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Han-geul or Han'gŭl (한글), the alphabet used to write the Korean language. Each Hangul syllabic block consists of several of the 24 letters (see "Jamo" below) -- 14 consonants and 10 vowels. Historically, it had 28 letters -- 3 consonants and 1 vowel more -- but as these sounds are not present in modern Korean, the letters are not used anymore.

While the script looks ideographic to some Westerners, it is actually phonetic. For a table of linguistics descriptions of the letters, see Korean language.

Table of contents


  • Official names:
  • Unofficial names:
    • Jeong-eum, short for the official Hunmin jeong-eum (see "History" below)
    • Commonly known as Eonmun (언문 ; 諺文 "vernacular script").
    • Sometimes called Amgeul (암글; "female script"): Women has been considered to be humbler than men in Korea.
    • Rarely called Ahaegeul (아해글; "childish script")


Hangul was invented by the fourth king of Joseon Dynasty[?], Sejong the Great, and his researchers, as a replacement of, or at least a supplement to Hanja. The system was completed in 1443 or January 1444, and published in 1446 in a document, Hunmin jeong-eum, after which the alphabet was named. October 9, the date of publication of Hangul, is a national holiday in South Korea, called Han-geul Proclamation Day (한글날). The equivalent Chosŏn'gŭl Day is on January 15 in North Korea, however.

There is a widespread rumor that claims that King Sejong visualized the written characters after studying the intricate lattice. But this is not true. The book Hunmin jeong-eum haerye explains principles of letter designs, as you see below in "Consonantal jamo design".

However, Hangul faced heavy opposition by the majority of Korean Confucians, who believed Chinese characters are the only legitimate writing system. The protest by Choe Malli[?] and other Confucians in 1444 is a typical example. Later on, the government became apathetic to Hangul. Yeonsan-gun[?], the 10th king, forbade to study or use Hangul and banned Hangul documents in 1504, and King Jungjong[?] abolished the Ministry of Eonmun in 1506. Hangul had been used by women and uneducated people.

When the idea of nationalism was introduced from Japan to Korea, Hangul began to be considered as a national symbol by some reformists. As a result of the Gabo Reform by pro-Japanese politicians, Hangul was adopted in official documents for the first time in 1894. After Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910, Hangul was compulsorily taught in schools till Japan took the national mobilization policy in 1937.


"Jamo" (자모 ; 字母) literally means "the mother(s) of a script." There are 52 jamo, 20 (14 consonants and 6 vowels) of which are basic (simple) and equivalent to letter. The rest are clusters (called complex or compound) composed of two of these 14 basic jamo, hence parallel to double-consonant letters, like the Spanish ll[?] and ch[?].

Four vocalic jamo clusters have shapes that are not elemental, but are derived from their respective basic jamo, with an extra short stroke to signify palatalization[?]: ㅑ (ya), ㅕ (yeo), ㅛ (yo), ㅠ (yu). These four are counted as part of the 24 rudimentary jamo (letters), because the palatalizing stroke taken out of context does not represent y at all. In fact, there is no jamo for y.

Five of these cosonantal jamo clusters are double consonant, having two placed beside each other horizontally. They are: ㄲ (gg), ㄸ (dd), ㅃ (bb), ㅆ (ss), and ㅉ (jj). Double consonants are not really pronounced twice, they are glottalized[?].

All, except the vowel jamo, cannot be pronounced alone in normal speech. There used to be 42 jamo more.

The jamo were named by Choi Sejin[?] in 1527.

There are three formal categories of jamo:

1. Initials (초성 ; 初聲 choseong): consonant(s) before the vowel(s) in a syllable. They include all five double-consonant jamo.

  • Postion: Placed in the top or left or top-left corner of the block.

- g n d t l m b s j ch k p h
gg dd bb ss jj

2. Medials or peaks (중성 ; 中聲 jungseong): All are vowels

  • Postion: usually in the middle of a syllable, but can be at the end as well.
For a list of the medials, see sub-section "Vowel jamo design" below (within this section)

3. Finals (종성 ; 終聲 jongseong): consonant(s) after the vowel(s) in a syllable. All basic finals are also initials, except The zero initial ㅇ is pronounced ng. However, the only cluster jamo that are both initials and finals are two of the double consonantal jamo: ㅆ (ss) and ㄲ (gg).

  • Postion: Placed in the bottom or right or top-right corner of the block.

g n d l m b s ng j ch k t p h
  ㄺ    ㅄ               
gg nj lg bs ss
ㄳ    ㄻ                     
gs nch lm

Jamo design

Consonants were designed scientifically, and the vowels philosophically.

Consonantal jamo design

The designs of the basic jamo consonant letters model the physical morphology of the tongue, palate, teeth and throat. The consonants can be divided into five groups, each with a basic shape, and one or more derived basic forms with additional strokes. The names in the brackets are the traditional Sino-Korean linguistic terminology.

  • Velar consonants (아음 ; 牙音 ; a-eum; "molar sounds"):
    • ㄱ g, ㅋ k
    • Basic shape: ㄱ is the side view picture of the tongue back touching the velum (soft palate). (For illustration, access the external link below.)
  • Alveolar consonants (설음 ; 舌音 ; seol-eum; "lingual sounds"):
    • ㄴ n, ㄷ d, ㅌ t, ㄹ l
    • Basic shape: ㄴ is the side view picture of the tongue tip touching the alveolar ridge (teethridge).
  • Bilabial consonants (순음 ; 唇音 ; sun-eum; "labial sounds"):
    • ㅁ m, ㅂ b, ㅍ p
    • Basic shape: ㅁ represents the outline of the lips.
  • Dental sibilants[?] (치음 ; 齒音 ; chieum; "dental sounds"):
    • ㅅ s, ㅈ j, ㅊ ch
    • Basic shape: ㅅ was originally shaped like a wedge /\, without the overlapping top slash. It signifies the side view of the teeth.
  • Glottal consonants (후음 ; 喉音 ; hueum; "throat sounds"):
    • ㅇ ng (zero initial), ㅎ h
    • Basic shape: ㅇ symbolizes the outline of the throat.

Vowel jamo design Vowel letters, on the other hand, consist of three elements: Horizontal line (which signifies the Earth), point, which later becomes a short stroke (the Heaven), and vertical line (the Human).

  • Simple vowels:
    • Horizontal vowels: pronounced in the front of oral cavity
      • ㅗ o
      • ㅜ u
      • ㅡ eu (ŭ)
    • Vertical vowels: pronounced in the back of oral cavity
      • ㅏ a
      • ㅓ eo (ŏ)
      • ㅣ i
  • Compound vowels: combining simple vowels
    • ... (9) (Available to be copied from the French article.)
  • Palatalized vowel: Romanized as y-, represented by an extra stroke attached to a line
    • ... (6) (Available to be copied from the French article.)

Jamo order The alphabetical order of jamo does not mix the consonants and the vowels like the Western alphabets (Latin alphabet and Cyrillic alphabet). The consonants are placed before the vowels. The modern order was set by Choi Sejin[?] in 1527.

South Korean and North Korean governments have slightly different order, but they both follow Choi Sejin's order of the basic jamo.

South Korean order

The modern order of the consonantal jamo is:

ㄱ ㄲ ㄴ ㄷ ㄸ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅃ ㅅ ㅆ ㅇ ㅈ ㅉ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ

They are listed like the order of finals, not initials. And double consonantal jamo are placed immediately after its source simple jamo.

Medials' order is:

ㅏ ㅐ ㅑ ㅒ ㅓ ㅔ ㅕ ㅖ ㅗ ㅘ ㅙ ㅚ ㅛ ㅜ ㅝ ㅞ ㅟ ㅠ ㅡ ㅢ ㅣ

The fundamental (not necessarily basic) medials come first, with derived forms inserted in between: additional one stroke, then palatalized form, then palatalized additional one stroke. For vertical vowels, the derived forms are listed in the order: w- (symbolically represented byㅏ orㅓ), then adds a stroke to w- (ㅐ), then just a stroke, without w-.

North Korean order



First ㅇ, if it represents sound /ng/. Second ㅇ, is zero. Note that the double jamo are placed at the every end, before zero ㅇ, but after all other jamos, not after their basic source jamo like in South Korea.



ㅐ and ㅔ is placed after all basic vowels, not after ㅏ and ㅓ.

Obsolete jamo

The original additional jamo, called archaic or obsolete, are:

  • [] [V] arae-a (araea): Pronounced the similar to eo
    Existed only in the syllable ㆎ (area-ae)
  • ㅿ [z] pansios
  • ㆆ [?] yeorinhieuh (여린히읗; or 된이응) "light hieuh" or "doubled ieung": lighter than ㅎ and harsher than ㅇ
  • ㆁ [N but lighter] [η] yetieung (옛이응): Different from ㅇ (ieung), which is rounder than the oval ㆁ. Now replaced by ㅇ (ieung).

The above symbols within the square bracket are SAMPA and IPA, in that order.

Syllabic Blocks

To be able to be pronounced, some Hangul jamo must form blocks together, sometimes called "characters". Each Hangul block is a syllable consists of two to three jamo (simple or cluster). The pattern is consonant + medial + (consonant).

  1. 2 jamo: an initial (ㅇ) + a medial (vowel)
    • 2: a zero initial (ㅇ) + a medial (vowel): just the medial is pronounced
  2. 3: an initial (ㅇ) + a medial (vowel) + a final

The placement, or stacking, of jamo in the block follow set patterns:

  1. Syllables that end in a vowel are written either vertically or horizontally, depending on the vowel.
    • Vertical jamo: initial left of the vertical vowel: →
    • Horizontal jamo: initial on top of the horizontal vowel: ↓
    The zero initial is called a "placeholder", as regard to patterns
  2. patch'im ("supporting floor") When a syllable has an additional jamo (final), it adds to the above pattern, with the final at the bottom ("floor"):
    • Syllables which have a vertical vowel and end in a final are written clockwise.
    • Syllables which have a horizontal vowel and end in a final are written in vertical stack.

The result is the same size and shape as a Hanja, hence some Westerners are confused the syllabic blocks with Hanja.

There have been over 2500 Hangul blocks, many of which had been eliminated. One of the deleted ones is ㅵ (bsd), entirely consonantal.

There have been a very minor movement, mostly by pro-West and/or anti-Chinese extremists, in recent years to abolish syllabic blocks and write the jamo in a row. This would be difficult to read, because syllable ambiguity arise, namely, when a syllable begins and another ends. Presumably the abolishment of syllabic blocks would necessitate inserting spaces in between all syllables. However, spaces are already presently employed in the Korean script to separate word. (See section "Writing" below) This movement has gained very little support.


Until the 20th century, no orthography of Hangul had been established. Due to heavy consonant assimilation, dialectical variants and other reasons, a Korean word can be spelt in several different ways. King Sejong seemed to prefer morphonemic spelling rather than phonemic one. However, since it was mainly used by uneducated people, Hangul was dominated by phonemic and inconsistent spelling.

After much trial and error, the Japanese Government-General of Chosen[?] established the writing style of a mixture of Hanja and Hangul, modeled on the Japanese writing system. The government revised the rule for spelling in 1912, 1921 and 1930, which was relatively phonemic.

The Hangul Society, originally found by Ju Si-gyeong, announced a proposal for a new morphonemic orthography in 1933, which became the prototype of the contemporary orthographies in the North and South. After Korea was divided, the North and South revised orthographies separately.


Hangul can be written both horizontally and vertically. The latter method is traditional, akin to the Chinese style. The former style was promoted by Ju Si-kyeong.

Hangul were written by ink brushes, and the calligraphers employed the same style of the lines and bending angles as Chinese characters would look when written by ink brush. Nowadays, however, Hangul are written mostly by ballpoint pens or fountain pens. Some computer fonts, such as Mac Korean, reflect the ink-brush style and are mostly used in headlines intended to be more aristic. While others, such as Microsoft Arial and GulimChe reflect the ballpoint style and are used in the body of the texts.

Pronunciation of the writing is occasionally not based on Hangul, but it is unrelated to Hangul and is based on specific phonetic rules, which can be found in Korean language.

External link

See also Korean language, alphabet, character, writing system.

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