How to say “You” in Korean


I saw a lot of mistakes from my students’ conversations and writings about ‘you in Korean.
I normally tell my students not to use ‘you’ if you are a beginner because ‘you‘ in Korean is very complicated.

Before I tell you how to say ‘you‘ in Korean, I want to tell you how Koreans become friends. Because it is very important for you to understand Koreans’ relationships.

When Koreans meet someone and we want to get to know more(personal relationship) about that person, we normally ask their age. It is very rude in a lot of cultures, but it is very normal thing in Korea.
After we figure it out, then we talk about what we should call each other. If someone is older than me, we don’t call them ‘a friend’, we call them “오빠/언니(if you are a woman)” or “형/누나(if you are a man)“, even if they are “one year” older than me. If someone is the same age as me, then we can call that person ‘a friend’ after we discuss “Let’s be friends!”

I know it is very complicated, but it is the KEY to know when you use ‘You’ in Korean. Now I can tell you the use of ‘You’ in Korean.

If you search for “you” in a dictionary, you can find ‘너’, ‘당신’, ‘그대’ .

1. : You might hear this word in TV shows or songs. We use this to a person who is very close friend(the same age) or a person who is younger than you. You should not use this to your parents, teacher, boss, a person who you meet for the first time or you don’t know well.
If you use this, you also can use casual ending(반말 e.g: 먹어, 해, 가) instead of -요or -습니다.

2. 당신 : We use this to our spouse. Sometimes we also use this to someone you are fighting against 🙂 or in a song or poem that is very formal ‘you’.

3. 그대 : You can hear this only from a song or a poem. This is a poetic word, we don’t use it in normal conversations.

For all those reasons, Koreans usually DROP ‘subject’. For example,

1) A: 오늘 뭐 해요? What are (you) doing today?
B: 영화 봐요. (I) am going to watch a movie.

2) A: 사랑해.   (I) love (you).

As you can see, there are no subjects in this conversation, but we know who is the subject and the object.

So, the good way to avoid making mistakes about ‘You’ is “DO NOT SAY IT” until you totally understand, and use ‘their names‘ or ‘their occupation names like 선생님(teacher), ㅇㅇ 씨(polite name part)’.

12 thoughts on “How to say “You” in Korean

    1. I think your explanation is missing. 니 is not a casual form of 너, but a respelling of 네. In Korean, if you add 의 (pronounced like 애/에 when you use it this way) to a noun, it makes it possessive. Example, 선생님의 means teacher’s. To create the word ‘your’, you have to add the words and will get ‘너의’ which is abbreviated to 네. And the same goes for 나 (나 + 의 = 내). But it is hard to differentiate the vowels of 내 and 네 and to not create confusion, 네 is pronounced as 니 while 내 retains its original pronunciation. The pronunciation change has also affected the spelling and made 니 a correct abbreviated spelling of 네.

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