February 3, 2020

In this post about Korean alphabet, I will be introducing the final consonant and how it is added to a syllable.  Up to now, we’ve only been looking at syllables that end in a vowel. The final consonant is the last thing added to the syllable block.

But before we continue, let’s first review what we have learned so far.

Let’s do a quick review

You should now be familiar with all the characters in the Korean alphabet, Hangul:

Korean Consonants (14 + 5)

Basic Consonants:  ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅅ  ㅇ ㅈ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ    

Double Consonants:   ㄲ ㄸ ㅃ ㅆ ㅉ 

Korean Vowels (10 + 11)

Basic Vowels: ㅏ   ㅑ ㅓ ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ   ㅜ ㅠ ㅡ ㅣ 

Complex Vowels:   ㅐ ㅔ ㅒ ㅖ

Compound Vowels:    ㅘ ㅚ ㅙ ㅝ ㅞ ㅟ   ㅢ

Reminder About Korean Vowels

  • All vowels start with a vertical or a horizontal line and then more line(s) added to it.
  • When there are two shorter lines attached to the longer line (ㅑ ㅕ ㅛ ㅠ ㅒ ㅖ), the vowels will begin with a “y” sound like the words “yes” or “yak.”
  • All compound vowels (ㅘ ㅚ ㅙ ㅝ ㅞ ㅟ) begin with a “w” sound like the words “we” or “way.”
  • One exception is the last compound vowel “ㅢ,” pronounced [eui]. There are no English words with this sound that I know of.

Reminder About Korean Consonants

The consonants can be grouped into three different types of sounds:  plain, aspirated, and tense.  In the table below,  I will use the vowel ㅏ [ah] with all the consonants so you can read them out loud.

Notice that ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ have both aspirated and tense counterparts; ㅅ has the tense counterpart ㅆ; and ㅇ has the aspirated counterpart ㅎ.

Plain

Aspirated

Tense 

You will need to train your ears to hear the sound differences when listening, as well as pay close attention to the pronunciation differences when speaking.

가 [gah]  - Tongue and throat relaxed (like the sound “ga” in Ghandi)

카 [ka]  - Throat opens and expels air (like the sound “ca” in car)

까 [kka] - Throat closed and back of the tongue tense (like the sound “k” in sky or scar)

Repeat these three sounds over and over, paying attention to what your mouth is doing when you say them and what the differences are.  Then apply the same concept to the rest of the consonants in the table.

I apologize if my explanations about pronunciation seem frivolous and repetitive. My goal is not to make you sound like a native, because that is very difficult to do when you learn a second language beyond infancy.  But you still need to learn to distinguish between all the different sounds in Hangul in order to understand and to be understood when communicating.

For example, the word 사다 means “to buy,” whereas the word 싸다 means “to be cheap.”  Can you see where someone could be completely misunderstood when the listener cannot hear the word clearly?  You can expect similar emphasis on pronunciation in all of my future posts as well. Stick with me, and your pronunciation skills will be the envy of all of your Korean-learning friends! 

In my experience, English speakers don’t seem to have as much trouble with the aspirated sounds; but they often have difficulty differentiating between plain and tense consonants. Just remember, practice makes perfect!

Let’s now talk about the final consonant.  Finally!!

Final Consonants in Korean

Remember the three syllable blocks that we learned in the last post?  They represent all the syllables that end with a vowel:

Syllable Blocks:  Consonant + Vowel

Syllable Blocks:  Consonant + Vowel + Final Consonant 

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, when a Korean syllable ends with a consonant, the consonant gets added to that syllable block at the bottom.  The final consonant in a syllable is called 받침 [baht-chim], which literally means “support from underneath.”  

Let’s look at the English word “pencil” phonetically written in Korean.  Written in Hangul, the word “pencil” will look like this: 펜슬.  

Both syllables end with a consonant.  The “n” (ㄴ) will be added at the bottom of the first syllable, and the “l” (ㄹ) will be added at the bottom of the second syllable.  Here we have the next two syllable blocks:

I chose this word as an example because these two syllables are great examples of the next two types of syllable blocks:

Next syllable block represents syllables that have consonant + compound vowel + consonant pattern.  An example is the word 원 [won], which is the South Korean currency.

Syllable Blocks:  Consonant + Vowel + 2 Final Consonants

The last three syllable blocks represent the syllables that end with two consonants, which include the double consonants that we have learned.  Some of the words that have syllables ending with two consonants are:  

밖 [bahk] - means “outside.”

있어요 [it-suh-yo] -- means “does exist” or “have.”

없어요 [up-suh-yo] -- means “does not exist” or “have not.”

괜찮아요 [guen-cha-nah-yo] - means “it’s okay” or “I’m okay.”

흙 [heuk] - means “dirt” or “soil.”

The last syllable block does not have an example, because I could not find any words that fit this type.  I included it just as a reference, because you will probably see it in other Korean language teaching materials and/or websites.  Following the logical pattern, it is conceptually possible to be written; but you likely will not encounter such words. So mostly, you will work with only remaining 8 types of blocks.

Hangul Wrap-up

You now have all the information you need to write any word in Korean, as well as phonetically sound out any single syllable block.  You do have to apply some additional pronunciation rules when you read words with two or more syllables or when you are reading a sentence, but we will cover that as we go.

Writing

One thing that I need to mention when writing Hangul is that all strokes should be written from left to right and from top to bottom.  

If you want to practice writing Hangul as well as learn the proper sounds, there is a great app you can download to your mobile device.  It is made by the Language Education Institute at Seoul National University. The app guides you through the proper stroke order and pronunciation and includes tests for you to see your progress.  

Go ahead!  Give it a try!

SNU LEI App for Android

SNU LEI App for Apple iOS

Typing

If you haven’t done it already, you should think about installing the Korean Hangul keyboard on your computer and your mobile devices.  

Keep in mind that on a Korean keyboard:

  • The consonants are on the left half of the keyboard.
  • The vowels are on the right half of the keyboard.
  • The shift key will give you the five double consonants and two vowels ㅒ and ㅖ.
  • You can get the compound vowels by consecutively typing the two vowels that make up the particular compound vowel you want. 

Once you have mastered the keyboard, you will be able to use more study references online, such as the Naver Korean Dictionary that I have referenced before and to which I will be regularly referring for word pronunciation.

Word Practice

Now that we are able to read and write more words, let’s add some words to our vocabulary:

In the last post, we learned some words in the categories of people, body parts, and food.  Now that we have learned how to add final consonants, we can make the lists more comprehensive (some words are repeated).  But I will not overwhelm you with too many. We will learn more in future posts.

Immediate Family

Word

Romanization

Definition

엄마

um-ma

Mom

아빠

ap-ba

Dad

오빠

oep-ba

Older brother (to a female)

언니

un-nee

Older sister (to a female)

누나

nooh-nah

Older sister (to a male)

동생

dong-seng

Younger sibling

남동생

nahm-dong-seng

Younger brother

여동생

yuh-dong-seng

Younger sister

Mini Quiz:  Notice that 동생 is younger sibling, 남동생 is younger brother, and 여동생 is younger sister.  What do you think the words for male and female are? Any guesses?  

Yes!  You’re correct!  남 is male and 여 is female (adjectives).  The words for “man” and “women” are 남자 (male person) and 여자 (female person).

Body Parts

Word

Romanization

Definition

머리

muh-ree 

(sounds like American pronunciation of “muddy”)

Head

얼굴

oel-gul
(this is near impossible to romanize. Please listen to the proper pronunciation HERE by clicking on the speaker icon.)

Face

noon

eye(s)

koe

nose

eep

mouth (sometimes lips)

입술

eep-sool

lips

gwee

ear(s)

Fun Homework!

You might be familiar with the popular song “눈, 코, 입" (Eyes, Nose, Lips) by Taeyang (태양) from the K-pop group Big Bang.  Listen to it and see if you can pick out those three words in the song.

I think that’s enough vocabulary to keep you busy until the next post.  Happy practicing! Be sure to also practice reading and writing the entire Hangul by putting the consonants and vowels together in different combinations.

What’s Next?

I am excited to announce that we are now ready to advance into learning some grammar and  additional vocabulary! In my next post, I will be introducing you to some simple sentences.

Leave a comment below to let me know what you think about the SNU LEI app.  And as always, please don’t be shy to ask questions or give suggestions on this or any other posts I have written!

About the author 

Linda McKenna

Linda was born in Seoul, South Korea, and moved to the U.S. as a teen. She previously taught at a Korean language school. She is a language enthusiast and loves learning about different languages and cultures

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