The Sounds of Korean Consonants


If we compare the charts of Korean and English alphabets, the latter has more consonants than the former. However, what is unknown to us is that some Korean characters possess two sounds and evolve unpredictably when followed by certain sounds. For instance, the symbol "" can be pronounced like "g" or "k" and the symbol for "s" () becomes "t". Sometimes, the difference is subtle, but I would like to share the way I hear them.

This letter () is pronounced as either ‘k’ or ‘g’ as an initial consonant such as 김치 (kimchi) and 가요 (gayo). As a final consonant, it sounds more like ‘k’, but when followed by a vowel, it becomes ‘g’. For instance,   (book) is pronounced as  'chaek' but when followed by the particle  (책이), it becomes ‘chaegi’.

This letter () is pronounced as ‘n’ such as  바나나 (banana) and 나비 (nabi). As a final consonant, it becomes "l" when the next syllable begins with "" as in 전라도 (Jeolla Province).

This letter (is pronounced as either ‘d’ or ‘t’ as an initial consonant such as  다시  (tashi) and 지도 (jido). As a final consonant, it sounds more like ‘t’, but when followed by a vowel, it becomes ‘d’.  For instance,  (soon) is pronounced as ‘kot’, while 받아요 (receive) is pronounced as ‘badayo’.

This letter () is pronounced as ‘r’ as an initial consonant and ‘l’ as a final consonant such as 라면 (ramyeon) and  (bal). If  and  follows each other such as in foreign words 필리핀 (Pillipin), the sound is 'l'.

This letter () is pronounced as ‘m’ such as 마법 (mabeop) and 미남 (minam). It doesn't change at all.

This letter (is either pronounced as either ‘b’ or ‘p’ as an initial consonant such as 바보 (babo) and 부모 (pumo). As a final consonant, it sounds more like 'p', but when followed by a vowel, it becomes 'b'. For instance,  (food) is pronounced as 'bap' but when followed by the particle  (밥을), it becomes ‘babeul’.

This letter () is sometimes pronounced as ‘s’ or ‘sh’ depending on the vowel that follows it. When followed by the vowel for instance such as  , it is pronounced as 'shin' and not 'sin'. On the other hand, when followed by the vowel  such as 사랑, it is pronounced as 'sarang' and not 'sharang'. As a final consonant, it is pronounced as 't', but when followed by particles  or , it retains its original sound. For instance,  (comb) is pronounced as 'bit' but when followed by the particle  (빗을), it becomes 'biseul'.

This letter (is pronounced as ‘ch’ or ‘j’ as initial sound such as  (chal) and 맥주 (maekju). As a final consonant, it is pronounced as ‘t’ such as 젖다 (cheotda). But when followed by a vowel such as the present conjugation of the verb 젖다 (to get wet) which  젖어요 (cheojeoyo), it retains its original sound.

This letter () is pronounced as ‘ch’ with a puff of air such as 친구 (ch’in-gu). As a final consonant, it is pronounced as ‘t’ such as  (kkot). But when followed by a vowel (꽃이), it is pronounced as aspirated ‘ch’ again (kkochi).

This letter () is pronounced as ‘k’ with a puff of air such as  (k’i).

This letter () is pronounced as ‘t’ with a puff of air such as  (t’ang). As a final consonant, it is pronounced as ‘t’, but when followed by a vowel, it becomes an aspirated ‘ch’ such as 같이 (kach’i).


This letter (is pronounced as ‘p’ with a puff of air such as 파리 (p’ari).

This letter () is the aspirated version of  which is a null sound. It is the equivalent of ‘h’ in English such as  (heol).