Joy of Korean! Common Korean Phrases You Need to Know


Mother’s hand is medicine | Umma soneun yakson엄마손은 약손 |

Similar English phrase: A mother’s touch has healing powers.

This phrase is often spoken by a mom as she is rubbing her hand on her child’s aching belly.

Key Words:

엄마: Umma = Mom

손: Sohn = Hand

약: Yahk = Medicine


Words become seeds | Mali ssiga doenda | 말이 씨가 된다 

Similar English phrase: Be careful what you say.

This phrase is usually used as warning against saying things negative. As seeds will grow to fruition, even casually spoken words have a tendency to come true.

Example sentence:

말 조심해. 말이 씨가 된다. | Mal johshimhae. Mali ssi ga doenda. | Watch what you say. Your words become seeds.

Key Words:

말: Mal = Spoken Words

씨: Ssi = Seed

조심: Johshim = Careful


First Love | Cheot Sarang | 첫사랑

Similar English phrase: First love.

While this is not a theme specific to Korean culture, there is a certain fixation on First Love in Korean society that is often featured in K dramas and a favorite topic of conversation among Koreans when getting to know one another on a deeper level.

Example sentence: Cheot sarangi noogooya? | Who’s your first love? (Informal)

Key words:

: Cheot = First

사랑: Sarang = Love


It’s frustrating | Dapdaphada | 답답하다

Similar English phrase: I’m frustrated. It’s so frustrating.

Used to express an observer’s impatience with someone’s action or inaction.

Other definitions: Stuffy, Cramped

Example sentence: Mahl-ee ahn tonghanda. Dapdaphada! | We can’t understand each other. It’s so frustrating!

Key words:

말: Mahl = Talk / Speech

않: Ahn = Does not

통하다: Tonghanda = Go through


Focus! | Jungshin charyeo! | 정신차려!

Similar English phrase: Wake up!

A phrase often used by a parent to a child or a boss to his employees, it is used when things get intense, especially when the parent/boss feels like the child/employee gets easily distracted or loses focus.

Key words:

정신: Jungshin = Mind

Example sentence: Oneul jungshin updah: I feel scatter brained today.

차려: Charyeo = Set it up

Example sentence: Sang charyeo: Set the table.


Let’s get some fresh air | Baram sseh ja | 바람 쐐자

Key words:

바람: Baram = Wind

쐐자: sseh ja = Let’s get some

Similar English phrase: Let’s get some fresh air. Let’s go outside.


The size of one’s dream determines the size of one’s bowl | Ggumae keugiga geu saramae geureuseul junghanda | 꿈의크기가 그사람의 그릇을정한다

Similar English phrase: If you can dream it you can be it.

The size of one’s bowl is the Korean way to describe someone’s potential or capability. To talk about someone’s bowl or vessel as small or large is similar to how we describe someone’s low or high ceiling (potential for success) as opposed their floor (risk of failure).

This phrase is not very common but was recently heard on the hit drama drama Itaewon Class. It hit a chord with the audience because it seems to be a fresh take on the more common Korean belief that the size of one’s bowl determines all, meaning that potential is an innate trait. However, in the drama Itaewon Class, Yi-Seo tells her boss that because his dream is so big, his ability or capacity will grow to match that dream. The girl is only 20 years old but since she has an IQ of 160, such wisdom coming from her is not surprising!

Key words:

꿈 Ggum = Dream

크기 Keugi = Size

사람 Saram = Person

그릇 Geureut = Bowl / Vessel


To start is half | Shijaki banidah | 시작이 반이다

Similar English phrase: To start is half the battle.

Key words:

시작 Shijak = Start

반 Ban = Half

Similar English phrase: To start is half the battle.