Korean Greetings and Goodbyes: The Pop Culture-savvy Guide
Greetings and goodbyes are the bookends of conversations.
They may seem more decorative than functional.
Take them away, though, and you’ve got an avalanche on your hands.
Okay, so maybe that’s being a bit dramatic.
But not only do hellos and farewells keep interactions comfortable and polite, they include important supporting information concerning your relationship with your conversation partner.
This is true in English, and even truer in Korean, where levels of formality work their way into all aspects of conversation.
I can hear you groaning.
I know. You just want to learn how to say “hello” in Korean. Why do we need to get into the weeds with things like politeness and… *sigh* grammar rules?
Well, think of it this way: You were never going to avoid the subject of formality in the first place if you have any intention of actually using the language, and learning Korean greetings and goodbyes is a good way of easing into it.
By learning the phrases below and their proper uses, you won’t just have read some words on a page, you’ll have actually started learning Korean.
What’s more, we’ll try to make it all as fun as possible by referencing real examples from TV, film and music.
Resources for Learning Korean Greetings and Goodbyes
Before we get to phrases you can use in conversations, let’s quickly look at some great online resources that’ll help you nail down your knowledge of greetings and goodbyes.
- The short film “여보세요” (yeo-bo-se-yo — “Hello,” when answering phone) by Daryl Lim. 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. Because the main character talks to so many people over the course of the film, we get to hear multiple different greetings and goodbyes. In the list below, I’ll point out several specific phrases that he uses.
- This TTMIK video on the finer cultural points of 인사 (in-sa — greeting). While we’ll talk about degrees of formality below, this video 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. You don’t necessarily have to watch this right away or before reading the list below, but it’s good to have on hand.
Ready to learn to say hi and bye, to get someone’s attention and to generally start and end conversations?
Korean Greetings and Goodbyes: The Pop Culture-savvy Guide
Before we get started, a brief word about levels of politeness in Korean. In this post, we’ll mainly be dealing with two levels of formality: 반말 (ban-mal — casual speech, “half words”) and 존댓말 (jon-dae-mal — 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 below 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.
안녕하세요? (an-nyeong-ha-se-yo) — Hello
This is a common polite greeting you can use in Korean. It can be used at any time of day, 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.
While this post isn’t exactly about introductions, when we talk about greetings, introductions naturally come into the picture. With that being the case, this video is perfect for learning a bit of both.
After “안녕하세요,” Kim Yoo-jung continues by addressing “앨르 독자 여러분” (ael-leu dog-ja yeo-leo-bun — Elle readers).
She follows up with “저는 김유정 입니다” (jeo-neun gim-yu-jeong ib-ni-da — I’m Kim Yoo-jung).
She then adds “반갑습니다” (ban-gab-seub-ni-da — Nice to meet you).
While this all goes by pretty fast, it’s good to get a sense of how real spoken Korean sounds early on. (The audio clips linked below are clearer.)
You can use the above as a basic template for politely introducing yourself in Korean:
저는 [your name] 입니다. 반갑습니다. (I’m ___. Nice to meet you.)
안녕! (an-nyeong) — Hi! / Bye!
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. In “여보세요,” 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.
여보세요 (yeo-bo-se-yo) — Hello (When answering the phone)
This 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.
You can also hear it in this trailer for the Korean film “Little Forest,” a drama based on a manga about a girl who returns to her hometown from the city.
뭐 해? (mwo-hae) — What are you doing? / What’s up? (Common when texting)
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” (neo-neun ji-geum mwo-hae), 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 a video on the Korean teacher channel, you can hear one character say to another, “여기서 뭐 해요?” (yeo-gi-seo mwo-hae-yo — What are you doing here?).
It’d be too complicated to get into all the possible answers to 뭐해? or 뭐해요? right now, as you can answer by explaining whatever you’re doing at the moment. But a simple, basic answer is, “그냥 있어(요)” (geu-nyang iss-eo(yo)). “그냥” means “just,” and 있어 is from the verb 있다 (to be or to exist somewhere). “그냥 있어(요)” means something like, “Just here,” and is sort of like saying “Not much” to “What’s up?” in English.
저기요! (jeo-gi-yo) — Excuse me!
This isn’t a greeting, but it can serve as a conversation beginner nonetheless. 저기요 is a polite way to get the attention of someone you don’t know, such as a member of the waitstaff in a restaurant. 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 for the popular horror movie “Train to Busan.”
야! (ya) — Hey!
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 야.
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. At 2:43, you can hear him say, “민지야” (min-ji-ya).
For a less traditional usage example, check out this bizarre music video for a song from the band Crying Nut, which repeats the line 비둘기야, 어딜 가니? (bi-deul-gi-ya, eo-dil ga-ni? — Pigeon, where are you going?) multiple times.
While this might not be the most useful piece of vocab for a beginning learner to know, you’ll never, ever forget the Korean word for “pigeon” after watching it.
잘 잤어? (jal jass-eo) — Did you sleep well?
This Instagram post from singer Eric Nam is accompanied by the caption “굿모닝. 잘잤어?” (Good morning. Did you sleep well?). 잘 잤어? is the question in its casual form, and it can be used by itself as a way of saying “good morning” in Korean. (Note: “굿모닝” is actually just the Hangul transliteration of the English “Good morning”).
In this “Let’s Speak Korean” episode from Arirang TV, you can hear the 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” (eung, nan jal jass-eo — Yes, I slept well). The video includes further possibilities for dialogue exchange and variations.
As is explained by the people at “Let’s Speak Korean,” 응 is a less formal 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? (jal jass-eo-yo) 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” (ne, jal jass-eo-yo). 네 is a more polite version of “yes.”
잘 지냈어? (jal ji-naess-eo) — How are you doing? / Are you doing well?
One important thing to understand about this greeting is that it’s not something that you’d just throw into conversation out of habit, the way we say “How are you?” in English. As mentioned, 안녕하세요 already covers “how are you” in this sense.
잘 지냈어? is rather something that you’d say to someone you know but haven’t seen in a while. You might notice that this expression looks a bit similar to our last expression. They 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? (jal ji-naess-eo-yo). 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” (ne, jal ji-naess-eo-yo — Yes, I’ve been well).
밥 먹었어? (bab meog-eoss-eo) — Have you eaten?
This is a common, everyday way to greet someone. 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? (bab meog-eoss-eo-yo)
As with the other questions above, you can simply respond with 네 or 응 to move on with the conversation. 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.
In another episode of “Let’s Speak Korean,” you can watch the Korean boy band Paran teaching pronunciation of a slight variation on this question, “점심 먹었어요?” (jeom-sim meog-eoss-eo-yo).
This is the same question, but with 점심 replacing 밥, it’s asking if you’ve had lunch specifically. The episode also 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 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.
오랜만이야 (o-laen-man-i-ya) — Long time, no see
오랜만이야 is a casual way of saying, “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 (o-laen-man-i-e-yo), which you can hear in this trailer for “My ID Is Gangnam Beauty,” a Korean drama that you can currently find on Viki.
Here, the character who uses the greeting is talking to her estranged ex-husband with whom she has children.
안녕히 계세요 (an-nyeong-hi gye-se-yo) — Goodbye (When you’re the one leaving)
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.”
안녕히 가세요 (an-nyeong-hi ga-se-yo) — Goodbye (When you’re the one staying)
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 가 (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. A salesperson says “안녕히 가세요” to the mother and son as they’re leaving the store, and they both reply with “안녕히 계세요” as they leave.
잘 있어 (jal iss-eo) — Bye (When you’re the one leaving)
This is a more casual way to say goodbye when you’re leaving. And 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.
잘 가 (jal ga) — Bye (When you’re the one staying)
And 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.”
You’d use this as a casual goodbye when you’re the one staying. For example, if your friend is going home, or if, as is the case in this Korean smartphone commercial, your poor broken phone is departing for the afterlife without you.
다음에 봐 (da-eum-e bwa) — See you later
Back to our friend Daryl. 다음에 봐 is a casual way of saying, “see you later,” or “see you next time.” 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 (da-eum-e bwa-yo), which, like with other phrases above, just requires adding 요 to the casual expression.
내일 봐 (nae-il bwa) — See you tomorrow
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 buddy uses a variation, ending their text exchange around 1:35 with “내일 보자” (nae-il bo-ja), which means something like, “let’s see each other tomorrow.”
The polite version of 내일 봐 is 내일 봐요 (nae-il bwa-yo). which you can hear in this KBS clip from the drama “Please, Summer.”
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!
Elisabeth Cook is a freelance writer who blogs at Lit All Over.