How to say hello in Korean? You may have heard this phrase, 안녕하세요(annyeonghaseyo) from K-drama or K-pop singer’s interviews. But how many other greeting phrases do you know in Korean? And what are the differences between each and when to use them?
In this article, you will learn about various greeting phrases that you can use in your daily life, and why there are different ways to say the same hello in Korean.
Korean Speech Levels
Before we get into the specific ways of saying hello in Korean, let’s first look at Korean Speech Levels.
In Korean, there is a unique term that you don’t hear a lot in other languages: “Speech Levels”. You should be aware of using correct speech levels depending on the formality of the context, respect towards the listener, politeness of situation, etc. This is how you show your respect to the people who you are talking to.
In fact, using inappropriate speech levels will make you be considered a disrespectful and uneducated person. Important facts that could help you decide which speech level are: the listener’s age, status, or relative social position.
Originally there are 7 speech levels in the Korean language. And only 4 of them are generally used in daily life. In this post, we will roughly divide them into 2 groups: Polite and Casual.
Polite Korean Speech
Polite Korean can be used in a formal situation while being polite to someone older or of higher status than you. You can use them in these circumstances:
- To a person of higher status (student to teacher, employee to CEO or any superior, child to parents, etc.)
- To strangers you meet in your daily life (a bus driver, a clerk, an officer, etc.)
- To someone who you first met
As you can see, it can be used to show your respect towards them while talking to an older person, someone who is superior to you in terms of social status, or people you don’t have a close/intimate relationship with.
Casual Korean Speech
In an informal situation, like a conversation between friends or a person of the same or younger age, it’s appropriate to use casual speech. You can use this in the below circumstances:
– To a person of lower status (teacher to student, parents to child, CEO or superior to the employee, etc.)
– Between friends of the same or younger age
– To a younger person (Note that it’s still recommended to use polite speech level if the listener is someone who you first met or you don’t know them very well unless that person is obviously much younger than you.)
How to say hello in Korean
Now move on to our main topic: how to say hello in Korean at different speech levels?
Polite: 안녕하세요. (annyeonghaseyo)
This is the most basic greeting phrase. “안녕하세요(annyeonghaseyo)” is a polite “Hello” that you can use in most situations. I would say the ‘safest’ way to say “Hello” if you are unsure about which speech level to choose.
Casual: 안녕. (annyeong)
This is a casual way to say “Hello” which you can use most when you are talking to your friends.
IMPORTANT NOTE: You should understand that in Korea, the term ‘friend’, is slightly different from western culture. Even if someone is considered as your “friend”, if that person is older than you, then you should still use “안녕하세요(annyeonghaseyo)” unless that person allows you to say “안녕(annyeong)”. As you can see, using appropriate speech levels based on age is one of the most important things that you should be aware of when you speak Korean. We also have an article about Korean age system if you are interested in that topic.
2. How are you? / How’s it going?
Polite: 잘 지내세요? (jal jineseyo)
Many Korean people would say this after saying 안녕하세요(annyeonghaseyo), mostly when they are talking to someone who they already know. It’s something like, ‘I hope you have been doing well since we talked last time, how have you been? Is everything good?’ That said, people normally won’t use this phrase before saying 안녕하세요(annyeonghaseyo) because it might seem awkward.
Casual: 잘 지내? (jal jine)
This is a casual way to say “How are you?”. Same as above mentioned you might hear this after “안녕(annyeong)”.
3. Nice to Meet You
Polite: 만나서 반갑습니다. (mannaseo Bangapseumnida)
When you first meet someone in Korean, it’s better to say “nice to meet you” instead of “hello”. 만나서 반갑습니다 means “nice to meet you”. You can say it to anyone you meet for the first time. This phrase does not have a casual counterpart as it’s only used in formal situations.
4. Long Time No See
Polite: 오랜만이에요. (oraenmanieyo)
If you haven’t seen someone for a long time, you can say 오랜만이에요 (Oraenmanieyo) when you meet them. If it’s a really formal situation, you can also use 오랜만입니다 (oraenmanimnida).
Casual: 오랜만에. (oraenman-e)
If you haven’t seen someone in a while, you can use this phrase as a greeting, like you would in English.
You can adjust it to be informal for close friends by saying 오랜만에 (oraenman-e). Or to be more formal (like to your boss), use 오랜만입니다 (oraenmanimnida).
Note: The “e” ending or the basic form of the verb is least formal, “ieyo” ending is polite, and the “nida” ending is most formal in common speech.
5. Hello (on the phone)
This is what you use when answering the phone. Again, as you often don’t know who is on the other side of the phone, this one can be used without considering speech levels. But remember this is almost only used on the phone, or if you wish to get someone’s attention.
Of course apart from the above mentioned different ways to say hello in Korean, there are many more Korean phrases that are used everyday. Learning these frequently used phrases like thank you, goodbye in Korean can help you hold Korean conversations smoothly!
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