Kinship Terms

Unlike English nouns denoting kinship or family relations which is pretty straightforward, Korean’s way of addressing family members or relatives differ and to some degree may be difficult to those who are not familiar with the Korean culture.

Kinship terms generally can be classified into two, a set of term which differ according to the gender of the person related and the other set which is non-gender specific meaning common for both male and female. In red are the honorific kinship.

Gender specific terms

A Male’s

A Female’s

English

장인, 장인어룬(changing , changineoreun) 시아버지, 시아버님(shiabeoji, siabeonim) father in law
장모 , 장모님(changmo, changmonim) 시아머니, 시아머님(shiameonim, shiameonim) mother in law
아내, 부인(anae, buin) 남편(nampyon) spouse
형제(hyeongje) 오빠들과 남동생들(oppadeulgwa namdongsaengdeul) brothers
형, 형님(hyeong, hyeongnim) 오빠(oppa) older brother
누나, 누님(nuna, nunim) 언니(eonni) older sister

Common terms which can be used by both male and female related

  • 조부모, 조부모님 (chobumo, chobumonim) – grandparents
  • 할아버지, 할아버님 (harabeoji, harabeonim) – grandfather
  • 할머니, 할머님 (halmeoni, halmeonim) – grandmother
  • 부모, 부모님 (bumo, bumonim) – parents
  • 아버지, 아버님 (aboeji, aboenim) – father
  • 어머니, 어머님 (eomeoni, eomeonim) – mother
  • 아이, (ai, ae) – children
  • 아들, 아드님 (adeul, adeunim) – son
  • 딸, 따님 (ddal, ddanim) – daughter
  • 손주, 손주아이 (sonju, sonjuai) – grandchildren
  • 손자  (sonja) – grandson
  • 손녀(-딸) (sonnyeo-ddal) -grandaughter
  • 사위 (saui) – son in law
  • 며느리 (myeoneuri) –  daughter in law
  • 사촌 (sachon) – cousin
  • 아저씨 (ajeosshi) – uncle
  • 아주머니 (ajumeoni) – auntie
  • 조카 (joka) – nephew
  • 조카 딸 (joka ddal) – niece
  • 동생 (dongsaeng) – younger siblings

You may also hear 아빠 (appa) and  엄마 (eomma) when kids call their father and mother respectively.  This is considered as term of endearment.  Koreans are likewise used to calling married man and women with 아저씨 and 아주머니.  This is a respectful way of addressing older people.

오빠 is likewise used by girls to call a guy who is close but older than her; same goes with guys who calls girls who are close but older than him as 누나.  Boyfriend and girlfriend are likewise called this way.   The use of these terms denote respect. So don’t be confused when wathcing movies and dramas, if you hear the stars call their lovers on screen as 오빠 or 누나, this is not incest (to think Koreans are very conservative) but part of their culture.

93 thoughts on “Kinship Terms

  1. :0 You just made a mistake! For last paragraph…
    You meant to say “same goes with guys who calls girls who are close but older than him as 누나” :]

  2. do u know the story behind it or why it is part of k-culture to use 오빠 by gf ??
    but usage of 누나 is not good in that sense ??

    • 오빠 is how a girl calls an older brother. This is actually a kinship term which is also commonly used even for guys who are not blood related but is closed to the girls (that includes boyfriends).

    • i missed answering your question 니가 is you as subject while 내가 is I as subject it can be used as ‘i am’ or ‘my’ to some extent.

  3. “아주머니 (ajumeoni) – auntie”

    hmmm, this is a general term of respect that is acceptable on the street or in a restaurant/store. But for actual blood relatives, the terms are:

    이모 your mother’s sister (or your mother’s brother’s wife)

    고모 your father’s sister (or your father’s brother’s wife)

    thanks ~~ i learn so much from your site!

    • Actually no,
      your mother’s brother’s wife is 외삼촌 and your father’s brother’s wife is either 큰어머니 (father’s older brother’s wife) or 작은어머니 (father’s younger’s brother’s wife).

      • Damn it, I need to proof read before posting: your mother’s brother is 외삼촌 and your mother’s brother’s wife is 외숙모.

  4. “아저씨 (ajeosshi) – uncle”

    again… i wouldn’t recommend saying this to a blood relative.

    삼촌 (samchon) is the most common name for uncle as blood relative, as opposed to ajeoshhi, a general term of respect for men of a certain age. However, there are _many_ terms for uncle depending on the relationship of one’s father to that person. And you can’t say “samchon” to mean your mother’s sister’s husband (as we do in English). Instead it’s “imo bu.” (auntie’s spouse) Here’s a great list of (I suspect only some of) the possibilities!

    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070403081714AAoBmIL

    • What might I call my father’s uncle’s daughter? My great aunt and uncle adopted their four daughters and one son, all of them being younger than myself. So it’s kind of hard to explain who is living with my parents right now.

      • honestly i am confused with the relationship..anyway auntie in Korean is imo.

    • Oh, does it matter that my father’s uncle is my father’s mother’s brother, when talking about his daughter/my father’s cousin?

      • Looks like my first post was thrown out. My question was, “What should I call my father’s uncle’s daughter?”

      • i think this is complicated LOL, so the daughter is actually you auntie in 2nd or 3rd degree perhaps. well i think it doesnt matter you can call her 이모 (imo) which means aunt.

  5. do you know any other terms for husband/hubby? ’cause I watched God of Study and Na Hyun Jung (Jiyeon) was calling Hwang Baek Hyun (Yoo Seungho) another term for hubby. Thanks!

    • i think 여보 (yeobo) is a term of endearment used by wife to address their husband. you may also hear some call their loved ones 자기야 (chagiya) this is commonly used between boyfriend-girlfriend.

      • ㅈ takes j and sometimes ch sound. it has little difference on in pronunciation i think.

      • yeahh, i’m also looking for that term..
        couldnt quite catch it but it sounds like solbang (솔방)? or is it written as ssobang? seobang? someone please enlighten me!

    • i think i have post on writing dates the year comes first then the month and the day. this is how its suppose to be written in Korean:
      1993년5월30일.

    • thanks for dropping by…younger girl or boy are called by their names no special titles. If you are referring to kinship terms it should be dongsaeng (younger brother or sister)

    • a boy uses nuna to call older sister or girls and hyung for older brother
      a girl uses unnie to call older sister or girls and oppa for older brother
      these terms are used as respect to someone older regardless if you are just friends or cousin with the person.

  6. ahh this is so helpful thanks so much 😀
    do you know what is younger brother and younger sister for when a male speak and a female speak please thanks 😛

    • younger brother or sister is called dongsaeng in korean they don’t have specific titles and are called by their names.

      • What about…

        남동생 (namdongsaeng) – younger brother
        여동생 (yeodongsaeng) – younger sister
        누이동생 (nueedongsaeng) – younger sister
        자매 (jamae) – sibling/sister
        자식 (jashik?) – sibling

        Do these terms have specific uses???

      • i think these are nouns which may not necessarily be used to address a person.
        저는 한 님동생을 있어요 (choneun han namdongsaengeul isseoyo) would mean I have a younger brother or I have one brother (who is younger than me).
        but when you want to say he is my younger brother you would say
        그 사람이 나의 남동생이에요 (ku sarami naui namdongsaeng.ieyo)

    • an older sister to a girl is called 언니 (eonni or usually romanized as unnie)
      an older sister to a boy is called 누나 (nuna or noona)

  7. Annyeong! from Phils here. I am still confused of what’s the meaning of “shi” after the korean name.. I can hear it most of the time. for example, Yumi Shin shi, Chang Moon Rin shi.. like that..
    And by the way, can you please help me if there’s any link i can download to so that i can see hangul writings and so as to write hangul in my PC. I don’t know what to do with my pc. I will greatly appreciate your help. thanks!

    • 씨(sshi) is just like ms or mr when added to names, you used this for esteemed persons or friends. i am not sure what you mean by see hangul writings but it’s just a setting in windows that will allow you to display asian fonts. being able to write is another thing you have to enable it on your OS i have specifically made a post on how to write hangul in PC.

  8. I’ve heard koreans on TV call older women they’re not close to as 어머님 which also means mother. Does eomeonim have 2 meanings?

    • it’s an honorific way of addressing one’s mother. 님 makes it honorific. it doesn’t have two meanings it’s just that Koreans i guess uses these terms even if they are not related to show respect. just like how 오빠 (oppa) is used by girls to call their older guys and boyfriends even if they are not really related by blood.

  9. This website is of great help. Please keep doing what you are doing. It’s really helpful. Thank you so much. Can’t wait to read what you will learn next. Keep it up.

  10. This information is really helpful… For me that taking Internatinal Business and we have chosen the Korea country for ours subject.Thank a lots.

  11. Great site!
    Can you tell me how I should address my brother-in-law’s parents? They do not like “Mr. Park” “Mrs. Park” too much… Can I call them
    # 아버지, 아버님 (aboeji, aboenim) – father
    # 어머니, 어머님 (eomeoni, eomeonim) – mother
    If so, which one? Aboeji or aboejim? Eomeoni or eomeonim?
    If not, what other forms would be good?

    • you can just add -ssi attach to his name.

      Example:

      Michael + ssi = Michael-ssi

      just like that. it’s when calling the person only.

      “nim” is only use to address the person with a feel of respect or to honor a person just like in “seonsaeng” (teacher). We add “nim” so it’ll be “seonsaengnim” to give emphasis to his rank/position.

    • If your brother in law is your husband or wife’s brother, you can call his parent 아버님(husband’s father), 어머님(husband’s mother) or 장인어른(wife’s father), 장모님(wife’s mother)

      If you mean your brother-in-law’s parents-in-law, you call them 사돈어른(sibling’s spouse’s parent).

      Actually It’s not good way to call elder people by -씨(ssi) if they are closely related to you. You should ask other namings(?). 씨 is similar to Mr/Mrs, however it’s usually used to call a person who is in the same age as you or younger than you.

  12. completely awesome blog, well organized and all discussions are so useful. i’m attending hangul lessons too, and doing my revision. this makes learning korean better! 🙂

    thank you!

  13. Hi, Can anyone tell me how I should call my girlfriend in a sweet way but in korean language, I just “Jagiya” any words beside that? She’s 1 year older than me by the way.. =)

    • depends who your honey is
      여보 ( yobo – husband)
      자기야 (chagiya – term of endearment for gf/bf)
      you can say 자기야 너무 보고 싶어요. (Chagiya nomu bogoshipoyo – Honey I miss you so much) or 자기야 사랑해요 (Chagiya saranghaeyo – i love you honey)

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  15. Hi I had a question:

    What would a younger girl call an older guy who she does not know that well? I am writing a letter to my favorite boyband in Korea, and they are all older than me….would I use oppa when I write their names?

  16. to specify your real brother to your boyfriend (called oppa too), you can say it as

    jin + oppa = jin oppa

    “jin” there is the word “jinjja” which means “real”.

  17. In market, they usually call the vendors “ahjussi” or “ahjumma” or “ahgassi”. It is both use to call a person. But can also just say “jeogiyo” or “yeogiyo” to call someone’s attention. It is there expression of “excuse me~!” when calling the waiter/someone in English. That’s the usually expressions in Korea. You can hear this usually in Korean Restaurants (Hanguk shiktang).

  18. ssi and sshi is actuali the same thing? we can use sshi to replace both mr n mrs regardless of its gender? that does mean sshi n ‘nim’ means the same?

    • 씨 is romanized as sshi. 님 is different it’s usually attached to a title to make it honorific such as 선생님 seonsaengnim.

  19. I have come to notice that some of the terms are really very similar to what we say in chinese. and also I always hear the girls in korean calling their father (ahpa) but never hear them say (aboeji). Seems like japanese and korean both have some chinese elements in them.

    • i think if you study Korean and Hangul, Chinese has a great influence with their language. I believe there are a lot of words that were lifted from Chines.

  20. 우리는 ‘씨’라는 단어를 잘 사용하지 않아요.
    we don’t use ‘씨’ word,
    ‘님’이라는 단어를 주로 사용합니다.
    in place of we have been using ‘님’.

  21. Hello! This is so nice blog 🙂
    I’m happy that there are people like you who love Korean and the true vale of it.
    Oh, yes I’m a korean girl(?) studying English.
    Thank you for your precious interest(?) in Korean, especially in 한글. Keep going~ ^___^

    p.s. there’s some words that are miss-spelled.
    장인어룬 should be written as 장인어’른’ not ‘룬’.
    시아머니/아머님 should be 시’어’머니/’어’머님, not ‘아’, which means 어머니 in 시집(a husband’s home)! 시집(의) 어머니 = 시어머니 ^^

    • Hi sun bee! Thanks for the nice comments. I posted those things when I was on my early days of learning Korean I really had a lot of mistakes in spelling. Well until now. God knows how I wanted to learn Korean. If I could turn back time I probably have majored in Asian language and specialized in Korean. I will take time to update the post. 감사합니다!

    • hi Sunbee, here me out please.
      You are so kind when you wish us well to learn some Korean(we who are so interested) Indeed i am so interested but i am just very new to this site, hopefully not late! Actually i have always been looking around for such a site but with failure until today! I feel though that i am a little late because people seem to be very far off with the ‘seemingly offered lessons’ here but i will work hard for this i desire. Do you know of any other site so i can receive some more understanding of Korean?
      This is because i’m so green about the language save for the few adopted words from watching K-dramas/movies. I am also trying hard to have a Korean friend that might desire to be helpful but still in vain. I am very interested in Korea especially the culture and language so i can’t help but learn some Korean.
      Greetings from Uganda.

  22. What do I call my son’s Korean girlfriend? I have only recently met her but we hit it off right away. They are both in their early 30s.

  23. Ah, this is really useful. If there a cute way for parents to call their child? Like what kind of usage do 딸 and 따님 have? Like how would my dad call me if he was going to refer to me like how I call him 아빠?

    • 딸 (ttal) means daughter, 따님 (ttalnim) is honorific. Parents call their son uri adeul and daughter uri ttal. uri means our literally but it means my in Korean. Some parents would still child agi (아기) or (아이) a-ee which means baby or child.

  24. Pingback: How do I learn Korean (한극어)? | wantinglou

  25. Hi 🙂 I’m writing a book where the main character is an 18-year-old Korean living in the U.S. with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend. Her sister’s boyfriend is 12 years older than the main character, so what would she call him?

    I have actually asked multiple Koreans and got answers ranging from oppa to samchon to using his name. I used to teach English in Seoul so I understand how complex the system of honorifics is. I just want my book to feel as accurate as possible. Thanks!

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