When you learn Korean, knowing your Korean numbers is one of the most useful things you can do when you’re working towards fluency.
Whether you’re starting out or well on your way to mastering Korean, you’ll get a great deal of mileage and satisfaction out of being able to count.
From making casual conversation to discussing money, or ordering food, you’ll find yourself needing to know at least the basics.
That’s why below we’ll discuss how to get started with the Korean numbering system.
Later on, you’re going to see some numbers that are likely larger than you were expecting. We’re starting with the basics, but the truth is that in Korean, many of the larger numbers are the basics!
There’s quite a bit to cover, even with just the fundamentals, so here’s a quick rundown of what we’ll be looking at.
- The two Korean number systems
- Counting to 99 in:
- Native Korean “counting” numbers
- Sino-Korean “money” numbers
- Counting over 99 in Sino-Korean “money” numbers
- Using a count marker
- Ordinal vs cardinal numbers
- Quirks and nuances of counting in Korean etc
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Two For The Price Of One?
Korean numbers are a little more complicated, and a little more interesting, than most languages. That’s because Korean has two different sets of numbers you need to learn.
While that might sound a little daunting, you’ll find once you start using them, it all makes sense.
Why Two Systems?
Chinese has influenced both the Korean language and its writing system. Once upon a time, Korean was written using Chinese symbols.
While Korea eventually parted ways with the Chinese writing system, they kept the Chinese numbers alongside their own. They are known as Native Korean numbers and Sino-Korean numbers. The Sino-Korean numbers are derived from Chinese.
Let’s look at these side by side.
Native Korean And Sino-Korean Numbers
|Native Korean Numbers (Counting)||Sino-Korean Numbers (Chinese Origin) (Money)|
|1: 하나 (hana, often 한 or han)||1: 일 (il)|
|2: 둘 (dul)||2: 이 (ee)|
|3: 셋 (set)||3: 삼 (sam)|
|4: 넷 (net)||4: 사 (sa)|
|5: 다섯 (daseot)||5: 오 (o)|
|6: 여섯 (yeoseot)||6: 육 (yuk)|
|7: 일곱 (ilgop)||7: 칠 (chil)|
|8: 여덟 (yeodeol)||8: 팔 (pal)|
|9: 아홉 (ahop)||9: 구 (gu)|
|10: 열 (yeol)||10: 십 (sip)|
Notice how I’ve referred to them as Native Korean “counting” and Sino-Korean “money” numbers. I’ll be sticking with that throughout the rest of the post to help you get your head around how it all works.
While they are used for plenty of other reasons, some of which I’ll cover below, these are the two most common functions that you’ll be using these numbers for.
It's also worth knowing that the Native Korean “counting” numbers are mostly used for, well, counting! As such, they’re mostly only used for smaller numbers, and rarely over 100.
The great thing about Korean numbers is that they work logically. Let’s start with counting numbers.
Using The Native Korean “Counting” Numbers
To count your way to 19, you’ll only actually need to learn the 10 numbers shown above.
If you want to say the number 12, you simply combine the number for 10, 열 (yeol) with the number for 2, 둘 (dul).
- 12 – 열둘 (yeol-dul)
Likewise, if you want to say 19, you combine the number for 10, 열 (yeol) with the number for 9, 아홉 (ahop).
- 19 – 열아홉 (yeol-ahop)
So if we now introduce you to a few more numbers:
|20 – 스물 (seumul)||60 – 예순 (yesun)|
|30 – 서른 (seoreun)||70 – 일흔 (ilheun)|
|40 – 마흔 (maheun)||80 – 여든 (yeodeun)|
|50 – 쉰 (swin)||90 – 아흔 (aheun)|
Congrats, you can now use what we’ve looked at above to count to 99!
To make 88, you would combine the number for 80,여든(yeo-deun) with the number for 8, 여덟(yeo-deol).
- 88 – 여든여덟 (yeodeun-yeodeol)
The Native Korean “counting” numbers are rarely used above 99 – it’s not even that common to use them over 20 – so we can leave things there.
When you count things, objects, or people in Korean, you have to use markers after the numbers. I’ll come back to this later on.
Counting With the Sino-Korean “Money” Numbers
The great thing about this set of numbers is that they’re even easier to work with than the Native Korean “counting” numbers.
Up to 19 works the same way. Let’s do the same examples from above, with the Sino-Korean “money” numbers.
If you want to make 12, you combine the number for 10, 십 (sip) with the number for 2, 이 (ee).
- 12 – 십이 (sip-ee)
If you want to make 19, you combine the number for 10, 십 (sip) with the number for 9, 구 (gu).
- 19 – 십구 (sip-gu)
However, this number system doesn’t even have extra words for 20, 30, etc! So, if you want to say 20, you’re going to start with the number 2, 이 (ee) followed by 10, 십 (sip). You’re essentially saying two tens.
- 20 – 이십 (ee-sip)
- 30 – 삼십 (sam-sip)
Congratulations! You can now use the Sino-Korean “money” numbers to go all the way up to 99.
Using the Sino-Korean “Money” Numbers to Count Over 100
Sadly, as easy as it is to use these numbers to count to 99, we can’t stop there.
As you likely already know, Korean money is counted in thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions. To speak about such values, all you need to do is combine what we just talked about with three key numbers.
We’ll work our way up to millions today and finish there.
- 100 – 백 (baek)
- 1000 – 천 (cheon)
Using these two, we can make it to 9999.
- 10,000 -만 (man)
This is a really important number in Korean, and we’ll be coming back to this soon.
To make the number 112, we start with 100, 백 (baek), and then follow the same conventions as we did when making 12. 100, 백 (baek) followed by 10, 십(sip) followed by 2, 이(ee)
- 112 – 백십이 (baek sip ee)
To make 1112, we start with 1000 (천) and then do exactly what we did when we made 112. 1000, 천 (cheon) followed by 100, 백 (baek) followed by 10, 십 (sip) followed by 2, 이 (ee).
- 1112 – 천백십이 (cheon-baek-sip-ee)
Making multiples of 100 follows the same convention that we used above to make multiples of 10. To make 200, you’re essentially saying two 100s. So 200 is written as 2, 이 (ee) followed by 100, 백 (baek).
- 200 – 이백 (ee baek)
When discussing thousands, we follow all of the same conventions we did when we made 10s and 100s.
To make 5000, we simply say 5, 오 (oh) followed by 1000, 천 (cheon). We’re essentially saying five 1000s.
- 5000 – 오천 (oh-cheon)
Counting Above 10,000 In Korean
Here is where it gets a little complicated. Above 10,000, Korean numbers are discussed in multiples of 10,000. It’s the last thing you need to learn to be able to master the fundamentals of Korean numbers.
To make 20,000, we’re essentially saying two 10,000s.
- 2, 이 (ee) followed by 10,000, 만 (man)
- 20,000 – 이만 (ee-man)
To make 50,000, we’re essentially saying five 10,000s.
- 5, 오 (oh) followed by 10,000, 만 (man)
- 50,000 – 오만 (oh-man)
To make 100,000, we’re essentially saying ten 10,000s.
- 10, 십 (sip) followed by 10,000, 만 (man)
- 100,000 – 십만 (sip-man)
To make 1,000,000, we’re essentially saying one-hundred 10,000s.
- 100, 백 (baek) followed by 10,000, 만 (man)
- 1,000,000 – 백만 (baek-man)
Okay. Take a breather. It seems difficult now, but it won’t for long. I’ll go through one more example, and then we’re done with this section.
I’m going to show how we would write the number 50,112.
- 50,000 – 오만 (oh-man)
- 112 – 백십이 (baek sip ee)
- 50,112 오만백십이 (oh-man-baek-sip-ee).
Counting Things vs Simply Counting
When you count things in Korean, you need to use a marker to describe what it is that you’re counting. This marker is used immediately after the number.
So if we wanted to count things, for example, we first need to use the Native Korean “counting” numbers, and then we use a marker.
Korean actually has quite a number of these, which we’ll briefly touch on later. For now, we’re only going to talk about one, the most useful one.
- -개 (gae)
Let’s look at how we use this with the first 5 Native Korean “counting” numbers.
|Native Korean Numbers||With Marker|
|1: 하나 (hana, often 한 or han)||1: 한개 (han-gae)|
|2: 둘 (dul)||2: 두개 (du-gae)|
|3: 셋 (set)||3: 세개(sey-gae)|
|4: 넷 (net)||4: 네개 (ney-gae)|
|5: 다섯 (daseot)||5: 다섯개 (daseot-gae)|
Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals of counting with the Native Korean numbers, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of using -개 as a catch-all count marker when counting just about anything.
It will be technically wrong in some instances but will increase your chances of being understood compared with simply using the pure numbers, which can lead to some confusion.
Cardinal vs Ordinal
As with much of what we’ve looked at so far, making ordinal numbers in Korean is actually really simple, and follows an easily learned rule. In fact, it is broadly comparable to the marker system we just talked about.
Ordinal numbers are formed with the Native Korean “counting” numbers, and the marker -번째 (beon-jae). Have a look at the first ten below. Simply follow the same rule and you’ll be able to use ordinal numbers all the way up to 99!
|1: 첫번째 (cheot-beonjae)||6: 여섯번째 (yeoseot-beonjae)|
|2: 두번째 (du-beonjae)||7:: 일곱번째 (ilgop-beonjae)|
|3: 세번째 (sey-beonjae)||8: 여덟번쨰 (yeodeol-beonjae)|
|4: 네번째 (ney-beonjae)||9: 아홉번째 (aheob-beonjae)|
|5: 다섯번째 (daseot-beonjae)||10: 열번쨰 (yeol-beonjae)|
Bread And Sips Of A Drink: Interesting Quirks
As we’ve covered a few times, Korean numbering systems are logical and easy to work with. Like any language, however, Korean isn’t without its quirks. We’ll go over a few below.
Usually, you’ll be using the Sino-Korean “money” numbers for some things and the Native Korean “counting” numbers for others.
Yet, when telling the time, you use Native Korean for the hour and Sino-Korean for the minutes!
Similarly, when talking about a person’s age, sometimes Korean speakers will use Native Korean numbers for younger people but switch to Sino-Korean numbers when talking about older individuals. When asked, they’ll often be unaware that they did it!
Interestingly, Korean has three ways of saying 0. 공 (gong) for use with phone numbers, 영 (yeong) for use in maths and counting, and finally, you can say 빵, which also means bread! This last one is very informal though, so only use this around friends.
Finally, I mentioned earlier that Korean uses markers when counting different things. What I didn’t mention was the wide range of different markers it has. Below, I’ll highlight a few of these, including some of the more interesting or unique ones.
- -명 (myeong) Used to count people.
- -마리 (mari) Used to count animals.
- -권 (gwon) Used to count books.
- -장 (jang) Used to count sheets of paper.
- -송이 (song-ee) Used to count flowers.
- -대 (dae) Used to count vehicles.
- -모금 (mo-geum) Used to count sips of a drink!
As we mentioned earlier, don’t lose too much sleep over learning all of these at first. While you’re still getting to grips with the language you can use -개 as a catchall.
Korean Numbers – Once It Clicks, It Clicks
Some will tell you that it’s one of the harder languages in which to learn numbers. However, when I began learning many years ago, I found numbers one of the easiest, most accessible, most gratifying parts of the language.
This article should provide you with the information you need to be able to start using Korean numbers today.
Finally, don’t stress about the little things! You’ll find that Koreans are simply happy to encounter people learning their language.
If you use the wrong numbering system or the wrong marker when speaking Korean, the worst that will happen is a polite correction.
Above all, enjoy using what you’ve learned! And don't let the fear villain stop you from speaking.
Check below for a table showing the most common uses for the numbers we have looked at today.
|Counting||Maths and phone Numbers|
|Hours (when telling the time)||Minutes (when telling the time), days, and months|
|Age (1-19)||Age (20+)|