Korean Honorifics: Important Titles, Words, & Phrases

What are Korean honorifics?

They are ways of speaking in Korean that communicate the relationship between the speaker and the subject or the listener. Korean has this built into the language with special words, titles, and grammar.

Main image for article about Korean honorifics

If you have listened to K-Pop, watched K-dramas, or have traveled to Korea, then you probably have heard some honorific words or phrases.

Since honorifics have a strong cultural element, it’s important to know what they mean and when to use them. Some of the honorifics you’ll hear all the time, and some of them are so rare you likely will never hear them.

We’ll explain the Korean honorifics that you need to know!

Below is a free PDF guide on Korean Honorifics that you can download and take with you:

To make the best use of your time studying the Korean language, we highly recommend learning the Korean alphabet (Hangeul). Here is a great resource that you can use to learn in about 1 hour.

What are Korean Honorifics?

Korean honorific terms are special titles, words, and verbs that refer to people older than you or higher than you in the social hierarchy. They can be used when talking to and about family members such as an older brother, older sister, or an older male and female you get to meet in your everyday life. They are used to show respect and distance in the hierarchy.

Korean honorifics are generally broken down into nouns, pronouns, titles, and verbs. It’ll be helpful to get to know them as you learn Korean. We’ll cover them all below and also let you know which honorifics in the Korean language you need to know!

Why Do Koreans Use Honorifics?

Koreans use honorifics to show respect through speech to someone older or higher than themselves in the social hierarchy. That is because the Korean language and culture are hierarchical. Age and status are important in communication and everyday life in Korean society. That’s one of the reasons why you’ll frequently hear Koreans ask your age when they first meet you, and they’re trying to determine where you fit in on the hierarchy.

(Note that the Korean age is different than the international age. Learn more about Korean age here.)

Additionally, Korean honorifics can indicate how close you are to someone. So when you first meet someone, they might use honorific endings to show both respect and lack of familiarity. Then, as you get to know each other, they will use fewer or different honorifics and more terms to show you are closer, like a nickname.

You may be able to use informal language with someone older than you if you are close to that person. It depends on your relationship. When first getting to know someone, you should use polite language.

Do I need to learn Korean honorifics?

Yes, you should learn some of the most commonly used Korean honorifics. That is because you are likely going to hear them in everyday speech and dialogues with Koreans. You will want to use them in specific cases to show respect and knowledge of the proper words used in the language.

Korean honorifics are a different category from speech levels, but they can be used together. They are used to communicate politeness and to show very high levels of respect.

In the example below, let’s use “happy birthday” in Korean.

Formal without honorifics

생일 축하합니다 (saengil chukahamnida)

생일 (saengil) is the normal word for “birthday,” and 입니다 (imnida) is the formal speech level.

Standard without honorifics

생일 축하해요 (saengnil chukahaeyo)

Still using 생일 (saengil), but now, 해요 (haeyo) is used, which is the standard speech level.

Formal with honorifics

생신 축하드립니다 (saengsin chukadeurimnida)

Here, we are using both honorific 생신 (saengsin) and formal speech level 드리다 (deurida).

As far as speech levels are concerned, you can get by in almost all situations in Korea if you learn the standard and a bit of the formal. The standard will be polite enough to interact with new acquaintances and people who are higher up in the social rank than you. Knowing a small amount of the formal will allow you to recognize what people are saying to you in certain situations.

For example, a store clerk may ask you a question in the formal while also using an honorific title. It’s perfectly polite for you to reply using the standard and not use an honorific title. Store and restaurant employees will usually talk to you formally since you’re the customer, and they are showing respect to you.

How to Use Korean Honorifics

Honorifics are used to talk about or to someone older or who holds a higher social status than you to show respect. You wouldn’t use them to talk about yourself.

For example:

A: 안녕히 주무셨어요? (annyeonghi jumusyeosseoyo?)

Did you sleep well?

B: 네 잘 잤어요 (ne jal jasseoyo)

Yes, I slept well.

In response, you would use 자다 (jada) for the verb sleep. The honorific verb 주무시다 (jumusida) would not be used when talking about yourself.

Which Korean Honorifics are most common?

The noun and verb honorifics are not as useful as their standard versions of those nouns and verbs, so you likely won’t use them as often. However, they do pop up in certain situations, so let’s cover the common ones so you know how to respond.

First, we’ll go over a sample phrase, explain the verb, and give you the everyday version of the verb. Next, we’ll illustrate with some examples and bonus expressions.

The honorific phrases below, as well as the honorific titles we mentioned above, are some of the most important Korean honorifics to learn. Spend a bit of time adding them to your Korean language study plan. You’ll be glad you did!

Korean Honorifics list

In this section, you’ll get a complete Korean Honorifics list.

There are many words in the Korean language that have an honorific version. For example, there are Korean honorific nouns, pronouns, verbs, and even Korean family titles and Korean titles at work. 

Below is a list of Korean honorifics to help you get started.

Korean HonorificMeaning
rice (meal)
disease or sickness
Liquor, alcohol
someone's child
I + subject marker
maternal grandfather
maternal grandmother
a male's older brother
a male's older sister
a female's older brother
a female's older sister
To see or meet
To say or speak
To eat
To ask
To be hungry
Take someone somewhere
To give
To be somewhere or exist
To drink
To die
To sleep
To be hurt, be in pain
President or CEO
Head of Department
Deputy Head of Department
Section Chief
Assistant Manager
Subsection Chief
Team Leader
General Manager

Korean Honorific Nouns

There are going to be some cases where you’ll want to use special honorific nouns to show respect to someone older or higher than you in the social hierarchy. For example, if you were talking with your teacher, you’d likely want to use 생신 (saengsin) instead of 생일 (saengil) for “birthday.” You would want to use this term when talking with your teacher or about your teacher.

Similarly, you would want to use the word 댁 (daek) instead of 집 (jip) when talking about your grandmother’s house.

Below is a short list of common Korean honorific nouns you’ll use when talking to or talking about someone older or holding a higher social status than you.

Make sure you make an effort to remember the honorific words above. The top 5 are very common honorific nouns in the Korean language, so you will see them used often!

Korean Honorific Pronouns

Here is the list of the most commonly used honorific pronouns. These honorifics should be used when talking with someone older than you or who holds higher status.

Korean PronounHonorific PronounMeaning
I + subject marker

Korean honorific pronouns can take some time to get used to. Typically, Koreans don’t use the 2nd person “you” pronoun. If you are close Korean friends, have the same age, or if they are significantly younger than you, like a younger sibling, then you can address them by using their name.

Korean Honorific Family Titles

Here’s a list of the most commonly used honorific family titles. For parents, you’ll use different honorific titles depending on whether or not it’s your mother’s parents or your father’s parents.

Below is an example sentence using one of these Korean honorific titles when talking about them:

외할머님은 고향이 어디세요? (oehalmeonimeun gohyangi eodiseyo)

Where is your maternal grandmother’s hometown?

For siblings, you will use different honorific titles depending on gender and if they are older than you. Some of these terms can also be used with older friends who aren’t necessarily family members. You might also use these titles with extended family members who are older than you. For example, your older male cousin may be called 사촌오빠 (sachonoppa). They may use them with you if you are younger than they are.

Korean Family TitleHonorific Family TitleMeaning
a male's older brother
a male's older sister
a female's older brother
a female's older sister

Here’s an example using one of these family titles when talking about them:

아드님이 어제 전화하셨어요. (adeunimi eoje jeonhwahasyeosseoyo.)

Your son called yesterday.

Remember that these terms are gender-specific, depending on who uses them and whom they’re used for.

If a male is talking about a female sibling, specifically an older female, they use the word “누나” (nuna).

If a male is talking about a male sibling, specifically an older male, they use the word “형” (hyeong). It’s used for calling or talking about an older male sibling.

If a female is talking about a female sibling (older female), they use the word “언니” (eonni).

If a female is talking about a male sibling (older male), they use the word “오빠” (oppa).

When ordering in a restaurant, you may occasionally hear women call the staff by 언니 (eonni), even though that person is not really their older sister. It’s a common way of nicely calling out to the staff between women.

Korean Honorific Verbs

Here is a list of the common verbs and their honorific form. These verbs are used when you’re talking about or to someone higher in the social hierarchy than you are. They would also be used with someone older than you.

For example, let’s say you were talking to your grandmother about meeting someone. In that case, you would use the honorific form of the verb 보다 (boda), which is 뵙다 (boepda).

Additionally, you would use 뵙다 (boepda) to talk to your friend about meeting your grandmother.

Below are example sentences using a few of the Korean honorific verbs:

할머니, 맛있게 드세요. (halmeoni, masitge deuseyo)

Grandma, enjoy your meal.

할아버지는 지금 집에 안 계세요. (harabeojineun jigeum jibe an gyeseyo)

Grandfather is not at home right now.

The honorific form of the verbs can be used with people you aren’t on familiar terms with. You wouldn’t use the honorific forms with children, with your friends, or with someone younger than you.

Korean Suffixes

Below are some common Korean suffixes and forms of address that you’ll commonly hear. These are titles you can use when you need to address someone. Someone may use these titles to address you as well. Some of them are used in combination with the person’s name, and others just use the title by itself.

The Korean suffix 님 (nim) is a high-level honorific used to show respect to someone. This suffix is used with people’s names and titles.

Below, you can see the 님 (nim) suffix added to job titles. For example, if you take a taxi, you can call the driver 기사님 (gisa nim), which is a polite way to address the driver. A common 님 (nim) usage is with the title of teacher, 선생님 (seonsaeng nim).

For example:

기사님, 서울역까지 얼마나 걸려요? (gisanim, seouryeokkkaji eolmana geollyeoyo)

Driver, how long does it take to get to Seoul Station?

If you go to a hospital in Korea, they’ll call you by saying your name + 님 (nim). They can call you using your full name or first name + 님 (nim). That is a common way to address someone with respect. When going to a store, 고객님 (gogaek nim) is used. The 님 (nim) is attached to the word 고객 (gogaek), which means “customer.”

What does nim in Korean mean?

The word 님 (nim) in Korean could be roughly translated to “Mr.” or “Madam” in English. It is one of the most common honorifics used in the Korean language.

This suffix is used to address people who are roughly on the same level of the social hierarchy. They may be slightly older or younger than you, but you’re roughly at the same hierarchy level because of the situation. An example of this might be two students in a language class.

This suffix is used with a person’s name + 씨 (ssi). For example, let’s say you are speaking to your classmate in your Korean language class named 배지훈 (Bae JiHun). In that case, you may address your classmate as 지훈 씨 (JiHun-ssi). Your teacher would also address him as 지훈 씨 (JiHun-ssi).

What is the difference between the Korean titles 씨 (ssi) and 님 (nim)?

This title is used to address colleagues, fellow students, or mentors who are higher than you in the social hierarchy. Notice that it has the 님 (nim) suffix at the end, which shows respect.

An example of when this would be used is with a university acquaintance who is older than you or a grade above you. The term 선배님 (seonbae nim) is a common way to address fellow students who are older than you and whom you meet for the first time.

For example, when you’re greeting your senior on his or her graduation day, you’d say:

선배님의 졸업을 축하합니다. (seonbaenimui joreobeul chukahamnida)

Congratulations on your graduation.

The suffix 후배 (hubae) is similar to 선배 (seonbae), except it is used with student acquaintances who are younger or a grade below you. 후배님 (hubae nim) is commonly used to address those younger than you when meeting for the first time. Koreans often ask about ages early on to figure out who is older or younger.

Although 후배님 (hubae nim) isn’t used with someone older than you, the suffix 님 (nim) is still used to show respect.


This suffix is used with people who are close to you and younger or lower than you on the social hierarchy. You might hear parents using this suffix along with their kid’s names. The format used is name + 아/야. If the name ends in a consonant, then you’ll use name + 아.  ㅑIf the name ends in a vowel, then you can use name + 야.

Common Korean Honorific Phrases

Now, let’s head on to Korean honorific phrases that are commonly used.


You’ll hear this expression and forms of it used very often when you’re in the customer role. This could be at a cafe, gym, restaurant, or phone repair shop. The store employee is going to be either saying what will be done for you or asking what can be done for you.

The base formal verb here is “드리다 (deurida)”. Here is how the honorific form of the verb is used compared to the standard form of the verb.

PhraseMeaningStandard or Honorific?
I'll prepare for youHonorific
I'll prepare for youStandard

You may also hear this honorific verb used as a question.

PhraseMeaningStandard or Honorific?
Shall I prepare for you?Honorific
Shall I prepare for you?Standard

So feel free to use either form of this verb and know that they are interchangeable. If you want to simplify your life, stick with using “주다 (juda)”. For conversation, make sure you know how to recognize the honorific form of the verb, which is “드리다 (deurida).”

If you want to show your honorific skills, then use “드리다 (deurida)” with people you aren’t close with or who are higher in the social rank than you are.

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Imagine it’s the end of the night, and you’re ready for bed. You check your phone and read a text message from your friend that says, “안녕히 주무세요 (annyeonghi jumuseyo).” You suspect that it has something to do with sleep, but that doesn’t sound right. After all, the verb for sleep is much simpler than that!

Your friend is being extra polite by using the special formal version of the verb for sleep. “주무시다 (jumusida)” is the honorific version of the verb “자다 (jada),” which means to sleep. The first part, “안녕히 (annyeonghi)” is similar to “farewell” and is used in a variety of expressions. We’ll focus on the “주무시다 (jumusida)” for this part since it’s the main key verb.

Here’s the comparison of the honorific vs. the regular form of the verb:

PhraseMeaningStandard or Honorific?
Sleep wellHonorific
Sleep wellStandard

You may hear the honorific or the standard version of this question in the morning:

PhraseMeaningStandard or Honorific?
Did you sleep well?Honorific
Did you sleep well?Standard

Here’s one more alternative bonus phrase:

PhraseMeaningStandard or Honorific?
(I wish you) sweet dreamsStandard
Did you have good dreams?Standard

The verb “주무시다 (jumusida)” isn’t used very often in everyday conversations in Korea, but it is best to be prepared when you hear it so you can reply appropriately!


Get ready to hear this one right before you’re about to chow down on some tasty bokkeumbap or samgyeopsal. What does it mean? Do I have something on my face? Or did I forget to take off my name tag from the language exchange meetup I went to earlier in the afternoon?

The showcase verb here is “들다 (deulda),” which has two meanings. It can be used to express eating or drinking. In the case of this expression, the speaker is wishing you a good meal. The literal translation is “eat as much as you like.” Let’s cover this one in more detail.

PhraseMeaningStandard or Honorific?
Eat as much as you'd likeHonorific
Eat as much as you'd likeStandard
Drink as much as you'd likeStandard

You’ll also hear another variation of this phrase:

PhraseMeaningStandard or Honorific?
Have a good mealHonorific
Have a good mealStandard

It sounds a little funny to use “delicious” as an adverb in English. For example, you wouldn’t say “eat deliciously” when sitting down with your family at the dinner table. However, this makes more sense in Korean. Remember to wait until the oldest person at the table starts eating before you do!


Just when you thought you were out of the woods with the eating verbs, they come right back again! In this case, the word “식사 (siksa)” means “meal” or “eat.” However, if you couple it together with the verb “하다 (hada),” it can be used as a special honorific verb meaning “to eat.”

This one comes up fairly often, so commit to memory and get used to hearing it in your everyday conversations.

PhraseMeaningStandard or Honorific?
Have you eaten?Honorific
Have you eaten?Standard

All of this food talk is making me hungry! Keep these eating-related verbs in mind, and march into your nearest restaurant to put them to the test!


Imagine you’re trying to find a repair store to fix your favorite watch, but you can’t seem to locate one in Seoul. You decide to call the information hotline “120”, and come to find that all of the English-speaking operators are busy. The helpline employee says in very basic English to call back later, but you decide that you’re not going to wait a minute longer.

Bravely, you tell the counselor that although you don’t speak the language fluently, you’ll try to express what you’re looking for. The counselor responds with “말씀하세요 (malsseumhaseyo).”


This one might be one of the easier ones to remember since it resembles its mid-level counterpart, “말하다 (malhada)”. If you guessed that this word means “to say or speak,” then you’d be spot on!

Let’s get an overview:

Honorific PhraseMeaningStandard or Honorific?
Please speakHonorific
Please speakStandard


Let’s say you place an Internet order through Gmarket. Let’s also say your name is Philip. You get a phone call from an unrecognized number, and the voice on the other end says, “필립님 계세요 (pillimnim gyeseyo)?”. You recognize the Philip part and that it’s probably the delivery person, but the rest is a mystery. What is this person saying?

The verb “계시다 (gyesida)” is the special honorific form of the verb “to be.” You may also hear “안 계세요 (an gyeseyo),” which means “not to be.” Let’s piece together this puzzle!

PhraseMeaningStandard or Honorific?
Is Philip there?Honorific
Is Philip not there?Standard

This one will often come up when talking on the phone, so be prepared the next time you press the “answer” button and start chatting.


What are you up to this weekend? Heading out to see Mom, right? If your friends know this, then they may confirm by asking you “어머니를 자주 봬요 (eomeonireul jaju bwaeyo)?

What on earth are they talking about? Koreans highly value respect towards those higher in the social rank, and parents definitely fall into this category! Accordingly, expect to hear and see the verb “뵈다 (boeda)” when talking about meeting people higher up the ladder.

PhraseMeaningStandard or Honorific?
Will you meet much of your mom?Honorific
Will you meet much of your mom?Standard

Generally, a Korean wouldn’t say “어머니를 자주 봤어요 (eomeonireul jaju bwasseoyo)” because they would use the more polite verb to talk about their mom. However, if you’re not Korean, you can get away with it!

Honorifics Vocabulary Words

At this point, you’ve learned the different Korean honorific titles, suffixes, nouns, pronouns, and nouns. On top of that, you’ve also learned how honorifics are part of Korean culture.

In this section, you’ll learn other words related to and important to learning honorifics.

“Honorifics” in Korean

“Honorifics” in Korean can be expressed in 2 ways. The first one is 존댓말 (jondaenmal). You’ve probably already heard this word for Korean honorifics in the Korean dramas or movies you’ve watched. The other word for “honorifics” in Korean is 높임말 (nopimmal).

These two words may be translated to the same word, “honorifics,” but are different in essence. Both are used for talking to a person of higher status than you. 존댓말 (jondaenmal) is about how you convey or show respect in your sentences, while 높임말 (nopimmal) is about the choice of respectful words you use in your sentences.

The opposite of these two words is 반말 (banmal), which can be translated as the use of informal or casual speech.

“Humble” in Korean

“Humble” in Korean is 겸손하다 (gyeomsonhada). You can use the word 겸손한 (gyeomsonhan) when describing. So you can say 겸손한 사람 (gyeomsonhan saram) when describing a person who is humble.

“Respect” in Korean

The word “respect” in Korean can be expressed as 존경 (jongyeong). Respect in Korean culture is very important, especially when interacting with older and those who have a higher status than you.

For example:

그녀는 동배들의 존경을 받고 있어요. (geunyeoneun dongbaedeurui jongyeongeul batgo isseoyo.)

She enjoys the respect of her peers.

The opposite of respect in Korean is 무례 (murye) and 결례(gyeollye), which is translated as “disrespect.”

For example:

그건 질문이 아니라 무례예요. (geugeon jilmuni anira muryeyeyo.)

It’s not a question; it’s rude.

저의 결례를 용서해 주세요. (jeoui gyeollyereul yongseohae juseyo.)

Forgive me for my rudeness.

“Boss” in Korean

The word “boss” in Korean can be expressed in 3 ways. You can say it as 사장 (sajang), 상관 (sanggwan), or 상사 (sangsa).

You can use 사장 (sajang) to mean boss in Korean if you’re addressing the owner, President, or CEO of a company.

For example:

사장님이 부르십니다. (sajangnimi bureusimnida.)

The boss wants to see you. 

사장님 어디 계신지 알아요? (sajangnim odi gyesinji arayo?)

Do you know where the boss is?

You can use 상관 (sanggwan) or 상사 (sangsa) if you’re referring to your supervisor or someone in a higher position than you.

For example:

그는 그 메시지를 상관에게 전달했어요. (geuneun geu mesijireul sanggwanege jondalhaessoyo.)

He delivered the message to his boss.

우리는 상사와 회의를 했어요. (urineun sangsawa hweireul haesseoyo.)

We had a meeting with our superior.

“Elder” in Korean

“Elder” in Korean is 어른들 (eoreundeul).

For example:

우리 집안의 아이들은 어른들에게 항상 공손해요. (uri jibane aideureun oreundeurege hangsang gongsonhaeyo)

Children in my family are always polite to adults.

In Korean culture, an elder should be given and treated with respect. When talking to an elder, Koreans usually use honorifics.

“Formal” in Korean

As you learn Korean honorifics, you will always come across the word “formal.” You use formal and polite words and expressions in Korean honorifics as you interact with people who hold a higher status than you or when you’re in formal situations.

The word formal in Korean can be expressed in many ways. You can say it as 정규적인 (jeonggyujeokin), 공식적인 (gongsikjeokin), and 정중한 (jeongjunghan). However, you’ll use 정중한 (jeongjunghan) if you want to say formal as polite. You can say 정중한 말 (jeongjunghan mal) to mean formal or polite expressions and 정중한 말씨로 (jeongjunghan malssi to) to mean formal or polite terms.

“Mister” in Korean

The word “mister” in Korean is 아저씨. This is usually used by people addressing a man older than them who they aren’t familiar with.

For example:

아저씨, 조심하세요! (ajeossi, josimhaseyo)

Mister, please be careful!

감사합니다, 아저씨. ( gamsahamnida, ajeossi.)

Thank you, mister.

There’s no direct translation of the English title “Mister” or “Mr.” in the Korean language. This is only used in writing but not in daily conversation.

However, you can use 씨 (ssi) or 님 (nim) when addressing someone you know or a person you’re working with.  You can use the first name or full name + 씨 (ssi) or 님 (nim).

For example:

이종석 씨 (ijongseok ssi)

Mr. Lee Jong Suk

민규 님  (mingyu nim)

Mr. Mingyu

Korean Titles

For business honorifics, you’re going to add the 님 (nim) to the end of the workplace title. You will want to use this with anyone older than you, higher on the social hierarchy, or not yet on familiar terms with. The suffix 님 (nim) is similar to saying “Mr.” or “Madam.” These are important terms to know about when you have landed a job in Korea or you’ve started your own business here.

If you have close friends at work, you can just call them by their first names. This is okay even if it’s an older person than you as long as you’ve confirmed it’s okay to speak informally.

Here’s a list of the common Korean honorific titles:

Honorific TitleMeaning
President or CEO
Head of Department
Deputy Head of Department
Section Chief
Assistant Manager
Subsection Chief
Team Leader
General Manager

The Korean honorific titles above are keywords to know if you plan to work at a company in Korea or if you’re just curious about Korean work culture.

Korean Titles at Work

In the workplace, Koreans refer to their colleagues by using titles based on their colleagues’ rank within the company. The most common ones that you are likely to hear are 대리 (daeri), which means “assistant manager”; 과장 (gwajang), which means “manager”; 팀장 (timjang), which means “team manager,” and 부장 (bujang), which means “head manager.” There are lots of other job titles as you go higher up within the company.

When using these job titles, it is important to remember to add “님 (nim)” to the end of them when referring to other people. You can also add their family name too.

For example “김 대리님” (Kim Daerinim) would mean “Assistant Manager Kim.” If the person’s rank in the company is below “대리 (daeri),” then usually they are referred to just by their name with “님 (nim)” attached to the end of it.

Here are example sentences of the honorific titles used at work:

팀장님은 회의 중이세요. (timjangnimeun hoeui jungiseyo)

The team leader is in a meeting.

사장님을 직접 뵙고 싶어요. (sajangnimeul jikjeop boepgo sipeoyo)

I want to meet the CEO in person.

If you’d like to know more about Korean job titles, you can find the complete list here.

Korean Titles in School

In Korean dramas, you can often hear the words 후배 (hubae) and 선배 (seonbae). This word was used a lot in the drama 꽃보다남자 (kkotbodanamja | Boys over Flowers) in particular.

The word 선배 (seonbae) means “senior” and is used to refer to a person at school who is older than you or in a more senior year than you. The word 후배 (hubae)means ‘junior’ and is used when referring to somebody younger or in a more junior year at school than you.

These words are often used in the third person (for example, “I’m getting dinner with my hubae tonight”) rather than in the first person.

Here are examples of Korean honorifics used in school:

그는 우리 학교 후배야. (geuneun uri hakgyo hubaeya)

He’s a junior in our school.

그 분은 같은 학교 3년 선배예요. (geu buneun gateun hakgyo 3nyeon seonbaeyeyo)

He’s three years senior in the same school.

Seonbae and hubae are further discussed in this article.

Korean Titles for Teachers

When do I use the title 선생님 (seonsaengnim) in Korean?

When talking about a teacher, you should use the word 선생님 (seonsaengnim). Sometimes, the family name will be placed in front of 선생님 (seonsaengnim), for example, “김 선생님” (gim seonsaengnim | Teacher Kim).

Below are example sentences of honorific titles used in school:

박 선생님은 수학을 가르쳐요. (bak seonsaengnimeun suhageul gareuchyeoyo)

Teacher Park teaches math.

교장 선생님의 추천서를 받아야 해요. (gyojang seonsaengnimui chucheonseoreul badaya haeyo)

I have to get a letter of recommendation from the principal.

Korean Titles for Doctors

Doctors hold a high social status, and they’re highly respected. When addressing them,  you need to use Korean honorifics.

You can also use the Korean title 선생님 (seonsaengnim) when talking about doctors. Sometimes, the word “선생님 (seonsaengnim)” is used on its own, and sometimes the word 의사 (uisa), which means “doctor,” is added in front of it.

Here are examples of honorific titles for doctors:

제 의사 선생님은 언제 오시나요? (je uisa seonsaengnimeun eonje osinayo)

When is my doctor coming?

어제 의사 선생님을 뵙고 왔어요. (eoje uisa seonsaengnimeul boepgo wasseoyo)

I met the doctor yesterday.

How to Address People in Korean

Koreans emphasize respect when interacting with people. This is highly evident in the kind of language they use when speaking to others.

There are different titles used when addressing people in Korean. In the sections below, you’ll learn the different Korean titles used to address people in Korean.

Here’s a simple guide to help you address or refer to people you don’t know well in Korean.

Top 3 Words for Addressing People You Don’t Know

This is the 80/20 that you should focus on first. Once you get this down, you can learn the more specific titles and situations.

저기요 (jeogiyo)

This is your go-to phrase to get someone’s attention, similar to “excuse me” in English. It’s neutral and polite, suitable for any age or gender. Use it when you need help or want to ask a question, like asking for directions.


저기요, 여기서 가장 가까운 지하철역이 어디인가요? (jeogiyo, yeogiseo gajang gakkaun jihacheollyeogi eodiingayo?)

Excuse me, where is the nearest subway station?

선생님 (seonsaengnim)

This term denotes respect and is typically used for someone older or in a professional setting. It’s akin to addressing someone as “sir” or “ma’am.”


선생님, 이 근처에 사세요? (seonsaengnim, i geuncheoe saseyo?)

Sir/Madam, do you live near here?

그쪽 (geujjok)

Use this when referring to someone indirectly, in a polite and general manner. It’s a respectful way to say “your side” or “you” in certain contexts.


그쪽이 먼저 가세요. (geujjogi meonjeo gaseyo.)

You go first.

Structured Guide for Various Situations

These are used in specific situations, such as at work, school, stores, doctors’ offices, and supermarkets.

  • Titles and Surnames: Address people by their title and surname, a sign of respect and formality.
    Example: 김 선생님 (Mr./Ms. Kim), 김 팀장님 (Team Leader Kim).
  • Honorific Suffix -님 (-nim): Add -님 to professions or roles to show respect.
    Example: 기사님, 명동까지 얼마나 걸려요? (Driver, how long does it take to Myeongdong?)
  • Respectful Reference ‘-분’ (-bun): Use this to refer to someone respectfully, especially when their name is unknown. You can add 이, 그, 저 depending on the situation 이분 (ibun) means “this person”, 그분 (geuben) means “that person,” 저분 (jeobun) means “that person over there.”
    Example: 그분은 누구세요? (Who is that person?

General Tips and Best Practices

Here are some tips and best practices for addressing people in Korean.

  • Avoid Using First Names: Unless invited to, refrain from calling someone by their first name to maintain a level of formality.
  • When in Doubt, Ask: Politely ask how to address someone if unsure.
  • Example: 어떻게 불러 드려야 할까요? (How should I address you?)
  • Contextual Use of Titles: Use titles that fit the context, like 손님 (customer) in a service setting.
  • Formal and Indirect References: Use terms like 그쪽 (geujjok) in formal or indirect contexts.
    Example: 그쪽 의견에 대해 더 설명해 주실 수 있나요? (Could you explain more about your opinion?)

Other Terms for People You Don’t Know

Here are terms you can use to address someone that you don’t know or just met for the first time.

아가씨 (agassi)

This word means “miss,” but it is used cautiously as it can be seen as patronizing.

아줌마 (ajumma)

아줌마 (ajumma) is a Korean title used to address women who are married or middle-aged. This can be used as a standalone title to address a married or middle-aged woman, or it can be used with their names. Another similar term that you can use is 아주머니 (ajumoni).

For example:

  • 미란 아줌마 (miran ajumma)
  • 일화 아줌마 (ilhwa ajumma)
  • 선영 아줌마 (seonyeong ajumma)

아줌마 (ajumma) can be used by both males and females. This is considered a less polite title. If you want to sound more respectful, you can use 아주머니 (ajumeoni).

When using 아줌마 (ajumma), it’s important to note that it’ll be a bit offensive to address them with the title, especially if they’re not that old yet.

아저씨 (ajeossi)

아저씨 (ajeossi) or ajussi is a Korean title used to address men who are middle-aged (married or unmarried) whom you don’t know well or is a stranger to you.

아저씨 (ajeossi) also literally means “uncle.” You can use it for someone older than you who isn’t a total stranger to you. In this case, you can call them 아저씨 (ajeossi) or their name plus 아저씨 (ajeossi).

For example:

  • 무성 아저씨 (museong ajeossi)
  • 동일 아저씨 (dongil ajeossi)
  • 성균 아저씨 (seongkyun ajeossi)

아저씨 (ajeossi) can also mean “old man” or “mister.”

“Mister” in Korean

There are two ways to express “Mister” in Korean. The first and the most common way to say “mister” in Korean is 아저씨 (ajeossi). This is used for old men or middle-aged men.

The second way is by saying the name of the person plus 씨 (ssi).

For example:

상우 (sangwoo) + 씨 (ssi) =  상우 씨 (sangwoo ssi)

This means Mr. Sangwoo.

“Sir” in Korean

The word “Sir” in Korean can be expressed similarly to “Mister.” Koreans use the word 아저씨 (ajeossi) to address someone as sir.

“Sir” in Korean can also be expressed by saying the name of the person plus 씨 (ssi).

“Woman” in Korean

The word “woman” in Korean can be expressed in a number of ways. The most common way to say “woman” in Korean is 여자 (yeoja).

For example:

여자가 양손에 짐을 들고 있어요.  (yeojaga yangsone jimeul deulgo isseoyo.)

The woman is holding her luggage in both hands.

여자 (yeoja) can mean “female,” “lady,” or “girl.”

For example:

여자친구 있어요? ( yeojachingu isseoyo?)

Do you have a girlfriend?

Other ways to say “woman” are 여성 (yeoseong) and 여인 (yeoin).

“Man” in Korean

The word “man” can be expressed in a number of ways. The most common way to say it is 남자 (namja).

For example:

얼마 전에 남자 친구와 헤어졌어요. (eolma jeone namja chinguwa heeojyeosseoyo.)

I broke up with my boyfriend recently.

“Person” in Korean

The Korean word for “person” is 사람 (saram).

For example:

지수는 좋은 사람이에요. ( jisuneun joeun saramieyo.)

Jisoo is a good person.

But you’ll use 사람들 and 인류 if you’re referring to “people” or “humanity.”

Getting these details right in Korean shows you really care about the language and culture. So, keep watching how others do it and learn as you go. If you’re ever unsure, just ask someone – it’s a great way to learn!

Korean Speech Levels

The Korean language has seven different speech levels. These levels are demonstrated in the verb endings. There are three speech levels that are used most often: formal speech, polite/standard speech, or casual/informal speech. You may also see them listed as high, middle, and low.

The other speech levels are outdated, so you’ll only hear them used in the Korean period or historical dramas or read them in religious books and scriptures.

Korean honorifics can be thought of as a special speech level. In Korean culture, respect is given high importance in everyday life. This is evident in the Korean language. Koreans use honorific language to communicate respect between the speaker and the subject/listener.

Honorifics are used to communicate relative positions in a hierarchy. Typically, Korean honorifics are used to show respect to someone higher in the hierarchy or a person who holds a high social status.

Korean language learners like you will find it handy to learn the different speech levels and Korean honorifics as you learn the language, live or visit South Korea.

Formal speech level

The formal speech level is used when you’re speaking to someone older than you, someone who holds a higher position than you, or someone who belongs to a higher social hierarchy. Sentences using the formal speech level usually end with ~ㅂ니다.

Polite speech level

The polite speech level, or standard speech level, can be used in most situations. You can use this speech level when you’re speaking with people you know but don’t have a close relationship with them. Sentences using this speech level usually end with 요 (yo).

Informal speech level

The informal speech level, also known as casual speech, can be used when speaking with people with whom you have close relationships, such as friends and family. This is also the speech level you can use with those younger than you or of lesser seniority.

Korean Speech Levels vs. Honorifics

Korean speech levels can be thought of as politeness levels. Typically, they are verb endings that demonstrate the formality of a situation. For example, you might use an informal speech level with friends, someone the same age as you, or someone younger than you. You would use the standard speech level for everyday communication. You could use the formal version when giving a speech or a news broadcast. You can use different speech levels to talk about yourself.

Honorifics are used to show respect to the listener or the third person you’re talking about. Honorifics are usually special words (nouns, verbs, verb endings, pronouns, etc.) used to show respect. Korean honorifics are typically used for speaking to someone older than you or higher than you in the social hierarchy. You cannot use honorifics to talk about yourself.

The Simple Way to Understand Korean Speech Levels

The Korean language has a few different levels of speech, which could be new to native English speakers. These levels are integrated into the grammar and vocabulary and are used according to the differences in social rank between the people who are communicating. There are various ways of breaking them down, but we can do it by simply saying there are three levels of speech: Formal, standard, and informal.

The formal is to show respect, the standard is for everyday speech, and the informal is for close relationships. You can consider honorifics to be formal speeches. However, keep in mind that honorifics are in a separate category.

Wrap Up

If you want to learn more about Korean, we have a structured online language program that will teach you how to have a 3-minute Korean conversation in the first 90 days.

What questions do you have about honorific words and titles? Let us know in the comments below!

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