You’ve had a bad week: You didn’t know what floor your doctor’s office was on or which subway line to take. You missed catching up with your friend because you didn’t know exactly what time you were supposed to meet her—or at which address.
Why? You forgot certain numbers. These simple snippets of life that you take for granted all involve numbers.
You can find them everywhere: Addresses, restaurant menus, money, plane tickets, even the episodes of your favorite Korean drama. (Don’t you just hate it when you mess up the plot by watching a drama in the wrong order!?)
Numbers speak for themselves, and these babies are packed with insight. Numbers aren’t just for doing math! (You don’t add street numbers, do you?)
When you’re learning a new language, numbers constitute a big slice of the pie and you can’t underestimate their importance in your trajectory as a learner.
In this post, we’ll talk about Korean numbers—from zero to a trillion. You’ll learn how to read, write and use them in your everyday life.
Ready? Fasten your seatbelt because this will be double the fun.
And, on that note…
Why Does Korean Have 2 Number Systems?
Korea employs two different number systems, and they’re used for different purposes. One is the “Korean Number System” and the other, the “Sino-Korean Number System.” “Sino,” in this case, refers to China.
So why would Korea have two number systems?
Well, it has something to do with geography and influence.
Look at a map and you’ll see that China and Korea are neighbors. They share a border—with China playing the big brother to the Korean Peninsula’s little brother. Being geographically close makes many things “transferable.” I’m not just talking about trading goods and family recipes here, I’m talking about philosophy (Confucianism), religion (Buddhism), language and, by extension, numbers. It’s even said that 60% of the Korean language has Chinese origins.
Not that Korea had zero influence on Chinese culture and beliefs, but if you wonder why the direction of transfer was mainly from “China-to-Korea,” it was because China was the ancient superpower. (It was basically today’s America.) China was already lording it over the region centuries before America was born.
In fact, Korean intellectual elites invested years to study Chinese characters and prestige was bestowed on anyone who demonstrated Chinese linguistic prowess.
Through political and cultural influence, these Chinese characters crept their way into the Korean number system. And so today you have two number systems in Korea: one native Korean, and the other with Chinese imprints.
(And oh, by the way, Japan has two numbers systems too!)
Jump into the 2 Korean Number Systems and Learn to Count in Korean
Native Korean Numbers: For Counting Apples
Okay, let’s start with the native Korean numbers. These numbers have three primary uses:
First, they’re used when you’re counting in Korean. You use these numbers when, say, you want to know how many students there are in your class, or how many times you’ve been late. Use them when you want to signify the numbers of objects, instances or occurrences, like “three marbles,” “five bowls of soup,” “eight pieces of fried chicken,” or “10 ‘Yes’ votes.”
Second, you use native Korean numbers when you’re talking about age.
You should know that native Korean numbers go only as high as 99. This doesn’t mean that you stop counting things—or your age—after that. If you go over 99, you just switch to the other system, which can go to the trillions and more.
Third, you use native Korean numbers when telling time. It’s a little bit tricky because you use it only for the hours. The “minutes” are denoted in the Sino-Korean system, which we’ll study later. So for example, if the time is “8:45,” you use native Korean for eight and the Sino-Korean for “45.”
That said, let’s dive right in.
How to count 1-10 in native Korean numbers
Here’s how to say one through 10 in Korean:
하나 (“Hana”) — one
둘 (“Dool”) — two
셋 (“Set”) — three
넷 (“Net”) — four
다섯 (“Dasut”) — five
여섯 (“Yusut”) — six
일곱 (“Eelgop”) — seven
여덟 (“Yudulb”) — eight
아홉 (“Ahop”) — nine
열 (“Yul”) — 10
Commit these 10 items to memory because they’ll really come in handy when you start counting higher. Also note that there’s no zero in the native Korean counting system, so you’ll need to use the Sino-Korean word for zero (more on this later).
If you’re having trouble remembering these words (and really, you’ll need to internalize them so you can pull them out easily at a moment’s notice), this set of flashcards from FluentU will help you out a lot. You can listen to each number pronounced or click on it to hear snippets from videos where the words are used in context—which will help you remember them much better than just seeing them in isolation on a blog.
Explore the rest of FluentU for a more authentic and context-full way to learn Korean.
And as a nice bonus, you can quiz yourself on the numbers and FluentU will notice when you’ve mastered a word and focus on the ones you don’t quite remember well yet.
Got those numbers down, now? Great.
Going beyond 10 is really easy. You just use the formula:
10 + X
So for 11, we have “10 + 1.”
We already know that 10 is 열 and one is 하나. Therefore, eleven is 열하나 (“yulhana”).
Twelve (10 + 2) is 열 and 둘, making 열둘 (“yuldool”).
The numbers 11-19 are known as the yul series because they all start with yul and suffixed with the numbers from one to nine.
How to count 20-90 in native Korean numbers
Next, you need to memorize the tens (20, 30 and so on).
Here they are:
스물 (“Seumul”) — 20
서른 (“Seoreun”) — 30
마흔 (“Maheun”) — 40
쉰 (“Swin”) — 50
예순 (“Yesun”) — 60
일흔 (“Ilheun”) — 70
여든 (“Yeodeun”) — 80
아흔 (“Aheun”) — 90
For building the numbers in between, the method is still the same. For example, for the 20 series, you use this formula:
20 + X
So for 21, you’ll have 20, which is 스물 and one, which is 다섯, and you just straight up combine them into 스물하나 (“seumulhana”).
Here are some examples:
여든셋 (“Yeodeunset”) — 83
마흔다섯 (“Maheundasut”) — 45
아흔여섯 (“Aheunyusut”) — 96
Now that you know the 99 Korean numbers, it’s time to talk about counters. Counting in Korean requires tags that allow us to identify what types or class of things we’re counting.
For example, we use a specific counter when counting people, another counter when dealing with animals and another one that can be used when counting inanimate objects.
If somebody asks you: “How many cats are in the box?” in English, you might say something like “three cats,” where the number comes before the noun. In Korean, we mention the object first, the number second and then, finally, the counter.
So the formula is:
Object (What) + Korean Number (How Many) + Counter
As mentioned, there are different types of counters. For example,
개 (“gae”) is used for counting objects.
For example: 사과 여섯 개 (six apples)
명 (“myeong”) / 사람 (“saram”) is used for counting people
For example: 열 명 (10 people)
마리 (“mari”) is used for counting animals
For example: 고양이 여덟 마리 (eight cats)
장 (“jang”) is used for counting flat objects (eg. sheets of paper)
For example: 종이 일곱 장 (seven sheets of paper)
Special Numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 20
These numbers are special because they transform a little bit when they’re paired with a counter. They change by dropping their last letter. For example, 하나, when paired with a counter like 명 isn’t 하나 명 (“hana myeong”), but rather 한 명 (“han myeong”).
It rolls off the tongue better, doesn’t it?
Here are the rest of the transformations. Notice how they drop the last letter:
하나 (“Hana” ) → 한 (“Han” )
둘 (“Dool”) → 두 (“Doo”)
셋 (“Set”) → 세 (“Se”)
넷 (“Net”) → 네 (“Ne”)
스물 (“Seumul”) → 스무 (“Seumu”)
So remember, any time you use a counter, use these forms for numbers one, two, three, four and 20.
How to Tell Your Age in Korean
Age is such an important concept for Koreans. You’re likely to be asked how old you are in the very first meeting so that people can talk and act accordingly. When somebody asks for your age, you use native Korean numbers.
The counter for age is 살 (“sal”).
Q: 나이가 어떻게 되세요? (“How old are you?”)
A: 저는 + Native Korean Number + 살이에요. (I am + ____ + years old.)
How to Tell the Time with Native Korean Numbers
몇 시예요? (What time is it?)
Telling time is a little bit tricky because it uses both Korean numbers and the Sino-Korean numbers. The hours are stated in the native numbers and the minutes are Sino-Korean.
For the hours, your counter will be 시 (“shi”) which is like the “o’clock” in English. For the minutes, you use 분 (“boon”). Later on, we’ll be dealing with Sino-Korean numbers. But for now, let’s talk about the full hours.
Here are the hours in Korean:
한 시 (“Hanshi”) — one o’clock
두 시 (“Dooshi”) — two o’clock
세 시 (“Seshi”) — three o’clock
네 시 (“Neshi”) — four o’clock
다섯 시 (“Daseosshi”) — five o’clock
여섯 시 (“Yeoseosshi”) — six o’clock
일곱 시 (“Ilgopshi”) — seven o’clock
여덟 시 (“Yeodulshi”) — eight o’clock
아홉 시 (“Ahopshi”) — nine o’clock
열 시 (“Yeolshi”) — 10 o’clock
열한 시 (“Yeolhanshi”) — 11 o’clock
열두 시 (“Yeoldooshi”) — 12 o’clock
Here are two more important words to know:
오전 (“Ojeon”) — AM
오후 (“Ohu”) — PM
In English, the AM/PM comes after the minutes. In Korean, it’s the other way around. The formula for telling time is:
AM/PM + Hour + Minutes
Okay, speaking of time, it’s time to go look at Sino-Korean numbers.
Sino-Korean Numbers: For 100 and Up
The Sino-Korean numbers are used to count larger numbers.
How to count 1-10 in Sino-Korean numbers
Here are the first 10 Sino-Korean numbers:
일 (“Eel”) — one
이 (“Ee”) — two
삼 (“Sam”) — three
사 (“Sa”) — four
오 (“O”) — five
육 (“Yook”) — six
칠 (“Chil”) — seven
팔 (“Pal”) — eight
구 (“Goo”) — nine
십 (“Ship”) — 10
It’s very important that you commit these numbers to memory because they’re your building blocks. You’re going to be using them in building bigger and bigger numbers.
Need some help remembering these numbers? Just listen to this adorable Korean number song that you’ll definitely be singing in your head for the next week (you’re welcome!).
This video is available on FluentU with a full transcript and subtitles—and if you still don’t have the Sino-Korean numbers memorized by the end of the song, you can save each number to your personal study deck and review them later with flashcards (that also have video!).
Up next is 11-19, which is called the ship series because they all start with 십 (“ship”).
십일 (“Shipil”) — 11
십이 (“Shipi”) — 12
십삼 (“Shipsam”) — 13
십사 (“Shipsa”) — 14
십오 (“Shipo”) — 15
십육 (“Shipnyuk”) — 16
십칠 (“Shipchil”) — 17
십팔 (“Ship-pal”) — 18
십구 (“Shipgu”) — 19
이십 (“Eeship”) — 20
As you may have already noticed, the formula for numbers 11-19 is still:
10 + X
So 십, which is the Sino-Korean number for 10, comes in first and is then suffixed by the ones digit (X). That’s why 17 in the Sino-Korean nomenclature is 십칠 (“Shipchil”) following the 10 + X formula.
How to count 20-90 in Sino-Korean numbers
You’ll see next that the situation reverses when you deal with 20s, 30s, 40s, etc.:
이십 (“Eeship”) — 20
삼십 (“Samship”) — 30
사십 (“Saship”) — 40
오십 (“Oship”) — 50
육십 (“Yukship”) — 60
칠십 (“Chilship”) — 70
팔십 (“Palship”) — 80
구십 (“Guship”) — 90
This time, when you’re dealing with the tens (20-90), the formula is reversed. It becomes:
X + 10
The number 80, for example, becomes 팔십 (“Palship”), where 팔 is the Sino-Korean number for eight and is suffixed by 십, which is 10. Again, this formula is the reverse of the one we used in building numbers 11-19.
Now that we know how counting by tens works, we can easily work out how the numbers between them like 25, 36, 49 are written. You simply add the ones digit at the end.
Let’s designate the ones digit as “Y” this time. So the formula becomes:
X + 10 + Y
We know 20 is 이십 (“Eeship”). By adding the five at the end (오), we get 25: 이십오 (“Eeship-o”). Here are a few more examples:
삼십팔 (“Samship-pal”) — 38
사십구 (“Saship-goo”) — 49
Counting 100-10,000 in Sino-Korean numbers
Got all that? Excellent. Let’s move forward and get to the hundreds:
백 (“Baek”) — 100
이백 (“Ibaek”) — 200
삼백 (“Sambaek”) — 300
사백 (“Sabaek”) — 400
오백 (“Obaek”) — 500
육백 (“Yukbaek”) — 600
칠백 (“Chilbaek”) — 700
팔백 (“Palbaek”) — 800
구백 (“Gubaek”) — 900
You’ll notice that the names of the hundreds still follow the names of our basic numbers. Since three is 삼, 300 is 삼백 (“sam-baek”); since seven is 칠, 700 is 칠백 (“chil-baek”).
For non-rounded numbers like 367, you just tack on 67 to the tail of 300. So it becomes 삼백육십칠 (“Sambaek-yukship-chil”). You can build ever bigger numbers this way.
The pattern pretty much holds in the thousands, as well:
천 (“Cheon”) — 1,000
이천 (“Icheon”) — 2,000
삼천 (“Samcheon”) — 3,000
사천 (“Sacheon”) — 4,000
오천 (“Ocheon”) — 5,000
육천 (“Yukcheon”) — 6,000
칠천 (“Chilcheon”) — 7,000
팔천 (“Palcheon”) — 8,000
구천 (“Gucheon”) — 9,000
For non-rounded numbers like 1,367, you just tack in 67 to the tail of 300. So it becomes 천삼백육십칠 (“Cheon-sambaek-yukship-chil”). Easy, right?
Counting 10,000 and higher: It’s all about the “Man”
Okay, let’s talk about a very important number in the Sino-Korean system—the number 10,000, also known as 만 (“Man”).
Ten thousand is really an inflection point in this number system because Koreans count by increments of 10,000. This is unlike most of the Western world that counts in multiples of 1,000.
So what difference does this make? A lot, actually.
For a Westerner—100,000 is 100 multiples of 1,000.
For Koreans—100,000 is 10 multiples of 10,000.
In this number system, 10 million is 천만 (“Cheonman”) because 10 million is 1,000 multiples of 10,000. And if you look above, what’s the Korean word for 1,000 again? Right. It’s 천 (“Cheon”).
I know this might sound a little bit unnerving to wrap your head around, but to help you, just remember to drop the last four digits of the big number. Then, compose whatever’s left. Suffix that number with 만 (“man”). Then bring back the four digits that you dropped and compose it as you normally would.
For example, 127,563. If we first drop the last four digits, only the 12 remains. In Korean, you’re saying that there are 12 multiples of 10,000. So 127,563 is 십이만 칠천오백육십삼.
Here are some examples:
칠만 팔천이백사십오 — 78,245
삼십칠만 팔천구백오십 — 378,950
To go to the higher numbers, you need to remember 십, 백 and 천 in Sino-Korean:
100,000 is 십만 (“Ship-man”) because it’s 10 x 10,000.
1 million is 백만 (“Baek-man”) because it’s 100 x 10,000
10 million is 천만 (“Cheon-man”) because it’s 1,000 x 10,000
Some more important words:
억 (“Eok”) — 100 million
Then you go through the 십, 백 and 천 progression we’ve modeled above for a billion, 10 billion and 100 billion respectively.
조 (“Jo”) — 1 trillion
You then go through the same progression for the higher numbers.
Now that you know how to count using this system, let’s look at some of the ways these Sino-Korean numbers are used in daily life.
How to Tell Time with Sino-Korean Numbers
As we’ve said earlier, Korean hours are designated in native Korean numbers—with the counter 시 (“shi”)—and the minutes are designated in Sino-Korean—with 분 (“boon”) as the counter. After studying the Sino-Korean numbers, we can now tell time with minutes.
Here are some commonly used minute intervals:
십오 분 (“Shipoboon”) — 15 minutes
삼십 분 (“Samshipboon”) — 30 minutes
반 (“Ban”) — half
사십오 분 (“Sashipoboon” ) — 45 minutes
Here are some examples:
오전 여덟 시 삼십 분 (“Ojeon yeodulshi samshipboon”) — 8:30 AM
오후 일곱 시 이십팔 분 (“Ohu ilgopshi eshippalboon”) — 7:28 PM
How to Tell the Date in Korean
You don’t want to be just on time to meet your friend—you’ve got to make sure that you’re waiting in that coffee shop on the correct day! So let’s quickly learn how dates work in Korean.
In America, dates usually follow the “Month-Day-Year” pattern. For example, “April 16, 2020.”
In Korea, the year is mentioned first. They follow the “Year-Month-Day” format, as in “2020 년 4월 16일.”
년 (“Nyeon”) — year
월 (“Wol”) — month
일 (“Il”) — day
The date above is read as 이천이십 년 사 월 십육 일 (“Icheon eeship-nyeon sa-wol shipnyuk-il”).
Here are the months in Korean. They’re simply the first 12 Sino-Korean numbers suffixed by 월 (“wol”).
1월 (“Irwol”) — January
2월 (“Iwol”) — February
3월 (“Samwol”) — March
4월 (“Sawol”) — April
5월 (“Owol”) — May
6월 (“Yuwol”) — June
7월 (“Chirwol”) — July
8월 (“Palwol”) — August
9월 (“Guwol”) — September
10월 (“Siwol”) — October
11월 (“Shipilwol”) — November
12월 (“Shipiwol”) — December
How to Tell Your Phone Number in Korean
Because you now know the Sino-Korean numbers, you can finally tell that Korean hottie your digits… and expect a call anytime now.
Phone numbers are read individually in Korean. While Americans love to bunch up numbers saying “20-20” for 2020, Koreans don’t usually do that.
They do, however, use 에 (“e”) to signify a “dash” between the group of numbers. So when you’re writing a phone number down, hearing this means you better put a “-” between the numbers.
Also, because the numbers 1일 (“eel”) and 2이 (“ee”) sound very similar and don’t come through very clearly over the phone, sometimes 1일 (“eel”) is replaced with the native Korean 1하나 (“hana”) to avoid confusion.
For telephone numbers, 공 (“gong”) is used for zeroes.
Let’s look at a couple of examples:
공일공에 이삼육사에 팔칠공구 — 010-2364-8709
공구일칠 팔이이에 공공육사 — (0917) 822-0064
This video about how important our phones are shows a bunch of people with their phone numbers listed above their heads. Pause the video when you see a number and practice saying it out loud—in Korean, of course!
Other Uses of the Sino Korean System
The Sino-Korean Number System has many other uses.
For anything above 100, this is your guy.
The Korean currency, the Won, is designated in Sino-Korean. Numbers in addresses use it too. Dimensions and measurements do, as well. Here are some example of Korean counters that use Sino-Korean numbers:
킬로미터 (“Kil-lo-mee-teo”) — kilometers
미터 (“Mee-teo”) — meters
리터 (“Li-teo”) — liters
도 (“Doh”) — temperature, usually in degrees Celsius
초 (“Cho”) — seconds
Subway lines, floors in buildings, even the episodes of your favorite Korean dramas are counted in this number system!
Now that you know Korean numbers, you’ll have the confidence to communicate properly and get to any meeting… on time!
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