Korean Translation Tip: The Lowdown on Korean Alphabetical Order

I’m occasionally asked if Korean has an alphabetical order.  Yes, it does!

There are officially 24 letters in the Korean alphabet, but here are the 14 used to separate a printed Korean dictionary into sections.

ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅅ ㅇ ㅈ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ

The above sequence is the basic set of consonants. However, five of these can be doubled (called “tense consonants”).

That gets us to this new sequence.

ㄱ ㄲ ㄴ ㄷ ㄸ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅃ ㅅ ㅆ ㅇ ㅈ ㅉ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ

Are we done? No…

I won’t try to explain why, but all of the vowels are filed under the ㅇ consonant and there is an order to those also. The bare-bones order is ㅏ ㅓ ㅗ ㅜ ㅡㅣ.

So, version #3:

ㄱ ㄲ ㄴ ㄷ ㄸ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅃ ㅅ ㅆ ㅇ (ㅏ ㅓ ㅗ ㅜ ㅡㅣ) ㅈ ㅉ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ

This is the basic sequence of Korean letters in Korean alphabetical order.

However, hold on to your seats; we’re about to go extreme…

There are two additional ways to complicate things, and these also factor into alphabetical order.

That’s because four of the six basic vowels can also be combined with a “y” sound (ㅏㅑ ㅓ ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅡㅣ; these are called “iotized vowels”), which results in this new expanded list.

ㄱ ㄲ ㄴ ㄷ ㄸ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅃ ㅅ ㅆ ㅇ(ㅏㅑ ㅓ ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅡㅣ) ㅈ ㅉ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ

And then there are 11 more ways that the vowels can be combined with each other (called “dipthongs” apparently).

ㅐㅒ ㅔ ㅖㅘ ㅙ ㅚ ㅝ ㅞ ㅟㅢ

Thus, the exhaustive list (of more than 24!) goes like this:

ㄱ ㄲ ㄴ ㄷ ㄸ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅃ ㅅ ㅆ ㅇ(ㅏㅐㅑ ㅒㅓㅔ ㅕㅖ ㅗ ㅘ ㅙ ㅚ ㅛ ㅜ ㅝ  ㅞ ㅟ ㅠ ㅡ ㅢㅣ) ㅈ ㅉ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ

If this seems too complicated, just check out the following tip to keep things simple.

Korean Translation Tip – You can quickly alphabetize Korean in Excel if you’ve got the Korean language support installed. Just put your list of words/phases into a column, select the column, and then choose Sort in the Data menu. It’s the exact same process as sorting alphabetically in English. Excel’s already got those complicated alphabetizing rules figured out. (Major CAT tools such as memoQ also do a fine job of sorting segments in Korean alphabetical order.)

You might be interested to know that the Korean keyboard is structured in a very simple way: consonants on the left and vowels on the right. Once you’ve installed the Korean keyboard in Windows, to get one of those double consonants, hold down Shift while pressing the key for the consonant. (If it’s not a “double-able” consonant, then pressing Shift won’t do anything.)

And one more thing… the names of the first three letters are pronounced “ga”, “na” and “da”. So, the word for “alphabetical” in Korean is “ganada”!

This tip should help you to mind your “biups” and “kiuks”, dot your “hiuts” and cross all of your “tiguts”…

5 Responses

  1. Jesse says:

    I’m confused. Where is “ㄹ”?

  2. Craig says:

    ㄹ disappears after your first list.

  3. Tiger Joe says:

    So I heard on national public radio, an interesting program on Alphabetical Order and they specifically brought up Korean. They went on to say the Koreans arranged the countries at the Olympics in *their* alphabetical order not ours, therefore confusing many officials when Gabon came first.

    Gabon? I thought Canada ought to come first, after all it should be 가나다 . Gabon would be 가봉 and so that comes after, doesn’t it?

    So, I scurry over to Google Translate, just to make sure Canada translates as 가나다 and sure enough, something else comes up! 캐나다 ! Interesting!

    See, I come from knowing some Japanese and the vowels are super simple there. Canada is, as you’d expect, カナダ. In Korean, they are far more complex and therefore can get a lot closer to a proper English pronunciation. Or it might be, the first Korean to hear the word Canada, heard it as 캐나다 and that is what they wrote down.

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