Korean Complex Consonants: Mastering Hangul’s Double Consonants

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In the Korean language, complex consonants, known as 쌍자음 (ssangjaeum), are a set that build upon the basic consonant sounds.

They have their roots in traditional Hangul and are distinct from both basic consonants (기본자음) and double consonants (겹받침).

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Each complex consonant is formed by combining two distinct consonants, resulting in a consonant cluster. These clusters bring a unique pronunciation that is essential for accurate spoken Korean.


Below is a list of the 10 complex consonants and their composition:

  • : ㄱ (k) + ㅅ (s)
  • : ㄹ (r/l) + ㄱ (k)
  • : ㄴ (n) + ㅈ (j)
  • : ㄴ (n) + ㅎ (h)
  • : ㄹ (r/l) + ㅂ (b)
  • : ㄹ (r/l) + ㅌ (t)
  • : ㄹ (r/l) + ㅎ (h)
  • : ㄹ (r/l) + ㅁ (m)
  • : ㅂ (b) + ㅅ (s)
  • : ㄹ (r/l) + ㅍ (p)

When you pronounce these consonants, your articulation is the key. The sound is more tensed and reinforced due to the merging of the two individual sounds into one syllable block. The complexity they bring to the language is evident in words where substituting a simple consonant with a complex one can change meaning.

Understanding and mastering the complex consonants allows you to enhance your Korean pronunciation and helps you differentiate words that may seem similar to non-native speakers. Practice the pronunciation of these consonants regularly to ensure clarity and improve your Korean language skills.

Types of Complex Consonants

In the Korean language, complex consonants play a crucial role in differentiating meanings between words. Your mastery of these will enhance your pronunciation and understanding of the language.

Tense Consonants

Tense consonants, also known as double or fortis consonants, are pronounced with more tension in the vocal cords and without voice. They sound stronger and are somewhat louder than their plain counterparts. Here are the five Korean tense consonants:

  • ㄲ (kk)
  • ㄸ (tt)
  • ㅃ (pp)
  • ㅆ (ss)
  • ㅉ (jj)

Each tense consonant corresponds to a softer, plain consonant but is articulated with increased pressure.

Aspirated Consonants

Aspirated consonants involve a burst of air as you articulate them. They sound breathy and have a distinct puff of air compared to the non-aspirated ones. The Korean language includes the following aspirated consonants:

  • ㅋ (k’)
  • ㅌ (t’)
  • ㅍ (p’)
  • ㅊ (ch’)

These consonants are important for accurate pronunciation and are distinguished from their non-aspirated counterparts by the presence of this additional breathy sound.

Pronunciation and Articulation

In Korean, mastering complex consonants is essential to speaking with accurate pronunciation and articulation. These consonants can transform in sound depending on their placement in a word and interaction with other letters.

Consonant Clusters

Korean complex consonants, or double consonants, are clusters where two letters are combined to create a stronger, tensed sound. For example:

  • ㄲ (kk)
  • ㅆ (ss)

These clusters occur at the beginning of a syllable and require a tenser articulation compared to their single counterparts. When pronouncing these consonants, your vocal cords should have increased tension, and the sound is released abruptly.

Sound Changes

Complex consonants might change their sound due to their position in a word or proximity to other letters. For instance:

  • ㄱ is pronounced as /k/ at the beginning of a word but can sound closer to /g/ between vowels.
  • ㅂ is pronounced as /p/ when it’s the initial sound but can be pronounced as /b/ when it follows other sounds.

Aspiration is another factor where a puff of air accompanies the consonant’s articulation. Aspirated consonants, including ㅋ (k),ㅌ (t), ㅍ (p), and ㅊ (ch), have a distinct burst of breath not present in their non-aspirated counterparts, such as ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ, respectively.

Keep these rules in mind to accurately articulate Korean sounds and pronounce words correctly.

Complex Consonants in Korean Syllables

When you encounter Korean Hangul, you will notice that some consonants are known as “complex” or “double” consonants. These arise from the combination of simpler consonants to represent distinct sounds.

Formation of Complex Consonants Your understanding of complex consonants in Korean starts with recognizing that they are formed by doubling a single consonant letter. These consonants are more tensed and pronounced with a stronger emphasis than their single counterparts.

Here is a list of the primary complex consonants in Hangul:

  • ㄲ (kk)
  • ㄸ (tt)
  • ㅃ (pp)
  • ㅆ (ss)
  • ㅉ (jj)

Usage in Syllables In Korean syllables, complex consonants can appear at the beginning of a syllable block, setting them apart by their stronger, more forceful articulation. However, unlike their basic consonant counterparts, complex consonants do not occur at the end of a syllable block (batchim position).

To illustrate how they function within syllables, consider the following examples, where the complex consonant is the initial sound:

  • ㄲ in 까마귀 (kkamagwi) meaning “crow”
  • ㄸ in 따다 (ttada) meaning “to pick”
  • ㅃ in 빠르다 (ppareuda) meaning “fast”
  • ㅆ in (ssal) meaning “rice”
  • ㅉ in 짜다 (jjada) meaning “to be salty”

Each complex consonant can alter the meaning of a word entirely, so careful pronunciation is essential. Practice them diligently to master their distinctive sounds and enhance your Korean speaking skills.

Usage and Recognition

Korean complex consonants are an integral part of the language, affecting meaning and pronunciation. Your ability to recognize and use them correctly will greatly enhance your fluency in Korean.

Common Words

The complex consonants, often referred to as tense consonants or double consonants, appear in everyday Korean vocabulary. Here are specific examples of common Korean words that include complex consonants:

  • 빨간색 (ppalgansaek): Red color
  • 깎다 (kkakda): To trim or shave off
  • 짧다 (jjalbda): To be short
  • 쌓다 (ssada): To pile up or stack
  • 낮다 (natda): To be low or short

Each of these words features a complex consonant that influences the word’s pronunciation and meaning, distinguishing it from other similar-sounding words.

Practice and Learning Strategies

To master the usage and recognition of Korean complex consonants, the following strategies will prove useful:

  1. Listening Practice: Regular exposure to natural Korean through media or conversation helps in recognizing the distinct sounds of complex consonants.
  2. Pronunciation Drills: Repeatedly practice pronouncing words containing complex consonants to improve muscle memory in your tongue and mouth.
  3. Flashcards with Audio: Utilize flashcards that include both the written complex consonants and their audio pronunciations. This method will aid in connecting the visual aspect with the auditory.

Dictation Exercises: Listen to spoken Korean and attempt to write down what you hear, focusing especially on the complex consonants. This will test your recognition skills under more dynamic conditions.


Congratulations on finishing the complex consonants. Now that you mastered part of the Korean alphabet, it’s time to move on to the next chapter. Click here to get our free essential course.

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