Following 學 [학], it is only natural we discuss another character of one of the first words a Korean learner learns: 先 [선]. This is another basic Hanja so expect a lot of common words using this single character.

For future reference: We’ll add links to the individual Hanja in the in Hanja spelled words when a post dedicated to that single Hanja is created.

Hanja #4: 先 – 먼저 선

The character 先 [선] means “first in line” so in a way it talks about order; things that came first (먼저). It is a common character that is part of plenty of Korean words. In fact, the word 선생님 consists of both 先 [선] and 生 [생]. Can you guess why Koreans write the word for teacher using these characters? It is because a teacher lived first and thus has experience in life to teach to others. Pretty nifty, no?

As mentioned this is a very basic character, a lot vocabulary related to people having experiences, past experiences and other such things with a certain expression of first in order can end up with this hanja. Many of those words, though, are rather specific and you’ll end up using them infrequently.

If you happen to know any other word you think has this 先 [선], let us know in the comments.

Vocabulary related to 先

*Meanings written in italics are the meanings when you use the noun as a 하다 verb.

한국어 Meaning 한자어
선생 Teacher
선왕 The late (previous) king
선금 Payment in advance, down payment
여선생 Female teacher
Hanja Word Drill: 先 – 먼저 선
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Hanja Word Drill: 先 – 먼저 선