From reading different textbooks and online courses, it seems like 한국어 and 한국말 both mean Korean (the language). What's the difference between them (if any) and when should I use one over the other?

2 Answers 2


From my own research (and with the help of my friend that lives in Korea), here's what I've gathered:

  • The Naver dictionary lists them as synonyms, and in most cases they can be used interchangeably.
  • The in 한국어 is of Chinese origins. It's 한자 (Hanja) is , meaning 'language'. The in 한국말 is native Korean (고유어).
  • 한국어 means a Korean language in general, but 한국말 refers specifically to Korean speech. So you'd use 한국어 when saying 'I study Korean', but 한국말 when saying 'I speak Korean'. can mean word/language/speech, but also 'talk', so this makes sense.
  • 한국어 is generally more commonly-used
  • 1
    For me, 한국말 is less formal than 한국어. In addition, 한국말 could mean Korean horse :p
    – Hanul Jeon
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 9:36
  • 1
    I also saw some comments in several forums from Korean learners that says 한국어 is more formal than 한국말 (I think their sources were some textbooks), but I am not sure how reliable those comments were. So it's nice to see it backed up by a native Korean-speaker.
    – d4nyll
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 14:48
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    The difference in formality between these two are not significant. They are completely interchangeable in the sense that if you replace 한국어 by 한국말 in any given sentence, it will still sound completely natural. Their definitions listed in 표준국어대사전 are exactly same.
    – Absol
    Commented Sep 28, 2020 at 10:36

“한국어” and “한국말” are exchangeable. You can use both of them. The difference is “한국어” is mostly used in sentence or essay or in any formal sentence.

E.g. 저는 한국어 공부한지 1년 넘었어요 means “I have learnt Korean language more than a day already”.

On the other hand, “한국말” is mostly used in speaking. When you speak with Korean people, they usually use “한국말” and rarely say “한국어”.

E.g: 민아씨가 한국말 잘하시네요 means “Mina, your Korean is so good”.

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