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I've learned that due to Korean syllable structure, every hanja has exactly one hangul block long. Is there any Sino-Korean word (한자어) deviates from the rule (by colloquial sound change etc.) that could be longer or shorter when written in hangul, or no exception at all?

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TL;DR version: While Japanese kanji can be be represented by any number of syllables, Korean hanja always represents a single syllable. Korean words of Chinese origin that have had some sound changes applied are not interchangeable with hanja except in rare cases.


Some words are Chinese in origin but have been nativized through sound changes. Take this common verb for example:


괜찮다 comes from the longer expression 공연하지아니하다 with 공연 coming from the hanja 空然. It probably came to be through common use. The expression became weathered down by the lashing of human tongues over the centuries.

The pronunciation of 공연 merged together to become . While it’s obvious that the , , and were carried over, less obvious are the processes behind the disappearance of the final and transformation of into . I can explain the former quite easily, but the latter is my own guess based on my knowledge of Korean phonology:

  1. The /ŋ/ sound (ㅇ) in the coda position is susceptible to weakening in many languages. In fact, this is apparent in Chinese borrowings into Japanese. In words where most modern Chinese varieties have /ŋ/, Japanese has a long vowel. is /kɯː/ in Japanese, but /koŋ/ in Korean and Mandarin. Most telling though, is that the null initial and /ŋ/ are both written with the same letter! They were originally written as and respectively, but still the graphical similarity is no coincidence. Other letters based on the circle shape are and , with the former being deleted in most cases as in (one) which had been written with the sequence ㆆㅣᇙ.
  2. The can only combine with a limited number of following vowels because of vowel harmony: and . And because can only be at the beginning or end of a diphthong/triphthong, the iotized vowels (ㅑ, ㅕ, ㅛ, and ㅠ) cannot follow . I believe, the first underwent progressive metaphony to become before metathesizing to . Of course, might have also been an equally possible outcome but the in the following syllable might have had an influence.

하지아니하 became through the following mergers:

  • 하지 became (ㅎ+ㅈ=ㅊ)
    • The was elided.
    • The —being a palatal consonant—absorbed the —a “palatal” vowel. In modern Korean transliterations of foreign words that end in a palatal sibilant-like sound, Korean employs as an epenthetic vowel. “Image” is transliterated as “이미지” since produces the least audible sound after . Chinese and Japanese borrow such words in a similar manner.
  • was preserved as .
  • became .
  • became .

Another word in Korean that has Chinese origins is (comb). This was borrowed from Old Chinese back when it was still pronounced something like /pis/. Today, the sounds have changed in both languages with /pis/ becoming /pit/ in Korean and /pi/ (Pinyin: bì) in Mandarin Chinese. And the hangul for is . does not have a hanja representation even though its hanja origin is clear.


And now, to really answer the question: words like 괜찮다 are never written with hanja even in mixed-script mode. The fact that they had origins in hanja is usually left as footnotes in a dictionary. So without exception, the one-to-one rule stands.

Sources: NAVER Korean Dictionary and Wiktionary

(Other such examples likely exist. It is even a phenomenon in some Chinese dialects!)

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Every hanja is exactly one syllable, no exceptions. No sound change made hanja pronunciation vary in syllable length since when hanja came to Korea(which is a looong time ago).

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Korean is phonogram:

a unit symbol of a phonetic writing system, standing for a speech sound, syllable, or other sequence of speech sounds without reference to meaning.

While Chinese is ideogram:

a written symbol that represents an idea or object directly rather than a particular word or speech sound, as a Chinese character.

There is no Chinese character that cannot be pronounced using one Hangul block and the Korean pronunciation of Chinese characters is different from pinyin.

[Dictionary.com]

  • Thanks for the answer, but the Chinese language isn't involved in my question. What I wanted to ask is whether something like, for example, the English word spelled as colonel and read like kernel, exists. In this case, syllable counts based on spelling and pronunciation doesn't match up. – broccoli forest Jun 22 '16 at 6:25
  • @broccoliforest There is no such case as Korean is phonogram. It writes as it sounds. – user7 Jun 22 '16 at 6:34
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    I wonder, are there no historical/regional linguistic changes where the original monosyllable pronunciation of a specific hanja has evolved into a polysyllabic pronunciation (still written as one hanja)? Or the inverse, that a two-syllable word (written with two hanja) has evolved into a one-syllable word (still written as two hanja)? I cannot believe that a living language have not evolved these “exceptions”. – Kess Vargavind Jun 22 '16 at 7:14
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    @KessVargavind The Korean alphabet 한글 was invented on Oct. 9, 1446 and the Chinese characters have been around for thousands of years. The primary reason to invent the alphabet was to teach the common people to read, write and express themselves as Chinese characters were too complicated and only learned by the noble people. There has been no enough time for those exceptions to occur. – user7 Jun 22 '16 at 7:25
  • @Rathony, I am aware of the (basic) history of Hangul, but in my experience (former linguistics major) five hundred years is a lot of time for such exceptions occur! I will have to put this on my list of things to look up. – Kess Vargavind Jun 22 '16 at 7:31
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I believe that there is a one to one correspondence between hanja to hangul. i.e. Hangul (sound) whereas hanja the (Chinese character).

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