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How to Describe Pain in Korean Posted by on Jul 30, 2019 in Vocabulary

개떡같이 말해도 찰떡같이 알아듣는다. (gae-ttuk-gatchi-mahl-hae-doh-chal-ttuk-gatchi-ara-dut-nun-dah.)

We have this Korean expression which perfectly describes the difficulties of a novice interpreter. It means the listener should basically understand the gist of what someone is saying based entirely on situational context and common interests, even if the speaker can’t articulate with words.

One of the most difficult things I had to learn when I began working as a medical interpreter was how to interpret types of pain in Korean. Not having enough experience as a medical interpreter didn’t help me much, but also interpreting someone’s subjective feelings from vague descriptions was challenging to me.

Many of my clients were the elderly, who had moved from Korea in their late life because their children invited them to America. Most of my clients were nice and I enjoyed working with them. However, I learned that some of them might not to have the communication skills necessary to help me do my job as their interpreter, to articulate their feelings. Nevertheless, western doctors, whom I had to assist, wanted their patients to articulate how they were feeling. I understood the needs from both sides.


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I believe I have more to learn, but I am going to share some vocabularies that you might need to know when you go see a doctor in Korea. I listed these in order of difficulty to interpret.


  1. 아픈 (ah-peun: achy pain)

It is a simple word in English, but it can be a complex word to interpret because this adjective contains a variety of meanings in Korean. When you look up the word “아프다 (ah-poo-dah)” in a Korean dictionary, it will give you several meanings in English: painful, sore, hurt, ache. My job was to interpret my clients’ description of pain in context as accurately as I could.


  1. 만지면 아픈 (mahn-ji-myoen-ah-peun: tender)

It is an adjective, which cannot be directly translated into Korean within my native Korean knowledge, unless you add more details.



  1. 계속 조금씩 아픈 (gyue-sok-joh-gum-ssik-ah-peun: dull pain)

This adjective usually describes chronic pain. This word also doesn’t have a specific, direct translation in Korean as far as I know. Everybody can use their own words to describe “dull” pain.


  1. 쓰리다 (ssuh-ree-dah: sore)

It has a couple of different meanings, such as sore from skin abrasion. Or, it can be used to describe heartburn.



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5. 찌릿하다 (jee-rit-hah-dah: Shooting pain or twinge)

This is a verb, and usually describes a type of nerve pain.


6. 따끔따끔한 (tta-gum-tta-gum-han: stinging or prickling pain)

This is a multi-purpose adjective that can describe anything from nerve issues to stomach problems. Or, it simply can used to describe stinging pain from a skin cut or scratch.


7. 욱신거리는 (wook-shin-guh-ree-nun: throbbing)

It is an adjective which usually describes muscular issues.


8. 쑤시다 (ssoh-sih-dah: achy)

This is a verb that you would hear a lot from your grandparents when they complain about their joints.


9. 저리다 (juh-ree-dah:numb)

It is a common verb to describe numbness of the limbs.


10. 지끈거리는 (jee-gguen-guh-ree-nun: splitting headache )

This is an adjective.




image by Pixabay


11. 시리다 (see-ree-dah: cold or be dazzling)

This verb may describe hands, feet and gum issues with coldness. Or, it can describe eye problems that make you tearful.


12. 목이 아픈 (mok-ee-ah-peun: sore throat)

This is an adjective.



13. 뻐근하다 (bbuh-gun-hah-dah: stiff)

It is a simple verb that describes muscular aches in Korean.







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About the Author: FlyHighOyster

Hi everyone, I was born and raised in Seoul, S. Korea. I have lived in Seattle for a while and I am traveling the world with my husband since 2016. It is my honor to share Korean culture with you all. Don't be shy to share your thoughts and comments! :) Talk to you soon. HJ


  1. Angel:

    Thanks for this! I am a nurse and also learning Korean. Very helpful!

    • FlyHighOyster:

      @Angel Thank you, Angel. Glad to hear it was helpful.