Template:Koreanname Hangul is the native alphabet used to write the Korean language, as opposed to the Hanja system borrowed from China. For other Romanized spellings of "Hangul", please see Names below.

While Hangul writing may appear logographic to the uninitiated, it is actually phonemic. Each Hangul syllabic block consists of at least two of the 24 alphabetic letters (jamo): 14 consonants and 10 vowels. Historically, the alphabet had several more consonants and vowels. (See Obsolete Jamo.) For a phonological description of the letters, see Phonology.




Official names

  • The modern name Hangul (한글) is a term coined by Ju Si-gyeong in 1912 that simultaneously means great script in archaic Korean and Korean script in modern Korean. It cannot be written in Hanja, though the first syllable, Han (한), if used in the sense of Korean, may be written 韓. It is pronounced (IPA), and has been Romanized in the following ways:
    • Hangeul or Han-geul in the Revised Romanization of Korean, which the South Korean government uses in all English publications and encourages for all purposes. Many recent publications have adopted this spelling.
    • Han'gŭl in McCune-Reischauer. When used as an English word, it is often rendered without the diacritics: Hangul, or sometimes without capitalization: hangul. This is how it appears in many English dictionaries.
    • Hankul in Yale Romanization, another common spelling in English dictionaries.
  • The original name was Hunmin Jeong-eum (see History)
  • North Koreans prefer to call it Chosŏn'gŭl (조선글), for reasons related to the different Names of Korea.

Alternate names

  • Jeong-eum, short for the official Hunmin Jeong-eum (訓民正音). (See History)
  • Urigeul (우리글 "our script") is used in both the North and South, but not by non-Koreans.

Until the early twentieth century, Hangul was often denigrated by those who preferred the traditional Hanja writing:

  • Eonmun (언문 諺文 "vernacular script").
  • Amkeul (암클 "women's script"). 암陰 is a prefix that signifies a noun is feminine.
  • Ahaegeul (아해글 "children's script").

However, the use of Hanja in writing has become rare in the past several decades in South Korea, and almost non-existent in North Korea, so these names are considered archaic.


Hangul was promulgated by the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty, Sejong the Great, after being developed under his guidance by a team of researchers. (Sejong is often called the inventor of Hangul; he was more likely the "idea person" who commissioned and backed the researchers, consulted with them, and published the final report.) The system was completed in 1443 or January 1444, and published in 1446 in a document entitled Hunmin Jeong-eum, after which the alphabet was named. The publication date of Hunmin jeong-eum, October 9, is Hangul Day in South Korea. Its North Korean equivalent is on January 15.

An old legend holds that King Sejong visualized the written characters after studying an intricate lattice, but this story is likely apocryphal. The Hunmin jeong-eum has its own explanation for the letter designs. (See jamo design.)

King Sejong intended Hangul to be a supplement to Hanja, to be used primarily as a literacy tool to educate people who did not know Hanja. (Hence the name Hunmin Jeong-eum, which means "Correct Sounds for the Education of the People" in Sino-Korean). At that time, only male members of the aristocracy (Yangban) learned to read and write Hanja. Since written material was only available in Hanja, most Koreans were effectively illiterate. Hangul faced heavy opposition by the literate elite, who believed Hanja to be the only legitimate writing system. The protest by Choe Man-ri and other Confucians in 1444 is a typical example. Later the government became apathetic to Hangul. Yeonsan-gun, the 10th king, forbade the study or use of Hangul and banned Hangul documents in 1504, and King Jungjong abolished the Ministry of Eonmun in 1506. Until this time Hangul had been used by women and the uneducated.

When the idea of nationalism was introduced from Japan to Korea, Hangul began to be considered as a national symbol by some reformists. As a result of the Gab-o Reform (갑오개혁) by pro-Japanese politicians, Hangul was adopted in official documents for the first time in 1894. After Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910, Hangul was compulsorily taught in schools until Japan began its national mobilization policy in 1937.


Jamo (자모, 字母) are the letters that make up the Hangul alphabet. Ja means letter or character, and mo means mother, so the name signifies that the jamo are the building-blocks of the script.

There are 51 jamo, of which 24 are simple equivalents to letters of the Roman alphabet. The other 27 are clusters of two or sometimes three jamo. Of the 24 simple jamo, fourteen are consonants (ja-eum 자음, 子音: literally "child sounds") and ten are vowels (mo-eum 모음, 母音: literally "mother sounds"). Five of the simple consonants are doubled to form the five tense consonants (see below), while another eleven clusters are formed of two different consonants. The ten vowel jamo can be combined to form eleven diphthongs. Here is a summary:

  • 14 simple consonants
  • 5 double consonants
  • 11 consonants clusters
  • 10 simple vowels
  • 11 diphthongs

Four of the simple vowel jamo are derived, with a short stroke that signifies yotization (a preceding y): ㅑ ya, ㅕ yeo, ㅛ yo, and ㅠ yu. These four are counted as part of the 24 simple jamo because the yotizing stroke taken out of context does not represent y. In fact, there is no separate jamo for y.

Of the simple consonants, ㅊ chieut, ㅋ kieuk, ㅌ tieut, and ㅍ pieup are aspirated derivatives of ㅈ jieut, ㄱ giyeok, ㄷ digeut, and ㅂ bieup, respectively, formed by combining the parent consonant with an extra stroke representing aspiration.

The doubled consonants consist of two identical consonants placed beside each other horizontally. They are: ㄲ ssang-giyeok (kk: ssang 雙 "double"), ㄸ ssang-digeut (tt), ㅃ ssang-bieup (pp), ㅆ ssang-siot (ss), and ㅉ ssang-jieut (jj). Double jamo do not represent geminate consonants, but instead are tense.

The sounds represented by the single and double consonantal jamo cannot be pronounced alone in normal speech.

There are three formal categories of jamo:

  1. Initial (초성, 初聲 choseong): The syllable onset of consonant(s) before the vowel(s). These include all five doubled jamo. The lack of an initial is indicated by the silent placeholder jamo ㅇ.
  2. Medial (중성, 中聲 jungseong): The vowels comprising the syllable nucleus.
    • Position: The middle of the syllable block if there's a final, otherwise at the right or bottom.
    For a list of the medials, see #Vowel jamo design
  3. Final (종성, 終聲 jongseong): The syllable coda of consonant(s) after the vowel(s). All basic jamo can occur as finals, and the silent initial ㅇ is pronounced ng in final position. However, the only doubled jamo that can occur finally are ㅆ (ss) and ㄲ (kk).

Jamo design

Hangul is unique among the world's scripts in being featural. Scripts may indicate morphemes (so called logograms like hanja), syllables (like kana), or segments (an alphabet of consonants and/or vowels, like the one you're reading here). Hangul goes further than this, in indicating individual distinctive phonetic features such as place of articulation (labial, coronal, velar, glottal) and manner of articulation (plosive, nasal, sibilant, aspirated) for consonant jamo, and yotization (a preceding y- sound), harmonic class, and umlaut for vowel jamo.

For instance, the jamot is composed of three strokes, each one meaningful: the top stroke indicates it is a plosive, like ㆆ , ㄱ g, ㄷ d, ㅂ b, ㅈ j, which have the same stroke (the last is a plosive-fricative sequence); the middle stroke indicates that it is aspirated, like ㅎ h, ㅋ k, ㅍ p, ㅊ ch, which also have this stroke; and the curved bottom stroke indicates that it's coronal, like ㄴ n, ㄷ d, ㄹ l. Two consonants, ᇰ and ᇢ, have dual pronunciations, and may be composed of two elements to represent these (/silent and /, respectively).

With vowel jamo, what was originally a dot (now a short connected line) indicates that it may be yotized; this dot is then doubled to indicate actual yotization (y-). The position of the dot indicates which harmonic class the vowel belongs to ("light" or "dark"). In the modern jamo, an additional vertical stroke indicates umlaut, deriving ㅐ , ㅔ , ㅚ , ㅟ from ㅏ , ㅓ , ㅗ , ㅜ . However, this is not part of the intentional design of the script, but rather a natural development from what were originally diphthongs ending in the vowel ㅣ . Indeed, in many Korean dialects, including the standard dialect of Seoul, some of these may still be diphthongs.

However, although the design of the script may be featural, for all practical purposes it behaves as an alphabet. The jamo ㅌ isn't read as three letters coronal plosive aspirated, for instance, but as a single consonant t. Likewise, the former diphthong ㅔ is read as an independent vowel e.

Beside the jamo, Hangul employed diacritic marks to indicate pitch accent. A syllable with a high pitch was marked with a dot () to the left of it (when writing vertically); a syllable with a rising pitch was marked with a double dot, like a colon (:). These are no longer used. However, although vowel length is phonemic in Korean, it was never indicated in Hangul, except that syllables with rising pitch necessarily have long vowels.

There are two main theories as to the origin of Hangul. The traditional account laid out in the Hunmin Jeong-eum portrays the script as being invented de novo and in toto, and this is the standard description given in textbooks. However, recent research by Gari Ledyard reveals that Hangual may have been derived from the imperial alphabet of the Yuan dynasty, but that the subsequent internal featural derivation (which was a Korean invention) obscured this relationship for all but a handful of consonants.

The Hunmin Jeong-eum account

The shapes of the consonants were designed scientifically, according to articulatory phonetics; and the vowels philosophically, according to the principles of yin and yang, and of heaven, earth, and man.

Consonantal jamo design

The letters for the consonants fall into five homorganic groups, each with a basic shape, and one or more letters derived from this shape by means of additional strokes. The basic shapes model the articulation the tongue, palate, teeth, and throat take when making these sounds.

The Korean names for the groups are the traditional Sino-Korean phonetic terminology.

  • Velar consonants (아음, 牙音 a-eum: "molar sounds"):
    • g , ㅋ k
    • Basic shape: ㄱ is a side view of the back of the tongue raised toward the velum (soft palate). (For illustration, access the external link below.) The ㅋ is derived from ㄱ, with an extra stroke for the burst of aspiration.
  • Coronal consonants (설음, 舌音 seol-eum: "lingual sounds"):
    • n , ㄷ d , ㅌ t , ㄹ r/l
    • Basic shape: ㄴ is a side view of the tip of the tongue raised toward the alveolar ridge (gum ridge). The letters derived from ㄴ are pronounced with the same basic articulation. The line topping ㄷ represents firm contact with the roof of the mouth. The top of ㄹ represents a flap of the tongue.
  • Bilabial consonants (순음, 唇音 sun-eum: "labial sounds"):
    • m , ㅂ b , ㅍ p
    • Basic shape: ㅁ represents the outline of the lips in contact with each other. The top of ㅂ represents the release burst of the b. The top stroke of ㅍ is for the burst of aspiration.
  • Sibilants (치음, 齒音 chieum: "dental sounds"):
    • ㅅ s , ㅈ j , ㅊ ch
    • Basic shape: ㅅ was originally shaped like a wedge ʌ, without the serif on top. It represents a side view of the teeth. The line topping ㅈ represents firm contact with the roof of the mouth. The stroke topping ㅊ represents an additional burst of aspiration.
  • Glottal consonants (후음, 喉音 hueum: "throat sounds"):
    • ng , ㅎ h
    • Basic shape: ㅇ is an outline of the throat. Originally ㅇ was two letters, a simple circle for silence (null consonant), and a circle topped by a verticle line, ㆁ, for the nasal ng. A now obsolete letter, ㆆ, represented a glottal stop, which is pronounced in the throat and had closure represented by the top line, like ㄱㄷㅈ. Derived from ㆆ is ㅎ. The extra stroke represents a burst of aspiration.
Vocalic jamo design

Vowel letters are based on three elements:

  • A horizontal line representing the flat Earth, the essence of yin.
  • A point for the Sun in the heavens, the essence of yang. (This becomes a short stroke when written with a brush.)
  • A vertical line for the upright Human, the neutral mediator between the two.

Dots (now short lines) are added to these three basic elements to derived the other simple vowel jamo.

  • Simple vowels
    • Horizontal letters: these are mid-high back vowels.
      • o
      • u
      • eu (ŭ)
    • Vertical letters: these were once low or front vowels. (ㅓ eo has since migrated to the back of the mouth.)
      • a
      • eo (ŏ)
      • i
  • Compound jamo. Hangul never had a w, except for Sino-Korean etymology. Since an o or u before an a or eo became a sound, which occurred nowhere else, could always be analyzed as a phonemic o or u, and no letter for was needed. However, vowel harmony must be observed: yin ㅜ with yin ㅓ; yang ㅗ with yang ㅏ.
The compound jamo ending in ㅣ i, on the other hand, were originally diphthongs. However, several have since evolved into pure vowels.
    • ㅐ = ㅏ + ㅣ
    • ㅔ = ㅓ + ㅣ
    • ㅘ = ㅗ + ㅏ
    • ㅙ = ㅗ + ㅏ + ㅣ
    • ㅚ = ㅗ + ㅣ
    • ㅝ = ㅜ + ㅓ
    • ㅞ = ㅜ + ㅓ + ㅣ
    • ㅟ = ㅜ + ㅣ
    • ㅢ = ㅡ + ㅣ
  • Yotized vowels: There is no jamo for Roman y-. Instead, this sound is indicated by doubling the stroke attached to the base line.
    • ㅑ = ㅏ + a stroke
    • ㅕ = ㅓ + a stroke
    • ㅛ = ㅗ + a stroke
    • ㅠ = ㅜ + a stroke
    • ㅒ = ㅐ + a stroke
    • ㅖ = ㅔ + a stroke

The Ledyard account

Gari Ledyard, Sejong Professor of Korean History Emeritus at Columbia University, believes that the derivation in the Hunmin Jeong-eum is a mnemonic, or a rationalization invented after the fact, and that hangul actually derives, at least in part, from the Mongol Phagspa alphabet (known as the 蒙古篆字 měnggǔ zhuānz, or Mongol seal script) of the Yuan dynasty. Only five basic consonants were borrowed from Phagspa, with the rest derived from these internally, similar to the account in the Hunmin Jeong-eum. However, the consonants believed to be basic differ in the two accounts. Whereas the Hunmin Jeong-eum credits the graphically simplest letters ㄱㄴㅁㅅㅇ as being basic, with all others derived from these six by adding strokes, Ledyard believes the five letters ㄱㄷㄹㅂㅈ were basic, with strokes sometimes added, but also sometimes subtracted, to derive the other letters. These five basic letters would then ultimately derive from the Tibetan letters ག ད ལ བ ས, and thus may be cognate with Greek Γ Δ Λ Β and the letters C D L B of the English alphabet. (The history of the S sounds in Tibetan and Greek is more difficult to reconstruct.) A sixth basic letter, ㅇ, was invented ex nihilo, as it was in the Hunmin Jeong-eum account.

The derivation of the vowel letters is essentially the same in the two accounts.

Consonantal jamo design
Missing image
(Top) Phagspa letters , and their supposed hangul derivatives . Note the lip on both Phagspa and hangul ㄷ.
(Bottom) Derivation of Phagspa w, v, f from variants of the letter (left) plus a subscript [w], and analogous composition of hangul w, v, f from variants of the basic letter plus a circle.

The Hunmin Jeong-eum credits the 古篆字 "Gu Seal Script" as being the source King Sejong or his ministers used to create hangul. This has traditionally been interpreted as the Old Seal Script, and has confused philologists because hangul bears no functional similarity to the Chinese seal scripts. However, 古 had more than one meaning: besides meaning old, it could be used to refer to the Mongols (蒙古 Měng-gǔ). Records from Sejong's day played with this ambiguity, joking that "no one is more gu than the Meng-gu". That is, Gu Seal Script may have been a veiled reference to the Mongol Seal Script, or Phagspa alphabet. (Seal script is a style of writing, used for name seals and official stamps. Phagspa had a seal script variant modeled after the appearance of the Chinese seal script of its day. In this guise it was called the 蒙古篆字 Mongol Seal Script.) There were certainly plenty of Phagspa manuscripts in the Korean palace library, and several of Sejong's ministers knew the script well.

There are a couple reasons why Sejong and his ministers may not have wanted to advertise the Mongol origin of hangul. After the fall of the Yuan dynasty, all things Mongol were verboten in China, and relations with the Ming dynasty may have been important enough for Korea not to want to overtly credit the Mongols with an important cultural development. It may also be that resistance to hangul among the Korean cultural elite, who favored writing in Chinese, was strong enough without acknowledging the "barbarian" Mongols. Indeed, such China-centered resistance kept hangul out of common use until the dawn of the twentieth century.

Although several of the basic concepts of hangul came from Indic phonology through the Phagspa script, such as the relationships among the homorganic jamo and, of course, the alphabetic principle itself, Chinese phonology also played a major role. Besides the grouping of jamo into syllables, along the lines of Chinese characters, it was Chinese phonology, not Indic, that determined which five consonants were basic, and therefore to be retained from Phagspa. These were the tenuis (non-voiced, non-aspirated) plosives, g for ㄱ , d for ㄷ , and b for ㅂ , which were basic to Chinese theory, but which were voiced in the Indic languages and not considered basic; as well as the sibilant s for ㅈ and the liquid l for ㄹ . (Korean ㅈ was pronounced in the 15th century.)

(It is somewhat problematic that hangul ㅈ [ts] derives from Phagspa s [s] rather than from dz [ts]. However, the shape of the Phagspa s may have been more conducive to deriving multiple hangul letters than Phagspa dz would have been. Such a shift could easily have happened if the entire Phagspa alphabet were first used as a template for the new alphabet, and then whittled down to a minimal set of basic letters through featural derivation, so that a more convenient shape from among the Phagspa letters ' could be used as the basis for the hangul letters for the sibilants .)

The basic hangul letters have been simplified graphically, retaining the essential shape of Phagspa but with a reduced number of strokes. For example, the box inside Phagspa g is not found in hangul ㄱ [k]. This simplification allowed for complex jamo clusters, but also left room for an additional stroke to derive the aspirate plosives, ㅋㅌㅍㅊ. On the other hand, the non-plosives, nasals ng (see below) ㄴㅁ and the fricative ㅅ, were derived by removing the top of the tenuis letter. (No letters were derived from ㄹ.) This clears up a few points. For example, it's easy to derive ㅁ from ㅂ by removing the top of ㅂ, but it's not clear how you'd get ㅂ by adding something to ㅁ, since ㅂ is not analogous to the other plosives: if they were derived, as in the traditional account, we'd expect them all to have a similar vertical top stroke.

Sejong also needed a null symbol to refer to the lack of a consonant, and he chose the circle, ㅇ. The subsequent derivation of the glottal stop ㆆ, by adding a vertical top stroke by analogy with the other plosives, and the aspirate ㅎ parallel the account in the Hunmin Jeong-eum. The phonetic theory inherent in this derivation is more accurate than modern IPA usage. In the IPA, the glottal consonants are posited as having a specific "glottal" place of articulation. However, recent phonetic theory has come to view the glottal stop and [h] to be isolated features of 'stop' and 'aspiration' without a true place of articulation, just as their hangul representations based on the null symbol assume.

The ng is the odd letter out here, as it is in the Hunmin Jeong-eum. This may reflect its variable behavior. Hangul was designed not just to write Korean, but to accurately represent Chinese. Besides the letters covered here, there were quite a few more used to represent Chinese etymology. Now, many Chinese words began with ng, at least historically, and this was being lost in several regions of China by Sejong's day: that is, etymological ng was either silent or pronounced in China, and was silent when borrowed into Korean. The expected shape of ng had the additional problem that, by being just the vertical line left by removing the top stroke of ㄱ, it would have been easily confused with the vowel ㅣ . Sejong's solution solved both these problems: the vertical stroke from ㄱ was added to the null symbol ㅇ to create ᇰ, graphically representing both regional pronunciations as well as being easily legible. (If your browser doesn't display this, it's a circle with a vertical line on top, like an upside-down keyhole or lollipop.) Thus ᇰ was pronounced ng in the middle or end of a word, but was silent at the beginning. Eventually the graphic distinction between the two silent initials ㅇ and ᇰ was lost.

(It's also possible that the ng was inspired by the part of the Phagspa g that had been dropped when fashioning hangul ㄱ. Indeed, Phagspa g looks rather like a hangul ᇰ nested inside a ㄱ.)

Two additional details lend credence to Ledyard's hypothesis. For one, the composition of obsolete ᇢᇦᇴ w, v, f (for Chinese initials 微非敷), from the graphic derivatives of the basic letter ㅂ b [p] (that is, ㅁㅂㅍ m, b, p) by adding a small circle under them, is parallel to their Phagspa equivalents, which were similarly derived by adding a small loop under three graphic variants of the letter h. Now, this small loop also represented w when it occurred after vowels in Phagspa. The Chinese initial 微 represented either m or w in various dialects, and this may be reflected in the choice of ㅁ [m] plus ㅇ (from Phagspa [w]) as the elements of hangul ᇢ. Not only is the series ᇢᇦᇴ analogous to Phagspa, but here we may have a second example of a letter composed of two elements to represent two regional pronunciations, m and w, as we saw with ᇰ for ng and null.

Secondly, most of the basic hangul letters were originally simple geometric shapes. For example, ㄱ was the corner of a square, ㅁ a full square, ㅅ was a caret-like Λ, ㅇ was a circle. In the Hunmin Jeong-eum, before the influence from Chinese calligraphy on hangul, these are purely geometric. However, ㄷ was different. It wasn't a simple half square, like we might expect if Sejong had simply created it ex nihilo. Rather, even in the Hunmin Jeong-eum, it had a small lip protruding from the upper left corner. This lip duplicates the shape of Phagspa d [t], and can be traced back to the Tibetan letter d, ད.

Vocalic jamo design

The seven basic vowel jamo were not taken from Phagspa, but rather seem to have been invented by Sejong or his ministers to represent the phonological principles of Korean. Two methods were used to organize and classify these vowels, vowel harmony and yotization.

Of the seven vowels, four could be preceded by a y- sound ("yotized"). These four were written as a dot next to a line: ㅓㅏㅜㅗ. (Through the influence of Chinese calligraphy, the dots soon became connected to the line, as seen here.) Yotization was then indicated by doubling this dot: ㅕㅑㅠㅛ. The three vowels which could not be yotized were written with a single stroke: ㅡ丶ㅣ.

The Korean language of this period had vowel harmony to a greater extent than it does today. Vowels alternated according to their environment, and fell into "harmonic" groups. This affected the morphology of the language, and Korean phonology described it in terms of yin and yang: If a word had yang ('bright') vowels, then most suffixes also had to have a yang vowel; and conversely, if the root had yin ('dark') vowels, the suffixes needed to be yin as well. There was a harmonic third group called "mediating" ('neutral' in Western terminology) that could coexist with either yin or yang vowels.

The Korean neutral vowel was ㅣ i. The yin vowels were ㅡㅜㅓ eu, u, eo; the dots are in the yin directions of 'down' and 'left'. The yang vowels were 丶ㅗㅏ ə, o, a, with the dots in the yang directions of 'up' and 'right'. As mentioned above, the Hunmin Jeong-eum states that the shapes of the non-dotted jamo ㅡ丶ㅣ were also chosen to represent the concepts of yin, yang, and mediation. (The dot 丶 ə is now obsolete.)

There was yet a third parameter for designing the vowel jamo: namely, choosing ㅡ as the graphic base of ㅜ and ㅗ, and ㅣ as the base of ㅓ and ㅏ. A full understanding of what these horizontal and vertical groups had in common would require knowing the exact sound values these vowels had in the 15th century. Our uncertainty is primarily with the jamo 丶ㅓㅏ. Some linguists reconstruct these as , respectively; others as . However, the horizontal jamo ㅡㅜㅗ do appear to have all been high back vowels, .


Ledyard, Gari K. The Korean Language Reform of 1446. Seoul: Shingu munhwasa, 1998.

Ledyard, Gari. "The International Linguistic Background of the Correct Sounds for the Instruction of the People." In Young-Key Kim-Renaud, ed. The Korean Alphabet: Its History and Structure. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1997.

The Mĕnggŭ Zyn 蒙古字韻 "Mongolian Letters arranged by Rhyme" (http://www.babelstone.co.uk/Phags-pa/MengguZiyun.html)

Jamo order

The alphabetical order of Hangul does not mix consonants and vowels as the Western alphabets (Latin alphabet and Cyrillic alphabet) do. Instead, the order is of the Indic type, first velar consonants, then coronals, labials, sibilants, etc. However, the consonants come before the vowels rather than after as in Sanscrit and Tibetan.

The modern alphabetic order was set by Choi Sejin in 1527. This was before the development of the Korean tense consonants and the double jamo that represent them. The conflation of the two letters ㅇ and ㆁ also occurred after the alphabetic order was set. Therefore, when the South Korean and North Korean governments implemented full use of Hangul, they ordered these letters differently, with South Korean grouping similar letters together, and North Korea placing the new letters at the end.

South Korean order

The modern order of the consonantal jamo is:

ㄱ ㄲ ㄴ ㄷ ㄸ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅃ ㅅ ㅆ ㅇ ㅈ ㅉ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ

Double consonantal jamo are placed immediately after the simple jamo they are based on. No distinction is made between silent and nasal ㅇ.

The order of the vocalic jamo is:

ㅏ ㅐ ㅑ ㅒ ㅓ ㅔ ㅕ ㅖ ㅗ ㅘ ㅙ ㅚ ㅛ ㅜ ㅝ ㅞ ㅟ ㅠ ㅡ ㅢ ㅣ

The modern monophthongal vowels come first, with the derived forms interspersed according to their form: first added i, then yotized, then yotized with added i. Diphthongs beginning with w- are ordered according to their spelling as ㅏ or ㅓ plus a second vowel, not as separate digraphs.

North Korean order

North Korea maintains a more traditional order.

The modern order of the consonantal jamo is:

ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅅ ㅇ ㅈ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ ㄲ ㄸ ㅃ ㅆ ㅉ ㅇ

The first ㅇ is the nasal ㅇ ng, while the second is the null initial.

Note that the "new" letters, the double jamo, are placed at the very end of the alphabet, just before the null ㅇ, so as not to alter the traditional order of the rest of the alphabet.

The order of the vocalic jamo is:

ㅏ ㅑ ㅓ ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅡ ㅣ ㅐ ㅒ ㅔ ㅖ ㅚ ㅟ ㅢ ㅘ ㅝ ㅙ ㅞ

All digraphs and trigraphs, including the old diphthongs ㅐ and ㅔ, are placed after all basic vowels, again maintaining Choi's alphabetic order.

Jamo names

The Hangul arrangement is called "the ganada order" (가나다順), after the first three jamo (g, n, and d) affixed to the first vowel (a). The jamo were named by Choi Sejin in 1527. North Korea regularized the names when it made Hangul its official orthography.

Consonantal jamo names

The modern consonants have two-syllable names, with the consonant coming both at the beginning and end of the name, as follows:

Letter South Korean Name North Korean name
giyeok (기역) gieuk (기윽)
nieun (니은)
digeut (디귿) dieut (디읃)
rieul (리을)
mieum (미음)
bieup (비읍)
siot (시옷) sieut (시읏)
ieung (이응)
jieut (지읒)
chieut (치읓)
kieuk (키읔)
tieut (티읕)
pieup (피읖)
hieut (히읗)

All jamo in North Korea, and all but three in the more traditional nomenclature used in South Korea, have names of the format of letter + i + eu + letter. For example, Choi wrote bieup with the hanja 非 (bi) 邑 (eup). The names of g, d, and s are exceptions because there are no hanja for euk, eut, and eus. 役 yeok is used in place of euk. Since there is no hanja that ends in t or s, Choi chose two hanja to be read in their Korean gloss, 末 kkeut ("end") and 衣 os ("clothes").

Originally, Choi gave j, ch, k, t, p, and h the irregular one-syllable names of ji, chi, ki, ti, pi, and hi. (There are no hanja that end in these consonants either.) But they were changed to the present forms in 1933.

The double jamo precede the parent consonant's name with the word 쌍 ssang, meaning "twin" or "double", or with 된 doen in North Korea, meaning "strong". Thus:

Letter South Korean Name North Korean name
ssanggiyeok (쌍기역) doengieuk (된기윽)
ssangdigeut (쌍디귿) doendieut (된디읃)
ssangbieup (쌍비읍) doenbieup (된비읍)
ssangsiot (쌍시옷) doensieut (된시읏)
ssangjieut (쌍지읒) doenjieut (된지읒)

In North Korea, an alternate way to refer to the jamo is by the name letter + eu (ㅡ), for example, 그 geu for the jamo ㄱ, 쓰 sseu for the jamo ㅆ, etc.

Vocalic jamo names

The vocalic jamo names are simply the vowel itself, written with the null initial ㅇ ieung and the vowel being named. Thus:

a (아)
ae (애)
ya (야)
yae (얘)
eo (어)
e (에)
yeo (여)
ye (예)
o (오)
wa (와)
wae (왜)
oe (외)
yo (요)
u (우)
wo (워)
we (웨)
wi (위)
yu (유)
eu (으)
ui (의)
i (이)

Obsolete jamo

Several jamo are obsolete. These include several that represent Korean sounds that have since disappeared from the standard language, as well as a larger number used to represent the sounds of the Chinese rime tables that were never used in Korean at all. The most frequently encountered of these archaic letters are,

  • ㆍ or 丶 ə (arae-a 아래 아 "lower a"): Pronounced as IPA , similar to modern eo.
    Ə formed a medial of its own, or was found as the diphthong ㆎ area-ae. The word hanja was originally written using this letter.
  • z (bansios 반시옷): A rather unusual sound, perhaps IPA (a nasalized palatal fricative). (If your browser doesn't show it, the jamo looks like an equilateral triangle.)
  • ㆆ (yeorinhieuh 여린히읗 "light hieuh" or doen-ieung 된이응 "strong ieung"): A glottal stop, "lighter than ㅎ and harsher than ㅇ".
  • ng (yes-ieung 옛이응): The original jamo for ; now conflated with ㅇ ieung. (With some computer fonts, yes-ieung is shown as a flattened version of ieung, but the correct form is with a long peak, longer than what you would see on a serif version of ieung.)
  • β (gabyeoun bieup 가벼운 비읍): IPA . This letter appears to be a digraph of bieup and ieung, but it may be more complicated than that. There were three other less common jamo for sounds in this section of the Chinese rhyme tables, ᇢ w (IPA [w] or [m]), a theoretical ᇴ f, and ㅹ ff .

There were two other now-obsolete double jamo,

  • x (ssanghieuh 쌍히읗 "double hieuh"): IPA or .
  • ㆀ (ssang-ieung 쌍이응 "double ieung"): Another jamo used to represent the rime tables.

In the original Hangul system, double jamo were used to represent the "muddy" (murmured) Chinese consonants, and were not used for Korean. It was only later that a similar convention was used to represent the modern "tense" consonants.)

The sibilant ("dental") consonants were modified to represent the two series of Chinese sibilants, alveolar and retroflex, a "round vs. sharp" distinction which was never made in Korean, and which was even being lost from northern Chinese. The alveolar jamo had longer left stems, while retroflexes had longer right stems:

Original consonants
Chidu-eum (alveolar sibilant)
Jeongchi-eum (retroflex sibilant)

There were also consonant clusters that have since dropped out of the language, such as ㅴ bsg and ㅵ bsd, as well as diphthongs that were only used to represent Chinese medials, such as ㆇ, ㆈ, ㆊ, ㆋ.

Some of the sounds represented by these jamo for "obsolete" Korean (as opposed to for Chinese) still exist in some dialects of Korean.

Syllabic blocks

Except for a few grammatical morphemes in the early days of Hangul, no jamo may stand alone to represent the Korean language. Instead, jamo are grouped into syllabic blocks containing, at minimum, an initial (syllabic onset) and a medial (syllabic nucleus). When a syllable has no initial consonant, the null initial ㅇ ieung is used as a placeholder. No placeholder is needed when there is no final (syllabic coda).

The null initial was originally just that, null, but since it was only used in initial position, and the consonant ng was silent when initial as well as having a similar shape to the null character, the two came to be seen as the same letter.

Syllabic blocks may be composed of two or three jamo:

  1. Two jamo: an initial (a consonant or consonant cluster, or the null ㅇ) + a medial (a vowel or diphthong)
  2. Three jamo: an initial + a medial + a final (a consonant or consonant cluster)

The placement, or "stacking", of jamo in the block follows set patterns:

  1. The components of a complex jamo are written left to right. The most complex are obsolete ㅵ, ㆋ, etc.
  2. All modern Hangul vowels have either a vertical or horizontal axis.
    • Vertical vowel jamo are written to the right of the initial: 이 i.
    • Horizontal vowel jamo are written under the initial: 으 eu.
    • When a vowel jamo has both horizontal and vertical components, it wraps around the the intitial from the bottom to the right: 의 ui.
  3. A final jamo, if there is one, is added at the bottom. This is called 받침 batchim "supporting floor".
  4. Blocks are always written in phonetic order, initial-medial-final. Therefore,
    • Syllables with a horizontal vowel jamo are written downward: 읍 eup.
    • Syllables with a vertical vowel jamo and simple final are written clockwise: 쌍 ssang.
    • Syllables with a wrapping vowel jamo switch direction (down-right-down): 된 doen.
    • Syllables with a comlex final are written left to right at the bottom: 밟 balp.

The resulting block is written within a rectangle of the same size and shape as a hanja, so to a naive eye syllabic blocks may be confused with hanja. Including obsolete jamo, there are some 2,500 Hangul blocks.

There was a very minor movement in the twentieth century to abolish syllabic blocks and write the jamo individually and in a row, in the fashion of the Western alphabets: ㄱㅡㄷ geut. However, the blocks make Hangul very efficient to read, as each syllable has a unique shape. Now that Hangul orthography is morphophonemic (see below), this means that Hangul words have easily recognizable shapes. This is a great help to the reader; a similar word-recognition advantage has kept the Semitic abjads vowel-free for millennia. Indeed, people raised reading Chinese or Korean often report that reading the strings of letters in an alphabet like English is like trying to read Morse code, and the Korean linear writing movement has never gained much support.


Until the 20th century, no official orthography of Hangul had been established. Due to liaison, heavy consonant assimilation, dialectical variants and other reasons, a Korean word can potentially be spelled in various ways. King Sejong seemed to prefer morphophonemic spelling (representing the underlying morphology) rather than a phonemic one (representing the actual sounds). However, early in its history, Hangul was dominated by phonemic spelling. Over the centuries the orthography became partially morphophonemic, first in nouns, and later in verbs. Today it is as morphophonemic as is practical.

  • Pronunciation and translation:
a person who cannot do it
  • Phonemic orthography:
  • Morphophonemic orthography:
| |

Morpheme-by-morpheme gloss:

mos-ha-nɯn salam-i
cannot-do-[modifier] person-[subject]

After much trial and error, the Japanese Government-General of Chosen established the writing style of a mixture of Hanja and Hangul, modeled on the Japanese writing system. The government revised the rule for spelling in 1912, 1921 and 1930, which was relatively phonemic.

The Hangul Society, originally found by Ju Si-gyeong, announced a proposal for a new morphophonemic orthography in 1933, which became the prototype of the contemporary orthographies in the North and South. After Korea was divided, the North and South revised orthographies separately. The guiding text for Hangul orthography is the called the Hangul Matchumbeop, whose last South Korean revision was published in 1988 by the Ministry of Education.


Missing image
A page from the Hunmin Jeong-um

Hangul may be written either vertically or horizontally. The traditional direction is the Chinese style of writing top to bottom, right to left. Horizontal writing in the style of the Roman alphabet was promoted by Ju Si-gyeong, and has become overwhelmingly preferred.

Hangul first appeared in Hunmin Jeong-eum, the 14th-century book that first described the new script. At that time, Hangul were printed in lines of even thickness. This style is found in books published before about 1900, and can be found today where ever Hangul is carved in stone (on statues, for example).

Over the centuries, an ink-brush style of calligraphy developed, employing the same style of lines and angles and overall appearance as Chinese characters. This handwritten style is called myeongjo, the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese name mingcho. The myeongjo style is used today in books, newspapers, and magazines, and several computer fonts ink-brush style.

In longhand writing, ink brushes have given way to the pencil and ballpoint pen, so a square style has once again emerged, with lines of equal width and few curves. This style is widespread in computer displays, and most Web browsers have a square font as their default, leading to a large amount of text read and written in non-calligraphic fonts.

External links

See also

de:Hangeul es:Hangul eo:Korea alfabeto fi:Hangeul fr:Hangul id:Hangul ja:ハングル ko:한글 nl:Hangul pl:Hangyl ru:Хангыль sv:Hangul


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