Confusing Korean Kinship Terms

In the grammar lessons of this course you’re going to be introduced to some sentences that make use of Korean family vocabulary, such as mother, father, sister, brother etc. To get you warmed up for this, we’re going to teach you some Korean family terms.

가족 Family

Unfortunately, the number of Korean kinship terms far exceeds the number of English words so there are quite a few new words to memorize! Don’t let the quantity put you off, you’re not expected to know them all straight away. Many of the words you’re about to learn will be used in future units and you can always use this lesson as reference in the future.

So, let’s get stuck in by learning how to address our parents in Korean.

부모님Parents
아버지Father
아빠Dad
어머니Mother
엄마Mum / Mom

Just like in English, there are two different ways to address your parents – formally and informally.

아버지 and 어머니 have a more formal tone and are used in the same way “father” and “mother” are used in English. They are not generally used by the younger generation and it is more common for older people to address his or her parents in this manner. These expressions are usually used when talking about your own parents in a formal setting or when talking to or about someone else’s parents and you want to show them respect.

On the other hand, 아빠 and 엄마 are informal terms and the use of these are almost identical to that of “dad” and “mom.” They are used in everyday situations to address your parents directly, as well when referring to your parents to friends or in casual settings.

You can also call your close friend’s parents and your in-law’s “father” and “mother” too, using the honorific words:

아버님Father (Super formal)
어머님Mother (Super formal)

These very formal terms are used when you’re meeting your friend’s or partner’s parents for the first few times. Even though you’re not blood-related, addressing them as “father” and “mother” conveys respect. Once your relationship with them becomes closer, you can switch to using 아버지 and 어머니.

So now you know how to address your parents, let’s take a look at what you call their parents.

조부모Grandparents
할아버지Father's father
외할아버지Mother's father
할머니Father's mother
외할머니Mother's mother

Unlike in English, there are different labels for your grandparents depending on whether they are your father’s parents or your mother’s parents. However, this only applies when referring to them. When you directly address your grandparents from your mother’s side of the family, you can drop the “외” part of the word and simply call them 할아버지 and 할머니.

So far, it’s been pretty simple. However that is all about to change as addressing your uncle and aunties can become confusing.

사촌Cousin
삼촌Father's unmarried brother
큰아버지Father's older married brother
큰어머니Father's older brother's wife
작은아버지Father's younger married brother
작은어머니Father's younger brother's wife
고모Father's sister
고모부Father's sister's husband

As you can see, the label you use for your father’s brother depends on his age and his marital status. If your uncle isn’t married, he is addressed as 삼촌, but once he becomes married the term you use for him changes to either 큰아버지 which literally means “big father” if he’s older than your father, and 작은아버지 which means “small father” if he is younger than your father.

Thankfully, addressing your mother’s brother and sister is a lot easier as there is only one term to learn for each.

외삼촌Mother's brother
외숙모Mother's brother's wife
이모Mother's sister
이모부Mother's sister's husband
September 17, 2016

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