Korean Language Blog

Formal or informal? Posted by on Oct 20, 2016 in Korean Language

Korean has different levels of respect: depending on the speakers’ ages, societal status, or closeness to each other, Koreans will decide which level of politeness to use and how to behave themselves.

Did you know that Korean language has seven different levels of speech?

Korean has six formal speech forms and one informal speech form, showing different levels of respect in the language. However, “걱정하지 마세요! (Don’t worry!)” As long as you are aware of the following three levels of politeness, and you use standard polite form, ending, you will be fine for now.


  • 격식체 (Honorific speech) is used when you speak to your superiors, customers, or strangers.
  • 존대말 (Polite speech) is the common polite form that you can use at work or with someone you don’t know very well. This is the form ( endingthat I would use the most for this blog.
  • 반말 (Informal speech) is used among close friends, to somebody younger than you, or to children.

Ex) “Sit down”             격식체 (Honorific) – “앉으십시오”

존대말 (Polite) – “앉으세요”

반말 (Informal) – “앉아”

“몇 살이에요? (How old are you?)”

You may be shocked to hear when Korean people frequently ask someone, 살이에요? (How old are you?)” right after meeting someone.


As I mentioned earlier, Korean language has different levels of respect, so the speakers will determine how they will speak to each other depending on their ages: they will decide which level of politeness to use and how to behave themselves.

So beware, someone you just met may ask, “몇 살이에요? (How old are you?), “결혼 했어요? (Are you married?), “남자 친구/여자 친구 있어요? (Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?), or “어디에 살아요? (Where do you live?), etc. To foreigners’ ears, some questions may sound private or intimate, but Koreans consider these questions will bring closeness to each other, and they consider these are part of becoming better friends.

When someone asks, “몇 살이에요? (How old are you?),”

you can answer “저는 25살이에요. (I am 25 years old.)

or “저는 80년생이에요. (I was born in [1]80.)”

 감사합니다! (Thank you!)


[1] Most Koreans will omit the first two digits of their birth years and often just give  the last two digits. Ex) I was born in 80 (instead of 1980).


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About the Author: Kyung-Hwa

안녕하세요? My name is Kyung-Hwa, and I am a native of South Korea. I am accustomed to both English and Korean languages and cultures. I greatly appreciate and love both of them. I am passionate about learning different languages, and I have studied English, Japanese, and Spanish. In my spare time, I take joy in singing, playing the piano, and reading books. I also enjoy traveling around the world, meeting people, and embracing new cultures and languages...


  1. liliana jaime:

    Hello I speak English, Spanish and now I’m learning Korean language.
    I love it! Hope one day be fluent…

    • Kyung-Hwa:

      @liliana jaime Wonderful!!!
      I love to hear that you are learning Korean.
      GOOD LUCK with your Korean studies.

      Thanks for your comment ^^

  2. Ava E. L.:

    Hello~! I have a quick question~ So if you are dating or friends with someone older than you, would you still use polite speech, or informal? Thank you so much~!

  3. lady camille esis:

    this help me a lot! <3

  4. Laiba:

    Hey I am trying to learn Korean where can I learn formal Korean that a fellow English speaker can understand?

    • Kyung-Hwa:

      @Laiba 안녕하세요!
      How about Transparent Language Korean program?

  5. Demikeith:

    Annyeong haseyo!!

    • Kyung-Hwa:

      @Demikeith 안녕하세요!
      반가워요 ^^*~

  6. Ina:

    I’m 14 years old, my native language is serbian, but I speak english and french as well, and I am learning korean. This helped me lots, thanks

    • Kyung-Hwa:

      @Ina 안녕하세요.(Hello.)
      I am very excited to hear that you are learning Korean.
      Studying three different lanauges at the age of 14, I am very impressed by your enthusiasm.
      You made my day!
      Keep up the good work!
      감사합니다! (Thank you!)

  7. Shelby:

    안녕하세요. I’m 15 years old, and I’m a native English speaker. I’m currently learning Spanish through my school and Korean through online sites and apps. Any tips?

    • Kyung-Hwa:

      @Shelby 안녕하세요! (Hello!)
      I am happy to hear that you are studying Korean ^___^
      As you mentioned, online sites and apps are great tools to use to improve your Korean skills. You can also watch K-dramas, movies, or TV shows to immerse yourself into Korean. YouTube would be a helpful tool since you may have an option to turn subtitles on/off and adjust the speed of speaking.
      Good luck!
      감사합니다. (Thank you.)

  8. Ciara Will:

    I’ve heard that in Korean, that if you wanted to address an older person you have to call them oppa or hyung, is that true?

    • Kyung-Hwa:

      @Ciara Will You would address an older person as 언니 (Unni), 오빠 (Oppa), or 형(hyung) when you are in a casual or friendlike relationship with him or her.

  9. Karen Leanne Sandberg:

    Sometimes it was which easiest learn many thoughts about South Koreans o_o Better much nice this opinions to submitting language “Koreans”….Useful every after morning evening semester these assignments practices worksheet “South Koreans” whole fulfilled countries people population language…{?)

  10. Ederly Pedro:

    Hello po…I am enjoying reading your explanation I am interested to learn more korean language Kam sa amnida.

    • Kyung-Hwa:

      @Ederly Pedro 안녕하세요 ^^ (An nyung ha se yo – Hello.)
      천만에요! (Chun man e yo! – You are welcome!)
      I am excited to hear that my article is helpful to you.
      Good luck with your Korean studies!!!