How do you say hello in South Korea?

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How do you say hello in South Korea?

Greetings are an integral part of human communication, serving as a bridge that connects individuals from different cultures and backgrounds. In South Korea, a nation rich in tradition and history, greetings are no exception. Learning how to say hello in South Korea is not only a practical skill but also an essential step towards understanding the country’s culture and customs. In this article, we will delve into the various ways South Koreans greet each other and explore the cultural significance behind these greetings.

The Basics: Annyeong-haseyo (안녕하세요)

The most common and widely used way to say hello in South Korea is “Annyeong-haseyo” (안녕하세요). This phrase is versatile and appropriate for both formal and informal situations. Whether you’re meeting someone for the first time or entering a room, “Annyeong-haseyo” is the go-to greeting.

Pronunciation: Ahn-nyeong-ha-se-yo

The breakdown of “Annyeong-haseyo” is as follows:

“Annyeong” (안녕) means “peace” or “well-being.”


“-haseyo” (-하세요) is a formal ending used to show respect.


Therefore, “Annyeong-haseyo” can be translated as “Are you at peace?” or “Are you well?” This phrase reflects the importance of harmony and well-being in Korean culture and sets a polite and respectful tone in conversations.

Casual Greetings: Annyeong (안녕) and Annyeonghi gaseyo (안녕히 가세요)

In informal settings or with close friends and family, South Koreans use simpler greetings:

“Annyeong” (안녕): This is the casual version of “Annyeong-haseyo.” You can use it when meeting friends or people of the same age.

“Annyeonghi gaseyo” (안녕히 가세요): This phrase is used when saying goodbye. It translates to “Go in peace” or “Farewell.” You might use it when seeing someone off or leaving a place.

These casual greetings offer a more relaxed and friendly atmosphere, reflecting the importance of maintaining harmonious relationships within social circles.

Time-Dependent Greetings: Annyeong-ju-museyo (안녕 주무세요) and Annyeong-eum-bo-seyo (안녕 음복세요)

South Korea has specific greetings for different times of the day:

“Annyeong-ju-museyo” (안녕 주무세요): This phrase is used in the morning and means “Good morning.” It is a polite way to greet someone and wish them a peaceful start to their day.

“Annyeong-eum-bo-seyo” (안녕 음복세요): This greeting is used in the evening and means “Good evening.” It is also a polite and respectful way to say hello during the nighttime.

By using these time-dependent greetings, South Koreans demonstrate their consideration for the well-being and comfort of those they interact with, aligning with their culture’s emphasis on harmony.

Traditional Greetings: Bowing

In South Korea, bowing is a traditional way to greet someone with respect. Bowing can vary in depth and duration, depending on the level of respect or formality required for the situation. The following are common types of bows:

Eshik (30-degree bow): This is a casual bow used among friends or acquaintances to show politeness and respect.

Iljeong (45-degree bow): A slightly deeper bow, the iljeong is used in more formal situations, such as when meeting someone for the first time or showing respect to elders.

Keunjeong (90-degree bow): The deepest and most formal bow, the keunjeong, is reserved for very formal occasions, such as weddings, funerals, or when expressing deep apologies.

Bowing is a non-verbal way to convey respect and politeness, and mastering the appropriate bow for each situation is an essential aspect of Korean etiquette.

Unique Greetings: Yo (요) and Other Korean Expressions

In informal conversations, South Koreans often use the particle “yo” (요) to make their speech more polite and considerate. While not a standalone greeting, it is frequently added to sentences to show respect and maintain a harmonious atmosphere.

For example:

“안녕하세요” (Annyeong-haseyo) becomes “안녕하세요요” (Annyeong-haseyo-yo).


Additionally, South Korea has unique expressions used in specific situations:

“안녕히 들어가세요” (Annyeong-hi deu-reo-ga-se-yo): This phrase is used when someone is entering their home or a place of residence. It translates to “Go in peace” or “Welcome home.”

“반갑습니다” (Ban-gap-seum-ni-da): This expression means “Nice to meet you” and is often used when making new acquaintances or meeting someone for the first time.

Understanding and using these unique expressions and particles can help you navigate social interactions in South Korea more effectively.

Non-Verbal Greetings: Handshakes and Bows

While verbal greetings are essential, non-verbal greetings are equally significant in South Korea. Handshakes are commonly used in business and formal settings, especially when meeting with foreigners or in international contexts. However, when greeting Koreans, especially in traditional or formal situations, it is advisable to initiate a bow before offering a handshake.

In informal settings, hugs and cheek kisses are becoming more common among friends and close acquaintances, but it’s essential to gauge the other person’s comfort level with such physical contact.

Cultural Significance of Korean Greetings

Understanding how to say hello in South Korea goes beyond just knowing the words; it involves recognizing the cultural significance behind these greetings. Here are some key cultural aspects related to Korean greetings:

Respect for Hierarchy: Korean society places a strong emphasis on hierarchy and respect for elders and authority figures. The level of politeness and formality in greetings reflects this hierarchy, and it is crucial to use the appropriate greeting based on the other person’s age, status, and relationship with you.

Harmony and Well-Being: The use of phrases like “Annyeong-haseyo” (Are you well?) and “Annyeonghi gaseyo” (Go in peace) demonstrates the Korean emphasis on harmony and the well-being of individuals within their social circles.

Non-Verbal Communication: Bowing is a significant form of non-verbal communication in South Korea. The depth and duration of a bow convey respect and formality, and understanding when to bow appropriately is essential in Korean culture.

Politeness: Politeness is highly valued in South Korea, and the use of particles like “yo” and specific greetings for different times of the day or situations exemplifies this cultural norm.

Group Identity: Korean culture places a strong emphasis on group identity and maintaining social harmony. Greetings play a role in reinforcing group bonds and promoting unity within social circles.

Saying hello in South Korea is more than just a simple exchange of words; it is a reflection of the country’s rich cultural traditions and values. Whether you are using the formal “Annyeong-haseyo” in a business meeting, offering a casual “Annyeong” to a friend, or demonstrating respect through a bow, understanding the nuances of Korean greetings is essential for effective communication and building relationships in this vibrant and culturally rich nation. By mastering the art of saying hello in South Korea, you open the door to a deeper understanding of the people and their culture, creating meaningful connections and enriching your experiences in this fascinating country.