Korean Translation Tip: Is the Standard Korean Greeting a Question or Not?

The most common Korean greeting (both in spoken and written forms) is this:

“안녕하세요?”

Literally, this Korean greeting means “Are you in peace?” But the perceived meaning is closer to “Hello”.

Thus, even though it’s a question, the answer is not, “I’m fine. Thank you. And you?”.

Oddly, the correct response is to repeat back “안녕하세요?”.

This greeting is not even spoken with the intonation of a question!

The reason I’m telling you this is that it creates small issues in our Korean translation work. Since this greeting is not really used as a question, the question mark is often (but not always) left off by Korean writers (including Korean translators on my team).

Best-Practice Tip  If you have English correspondence translated to Korean, the greeting in the Korean translation will probably start with “안녕하세요?” even though the greeting in the English source was not in the form of a question. Likewise, if you have me translate a Korean letter to English, I might translate “안녕하세요?” as “How are you?” but will more likely just write “Hello”. Either approach is correct in its own way.

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