Curious about Korean consonants? You came to the right place! In this article lesson, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about Korean consonants. As you learn about these Korean letters, along with Korean vowels, you’ll soon be able to form a Korean word, and eventually, sentences.
Let’s get to it!
What is “consonant” in Korean?
The Korean word for consonant is 자음 (jaeum). Consonants will help you form words in Korean with the other half of the Korean alphabet which are Korean vowels or 모음 (moeum).
How many consonants in Korean are there?
There are 14 basic Korean consonants, plus 5 double consonants which makes 19 consonants in total.
What are the basic Korean consonants?
Here are the 14 basic consonants in Korean language. The basic thought behind creating each Korean letter has been to draw the symbol with its pronunciation in mind.
How to pronounce Korean consonants
Although we’ve laid out the sounds in their romanization here, the correct pronunciation may not be exactly what you expect. That is because the Korean pronunciation is not directly the same way an equivalent to how English letters would be.
The Korean alphabet, 한글 (Hangeul), is a very scientific alphabet. This is used in both South Korea and North Korea. It is an official writing system where each alphabetic letter is shaped according to the sound they make and this concept is very much present in Korean consonants too. Understanding this can also help Korean learners understand each sound fast along with overall Korean pronunciation.
Basic consonant sounds
Among the 14 consonants, there are five basic consonants whose shapes are also used to determine how they should sound as you speak Korean. These five basic consonants are ㅁ, ㄴ, ㅅ, ㄱ, and ㅇ. The basic shape that each consonant represents are the following:
Bilabial – represents the shape of the lips. The bilabial consonants are ㅁ, ㅂ, ㅍ.
Alveolar – represents the shape of the tongue touching just behind the teeth. The alveolar consonants are ㄴ, ㄷ, ㅌ, ㄹ.
Alveolo-palatal/dental – represents the shape of a tooth. The alveolo-palatal or dental consonants are ㅅ, ㅈ, ㅊ.
Velar – represents the shape of the tongue that touches the back of the roof of the mouth. The velar consonants are ㄱ, ㅋ.
Glottal –represents the shape of the throat. The glottal consonants are ㅇ, ㅎ.
Korean consonants’ names
Below we have included some example words for each consonant letter which may help you learn the consonant sound. These words are the actual names of these Korean consonants. We have included romanization as an aid, but we advise Korean learners to focus on learning through Korean alphabet letters directly as it is more accurate.
How to pronounce Korean double consonants
In addition to the 14 basic consonants, the Korean language also has 5 more consonants called double or twin consonants, making the Korean consonant letter tally 19. So, what are these Korean consonants? We’ll show you below!
The sound that this type of consonant makes when pronounced falls somewhere between plain or basic consonants and aspirated consonants in its hardness. That means, for example, that although ㄲ has ㄱ twice in it, its sound is not directly twice as hard as ㄱ.
Korean double consonant names
Just like the basic consonants, the double ones also have their own names. These are quite easy to remember if you’re already familiar with the names of the first 14 consonants that we listed above. These consonants are also called 쌍 (ssang) or “twin” letters in Korean. Here’s how each of them is called:
That was easy to memorize, right? You simply need to add 쌍 (ssang) before the respective basic consonant’s name to form the twin letters’ name!
Differences in pronunciation based on the Korean consonant type
Basically, there are three different types of Korean consonants: plain, tense, and aspirated. They are labeled into different groups according to their Korean pronunciation.
Plain or basic consonants are all the ones from ㄱ to ㅈ, plus ㅎ. These Korean consonants are pronounced without any aspiration. That means, no burst of air is required to pronounce each consonant letter.
Double or tense consonants are Hangul consonants that have pronunciations harder than the basic consonants, but not as strong as the aspirated consonants.
These are the aspirated consonants: ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ . Unlike the basic consonants, the aspirated consonants require such a burst of air, or aspiration, in their pronunciation. That is why their romanization sometimes comes with the h-sound.
Differences in pronunciation based on position in a syllable
There are three different positions for a consonant in a syllable: initial, medial, and final. Therefore, there are also a variety of pronunciations for each consonant. When a consonant is in an initial position, it tends to be voiceless. In simpler words, it means each consonant is pronounced as shown in the table below:
on initial position
Each of these consonant sounds has a rather weak Korean pronunciation. Also, the length of the sound should be short.
As mentioned above, a Korean consonant in an initial position tends to be voiceless. However, notice above that there are two exceptions to the initial consonant rule. The first is ㅂ, which is the one Korean consonant that does have a “voice”, so to speak.
A Korean syllable blocks, a syllable starts with a consonant at all times. The consonant ㅇ, when used as the initial consonant in a Korean syllable, is entirely silent. If it is not the first syllable in a word, it merely strengthens the last consonant of the previous syllable, if the end of the syllable is a consonant.
A medial consonant is more complex. Here the sound and pronunciation of the consonant depend on if the previous syllable ended with a consonant or a vowel. Specifically, if the medial consonant is ㄱ, ㄷ, ㄴ or ㅂ. The basic rule of thumb is that a medial consonant following a vowel will be pronounced as normal, so ㄱ is g, ㄷ is d, and so on.
A Korean consonant following a consonant, however, will be pronounced more like a tense consonant. So ㄱ would be pronounced more similarly to ㄲ, and ㄷ more similarly to ㄸ, and so on.
Final consonants are those that finish off a syllable, for example, ㄹ in 글 (geul). They are called 받침 (batchim) in the Korean language. This also serves as a base or support of Korean syllable blocks as it is the bottom position of consonants in a syllable block.
The 받침 is an important part of Korean pronunciation because it often determines a change in the way Korean words are pronounced. However, not all Korean syllables have 받침.
Consonants in the 받침 position can either be common or mixed final consonants.
Common Final consonants
All double and basic consonants can be used as final consonants except for ㄸ, ㅃ, and ㅉ.
Mixed Final Consonants
These consonants are also known as double batchim, there’s only a limited number of possible combinations. These are 11 of them which are: ㄳ, ㄵ, ㄶ, ㄺ, ㄻ, ㄼ, ㄽ, ㄾ, ㄿ, ㅀ, and ㅄ.
Pronunciation rules for final consonants
There are several rules that affect the sound the syllable would produce. Here is an example:
밥 (bap) –> the final ㅂ has a “p” sound, but its sound is shorter and more voiceless than the initial ㅂ
사랑 (sarang) –> here the ㅇ is pronounced as “ng”
Also, in the cases where the final consonant is followed by a syllable starting with “ㅇ”, the final consonant keeps its typical sound and ties directly with the next syllable. ㅇ will remain entirely silent when it starts the following syllable. For example:
만원 (manwon) –> the pronunciation is closer to “manon”
A further complication is the final consonants “ㄷ” and “ㅌ” when the following syllable block consists of “이” (i) where only the vowel has a sound. In these cases “ㄷ” is pronounced like “ㅈ” and ㅌ like “ㅊ”.
같이 (gachi) –> if written down based on its pronunciation, it will look more like “가치”
Furthermore, often when “ㅎ” is the final consonant or the initial consonant of the next syllable, with the previous syllable block finishing with a final consonant, it strengthens the connecting consonant. For example:
잡히다 (japida) –> the “ㅂ” will be pronounced like “ㅍ”
그렇지 (geureochi) –> the “ㅈ” will be pronounced like “ㅊ”
However, if the consonant combination is ㅎ + ㄹ, ㅎ will become silent and only ㄹ will have a sound. ㅎ will also become silent when the next syllable starts with ㅇ. Like this:
괜찮아요 (gwaenchanayo) –> the ㅎ is silent, the pronunciation jumping directly from ㄴ to the vowel ㅏ
That’s it for Korean consonants! Learning this concept as you practice how to speak Korean will surely help with your pronunciation. For further reading on how consonants and vowels, and whole Korean words are pronounced in the Korean language and other rules on Korean pronunciation, please refer to our guide on Korean pronunciation. In the next lesson, we will tackle Korean vowels with you!
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