The combinations of 2, 3, 4 (or more?) 자모 are often called 'blocks' in English. As they are an important concept in the way Korean is written, I would have thought there would be a word for 'syllable block' in Korean, but I can't find one in that article or the dictionary.

Is there a Korean word for 'Syllable Block'?

4 Answers 4


What you call "syllable block" is simply "글자" (character) to Koreans. A 자모 is almost always considered a sub-unit of a character.

(When Hangul was invented, the only "characters" most Koreans knew were Chinese characters, which are also square and correspond to syllables. So it makes perfect sense to consider each square syllable a character.)

E.g., 200자 원고지 is a paper with 200 squares for filling in: it can contain 200 Korean characters (= syllables). (In practice, somewhat less because each space also takes a square.)

  • 1
    +1 We see this in riddles. e.g. '아홉명의 자식들’을 세 글자로 줄이면? '아이구'
    – Catomic
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 8:12

I'm under the impression that in a given word such as 한국어, the three individual syllable blocks are called 음절, and means syllable, which is what the 'blocks' are essentially. I've used that term in conversation many times and have always been understood. 글자 I feel is a more general term, and while an 음절 in Korean is one 자 it could be a single letter or Chinese character or something else in a different language, and I've also seen it be used to refer to an alphabet in general.

I hope this helps or gives some insight!

  • + 1 I can appreciate wanting to use 글자 more generally, to refer to things like 'b' as well as '바'. 음절 (音節) is however primarily a reference to sound and perhaps not the best name for unit surface area (which a syllable block appears to be). A syllable is not tied to sound. It can represent any number of moras (or morae), mora being a unit of duration. 'Syllable' apparently means 'taken together.'
    – Catomic
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 4:06

I think it is a good idea to add some historical details about the reason why a "character" is also a "syllable block." In short, Hangul was designed to assign one and the only one character for one syllable, by using a combinatoric method to compose each letter.

King Sejong, the original author of the first manual of the writing system (훈민정음 was not only a guide for ordinary people but also an academic paper), observed a few ways that each syllable is sounded. First, there is only one heading consonant, which can be "stressed." It is followed by a vowel and an ending consonant. The vowel is very complex and there's a lot. The ending consonant can have a "silent" part which is not sounded except for certain conditions. Realizing that Korean is such a unique language, he decided to reinvent a whole system of writing, not simply borrowing those of Chinese, Japanese, Tamil, etc.

The result was a surprisingly simple, predictable and math-friendly form of the character. He took advantage of the combinatory theory to compose each character (Source: speculation). That is, there's one and the only one character for one syllable. That said, there are "technically possible" characters that are impossible to recreate due to the inconsistencies among the consonants. ("쟈" used to be possible when "ㅈ" was simply a voice version of "ㅅ", so /z/. It's changed to /dj/ so adding a /ja/ sound is just as same as adding an /a/ sound.)

When the King was alive, he spoke Middle Korean. Middle Korean has tones, but that was not included in the initial design. Instead, small dots were placed adjacent to a letter to indicate its tone. Oh, but I forgot their name...

So going back to your question! What is a "syllable block" called in Korean? A "character," because there is no need to call them differently. They've got a custom-created set of characters.

Hey, you are wrong. There are syllables that cannot be expressed with a Hangul character.

You're right. There is, now. One example I've learned in school is "사겨" (from "사귀다"). Formally it's "사귀어" but we actually say it like "사겨" (and we write "사겨" online). However, it's just close to "사겨"'s sound, not the same. It should be "사귀ㅓ", but this combination simply doesn't exist.


I think the closest word would be 음절, meaning 'syllable'.


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