Korean pronouns pose some difficulty to speakers of English due to their complexity. The Korean language makes extensive use of speech levels and honorifics in its grammar, and Korean pronouns also change depending on the social distinction between the speaker and the person or persons spoken to.
In general, Korean speakers avoid using second person singular pronoun, especially when using honorific forms. This is done in several ways:
- Omit the subject if it can be implied by the context. Most English sentences need subjects, but note Korean sentences do not.
- Use the appropriate title. For example, talking to a teacher or certain other professionals (e.g. a manager), one may use 선생님 (seonsaengnim, "teacher").
- Use kinship terms, even to address someone who is not family:
- 언니 (eonni, "older sister"), used by females to address a slightly elder female
- 누나 (nuna, "older sister"), used by males to address a slightly elder female
- 오빠 (oppa, "older brother"), used by females to address a slightly elder male
- 형 (hyeong, "older brother"), used by males to address a slightly elder male
- 아줌마 (ajumma, "middle aged woman")
- 아저씨 (ajeoshi, "middle aged man")
- 할머니 (halmeoni, "grandmother")
- 할아버지 (harabeoji, "grandfather")
- Use the plural 여러분 (yeoreobun, "ladies and gentlemen") where applicable.
- If talking to someone younger than the speaker, one may use the person's name.
|first person||저 (jeo)||나 (na)||저희 (jeoheui)||우리 (uri)|
|second person||당신 (dangshin)||너 (neo)||당신들 (dangshindeul)||너희들 (neoheuideul)|
|third person||그 (geu)||그들 (geudeul)|
|third person feminine||그녀 (geunyeo)||그녀들 (geunyeodeul)|
The first and second person pronouns have both an informal and a polite (humble/honorific) form. The polite form is used when speaking to someone older or of high social status. 당신 (the plain second person singular pronoun) literally means "friend", but is only used as a form of address and is more polite than 친구 (chingu), the usual word for "friend". 당신 is also sometimes used as the Korean equivalent of "dear" as a form of address. Also, whereas uses of other humble forms are straightforward, 당신 must be used only in specific social contexts, such as between two married couples. In that way it can be used in an ironic sense when used between strangers.
Of the third person pronouns, the feminine forms sound awkward and are mostly used when translating texts from other languages. 그 was originally used for both genders and still is in conversation.