February 9, 2020

If you are not already familiar with all of the consonants and vowels in Hangul, please first refer to my previous articles about the Korean alphabet, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3​​​​.

There are some pronunciation rules, or rather phonetic patterns, when pronouncing Korean syllables together in a word or sentence. English has its own patterns as well, but we're just so used to the language that the flow is automatic to us and we don’t even stop to think about it. 

If you have ever spoken to someone new to the English language, you would have noticed that they face similar challenges with their English pronunciation.

When beginner learners of any language try to pronounce each letter according to the alphabet, they can end up sounding awkward or unintelligible.

Once you are familiar with the Hangul consonants, vowels, and syllable blocks, you should start to apply some general pronunciation rules when reading two or more syllables together. Several of those rules are described in this article. 

Quick Reminder

As you approach each section, please try not to focus on the rule itself. Think of them as patterns rather than rules. Read each set of examples out loud repeatedly and try to see that the change in pronunciation makes sense. 

If you practice saying the words out loud, you will notice that the described phonetic changes sound much more natural than trying to vocalize each syllable separately.

1. Unreleased sounds of final consonants

Without another syllable following it, the consonants at the end of a syllable have the following unreleased sounds. You should notice that the highlighted rows at the bottom have the same pronunciation within each of their respective group.

ConsonantsUnreleased soundExamples
n간 [gan]
r/l갈 [gar]
m감 [gam]
ng강 [gang]
ㄱ, ㅋ, ㄲk박, 밖, 밬 [bak, bak, bak]
ㄷ, ㅌ, ㅅ, ㅆ, ㅈ, ㅊt갇, 같, 갓, 갔, 갖, 갗
[got, got, got, got, got, got]
ㅂ, ㅍp갑, 갚 [gop, gop]

2. When the final consonant is followed by a vowel in the next syllable

When the final consonant in one syllable is followed by the next syllable that starts with a vowel, the final consonant drops off of the first syllable and pronounced in place of the starting vowel of the next syllable.

Here are some examples:

As writtenCorrect pronunciationTranslation
옷을 입어요.[오슬 이버요]I wear clothes.
책이 재밌어요.[채기 재미써요]The book is fun to read.
질문이 있어요.[질무니 이써요]I have a question.
알았어요.[아라써요]I understand.

3. When the final consonant is followed by a nasal consonant in the next syllable

The nasal consonants in Hangul are ㄴ(n) andㅁ(m).  The silent consonant ㅇ also becomes nasal when used as a final consonant. The following changes occur when a final consonant is followed by a syllable that begins with a nasal consonant.

ㅂ, ㅍ  →       [ㅁ]                  

ㄷ, ㅌ, ㅅ, ㅆ, ㅈ, ㅊ, ㅎ→       [ㄴ]

ㄱ, ㅋ, ㄲ → [ㅇ]

Let’s look at some examples:

As writtenCorrect pronunciation
입만[임만]
앞문[암문]
없나요[엄나요]
받는다[반는다]
일학년[이랑년]
한국말*[항궁말]

*When the nasal consonant ㄴ(n) is before or after ㄱ(g), the preceding final consonant ends up sounding nasal (ng). In the last example, “한ㄱ~” is pronounced [항ㄱ~].  In English, n and g together also sound nasal, as in “doing,” “bang,” or “young.” Makes sense, right?

4. When final consonants ㄴ or ㄹ are followed by ㄹ or ㄴ in the next syllable

When the consonants ㄴ(n) and ㄹ(l/r) follow one another, the ㄴ is replaced by ㄹ. In other words, anytime the ending sound of one syllable and the beginning sound of the next syllable are ㄹ and ㄴ or vice versa, they end up with a double ㄹ sound.

Here are some examples:

As writtenCorrect pronunciation
한라산[할라산] [hallasan]
진리[질리] [Jilly]
달님[달림] [dallim]
서울역[서울력] [seoul-lyuk]

5. When highlighted consonants in Rule #1 are followed by ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, ㅅ, or ㅈ

When a syllable ends with one of the final consonants highlighted in Rule #1 and the next syllable begins with a ㅂ, ㄷ, ㅈ, ㄱ, or ㅅ, the consonant in the latter syllable becomes tense.  

Tense sounds are basically made up of the double consonants. Below are the tense and aspirated sounds in Hangul as a reference:

PlainTenseAspirated

Now let’s take a look at some examples of the tensification rule in practice:

As writtenCorrect pronunciation
학교[학꾜]
식당[식땅]
숙제[숙쩨]
책상[책쌍]
꽃집[꽃찝]
있습니다[있씀니다]
없습니다[업씀니다]

*You should have noticed that in the last two rows, Rule #3 (nasal consonants) was also applied when “~ㅂ니다" is pronounced [~ㅁ니다].

6. When the consonant ㅎ precedes or is followed by ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, or ㅈ

Refer to the above table outlining tense and aspirated consonants and you will see that ㅎ is the aspirated counterpart of ㅇ.  When you see the consonant ㅎ before or after ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, or ㅈ, those consonants take on the sounds of their aspirated counterpart ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, or ㅊ. 

An easier way to think of this rule is that the ㅎ turns the other consonants into their aspirated forms. 

  • If ㅎ is the final consonant of the preceding syllable, then the ㅎ drops off and the beginning consonant of the next syllable becomes aspirated. 
  • If ㅎ is the beginning consonant of the following syllable, then the preceding consonant drops off and the ㅎ takes on the aspirated form of that consonant .

Let’s look at some examples:

As writtenCorrect pronunciation
좋고[조코]
좋지 않다[조치 안타]
많다[만타]
어떻게[어떠케]
책하고[채카고]
입학[이팍]
시작합시다[시자캅씨다]

*Notice that Rule #5 (tensification) is also applied to the last example by pronouncing “~ㅂ시다" as [~ㅂ씨다].

7. When the consonant ㅎ precedes or is followed by ㄴ, ㅁ, ㅇ, or ㄹ

In contrast to Rule #6, the consonant ㅎ weakens and becomes silent:

  • When ㅎ is the final consonant of the preceding syllable and is followed by a syllable beginning with ㄴ, ㅁ, ㅇ, or ㄹ
  • When ㄴ, ㅁ, ㅇ, or ㄹ is the final consonant of the preceding syllable and is followed by a syllable beginning with ㅎ 

Here are some examples. Notice other previously explained rules that are also applied in the examples.

As writtenCorrect pronunciation
전화[저놔]
사랑해요[사랑애요]
많아요[마나요]
잘했어요[자래써요]
감사합니다[감사암니다]
좋아요[조아요]
괜찮아요[괜차나요]

8. When a final consonant ㄷ or ㅌ precedes the vowels ㅑ, ㅕ, ㅛ, ㅠ, or ㅣ

When a syllable ending in ㄷ(d) or ㅌ(t) is followed by a syllable that begins with a “y” sounding vowel ㅑ, ㅕ, ㅛ, ㅠ [ya, yeo, yo, yu] or the vowel ㅣ[ee], the ㄷ and ㅌ are pronounced ㅈ(j) and ㅊ(ch) respectively.

This will make more sense to you once you see the below examples:

Pronounced normally as [ㄷ] and [ㅌ]Pronunciation change to [ㅈ] and [ㅊ]
붙어요[부터요]붙여요[부쳐요]
같아요[가타요]같이 가요[가치가요]
밑에[미테]밑이[미치]
닫아요[다다요]닫혀요[다쳐요]

Conclusion

As I’ve stated in the introduction, these rules are not laid out for memorization. They are merely explanations of naturally occurring changes that happen phonetically. 

While you continue to learn the Korean language, you will encounter occasions when the pronunciation of certain words don’t seem logical to you. You can refer back to these rules when that happens.

It would be helpful for you to go over each set of examples given above and repeat them several times. Then try to apply the rules when you’re reading and speaking Hangul. In time, the phonetic changes will become second nature to you!

REVIEW AND REPEAT DAILY, AND YOU WILL SEE PROGRESS…  화이팅!!

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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