Korean Consonants: Mastering Hangul’s Building Blocks

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Always wanted to learn the Korean alphabet but didn’t know where to start? Let’s start with the Korean Consonants as they’re one of the most important building blocks to learning Korean.

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In the Korean alphabet, known as Hangul, you will encounter 14 basic consonants. Mastering these is essential for your understanding of the language. 

Each consonant is designed to mirror the shape of your mouth and position of your tongue when producing their respective sounds. For example, the consonant ㄱ (g/k) is suggestive of the root of the tongue blocking the throat.

Let’s take a brief look at the basic consonants you’re going to learn:

  • ㄱ (giyeok) – sounds like g or k
  • ㄴ (nieun) – sounds like n
  • ㄷ (digeut) – sounds like d or t
  • ㄹ (rieul) – similar to l and r
  • ㅁ (mieum) – sounds like m
  • ㅂ (bieup) – sounds like b or p
  • ㅅ (siot) – sounds like s
  • ㅇ (ieung) – a placeholder for no consonant or sounds like ng
  • ㅈ (jieut) – sounds like j or ch
  • ㅊ (chieut) – sounds like ch
  • ㅋ (kieuk) – sounds like a strong k
  • ㅌ (tieut) – sounds like a strong t
  • ㅍ (pieup) – sounds like a strong p
  • ㅎ (hieut) – sounds like h

The Hangul Alphabet

Hangul is the official writing system of both South and North Korea. Often see in Korean textbooks, worksheets or videos. And it enables the representation of virtually all the sounds of the Korean language. Now, let me explain what the consonant characters are.

Consonant Characters

In Hangul, each block formulates a syllable that includes a combination of consonants and vowels. There are 14 basic consonants to learn, which can transform into a total of 19 sounds due to five integrated doubled letters.

  • Basic Consonants: ㄱ (g/k), ㄴ (n), ㄷ (d/t), ㄹ (r/l), ㅁ (m), ㅂ (b/p), ㅅ (s), ㅇ (ng/null), ㅈ (j/ch), ㅊ (ch), ㅋ (k), ㅌ (t), ㅍ (p), ㅎ (h)
  • Double Consonants: ㄲ (kk), ㄸ (tt), ㅃ (pp), ㅆ (ss), ㅉ (jj)

These consonants can stand as initials (beginning of the syllable), medials (followed by a vowel), or as finals (end of the syllable, also known as batchim). The character ㅇ acts as a placeholder when there is no initial consonant and as the sound ‘ng’ at the end of a syllable.

Make sure to master this as you’re moving on to the next consonants. As this this is one of the most important building blocks when it comes to mastering the Korean alphabet.

Consonant Classification

In Korean, consonants are classified based on where and how they are articulated, as well as whether they are voiced or voiceless. This classification provides a systematic way to learn and understand the sounds of Korean.

Place of Articulation

The place of articulation refers to where in the vocal tract the airflow restriction occurs, producing different consonant sounds. The Korean language has consonants articulated at various points, such as:

  • Bilabial: Produced by both lips; e.g., ㅂ (b/p sound).
  • Alveolar: Involving the tongue and the ridge behind the teeth; e.g., ㅅ (s sound), ㄷ (d/t sound).
  • Velar: Formed at the back of the mouth with the tongue and the soft palate; e.g., ㄱ (g/k sound).

For more on how these locations influence consonant sounds, see the information on Korean consonants provided by Wikipedia.

Manner of Articulation

The manner of articulation describes how the airstream is modified by the articulators in the vocal tract to produce a consonant. In Korean, this includes:

  • Stop: Complete closure in the vocal tract, stopping the airflow; e.g., ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ.
  • Fricative: A tight constriction that causes turbulent airflow; e.g., ㅅ, ㅈ (j/ch sound).
  • Nasal: Airflow is diverted through the nose; e.g., ㄴ (n sound), ㅁ (m sound).

More details on the distinctions between these manners can be found on how to pronounce Korean consonants.


Voicing determines whether the vocal cords vibrate during the articulation of a consonant. In Korean, consonants can be categorized as:

  • Voiced: Vocal cords vibrate; Korean does not differentiate voicing in its consonants as much as some languages, but an example would be between ㄱ ([g] is more voiced) and ㅋ ([k] is voiceless).
  • Voiceless: Vocal cords do not vibrate; e.g., ㅋ (k sound), ㅍ (p sound), ㅌ (t sound).

Discover the unique aspects of voiced and voiceless consonants in Korean by exploring the extensive overview on Korean phonology.

Pronunciation Guide

In Korean, each consonant can have distinctive pronunciations based on whether they appear at the beginning (initial), middle (medial), or end (final) of a syllable.

Initial Sounds

Korean consonants when used as initial sounds are pronounced more forcefully. For example, the consonant ㄱ is pronounced somewhat like a ‘k’ in English. A tip for aspiring Korean speakers is to note that initial sounds can significantly influence the tone and meaning of words. Pronounce initial sounds clearly to enhance your Korean speaking skills.

Medial Sounds

When consonants sit between vowels, they serve as medial sounds and are softer. An example would be how the ㄱ in the middle of a word might sound closer to a soft ‘g’. This is markedly different from its initial sound counterpart, so pay attention to the surrounding vowels which shape the pronunciation of these medial consonants.

Final Sounds

As for final sounds, the pronunciation of the consonants can be trickier and may not be fully vocalized, often leading to a more subdued sound. For instance, the final ㄱ is not a full ‘k’ sound but rather a light, almost imperceptible release at the back of the throat. Understanding the subtle differences of final sounds is crucial for proper pronunciation and being understood in conversation.

Aspirated vs Unaspirated Consonants

In the Korean language, differentiating between aspirated and unaspirated consonants is essential for accurate pronunciation and meaning. As you speak, aspirated consonants involve a strong burst of air, while unaspirated consonants do not. To feel this air burst, try placing your hand in front of your mouth as you say the sounds.

Examples in Korean:

  • Aspirated: 타 (ta)
  • Unaspirated: 다 (da)
Plain (Unaspirated)Aspirated
ㄱ (g/k)ㅋ (k’)
ㄷ (d/t)ㅌ (t’)
ㅂ (b/p)ㅍ (p’)
ㅈ (j)ㅊ (ch)

Notice that aspirated consonants (ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, ㅊ) typically have an extra stroke in the character compared to their plain counterparts (ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, ㅈ).

When pronouncing unaspirated consonants, your voice box remains relatively inactive without the release of extra air. In contrast, for aspirated consonants, your voice box vibrates as you emphasize the consonant with a forceful breath. Understanding the difference is crucial for words that are otherwise identical. For example, 발 (bal) means ‘foot,’ while 팔 (pal) means ‘arm.’

The subtlety between these sounds can be quite challenging to master especially between aspirated and their corresponding plain sounds. Practicing with examples and listening closely to native speakers will help you grasp these nuances more effectively. You can read more about the role of aspirated consonants in Korean pronunciation.

Tensed Consonants

In Korean, tensed consonants are one of the unique elements that can be challenging for learners. Their sound is distinct and characterized by a lack of aspiration and increased tension in the vocal cords. Pronouncing these consonants forcefully will help you understand their impact on a word’s meaning.

You will encounter five primary tensed consonants in the Korean language. These are typically denoted by adding a small stroke, called a ‘tense marker’, to their respective plain consonant. Let’s review the tensed consonants:

Plain ConsonantTensed CounterpartIPA Notation
ㄱ (g)ㄲ (kk)/k͈/
ㄷ (d)ㄸ (tt)/t͈/
ㅂ (b)ㅃ (pp)/p͈/
ㅅ (s)ㅆ (ss)/s͈/
ㅈ (j)ㅉ (jj)/t͈ɕ/

When pronouncing tensed consonants, your tongue and throat muscles should be firm. This creates a tone that is sharper and shorter than aspirated or plain consonants, significantly affecting the meaning of words. For example, the word ‘살’ (sal, meaning ‘flesh’) is different from ‘쌀’ (ssal, meaning ‘rice’) only because of the tensed consonant.

Understanding the nuances of these sounds is essential for your proficiency in Korean. Practice them with care, and listen closely to how they are used in everyday speech. You’ll find more details and pronunciation tips on the Korean phonology available here.

Consonant Assimilation in Korean

In Korean, consonant assimilation is a linguistic phenomenon where adjacent consonants influence each other’s pronunciation. It often occurs when one syllable ends with a consonant (batchim) and the following syllable starts with a different consonant or a vowel. These interactions can lead to sound changes.

For clarity, here are key types of consonant assimilation you’ll encounter:

  1. Re-syllabification: This happens when the final consonant of a syllable is pronounced with the onset of the following syllable if it starts with a vowel. For example, 십오 (fifteen) is actually pronounced as 시보.
  2. 받침 Simplification: Certain final consonants may become simpler or change when preceding specific consonants or vowels. As an instance, (front) is spoken as ‘압’.

You’ll also find instances of more subtle assimilation processes:

  • 끝 (end) becomes ‘끋’.
  • 맛 (taste) is pronounced ‘맏’.
  • 꽃 (flower) changes to ‘꼳’.

When learning Korean, understanding and mastering consonant assimilation is crucial for correct pronunciation. Being aware of these rules will help you speak more naturally and be better understood by native speakers. Visit resources like Korean Wiki Project to explore this subject in-depth, and to hear how these rules apply in regular speech, you can refer to various Korean language learning platforms. Remember, practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to assimilating sounds in a new language.

Consonants in Loanwords

When you encounter Korean loanwords, you’re seeing foreign words, particularly from English, that have been adapted into the Korean language. The adaptation often involves changing the original sounds to fit into the framework of Korean phonetics.

Consonants in Korean loanwords tend to undergo specific transformations to align with Korean speech patterns. Consider the following common adaptations:

  • Coda Consonants: English words ending in consonants may lose the final sound when transliterated into Korean. For example, the English word “bag” may be adapted without the final ‘g’ sound.
  • Rhotic Consonants: Sounds like the ‘r’ at the end of a word in English are typically not pronounced in Korean loanwords. For instance, “car” is pronounced more like “ka.”
  • Tense and Aspirated Sounds: Korean differentiates between plain, tense, and aspirated consonant sounds. Loanwords with ‘p’, ‘t’, ‘k’, or ‘ch’ often become their Korean tense or aspirated counterparts.

Here’s a concise table summarizing these changes:

English SoundsKorean AdaptationExample
Final ‘g’Often OmittedBag → 백 (baek)
‘r’ SoundNot PronouncedCar → 카 (ka)
P, T, K, ChTense/AspiratedTrack → 트랙 (teuraek)

Korean loanwords have added a dynamic layer to the language, and understanding the consonant adaptations can help you recognize and pronounce these words accurately. Keep these patterns in mind as you expand your Korean vocabulary with loanwords.


I hope this article has helped you learn the Korean consontants. Once you mastered these, you’re ready to move on to the next step which are Korean vowels!

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