Korean Counter Words for Beginners

Counting objects in Korean requires a specific counter word after the number to quantify nouns properly. Unlike English, where we simply add a number before a noun (e.g., “three apples”), in Korean you would say something like “three pieces of apples”.

Here, we’ll introduce some of the most common Korean counter words and how to use them effectively.

What Are Counter Words?

Counter words, also known as measure words or classifiers, are used in combination with numbers to count nouns. The structure typically follows this pattern:

Number + Counter Word + Noun

For example:

  • 명의 학생 (se myeong-ui haksaeng) – Three students
  • 다섯 개의 사과 (daseot gae-ui sagwa) – Five apples

Read here to learn about Korean numbers.

Common Counter Words

  1. (gae) – Used for general objects
    • Example: (chaek se gae) – Three books
  2. (myeong) – Used for people
    • Example: 학생 다섯 (haksaeng daseot myeong) – Five students
  3. 마리 (mari) – Used for animals
    • Example: 고양이 마리 (goyangi du mari) – Two cats
  4. (gwon) – Used for books and volumes
    • Example: (chaek han gwon) – One book
  5. (byeong) – Used for bottles
    • Example: (mul se byeong) – Three bottles of water
  6. (jan) – Used for cups and glasses
    • Example: 커피 (keopi du jan) – Two cups of coffee
  7. (dae) – Used for vehicles and machinery
    • Example: (cha han dae) – One car
  8. (jang) – Used for sheets of paper, tickets, and thin flat objects
    • Example: 종이 (jongi ne jang) – Four sheets of paper
  9. 송이 (song-i) – Used for flowers and bunches of grapes
    • Example: 다섯 송이 (kkot daseot song-i) – Five flowers
  10. (beol) – Used for sets of clothes
    • Example: (ot du beol) – Two sets of clothes

How to Use Counter Words

When using counter words, the noun can sometimes be omitted if it is clear from the context. For example, if you are in a café and someone asks how many coffees you want, you can simply say 커피 (keopi du jan) without needing to specify “커피” again.

Special Notes

  1. Modifying Numbers
    • When using native Korean numbers from one to four, the forms change slightly before counters: 하나 (hana) becomes 한 (han), 둘 (dul) becomes 두 (du), 셋 (set) becomes 세 (se), and 넷 (net) becomes 네 (ne).
    • Example: 사과 (sagwa han gae) – One apple
  2. Sino-Korean vs. Native Korean Numbers
    • Counters typically use native Korean numbers (하나, 둘, 셋, 넷, 다섯). However, for higher numbers and certain counters, Sino-Korean numbers (일, 이, 삼, 사, 오) may be used.
    • Example with Sino-Korean: 사과 (sagwa il gae) – One apple (less common)

Learn Korean online by mastering Korean counter words to be proficient in the language. Happy learning!