How to Be Extra Polite in Korean

We all know that Korean language has speech levels to reflect the speaker’s relationship to the audience. If you are talking to a friend and you want to say ‘Have you eaten?’, you simply say  먹었어? But you cannot say the same thing to a stranger. Instead, you say  먹었어요?

Aside from that, we also have honorific forms that reflect the speaker’s relationship with the subject of the sentence. We use the honorific forms when talking about someone superior in status or someone you respect such as an older relative, a stranger, a teacher, etc. It would be strange to use these forms with people your age, younger ones, or juniors. Here are some of them.


-말씀 words    
나이-연세 age
-진지 food
- house
생일-생신 birthday


 사람-  he/she
- I
우리-저희 we
We use - or - for '' (you)


보다뵙다 to see
자다-주무시다 to sleep
먹다잡수시다 to eat
있다-계시다 to have/exist
죽다-돌아가시다 to die/pass away
데리다-모시다 to accompany


/-께서 (subject markers)
에게- (to someone)

It is the most common way to address someone in a polite or formal way. It is attached at the end of a name. Normally, you would hear adults address each other this way. I have a teacher I call 선생님 and she calls me 재범씨. It might be weird at first to call someone by their name when you actually mean ‘you’, but that’s the way it is.

It is the highest form of honorific. We attach it to titles like 사장 (manager), 선생  (teacher), 원장(director), 교수(professor), 하나님 (God), 목사(priest), etc. Like  , - is used to address someone directly.

We attached – to family members too.

할아버지-할아버님 grandfather
할머니할머님 grandmother
아버지-아버님 father
어머니-어머님 mother
-형님 older brother
누나-누님 older sister

Here are some sample sentences.

선생님이 그렇게 말씀하셨어요.
You said so. (when talking to your teacher)
Teacher said so. (when talking about your teacher to someone)

아버님 연세는 56이고  나이는 26입니다.
My dad is 56 and I am 26.

많이 잡수세요.
Help yourself. (to a guess)

저희 형님은 3 전에 돌아가셨습니다.
My older brother passed away three years ago.

사장님 진지 드셨어요?
Have you eaten sir?

선생님생신 축하 드려요.
Teacher, happy birthday.