20 Unique Korean Proverbs

You may not hear Korean proverbs used often in daily conversation, nor learn them in your Korean classes. Nevertheless, it is interesting to learn Korean proverbs because proverbs are culture specific. Learning Korean proverbs will give you insights into the Korean culture.

korean proverbs

Proverb #1

달 보고 짖는 개.
dal bogo jinneun gae.

Literal: Dog barking at the moon.

Meaning: A person who makes a lot of noise without knowing much about other people’s affairs.

Proverb #2

호랑이 그리려다 고양이 그린다.
horang i geuriryeoda goyang i geurinda.

Literal: Trying to draw a tiger, draw a cat (instead).

Meaning: One will not be able to achieve their goals when their abilities do not match their greed.

Proverb #3

사촌이 땅을 사면 배가 아프다.
sachon i ttang eul samyeon bae ga apeuda.

Literal: My stomach hurts when my cousin buys the land.

Meaning: Someone close to you becomes envious and does not rejoice when things go well for you.

Proverb #4

뚝배기보다 장맛이 좋다.
ttugbaegiboda jangmasi johda.

Literal: It tastes better than hotpot.

Meaning: Something is better than what it appears to be.

Proverb #5

다 된 죽에 코 빠뜨린다.
da doen jug e ko ppatteurinda.

Literal: Put your nose in the finished porridge.

Meaning: Ruining a job that is almost done by a momentary mistake.

Proverb #6

아닌 밤중에 홍두깨.
anin bamjung e hongdukkae.

Literal: Hongdukkae (wooden tool used to beat clothes to make them soft) in the middle of the night.

Meaning: Something unexpected happens.

Proverb #7

물이 깊어야 고기가 모인다.
mul i gipeoya gogi ga moinda.

Literal: If the water is deep, the fish will gather.

Meaning: If you have great virtue, others will follow you.

Proverb #8

개구리 올챙이 적 생각 못 한다.
gaeguri olchaeng i jeog saenggag mot handa.

Literal: A frog who can’t remember when he was a tadpole.

Meaning: An arrogant person who is now successful and no longer remembers when they used to be poor.

Proverb #9

다람쥐 쳇바퀴 돌듯.
daramjwi chetbakwi doldeut.

Literal: Like a squirrel spinning on a treadmill.

Meaning: Doing the same thing over and over again without progress.

Proverb #10

소경이 개천 나무란다.
sogyeong i gaecheon namuranda.

Literal: The blind man is a tree.

Meaning: The blind man who falls into the river does not think about his fault and blames only the river. A person who blames others for his fault.

Proverb #11

쥐구멍에도 볕 들 날 있다.
jwigumeong edo byeot deul nal itda.

Literal: There are days when the sun shines even in the mouse hole.

Meaning: There are good times in a life of great suffering.

Proverb #12

달도 차면 기운다.
daldo chamyeon giunda.

Literal: When the moon is full, it leans.

Meaning: Good luck doesn’t last forever.

Proverb #13

달면 삼키고 쓰면 뱉는다.
dalmyeon samkigo sseumyeon baetneunda.

Literal: If it is sweet, swallow it; if it is bitter, spit it out.

Meaning: The selfish attitude of doing what is advantageous to oneself and not doing what is unfavorable.

Proverb #14

단맛 쓴맛 다 보았다.
danmat sseunmat da boatda.

Literal: I tasted both sweet and bitter.

Meaning: A person who has been through everything in life.

Proverb #15

열 길 물속은 알아도 한 길 사람 속은 모른다.
yeol gil mulsog eun arado han gil saram sog eun moreunda.

Literal: You can know ten ways under water, but you don’t know one way inside people.

Meaning: You can never know a person’s heart.

Proverb #16

말만 잘하면 천 냥 빚도 가린다.
malman jalhamyeon cheon nyang biddo garinda.

Literal: If you speak well, you can even cover a thousand dollars in debt.

Meaning: A person who speaks well has an advantage in life.

Proverb #17

사공이 많으면 배가 산으로 간다.
sagong i man eumyeon baega san euro ganda.

Literal: If there are many boatmen, the boat goes to the mountain.

Meaning: It’s hard for things to go right when many people try to do their own thing.

Proverb #18

어린애 싸움이 어른 싸움 된다.
eorin ae ssaum i eoreun ssaum doenda.

Literal: Children’s fights become adult fights.

Meaning: Something insignificant that gradually develops into a major problem.

Proverb #19

모기 다리의 피만 하다.
mogi dari e piman hada.

Literal: The blood of a mosquito’s leg.

Meaning: A very small amount.

Proverb #20

수박 겉핥기.
subag geothalgi.

Literal: Squeeze the watermelon.

Meaning: touching only the outside without knowing the inside.