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How do you address a Korean politely?

How to Address a Korean Politely


Korean culture places a significant emphasis on politeness and respect, especially when addressing someone of higher social status or age. Understanding the proper way to address a Korean can help you build strong relationships and avoid unintentional offense. In this article, we will discuss the different ways to address Koreans politely.

Use Formal Titles

In Korea, formal titles are used to show respect and hierarchy. If you are not sure how to address someone, it is best to use their formal title. For example, if you are addressing a teacher, use “seonsaengnim” instead of their name. If you are addressing an older person, use “ajumma” for women or “ajusshi” for men.

Age Matters

In Korea, age is highly respected, and it is important to address someone older than you with the appropriate honorifics. Use “oppa” for older brother, “unnie” for older sister, “hyung” for older brother (if you are male), and “noona” for older sister (if you are male).

Use the Person’s Name

If you are close with the person or they have given you permission to use their name, it is acceptable to address them by their first name. However, make sure to add an honorific such as “-ssi” or “-nim” after their name to show respect.

Use Polite Language

Korean language has different levels of politeness that are used depending on the situation and the person’s status. Always use polite language when addressing someone you do not know well or someone of higher status than you.

Be Careful with Pronouns

In Korean culture, using pronouns can be seen as impolite, especially when addressing someone older or more senior. Instead of using pronouns, use the person’s name or title.

Don’t Use Casual Language

Casual language should only be used with close friends or family members. Using casual language with someone you do not know well can be seen as rude or disrespectful.

Be Mindful of Tone

In Korea, tone is very important, and it is crucial to avoid sounding confrontational or aggressive. Always speak in a calm and respectful tone, even if you are expressing your opinion.

Avoid Touching

In Korean culture, touching someone you do not know well can be seen as invasive and impolite. It is best to avoid physical contact unless the person initiates it.

Follow Proper Etiquette

When meeting someone new or in a formal setting, it is important to follow proper etiquette. This includes bowing when greeting someone, offering items with two hands, and waiting to be seated until the host tells you where to sit.

Practice Makes Perfect

Learning how to address Koreans politely takes time and practice. If you are unsure how to address someone, ask them for their preferred title or use formal titles until you become more comfortable.


Addressing Koreans politely is an essential part of Korean culture that shows respect and builds strong relationships. By following these guidelines, you can navigate social situations with ease and avoid unintentional offense. Remember to always be respectful and mindful of cultural differences.

What is a respectful honorific in Korean?

The Korean honorific suffix 님 (nim) is a term of respect used when addressing someone, typically added to their name or job title. For instance, when taking a taxi, it is appropriate to refer to the driver as 기사님 (gisa nim) to show respect.

How do you show respect in Korean?

It is important to display proper respect towards individuals who are older than you. This includes listening to their opinions, waiting for their input, and lowering your gaze if they are an elderly person. It is customary to offer and receive gifts, objects, and food with both hands. Additionally, it is customary to remove your hat when indoors.

When and how do you address people formally in Korea?

In formal speech, the most common name marker is “ssi,” which can be added to a person’s full name or just their first name. However, using the full name with “ssi” is generally considered more formal than just using the first name with “ssi.”

What is formal polite in Korean?

Hapsyo-che is a highly respectful and polite form of formal speech that is commonly used in public speeches, broadcasts, business, and the service industry when interacting with customers. It is typically employed when addressing individuals who are unfamiliar or hold a higher social status or age.

Do Koreans use honorifics with foreigners?

The author notes that certain Korean speakers may not feel the need to use honorifics when conversing with non-native speakers. Yet, there are significant variations even among native speakers regarding their expectations and preferences for the use of honorifics by foreigners.

What is the most respectful way to say thank you in Korean?

In Korean, there are different ways of saying “thank you” depending on the level of formality. The formal versions include “감사합니다” (gamsahamnida) and “고맙습니다” (gomapseumnida), while the polite version is “고마워요” (gomawoyo) and the informal version is “고마워” (gomawo).

Learn Some Basic Korean Phrases

While it is not necessary to speak Korean fluently, learning some basic Korean phrases can show effort and respect for the culture. Common phrases include “annyeonghaseyo” for hello, “kamsahamnida” for thank you, and “mianhamnida” for sorry.

Be Aware of Gender Roles

In Korea, gender roles are still prevalent, and it is important to be aware of them when addressing someone. For example, men may use more formal language when speaking to women, and women may use more polite language when speaking to men.

Understand Regional Differences

Korean culture can vary depending on the region, and it is important to understand these differences when addressing someone. For example, people from Busan may have a different dialect and use different honorifics than those from Seoul.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

If you are unsure how to address someone or are unfamiliar with Korean culture, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Koreans are often happy to share their culture with others and can provide valuable insights into proper etiquette.

Follow Body Language Cues

Korean culture places a significant emphasis on nonverbal communication, and it is important to follow body language cues when addressing someone. For example, maintaining eye contact can show respect, while avoiding eye contact can be seen as rude or submissive.

Avoid Making Assumptions

It is important to avoid making assumptions about someone’s social status or age based on their appearance. In Korea, people may look younger or older than their actual age, and assuming someone’s status can lead to unintentional offense.


Addressing Koreans politely requires an understanding of Korean culture and proper etiquette. By following these guidelines and being respectful, you can build strong relationships and avoid unintentional offense. Remember to always be mindful of cultural differences and ask questions if you are unsure.

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