Category Archives: Hyeongs, Oppas, Nunas, Eonnis and Dongaengs
Certain terms in the Korean language can’t be translated that easily because rather than naming something are they more like describing a specific kind of situation or relationship. This post explains a few words which are necessary for Korean relationships based on ages.
Hyeong ( 형 ): Younger guy to older guy.
This word can be translated to “older brother” and is usually used between guys. For blood related siblings it’s normal to call their older brother “hyeong”. Between friends, however, signifies this term a really close relationship. It means they can speak casually with each other and think of their friend like family.
Sometimes – it may be rare but it happens (I guess) – even younger girls call their older male friends “hyeong”. It’s not that they don’t know the word “oppa” but more likely because these women don’t want to be all cute and adorable. I’ve got a “hyeong”, too, and my sister said I just transformed myself into a guy. 😉 Which’s not true – I just think the really lovely word “oppa” doesn’t suit me at all. =D
Nuna ( 누나 ): Younger guy to older woman.
“Nuna” means “older sister” and is a term for younger guys to call older women – either blood related or as a close friend. Be careful about this one though! Sometimes women in Korea don’t really like it to be called by that word because it points at their age and makes them look old. 😉
Oppa ( 오빠 ): Younger woman to older guy.
Means “older brother” and is usually a term especially enjoyed by guys. They really like it to be called “oppa” by a younger woman because it’s a rather cute word and shows affection. Blood related sisters can call their older brothers by that term; it’s also common between close friends and couples. One should be cautious though: If you’re just close friends and your younger female companion calls you “oppa” it could be misunderstood as the proof that you’re a couple.
Eonni ( 언니 ): Younger woman to older woman.
With the meaning of “older sisters” is “eonni” only used between girls. You can use it to call your blood related older sister or an older female friend who’s really close to you.
Dongsaeng (동생 ): Older person to younger person.
On the contrary to the norm of calling people older than you is it rather easy to call younger ones. “Dongsaeng” is usually used to describe the fact that the other person’s younger than you – but you don’t call someone by that term. Older people call younger ones simply by their name.
Of course, you can differentiate between genders even here. “Namdongsaeng” ( 남동생 ) means “younger brother” and “yeodongsaeng” ( 여동생 ) means “younger sister”.
Same-age friends = Chingu ( 진구 ): For both man and woman applies the same – to call each other by your name.
So we learned about the rules of calling older and younger people but what do we do when we meet someone who’s as old as we’re? Simple: Such relations are named same-age friends and don’t need further courtesy. Just call each other by your name and everything’s fine.
Historical/ formal way of age-courtesy: When you watch historical dramas you’ll hardly find the terms “hyeong”, “nuna” and especially “oppa” in their script because they’re rather modern and kind of casual. A really formal and old way of these words are as follows:
Hyeong = Hyeongnim ( 형님 )
Nuna = Nunim ( 누님 )
Oppa = Orabeoni ( 오라버니 )
The “-nim” or “-ni” at the end of these words signals a certain kind of politeness and can still be used in modern Korea to call someone older than you whom you really respect and look up to. Or if you want to flatter that someone. 😉
But be aware of one rule which counts for every word above there: If you speak to each other face to face you just need to use the term alone. For example:
“Hyeong, how are you?” – “I’m fine, thanks.”
If you talk about a person you add the name to the term so that everyone knows whom you mean. For example:
“Yesterday I talked to Jong Suk-hyeong about the same topic, too.” – “Ah, really? So what’s his opinion?”
For someone who’s new to these words it might be a bit confusing but I got used to it really fast so I’m sure everyone will. The Japanese way of adding specific endings to the name and sometimes using the sur- and at other times the given name is definitely more complicated. 😀