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The Korean Writing System

The Korean writing system first came into existence in 1444, championed by King Sejong, the fourth king during the Joseon Dynasty.1 For a long time, the Korean alphabet was known as Onmun or “vernacular script,” however in the 19th Century it became known as Hangul or “Korean script.”.

For someone new to the Korean writing system, it may look to be an ideographic system like Chinese. However, the Korean writing system is in fact a phonetic system (just like English) with simple letters to represent each of its various phonemes or sounds. What makes Korean seem ideographic is its convention of grouping its letters into square, syllabic blocks. These syllabic blocks are then combined to form words.

Up until the end of the 19th Century, the Korean writing system did not require spaces between words, choosing to follow the Chinese tradition. However, this convention changed in 1896. Korean now puts spaces between words and uses punctuation symbols from Chinese (the Chinese comma and period, for example) as well as English.2

Below are some additional features of the Korean writing system:

    The Korean alphabet is made up of 24 letters or jamo. These 24 letters consist of 14 consonants and 10 vowels.3
  • The symbols used to write the consonants g/k, n, s, m and ng are meant to be abstract pictures of the speech organs used to produce their sounds.4
  • “Korean can be written in vertical columns running from top to bottom and right to left, or in horizontal lines running from left to right”. 5
  • Some Korean linguists have put forth a system of writing Korean that would do away with its characteristic syllabic blocks and instead place the Korean characters in a straight line (like English). 6
Additional resources on the Korean writing system can be found on the Web at:

For information on The Korean Language, please see our Quick Facts Library.

    “Korean” Omniglot: A Guide to Writing Systems

    [Accessed December 21, 2004]
  1. “Korean language” Encyclopædia Britannica from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service

    [Accessed December 20, 2004]
  2. “Korean Language” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    [Accessed December 11, 2004]
  3. “Korean” Omniglot: A Guide to Writing Systems

    [Accessed December 21, 2004]