In Korean culture the family holds a special place in a Korean’s world. The deeper virtues Korean culture values most deeply are always found within this part of society. Therefore it is necessary for anyone hoping to begin understanding Korean culture, it needs to understand Korean familial ties. These ties are so important that innumerable Korean words exist to express many kinds of ties you can have within your extended family. So it is best we get started.
Table Of Contests
Because vocabulary for family in the Korean language is very extensive and can end up being a bit complicated, this article ended up being very long. Therefore, for your convenience we created this handy little table of contents. It will allow you to fast forward to the part you are most interested in. Enjoy our user friendliness!
- The Basics: Your Family
- The Paternal Side – 친가
- The Maternal Side – 외가
- Your Siblings’ Family
- Your Spouse’s Family
- Your Children’s Family
- Kinship – 寸
- Family Vocabulary List
The Basics: Your Family
Family has always been an important pillar in Korean society. The rapid spreading of Confucianism (유교 – 儒敎) in Korea would forever cement family as a foundation pillar in Korean society. However, to explain the Confucianist ideals of filial piety is way beyond the scope of this article. Besides I don’t think I’m suitable enough to even begin explaining something as complex as Confucianist ideals. I merely understand the basic notions of it. And, even that statement is stretching it.
However, as a result of these Confucianist ideals on family and society, a lot of vocabulary is focused on family members and your relationship with them. Knowing those Sino-Korean words will help you begin better understand those ideas. Naturally we’ll always write all those Sino-Korean in Hanja as that will help you better understand these words. Hanja is always better at depicting the meaning of words than Hangeul. Tip: When there’s both a Sino-Korean (hanja!) and native Korean word, the Sino-Korean word is always considered formal and thus more polite.
Basic Family Members
So let us get started on the absolute basics of family related vocabulary in Korean. We start of with the word for family, which is 가족 [家族]. You use the following words for the most basic members:
- 외할머니 [外할머니] – Maternal grandmother
- 외할아버지 [外할아버지] – Maternal grandfather
- 할머니 – (Paternal) Grandmother
- 할아버지 – (Paternal) Grandfather
- 아버지 – Father
- 어머니 – Father
- 형 [兄] – Older brother (used by men)
- 오빠 – Older brother (used by women)
- 누나 – Older sister (used by men)
- 언니 – Older sister (used by women)
- 동생 [同生] – Younger sibling
- 여동생 [女同生] – Younger sister
- 남동생 [男同生] – Younger brother
- 형제 [兄弟] – Brothers
- 자매 [姉妹] – Sisters
Parents and Grandparents
Your parents you refer to with the word 부모 [父母]. This word and the individual words for your parents, you will often use with the honorific affix -님. When you use this honorific, it is best not to forget to apply honorific language (존댓말). However, most Koreans will refer to their parents more informally with 엄마 (mother) and 아빠 (father).
Your grandparents on the other hand you call them either 조부모 [祖父母], for your paternal grandparents, or 외조부모 [外祖父母], for your maternal grandparents. There are also more formal words for both your grandmother and grandfather besides 할머니 and 할아버지. Those other words are the Sino-Korean and more formal sounding 조모 [祖母] (paternal grandmother), 외조모 [外祖母] (maternal grandmother), 조부 [祖父] (paternal grandfather) and 외조부 [外祖父] (maternal grandfather). You will often use these words with the honorific affix -님 and most often will use honorific language (존댓말).
If perchance they are still among the living, there are also words for your great-grandparents. The word for them collectively is 증조부모 [曾祖父母] or 외증조부모 [外曾祖父母] . The rest follows as your grandparents, but with the character 曾 [증] added into the mix:
- 증조모 [曾祖母] – (Paternal) Great-grandmother
- 외증조모 [外曾祖母] – Maternal great-grandmother
- 증조부 [曾祖父] – (Paternal) Great-grandfather
- 외증조부 [外曾祖父] – Maternal great-grandfather
The Hanja 外 [외]
You perhaps noticed a character keep reappearing for words referring to the parents of your mother, your maternal grandparents: 外 [외]. Unlike what you might think, this hanja does not signify “maternal”. This character signifies “outside”. It shows an interesting aspect of the Korean family. When a woman marries a man, she ‘leaves’ her family, joining her husband’s family. Due to that, the grandparents on your mother’s side are considered ‘outside’ your family. However, when you talk to them directly you will still call them 할머니 and 할아버지, without the 외.
The Paternal Side – 친가
However, if the basics were enough, I would not bother with creating a huge article on the subject of family. As I already said multiple times due to Confucian influences your familial ties are very important. And, at the center of the Confucian family is the father. Because of that a lot of attention is given to your father’s side of the family. In Korean you call that side of the family: 친가 [親家]. Let us talk about all the words you use for people within your father’s side of the family.
We already covered your paternal grandparents. As a reminder you call them 조부모 [祖父母] as a pair. Your grandfather is your 할아버지 and your grandmother is your 할머니. That is all quite easy, but your father can also have a lot of brothers and sisters and that is where it starts getting complicated. We’ll take things slow.
We’ll start with the easiest part of your father’s family, your paternal aunts. When it comes to your father’s sisters, your aunts, age matters not. Their basic title is always the same which is 고모 [姑母]. Their husbands you ought to call 고모부 [姑母夫]. Regardless of their sex, their children, your cousins, are all named 사촌 [四寸] (We’ll come back to 촌 [寸] later). That is really everything there is to say about on your father’s sisters, their spouses and their children.
Your father’s brothers, however, are a lot more complicated. Confucian ideals tend to put men more on a pedestal than women. So, it is not surprising male members of the family are more complex than the women. Anyway, for your father’s brothers their age is important. You will refer to your father’s older brother’s differently than how you refer to your father’s younger brothers.
Your Father’s Younger Brothers
First, let us discuss your father’s younger brothers. In the most simplest terms, all your father’s younger brothers are your 작은아버지. You will call their wives, 작은어머니. Though, the more affectionate terms are: 작은아빠 and 작은엄마. However, like with your grandparents, there are more formal words for them. That formal, Sino-Korean word for your father’s younger brother is 숙부 [叔父]. For his wife, it it 숙모 [叔母].
Luckily their children don’t get a special term. Their title is the same as for the children of your paternal aunts: 사촌 [四寸].
Your Father’s Older Brothers
Next you have words for your father’s older brothers. They are very similar to his younger brothers. All your father’s older brothers are your 큰아버지. You will call their wives, 큰어머니. Like with the younger brothers, you also have more affectionate terms: 큰아빠 and 큰엄마.
You also have more formal, Sino-Korean words. For the oldest of your father’s male siblings, you use the word 백부 [伯父]. His wife is 백모 [伯母]. For the older brothers between the eldest and your father, you have the word 중부 [仲父]. Their wives are your 중모 [仲母]. You won’t hear 중부 and 중모 that often. They are hardly used in daily conversations. Same goes for 백부 and 백모 really.
Your Father’s Unmarried Brothers
Lastly, there is also a word for your father’s unmarried brothers: 삼촌 [三寸 ]. Originally, this word was only used for his younger brothers. Nowadays, however, you can use it when referring to any of your father’s uncles when they are still a bachelor.
Talking About Your Father’s Siblings
Talking about your paternal uncles can be a bit tricky. When you talk about them, not to them, you will need to order them according to their age. In simplest terms, the elder brother of your father is then your 큰아버지. After him you simply order all the other uncles using native Korean ordinal numbers such as: 둘째 큰아버지, 셋째 큰아버지, etc. You will do the same for their wives. The same goes for his younger brothers and their wives, but instead you use 작은아버지/작은어머니.
However, for your paternal aunts you will simply resort to adding either 큰 or 작은. This goes for all your father’s sisters, regardless whether they are younger or older than him. just their age matters for this.
What’s In The Words
A careful observer will have recognized a recurring theme in the vocabulary used regarding your uncles on your father’s side. In native Korean they are all called 아버지 and their wives 어머니. The Sino-Korean words for your paternal uncles have the hanja 父 [부], while the Sino-Korean words for their wives and your paternal aunts have the hanja 母 [모]. That is of course no coincidence.
In Korean tradition your paternal uncles, their wives and your paternal aunts are not simply your aunts and uncles. No, they are as much your parents as your biological parents are. In the Korean view they too will raise you as their own child and they will help you when you are in need. They are another father and/or mother you have and it is why you will refer to the with words that contain ‘father’ and ‘mother’ in their titles. I guess for some that is a blessing and for others a curse, having so many parents.
The Maternal Side – 외가
Because the foundation is the father in Korean/Confucian society, the mother’s side of the family is far less complex. The major ideas such as talking about more than one uncle/aunt with ordinal numbers still apply for the mother’s side. Also your cousins on mother’s side you can still simply refer to 사촌 [四寸].
As we also already said, your grandparents on mother’s side are know as 외조부모 [外祖父母]. This grandfather is know as 외할아버지 or, more formally, as 외조부 [外祖父]. Your grandmother is called 외할머니 or, more formally 외조모 [外祖母]. This we have already discussed in this article.
Your maternal aunts and uncles, however, we haven’t discussed so far. To put things simple, this story is a lot more simple than your father’s side. Your maternal aunts, regardless their age, you call simply 이모 [姨母]. Their husband your call 이모부 [姨母夫]. Your maternal uncles you simply call 외숙부 [外叔父] and their wives are your 외숙모 [外叔母].
There is little more to say about your mother’s side of the family except that the word for this side of your family is 외가 [外家].
Your Siblings’ Family
Of course, if you have siblings, they too will one day begin a family. Unsurprisingly for a culture where family is a pillar, there are specific words you use regarding your siblings’ family, more specifically their spouses. These words depend on the age of your sibling and your sex. We’ll go over them using simply two lists; one for when you are a woman and the other for when you are a man.
Sibling Vocabulary For Women
- 오빠 – Older brother
- 새언니 – Older brother’s wife
- 언니 – Older sister
- 형부 [兄夫] – Older sister’s husband
- 동생 [同生] – Younger sibling
- 제수 [弟嫂] – Younger brother’s wife
- 올케 – Younger brother’s wife
Sibling Vocabulary For Men
- 형 [兄]- Older brother
- 형수 [兄嫂] – Older brother’s wife
- 누나 – Older sister
- 매형 [妹兄] – Older sister’s husband
- 동생 [同生] – Younger sibling
- 제수 [弟嫂] – Younger brother’s wife
- 매제 [妹弟] – Younger sister’s husband
Their children, your nieces and nephews are all called 조카. However, there is a specific word for niece in Korean, 조카딸.
Your Spouse’s Family
Another important aspect of your family are your in-laws. You will have to learn a whole new set of words just to talk about them. To make matters worse, those words depend entirely on your gender. To at least bring some order, we have made two images here to help you out. One depicts the in-laws from a woman’s perspective, the other from a man’s perspective. Let’s go over the words, shall we?
Some things to keep in mind when talking to your parents-in-law. Regardless the terms you learn here, when you are talking to them, you call them 어머니 and 아버지. The same goes for the grandparents. However, for the siblings you keep using the titles when talking to them.
The In-Laws From A Woman’s Perspective
- 시할머니 [媤할머니] – Paternal grandmother-in-law
- 시할아버지 [媤할아버지]- Paternal grandfather-in-law
- 시외할머니 [媤外할머니] – Maternal grandmother-in-law
- 시외할아버지 [媤外할아버지] – Maternal grandfather-in-law
- 시아버지 [媤아버지] – Father-in-law
- 시어머니 [媤어머니] – Mother-in-law
- 형님 [兄님] – Sister-in-law (남편의 누나); Brother-in-law’s wife (아주버님의 아내)
- 아주버님 – Brother-in-law (남편의 형)
- 서방님 [書房님] – Sister-in-law’s husband (아가씨의 남편); Married Brother-in-law (남편의 남동생)
- 남편 [男便] – Husband
- 아가씨 – Sister-in-law (남편의 여동생)
- 도련님 – Unmarried brother-in-law (남편의 남동생)
- 동서 [同壻] – Brother-in-law’s wife (서방님의 아내)
- 시동생 [媤同生] – Younger sibling-in-law
- 시누이 [媤누이] – Sister-in-law
- 시부모 [媤父母] – Parents-in-law
The In-Laws From A Man’s Perspective
- 처조모 [妻祖母] – Paternal grandmother-in-law
- 처조부 [妻祖父] – Paternal grandfather-in-law
- 처외조모 [妻外祖母] – Maternal grandmother-in-law
- 처외조부 [妻外祖父] – Maternal grandmother-in-law
- 장인 [丈人] – Father-in-law
- 장모 [丈母] – Mother-in-law
- 아내 – Wife
- 부인 [夫人] – Wife
- 안사람 – Wife
- 형님댁 [兄님宅] – Brother-in-law’s wife (형님의 아내)
- 형님 [兄님] – Brother-in-law (아내의 오빠); Sister-in-law’s husband (처형의 남편)
- 처형 [妻兄] – Sister-in-law (아내의 언니)
- 처제 [妻弟] – Sister-in-law (아내의 여동생)
- 서방 [書房] – Sister-in-law’s husband (처제의 남편)
- 처남 [妻男] – Brother-in-law (아내의 남동생)
- 처남댁 [妻男宅] – Brother-in-law’s wife (처남의 아내)
- 동서 [同壻] – Brother-in-law’s wife (처남의 아내); Sister-in-law’s husband (처제의 남편)
Your Children’s Family
The dream of every Korean parent is to become a grandparent. Of course, there are some terms you need to keep in mind when talking about your children, their spouses and your grandchildren. Your son in Korean is 아들 and your daughter is called 딸. As a whole the korean word for children is 아이들. Although, if you want to say it more formally, you can use the Sino-Korean 자녀 [子女].
When your son marries, your daughter-in-law is your 며느리. Your son-in-law, your daughter’s husband, is your 사위. Their in-laws are from your perspective in Korean 사돈 [査頓].
The dream is complete when your children have children of their own. There is a small distinction between the grandchildren given to you by your son and those given to you by your daughter. The grandson given to you by your son is 손자 [孫子], while the granddaughter is 손녀 [孫女]. However, those given to you by your daughter are your 외손자 [外孫子] and 외손녀 [外孫女] respectively. The collective korean word is 손주 [孫주] for those given to you by the son and 외손주 [外孫주] for those given by your daughter.
Kinship – 寸
However, before I end this article completely, I want to touch one last thing. The thing is called kinship or 촌 [寸]. This is in some ways an important aspect in Korean families. It is important because it is used to express the degree of kinship. Expressing degree of kinship is done using Sino-Korean numbers with 촌 [寸].
Actually, you already know 2 words 사촌 [四寸] (cousin) and 삼촌 [三寸] (uncle). Indeed, their titles are simply their degree of kinship regarding you. Now, to get a better understanding we should talk about what makes one 촌. Your parents are 일촌 [一寸] and your siblings grandparents are all are 이촌 [二寸] and so on. Degree of kinship is important when you are talking about very extended family as in your father’s first cousin and the likes. So as you can imagine for most people it isn’t something they’ll deal with that often. Regardless it utilizes a cool hanja so I wanted to talk about it.
With this we have come to the end. So far we have covered plenty of Korean words regarding your family. As you can see family is something very important so a lot of words exist dealing with just that. However, this is just the foot of this mountain. There are still many words left untouched by this text. However, those words are so specific, chances are you’ll never even hear or see them. When you need them, you Korean family will give you a quick lesson. Besides most likely they had to look it up as well because this is difficult even for native Koreans. So don’t feel bad if you cannot perfectly memorize all these words.
Family Vocabulary List
We have come to the end of this very long article on Korean family. We have covered a lot of vocabulary along the way. So much in fact, it might be a bit difficult to keep track of all the words we covered. To help you we made this simple vocabulary list to help you out. Like the vocabulary lists for our Hanja Word Drills, you can simply click the individual Hanja to go to the article on that particular Hanja, if it exists. Enjoy learning all these different words related to family in Korean!
|형||Older brother (used by men)||兄|
|촌||Degree of kinship||寸|
|친가||Father’s side family||親家|
|외가||Mother’s side family||外家|
|사돈||My child’s in-laws||査頓|
|오빠||Older brother (used by women)||오빠|
|누나||Older sister (used by men)||누나|
|언니||Older sister (used by women)||언니|
|동서||Brother-in-law’s wife (처남의 아내); Sister-in-law’s husband (처제의 남편); Brother-in-law’s wife (서방님의 아내)||同壻|
|처남||Brother-in-law (아내의 남동생)||妻男|
|서방||Sister-in-law’s husband (처제의 남편)||書房|
|처제||Sister-in-law (아내의 여동생)||妻弟|
|처형||Sister-in-law (아내의 언니)||妻兄|
|형님||Brother-in-law (아내의 오빠); Sister-in-law’s husband (처형의 남편); Sister-in-law (남편의 누나); Brother-in-law’s wife (서방님의 아내)||兄님|
|장모||Mother-in-law (used by men)||丈母|
|장인||Father-in-law (used by men)||丈人|
|형부||Older sister’s husband (used by women)||兄夫|
|형수||Older brother’s wife (used by men)||兄嫂|
|제수||Younger brother’s wife||弟嫂|
|올케||Younger brother’s wife (used by women)||올케|
|매형||Older sister’s husband (used by men)||妹兄|
|매제||Younger brothers’s wife (used by men)||妹弟|
|삼촌||(Father’s unmarried) brother||三寸|
|숙부||Father’s younger brother, uncle [formal]||叔父|
|숙모||Father’s younger brother’s wife, aunt [formal]||叔母|
|엄마||Mother, mom [informal]||엄마|
|아빠||Father, papa [informal]||아빠|
|조모||(Paternal) Grandmother [formal]||祖母|
|조부||(Paternal) Grandfather [formal]||祖父|
|백부||Father’s oldest brother, uncle [formal]||伯父|
|백모||Father’s oldest brother’s wife, aunt [formal]||伯母|
|중부||Father’s older brother, uncle [formal]||仲父|
|중모||Father’s older brother’s wife, aunt [formal]||仲母|
|시누이||Sister-in-law (남편의 누이)||媤누이|
|이모부||Maternal aunt’s husband (uncle)||姨母夫|
|외손주||Grandchildren (by daughter)||外孫주|
|외손자||Grandson (by daughter)||外孫子|
|외숙모||Maternal uncle’s wife||外叔母|
|고모부||Paternal aunt’s husband (uncle)||姑母夫|
|새언니||Older brother’s wife (used by women)||새언니|
|처남댁||Brother-in-law’s wife (처남의 아내)||妻男宅|
|형님댁||Brother-in-law’s wife (형님의 아내)||兄님宅|
|처조모||Paternal grandmother-in-law (used by men)||妻祖母|
|처조부||Paternal grandfather-in-law (used by men)||妻祖父|
|시부모||Parents-in-law (used by women)||媤父母|
|도련님||Unmarried brother-in-law (남편의 남동생)||도련님|
|아가씨||Sister-in-law (남편의 여동생)||아가씨|
|서방님||Sister-in-law’s husband (아가씨의 남편); Married Brother-in-law (남편의 남동생)||書房님|
|큰아빠||Father’s older brother, uncle [informal]||큰아빠|
|큰엄마||Father’s older brother’s wife, aunt [informal]||큰엄마|
|큰아버지||Father’s older brother, uncle||큰아버지|
|큰어머니||Father’s older brother’s wife, aunt||큰어머니|
|작은아빠||Father’s younger brother, uncle [informal]||外曾祖父|
|작은엄마||Father’s younger brother’s wife, aunt [informal]||外曾祖父|
|처외조부||Maternal grandfather-in-law (used by men)||妻外祖父|
|처외조모||Maternal grandmother-in-law (used by men)||妻外祖母|
|아주버님||Brother-in-law (남편의 형)||아주버님|
|시어머니||Mother-in-law (used by women)||媤어머니|
|시아버지||Father-in-law (used by women)||媤아버지|
|시할머니||Paternal grandmother-in-law (used by women)||媤할머니|
|시할아버지||Paternal grandfather-in-law (used by women)||媤할아버지|
|시외할머니||Maternal grandmother-in-law (used by women)||媤外할머니|
|작은아버지||Father’s younger brother, uncle||작은아버지|
|작은어머니||Father’s younger brother’s wife, aunt||작은어머니|
|시외할아버지||Maternal grandfather-in-law (used by women)||媤外할아버지|