How do you say hello in Korean?
As you’d expect, the first word or expression you’ll cover in just about every Korean course or book is the term for hello or hi.
Before I get into Korean greetings, there are two things to remember in Korean culture when saying hi to people:
- Age and status are everything in Korean culture.
- Remember to bow while saying hi to a person (it’s not always essential but if in doubt, just do it anyway as a courtesy).
As you’re about to see, the choice of which greeting to use depends heavily on who you’re speaking to, their age and status and your relationship to them.
Hello in Korean 🇰🇷
Below are the most common ways to say hello in Korean.
Usage: Standard and most common way to say hello.
You’ll hear this one everywhere you go: 안녕하세요 (Annyeonghaseyo).
안녕하세요 (Annyeonghaseyo) is the standard Korean greeting. It’s your go-to for saying hello in pretty much any context and the first word you’ll attempt to pronounce in any Korean course (a mouthful at first!).
Let’s break down 안녕하세요.
It’s a combination of 안녕 (Annyeong), which means peace, and -하세요 (haseyo), which is the verb ‘to do’ (하다). So, putting them together, and you’re literally asking, “are you doing/at peace?“.
If someone says 안녕하세요 to you, responding is simple.
Just use 안녕하세요 right back.
Usage: Casual, informal way to say hello.
Moving on to the more casual option, you have 안녕 (Annyeong).
This is a term that you’ll often hear among friends, peers, or when addressing someone younger than you.
안녕 is just the base of 안녕하세요 (Annyeonghaseyo) without the formal suffix -하세요 (haseyo). Just like 안녕하세요, 안녕 carries the meaning of peace and wellbeing.
However, in this form, it’s used in a less formal contexts, for example:
- An adult greeting a child
- Greeting a younger sibling
- A teacher greeting a student
- A boss greeting an employee (they’re more likely to use 안녕하세요, however)
Responding to 안녕 is the same as 안녕하세요.
Just like 안녕하세요, you can mirror the greeting by simply responding with 안녕 (or 안녕하세요 if the person is older or of higher status).
Using 안녕 inappropriately can be seen as disrespectful or rude, so be mindful of who you’re speaking to.
Usage: Formal way to say hello.
안녕하십니까 (Annyeonghasimnikka) is for high respect and formality.
This is the most formal way to say hello in Korean, and it’s typically used when addressing superiors, elderly people, or in other formal situations.
안녕하십니까 is again from the base word 안녕 (Annyeong), but with the addition of the formal suffix -하십니까 (hasimnikka).
This suffix is a highly respectful form of the verb 하다 (‘to do’). The meaning is essentially identical to 안녕하세요 but with an honorific form of the verb.
Responding is the same as above. You’ll repeat the greeting (but it’s likely to be a less honorific form unless it’s too high status people saying hi to each other).
안녕하십니까 is less commonly used in everyday conversations compared to 안녕하세요 and 안녕, but it’s important to understand and utilize it in appropriate situations.
If you are meeting your boss, an elderly person or grandparent, or attending a formal event, use it.
Usage: Hello when picking up and answering the phone.
Phone calls are different. 📞
The phrase you’ll want to remember for answering the phone is 여보세요 (Yeoboseyo).
In South Korea, 여보세요 is the standard way to answer the phone, regardless of who’s calling (you don’t know who’s calling, so you can’t predict an whether or not to use an honorific! 😊).
여보세요 has a second usage.
When trying to get someone’s attention, especially if you don’t know their name, you can use 여보세요. For instance, if you’re in a shop and want to ask the shopkeeper a question, you can use 여보세요 to catch their attention.
When you’re on the receiving end of a phone call, there’s no special phrase needed to respond to 여보세요.
Just start the conversation by introducing yourself or getting straight to the point of the call.
Remember, 여보세요 is specifically for answering phone calls or getting attention. It’s not used to say hi in person like 안녕하세요 (Annyeonghaseyo) or 안녕 (Annyeong).
Usage: Greeting to customers walking into a restaurant or business.
Okay, so you probably won’t ever need to actually say this one yourself unless you work in a restaurant or shop.
But you’ll hear it a lot! 😊
When you walk into any Korean restaurant, you’ll likely be greeted with 어서오세요 (Eoseooseyo), which basically means “Please come in” or “Welcome”.
This phrase is common in many Korean establishments. It’s a warm and welcoming expression used by shopkeepers, restaurant staff, or anyone who is welcoming you.
The word 어서오세요 is a combination of 어서 (Eoseo), which is hard to translate the nuance of (something like “hurry along” or “come on”), and -오세요 (oseyo), a polite way of saying please come in.
When combined, it’s a polite invitation for you to enter and feel at home.
There’s no set response required. However, a polite bow or a smile would be an appropriate acknowledgment, but 안녕하세요 (Annyeonghaseyo) works too.
Usage: Equivalent of hey.
야 (Ya) is my favorite.
It’s a very informal and casual way to say “hey” or “hi” in Korean.
야 is often used among very close friends or people of the same age. It’s the Korean equivalent of saying “hey” or even “yo” in English.
Be cautious with this greeting as it can come off as very rude if used with someone who’s not a close friend or someone older than you.
I actually used this word a lot when I was teaching if the kids were playing up and I needed to get their attention. 👨🏫
There’s no expected reponse to 야.
Learning Korean slang like 야 can make your conversations more natural and relaxed, but use it appropriately.
Other alternative Korean greetings
Here are a few other options for greeting people in Korean.
|Korean Phrase||Romanization||English Translation||When to Use|
|잘 지냈어요?||Jal jinaess-eoyo?||Have you been well?||Use when you haven’t seen someone for a while.|
|만나서 반가워요||Mannaseo bangawoyo||Nice to meet you||Use when greeting someone for the first time.|
|오랜만이에요||Oraenman-ieyo||Long time no see||Use when greeting someone after a long time.|
|좋은 아침이에요||Jo-eun achim-ieyo||Good morning||Used as a morning greeting.|
Korean greetings are easy but remember who you’re speaking to
For the uninitiated to Korean culture, it’s easy to forget the importance of who you’re addressing.
Korean’s an easy language but politeness and honorifics are a learning curve for some.
If the person is higher status than you (workplace, elderly people, etc.), err on the side of caution and use 안녕하십니까.
For kids and people quite younger than yourself, use 안녕 (or 야 if they’re really good friends).
If in doubt, 안녕하세요 is generally safe to use with pretty much everyone, young or old, at any time of the day.
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