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

OB.E57.450p-HANrel.avi_000333266

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).

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.

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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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116 thoughts on “Korean Family and Kinship Terms

  1. Thank you for sharing this subtleties! Now I understand why Ji Chang-Wook always refers to Ha Ji-won as “noona”. (I wonder if it’s not annoying to her to be reminded she’s older or if it’s actually the way she expects to be addressed?)
    I also understand why some k-drama characters will address their brother as “hyeong” whereas other characters will use the word “oppa” (it sounds so sweet). It all makes sense!

    It looks like the term “sunbae” is not listed here. Can I get more details on it? I suspect this is used for mentors or to define status in an academic environment?

    1. You’re welcome!
      I think HJW appreciates it more, since it shows that she’s being respected by her junior 🙂

      Sunbae is more formal than hyung/oppa/noona/unni and it is used is a more formal setting, like in schools and colleges. It can be used among work colleagues, but only after one becomes closer with the seniors at his workplace. Most of the time, those seniors are adressed using their respective work titles and sunbae is used outside workplace setting.

      Hope that helps! 😉

  2. Hi, i have a few questions to ask sorry haha~

    how/when do you use the term grandparents jobumo (조부모)?
    paternal grandfather, grandmother are harabeoji (할아버지) and halmeoni (할머니) then maternal grandfather, grandmother are oe harabeoji (외할아버지) and oe halmeoni (외할머니). Then when will i use grandfather and grandmother, jobu (조부) and jomo (조모)?? (Or what is the difference between them?)
    are they formal and informal terms for grandfather and grandmother?

    By the way, your article is really awesome and easy to understand =) But it will be best if you can list like formal and informal terms! Thank you for all your hardwork~

    1. Hello!

      The terms 조부모, 조부, 조모, and 부모 are all terms used to describe or to refer to when you’re talking with someone. They’re more formal compared to the 할아버지, 아버지, and 어머니, and those terms are not used when one is calling their grandparents and parents. In English, it’s more or less like this:

      Grandfather is 조부, grandmother is 조모 (Formal; descriptive)
      Grandpa is 할아버지, grandma is 할머니 (Less formal; descriptive and calling)
      Pop is 할배, nan is 할매 (Informal; calling)

      Hehehe thanks for the feedback! Maybe this needs some update since it has been almost two years since I wrote the post 😀

    1. Most of the time the kids will stick with eomma (엄마) and appa (아빠), a;though there might be instances where the kids will also use eomoni (어머니) and abeoji (아버지). As for Kdrama setting, I have heard the characters calling their stepparents uncle (아저씨) and aunt (아줌마), or worse madam (여사) and new mom (계모).

      1. Awesome article! If I could chime in… Regarding stepparents, the only acceptable form of addressing would be 엄마/어머니 or 아빠/아버지. Any other terms such as 아저씨/아줌마 are considered a bit rude. They might be used by adult children who are well into their adulthood when the parent remarried. It might also be used in a situation where the children haven’t fully accepted the remarriage. (although I don’t watch modern dramas, I suspect those might be the case). BTW – The actual word for “Stepmother/stepmom” is 새어머니/새엄마 and “Stepfather/stepdad” would be 새아버지/새아빠. Real mother would be 친어머니/친엄마 and Real Father would be 친아버지/친아빠. These are just the words, they are not used to address anyone with.

    1. Imja has two meanings: it was used to address someone you’re not familiar with (like Choi Young’s case) but it also means wife, so it can be used as a term of endearment ^^ In the earlier episodes of Faith, maybe he considered her as someone he barely knew but later, he probably meant otherwise 😉

    2. Imja” (임자) is a very old (dated) term of endearment among married couples. Must be a compound of “nim” (님>임 meaning “beloved one”, equivalent of modern-day “dangshin” (당신)) & “ja” (자 meaning “person”). Hence, “beloved person”.

      The difference is that “imja” is gender-neutral, but in some of the more traditional dramas (aka before the latter half of the 2000’s) I’ve seen it used more by the women.

  3. Another term that’s used to refer to one’s wife by the husband around others, usually non-relatives is (집사람) jibsaram. Literally meaning home person.

  4. Reblogged this on DailyBap and commented:

    Being a Singaporean Chinese, I know most Chinese family and kinship terms, but I only know the basic Korean ones, so I’ve been trying to find a list since forever.

    I’m glad I stumbled upon this detailed list. It’s going to be so useful especially now that it’s the Lunar New Year and Korean friends have been asking how I spend it.

    1. Hello Anne..

      I have seen people calling their mother’s younger brothers as (외)큰숙부 [(oe) keun sookbu] and (외)작은숙부 [(oe) jageun sookbu] on Naver portal, with the ‘oe’ part abandoned when addressing them directly. 외백부 (oe baekbu) was used to call mother’s older brother but it’s not as common these days; however, it depends on the family’s own way of applying the terms in the end.

        1. If that’s the case, I think the order should be (from your perspective):
          어머니 (eomeoni) – mother
          큰 숙부 (keun sookbu) – mother’s younger brother
          이모 (imo) – mother’s sister
          작은 숙부 (jageun sookbu) or 막내 숙부 (maknae sookbu) – mother’s younger brother

    2. For me personally, When I need to distinguish between my mom’s bothers – her older one I call 큰삼촌 and the younger one 자근삼촌. Also when distinguishing between my two bothers, both who are younger than me, my son calls my the older of the two brothers 큰삼촌 and the younger one 작은삼촌. I’ve never heard of 숙부 used in real life – only on TV.

      1. Thanks bibimgirl for your insight! I am not Korean so I don’t have any real life experience about this, so your perspective is a big help to us ^^

        Yeah, I only heard 숙부 being used in dramas, and it is always used to address distant uncles (like mother’s cousins) and not mother’s immediate siblings. Most of the naver users mentioned that they use 삼촌 but they also said that it was for their single uncles.

        1. No problem – I am so happy to help any way I can. Your site is awesome and I am so impressed with all the work you have done.

          Naver explanations aren’t “wrong” – but often they are only “partial” explanations. For example: regarding the use of 삼촌. It is correct that it is used for an unmarried uncle – but that only applies on the FATHER’s Side. However, on your mom’s side, it is always 삼촌. (just when you thought it couldn’t get any more confusing!! 🙂 )

          Even though we don’t use 숙부 anymore – we DO still call the wife of our 삼촌 as 숙모. Technically this would be our 의삼촌 as 의숙모.

          Once our single 삼촌 on our father’s side is married, he then will be called either 큰아빠 (큰아버지) or 작은아빠 (작은아버지). Their wives are then known as 큰엄마 (큰어머니) or 작은엄마 (작은어머니).

          There are always exceptions to this. For example: I have a friend who is a close in age with his father’s youngest brother. For his entire life he called his uncle 삼촌. Then after 20 something years, his 삼촌 gets married. In cases like this, it’s hard to suddenly switch how you address someone. That same friend was telling a group of us about how he was out with his 삼촌 and 작은엄마….we were all like “WHAT?? Why would you be out with only your 삼촌 (mom’s brother) and 작은엄마 (father’s brother’s wife)? Where was your 작은아빠 (father’s brother)” Until he explained it, we were all thoroughly confused 🙂

          Also you are more than welcome to post the following here if it helps. I made this to explain the idea of 촌: http://koreanhistoricaldramas.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/another-view-New-Page2.png

  5. So, under the heading “Calling Your Husband”, the last line reads: “Aebi (애비) – referring to the husband in front of adults with children, i.e. the parents of your children.” Sorry… this line doesn’t make sense at all. The parents of my children would be me and my husband.
    Just need to switch some vocabulary around.

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