Korean Vowels

korean vowels

The first thing to learn in Korean is Hangul (Korean alphabet), a scientific writing system that made Korean language very easy to pronounce and write. As the official writing system of the Korean language, Hangul consists of 24 basic letters, divided into 10 vowels and 14 consonants.

While you may easily find counterparts in English for Korean consonants, some Korean vowels can be quite tricky to pronounce for absolute beginners. So in this article, we’ll teach you the 10 vowels in Hangul so you can get off to a good start in Korean learning. If you wish to learn more Korean systematically, use LingoDeer app.

Let’s begin!

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What are vowels in Korean?

Korean vowels are called 모음(moeum). Korean vowels were created based on the following three elements: sky, human, and earth(ground).

“•” : this stroke represents sun 

*This stroke above cannot be used alone and it always comes with other vowels. When this stroke is added to horizontal vowels, it changes its shape into “-“. And when it’s added to vertical vowels, it looks like “ı”. (It has changed its shape in Modern Hangul. It used to maintained “•” shape when it’s merged with other vowels centuries ago, but not anymore.)

“ㅣ” : this stroke represents human standing

“ㅡ” : this stroke represents earth(ground)

*This stroke cannot be used alone and it always comes with other vowels. When this stroke is added to horizontal vowels, it changes its shape into “-“. And when it’s added to vertical vowels, it looks like “ı”. (It has changed its shape in Modern Hangul. It used to maintained “•” shape when it’s merged with other vowels centuries ago, but not anymore.)

Basic information about Korean alphabet, Hangul

Each Korean vowel is basically the combination of the above three elements! Let’s take a look at some examples.

ㅣ -> ㅏ (l+•) -> ㅑ (l+••)

ㅣ -> ㅓ (l+•) -> ㅕ (l+••)

ㅡ -> ㅗ (ㅡ+•) -> ㅛ (ㅡ+••)

ㅡ -> ㅜ (ㅡ+•) -> ㅠ (ㅡ+••)

There are 10 basic vowels and 11 complex vowels. Below is the complete list of Korean vowels and its pronunciation guide. However, it’s important to understand that the pronunciation guide is just a close approximation of the English alphabet letters. It doesn’t mean that the pronunciation is exactly the same with the English alphabet sound.

Korean Vowels Charts

10 Basic Vowels

ㅏa

ㅑya

ㅓ eo

ㅕ yeo

ㅗ o

ㅛ yo

ㅜ u

ㅠ yu

ㅣ i

ㅡ eu

11 Complex Vowels (made up of two basic vowels)

ㅐ ae

ㅔ e

ㅒ yae

ㅖ ye

 

ㅘ wa

ㅚ oe

ㅙ wae

ㅝ wo

ㅟ wi

ㅞ we

ㅢ ui

 

 You may have noticed some complex vowels sounds very similar. For example, the difference betweenㅐ and ㅔis barely noticeable. Well, you are definitely not alone. Nowadays, even most Korean natives can no longer distinguish the minor differences in their pronunciation. So you can safely assume they have the same pronunciation.

Here are two groups of vowels that have the same pronunciation.

ㅒ and ㅖ

ㅙ, ㅚ, and ㅞ

How to write Korean vowels? 

There is a correct stroke order for writing Korean vowels. It is important to follow this not only to improve your Hangul letter writing skill, but also to craft beautiful and correct calligraphy. You can use the LingoDeer App to practice the strokes easily. 

Practice writing Korean vowels on the LingoDeer app
Practice writing Hangul on LingoDeer app

How to pronounce vowels in Korean?

It’s simple and scientific how Korean vowel sounds are made. There are 4 basic sounds from 10 basic vowels, which are ㅏ(a), ㅓ(eo), ㅗ(o), ㅜ(u). Add to them the glide sound [y], and they will become ㅑ(ya), ㅕ(yeo), ㅛ(yo), ㅠ(yu). Of course we should not forget 2 other vowels left which are ㅡ(eu) and ㅣ(i).

ㅏa

ㅑya

ㅓ eo

ㅕ yeo

ㅗ o

ㅛ yo

ㅜ u

ㅠ yu

ㅣ i

ㅡ eu

Here are some simple tips for you to pronounce these vowels like a native:

ㅓ vs ㅏ

ㅏ(a) is pronounced like “ah” in English.

ㅓ(eo) is pronounced like “u” in “cup”, or “o” in “love”

ㅗ vs ㅜ

ㅗ(o) is pronounced like “o” in “story”,

ㅜ(u) is pronounced like “oo” in “boots”.

You can also click on the video below to hear how they are pronounced by a native speaker!

How do Korean vowels work? (how to construct syllables)

Korean letters are written in syllabic blocks. Each syllabic block has to include at least one consonant and one vowel. But, what if the word only has a vowel sound?

For example, there is a Korean word that sounds like (ai) which means ‘child’, there are only two vowel sounds: ㅏ(a) and ㅣ(i). How should we write this? ㅏㅣ?! It should be written as 아이. It’s because as I mentioned early, each syllabic block always comes with at least one consonant and one vowel.

The first letter in each syllable block has to be a consonant. So whenever the syllable begins with a vowel sound, then the consonant ㅇ will come as a placeholder and it’s not pronounced.

And where should this placeholder ㅇ be placed? Each vowel either have a long vertical or horizontal line. For the vowels that has long horizontal line, such as ㅗ, ㅛ, ㅜ, ㅠ, ㅡ, placeholder ㅇgoes above the vowel. And for those that has long vertical line, such as ㅏ, ㅑ, ㅓ, ㅕ, ㅣ, placeholder ㅇgoes to the left side of the vowel.

Therefore, syllables that only have vowel sounds must look like this in vocabulary.

아 a

야 ya

어 eo

여 yeo

오 o

요 yo

유 yu

으 eu

이 i

 

For example:

아이(ai) child

오이(oi) cucumber

Here is the list of some Korean words that only have vowel sounds. Learn Korean vowels by practicing reading and writing these words! 

Korean

English
아이(ai) children
우유(uyu) milk
오이(oi) cucumber
오(o) 5
이(i) 2
아야!(aya) ouch!
이유(iyu) reason
여야(yeoya) the opposing parties
여우(yeou) fox
우와!(uwa) wow!
유아(yua) toddler, preschooler
예의(yeui) manners
왜(wae) why?
우애(uae) friendship, fellowship

 

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