Korean Letters: The Hangul Alphabet and Syllable Block System

korean lettersUnlike some other Asian languages like Chinese, with its many thousands of characters, the official alphabet for both South and North Korea – called Hangul – contains only 24 Korean letters. Because of the nature of the Korean alphabet system, these letters are super easy to read! In this guide, we’ll go over each and every Korean letter of the Hangul alphabet, let you know how to pronounce each one, and talk a bit about the way the syllable block system works. For a much more thorough approach to Korean letters, don’t forget to check out this course on the Korean writing system.

Korean Letters: Overview

As stated before, the Hangul alphabet contains just 24 letters and 27 digraphs. The actual letters are broken down into 14 consonants and 10 vowels, and written horizontally from left to right.

What makes Korean letters some of the simplest of the Asian languages for newcomers to the language to read, especially folks whose first language is English, is that they compose what is called a featural alphabet. Unlike a logographic alphabet, where each character represents a concept and has no visible indication of its pronunciation, letters in a featural alphabet are shaped with their phonology in mind. If you can understand the system, you can read the letters.

We’ll talk more about this system below. First, let’s get to the alphabet.

Korean Letters: Hangul Alphabet

There are several variants of some of the Korean alphabet’s 24 basic letters, such as doubled consonants called “tenses,” separate consonants stuck together, and diphthongs made up of the ten basic vowel characters. See the list below for a breakdown. For more lessons, check out this introductory Korean language course.

14 Consonants

Hangul – Sound – Name

ㄱ – g – giyeok (기역)
ㄴ – n – nieun (니은)
ㄷ – d – digeut (디귿)
ㄹ – l/r – rieul (리을)
ㅁ – m – mieum (미음)
ㅂ – b – bieup (비읍)
ㅅ – s – siot (시옷)
ㅇ – silent (at start of word) or ng – ieung (이응)
ㅈ – j – jieut (지읒)
ㅊ – ch – chieut (치읓)
ㅋ – k – kieuk (키읔)
ㅌ – t – tieut (티읕)
ㅍ – p – pieup (피읖)
ㅎ – h – hieut (히읗)

5 Tense Consonants

ㄲ – kk – ssanggiyeok (쌍기역)
ㄸ – tt – ssangdigeut (쌍디귿)
ㅃ – pp – ssangbieup (쌍비읍)
ㅆ – ss – ssangsiot (쌍시옷)
ㅉ – jj – ssangjieut (쌍지읒)

6 Vowels

The names of vowels are no different than the name of the letter itself. What changes is the way it’s written out, with the silent initial ㅇ ieung in front. Learning a foreign language doesn’t have to be hard. If you’re struggling with the minor details like this, check out this course on how to efficiently learn a new language.

ㅏ – a – a (아)
ㅓ – eo – eo (어)
ㅗ – o – o (오)
ㅜ – u – u (우)
ㅡ – eu – eu (으)
ㅣ – i – i (이)

4 Iotized Vowels Containing y

ㅑ – ya – ya (야)
ㅕ – yeo – yeo (여)
ㅛ – yo – yo (요)
ㅠ – yu – yu (유)

5 Iotized Diphthongs

ㅐ – ae – ae (애)
ㅒ – yae – yae (얘)
ㅔ – e – e (에)
ㅖ – ye – ye (예)
ㅢ – ui – ui (의)

6 Vowels and Diphthongs Containing w

ㅘ – wa – wa (와)
ㅙ – wae – wae (왜)
ㅚ – oe – oe (외)
ㅝ – wo – wo (워)
ㅞ – we – we (웨)
ㅟ – wi – wi (위)

Korean Alphabet Order

ㄱ ㄲ ㄴ ㄷ ㄸ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅃ ㅅ ㅆ ㅇ ㅈ ㅉ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ

ㅎㅏ ㅐ ㅑ ㅒ ㅓ ㅔ ㅕ ㅖ ㅗ ㅘ ㅙ ㅚ ㅛ ㅜ ㅝ ㅞ ㅟ ㅠ ㅡ ㅢ ㅣ

Check out this guide to Korean phrases for more Korean language tips.

Korean Letters: Syllable Blocks

This phonological system is one composed of syllable blocks. If we weren’t aware of the many buildings blocks of the Korean language, we might see the symbol 한  and think that it was its own character. Actually, if you use the alphabetical list above as reference, you’ll find that it’s composed of three separate characters: ㅎ andㅏ and ㄴ, or h and a and n respectively. Together, they are put into a single syllable block and pronounced accordingly.

One syllable block in Korean contains at least one vowel and at least one consonant. Some Korean scholars have suggested a new system, where Korean writers write out each letter individually, as in a language like English or the Japanese hiragana, but this hasn’t gained much popularity, if at all. For a language with 63 million speakers across a host of Asian and Eastern European countries, the syllable block system seems here to stay. For more information on this interesting language, check out this guide to useful Korean vocabulary and phrases, or learn some cool facts about Korean traditions here.

If you’re committed to learning the Korean language full time, you might also benefit from this course on improving your memory when it comes to foreign language vocabulary.