Korean Syllable Construction

Happy Saturday, Dreamers!

Welcome to the fourth installment of the Learn Hangeul Series! We’re almost finished! So far, we’ve taken a look at a brief history of Hangeul, consonants, and vowels (including those oddly named diphthongs). Now, let’s learn how to put all of this together to finally be able to make words! Yay, words!

So, here’s how this is going to go down. To my knowledge, there are 7 ways to construct syllables. It seems like a lot, but trust me, you’ll be a pro in no time. We’ll take each construction one-by-one with a few examples of each. Let’s get started!

Construction 1:

construction3

The first construction we’ll talk about is one of the easiest and most common of the constructions. This construction begins with splitting an imaginary square/box in half vertically. We then add a consonant on the left and a vertical vowel on the right (ㅏ, ㅓ, ㅑ, ㅕ, ㅣ, ㅐ, ㅔ, ㅒ, ㅖ). Let’s take a look at a few examples using this syllable construction below.

Meaning Romanization
Dog gae
Yes ne
아빠 Dad / Father a-ppa
아기 Baby a-gi
Tea / Car cha
어디 Where eo-di
하다 To Do (verb) ha-da

Construction 2:

construction1

This is another super common construction. Here we can split the box horizontally, add a consonant to the top half of the box, and then add a horizontal vowel (ㅗ, ㅜ, ㅛ, ㅠ, ㅡ) to the bottom half. Aaaaannnd you’re done! It’s that simple! So, let’s take a look at some examples for this type of construction in the table below (as well as being combined with Construction 1 to make more words).

Meaning Romanization
Five (Sino-Korean) o
Week ju
누구 Who nu-gu
우유 Milk u-yu
Nine (Sino-Korean) gu
스키 Ski seu-ki
토끼 Rabbit to-kki

Construction 3:

construction4

Now it’s time to get into the more complex constructions. Luckily, I made images for all of these ðŸ˜„. All emojis aside, let’s look at this one. Imagine we have halved our box horizontally, like in Construction 2, but now we half the top again vertically. So now we have two squares on the top half and a rectangle as the bottom half. In the top-left, we’ll write a consonant. In the top-right, we’ll write a vertical vowel (ㅏ, ㅓ, ㅑ, ㅕ, ㅣ, ㅐ, ㅔ, ㅒ, ㅖ). In the center of the bottom rectangle, we’ll write another consonant. Whew! That was more complicated to explain than it should have been, but we got through it. (Go us!) Luckily, you will get vey acquainted with this type of construction. From what I’ve studied myself, I’ve seen this type of construction the most. Let’s take a look at a few more examples below.

** Pronunciation Tip **

If you see ㅇ as the bottom consonant in this construction, the pronunciation will be -ng like “-ing” without the “i”. Otherwise, it will act as a silent consonant. We will talk about different cases forㅇin a future post. So, stay tuned!

Meaning Romanization
Rice / Meal bap
날씨 Weather nal-sshi
Book chaek
바람 Wind ba-ram
내일 Tomorrow nae-il
Mountain san
고양이 Cat go-yang-i

Construction 4:

construction2

Halfway there! For this syllable construction, we’ll be using the horizontal vowels (ㅗ, ㅜ, ㅛ, ㅠ, ㅡ). First, let’s divide our imaginary box into three sections using horizontal lines. Place a consonant into the top rectangle, a horizontal vowel in the second, and another consonant in the bottom rectangle. This is essentially the same layout as Construction 3, but we’re using a horizontal vowel instead of a vertical vowel. Let’s look at a few examples below.

Meaning Romanization
Eye / Snow nun / noon
한국 Korea han-guk
한국어 Korean Language han-gug-eo
오늘 Today o-neul
운동 Exercise un-dong / oon-dong
동물 Animal dong-mul
Hand son

Construction 5:

construction5

For this construction, half your box into quarters so we have four smaller squares within our main square. We will simply place a consonant in the top-left square, a vertical vowel (ㅏ, ㅓ, ㅑ, ㅕ, ㅣ, ㅐ, ㅔ, ㅒ, ㅖ) in the top-right square, and a consonant in each of the bottom squares. This construction is also pretty common, but I have seen it more commonly used for verbs. So, we’re going to have a head start in useful vocabulary for sentences here and take a look at a few verbs in the example below as well as stand-alone vocabulary. The pronunciation for this construction seems a bit difficult right now, but we will go over a few rules for the pronunciation in a future post. So, stay tuned and don’t give up!

**NOTE**

I have changed the “Romanization” column to “Pronunciation” due to the fact that they don’t really match each other in the form presented here.

Meaning Pronunciation
Chicken dal
앉다 To Sit an-da
읽다 To Read il-da
있다 To Have/Exist it-da
없다 To Not Have/Exist eop-da
싫다 To Not Like shil-da
넓다 To Be Wide neol-da

Construction 6:

construction6

Unless I’m blanking out, which usually has a pretty high probability, I haven’t encountered this syllable construction very often, if ever, during my Korean study time. This is the horizontal counterpart to Construction 5. Therefore, the bottom half of the square will still be made into two smaller squares, or two quarters, while the top half of the square will be split horizontally instead of vertically as in Construction 5. After doing some digging and asking a couple of friends, let’s take a look at a few cases where this construction is used.

Meaning Pronunciation
Soil heulk
볶다 To Stir bok-da
볶음밥 Fried Rice bok-eum-bap
긁다 To Scratch geul-da

Construction 7:

construction7

We made it! Give yourself a pat on the back, because this is the last syllable layout! I primarily wanted to point this construction out because it is the layout when using diphthongs (explained in the vowels section). As we know, diphthongs are made up of two vowels, a horizontal vowel and a vertical vowel, to create a single instance of a vowel. So, technically this construction could fit in a CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) form, but being that the diphthong combines two vowels, it just doesn’t fit visually to the CVC constructions we’ve previously seen. Hopefully the graphic above helps you to better understand the layout of a syllable using diphthongs. Let’s all take a deep breath as we look at the final list of examples before we let our brain rest from all of this information.

Meaning Romanization
Korean Currency won
공원 Park dong-won
도서관 Library do-seo-gwan
괜찮다 To Be Okay gwaen-chan-da
원하다 To Want (an Object) won-ha-da
영화관 Movie Theater / Cinema yeong-hwa-gwan
병원 Hospital byeong-won

** Pro Tip **

Take a look at each of the construction images. Notice each of the syllable constructions begin with a consonant and each letter/character fit together to form a block/square.


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