Friday, June 26, 2015

Numbers & Ordinals (숫자와 서수)

Sino-Korean Numbers and Native Korean Numbers

In Korean, there are two parallel sets of numbers. One of these was borrowed from Chinese long ago and is now part of the Korean number system. The numbers belonging to this set are called Sino-Korean numbers. The other set is of native origin. The numbers belonging to this set are called native Korean numbers. These two sets are shown below.

* Korean numbers
As seen above, the Korean number system is more systematic than the English number system when it comes to the formation of higher numbers. For instance, while English uses special words for 11 through 19, such as eleven, twelve and so on, Korean numbers are formed "ten + one"(십일 or 열하나), "ten + two"(십이 or 열둘) and so on.
For multiples of ten, Sino-Korean numbers are simple combinations: 20 is “two + ten” (이십), 30 is “three + ten"(삼십), and so on. However, native Korean numbers have special words, as 20 is 스물, 30 is 서른, and so on. In addition, the native Korean number set does not have the number “zero”.
The use of Sino-Korean numbers and native Korean numbers differs in a number of ways. First, as indicated by the asterisk mark above, native Korean numbers “one”, “two”, "three", "four", and “twenty” have slightly modified forms. Koreans use these modified forms when they count one of these native numbers with a counter noun. For instance, one person would be 한 명, rather than 하나 명.
Second, Koreans use native Korean numbers when counting a small number of objects. For instance, three bottles of wines would be 와인 세 병(wine + three + bottles). However, when counting a large number of objects, they prefer using Sino-Korean numbers, as “62 bottles of wines” would be 와인 육십이 병.
Third, from 100 and above, Koreans use only Sino-Korean numbers. Consequently, 134 would be read as 백삼십사. It is optional to add 일 to the number that starts with 1, such as 100, 1000, and so on, however, it is more common to say the number without it. For instance, for 100, saying 백(hundred) is more common than saying 일백(one hundred).

It is rare but you can read a number that is over 100, by combining a Sino-Korean number and a native Korean number. For instance, 134 can be read as 백서른 넷(Sino-Korean number + native Korean number). However, the use of Sino-Korean numbers is more dominant than a mixed use of both sets of numbers.
Finally, Koreans in general use Sino-Korean numbers when doing mathematical calculations.


There are two ways of counting countable objects. You can just use a number by itself or use a number with a counter noun(the function of a counter noun is to indicate the type of noun being counted). When counting without a counter noun, you use native Korean numbers. For instance, for “two pencils”, you can say 연필 둘(noun + number).

Counting items with a counter noun can take the following structure: “noun (being counted) + number + counter noun”. Consequently, for “five pencils” you would say “연필 + 다섯 + 자루”.
When you use native Korean numbers with a counter noun, you should remember that native Korean numbers for 1, 2, 3, 4, and 20 have slightly different forms: 하나(한), 둘(두), 셋(세), 넷(네), and 스물(스무). Consequently, one pencil would be “연필 한 자루” rather than “연필 하나 자루”, twenty pencils would be “연필 스무 자루” rather than “연필 스물 자루”.

Notice that that there is no change in 스물 when it is combined with a number, as in “연필 스물한 자루(21 pencils)". In addition, when the number is large, Sino-Korean numbers can be used as well.


The Sino-Korean and native Korean numbers differ in the formation of ordinals. For Sino- Korean numbers, Koreans attach the prefix 제 to a number. For instance, “the first” is 제 일, “the eleventh” is 제 십일, and so on. For native Korean numbers, they add 번째 to a number. Accordingly, “the fifth” is 다섯 번째, “the eleventh” is 열한 번째, and so on. The only exception is that 하나(the native number for one) is not used for the ordinal, but one needs to use the special word, 첫, as 첫 번째, not 한 번째.

* Click to read related posts.
Grammar for Beginners
Counter Nouns (Numeral Classifier, 분류사)

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