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10 Untranslatable Korean Words You Need to Know

Have you ever encountered some interesting Korean words, but they were just impossible to translate into another language?

All language learners know that there are many hard-to-translate words, because some words and expressions are specific to a given language and are often linked to its culture. Knowing these words will help you become more fluent in the language, know more about that country’s culture, and understand more about the native speakers’ mindset.

In truth, there are many Korean untranslatable words with no English equivalents, as well as untranslatable words in Korean that are difficult to translate. In this article, we’ll be going over some untranslatable words in South Korea. Study and practice this list of untranslatable Korean words to truly be an insightful Korean speaker!

Let’s learn ten untranslatable Korean words with deep meaning, at KoreanClass101!

Table of Contents

  1. 애교 (aegyo)
  2. 온돌 (ondol)
  3. 내숭 (naesung)
  4. 눈치가 빠르다 (nunchiga ppareuda)
  5. 눈치가 없다 (nunchiga eopda)
  6. 어이없다 (eoieopda)
  7. 효도 (hyodo)
  8. 답답하다 (dapdapada)
  9. 개이득 (gaeideuk)
  10. 엄친아 (eomchina)
  11. How Can Help You with Korean

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1. 애교 (aegyo)

  • Literal Translation: “Being lovely”
  • Meaning: 애교 (aegyo) is used to describe someone who acts charmingly to appear cute and appealing. This behavior is commonly used by women, and many Korean men like this. Thus, this could be considered one of the most beautiful untranslatable Korean words in this respect.
  • Example Situation: Check out a short video clip of Lee Hye-ri’s aegyo in Real Man 300. This is a classic example of Korean aegyo.

1- Examples

  • 그녀는 애교많아서 남자들에게 인기가 많습니다.
    Geunyeoneun aegyoga manaseo namjadeurege ingiga manseumnida.
    “Because she acts cute, she is very popular among guys.”
  • 강아지는 애교가 많아서 주인에게 많은 사랑을 받습니다.
    Gangajineun aegyoga manaseo juinege maneun sarangeul batseumnida.
    “Dogs are loved by their owners since they know how to please them.”

2- Notes

  1. The word that negatively describes 애교 (aegyo) is 내숭 (naesung).

2. 온돌 (ondol)

  • Literal Translation: “Heated rock”
  • Meaning: According to Wikipedia, 온돌 (ondol) is an “underfloor heating that uses direct heat transfer from wood smoke to heat the underside of a thick masonry floor.” An alternative word for 온돌 (ondol) is 온돌바닥 (ondolbadak).

1- Examples

  • 옛날에는 겨울이 되면 온돌을 데워 추운 겨울을 따뜻하게 지낼 수 있었습니다.
    Yennareneun gyeouri doemyeon ondoreul dewo chuun gyeoureul ttatteuthage jinael su isseotseumnida.
    “A long time ago, Koreans used Ontol and were able to stay warm during the winter.”

A Lady Sneaking Out

3. 내숭 (naesung)

  • Literal Translation: “Coy.”
  • Meaning: A person who hides their true colors and acts differently (usually more coy) around people of his/her interest.
  • Example Situation: A lady has a crush on a man. She’s usually very outgoing and assertive, but she knows that he doesn’t like this type of person, so in order to attract him she hides her true colors and acts more feminine around him.

1- Examples

  • 저 여자는 남자들 앞에만 가면 변해. 완전 숭이야.
    Jeo yeojaneun namjadeul apeman gamyeon byeonhae. wanjeon naesungiya.
    “That girl acts differently around men. She is so coy.”
  • 남자들 앞에서는 약한 척하고 있어. 이제 숭은 그만 떨어.
    Namjadeul apeseoneun yakan cheokago isseo. Ije naesungeun geuman tteoreo.
    “You act weak around guys. Stop being coy.”

2- Notes

  1. 내숭이야 (naesungiya), means “You are being coy.”
  2. 내숭녀 (naesungnyeo) is used to describe a person who acts differently around people of interest. It’s commonly used.
  3. A similar word for 내숭 (naesung) is 여우짓 (yeoujit).

4. 눈치가 빠르다 (nunchiga ppareuda)

  • Literal Translation: “Observant; Perceptive.”
  • Meaning: This word is used to describe someone who’s able to comprehend that something is going on with someone (e.g. friends or family). It’s one of the many strong Korean words that are untranslatable.
  • Example Situation: You’re having dinner with your parents and you instantly feel that something is up with them. Perhaps they had a fight. You can’t tell for sure that they had a fight, but you can just feel it.

1- Examples

  • 사회생활을 하면 눈치가 빨라야 하는 상황이 자주 일어나곤 한다.
    Sahoesaenghwareul hamyeon nunchireul bwaya haneun sanghwangi jaju ireonagon handa.
    “Once you start a social life, there will be times where you need to be able to be observant.”
  • 내가 말을 끝나기도 전에 그녀는 내가 무슨 말을 하고 싶은지 알아챘다. 눈치가 정말 빠른 것 같다.
    Naega mareul kkeunnagido jeone geunyeoneun naega museun mareul hago sipeunji arachaetda. Nunchiga jeongmal ppareun geot gatda.
    “Even before I finished my statement, she understood what I was trying to say. I think that she is very observant.”

2- Notes

  1. A word that means the opposite of 눈치가 빠른 (nunchiga ppareun) is 눈치가 없는 (nunchiga eomneun).
  2. 눈치가 빠르다. (nunchiga ppareuda.)

    E. g. 저 사람은 진짜 눈치 빠르다.
    Jeo sarameun jinjja nunchi ppareuda.
    “That person is very observant.”

  3. 3. 눈치가 빠른 (nunchiga ppareun) + Noun

    E.g. 눈치가 빠른 사람
    Nunchiga ppareun saram
    “A person who is very observant.”

    눈치가 빨라야 하는 상황.
    Nunchiga ppallaya haneun sanghwang.
    “A situation where you need to be observant.”

A Confused Old Man

5. 눈치가 없다 (nunchiga eopda)

  • Literal Translation: “Clueless.”
  • Meaning: This phrase is used to describe someone who doesn’t read the air; someone who is slow-witted.
  • Example Situation: You bumped into your friend while walking with your girlfriend. You want him to go away, so you continue to give him hints that he should leave, but he’s so clueless that you end up having dinner together that day.

1- Examples

  • 내가 몇 번이고 거절했는데도 계속 데이트 신청이 와. 진짜 눈치가 없는 것 같아.
    Naega myeot beonigo geojeolhaenneundedo gyesok deiteu sincheongi wa. jinjja nunchiga eomneun geot gata.
    “I turned him down so many times but he still asks me out on a date. He is so clueless.”
  • A: 저 두사람 사내연애 하고 있는거 알아?
    A: Jeo dusaram sanaeyeonae hago inneungeo ara?
    A: “Did you know that those two people over there are dating at work?”

    B: 어? 진짜? 난 왜 몰랐지?
    B: Eo? Jinjja? Nan wae mollatji?
    B: “What? Really? How did I not know about this?”

    A: 모든 사람들이 알고 있는데? 너 진짜 눈치없다.
    A: Modeun saramdeuri algo inneunde? Neo jinjja nunchieopda.
    A: “Everyone knows about this! You are so clueless.”

2- Notes

  1. A word that means the opposite of 눈치가 없는 (nunchiga eomneun) is 눈치가 빠른 (nunchiga ppareun).
  2. 눈치가 느리다 (nunchiga neurida) is a synonymous phrase for 눈치가 없는 (nunchiga eomneun).
  3. 저 사람은 진짜 눈치가 느려. (Jeo sarameun jinjja nunchiga neuryeo.) 눈치가 느린 + Noun. 저 사람은 눈치가 느린 사람이다. (Jeo sarameun nunchiga neurin saramida.) 눈치가 느린 남편 (Nunchiga neurin nampyeon)

KoreanClass101 has a free vocabulary list to describe someone’s personality. Check out this page when you have time!

6. 어이없다 (eoieopda)

  • Literal Translation: “Unbelievable.”
  • Example Situation: The meaning slightly changes depending on the situation. It could also mean “What the hell,” “I cannot believe it,” “beyond common sense,” and so on.
  • Example Situations:
  1. You’re about to leave work and suddenly your manager comes and drops off more documents to work on. You could think to yourself: 어이없다 (eoieopda).
  2. You were watching a football game and your favorite team was winning. However, they lost due to silly mistakes at the end of the game. This is 어이없다 (eoieopda).
  3. Everyone thought that A would win to become president, and the opponent unexpectedly wins the campaign and becomes president instead. This is 어이없다 (eoieopda).

1- Examples

  • 축구 경기중에 상대 선수가 어이없는 자살골을 넣어 경기에 지고 말았다.
    Chukgu gyeonggijunge sangdae seonsuga eoieomneun jasalgoreul neoeo gyeonggie jigo maratda.
    “The opponent player scored a goal against their own team by accident and his team lost the football game.”
  • 내가 분명히 하지 말라고 몇 번이나 말했는데도, 계속하더라고. 진짜 어이가 없어.
    Naega bunmyeonghi haji mallago myeot beonina malhaenneundedo, gyesokadeorago. Jinjja eoiga eopseo.
    “I told him many times not to do this but he continued. It’s unbelievable.”

2- Notes

  1. A slang word that has the same meaning is 헐 (heol).

A Young Lady and An Old Lady with Flowers

7. 효도 (hyodo)

  • Literal Translation:Filial duty.”
  • Meaning: Another one of the most beautiful untranslatable Korean words, this means to devote yourself to your parents by taking care of them until they pass away.
  • Example situation: Anything you do to show your love or respect to your parents is 효도 (hyodo). For example, if your parents have never traveled outside the country and you use your savings to send them on an overseas trip, this would be called a 도여행 (filial duty trip).

1- Examples

  • 더 늦기 전에 부모님이 살아 계실 때 효도하는 것이 좋다.
    Deo neutgi jeone bumonimi sara gyesil ttae hyodohaneun geosi jota.
    “Before it’s too late, you should be good to your parents while they are here with you.”
  • A: 최근에 부모님이랑 같이 해외여행 1주일 다녀왔어.
    A: Choegeune bumonimirang gachi haeoeyeohaeng iljuil danyeowasseo.
    A: “I recently went overseas with my parents for a week.”

    B: 정말? 그 비용 모두 네가 지불했어? 너 진짜 효도 잘한다.
    B: Jeongmal? Geu biyong modu nega jibulhaesseo? Neo jinjja hyodo jalhanda.
    B: “Really? You also paid for all the expenses? You are such a great son!”

2- Notes

  1. The opposite word of 효도 (hyodo) is 불효 (bulhyo).
  2. A person who treats his/her parents and family well is called 효자 (hyoja) for a male and 효녀 (hyonyeo) for a woman.

8. 답답하다 (dapdapada)

  • Literal Translation: “Feeling frustrated.”
  • Meaning: You can use this word when a situation doesn’t go according to your expectations.
  • Example Situation: You recently hired a new intern and she has just finished training. It has been a few months and although you tried to explain a few things to her, she still makes many mistakes. In this case, you can say 답답하다 (dapdapada).

1- Examples

  • 그녀가 일하는 걸 보기만 해도 너무 답답하다.
    Geunyeoga ilhaneun geol bogiman haedo neomu dapdapada.
    “I get so frustrated watching her work.”
  • 그때 하고 싶은 말이 있었는데, 답답하게 아무 말도 못했어.
    Geuttae hago sipeun mari isseonneunde, dapdapage amu maldo mothaesseo.
    “I really wanted to say something at that moment, but I couldn’t say it.”

2- Notes

  1. There’s a Korean slang word that has the same meaning, 고답이, which is an abbreviation for 고구마를 100개 먹은 것 처럼 답답한 사람 (godabi [Gogumareul 100gae meogeun geot cheoreom dapdapan saram]). It means that you feel extremely frustrated.
  2. The opposite phrase for 답답해 (dapdapae) is 속이 시원하다 (sogi siwonhada). A slang word for this is 사이다 (saida).

9. 개이득 (gaeideuk)

  • Literal Translation: To convert these untranslatable Korean words to English: 개* (gae) means “a dog” and 이득 (ideuk) means “profit.”
  • Meaning: Young Koreans use 개 (gae) to say “very much,” so to say that it was a great deal, you say 개이득 (gaeideuk).

1- Examples

  • A: 이거 100만원 짜리 가방인데, 세일 가격에 40만원에 샀어!
    A: Igeo 100manwon jjari gabanginde, seil gagyeoge sasipmanwone sasseo!
    A: “The original price of this bag is one million won, but I managed to buy it for forty-thousand won!”

    B: 대박, 개이득인데!
    B: Daebak, gaeideuginde!
    B: “Wow, what a great deal!”

  • A: 나 학교 가는 길에 10만원 주웠어. 완전 개이득.
    A: Na hakgyo ganeun gire simmanwon juwosseo. Wanjeon gaeideuk.
    A: “I found a 100,000 KRW bill on the way to school. How lucky I am.”

    B: 10만원 잃어버린 사람 불쌍하다.
    B: Simmanwon ileobeorin saram bulssanghada.
    B: “I feel sorry for whoever lost that note.”

2- Notes

  1. This is a very casual slang word, so you can’t use this in a business setting.
  2. Some people take this word as a swear word, so be careful when you use it. (It’s usually used among younger generations.)

A Lady is Surrounded by Many People

10. 엄친아 (eomchina)

  • Literal translation: “Mother’s friend’s son.”
  • Meaning: This is an abbreviation of 엄마친구의 아들 (eommachinguui adeul). If we were to convert this untranslatable Korean word to English words, it would be “Mr. Right” or “Mr. Perfect.”
  • Example Situation: This word is used to describe a person who’s well-educated and skillful at everything—that is, the type of person that you can’t compete against. Has your mother or father made a comparison or any comments about one of the sons of their friends being better at doing something than you? (E.g. mathematics or school in general). The first friend that comes to your mind is a classic example of 엄친아 (eomchina).

1- Examples

  • 그는 과학도 잘하고 수학도 잘해. 심지어 미술이랑 음악도 모두 A+를 받고 있어. 엄친아인 것 같아.
    Geuneun gwahakdo jalhago suhakdo jalhae. simjieo misurirang eumakdo modu A+reul batgo isseo. Eomchinain geot gata.
    “He is good at science and math. He also gets straight A+s for art and music. He must be Mr. Perfect.”
  • 남자공부 잘하고, 도 잘 벌고 진짜 엄친아인 것 같아. 저런 남자랑 결혼하고 싶다.
    Jeo namjaneun gongbu jalhago, dondo jal beolgo jinjja eomchinain geot gata. Jeoreon namjarang gyeolhonhago sipda.
    “He is good at studying and earning money, he is just perfect overall. I wish I could marry someone like him.”

2- Notes

  1. The feminine version of 엄친아 (eomchina) is 엄친딸 (eommachinguui ttal), which is an abbreviation for 엄마친구의 딸 (eommachinguui ttal). A similar phrase to describe this word is “Miss Perfect.”

11. How Can Help You with Korean

We introduced ten untranslatable Korean words in detail and hope you found this article interesting and educational. As you can see, there are several beautiful Korean words that don’t exist in English, and they’re sure to enrich your Korean vocabulary and cultural knowledge.

If you’re interested in learning other untranslatable Korean words, we suggest that you check out our common texting slang list. KoreanClass101 has many free Korean lessons and vocabulary lists for you to study at your own pace too, so feel free to visit our website!

Start with a bonus, and download the Must-Know Beginner Vocabulary PDF for FREE! (Logged-In Member Only)

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