You never thought it was going to happen.
Not in this lifetime, or the next.
But, it has…
You worked up the confidence to approach your crush, and now you have a native-speaking Korean paramour!
Now, you’d like to surprise your special someone by learning a few Korean terms of endearment.
Picking up your partner’s native language is a super romantic gesture—not to mention a great way to make all your single friends jealous!
Or, maybe you and the love of your life aren’t even remotely connected to Korea, but you just want to find some nicknames that are a little more unique than “cupcake,” “munchkin” or “sugar.”
Hey, maybe you’re just looking for something cute to call your puppy.
I’m not here to judge! I’m just here to teach you some adorable Korean nicknames.
Let’s start this love parade…
For You, My Love: 9 Korean Terms of Endearment and a Dozen Roses
Learning and Using Korean Terms of Endearment
Learning words like the ones on this list is a great way to bring your language skills beyond “textbook Korean” and into the realm of real-world Korean speaking.
As you’ll see, each of these words has its own unique usage within Korean culture. These words may seem difficult at first, but luckily, there are a ton of great internet resources to help you learn when and how to use each one. If you ever feel confused about usage, the WordReference Korean Forum can be a great place to look for an answer. Or, you can always reach out to a Korean language exchange partner or Korean-speaking friend for clarification.
And hey, if you want to go beyond memorizing Korean terms of endearment and actually learn the language, subscribe to FluentU.
FluentU has loads videos that prove that learning Korean is just as fun and interesting as your paramour. To practice your romantic vocab, check out cute videos like “How to Kiss a Prince” or “The Moment I Decided to Get Married to You.” All FluentU videos are embedded with interactive transcriptions and come with engaging exercises so you can learn and have fun from any video clip that you choose.
Check out the free trial. You’re gonna love it!
Now, let’s get started…
Terms of Endearment for Both Men and Women
This first section includes terms of endearment that aren’t gender-specific. You can use them for a male or female flame. Just remember that these are highly informal utterances and expressions and are reserved only for your love:
애인 (“ae-in”) — Sweetheart
You’re hopelessly head-over-heels for this person, and you want the world to know that he or she is yours. You might want the world to hear you call him/her 애인, which is an equivalent of the English word “sweetheart.”
애 means “love” and 인 means “person.” Put them together? You get someone who makes your world go round.
A little caveat, though: the term is for unmarried couples. Don’t use this one to refer to your husband or wife. (They might think the two of you are having an affair on the side.)
Before we continue, let’s get some vocabulary terms straight. “Wife” in Korean is 아내 (“a-nae”). “Husband,” on the other hand, is 남편 (“nam-pyeon”).
자기 (“ja-gi”) — Honey
This one’s good for both married and unmarried couples, although more young people use it these days.
Speaking of “ja-gi,” the 90’s R&B mainstay Kim Jo Han has a song called “자기 (Honey),” which is a pretty catchy tune. You might want to check it out and move to the beat with your honey.
자기 is an interesting term because the word can also be used to refer to “oneself.” So it might speak to the level of closeness and intimacy you have with your partner. If the person is called your better “half,” then it’d be perfectly fine to use the same word you’d use to refer to yourself.
Adding 야 (“ya”) to the term, making it 자기야 (“ja-gi-ya”), makes it even more informal.
여보 (“yeo-bo”) — Darling
If you’ve been married for a while, like if you’re in your late 40’s and up, 여보 (“yeo-bo”) might be the term for you. For example, this is the affectionate term used by the Kim husband-and-wife tandem in the Netflix comedy series “Kim’s Convenience”—about a Korean-Canadian family who runs a convenience store in Toronto.
But really, older couples don’t have a patent on 여보. It can also be used by young couples in a flirty and cutesy way. With the right tone and attitude, you two lovebirds can be the envy of other couples.
Terms of Endearment for Women
If you’re a guy looking for nicknames to call your sweet and pretty SO, here are some Korean terms of endearment you might use:
여자친구 (“yeo-ja-chin-gu”) — Girlfriend
It’s not really a nickname, but just in case you wanted to know the Korean word for “girlfriend,” here it is.
It’s the combination of 여자 (“yeo-ja”) which means woman, and 친구 (“chin-gu”) which means friend.
For a woman who’s really just a friend, you might use 여자 사람 친구 (“yeo-ja-sa-ram-chin-gu”), which is literally translated as “female person friend.”
공주님 (“gong-ju-nim”) — Princess
She’s too special, so you name her after royalty. You’d do everything for her, including pawn your grandmother’s dentures just to give her everything she deserves.
She can be your precious princess, and you, her dashing prince.
If that’s the kind of love you’re looking for, this is the term of endearment for you!
귀요미 (“ki-yo-mi”) — Cutie
She’s so clumsy, naive and innocent. And it’s all so cute! She’s like a little girl, untouched by the realities of life. 귀요미 might be a fitting appellation. (There was even a Kiyomi Song a few years back.)
You might as well use and enjoy this while you’re both young and unmarried. Because when the kids do come, labels drastically change. Well, first of all, she might not be that cute and innocent anymore. And when she becomes somebody’s mother, in Korean culture, you now call her by “name of child + omma.” So when she becomes a mom, it’d now be common to call her “Jeffrey omma,” for example.
Terms of Endearment for Men
If you’re a girl, you might be searching for a suitable nickname for your man since “boo,” “bae” and “babe” have already been taken. Here are some you might use instead:
남자친구 (“nam-ja-chin-gu”) — Boyfriend
Again, not really a term of endearment, but this is the standard Korean word for “boyfriend.”
남자 (“nam-ja”) means “man,” and 친구 (“chin-gu”) means “friend.” The whole term can be contracted as 남친 (“nam-chin”), where you just take the first syllables of “namja” and “chingu.”
For a guy who’s really just a friend, you can call him a 남자 사람 친구 (“nam-ja-sa-ram-chin-gu”), which is literally translated as “male person friend.”
오빠 (“o-ppa”) — Older brother
The world has been “oppa”-ing since the Korean wave has reached Western shores. You always hear it in Korean dramas. It’s been commonly used, and truth be told, some guys don’t really want to be called an “oppa”—probably because of how it’s often been depicted in dramas.
The term actually means older brother (of a female). But it’s also used to refer to a friend who’s older than you.
In Korean culture, society looks with favor on romantic relationships where the male is a bit older than the female. During the get-to-know-you “friendly” stage, girls call these men their “oppa,” because they’re generally older than them. When they do eventually become a couple, this term, out of habit, is brought into the relationship. And that’s why you have loads of women who are calling their boyfriends “oppa.”
왕자님 (“wang–ja–nim”) — Prince
If ladies are princesses, then a frog can dream and be a prince. At least in name. If your relationship feels like a fairy tale, you can use this term of endearment to tell your partner that he’s your prince.
Hey, did you know that Korea has a modern-day prince…and he’s American?! It’s no Korean drama, but here’s the royal tale.
That’s it for our list of Korean terms of endearment and nicknames. So, what will you call your love?
Is it 애인?
Choose wisely, because you’re going to be saying and hearing it several thousands of times (I hope!)
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