The Korean language has its own alphabet letters that are made up of Korean vowels and consonants.
If you have been studying with us for a while, you may have already noticed our article on learning the Korean alphabet that gives you a guide to learn Hangul.
Based on that article, in today’s lesson, we will specifically focus on Korean vowels. After this lesson, you will have a deeper understanding of what Korean or Hangul vowels are, how to pronounce them and how Korean syllables are constructed with them. Let’s get started!
What is “vowels” in Korean?
In the Korean language, vowels are referred to as 모음 (moeum).
How many vowels are in the Korean alphabet?
There are 21 vowels in the Korean language. Of these 10 are basic vowels, and the remaining 11 are double vowels built upon these basic vowels.
What are the vowels in Korean?
Korean vowels can be categorized into basic and double vowels. We’ve listed down the complete list of vowels below, along with their vowel sounds or their closest sound approximation to English letters.
Korean Basic Vowels
There are ten basic vowels in the Korean alphabet. Below is a list of the ten vowels in Hangul with their character pronunciation. However, it’s important to note that the character pronunciation below is just a close approximation of the Korean alphabet letters. Their sound may vary when they are combined with other Korean letters.
Korean Double Vowels
There are 11 double vowels in the Korean alphabet. These Korean letters are formed by combining the basic vowels.
|ㅝ||wo or weo|
Korean Vowel Names
Similar to all other letters of any language, such as English, Korean letters also have their assigned names. However, the naming systems for Korean consonants and vowels are different. Consonants in the Korean alphabet have their specific names assigned to each of them, while vowels simply follow the sound they produce for their names.
Let’s take a look at the different vowel names in the list below.
|Vowels||Korean Vowel Names||Romanized Spelling|
|ㅝ||워||wo or weo|
How to pronounce Korean vowels?
As with Korean consonants, the pronunciation of Korean vowels may not be directly what you expect from the romanization of the Korean word. Therefore we encourage you to learn the pronunciation directly from the 한글 (hangeul) instead.
If you’d like to focus on Korean pronunciation first before moving forward with Korean vowels specifically, we have an article focused solely on it. Otherwise, let’s keep getting friendly with Korean vowels!
The basic rule of thumb with pronouncing each Korean vowel is that each character tries to resemble the sound they make as accurately as possible.
ㅓ and ㅕvs ㅗ and ㅛ
In both ㅓ and ㅕ, the “e” is skipped in pronunciation, making their pronunciations “o” and “yo” respectively. As you may notice, there is already a different character for both “o” and “yo,” which are ㅗ and ㅛ respectively. So how do you differentiate between the sounds they make?
In both ㅗ and ㅛ your mouth forms a tight o-shape, which makes the sound more emphasized than it does in ㅓ or ㅕ.
ㅐ and ㅒ vs ㅔ and ㅖ
Similarly, in ㅐ and ㅒ, the “a” is skipped in pronunciation. In fact, the most prominent difference between pronouncing ㅐ and ㅒ versus ㅔ and ㅖ is that the e-sound is lengthier in the latter two.
Additionally, take note of each vowel combining two vowels into one. Examples are ㅘ and ㅞ. While ㅗ alone has the “o” sound and ㅜ alone sounds more like “u,” when combined into a vowel with another basic vowel, both develop a sound closer to “w.” This is simply for making the vowel sound more natural.
ㅡ and ㅢ
Lastly, explaining the sound of ㅡ and ㅢ in romanized letters is the hardest as the sound is largely different from its romanization. Not necessarily more complicated, but one for which a character in the Roman alphabet does not exist. As you may notice from how the letter is drawn, your mouth is expected to form a wide stance with your lips and teeth nearly pursed together when creating the sound.
How to construct syllables with Korean vowels?
Most of the Korean syllable construction with vowels is rather straightforward. You simply add the vowel after the consonant, including the soundless one, ㅇ. Remember that ㅇ is used as the first letter in a syllable in cases where the syllable sound begins with a vowel.
If the Korean syllable has an ending consonant, then another consonant will be added after the vowel. Otherwise, you move to build the next syllable.
Syllables with double vowels
In the case of double vowels starting with ㅗ or ㅜ or ㅡ, the consonant will be added above this portion of the vowel, while the latter part of the vowel combination is “left over” as its own part of the syllable. For example, the verb 와 (wa) means “come” in the present casual tense.
It is also entirely possible for a Korean syllable to have one vowel (that is not a double vowel) with three consonants! But you will want to check the lesson for Korean consonants to learn more about this.
And that’s it for Korean vowels at this time! Perhaps you would like to move on to other Korean grammar we have in store for you? Although first, after learning both consonants and vowels, we highly recommend you learn to memorize each one, how they sound like and how you construct Korean syllable blocks and Korean words with them. You may enjoy learning this through our Korean slang article!
Learn to read Korean and be having simple conversations, taking taxis and ordering in Korean within a week with our FREE Hangeul Hacks series: http://www.90DayKorean.com/learn