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Hangeul (also Hangul or Han'gŭl, previously Han-kul; 한글) is the native alphabet used to write the Korean language (as opposed to the non-native Hanja). Each Hangeul syllabic block consists of several of the 24 letters (jamo) -- 14 consonants and 10 vowels. Historically, it had 3 more consonants and 1 more vowel (See Obsolete Jamo).

While the script may appear ideographic to some Westerners, it is actually phonetic. For a table of phonological descriptions of each letters, see Phonology.

Table of contents
1 Names
2 History
3 Jamo
4 Syllabic blocks
5 Orthography
6 Writing
7 External links
8 See also



Hangeul was promulgated by the fourth king of the
Joseon Dynasty, Sejong the Great, after being developed under his guidance by a team of researchers. (Sejong is often called the inventor of Hangeul: he was more likely the "idea person" who commissioned and backed the researchers, consulted with them, and published the final report.) The system was completed in 1443 or January 1444, and published in 1446 in a document, Hunmin Jeongeum, after which the alphabet was named. The publication date of Hunmin jeongeum, October 9, is Hangeul Day in South Korea (Its North Korean equivalent is on January 15).

An old legend that holds that King Sejong visualized the written characters after studying the intricate lattice. But this is likely not true. The book explains the scientific principles of the original letter designs, as written in #Jamo design.

King Sejong intended Hangeul to be a suplement to Hanja, to be used primarily to educate people who did not know Hanja (hence the name Hunmin Jeongeum, which means "Correct Sounds for the Education of the People" in Korean). At that time, only male members of the aristocracy (Yangban) learned to read and write Hanja; since all written material was only available in Hanja, most Koreans were effectively illiterate. Hangeul faced heavy opposition by the literate elite, who believed Hanja to be 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 Hangeul. Yeonsan-gun, the 10th king, forbade the study or use of 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, Hangeul began to be considered as a national symbol by some reformists. As a result of the Gabo Reform by pro-Japanese politicians, Hangeul 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 51 jamo, of which 24 are simple (not compounded) and equivalent to letters in the Roman alphabet. The remaining 27 are complex clusters formed by combining 2 or sometimes 3 jamo. Of the 24 simple jamo, 14 are consonants (jaeum; 자음; 子音; literally, "child sound") and 10 are vowels (moeum; 모음; 母音; literally, "mother sound"). 5 of the consonants can be doubled to form 5 additional double consonants (see below), while another 11 complex consonantal clusters are formed by combining 2 different consonants. The vowels can be combined to form 11 additional diphthongs. Here is a summary of the numbers of jamo:

Four of the simple vowels actually have shapes that are not elemental, but have extra short strokes signifying palatalization: ㅑ (ya), ㅕ (yeo), ㅛ (yo), and 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 separate jamo for y.

Of the basic consonants, ㅊ (chieut), ㅋ (kieuk), ㅌ (tieut), and ㅍ (pieup) are aspirated derivatives of ㅈ (jieut), ㄱ (gieok), ㄷ (digeut), and ㅂ (bieup) respectively, formed by combining the parent consonant with the jamo ㅎ (hieut).

Five of these consonantal jamo clusters are doubled consonants (bachim): two identical consonants placed beside each other horizontally. They are: ㄲ (kk), ㄸ (tt), ㅃ (pp), ㅆ (ss), and ㅉ (jj). Doubled consonants are not really pronounced twice, they are glottalized.

The sounds represented by the single and double consonantal jamo cannot be pronounced alone in normal speech. There are 42 more jamo that have fallen out of use.

There are three formal categories of jamo:

  1. Initials (초성 ; 初聲 choseong): consonant(s) before the vowel(s) in a syllable (the onset). They include all five double-consonant jamo.
    • Position: Placed at the top, the left, or the upper-left corner of the block.
    • See: Hangul consonant tables#Initials
  2. Medials or peaks (중성 ; 中聲 jungseong): All are vowels (the nucleus)
    • Position: usually in the middle of a syllable, but can be at the end as well.
    For a list of the medials, see #Vowel jamo design
  3. Finals (종성 ; 終聲 jongseong): consonant(s) after the vowel(s) in a syllable (the coda). All basic finals are also initials, except The zero initial ㅇ is pronounced ng in the final position. However, the only cluster jamo that are both initials and finals are two of the double consonantal jamo: ㅆ (ss) and ㄲ (kk).
    • Position: Placed at the bottom, right or lower-right corner of the block.
    • See: Hangul consonant tables#Finals

Jamo design

The shapes of the 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.

Vowel jamo design

Vowel letters, on the other hand, consist of three elements: Together, they form various combinations and represent different vowel sounds:

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 by ㅏ or ㅓ), then adds a stroke to w- (ㅐ), then just a stroke, without w-.

North Korean order


ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅅ ㅇ ㅈ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ ㄲ ㄸ ㅃ ㅆ ㅉ ㅇ

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


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

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

Jamo names

The sequence of jamo is called "the ganada order" (가나다訓), named after the first three consonant jamo of the arrangement (g, n, and d) affixed to the first vowel (a). They were named by Choi Sejin in 1527. North Korea has later changed the jamo names.

Consonant jamo names

The modern consonants have two-syllable names, with the consonant coming at the beginning and end of the name, as follows:

giyeok (기역)
nieun (니은)
digeut (디귿)
rieul (리을)
mieum (미음)
bieup (비읍)
shiot (시옷)
ieung (이응)
jieut (지읒)
chieut (치읓)
kieuk (키읔)
tieut (티읕)
pieup (피읖)
hieut (히읗) (Note the irregular pronunciation of the final ㅎ)

All but three jamo are named in the format of letter + i + eu + letter. For example, t is tieut. The "letter + i" component makes up the first syllable, and "eu + letter" the second. For example, Choi writes pieup as 非 (pi) and 邑 (eup). The jamo g, d, and s are exceptions because there are no Hanja for euk, eut, and eus. Yeok (役) is used in place of euk. And since there is no Hanja that end in t and s, Choi chose two Hanja to be read in the native Korean gloss: 末 (kut "end") and 衣 (os "clothes"). Originally, Choi gave j, ch, k, t, p, and h the irregular one-syllable names of ji, chi, ki, ti, pi, and hi. But they were changed to the present regular forms in 1933.

The double consonants precede the parent consonant's name with the word ssang (쌍), meaning "twin" or "double". Thus:

ssang giyeok (쌍 기역)
ssang digeut (쌍 디귿)
ssang bieup (쌍 비읍)
ssang shiot (쌍 시옷)
ssang jieut (쌍 지읒)

Vowel jamo names

The vowels' names are simply the syllable formed by taking the letter ㅇ (ieung) and adding the vowel being named. Thus:

a (아)
ae (애)
ya (야)
yae (얘)
eo (어)
e (에)
yeo (여)
ye (예)
o (오)
wa (와)
wae (왜)
oe (외)
yo (요)
u (우)
weo (워)
we (웨)
wi (위)
yu (유)
eu (으)
eui (의)
i (이)

Obsolete jamo

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

In addition, there are two obsolete derived (in form) jamo representing one single sound:

Syllabic blocks

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

  1. Two jamo: an initial + a medial (vowel)
    • Two jamo: a zero initial (ㅇ) + a medial (vowel): just the medial is pronounced
  2. Three jamo: an initial + 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 a vertical stack.

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

There once were over 2,500 Hangul blocks, many of which have been eliminated. One of the deleted ones is ㅵ (bsd), entirely consonantal.

There was a very minor movement in the twentieth century to abolish syllabic blocks and write the jamo individually in a row. This would be difficult to read, because syllable ambiguity arises, namely, it becomes unclear when a syllable ends and another begins. Presumably the abolishment of syllabic blocks would necessitate inserting spacess in between all syllables. However, spaces are already presently employed in the Korean script to separate words. (See #Writing) This movement has gained very little support.


Until the 20th century, no orthography of Hangul had been established. Due to liaison, heavy consonant assimilation, dialectical variants and other reasons, a Korean word can be spelt in several different ways. King Sejong seemed to prefer morphophonemic 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 morphophonemic 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. The guiding text for Hangeul orthography is the called the Hangeul Matchumbeop, whose last South Korean revision was published in 1988 by the Ministry of Education.


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-gyeong, and has become overwhelmingly preferred.

Hangeul's first appearance was in Hunmin Jeongeum, the 14th-century book that first described the script. At that time, Hangeul were printed in lines of even thickness and without short serifs (beginning brushstrokes). This style can be found in books published before about 1900, and also today when Hangeul is carved in stone (on statues, for example).

Over the centuries, as people slowly began to use Hangeul and write it by hand, an ink-brush style developed, and calligraphers employed the same style of the lines and bending angles as they did in writing Chinese characters, to achieve a similar look. (This style is called Myeongjo in Korean, a translation of the Chinese Mingcho, which name is used to describe a Chinese computer font today.) The Myeongjo style is used today in the body of books, newspapers, and magazines. Some computer fonts, such as Mac Korean, reflect the ink-brush style.

In longhand writing, ink brushes have given way to ballpoint pens, and a square style has once again emerged. This style (lines of equal width and few curves) is widespread in computers, and most Web browsers have a square font like Microsoft GulimChe as their default, leading to a large amount of text that is now read and written in non-calligraphic fonts.

Pronunciation of the Hangul writing is occasionally not based strictly on Hangul jamo, but also follow specific irregular phonetic rules (see Korean language#Phonology). Until the twentieth century, Hangul was written in the surface form (as is pronounced), but now it is written in the deep form (as isetymologically).

External links

See also