I've been taught that this is true about Korean:

  • 10 basic vowels (기본모음): ㅏ, ㅑ, ㅓ, ㅕ, ㅗ, ㅛ, ㅜ, ㅠ, ㅡ, ㅣ

  • 11 complex vowels (복합모음): ㅐ, ㅔ, ㅒ, ㅖ, ㅘ, ㅙ, ㅚ, ㅝ, ㅞ, ㅟ, ㅢ

  • 14 basic consonants (기본자음) : ㄱ, ㄴ, ㄷ, ㄹ, ㅁ, ㅂ, ㅅ, ㅇ, ㅈ, ㅊ, ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, ㅎ

  • 10 complex consonants (쌍자음): ㄳ, ㄺ, ㄵ, ㄶ, ㄼ, ㄾ, ㅀ, ㄻ, ㅄ, ㄿ

  • 5 double consonants (겹받침): ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, ㅆ, ㅉ

However, I've also been given different Korean terminology for each of these categories, and I'm terribly confused.

Please help!

3 Answers 3



You're confused about the typographical aspects and the phonological aspects of Korean vowels.

Typographically (how they're written), Korean vowels are classified as:

  • Monophthongs (단모음): ㅏ ㅑ ㅓ ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅡ ㅣ
  • Diphthongs (이중모음): ㅐ ㅒ ㅔ ㅖ ㅘ ㅚ ㅝ ㅟ ㅢ
  • Triphthongs (삼중모음): ㅙ ㅞ

So in Korean typography, monophthongs are the basic building blocks for complex vowels.

However, phonologically (how they're pronounced), Korean vowels are classified as:

  • Monophthongs (단모음): ㅏ ㅐ ㅓ ㅔ ㅗ ㅚ ㅜ ㅟ ㅡ ㅣ
  • Diphthongs (이중모음): ㅑ ㅒ ㅕ ㅖ ㅘ ㅙ ㅛ ㅝ ㅞ ㅠ ㅢ

Then why did this discrepancy happen? It's about historical issues. When Sejong The Great created Hangul, he created ㅑ ㅕ ㅛ ㅠ to indicate that they're iotified versions of ㅏ ㅓ ㅗ ㅜ. Moreover, in his era, ㅐ ㅔ ㅚ ㅟ were actually phonological diphthongs as well; they were pronounced [aj], [əj], [oj], and [uj], respectively. As the time passed, the pronunciation of ㅐ ㅔ ㅚ ㅟ assimilated to [ɛ], [e], [ø], and [y], respectively.

In educational purposes, 단모음 and 이중모음 refer to phonological aspects, but not typographical aspects.


Again, you're confused about the typographical aspects and the phonological aspects of Korean consonants.

Though ㄲ ㄸ ㅃ ㅆ ㅉ look like doubled consonants, they actually are considered single consonants, at least in phonological sense.

Moreover, ㄳ ㄵ ㄶ ㄺ ㄻ ㄼ ㄽ ㄾ ㄿ ㅀ ㅄ are never considered single consonants. They each is two consonants mashed together.

Again, why did this happen? Historical issues again. In medieval eras, there were 어두 자음군 (onset clusters) such as ㅳ [pt] and ㅺ [sk]. In 17c, the preceding ㅂ[p] and ㅅ[s] assimilated to tensify the following onset. So ㅳ became ㄸ and ㅺ became ㄲ.

The complex codas such as ㄳ and ㄵ emerged from completely different reasons. They were created to indicate sandhis. Take 값 for example. Though it is pronounced /kap/ when used on its own, 값을 is pronounced /kap.sɯl/.


For the vowels, each of them is called 단모음 and 이중모음.

Please refer to the Encyclopedia of Korean Culture.


For the consonants, I could not find any namings for each of the three types of consonants you mentioned. But there is different classification system.


The one is classified by the position of articulation: bilabial (ㄴ, ㅂ, ㅃ, ㅁ), alveolar sounds (ㄷ, ㅌ, ㄸ, ㅅ, ㅆ, ㄴ, ㄹ), palatal sounds (ㅈ, ㅊ, ㅆ), velar sounds (ㄱ, ㅋ, ㄲ, ㅇ), and glottal consonant (ㅎ).

The other is classisfied by the articulation method: ruptures (ㅂ, ㅃ, ㅍ, ㄷ, ㅌ, ㄸ, ㄱ, ㅋ, ㄲ), fricatives (ㅅ, ㅆ, ㅎ), affricates (ㅈ, ㅉ, ㅊ), nasals (ㅁ, ㄴ, ㅇ), and voiced (ㄹ).


If you could provide the list of 'different Korean terminology' given to you, it would be easier to give the answer you're looking for.

@user67275 wrote most of the terminologies you might face when you search for related terms.

Unless the terms you've been given are the terms related to phonetics, they could be '초성', '중성' and '종성', I believe. Which are the terms that describes the sequence of the sound (character) in single letter.

For example: '종': ㅈ is 초성 (First sound), ㅗ is 중성 (Middle sound) and ㅇ is 종성 (Last sound).

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