Your One-Stop Guide to Essential Korean Punctuation

The Korean word for punctuation is 문장 부호 .

But in truth, punctuation really wasn’t much of a thing in Korean text until about 200 years or so ago, due to Western influence. Now, following the times, it’s a critical part of written Korean communication.

The good news is, Korean punctuation rules are almost entirely the same as the English rules!

Yes—even though you’re using an entirely different writing system and characters!

Here’s a quick and easy breakdown of modern Korean punctuation, plus some extra info on a few of its unique features.

Contents


Korean Punctuation Marks

마침표 — Period (.)

Use a period to end a phrase or sentence. A period can also be used to end direct quotes.

나는 학교에 갔다. — I went to school.

And in Korean, periods are frequently used to write out numerical dates (similar to the slash in English).

날짜는 2020.10.04입니다. — The date is April 10, 2020.

줄임표 — Ellipsis (…)

Use the ellipsis to indicate that there’s a sustained pause in speech, or to indicate that speech is fading or trailing off.

아… 그게 사실인가요? — Oh…is that true?

쉼표 — Comma (,)

As in English, the comma can be used for multiple functions. Commas can separate items in a list, like this:

사과, 배, 포도가 필요해요. — I need apples, pears and grapes.

A comma can also break a sentence into separate clauses, or indicate a very brief pause in speech, like this:

네, 가게에 갈 거예요. — Yes, I am going to the store.

Unlike English, the comma is not typically placed within quotation marks encapsulating speech (more detail on this later).

물음표 — Question Mark (?)

Use the question mark to denote a question. If a Korean sentence consists of multiple questions, only one question mark is allowed at the very end of the sentence.

약속이 언제예요? — When is your appointment?

밥을 먹어야 할까, 라면을 먹어야 할까? — Should I eat rice, or should I eat ramen?

느낌표 — Exclamation Point (!)

Use the exclamation point to express exaggerated emotion. It might be surprise, anger, delight or disgust, for example.

저리 가! — Go away!

정말 멋지네요! — That’s awesome!

따옴표 — Quotation Marks (“ ”/ ‘ ’)

Double quotation marks are more specifically called 큰 따옴표 . They’re used to mark quotes and verbal speech, as in:

“안녕하세요.” 할머니가 말씀하셨어요. — “Hello,” my grandmother said.

Single quotation marks are called 작은 따옴표 and are used to mark a quoted phrase within a quote, or to suggest thoughts and other speech not directly spoken.

소년은 ‘자고 싶다.’라고 생각했다. — ‘I want to sleep,’ the boy thought.

Remember: In Korean, the period (not the comma) is used to end quotes within quotation marks.

소괄호 — Parentheses (( ))

Use parentheses to enclose supporting information or explanations, such as additional notes, translations, clarifications and so forth. In Korean, no space is required before or after parentheses.

뉴욕시(New York City)는 너무 크다. — New York City is too big.

쌍점 — Colon (:)

Use a colon to mark the introduction of a list or specific description. In Korean, a colon must have a space directly before and after it.

쇼핑 리스트 : 신발, 가방, 목걸이. — Shopping list: shoes, bag, necklace.

물결표 — Tilde (~)

Use the tilde to describe time spans or a distance from a Point A to Point B, as in:

서울 ~ 대구로 갑니다. — We are going from Seoul to Daegu.

The tilde is also commonly used in more casual, online speech to suggest exaggeration, emotive emphasis or the drawing-out of a syllable (especially to be cute).

좋은 하루 되시기를~ — Have a good day~

빗금 — Slash (/)

Use the slash to function as “per” or “by” for measurements, including those of speed, price, ingredient calculations and so on.

10,000원/시간입니다. — It’s 10,000 won per hour.

가운뎃점 — Middle Dot (ㆍ)

Use the middle dot to list out similar things, like you would use a comma or slash in English:

준비물로 도시락공책연필을 가지고 오세요. — Please bring a lunch, notebook and pencil.

The middle dote may also be used to write out important dates:

8·15 광복절 — August 15, National Liberation Day of Korea

Traditional Korean Punctuation

In traditional written Korean, punctuation actually wasn’t much of a thing!

Back then, the written script, known as 구결 , was primarily based on Chinese characters. They were written vertically, as opposed to horizontally. Symbolic marks were basically dots and boxes, used for correcting or aiding in reading comprehension.

For example, the symbol called 삭제부 (▯) indicated that a character should be removed. Another symbol called 역독점 (which resembled the middle dot) was used to mark character reading order.

When the Hangul alphabet was created in the 15th century to replace Chinese script, punctuation still wasn’t formally used.

The adoption of English punctuation in Korea took place around the end of the 19th century. As you can see, the specific purposes of each punctuation mark have mostly been retained…

Differences Between English and Korean Punctuation

…but there are still unique nuances to Korean punctuation that you wouldn’t find in English!

There are several I’ve already described above. Here’s a summary of the differences between English and Korean punctuation:

  • The middle dot is a standard punctuation mark used in Korean, but not in formal written English.
  • The tilde is commonly used in Korean text to indicate exaggeration, the dragging-out of a syllable or a tone of “cuteness.”
  • In written Korean, the colon requires a space before and after it; this isn’t the case in English.
  • Both the semicolon and apostrophe are rarely used in Korean text.
  • The comma is not used very frequently in Korea.
  • The guillemet, or 겹낫표 (『』), is used in North Korea to replace quotation marks in text.

To get a sense of these differences, and how Koreans use punctuation in general, read more in Korean!

Look for Korean books that match your language level (like graded readers or short stories) for more formal punctuation usage. More casual marks, like the tilde, can be found in Korean-language blogs, chat forums and other online spaces.

You may even see punctuation marks in the subtitles of your favorite Korean movies or K-dramas. With a language learning program like FluentU, for example, you can watch real Korean content with helpful tools that break down the language you see and hear.

The more you see Korean punctuation in use by natives, the easier it will be for you to understand the nuances of how to use those familiar marks in your new tongue.

 

Learning Korean grammar can be a struggle, but you shouldn’t have to worry too much about Korean punctuation. It is nice that they’re not so different from the punctuation you’re already familiar with!

Of course, those minute differences are still important to learn. Remember that the best way to familiarize yourself with them is by reading and writing plenty of Korean!

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