Have you ever found yourself confused with the usage of pronouns in Korean? Do you still use 당신 (dangsin) in conversations? Do you want to know why Koreans don’t use “he”, “she” or “they”?
If you also encountered these questions about Korean pronouns, this article is just for you.
Pronouns are words used to refer to people or things previously mentioned in a conversation. For instance, in the sentence “I saw Emily yesterday, and she was on her way to the store.”, “she” is the pronoun that refers back to Emily.
In this article, we’ll introduce to you the following 4 types of Korean pronouns:
- Personal pronouns (like he, she, they) in Korean
- Demonstrative pronouns (like this and that) in Korean
- Possessive pronouns (like my, your) in Korean
- Interrogative pronouns (like what, how, why) in Korean
Korean Personal Pronouns
Let’s first explore some common Korean personal pronouns.
“I” in Korean
Formal: 저 (jeo)
저는 학생입니다. (Jeoneun haksaengimnida.) I am a student.
Informal: 나 (na)
Use 나 (na) when speaking with friends or people younger than you.
나는 학생이야. (Naneun haksaengiya.) I'm a student.
“You” in Korean
Formal: 당신 (dangsin)
당신의 이름은 무엇입니까? (Dangsin-ui ireumeun mueosimnikka?) What is your name?
당신 (dangsin) is an extremely formal pronoun and is almost never used in daily conversations. It is comparable to “sir” in English. Instead, it’s more common to directly use the person’s name or terms that reflect their relations.
선생님, 이것은 선생님을 위한 선물입니다. (Seonsaengnim, igeoseun seonsaengnim-eul wihan seonmulimnida.) Teacher, this is a gift for you.
Similar to the structure of using “Mr.” or “Ms.” followed by the last name in English, in Korean, it is more common to address someone politely by using first name + 씨 (ssi) . However, unlike English, the Korean expression does not differentiate between male and female.
혜진 씨는 어떻게 생각하세요? (Hyejin ssineun eotteoke saenggakaseyo?) How do you think, Hyejin?
Informal: 너 (neo)
너 (neo) is often used when addressing younger individuals or friends.
너랑 같이 영화를 보고 싶어. (Neorang gachi yeonghwareul bogo sip-eo.) I want to watch a movie with you.
자네 (jane) and 그대 (geudae) are also pronouns for “you” in Korean, but they are less commonly used than 너 (neo).
“You” (Plural) in Korean
The plural form of “you” or “you guys” in Korean is 너희 (neohui). Notice this is not an honorific, so never use 너희 (neohui) when speaking to strangers, the elderly, or the boss.
너희들이 여기서 놀고 있었구나. (Neohuideuri yeogiseo nolgo isseossuguna.) So you all were playing here.
“We” in Korean
The most general term for “we” in Korean is 우리 (uri).
우리는 함께 공부해요. (Urineun hamkke gongbuhaeyo.) We study together.
Sometimes 우리 (uri) can also mean “my”. For example, “my family” in Korean is 우리 가족 (uri gajok)
A more informal term for “we” in korean is 저희 (jeohui). It also reflects a humble tone.
저희 가족은 매주 일요일에 함께 점심을 먹어요. (Jeohui gajogeun maeju ilyoile hamkke jeomsim-eul meogeoyo.) My family has lunch together every Sunday.
“He”, “She”, “They” in Korean
It’s worth noting that the pronouns for “he”, “she”, and “they” in Korean are almost never used in Spoken Korean. 그 (geu), 그녀 (geunyeo), and 그들 (geudeul) are primarily encountered in written Korean, such as literature or formal documents.
“He”: 그 (geu)
그는 음악을 좋아해요. (Geuneun eumak-eul johahaeyo.) He likes music.
“She”: 그녀 (geunyeo)
그녀는 배우로 활동하고 있어요. (Geunyeoneun baeuro hwaldonghago isseoyo.) She is working as an actress.
“They”: 그들 (geudeul)
그들은 친구들과 함께 여행을 갔어요. (Geudeureun chingudeulgwa hamkke yeohaeng-eul gasseo.) They went on a trip with their friends.
In spoken Korean, the specific pronouns for “he,” “she,” and “they” (그, 그녀, 그들) are rarely used. Instead, Korean speakers often rely on context, verb forms, and other linguistic cues to indicate the subject. This may be related to their cultural value of collectivism, where individuals are viewed within their social and relational contexts, rather than through isolated identities.
Then how do people address each other without using these third-person pronouns? Check out our previous article about Korean honorifics.
Korean Demonstrative Pronouns
Demonstrative pronouns refer to objects in physical relation to the speaker and the listener. For example: “this” and “that” in English are demonstrative pronouns. In Korean, demonstrative pronouns include:
- This: 이것 (igeot) = this thing
- That: 저것 (jeogeot) = that thing (far away from both the speaker and listener)
- It: 그것 (geugeot) = the thing (close to the speaker and far away from the listener)
In Korean, the word “것” (geot) literally means “thing”. So 이것 (igeot) literally translates to “this thing”, rather than “this”.
You can replace “것” (geot) with specific nouns. For instance, “this pen” would be 이 펜 (i pen) and “that apple” would be 저사과 (jeosagwa).
Korean Possessive Pronouns
Possessive pronouns indicate ownership or possession of an object. “My” and “Your” are common English possessive pronouns. 의 (ui) is equivalent to ” ‘s” in English, and it is usually pronounced as 에 (e) in this situation.
|English||Korean (Polite)||Korean (Impolite)||Example Words|
|My||저의(jeoui)||내 (nae)||나의 가방 (naui gabang) – My bag|
|Your||당신의 (dangsin-ui)||너의 (neoui)||당신의 집 (dangsin-ui jip) – Your house|
|Your (Plural)||여러분의 (yeoreobun-ui)||너희의 (neohui)||여러분의 자동차 (yeoreobun-ui jadongcha) – Your (plural) car|
|His||그의 (geu-ui)||그의 책 (geu-ui chaek) – His book|
|Her||그녀의 (geunyeo-ui)||그녀의 가방 (geunyeo-ui gabang) – Her bag|
|Our||저희의 (jeohui-ui)||우리의 (uri-ui) (general)||우리의 집 (uri-ui jip) – Our house|
|Their||그들의 (geudeul-ui)||그들의 학교 (geudeul-ui hakgyo) – Their school|
Korean Interrogative Pronouns
|What||무엇 (mueot)||– 뭐를 먹고 싶으세요? (Mworeul meokgo sip-euseyo)
– What would you like to eat?
|Who||누구 (nugu)||– 누구를 기다리고 있나요? (Nugureul gidarigo innayo)
– Who are you waiting for?
|Where||어디 (eodi)||– 어디에 가고 싶으세요? (Eodie gago sip-euseyo)
– Where do you want to go?
|When||언제 (eonje)||– 언제 출발해야 할까요? (Eonje chulbalhaeya halkkayo)
– When should we depart?
|How||어떻게 (eotteoke)||– 어떻게 이것을 사용하나요? (Eotteoke igeoseul sayong-hanayo)
– How do you use this?
|Which||어느 (eoneu)||– 어느 방향으로 가야 하나요? (Eoneu banghyang-euro gaya hanaeyo)
– Which direction should we go?
|Why||왜 (wae)||– 왜 그렇게 생각하시나요? (Wae geureohge saenggakhayasinyo)
– Why do you think so?
Congratulations on finishing the article! Before you go, In Korean, personal pronouns are often left out as well. This omission of pronouns is a distinctive feature of speaking Korean. Therefore, overusing pronouns can actually feel unnatural in Korean conversations. However, as we are still learning Korean, it’s important to first familiarize ourselves with these pronouns for a better understanding of the language.