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In many hanja words, initial 리을 and 니은 are dropped before a "y" /j/ or "i" /i/ sound, which correspond to the vowels ㅣ ㅕ ㅑ ㅖ ㅠ ㅛ. This often happens if the hanja constitutes the first syllable of a word (commonly a hanja-eo).

Examples

  • 녀 女
    • woman 여자 女子 has changed to
    • 시대 少女時代 remains in its original form
  • 뇨 尿
    • urea 요소 尿素 has changed to
    • diabetes 당병 糖尿病 remains in its original form
  • 리 理
    • rationality 이성 理性 has changed into
    • reason 도 道理 remains in its original form
  • 련 練
    • practice 연습 練習 has changed to
    • foolishness 미 未練 remains in its original form

I've also checked my dictionary for , and found that it is actually , but since the Korean surname comes in the first syllable of a name, the surname is instead (though I do have a Korean friend whose surname was anglicized as Rhee, not sure if it's a variation). However not every such case has the initial consonant dropped, for there are such surnames as .

Question

For what I have observed this seems to be a rule for every such consonants at the start of the word (if at least the first syllable represents a hanja), before a /j/ or /i/, except for some surnames. Is this correct? Or are there more exceptions than just surnames? And how do the surname exceptions arise, perhaps a dialectal variation?

Add-on: if I want to address a person as (the last word of her name), which is , but since I'm using only one syllable it becomes the first consonant of the word, should I use instead?

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  1. The rule of dropping ㄹ is only applicable to 한자 or 이름. And only for surnames or the first word, so usually we wouldn't drop ㄹ for 련 in your example. That's why you will still see some words which keep ㄹ. Examples are 리모트(remote), or other 외국어 명사

  2. There are some surnames which do not follow this rule, like 류(柳). I think it is because there is another surname which is different in 한자 but same in 한글, 유(劉).

  3. Just an additional information: Drop-ㄹ rule is only used in South Korea, but not North Korea.

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