In this article, we will explain the meaning of Oppa (오빠), Hyung (형), Noona (누나), and Unnie (언니). As a bonus, we’ll also be talking about two other words that you’ll hear quite a lot: Sunbae (선배) and Hubae (후배).
The direct translations are:
- Meaning of Oppa (오빠) = older brother
- Meaning of Hyung (형) = older brother
- Meaning of Noona (누나) = older sister
- Meaning of Unnie (언니) = older sister
As for the bonus words, the direct translations are:
- Meaning of Sunbae (선배) = Sunbae means senior
- Meaning of Hubae (후배)= Hubae means Junior
However, the actual meanings are quite different than the translations in English.
We’ll explain what they mean and when to use them. Let’s go!
We’ve included a free PDF version of this lesson that you can take with you on the go. 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 you learn. It’ll help improve the speed of your Korean learning!
- 1 The meaning of oppa (오빠), hyung (형), noona (누나), and unnie (언니)
- 1.1 What does Oppa (오빠) mean?
- 1.2 What does Unnie (언니) mean?
- 1.3 What does Hyung (형) mean?
- 1.4 What does Noona (누나) mean?
- 1.5 When to use oppa (오빠), hyung (형), noona (누나), and unnie (언니)
- 1.6 Who can use oppa (오빠), hyung (형), noona (누나), and unnie (언니)?
- 1.7 Using Oppa (오빠), Hyung (형), noona (누나), and unnie (언니) at school and work.
- 2 Korean Vocabulary for friends and acquaintances
- 3 Seonbae (선배) and Hubae (후배)
- 4 Korean Culture & Age
The meaning of oppa (오빠), hyung (형), noona (누나), and unnie (언니)
The words Oppa (오빠) and Hyung (형) mean “older brother.” Meanwhile, the Korean words noona (누나) and unnie (언니) mean “older sister.”
However, the meaning of these terms expands much further than just your blood-related siblings. Here’s how to use each one.
What does Oppa (오빠) mean?
= older brother (females speaking to older males)
The Korean word Oppa (오빠) is used when you are a woman and talking with an older male (related to you or not). For example, Oppa (오빠) 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 an older brother of a female child, your little sister will also call you Oppa.
This video shows the meaning of Oppa (오빠)
What does Unnie (언니) mean?
= older sister (younger female speaking to and older female)
If you are a woman and another woman is older than you, the word to call them by is 언니 (unnie).
The most common way to write 언니 in romanized English is “unnie.” If you are following the romanization rules, then it is spelled “eonni.” You may also see 언니 (unnie) written as “oni” or “uni.”
Check out the video below to learn more about the word Unnie (언니).
What does Hyung (형) mean?
= older brother (males speaking to older males)
Korean guys in the company of older males refer to their older brothers as Hyung (형). The title Hyung (형) may also be written as “hyeong.”
This title can be used by blood relatives (like your older brother or older male cousin) or it can be used for non-relatives as well.
Check out the video below to learn more about the word Hyung (형).
What does Noona (누나) mean?
= older sister (males speaking to older females)
A younger brother or a younger man will use the Korean word. 누나 (noona) to address a female friend who is older.
For example, 누나 (Noona) 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 Noona. If you’re a woman and an older sister of a male sibling, your younger brother will also call you Noona.
You may also see 누나 spelled as “Nuna.”
When to use oppa (오빠), hyung (형), noona (누나), and unnie (언니)
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, Noona, 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, Noona, 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 (noona) and women by 언니 (unnie), regardless of the age difference.
Who can use oppa (오빠), hyung (형), noona (누나), and unnie (언니)?
There are also instances and Korean people who might be less fussy about using such terms, especially when dealing with foreigners. 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 (noona) 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.
Using Oppa (오빠), Hyung (형), noona (누나), and unnie (언니) at school and work.
In school and work environments, more so than your age, other things matter. At work, your title and status take precedence over everything else. 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 Oppa (오빠 ). In school, it’s the year when you start your studies that will determine what title people should use. These also apply to colleagues of the same status level at work.
Korean Vocabulary for friends and acquaintances
The Korean language is tightly connected with Korean culture and vice versa. Knowing the intricacies of the language helps you navigate Korean society and social life in general.
Let’s cover a few everyday situations and the appropriate words to use.
What does chingu (친구) mean?
So let’s recap: You call a Korean guy Oppa when you are a female and you are addressing an older male friend. You use unnie for a sister who is older than you or an older female friend if you’re also female. You use Hyung for a brother who is older or older male friend if you’re a male. You use noona for an older female friend if you’re a male.
But what should you do in cases where the person is the same age as you? In this case, you two can comfortably call each other friends, which is the word 친구 (chingu) in Korea. In this case, likely, you’ll refer to them by name (if you are close).
What does dongsaeng (동생) mean?
What if you are the older one? Then the other person is your 동생 (dongsaeng)! This term means both younger sister and little brother, though 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. However, usually, these gender markers are used only when talking about your actual blood-related siblings.
Seonbae (선배) and Hubae (후배)
The words Seonbae (선배) and Hubae (후배) are often used in Korean Universities and workplaces instead of Oppa (오빠), Hyung (형), Noona (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).
You might have heard the word 선배님 (sunbaenim or sometimes romanized as seonbaenim) while watching your favorite K-pop stars talking to their seniors. It’s a Korean word that’s used to refer 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 is Mr. or Sir in English. It’s a Korean title that is used usually when one is talking in formal language.
What does 후배 (hubae) mean?
If Sunbae means senior, what would you call someone who started later than you in work, school, etc.? In this case, you may call them후배 (hubae), which means “Junior.” Hubae is a Korean word that refers to people who have less experience than you. For example, your friends at university who started later than you can be referred to as 후배 (hubae), aka “junior.”
Korean Culture & Age
In Korea, it’s essential to know the age of the person that you are dealing with and refer to them accordingly. For example, you might greet someone in a different way 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. Not only that, but Koreans have their own age-calculating system where your age is calculated based on your birth year. When January 1st hits, everyone becomes one year older. Which month you were born doesn’t matter in that sense.
However, an additional piece of information regarding this that doesn’t get talked about as much is that, depending on the person, they 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 in, people born in, say January of 1993, are still considered the same age as those born in 1992 simply because Lunar New Year hadn’t passed yet by the time they were born.
Hopefully, this information can help you with your acquaintances and friends. You can use these terms along with 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 don’t meet personally, you can try learning the Korean sentence structure to help you have a smoother conversation with them.