her nuna. If you’re a woman and an older sister of a male sibling, your younger brother will also call you nuna.

Nuna Pronunciation

The word for “older sister” can be pronounced as nuna (누나). It is pronounced the way it is spelled.

Listen here: = older sister (males speaking to older females)

How to write nuna in Korean

You can write the word as 누나. In romanized English, you can spell the word “nuna.” However,  you may also see 누나 in romanized English as “noona.”


When To Use Oppa, Unnie, Hyung, and Nuna

If there are decades worth of age differences between you two, these terms are less likely to be used.

Even if you’re not talking directly to the people you call oppa, hyung, nuna, and unnie, whenever you refer to them in a conversation with someone else, you should attach one of these terms after the person’s name you are talking about.

You might want to refrain from using oppa, hyung, nuna, and unnie when meeting people first. On the other hand, if you are in a Korean restaurant, even if the (usually older female) waitresses are strangers to you, it’s not weird for men to call them by 누나 (nuna) and women by 언니 (unnie), regardless of the difference in age.

When to use oppa

The word oppa is used when you’re a female and you’re talking to or about older males.

If you’re a female, you can use this to refer to your boyfriend, brothers, or friends. You can call your older male friends “oppa,” even if you’re not talking to them directly.

When to use unnie

언니 (Unnie) is used when you’re a female and talking to other older females.

If you’re a female, you can use this to refer to your sisters or female friends. You can use this word even if you’re not talking directly to them or even if they’re not present in the conversation.

When to use hyung

형 (Hyung) is used when you’re a male and you’re talking to other older males.

If you are a male, you can use this word to talk to or about your male friends or your brothers. You can also use this word when you’re just talking about your male friends, and they’re not present in the conversation.


When to use nuna 

누나 (Nuna) can be used if you’re a male and you’re talking to or about older females.

Males can use this word to talk to their older sisters or older female friends. It can also be used even if the person you’re referring to is not in the room.

Who can use oppa, hyung, nuna, and unnie?

Some men might find it odd if oppa is used by someone when talking to them; some women will chuckle whenever you refer to them as 언니 (unnie).

While some men a year or two younger than the woman are dead set on calling them 누나 (nuna) at every turn possible, others will refer to the woman by her name instead. In general, the less age difference there is and the closer you two are, the less important it will be, and many senior citizens no longer care.

There are also instances of Korean people who might be less fussy about using such terms, especially when dealing with foreigners.

Using oppa, hyung, nuna, and unnie at school and work.

Your title and status precede everything else at work and school. Oppa is used less frequently in the workplace, even with females talking with an older male.

For example, it is unusual for a female worker to speak to a male boss and call him 오빠 (oppa). In school, the year you start your studies will determine what title people should use. These also apply to colleagues of the same status level at work.

So, how do you respectfully call your colleagues or schoolmates at work or in school? We’ll tell you in a bit.

To recap, you call a Korean guy oppa when you address an older male acquaintance as a female. You can use unnie to refer to an elder sister or an older female acquaintance if you’re a girl. If you’re a man, you use hyung to refer to an elder brother or an older male buddy. Also, if you’re a man, you use nuna to refer to an older female companion.
Now, let’s move on to other Korean Terms!

Seonbae and Hubae

The words 선배 (seonbae) and 후배 (hubae) are often used in Korean Universities and workplaces to show respect instead of using oppa (오빠), hyung (형), nuna (누나), and unnie (언니).

What does 선배 (seonbae) mean?

Simply put, sunbae means senior. Sunbae (more commonly spelled as “seonbae”) refers to people who have more experience in work, school, etc. Whether the person is older than you or not, if they started earlier than you did, you should call them 선배 (seonbae).


Sunbaenim Meaning

선배님 (seonbaenim) is a Korean word that refers to a far more experienced person within the same school, company, or group. It’s a combination of the word 선배 (seonbae), which means senior, and 님(nim), which means Mr. or Sir in English. It’s a Korean title usually used when one is talking in formal language.

You might have heard the word 선배님 (seonbaenim) while watching your favorite K-pop stars talking to seniors from the same company.

선배님 is also sometimes romanized as sunbaenim.

What does 후배 (hubae) mean?

후배 (hubae) is a Korean word that refers to people with less experience than you in school or work. For example, your friends at university who started later than you can be referred to as 후배 (hubae). This can be translated as “junior.”

What does 친구 (chingu) mean?

The Korean word 친구 (chingu) literally translates to “friend.” However, the usage in Korea is much different.

People who call each other 친구(chingu) are of the same age. In this case, likely, they’ll refer to each other by name (if they are close).

What does dongsaeng (동생) mean?

If you’re referring to someone younger than you, the other person is your 동생 (dongsaeng). This term means both younger sister and little brother.

However, if you want to put more emphasis on the gender of the 동생 (dongsaeng) you are talking about, you can add 여 (yeo) for girls and 남 (nam) for boys. Usually, these gender markers are used only when talking about your actual blood-related siblings.

Korean Culture & Age

In Korea, it’s essential to know a person’s age and refer to them accordingly. For example, you might greet someone differently depending on your age difference.

You might have come to Korea from a Western country where “age is just a number,” but that’s quite the opposite in South Korea.

Koreans have their own age-calculating system where your age is calculated based on your birth year. In the concept of the Korean age, when January 1st hits, everyone becomes one year older. Which month you were born doesn’t matter in that sense.

Unnie

However, some people might calculate their age based on the Lunar calendar instead of the Western New Year. In this case, while your age is still calculated by the year you were born, it works a little differently. For example, people born in January 1993 are still considered the same age as those born in 1992 simply because Lunar New Year hadn’t passed.


Wrap Up

Hopefully, this information can help you with your acquaintances and friends. You can use these terms and some common Korean phrases and get some fun conversations started.

You may even hear them in other unexpected situations, such as getting the staff’s attention to order food at a Korean restaurant or as a term of endearment. You can also surprise your Korean friend with these terms.

If you want to learn more Korean so you can talk to your Korean friends, you could check out our structured course to help you learn Korean fast. With our program, you’ll be talking to your friends in Korean in just 90 Days!

While you’re here, check out our article on Korean Honorifics to learn more about essential titles, words, and phrases. These are very important, especially if you integrate more into Korean culture.

 

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463 thoughts on “Oppa, Hyung, Noona, Unnie, Sunbae, and Hubae – Learn Essential Korean Words”

  1. Jacqueline Lacey

    I love watching Korean movies. I wanna learn more to challenge myself. I have traveled to Shanghai and Barcelona. I want to travel to Korea and Beijing. Need to practice to speak fluently.

  2. Kimberley Lorente

    Thank you. As a Canadian that has just discovered K-Drama, it is wonderful to have this reference.

  3. I understand that if you’re a woman and you like guys (older guys) you can call them oppa, am I right? But in my case, I am a woman who likes women. How can I call’em if they’re older than me or if they’re younger? ????

    1. Koreans use the person’s name to call someone who is younger. e.g. 지환아, 선호야. 오빠 can be used by female to call a male friend who’s older, often the name is added before 오빠. e.g. 지환 오빠, 선호 오빠. ^^

    2. If they’re older than you ,you can call them ‘eonnie’ Or if they are younger than you , you can call them by their name Or by calling them ‘donsaeng’

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