January 27, 2021

Did you know that there are two different number systems used in Korea? One is called native numbers, and the other is called Sino numbers.

We'll learn about both number systems here in this article. 

Before we dive into the topic, here's a little fact for you. 

Interesting fact

Sino-Korean refers to words and numbers that originated in or influenced by China. About 60 percent of Korean vocabulary has Chinese roots and can be written in Chinese characters called 한자 (han-ja).

Korean native numbers 1 to 99

Native numbers are the original Korean number system. These numbers are used for counting, for age, and for the hour portion of time. 

Have you ever taken a Korean martial arts class? If you have, you might recognize the native numbers 1 to 10, or at least 1 to 8. In many martial arts schools, the instructors often use Korean numbers when counting the movements.

Let’s look at the numbers 1 to 100:

1하나 (hana)
2둘 (dul)
3셋 (set)
4넷 (net)
5다섯 (da-seot)
6여섯 (yeo-seot)
7일곱 (il-gop)
8여덟 (yeo-deol)
9아홉 (ahop)
10열 (yeol)
10열 (yeol)
20스물 (seu-meul)
30서른 (seo-reun)
40마흔 (ma-heun)
50쉰 (shin)
60예순 (ye-sun)
70일흔 (il-heun)
80여든 (yeo-deun)
90아흔 (a-heun)

Note that zero does not exist in native Korean numbers, since you cannot count something that does not exist. In addition, the native numbers only go up to 99. Beyond that, Sino numbers are used.

Just add the numbers 1 to 9 to the number 10 to get the numbers 11 to 19:

11 = 열(10) + 하나(1) = 열하나

12 = 열(10) + 둘(2) = 열둘

13 = 열(10 + 셋(3) = 열셋

And so on… 

21 to 99 work in the same way:

21 = 스물(20) + 하나(1) = 스물 하나

35 = 서른(30) + 다섯(5) = 서른 다섯

99 = 아흔(90) + 아홉(9) = 아흔 아홉

Sino numbers 1 to 100

Sino numbers are, in some ways, easier to learn. As shown below, 20 to 90 use the same words for 2 to 9 combined with the word for 10.

0공 / 영 (gong/yung)
1일 (il)
2이 (ee)
3삼 (sam)
4사 (sa)
5오 (oh)
6육 (yuk)
7칠 (chil)
8팔 (pal)
9구 (gu)
10십 (ship)

Similar to the native numbers, once you memorize the numbers 1 to 10, the rest of the numbers are very logical:

11 = 십(10) + 일(1) = 십일

23 = 이십(20) + 삼(3) = 이십삼

45 = 사십(40) + 오(5) = 사십오

And so on…

Following this pattern, you can read any number up to 100 in Korean!

Sino numbers beyond 100

As I have mentioned before, native numbers only go up to 100, but there is no limit to the Sino numbers. Let’s look at the Sino numbers beyond 100:

100백 (baek)
1,000천 (chun)
10,000만 (mahn)
100,000십만 (ship-mahn)
1,000,000백만 (baek-mahn)
10,000,000천만 (chun-mahn)
100,000,000억 (eok)
10십 (ship)
20이십 (ee-ship)
30삼십 (sam-ship)
40사십 (sa-ship)
50오십 (oh-ship)
60육십 (yuk-ship)
70칠십 (chil-ship)
80팔십 (pal-ship)
90구십 (gu-ship)
100백 (baek)

Below are some examples of random Sino numbers.

2020이천 이십 (ee-chun-ee-ship)
133백 삼십 삼 (baek-sam-ship-sam)
2,351이천 삼백 오십 일 (ee-chun-sam-baek-oh-ship-il)
75,954칠만 오천 구백 오십사 (chil-mahn-oh-chun-gu-baek-oh-ship-sa)
500,000,000오억 (oh-eok)

Keep in mind that you would never spell out the Sino numbers in Hangul. The above tables only show how to read them. The numbers are written in the numeric form.

Which Korean number system to use? Native or Sino?

Koreans use both number systems on a regular basis. Each number system is used in different situations and for different purposes:

SinoNative
For math, dates, addresses, phone numbers, money,measurements,
time (minutes)
For counting up to 99, age, time (hour)

Let’s look at some examples of native numbers in a sentence:

Native numbers

저는 18살 이에요.
[저는 열여덟살 이에요]
I am 18 years old.
우리집에 고양이 일곱마리가 있어요.There are seven cats at our house.
오늘 연습을 서른번도 더 했어요.I practiced more than 30 times today.

Notice that the age 18 is written in the numeric form. You will often see that in writing, but you should still read it as a native number 열여덟 (yeol-yeo-deol).  

Now let’s look at some example sentences with Sino numbers. Sino numbers are usually written in the numeric form. The pronunciations are in brackets.

Sino numbers

2 더하기 4는 6 이에요.
[이 더하기 사는 육이에요]
2 plus 4 is 6.
우리집 아파트는 34번 이에요.
[우리집 아파트는 삼십사번 이에요]
Our apartment is number 34.
제 전화번호는 201-234-5678 이에요.
[제 전화번호는 이공일-이삼사-오육칠팔 이에요]
My phone number is
가격은 5불 50전 이에요.
[가격은 오불 오십전 이에요]
The price is 5 dollars and 50 cents.

When it comes to telling time, both the native and Sino numbers are used. Native numbers are used for the hour and Sino numbers are used for the minutes.

5:30다섯시 삼십분
12:15열두시 십오분
9:00아홉시

I am assuming that you are thoroughly confused by now. It will take some practice to get used to using two different number systems for telling time. 

It may be easier for you to comprehend the concept if you look at the time in a different way:

  • Think of 5:30 as “the fifth hour and 30 minutes”
  • Think of 12:15 as “the twelfth hour and 15 minutes”
  • And think of 9:00 as “the ninth hour”

If you look at it that way, it does actually make sense, right?

Counters should be added to the numbers in sentences in Korean.

When a number is used in a sentence to indicate a number of things or people, a particle must accompany the number. These particles are often referred to as “counters.” Counters are used with both native and Sino numbers.

In English sentences, we simply use the number as the adjective for the item or person that we’re describing, such as ten cats, two apples, five men, etc.  In a Korean sentence, you need to state the noun first and then add the number after the noun. The counter then comes after the number. 

If you think about it, the English language also uses a similar format of number + counter when talking about money or measurements, such as 11 inches, 19 dollars and 99 cents, 120 pounds, etc. 

You can think of the counters as units for counting. The Korean language has numerous counters for every type of noun. It will be almost impossible for you to learn all the counters at once, because there are so many.  Just take one at a time as they come up and add to your vocabulary.

Here are some common Korean counters to start you off (but not a full list):

Native number counters
(up to 99, then use Sino numbers with the same counters)

마리 (ma-ri)Animals: 고양이 세마리 (three cats), 개 한마리 (one dog)
명 (myung)People (general): 남자 두명 (two men)
분 (boon)People (formal): 손님 두분 (two guests)
개 (gae)All things that do not have their own designated counter: 사과 한개 (one apple), 과자 두개 (two cookies), 모자 세개 (three hats)
번 (bun)Number of times: 다시 한번 (one more time), 열번 (ten times), 두 세번 (two or three times)
시 (shi)The hour portion of time: 한시 (one o’clock), 두시 (two o’clock), 세시 (three o’clock)
시간 (shi-gan)Duration of time: 한시간 (one hour), 열두시간 (12 hours)
대 (dae)Vehicles: 자동차 두대 (two passenger cars), 트럭 다섯대 (five trucks)
장 (jang)Pieces of paper: 종이 한장 (one piece of paper), 도배지 열장 (ten pieces of wallpaper)
권 (gwon)Books: 책 여섯권 (six books)
컵 (cup)Beverages that come in a glass: 물 한컵 (one glass of water), 주스 두컵 (two glasses of juice)
잔 (jahn)Beverages that come in a small cup or glass: 커피 한잔 (one cup of coffee), 티 두잔 (two cups of tea), 소주 한잔 (one shot of soju)
병 (byung)Beverages that come in a bottle: 콜라 한병 (one bottle of cola), 맥주 두병 (two bottles of beer)

Sino number counters

분 (boon)The minutes portion of time: 30분 (30 minutes), 40분 (40 minutes), 15분 (15 minutes), 오후 1시 5분 (1:15 pm)
원 (won)Won, the Korean monetary unit: 1,000원 (1,000 Won), 100,000원 (100,000 Won). *note: 1,000 Won is equivalent to approximately $1.00.
불 (bul)American dollar: 1불 (one dollar), 10불 (ten dollars)
전 (jeon)Cents: 50전 (50 cents), 99전 (99 cents)
번 (bun)Assigned number to something: 3번 (number 3), 54번 (number 54)

You should also be aware that counters for Sino numbers include the units of measuring weight, length, volume, and distance.

One last thing to mention is that when the native numbers are used with a counter, the numbers 1 to 4 change in format as follows:

#Native numberWhen used with a counterExample
1하나사과 한개 (one apple)
2남자 두명 (two men)
3세시 (3 o’clock)
4커피 네잔 (four cups of coffee)

The rest of the numbers remain in their original form even when counters are added.

Conclusion

Having to learn two different number systems at once in a new language can be overwhelming at first.  I suggest you start by memorizing the numbers 1 to 20 in both systems. I usually have my students practice saying the numbers backwards once they have mastered them in the forward order. 

Saying the numbers backwards helps you imprint each number in your head instead of just memorizing them in order.

As far as learning the counters, that will just take time. Like I mentioned before, take one at a time and master each one as you build up your vocabulary. You will get there, I promise!

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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