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


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)

OB.E18.450p-HANrel [re-encoded to MQ].avi_003331731

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)


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).

OB.E28.720p-HANrel [re-encoded to MQ].avi_002397831

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.


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 |

137 thoughts on “Korean Family and Kinship Terms

  1. Not that it’s ever wanted, but what do you can someone’s or your ex-someone (from a divorce) or a step-someone from a remarriage?

    Or both! For example, I do have an ex-step-father, ex-step-sister and an ex-step-brother-in-law. (wow! That’s a mouthful!) What would I call them if if you are referring to them, through the previous (ex-) or acquired (step) relationships?

    Thanks for this useful post.
    It’d be great to see it in info-diagram form, like:

    I’m just so glad that the Korean family tree is not as complicated as my Chinese one. Whew! Glad I married a Korean!

    1. Hello there!

      There is a term used for step family members, which is uibut (의붓). Since they are your ex-step family, the prefix jeon (전) should be attached too as well. Hence:

      ex-step-father: jeon uibut abeoji (전 의붓 아버지)
      ex-step-older sister: jeon uibut eonni (전 의붓 언니)
      ex-step-older brother-in-law: jeon uibut hyeongbu (전 의붓 형부)
      ex-step-younger sister: jeon uibut yeodongsaeng (전 의붓 여동생)
      ex-step-younger brother-in-law: jeon uibut jebu (전 의붓 제부)

      Hope that helps 😉

      1. Great! This helps wonderfully. Not that I’ll use it regularly, it is good to know in my hopes to ever learn this language and to be able to converse with my in-laws. Any recommendations for further study?

        1. How do I call aunt (father’s younger sister) in korean? Will it simply be jageum gomo or jageum gomonim?

    1. Hello Malene. Thanks for the question~
      The common phrase for ex-husband is jeon-nampyeon (전남편) but if you’re to address him directly (let’s name him Jaemin), you’d be calling him either by the one you used before you get married…like oppa, Jaemin-ssi, etc. Or you can also call him as your first child’s father (let’s call this kid Youngae) like Youngaeui abeoji (영애의 아버지), meaning Youngae’s father.

  2. Everything is very open with a very clear explanation of the challenges.
    It was definitely informative. Your site is extremely
    helpful. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hello..
      It depends on the family practice (plus tradition) itself when it comes to the kinship terms…but I haven’t come across the term 막내 아버지. They usually use 막내 삼촌 or 계부. I found out that it’s not a problem to use 삼촌 for married younger brother of your father (because sometimes it’s a hassle to suddenly change the term for someone you’ve known all your life just because he’s married)…and you can simply call his wife 숙모.

  3. Would an older brother ever actually ADDRESS his younger brother as ‘Namdongsaeng’?…Like for example how an older brother here might say “Hey, little brother, what’s up?” (in kind of a playful, endearing manner)

      1. Thanks so much for the reply. Now I’m wondering though, because so far I’ve only heard/read ‘maknae’ used in reference to the youngest member of a group (i.e. in the K-pop bands or a group of friends). But according to your post, it also is or can be used to address or refer to the youngest member of a family? Did I understand that correctly?

  4. I have another question please…what would be the correct plural for namdongsaeng? I have previously seen it with just a ‘s’ added (namdongsaengs), but also with ‘deul’ added (namdongsaengdeul), and it was explained that ‘deul’ is used when referring to something in plural form. Which one would be correct?

    1. Sorry for the extremely late reply ㅜ.ㅜ

      To be honest, I have not seen the term used in the plural form, except just dongsaeng…and dongsaengdeul is used most of the time.

    2. “deul” is the suffix for plurals. Adding “s” is the English way of pluralize nouns, and is often used by people who don’t know the Korean alphabet 🙂

  5. I have an odd question: what would you call a half- sibling? All I’ve been able to find with online translators (ew) is “little” brother/ sister. That’s not what I mean. Is there a special way to describe this kinship?

  6. If I were to address my wife/husband in front of my children, but in a little formal-ish tone, what word(s) shall I use?

    1. Hello Stacie!

      Parents usually refer to their spouses in front of their children by how the children address them, so they will just use Eomeoni/Eomma and Abeoji/Appa. For instance:
      “Dad will be here soon.” (아버지가 곧 오실 겁니다.)

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