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How to Read and Write Korean?

Updated on March 26, 2013

The basic writing system of Korean alphabet is called 한글 (Hangeul). It has basically 19 consonants (including five double consonants which are formed from the basic consonants - ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, ㅅ, and ㅈ), 8 vowels and 13 diphthongs (which are also called the complex vowels).

Korean Consonants

Every Korean syllable has to start with a consonant.

To combine these characters, all you have to do is to try fitting them into an imaginary square box. Each imaginary square box must have one consonant and one vowel.

For example:

바 (ba) + 나 (na) + 나 (na) = 바나나 (banana)

Korean Vowels

Never start a syllable with a vowel.

If you don’t need a consonant to be at the first of your syllable, just put the silent placeholder (ㅇ) before the vowel. To remember this, just think of the ㅇ as zero.

For example:

이(i) + 거(geo) = 이거 (i-geo) – it

우 (u) + 리 (ri) = 우리 (u-ri) – we

Note: If the placeholder (ㅇ) occurs in the final position, it is sounded like ‘ng’.

For instance,

파 (pa) + 이 (i) + 팅(ting) = 파이팅! (Pa-i-ting) – Fighting! {It’s a Korean saying to cheer someone.}

Korean Diphthongs

However, there are times (actually, most of the time) that you need to put another letter in the imaginary square box. In most cases, you write the first consonant and the vowel next to each other and then place the final consonant on the bottom or below the two (the first two letters).

언(eon) + 니 (ni) = 언니 (eon-ni) – older sister {if you’re a girl}


We have 2 types of vowels or diphthongs: the vertical vowels or diphthongs and the horizontal vowels or diphthongs .

  • Vertical Vowels or Diphthongs (ㅑ, ㅏ, ㅕ, ㅓ, ㅣ, ㅐ, ㅔ, ㅒ, or ㅖ)

A syllable that has a consonant and a "vertical vowels or diphthongs” is written with the consonant first on the left and the vowel on the right

ㄴ(n) + ㅏ(a) = 나 (na)

  • Horizontal Vowels or Diphthongs (ㅛ, ㅗ, ㅡ, ㅜ, or ㅠ)

A syllable that has a consonant and a "horizontal vowels or diphthongs" is written with the consonant on top and the vowel below it:

ㅁ (m) + ㅗ (o) = 모 (mo)

Note: For the diphthongs (ㅘ, ㅝ, ㅚ, ㅟ, ㅢ, ㅙ, or ㅞ), the first consonant is always on the top-left area with the diphthong surrounding it on the bottom and right sides.

ㄱ(g) +ᅪ (wa) = 과 (gwa)

ㄱ(g) + ᅯ (wo) = 궈 (gwo)

  • Batchim (받침)

If a syllable has a consonant, vowel, and consonant, the final consonant, (called batchim which means ‘supporting floor’ in Korean) is written below -- or floor -- of that syllable.

ㅁ (m) + ㅏ(a) + ㄴ(n) = 만 (man)

*It is possible (though not most of the time) that the final syllable position will be composed of two different consonants. We call them double 받침 (batchim).


If a consonant in the final syllable position is followed by a vowel, the consonant sound shifts over to the syllable with the vowel.

맞아 (maj-a) =>마자 ma-ja) means 'correct'

금요일 (geum-yo-il) => 그묘일 (geu-myo-il) means 'Friday'

*The first ones are the correct spellings of the words and the second ones are just how you pronounce them.

Well, I guess that's all for now. ~~

I hope that you learned something from this. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. ^_^


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    • Cyjh profile image

      Cyjh 4 years ago from Manila

      Same here! ^_^

      It was hard for me, too. It’s just that I love watching Korean dramas almost every day so I learned a lot of words and even phrases and expressions. Also, I have a lot of Korean friends who can correct my sentences and help me out when I’m confused with some words. Well, I’m still studying up to now and still trying to memorize few words a day.

      Thanks for the comment anyway! ~~^^

    • Sunday Best profile image

      Sunday Best 4 years ago from Oxford, England

      Great hub. I tried learning Korean when I worked in Seoul. Reading the Korean writing was actually pretty easy. The writing system is fairly logical and straightforward. Understanding what I was reading wasn't always so easy though. I found learning vocabulary difficult because the words don't sound like the words in English.