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

Last Updated on October 6, 2021 by 90 Day Korean
Three people using their smartphones. Used for the main title image for the article explaining the meaning of oppa hyung noona and unnie

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!

Oppa Noona Hyung Unnie

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!

The meaning of oppa (오빠), hyung (형), noona (누나), and unnie (언니)

The Korean 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 older 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 oppa (오빠) mean?

What does Unnie (언니) mean?

= older sister (females speaking to older females)

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

What does Hyung (형) mean?

=  older brother (males speaking to older males)

If you are a man in the company of older males,  you should refer to them as Hyung (형). The title Hyung (형) may also be written as “hyeong.” 

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

What does the Korean word 형 (hyung) mean?

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 older 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.”   

What does 누나 (noona) mean?

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.

Get The Meaning of Oppa, Hyung, Noona, Unnie Free PDF

Korean words for friends and acquaintances

The Korean language is tightly connected with Korean culture and vice versa. Let’s cover a few everyday situations and which words to use.

What does chingu (친구) mean?

As we have learned above, Oppa is used to address an older male friend if you’re a female, unnie for an older sister or older female friend if you’re a female, Hyung for an older brother or older male friend if you’re a male, and 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).

When to use Noona, Hyung, Oppa and Unnie

What does dongsaeng (동생) mean?

What if you are the older one? Then the other person is your 동생 (dongsaeng)! This term means both little 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). 

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.

Unnie

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. 

The more you integrate into Korean culture, the more of these terms you’ll learn, and the more you’ll enjoy your time with Koreans!

    420 replies to "Oppa, Hyung, Noona, Unnie, Sunbae, and Hubae – Learn Essential Korean Words"

    • Avatar for mike mike

      Oh, wait, about my “What should i call an older man who doesn’t know me” question i made earlier, does it change if this older man is a celebrity?

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        It doesn’t change. Since you would know the person’t name, you could call them with [name]+형님/형.

    • Avatar for mike mike

      Is there a way to refer to an older man who doesn’t know you? (Because i think calling him ‘Hyung’/‘형’ would be kind of weird since we don’t know each other, and as far as i know, you can only use these words with acquaintances).

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        You can use 형님 instead, which is honorific for 형.

    • Avatar for aliya aliya

      Oppa is the only thing that I wanted to understand cause I thought you can call that only your biology brother.
      or older person than me. well I try to understand you can comment back if you think that I didn’t understand its fine so that I can understand that word cause I need practice that word before I use it to call someone that. well feel free to explain again. sorry for bothering you. thank into this wonderful blog about describe the meaning.. thanks

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        오빠 can be used for older brother and also older male friend. ^^

    • Avatar for Ren Ren

      Then when do u use ssi in a person?

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        You may use it when calling your colleagues at work or to someone you meet for the first time.

    • Avatar for Glenda Lee Glenda Lee

      I was trying to learn the Korean difference between ‘little’ and ‘younger’ sister. At first I thought that I had the wrong term.Then I realized that ‘yeo’ had been added to dongsaeng. Thus little sister is changed to younger sister. Please, if I misunderstood, then enlighten me. I am having fun learning something so very different from my own language. I want to get it right.

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        동생 means younger sibling. 여 means female, so 여동생 means younger sister. 남동생 means younger brother.

      • Avatar for aliya aliya

        well same here

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