Korean numbers and how to use them

        Korean language has two sets of numerals. One of these was borrowed from ancient Chinese and the other one consists of  native (or pure) Korean numbers. Depending of what we count, we will have to use either native numbers or the borrowed ones. First of all, let’s learn the numbers!


        As we can see from above the construction is: 

14 → 10 () + 4 () = 열넷

14 → 10 () + 4 () = 십사


57 → 50 () + 7 (일곱) = 쉰일곱

57 → 5 () + 10 () + 7 () = 오십칠

        We can observe that after 100 there aren’t any native Korean numbers, so we will have to use the Sino-Korean ones in order to count units of 100 and above so only the Chinese set would be used, but in compound numbers you will hear both sets of numbers. For example 121 could be백 이십일 or 백 스물하나, both variants are accepted and correct.

        Depending of what we’re counting we will have to use either Sino-Korean Numbers or the native ones in order to make the other person to know exactly what we are talking about. If we do not know how to properly use the numbers our party would be disoriented and confused about what we want to say.

        For example, the word  분 means both  “minut” and  “person” (honorific). Used with Native Numbers we can express the meaning of “esteemed person” (두분 = two esteemed persons), but used with Sino-Korean Numbers we will express the meaning “minut” (이분 = two minutes).

        In the tables below you will see what words are used with each set of numbers.

      Counters used with Native-Korean Numbers:

– o’clock

– vehicles, machines

– months

가지 – kinds, varieties

사람  - persons

- bottle

– people, persons

– times (ex: 다섯번 = five times)

– persons (honorific)

시간 - hours

마리 – animals, birds

- years

– years of age

– objects, ítems, units

– cupfuls

군데 – places, institutions


      Counters used with Sino-Korean Numbers:

- minutes

개월 – months (time or duration)

- days

– Korean money unit, WON

- years

– Korean mile

– floors (of a building)

달라 , - dollars

- seconds

파운드 – pounds (sterling)

– degrees (temperature)

월달 – month names (ex: 이월달 = February)


TIP: As for the words from the 1st table, after 20 they can be used with Sino-Korean numbers too (ex: 마흔 병 or 사십 병 = 40 bottles).

TIP: For numbers above 100 is more common to hear  백 + Native-Korean number, than all Sino-Korean numbers.

TIP: To count years in native Korean up to 99, one uses a native Korean numeral + 해, and above 100, one uses Sino-Korean numerals + 년, however, it is most common to count and name all years (including 1-99) using the Sino-Korean ones.  


Written and translated by : 이사벨

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