Korean Family and Kinship Terms

I’m sure some of you who watch kdramas are already familiar with the titles used in the family, as in how a  person address his or her family members. I got used to hear a servant or maid calling the young master and miss as doryeonnim (도련님) and agasshi (아가씨) in dramas but when I watched another dramas, I was surprised to hear a woman addressing her younger brother and sister-in-law as doryeonnim and agasshi. I then realized that there are various ways of calling your relatives in Korean culture. It’s not as simple as uncles and aunts!

Family is called kajok (가족) in Korean. In the family, the great-grandparents are referred to as jungjobumo (증조부모), with great-grandfather jungjobu (증조부) and great-grandmother jungjomo (증조모). The grandparents are referred to as jobumo (조부모), with grandfather jobu (조부) and grandmother jomo (조모) while parents are referred to as bumo (부모). Most of the time the suffix –nim (님) is added, for instance jungjobumonim (증조부모님), jobumonim (조부모님), and bumonim (부모님). When addressing the maternal side of the family, i.e. your grandparents and great-grandparents on the mother’s side, the prefix oe- (외) – pronounced ‘weh’ – is added, for example oejungjobonim (외증조부모님) and oejobumonim (외증조부모님).

In the basic family settings, which consists of your parents and your siblings

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Father: appa (아빠) or abeoji (아버지)

Mother: eomma (엄마) or eomoni (어머니)

Older brother: hyeong (형) if you’re a boy, oppa (오빠) if you’re a girl

Older sister: noona (누나) if you’re a boy, eonni (언니) if you’re a girl

Younger brother: namdongsaeng (남동생)

Younger sister: yeodongsaeng (여동생)

Brothers: hyungje (형제)

Sisters: jamae (자매)

Your father’s side of the family, chin-ga (친가)

Paternal Grandfather: harabeoji (할아버지)

Paternal Grandmother: halmeoni (할머니)

Paternal Uncles (now this gets quite tricky):

  • your father’s older brother (1): keun appa (큰아빠) or keun abeoji (큰아버지)
  • your father’s older brother’s wife (1): keun eomma (큰엄마) or keun eomoni (큰어머니)
  • your father’s older brother (2): baekbu (백부)
  • your father’s older brother’s wife (2): baekmo (백모)
  • your father’s older brother (3): joongbu (중부)
  • your father’s older brother’s wife (3): joongmo (중모)
  • your father’s younger brother (1): jageun appa (작은아빠) or jageun abeoji (작은아버지)
  • your father’s younger brother’s wife (1): jageun eomma (작은엄마) or jageun eomoni (작은어머니)
  • your father’s younger brother (2): sookbu (숙부)
  • your father’s younger brother’s wife (2): sookmo (숙모)
  • your father’s younger brother – unmarried : samchon (삼촌)

Paternal Aunts:

  • your father’s sister: gomo (고모)
  • your father’s sister’s husband: gomobu (고모부)

Your mother’s side of the family,oe-ga (외가)

Maternal Grandfather: oe harabeoji (외할아버지)

Maternal Grandmother: oe halmeoni (외할머니)

Maternal Uncles:

  • your mother’s brother: oe sookbu (외숙부)
  • your mother’s brother’s wife: oe sookmo (외숙모)

Maternal Aunts:

  • your mother’s sister: eemo (이모)
  • your mother’s sister’s husband eemobu (이모부)

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When you get married:

Calling your husband:

  • Yeobo (여보) –  ‘honey’, a shortened form of  ‘look here’ or yeogi boseyo (여기 보세요)
  • Dangshin (당신) – an affectionate term for ‘you’.
  • Sarang (사랑) – literally means ‘love’.
  • Seobang (서방) – an archaic term of husband, literally means ‘west room’ because husbands used to stay in the West side of the house.
  • Nampyeon (남편) – literally means ‘husband’, used to refer the husband when talking to relatives and friends.
  • Joo-in (주인)/Bakkat yangban (바깥양반) Joo-in yangban (주인양반) – referring to the husband when talking to other people.
  • Aebi (애비) – referring to the husband in front of adults with children, i.e. the parents of your children’s friends.

Calling your wife:

  • Yeobo (여보) –  ‘honey’.
  • Dangshin (당신) – an affectionate term for ‘you’.
  • Anae (아내) – referring the wife to non-relatives.
  • Emi (에미) – referring to the mother in front of an adults with children, i.e. the parents of your children.
  • Boo-in (부인) – literal meaning of ‘Mrs’ and can be used either to address the wife directly or for referring the wife when talking to others.
  • An-saram (안사람) – referring to the wife while talking to other people, literally means ‘the inside person’ since wives stayed in the inner quarters of the house back then.

Your wife’s family:

Father in-law/your wife’s father: jang-in (장인)

Mother in-law/your wife’s mother: jangmo (장모)

Brothers in-law:

  • your wife’s older brother: hyeong-nim (형님)
  • your wife’s older brother’s wife: ajumeonim (아주머님)
  • your wife’s younger brother: cheonam (처남)
  • your wife’s younger brother’s wife: cheonamdaek (처남댁)

Sisters in-law:

  • your wife’s older sister: cheohyeong (처형)
  • your wife’s older sister’s husband: hyeong-nim (형님)
  • your wife’s younger sister: cheoje (처제)
  • your wife’s younger sister’s husband: dongseo (동서)

Your husband’s family:

Father in-law/your husband’s father: si-abeoji (시아버지)

Mother in-law/your wife’s mother: si-eomoni (시어머니)

Brothers in-law:

  • your husband’s older brother: ajubeonim (아주버님)
  • your husband’s older brother’s wife: hyeong-nim (형님)
  • your husband’s younger brother: si-dongsaeng (시동생)
  • your husband’s younger brother, unmarried and addressed directly: doryeonnim (도련님)
  • your husband’s younger brother, married and addressed directly: seobangnim (서방님)
  • your husband’s younger brother’s wife: dongseo (동서)

Sisters in-law:

  • your husband’s older sister: hyeong-nim (형님) or eonni (언니)
  • your husband’s older sister’s husband: seobangnim (서방님)
  • your husband’s younger sister: agasshi (아가씨) or asshi (아씨)
  • your husband’s younger sister’s husband: seobangnim (서방님)

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When your siblings get married:

If you’re a man,

Older brother: hyeong (형)

Older brother’s wife: hyeongsu-nim (형수님)

Older sister: noona (누나)

Older sister’s husband: maehyeong (매형)

Younger brother: namdongsaeng (남동생)

Younger brother’s wife: jesu (제수)

Younger sister: yeodongsaeng (여동생)

Younger sister’s husband: maeje (매제)

If you’re a woman:

Older brother: oppa (오빠)

Older brother’s wife: sae-eonni (새언니) – literally means ‘new older sister’

Older sister: eonni (언니)

Older sister’s husband: hyeongbu (형부)

Younger brother: namdongsaeng (남동생)

Younger brother’s wife: olke (올케)

Younger sister: yeodongsaeng (여동생)

Younger sister’s husband: jebu (제부)

Your children and their spouses:

Your son: adul (아들)

Your son’s wife/your daughter-in-law: myeoneuri (며느리)

Your son’s wife/your daughter-in-law, addressed directly: emi (에미) ~used when the daughter-in-law have given birth to a child

Your daughter: ttal (딸)

Your daughter’s husband/your son-in-law: sawi (사위)

Your daughter’s husband/your son-in-law, addressed directly: (name)-seobang (-서방) ~literally Husband (name).

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Your in-laws, sadon (사돈):

Both in-laws, addressed directly: sadon eoreun (사돈어른)

Mothers between in-laws: an-sadon (안사돈); when one of the mothers is older, the younger one will address the older mother-in-law as sabuin manim (사부인 마님).

Your grandchildren/nieces/nephews/cousins:

Your grandson: sonja (손자)

Your granddaughter: son-nyeo (손녀)

Your nieces/nephews: joka (조카)

Your cousins: sachon (사촌)

Your grandparents’ siblings (aka your parents’ aunts and uncles) :

Your grandaunt: wang-gomo (왕고모), gomo halmeoni (고모할머니), keun halmeoni (큰할머니), or jageun halmeoni (작은 할머니).

Your granduncle: keun harabeoji (큰할아버지), jageun harabeoji (작은할아버지), or jin-harabeoji (진할아버지).

Your maternal grandaunt: dae-imo (대이모) or imo-halmeoni (이모할머니)

Your maternal granduncle: jin-oeharabeoji (진외할아버지)

Degree of kinship

The term chon (촌) refers to the distance of kinship between two persons and it is used to define the relationship between members of a family. The basis for it is the relationship between a child and his parents is one chon, or first degree of relationship (1촌) . So, it’s 2촌 between siblings, 4촌 between first cousins, and 6촌 between second cousins. When describing your father’s first male cousin, for instance, the term ochon dangsuk (5촌당숙) is used, meaning ‘fifth degree uncle’ and this can give a clear explanation of your relationship with that person. However, when addressing him directly, the ochon part is omitted and he will be called dangsuk (당숙)

A few rules in addressing your relatives:

  1. When your father has several older brothers, the order is according to their age: the eldest will be keun abeoji (큰아버지), followed by duljje abeoji (둘째 아버지), setjje abeoji (셋째 아버지), etc. The same pattern applies to their wives. The pattern is also used to address you father’s uncles (your grandfather’s siblings) and their spouses, like keun harabeoji (큰할아버지) and keun halmeoni (큰할머니). However, this depends on the family.
  2. For the aunts, the keun (큰) and jageun (작은) prefixes are added according to their order in the family: the older one will be keun gomo (큰고모) or keun eemo (큰이모), and the younger one jageun gomo (작은 고모) or jageun eemo (작은 이모), regardless on whether they’re older or younger than your parents.
  3. Same goes for your older brothers and sisters, the keun (큰) and jageun (작은) prefixes are added when there are several of them.
  4. The oe/weh (외) part is dropped when you’re directly addressing your maternal family members.
  5. You also address your cousins just like how you address your siblings but when referring to them when talking with other people, the term sachon (사촌) is added, for instance sachon hyung (사촌 형), which means an older cousin brother.
  6. Distant relatives of your father, for instance your father’s male cousins are called ajusshi (아저씨). However, there are other terms that can be used although it’s not that common, for instance dangsuk (당숙), dangsukbu (당숙부), and jaejongsuk (재종숙). Their wives are addressed ajumma (아줌마) or ajumeoni (아주머니), dangsukmo (당숙모), and jaejongsukmo (재종숙모) respectively.
  7. When addressing your mother and father-in-law directly, you use eomonim (어머님)/eomoni (어머니) and abeonim (이버님)/abeoji (아버지).
  8. The suffix -nim is added when you want to address someone directly, except for some terms with the polite versions.

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I appreciate if there’s any additional point that can be added into this list 🙂 It’s pretty confusing at first but when you get the grasp of it, you’ll be having fun hearing these titles being spoken by the characters and knowing the meanings even without looking at the subs. Happy reading and hunting them in your dramas!

Sources | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |

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106 thoughts on “Korean Family and Kinship Terms

    1. Hello~

      For father’s cousins:
      male: 당숙 (dangsuk) or 종숙 (jongsuk)
      female: 당고모 (dang gomo) or 종고모 (jong gomo)

      For mother’s cousins:
      male:외종숙 (oe jongsuk), simply addressed as 아저씨 (ajeossi)
      female: 종이모 (jong imo), simply addressed as 아주머니 (ajumeoni)

  1. I had heard like 10 years ago, I should call my mother’s younger brother’s wife (phew) “weh-zing-mo” to her face? So now I should call her “sookmo” instead, to be more modern? Am I old-school saying “weh-zing-mo”?

    Thx for all of this btw!! ♡

    1. weh (외) is the maternal part of the phrase. Although the OP said we don’t include 외 when directly speaking to the aunt, my husband always calls his aunt the full term: 외숙모. I feel that almost all Koreans use 외 even in direct address for this relationship.

      The zing pronunciation is a bit uncommon, but I can see where that pronunciation comes from. In 숙모, when the ㄱ meets the ㅁ, the ㄱ makes an /ng/ sounds (like ㅇ, if you are familiar with korean pronunciation). Also, the ㅜ sound is often softened to something closer to an ㅡ sound, so that the pronunciation is often similar to 외승모 which is actually quite similar to the weh-zing-mo you’ve spelled it as!

      Korean doesn’t have a /z/ sound, so I imagine that the /z/ is actually meant to be an /s/ sounds. weh-seung-mo is the closest romanization to how many Koreans pronounce this term!

  2. I think that the explanations of 애비 and 애미 is bit improper. first, actually 애비 and 애미 aren’t standard languages. (though they are widely used) the standard languages are 아비 and 어미 (or 아범 and 어멈 with bit respect for the person who called). they are used when you, who married and has child, have to call your husband or wife in front of elder person (usually your parents and your parents-in-law) or when you call your son who has his child (so your grandchild) in front of younger person then you (usually that son or that son’s wife) and your son’s wife (also has her child, so your grandchild) in front of younger person then you (usually the very son or that very son’s wife).

  3. so I know that if you are a girl and have 2 older brothers the prefix for the eldest is Keun Oppa (큰오빠) and then the second eldest brother is to be called Jageun Oppa(작오빠). Is it the same for a guy i.e. Keun Hyung (큰형) and Jageun Hyung (작형)?

    Also if you have 4 elder brothers, then how are you to refer to them? Will it just be (큰큰큰큰오빠/형) [Keun Keun Keun Keun Oppa/Hyung]?

    1. Hi there!

      Thank you for the questions.

      1 – Yes, the same applies for guys when they are addressing their older brothers.
      2 – The younger siblings will refer to the older siblings according to their order in the family, like the eldest brother/sister being ‘keun’ (큰) 형/오빠/누나/언니, second being ‘duljjae’ (둘째) 형/오빠/누나/언니, third being ‘setjjae’ 셋째, fourth being ”netjjae’ 넷째, and so on.

  4. I’m writing a book set in Korea and you literally just saved my but. I’m not planning to use a ton of korean name terms, (at least not in the first draft), but this is SO helpful.

    Two quick questions though:
    1 ) Why does the spelling differ so much depending on what site you are looking at?
    2 ) Any advice on referring to your boss/assistant/other posts?

    1. Hello! That sounds great, and I hope things will go smoothly for you ^^

      Regarding your questions:
      1) The difference in spelling could be due to the romanization system adapted by the writers. Research papers and books usually use the much older McCune–Reischauer while only few have adapted the newer Revised Romanization of Korean.
      2) I think this article could be helpful for you 🙂 http://thesawon.blogspot.my/2014/01/korean-corporate-hierarchy-structure.html

    1. You would address the spouse of your cousins exactly the same as you would for your siblings’ spouses. For example, if you are female, the spouse of your older female cousin would be called “Hyung Boo” or “Hyeongbu” (형부). The spouse of my younger female cousin is “Jaebu” (제부). Hope this helps! 🙂

    1. Actually it’s already tackled up there, I just saw it awhile ago.

      It’s most likely “an’sadon” (안사돈), the accent would be on the “an” syllable.
      If she’s older it would be “sabu’in eoreun” (사부인 어른), or simply “sabu’in” (사부인).

  5. I’m curious. What if your younger sister’s husband is older than you, if you’re male? Or what if your younger brother is older than your husband? Thank you

    1. Hello~

      Sorry for the late reply. Even if those are the case, the terms used will still follow the order in the family, not the age. For instance, if you’re a man, your younger sister’s husband will still be called maeje, and your husband will still be the maehyeong to his brother-in-law.

      Hope this helps 🙂

  6. Thank you so much!! I’m writing a book where one of my main character is Korean and I’m trying to figure out what a loving mother would call her son. Is there a certain word a mother would typically use that would be sort of like ‘honey’ as a word of endearment?

    1. Hello! Glad you find it useful ^^

      As for your question, a mother would usually call her son by name, or more intimately, using their order of birth, like 막내 maknae (the youngest). If the son is still young, he might be called 아가 aga (baby). The nicknames usually change with age.

      Hope this helps! If not, you can always ask. I’ll try to help 😉

  7. Hi. This was really informative and helpful. I just wanted to know what would your mother call your friend’s mother? Is it a little confusing or will you be able to answer this small question? Anyways, thank you! ^-^

    1. In conversational terms, it’s usually “(friend’s name)’s mother”.
      Example: your friend is named Dong-min (동민), your mother will call his mom “Dong-min’s mother” (동민이 어머니 Dong-mini eomeoni).

      Even among acquaintances (since they’re not strangers but not that close), direct personal name taboo still applies (even if the mothers know each other’s names), unless they’re being upright confrontational.

  8. I knew that Tamil and Korean had some similarities, but I didn’t think they were THIS similar. You people even have differentiation for maternal and paternal side of the family and words for younger and older uncles/aunts just like we do! I thought it was exclusive to Indian languages…

    So interesting how such different cultures can be so similar…

  9. On another note I noticed you wrote “oppa” as for older brother, but that term can also be used to call your boyfriend. So what if a girl’s boyfriend and older brother are in the same room 🤔?

  10. Hi. I have two questions:

    My older female 1st cousin had a baby. What is our chon, and what can I call the baby?
    My paternal grandmother’s brother (forgot if younger or older) has a daughter that I basically call “aunt” (despite the huge age difference between her and my father). What is our chon, and what is the Korean term I can call her?

    Thanks lots 🙂

  11. Hi I have a quick question.
    I worked for a Korean older couple for many years. I started when I was 17. They became like parents to the point where the husband would ask me where my ama was. I moved out of state and still keep in touch every so often. I have been learning Korean for 1 year already and wanted to send her a card for her upcoming Birthday. How would I address her? I was going to say eomoni but since she has 3 sons I don’t want to come off as a daughter in law, that would be very awkward being that I am married lol. Any advice would be helpful!

    1. IMO “eomoni” would still be the best choice.

      Addressing her as “eomma” might come off as outright rude to others especially as you’re not her biological daughter…
      …unless of course she herself verbalizes otherwise.

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