Korean Language Blog

Tetraphobia: Fear of the Number 4 in South Korea Posted by on Aug 8, 2018 in Korean Language, Vocabulary

Do you know what tetraphobia means? It means ‘fear of four’ in Greek: a combination of the Greek words tetra (the number 4) and phobia (fear). You might be shocked to find that tetraphobia is fairly common throughout the many Asian countries such as, China Japan, and Korea.

“대한민국 울산광역시에 있는 한 병원의 엘리베이터. 4층 버튼이 없다” Image by 랩소디인뮤직 on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

4자 기피 (Tetraphobia: Fear of the Number Four)

During my recent travel, I noticed there was not a button for 13  (the 13thfloor) in the 호텔 엘리베이터 (hotel elevator) that I was staying in. The number 13 was skipped, and it went from  12 (the 12th floor) to  14 층 (the  14th floor). As some believe the number 13 has the unlucky connotation in the western cultures, many have 미신 (superstitions) about the number 4 in 한국 (South Korea).

  • 4자 기피  [sa-jja-gi-pi]  –  tetraphobia: fear of the number four
  • 13 층  [sip-sam-cheung] – 13th floor
  • 호텔 엘리베이터  [ho-tel-el-li-be-ee-tuh] –  hotel elevator
  • 12  [sip-ee-cheung]  –   12th floor
  • 14  [sip-sa-cheung]  – 14th floor
  • 미신 [mi-shin]  – superstition
  • 한국  [han-gook]  – South Korea

Why do Korean people have  4자 기피 (tetraphobia)

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, many Asian countries, including South Korea, consider the number 4 as unlucky. The reason for  4자 기피 (tetraphobia) is because ‘사 (the number 4 in Sino-Korean)’ and the Sino-Korean word for ‘사 (death)’ are homophones.

  • 사 [sa] – ‘the number 4’ in Sino-Korean
  • 사 [sa] –  Sino-Korean word for death’

Whether you are living or traveling in South Korea, you will notice 4자 기피 (tetraphobia) is permeated in many dimensions of the South Korean culture. Especially many elevators in the South Korean 병원 (hospitals) do not have the 4th floor; or the English letter ‘F’ represents the 4th floor in the buildings. People also avoid giving four blocks of  gifts for celebratory occasions, such as  결혼 (weddings), 생일 (birthdays), and 집들이 (housewarmings) 파티 (parties). I remember how shocked my Korean friend was when she saw a license plate number with 4444 in the U.S.

  • 병원  [byeong-won] – hospital
  • 결혼  [gyeol-hon]  – wedding
  • 생일  [sang-il]  – birthday
  • 집들이  [jip-deul-ee]– housewarming
  • 파티  [pa-tee] – party

The reason for Korean people’s  4자 기피 (tetraphobia) might sound irrational to your ears, however, it will be helpful for you to understand why there are no 4th floors in certain buildings in South Korea, and why people avoid giving gifts in a group of fours in many occasions. Since many Korean people consider the number 4  is associated with misfortunes or death, understanding this aspect of the Korean culture might help you to avoid possible cultural sensitivity.

감사합니다! (Thank you!)

Keep learning Korean with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

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. Chu, Uchong(주우종):

    Good morning, Kyung-Hwa.
    I appreciate So much each time reading your LEARN KOREAN but I do not express my “thanks note” often to you.
    I am sorry about that.
    Please keep doing your great job.
    Way to go!

    • Kyung-Hwa:

      @Chu, Uchong(주우종) 안녕하세요!
      I very much appreciate that you have often taken the time to respond to my posts. Your thoughful comments and supports have encouragemented me to keep wirting about the Korena language and culture.
      댓글 정말 감사합니다!!!