Grammar Note: How To Hangeul
Time to talk about the absolute basics in Korean. Time to talk about the first hurdle any Korean language learner needs to overcome: Hangeul (한글). You cannot learn Korean without mastering the Korean writing system. While it might seem very complicated and strange, it is actually far simpler than you are assuming. To help you make sense of it, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know.
In ancient times Korea did not have its own native writing system. Instead they relied on Hanja, Chinese characters, to write their poetry, books, etc. However, as you can imagine using a writing system not meant for your language is kind of hard. King Sejong the Great thought the same and thus he spearheaded an effort to create a writing system for the Korean people by the Korean people. His efforts would culminate in the creation of Hangeul (한글).
Hangeul was not immediately beloved by the Korean aristocracy and Hanja would remain in use for centuries. It would take a long time (19th century) before Hangeul was really was used everywhere in Korea. Today Hangeul is omnipresent and you simply cannot do Korean without mastering Hangeul.
If you want to learn Korean, you will have to know how to write and read Hangeul (한글).
Hangeul Writing System
Hangeul is not a writing system like Chinese, which is a language that uses glyphs. Instead Hangeul is a distinct alphabet that on the most basic level is similar to the Latin alphabet most Western languages uses. This simple fact already brings some good news to any Korean learner. You only need to learn a limited amount of characters.
Hangeul holds 14 consonant characters, 15 vowels, 5 double consonant characters and 6 combined vowels. In total you will need to learn about 40 characters to master Hangeul. Furthermore you will also face 11 consonant clusters, but we’ll talk about these later. We’ll begin introducing each character group and the sound you ought to associate with them.
The 15 Vowels And 6 Combined Vowels
The romaja sounds are written under each individual character. However, it is best you immediately begin adapting yourself to attaching the sounds to the character instead of relying on the romaja guide. Romaja are poor representations of their actual sounds. Make sure to spend a lot of time getting used to the characters themselves, rather than the romaja.
The 14 Consonants And 5 Tense Consonants
The romaja sounds are written under each individual character. However, it is best you immediately begin attuning yourself to attaching the sounds to the characters instead of relying on the romaja guide. Romaja are poor representations of their actual sounds. Make sure to spend a lot of time ingraining the characters themselves, rather than the romaja.
How To Write
When you see a Korean word written in hangeul, it might frighten you. However it isn’t complicated at all. It is, in fact, very easy once you get the trick. Korean writing is rather methodically and it becomes easy once you get the trick. Let’s take a look at all building blocks of a written Korean word.
As the image above shows you, each written block is one syllable in a written Korean word. Furthermore each syllable can consist of up to three building blocks: the initial, the medial and the final. A Korean syllable always has an initial and a medial. The final is an optional part in Korean writing. Let’s take a look at what these are.
Every Korean syllable has a syllable and without exception the syllable is always one of the consonants. There is no exception to this rule. However, as you perhaps may have noticed, not all Korean syllables have a consonant as a initial sound. That is true, when the first sound needs to be a vowel and not a consonant, the initial you use is ㅇ. ㅇ as an initial has no sound. Pretty easy, no?
Like the initial, all Korean syllables have a medial. For the medial you can pick any vowel or combined vowel. Like the intial, there is no exception to this rule in Korean writing and the vowels are always voiced. The medial can also be the last character in a syllable when there is no final.
The final is an optional part of the syllable. Like the initial, the final consists of the consonants. However, initial is a bit special as it can also use one of the 11 consonant clusters Korean has to offer. These 11 are: ㄳ, ㄵ, ㄶ, ㄺ, ㄻ, ㄼ, ㄽ, ㄾ, ㄿ, ㅀ and ㅄ. You’ll have to memorize the spelling of the words that use consonant clusters since it is hard to formulate a rule on that.
How To Put It All Together
Of course, the final question that remains unanswered, is, of course, how you put those building blocks together. The good news about that is, like everything, there are rules on how to properly order the initial, the medial and the final to form a beautiful Korean syllable. It all depends what elements are involved and which characters are used in those elements.
The rules of ordering are all based on the vowels. You can discern three types of vowels: tall vowels, short vowels and combined vowels. Depending the type of vowel you are using, you will order the initial and finals differently. Tall vowels are the vowels ㅏ, ㅣ, ㅓ, ㅔ, ㅐ, ㅒ, ㅖ, ㅕ and ㅑ. You can clearly see why I call them tall vowels. The short vowels are ㅗ, ㅜ, ㅡ, ㅠ, and ㅛ. The combination vowels are ㅢ, ㅘ, ㅝ, ㅞ, ㅙ, ㅚ and ㅟ.
Following the type of vowels, you have three separate situations for each type of vowel: no final, final and cluster final. So give or take there are 9 possibilities you need to keep in mind. However, one of them, combined vowel and cluster consonant, is no longer in use in modern Korean. In ancient Korean you might come across this type of syllable. To make it easier for you to understand I have made some images to show you how it is ordered and what the final result can look like.
The 9 Scenario’s
Names of Hangeul Characters
A lesser known fact about the Hangeul characters to most Korean language learners is that all characters have names. For consonants these names are even a great tool. Because of how the names work the names always show you both the sound of the consonant as an initial and as a batchim (final consonant). Remember many a consonant in Korean have a different sound depending they are an initial or a batchim. Let’s go over the names of the Hangeul characters.
|Hangeul Character||Hangeul Character Name|