“Sister” in Korean – Ways to address a female sibling

Recently, we went over how to say “brother” in Korean. Thus, it is only right that now we focus on how to say “sister” in Korean!

Two women celebrating

If you’ve already learned Korean family terms before, you’d know how to address your family members, including any female sibling. Based on that article, you also know that the Korean language is quite specific on which words to use in which situations.

So, let’s learn the ways to say “sister” and the related words!

How to say “sister” in Korean

The way the word “sister” works in Korean is very similar to the word “brother.” As in, there is a different word to use in some cases, depending on if you are a female or a male.

If you are female, the Korean word for sister is 언니 (eonni). If you are male, the word for sister is 누나 (nuna).

However, the word for sister, which is 여동생 (yeodongsaeng), can be used by any gender. Below, we will go into more detail about when this is possible.

“Younger sister” in Korean

The word for younger sister is 여동생 (yeodongsaeng). You can use this word regardless of your own gender. The word 동생 (dongsaeng) stands for younger sibling, while 여 (yeo) designates it as female. Do take notice that you can often simply say 동생 (dongsaeng) when referring to younger siblings, omitting 여 (yeo) (or 남 (nam) if it’s a younger brother).

Sample sentence:

여동생은 대학교에서 무엇을 공부하니? (yeodongsaengeun daehakgyoeseo mueoseul gongbuhani?)

What does your little sister study in university?

“Older sister” in Korean

For “older sister,” the words to use are 언니 (eonni) and 누나 (nuna). Because an added layer of respect is involved, the word to use changes depending on the speaker’s gender. Thus, females call sisters by 언니 (eonni), and males call sisters by 누나 (nuna).

It is also incredibly common to refer to female friends older than you as 언니 (eonni) or 누나 (nuna) since 친구 (chingu) is only used when referring to friends of the same age. Sometimes, boys and men will also call the women they like or are dating by 누나 (nuna). However, that is more common among teenagers and young adults.

Another word for older sister is 누이 (nui), but this is an old term that you may hear in historical drama more often than in modern Korean.

Sample sentence:

언니는 브라질에서 일을 해요. (eonnineun beurajireseo ireul haeyo.)

My sister works in Brazil.

“Sister-in-law in Korean”

For saying sister-in-law in Korean correctly, multiple factors matter. It’s much like how you would refer to your brother-in-law, as shown in another article of ours.

Husband’s older sister: 형님 (hyeongnim) or 언니 (eonni)

Husband’s younger sister: 아가씨 (agassi)

Husband’s younger brother’s wife: 동서 (dongseo)

Wife’s older sister: 처형 (cheohyeong)

Wife’s younger sister: 처제 (cheoje)

Younger brother’s wife (for men): 제수 (jesu)

Younger brother’s wife (for women): 올케 (olke)

Older brother’s wife (for men): 형수님 (hyeongsunim)

Older brother’s wife (for women): 새언니 (saeeonni)

Sample sentence:

안녕하세요, 동서! 오늘 뭘 먹고 싶으세요? (annyeonghaseyo, dongseo! oneul mwol meokgo sipeuseyo?)

Hello, sister-in-law! What would you like to eat today?

“Step sister” in Korean

The word for step-sister works similarly to step-brother. If they are older than you and you are female, you may use 의붓언니 (uibudeonni). If they are older than you and you are male, you may use 의붓누나 (uibutnuna). If they are younger than you, you may use 의붓동생 (uibutdongsaeng), regardless of whether you are a girl or a boy yourself.

Sample sentence:

의붓언니에 대해서 질문이 있어요. 물어봐도 될까요? (uibudeonnie daehaeseo jilmuni isseoyo. mureobwado doelkkayo?)

I have a question regarding your step-sister. Is it OK to ask?

“Half-sister” in Korean

The word for half-sister in Korean works similarly to the abovementioned words, as well as the words related to “brother.” If they are older than you and you are female, you may use 이복언니 (ibogeonni).

If they are older than you and you are male, you may use 이복누나 (iboknuna). If they are younger than you, you may use 이복동생 (ibokdongsaeng), no matter if you are a boy or a girl yourself.

Sample sentence:

저에게는 누나가 한 명, 여동생이 한 명 있습니다. 그리고 이복누나가 한 명 있습니다. (jeoegeneun nunaga han myeong, yeodongsaengi han myeong itseumnida. geurigo iboknunaga han myeong itseumnida.)

I have one older sister and one younger sister. Also, I have one older half-sister.

“Sisters” in Korean

For saying sisters in Korean, one term you can use is 여자 형제 (yeoja hyeongje). This literally means “female siblings”. However, it is not a term you will commonly hear used in spoken communication. Another word for “sisters” is 자매 (jamae).

When you want to describe a sibling relationship with your sister while you are male – and also if you are female – you may say 남매 (nammae) or 오누이 (one).

Ways to use 언니 (eonni) in Korean

Above, we already mentioned that 언니 (eonni) is used exclusively by women to refer to an older sister. This sister can be blood-related, but also a female friend who happens to be older than the speaker.

Older Female Cousin

Additionally, the word for older female cousin is 사촌언니 (sachoneonni). However, when calling one’s older female cousin, most Koreans often just use 언니 (eonni), or they will call their cousin by their name + 언니 (eonni). However, if you are speaking about your cousin to other people, then you should use 사촌언니 (sachoneonni).


Also, if the woman is your acquaintance but not a good friend, you may call them 아는 언니 (aneun eonni) in a conversation with other people. With upper classmates that are female, you will call them by their name, attached to either 언니 (eonni) or the gender-neutral 선배 (seonbae), which means senior.

Wrap Up

And now we know different ways to say “sister” in South Korea! Isn’t that great? Let us know below in the comments if you’ve got any sisters or brothers – in Korean, of course! Next up, maybe you would like to know more about some related words, such as sunbae and hubae?

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