The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Hangul is the native alphabet used to write the Korean language (as opposed to the Hanja system borrowed from China). For other romanized spellings of "Hangul", please see Names below.

While Hangul writing may appear ideographic to the uninitiated, it is actually phonetic. Each Hangul syllabic block consists of several of the 24 letters (jamo)—14 consonants and 10 vowels. Historically, the alphabet had three more consonants and one more vowel (See Obsolete Jamo). For a table of phonological descriptions of each letters, see Phonology.



Official names

  • The modern name Hangul (한글) is a term coined by Ju Si-gyeong in 1912 that means "great script" (in archaic Korean) and "Korean script" (in modern Korean) simultaneously. It cannot be written in Hanja, though the first syllable Han (한), if used in the sense of "Korean," may be written as 韓. It is pronounced (IPA), and can be Romanized in the following ways:
    • Hangeul or "Han-geul" in Revised Romanization of Korean; the Korean government uses this (official) spelling in all their English publications and encourages it for all purposes. Many recent publications have adopted this spelling.
    • Han'gŭl in McCune-Reischauer (when used as an English word, it is often rendered without any diacritic: Hangul, or sometimes without capitalization: hangul, and it appears thus in English dictionaries)
    • Hankul in Yale Romanization
  • The original name was Hunmin Jeongeum (see #History)
  • North Koreans prefer to call it Chosŏn'gŭl (조선글), for reasons related to the different Names of Korea.

Alternative names

  • Jeongeum, short for the official Hunmin Jeongeum (see #History)
  • Urigeul (우리글 "our script") is used in both the North and South, but not by non-Koreans.

Hangul has been occasionally denigrated by those who preferred the traditional Hanja writing at least until the early twentieth century, A.D:

  • Eonmun (언문 諺文 "vernacular script"). This ancient name may need an explanation: when Hangul was first invented the nobility rather preferred the Chinese letters to the new script, and derogatively called it as Eonmun.
  • Amkeul (암클 "females’ script"): 암 is a prefix to a noun that signifies it is feminine. Women were traditionally considered inferior to men in Korea.
  • Ahaegeul (아해글 "children‘s script")

However the use of Hanja in writing has become very rare in the past several decades and those names are considered archaic.


Hangul was promulgated by the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty, Sejong the Great, after being developed under his guidance by a team of researchers. (Sejong is often called the inventor of Hangul: he was more likely the "idea person" who commissioned and backed the researchers, consulted with them, and published the final report.) The system was completed in 1443 or January 1444, and published in 1446 in a document, Hunmin Jeongeum, after which the alphabet was named. The publication date of Hunmin jeongeum, October 9, is Hangul Day in South Korea (Its North Korean equivalent is on January 15).

An old legend holds that King Sejong visualized the written characters after studying an intricate lattice, but this story is likely apocryphal. The book explains the scientific principles of the original letter designs (see jamo design).

King Sejong intended Hangul to be a supplement to Hanja, to be used primarily to educate people who did not know Hanja (hence the name Hunmin Jeongeum, which means "Correct Sounds for the Education of the People" in Sino-Korean). At that time, only male members of the aristocracy (Yangban) learned to read and write Hanja; since all written material was only available in Hanja, most Koreans were effectively illiterate. Hangul faced heavy opposition by the literate elite, who believed Hanja to be the only legitimate writing system. The protest by Choe Man-ri and other Confucians in 1444 is a typical example. Later on, the government became apathetic to Hangul. Yeonsan-gun , the 10th king, forbade the study or use of Hangul and banned Hangul documents in 1504, and King Jungjong abolished the Ministry of Eonmun in 1506. Hangul had been used by women and uneducated people.

When the idea of nationalism was introduced from Japan to Korea, Hangul began to be considered as a national symbol by some reformists. As a result of the Gabo Reform(갑오개혁) by pro-Japanese politicians, Hangul was adopted in official documents for the first time in 1894. After Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910, Hangul was compulsorily taught in schools until Japan began the national mobilization policy in 1937.


"Jamo" (자모; 字母) are the letters that make up the Hangul alphabet. Ja means letter or character, and mo means mother; the name jamo signifies that the jamo are the building-blocks of Hangul.

There are 51 jamo, of which 24 are simple (not compounded) and equivalent to letters in the Roman alphabet. The remaining 27 are complex clusters formed by combining 2 or sometimes 3 jamo. Of the 24 simple jamo, 14 are consonants (ja'eum; 자음; 子音; literally, "child sound") and 10 are vowels (moeum; 모음; 母音; literally, "mother sound"). 5 of the consonants can be doubled to form 5 additional double consonants (see below), while another 11 complex consonantal clusters are formed by combining 2 different consonants. The vowels can be combined to form 11 additional diphthongs. Here is a summary of the numbers of jamo:

  • 14 simple consonants
  • 5 double consonants
  • 11 complex consonants
  • 10 simple vowels
  • 11 diphthongs

Four of the simple vowels actually have shapes that are not elemental, but have extra short strokes signifying palatalization: ㅑ (ya), ㅕ (yeo), ㅛ (yo), and ㅠ (yu). These four are counted as part of the 24 rudimentary jamo (letters), because the palatalizing stroke taken out of context does not represent y at all. In fact, there is no separate jamo for y.

Of the basic consonants, ㅊ (chieut), ㅋ (kieuk), ㅌ (tieut), and ㅍ (pieup) are aspirated derivatives of ㅈ (jieut), ㄱ (giyeok), ㄷ (digeut), and ㅂ (bieup) respectively, formed by combining the parent consonant with the jamo ㅎ (hieut).

The doubled consonants consist of two identical consonants placed beside each other horizontally. They are: ㄲ (kk, ssang-giyeok; "ssang", 雙= double), ㄸ (tt, ssang-digeut), ㅃ (pp, ssang-bieup), ㅆ (ss, ssang-siot), and ㅉ (jj, ssang-jieut). Doubled consonants are not really pronounced twice, they are glottalized.

The sounds represented by the single and double consonantal jamo cannot be pronounced alone in normal speech.

There are three formal categories of jamo:

  1. Initials (초성 ; 初聲 choseong): consonant(s) before the vowel(s) in a syllable (the onset). They include all five double-consonant jamo.
  2. Medials or peaks (중성 ; 中聲 jungseong): All are vowels (the syllable nucleus)
    • Position: usually in the middle of a syllable, but can be at the end as well.
    For a list of the medials, see #Vowel jamo design
  3. Finals (종성 ; 終聲 jongseong): consonant(s) after the vowel(s) in a syllable (the coda). All basic finals are also initials, except The zero initial ㅇ is pronounced ng in the final position. However, the only cluster jamo that are both initials and finals are two of the double consonantal jamo: ㅆ (ss) and ㄲ (kk).

Jamo design

The shapes of the consonants were designed scientifically, and the vowels philosophically.

Consonantal jamo design

The designs of the basic jamo consonant letters model the physical morphology of the tongue, palate, teeth and throat. The consonants can be divided into five groups, each with a basic shape, and one or more derived basic forms with additional strokes. The names in the brackets are the traditional Sino-Korean linguistic terminology.

  • Velar consonants (아음 ; 牙音 ; a-eum; "molar sounds"):
    • ㄱ g, ㅋ k
    • Basic shape: ㄱ is the side view picture of the tongue back touching the velum (soft palate). (For illustration, access the external link below.)
  • Alveolar consonants (설음 ; 舌音 ; seol-eum; "lingual sounds"):
    • ㄴ n, ㄷ d, ㅌ t, ㄹ r/l
    • Basic shape: ㄴ is the side view picture of the tongue tip touching the alveolar ridge (teethridge).
  • Bilabial consonants (순음 ; 唇音 ; sun-eum; "labial sounds"):
    • ㅁ m, ㅂ b, ㅍ p
    • Basic shape: ㅁ represents the outline of the lips.
  • Dental sibilants (치음 ; 齒音 ; chieum; "dental sounds"):
    • ㅅ s, ㅈ j, ㅊ ch
    • Basic shape: ㅅ was originally shaped like a wedge /\, without the overlapping top slash. It signifies the side view of the teeth.
  • Glottal consonants (후음 ; 喉音 ; hueum; "throat sounds"):
    • ㅇ ng, ㅎ h
    • Basic shape: ㅇ symbolizes the outline of the throat.

Vowel jamo design

Vowel letters, on the other hand, consist of three elements:

  • Horizontal line (which signifies the flat Earth)
  • point (the round Heaven), which later becomes a short stroke
  • vertical line (the upright Human)

Together, they form various combinations and represent different vowel sounds:

  • Simple vowels:
    • Horizontally written vowels: these tend to be high back vowels.
      • ㅗ o
      • ㅜ u
      • ㅡ eu (ŭ)
    • Vertical written vowels: these tend to be mid/low central/front vowels.
      • ㅏ a
      • ㅓ eo (ŏ)
      • ㅣ i
  • Compound (complex) vowels: combined simple vowels. the ㅣ here seems to be an indicator of umlauting.
    • ㅐ = ㅏ + ㅣ
    • ㅔ = ㅓ + ㅣ
    • ㅘ = ㅗ + ㅏ
    • ㅙ = ㅗ + ㅏ + ㅣ
    • ㅚ = ㅗ + ㅣ
    • ㅝ = ㅜ + ㅓ
    • ㅞ = ㅜ + ㅓ + ㅣ
    • ㅟ = ㅜ + ㅣ
    • ㅢ = ㅡ + ㅣ
  • Palatalized vowel: Romanized as y-, represented by an extra stroke attached to a line
    • ㅑ = ㅏ + a stroke
    • ㅕ = ㅓ + a stroke
    • ㅛ = ㅗ + a stroke
    • ㅠ = ㅜ + a stroke
    • ㅒ = ㅐ + a stroke
    • ㅖ = ㅔ + a stroke

Jamo order

The alphabetical order of jamo does not mix the consonants and the vowels like the Western alphabets (Latin alphabet and Cyrillic alphabet). The consonants are placed before the vowels. The modern order was set by Choi Sejin in 1527.

South Korean and North Korean governments endorse slightly different orders, but they both follow Choi Sejin's order of the basic jamo.

South Korean order

The modern order of the consonantal jamo is:

ㄱ ㄲ ㄴ ㄷ ㄸ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅃ ㅅ ㅆ ㅇ ㅈ ㅉ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ

Double consonantal jamo are placed immediately after its source simple jamo.

Medials' order is:

ㅏ ㅐ ㅑ ㅒ ㅓ ㅔ ㅕ ㅖ ㅗ ㅘ ㅙ ㅚ ㅛ ㅜ ㅝ ㅞ ㅟ ㅠ ㅡ ㅢ ㅣ

The fundamental (not necessarily basic) medials come first, with derived forms inserted in between, according to their types: 'additional stroke', 'palatalized', then 'palatalized with additional stroke'. For vertical vowels, the derived forms are listed in the order: w- (symbolically represented by ㅏ or ㅓ), then adds a stroke to w- (ㅐ), then just a stroke, without w-.

North Korean order


ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅅ ㅇ ㅈ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ ㄲ ㄸ ㅃ ㅆ ㅉ ㅇ

The first ㅇ represents the final sound /ng/. The second ㅇ represents the zero initial. Note that the double jamo are placed at the very end, before the zero ㅇ, but after all other jamo, rather than immediately after their respective source jamo as is done in South Korea.


ㅏ ㅑ ㅓ ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅡ ㅣ ㅐ ㅒ ㅔ ㅖ ㅚ ㅟ ㅢ ㅘ ㅝ ㅙ ㅞ

ㅐ and ㅔ are placed after all basic vowels, not after ㅏ and ㅓ.

Jamo names

The sequence of jamo is called "the ganada order" (가나다順), named after the first three consonant jamo of the arrangement (g, n, and d) affixed to the first vowel (a). They were named by Choi Sejin in 1527. North Korea has later changed the jamo names.

Consonant jamo names

The modern consonants have two-syllable names, with the consonant coming at the beginning and end of the name, as follows:

Letter South Korean Name North Korean name
giyeok (기역) gieuk (기윽)
nieun (니은)
digeut (디귿) dieut (디읃)
rieul (리을)
mieum (미음)
bieup (비읍)
siot (시옷) sieut (시읏)
ieung (이응)
jieut (지읒)
chieut (치읓)
kieuk (키읔)
tieut (티읕)
pieup (피읖)
hieut (히읗)

All but three jamo are named in the format of letter + i + eu + letter (note that in North Korea there are no exceptions; all jamo are of the aforementioned form). For example, t is tieut. The "letter + i" component makes up the first syllable, and "eu + letter" the second. For example, Choi writes bieup as 非 (bi) and 邑 (eup). The jamo g, d, and s are exceptions because there are no Hanja for euk, eut, and eus. Yeok (役) is used in place of euk. And since there is no Hanja that end in t and s, Choi chose two Hanja to be read in the native Korean gloss: 末 (kkeut "end") and 衣 (os "clothes"). Originally, Choi gave j, ch, k, t, p, and h the irregular one-syllable names of ji, chi, ki, ti, pi, and hi. But they were changed to the present regular forms in 1933.

The double consonants precede the parent consonant's name with the word ssang (쌍), meaning "twin" or "double", or with doen (된) in North Korea, meaning "strong". Thus:

Letter South Korean Name North Korean name
ssanggiyeok (쌍기역) doengieuk (된기윽)
ssangdigeut (쌍디귿) doendieut (된디읃)
ssangbieup (쌍비읍) doenbieup (된비읍)
ssangsiot (쌍시옷) doensieut (된시읏)
ssangjieut (쌍지읒) doenjieut (된지읒)

In North Korea, an alternative way to refer to the jamo is by the name letter + eu (ㅡ), for example, 그 (geu) for the jamo ㄱ, 쓰 (sseu) for the jamo ㅆ, etc.

Vowel jamo names

The vowels' names are simply the syllable formed by taking the letter ㅇ (ieung) and adding the vowel being named. Thus:

Letter Name
a (아)
ae (애)
ya (야)
yae (얘)
eo (어)
e (에)
yeo (여)
ye (예)
o (오)
wa (와)
wae (왜)
oe (외)
yo (요)
u (우)
weo (워)
we (웨)
wi (위)
yu (유)
eu (으)
ui (의)
i (이)

Obsolete jamo

The original additional jamo, called archaic or obsolete, are:

  • ㆍ or 丶 (arae-a or araea 아래 아): Pronounced as (IPA ʌ, similar to eo.
    Typically seen on its own, or in the syllable ㆎ (area-ae) The word for "Hanja" was originally written using this letter.
  • ㅿ (bansios, 반시옷) [z] (If your browser doesn't show it, the letter looks like an equilateral triangle.)
  • ㆆ (yeorinhieuh, 여린히읗 or 된이응 "light hieuh" or "doubled ieung") [glottal fricative/stop]: "lighter than ㅎ and harsher than ㅇ".
  • ㆁ (yetieung, 옛이응) [ŋ]: Now merged into ㅇ (ieung), it is the traditional symbol for [ŋ]. With some computer fonts, yetieung is shown as a less round version of ieung. The proper way of representing yetieung, however, is by showing a long peak, longer than what you would see on a serif version of ieung.

In addition, there are two obsolete derived (in form) jamo representing one single sound:

  • ㅸ (gabyeoun bieup, 가벼운 비읍) [β]
  • ㆅ (ssanghieuh, 쌍히읗) [xʲ]

Modified versions of the dental consonants existed to denote two kinds of dentals used in Chinese language: plain dental and retroflex. Plain dentals have longer left stems, while retroflexes have longer right stems.

Original consonants
Chidu-eum (plain dental)
Jeongchi-eum (retroflex dental)

Furthermore, there existed many other jamo combinations to express consonant clusters, diphthongs, and triphthongs.

The sounds that these "obsolate jamo" respresent, however, are still present in regional dialects.

Syllabic blocks

To be able to be pronounced, some Hangul jamo must form blocks together, sometimes called "characters". Each Hangul block is a syllable consisting of two to three jamo (simple or cluster). The modern pattern is consonant + medial + (consonant). If a syllable ends with a vowel, then the syllable-final jamo is omitted altogether in writing. If a syllable starts with a vowel, however, ㅇ (ieung) is used as a filler instead of omitting the syllable-initial jamo. This is sensible, since modern Korean lacks a syllable-initial [N].

  1. Two jamo: an initial + a medial (vowel)
  2. Three jamo: an initial + a medial (vowel) + a final

The placement, or stacking, of jamo in the block follow set patterns:

  1. Syllables that end in a vowel are written either vertically or horizontally, depending on the vowel.
    • Vertical jamo: initial left of the vertical vowel: →
    • Horizontal jamo: initial on top of the horizontal vowel: ↓
    The zero initial is called a "placeholder", as regard to patterns
  2. batchim (받침 - "supporting floor") When a syllable has an additional jamo (final), it adds to the above pattern, with the final at the bottom ("floor"):
    • Syllables which have a vertical vowel and end in a final are written clockwise.
    • Syllables which have a horizontal vowel and end in a final are written in a vertical stack.

The result is the same size and shape as a Hanja, and hence some Westerners confuse the syllabic blocks with Hanja.

There once were over 2,500 Hangul blocks, many of which have been eliminated. One of the deleted ones is ㅵ (bsd), entirely consonantal.

There was a very minor movement in the twentieth century to abolish syllabic blocks and write the jamo individually in a row. This would be difficult to read, because syllable ambiguity arises, namely, it becomes unclear when a syllable ends and another begins. Presumably the abolishment of syllabic blocks would necessitate inserting spaces in between all syllables. However, spaces are already presently employed in the Korean script to separate words. (See #Writing) This movement has gained very little support.


Until the 20th century, no orthography of Hangul had been established. Due to liaison, heavy consonant assimilation, dialectical variants and other reasons, a Korean word can be spelt in several different ways. King Sejong seemed to prefer morphophonemic spelling rather than phonemic one. However, since it was mainly used by uneducated people, Hangul was dominated by phonemic and inconsistent spelling.

After much trial and error, the Japanese Government-General of Chosen established the writing style of a mixture of Hanja and Hangul, modeled on the Japanese writing system. The government revised the rule for spelling in 1912, 1921 and 1930, which was relatively phonemic.

The Hangul Society, originally found by Ju Si-gyeong, announced a proposal for a new morphophonemic orthography in 1933, which became the prototype of the contemporary orthographies in the North and South. After Korea was divided, the North and South revised orthographies separately. The guiding text for Hangul orthography is the called the Hangul Matchumbeop, whose last South Korean revision was published in 1988 by the Ministry of Education.


Hangul can be written both horizontally and vertically. The latter method is traditional, akin to the Chinese style. The former style was promoted by Ju Si-gyeong, and has become overwhelmingly preferred.

Hangul's first appearance was in Hunmin Jeongeum, the 14th-century book that first described the script. At that time, Hangul were printed in lines of even thickness and without short serifs (beginning brushstrokes). This style can be found in books published before about 1900, and also today when Hangul is carved in stone (on statues, for example).

Over the centuries, as people slowly began to use Hangul and write it by hand, an ink-brush style developed, and calligraphers employed the same style of the lines and bending angles as they did in writing Chinese characters, to achieve a similar look. (This style is called Myeongjo in Korean, a translation of the Chinese Mingcho , which name is used to describe a Chinese computer font today.) The Myeongjo style is used today in the body of books, newspapers, and magazines. Some computer fonts, such as Mac Korean, reflect the ink-brush style.

In longhand writing, ink brushes have given way to ballpoint pens, and a square style has once again emerged. This style (lines of equal width and few curves) is widespread in computers, and most Web browsers have a square font like Microsoft GulimChe as their default, leading to a large amount of text that is now read and written in non-calligraphic fonts.

Pronunciation of the Hangul writing is occasionally not based strictly on Hangul jamo, but also follow specific irregular phonetic rules (see Korean language#Phonology). Until the twentieth century, Hangul was written in the surface form (as is pronounced), but now it is written in the deep form (as is etymologically).

External links

See also

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