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Hello in Korean: Korean Greetings and Goodbyes for the Pop Culture-savvy

Do you know how to say hello in Korean?

Greetings include important supporting information concerning your relationship with your conversation partner and keep things polite.

This is true in English, and even truer in Korean, where levels of formality work their way into all aspects of conversation.

Learning Korean greetings is a good way of easing into it.

We’ll teach you how to say hello and goodbye in Korean at various levels of formality, so you’ll be ready to start Korean conversations with ease!

Contents

 

Hello — 안녕하세요?

Pronunciation: An-nyeong-ha-se-yo

Formality level: Formal

When to use it: This is the most common polite greeting and can be used any time of day.

You can use this greeting when meeting someone for the first time and when greeting someone who’s older than you, an acquaintance or someone working in a service capacity.

While it’s essentially used to say hello, it’s also a way of asking, “How are you?” It literally means something along the lines of, “Are you at peace?” 

“안녕하세요” is often answered with “안녕하세요” right back, and commonly accompanied by a quick bow.

In this Elle Korea video profile, actress Kim Yoo-jung greets Elle readers with “안녕하세요” before introducing herself. 

Hi / Bye — 안녕

Pronunciation: An-nyeong

Formality level: Informal

When to use it: This is a casual greeting you can use with friends, family and those younger than you. It can also be used as a casual farewell.

To hear this word in action, let’s have a look at the short film below, “여보세요.” 

This humorous short film in Korean is about Daryl, who wants to invite a girl he likes to a party, but tries to avoid calling her by first calling every other girl he can think of to invite.

In this clip, our protagonist at one point thinks he’s talking to a girl he knows when he actually has her mother on the phone.

As soon as he realizes his mistake, at around 3:33, we see him spin a 180—both literally, in his desk chair, and linguistically, as he pivots from an informal “안녕” to a more polite “안녕하세요.”

He even reflexively bows, though the girl’s mother can’t see him.

This trailer for the TV series “Cheese in the Trap,” includes two examples of “안녕” and two of “안녕하세요” all within the first 10 seconds. See if you can catch all four greetings.

Hello (When answering the phone) — 여보세요

Pronunciation: Yeo-bo-se-yo

Formality level: Formal

When to use it: Use this one when answering the phone. 

“여보세요” is quite simply, the standard polite greeting you use in Korean when picking up the phone. And, of course, we have examples of it in our film of the same title, such as here at 3:48.

What are you doing? — 뭐 해?

Pronunciation: Mwo-hae

Formality level: Informal

When to use it: This is a common casual greeting that you might use with friends, either when talking or texting. It means, “What are you doing?” and is kind of like saying, “What’s up?”

In the song “뭐 해” by Daniel Kang, the lyrics ask, “너는 지금 뭐 해?”  or “What are you up to now?”

To change this greeting for use in a setting that requires more politeness, simply add a 요 to the end.

In a scene from the drama “Descendents of the Sun,” which is broken down in this video, you can hear one character say to another, “여기서 뭐 해요?” which means, “What are you doing here?”

Excuse me! — 저기요!

Pronunciation: Jeo-gi-yo

Formality level: Formal

When to use it: This is a polite way to get the attention of someone you don’t know, such as a member of the waitstaff in a restaurant.

“저기요!” isn’t exactly a greeting, but it can serve as a conversation beginner nonetheless.  While yelling to waitstaff might seem rude, this is considered normal in South Korea.

You might also use it for other completely normal reasons, like alerting someone to the possible presence of zombies on a train, as happens in this trailer at 0:18 for the popular horror movie “Train to Busan.”

Hey! — 야!

Pronunciation: Ya

Formality level: Very informal

When to use it: This is a phrase you can use to get the attention of your friends, but which can be considered extremely rude under other circumstances.

Depending on context and tone, it can sound like more of an angry interjection or call-out.

In any case, it’s definitely not something that you’d want to say to anyone you don’t know, or anyone other than a friend, significant other, younger sibling etc.

In “여보세요,” Daryl’s friend starts off a text with “.”

Note that 야 can be tacked onto Korean names ending in a vowel as a suffix—while names ending in a consonant take 아, pronounced “ah”—as a casual way of getting someone’s attention.

Daryl does this with some of the girls he calls, like at 2:43. His friend also uses 야 with him at 0:51.

For a less traditional usage example, check out this bizarre music video for a song from the band Crying Nut, which repeats the line “비둘기, 어딜 가니?” (Pigeon, where are you going?) multiple times.

Did you sleep well? — 잘 잤어?

Pronunciation: Jal jass-eo

Formality level: Informal

When to use it: This is a way of saying “good morning” in Korean.

The literal translation of this phrase is “Did you sleep well?” 

In this “Let’s Speak Korean” episode from Arirang TV, you can hear “잘 잤어?” phrase being pronounced by Eesu from the band M.C. the Max, followed by a short dialogue.

In a casual situation, you could respond to the question with 응, 잘 잤어  or “Yes, I slept well.” The video includes further possibilities for dialogue exchange and variations.

As is explained in this video, “응” is the informal way of responding “Yes.”

It should be easy for English speakers to remember that it’s a more casual word, because it may come across as kind of a short grunt. “Almost sounds like we’re on the toilet or something,” says host Lisa Kelley. Thanks for that image, Lisa.

“잘 잤어요?”  is the standard polite form of this question. You can hear it at the start of this trailer for an episode of the drama “Clean with Passion for Now,” starring Kim Yoo-jung (from the Elle video above).

To use the polite form in your answer, you could respond with “네, 잘 잤어요.”  네 is a more polite version of “yes.”

How have you been? — 잘 지냈어?

Pronunciation: Jal ji-naess-eo

Formality level: Informal

When to use it: You can use this sentence when asking how someone has been. 

As mentioned, “안녕하세요” already covers “How are you?” in a sense. “잘 지냈어?” is rather something that you’d say to someone you know but haven’t seen in a while. 

The last phrase and this one both share the first word 잘, which means “well,” and both of these questions are asking about wellness with regards to the past.

“잘 잤어?” is used to ask if someone slept well, while “잘 지냈어?” is used to ask if someone has been well.

Since Daryl is calling people he hasn’t spoken to in a while, it’s appropriate that he uses this expression, as he does here at 2:45.

The standard polite form of this expression is “잘 지냈어요?”  While this is the polite form that you’d normally use with strangers, remember that you shouldn’t use this expression with strangers because it wouldn’t make any sense.

This video from Nerdy Korean provides an entertaining reminder of why this is.

As with the phrase above, this is a yes or no question, so you can simply respond with 응 or 네 to say “yes” depending on your intended level of politeness or familiarity.

As with the question above, you can also flip the question into a statement. For example, “네, 잘 지냈어요” or “Yes, I’ve been well.”

Have you eaten — 밥 먹었어?

Pronunciation: Bab meog-eoss-eo

Formality level: Informal

When to use it: Use this greeting when you know someone quite well and want to express interest in their well-being. 

밥 means “rice” and also “meal” in Korean. 먹었어 is the past tense of the verb “to eat.” So “밥 먹었어?” is literally asking if someone has eaten a meal.

However, this question carries a deeper meaning in Korean. It’s a warmer, more caring way of asking after someone you know, a point elaborated on in this video from Korean Hanna, which also includes a sample dialogue.

As is shown in the video, the standard polite version is “밥 먹었어요?”  As with the other questions above, you can simply respond with 네 or 응 depending on the formality level.

However, as you can see if you watch the dialogue above, while this inquiry doesn’t require a drawn-out answer, it can be treated as more of a real question depending on the situation.

A variation of this is when 점심 replaces 밥, it’s asking if you’ve had lunch specifically. This episode of “Let’s Speak Korean” goes a bit further into different ways that you might answer this question and how the conversation could continue.

Finally, for a little more listening practice and also just for fun, here’s a commercial for Lotteria, a Korean fast food chain. In it, you can see a student running around asking various people if they’ve eaten in an attempt to find someone to eat with.

Long time no see — 오랜만이야

Pronunciation: O-raen-man-i-ya

Formality level: Informal

When to use it: This what you can say after meeting someone after not seeing them for a while.

“오랜만이야” means “Long time, no see,” or “It’s been a while.” You can hear this phrase in the song of the same name by Korean rapper Loco.

Since you’d say this to someone you know but haven’t seen for a while, you might follow up with “잘 지냈어?”

The polite version of this phrase is “오랜만이에요,” which you can hear at 4:20 in this overview for “My ID Is Gangnam Beauty,” a Korean drama.

Here, one of the characters uses the greeting while talking to her estranged ex-husband with whom she has children.

Good afternoon — 좋은 오후예요

Pronunciation: Jo-eun o-hoo-ye-yo

Formality level: Formal

When to use it: This would be the direct translation, but it’s not commonly used in daily conversation. 

It’s important to note that Korean doesn’t have various greetings for different times of day like many other languages. You could say it, but it would be a bit awkward. 

Instead, you can always just use the word for “hello” at absolutely anytime of day, “안녕하세요.”

Goodbye (When you’re the one leaving) — 안녕히 계세요

Pronunciation: An-nyeong-hi gye-se-yo

Formality level: Formal

When to use it: This is a standard polite goodbye you can say to someone or to a group of people when you’re leaving.

You might recognize the 안녕히 part from the greeting “안녕하세요.”

In this case, rather than asking if someone is at peace, you’re saying “Stay in peace.”

Goodbye (When you’re the one staying) — 안녕히 가세요

Pronunciation: An-nyeong-hi ga-se-yo

Formality level: Formal

When to use it: This is basically the same goodbye except that it’s what you’d use when the other party is leaving and you’re staying.

You’ll notice that the only part that’s different here is that you say (ga) rather than 계 (gye). It’s the difference between telling the other party to “go” or “stay.”

This funny video from E-channel, in which a student tricks his mother into buying him nice clothes, shows both versions in the same exchange.

At 1:00, the salesperson says “안녕히 세요” to the mother and son as they’re leaving the store, and they both reply with “안녕히 세요” as they leave.

Bye (When you’re the one leaving) — 잘 있어

Pronunciation: Jal iss-eo

Formality level: Informal

When to use it: This is a more casual way to say goodbye when you’re leaving.

Here we have our old friend 잘 again. In using this expression, you’re telling someone to “be well,” or less literally, to “take care.”

This phrase appears in the Kim Han-bin song of the same name.

Bye (When you’re the one staying) — 잘 가

Pronunciation: Jal ga

Formality level: Informal

When to use it: You use this as a casual goodbye when you’re the one staying. 

By now, you can probably work this one out on your own. Since 잘 is “well,” and 가 is “go,” “잘 가” literally means “go well.”

For example, if your friend is going home, or if, as is the case in this silly Korean smartphone commercial at 0:40, your poor broken phone is departing for the afterlife without you.

See you next time — 다음에 봐

Pronunciation: Da-eum-e bwa

Formality level: Informal

When to use it: This is a casual way of saying, “See you later,” or “See you next time.” 

Back to our friend Daryl. Daryl uses it a couple of times, including at 2:40, when he ends a conversation with a girl he met at a party who incorrectly remembers him as being dressed up as a zebra (when he was actually dressed up as Batman).

You can also hear this expression in the song “다음에 봐” by rapper JayT.

The polite version of this phrase is “다음에 봐요,”  which, like with other phrases above, just requires adding 요 to the casual expression.

See you tomorrow — 내일 봐

Pronunciation: Nae-il bwa

Formality level: Informal

When to use it: This is a similar casual goodbye that means “see you tomorrow.”

Daryl Lim’s film doesn’t include this goodbye exactly, but our main guy’s friend uses a variation, ending their text exchange around 1:35 with “내일 보자,” which means something like, “Let’s see each other tomorrow.”

The polite version of 내일 봐 is “내일 봐요.” which you can hear at 0:52 in this KBS clip from the drama “Please, Summer.”

Levels of Formality in Korean Greetings

Here’s a brief word about levels of politeness in Korean. In this post, we deal mainly with two levels of formality: 반말 (casual speech or literally “half words”) and 존댓말 (polite or standard speech).

반말 is generally used with friends your own age and those younger than you, while 존댓말 is used with strangers and those older than you. There are other levels, but that’s part of a more complicated discussion.

All you need to know right now is that some of the phrases can be expressed in two (or more) forms, and that if in doubt about which one to use, you should default to the polite form.

Resources for Learning Korean Greetings and Goodbyes

Let’s quickly look at some great online resources that’ll help you nail down your knowledge of greetings and goodbyes.

  • This video goes into the finer cultural points of 인사 (greeting). It lays out some of the more nuanced expectations surrounding greetings in Korean culture, such as how age affects who’s expected to greet who and how. 

  • This video goes into the correct body language and etiquette when greeting people in Korean. Note that there are ways of bowing that are common in other Asian countries, but are not used in Korea!

  • And did you notice how helpful it was to have video examples for so many of these phrases and cultural nuances? For more like that, you can use FluentU, a language learning program that allows you to find and study with real Korean videos.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Click here to check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

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Ready to learn to say hi and bye in Korean, to get someone’s attention and to generally start and end conversations?

Well, if you’ve made it this far, you’re well on your way to speaking Korean. Now that you’ve learned greetings, you may as well stick around for the rest of the conversation!

And One More Thing...

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