Is there anything K-dramas can’t teach us? After throwing our fists in the air and constantly screaming to the high heavens anytime our favourite leads say joahaeyo or saranghae, we can’t help but pick up some Korean endearment terms and affectionate words they use.
After breezing through our introduction to Korean basic phrases and expressions, you might want to take your vocabulary to the next level. Here are a few Korean terms of endearment that we’ve learned from binge-watching our favourite K-dramas. And hey, you never know. They might come in handy someday.
Korean endearment words and phrases you will often hear in K-dramas
1. Aein – “Sweetheart” / “Lover”
For our first lesson in Korean terms of endearment, aein (“sweetheart” or “lover”) is a pretty great place to start! It happens to be a gender-neutral term too, so you can use it to address men as well as women. Here’s one way to use this word in a sentence: Aein isseoyo? (“Do you have a sweetheart?”)
2. Jagi / Jagiya – “Honey” / “Darling”
Another gender-neutral nickname that Korean couples like to use is jagi, which means “honey” or “darling.” Often in K-dramas, you might also hear jagiya with a ya suffix added, usually to call someone or get their attention in a loving manner.
3. Aegiya – “Baby” / “Babe”
If calling someone “sweetheart” or “lover” sounds a little old-fashioned, you can use aegi or aegiya to call someone “baby” or “babe.” This Korean term of endearment suggests an intimate and less formal relationship when referring to your significant other.
4. Oppa – An older brother to a younger woman
One of the most popular Korean terms of endearment for men, oppa is typically used by Korean women to address an older man they feel close to — be it a brother, a platonic male friend, a boyfriend, or a husband.
If you’ve seen K-dramas like What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim? then you know that oppa can have a romantic undertone as well. That being said, you might encounter this Korean word when a female lead teases an older male character in a friendly way. However, it can also be used with increasing hints of flirtation, as the relationship develops from a purely brother-sister bond into a romantic one.
5. Nae sarang – “My love”
To smoothly call someone “my love” in Korean, simply use the phrase nae sarang. Pretty easy, isn’t it?
6. Yeobo – “Darling” / “Honey” (for married couples)
Most K-dramas don’t start out with established relationships between the protagonists. But if your favourite couple managed to walk down the aisle, then this Korean term of endearment might ring a bell to you! Taking a step higher from jagi, the word yeobo is used by married couples whenever they want to call each other “honey” or “darling.” (Again, only married couples. We’re looking at you, Lee Tae-oh!)
Let’s combine some of our previous Korean language lessons, shall we? To ask if your husband or wife is okay, you can say, Yeobo, gwenchana? (“Are you okay, honey?”) For extra points on delivery, make sure to say it in that caring, ever-so-worried tone that all the leading men in K-dramas seem to have.
7. Naekkeo – “Mine”
If you have sharp ears, then you might recognise this casual term of endearment in Korean pop music as well as television shows. Many K-pop artists like to tackle themes of romance and yearning in their songwriting, which means that you’ve probably heard a great deal of naekkeo already. It translates to “mine.”
Here’s an example of a song that uses naekkeo in its lyrics, while churning out an incredibly catchy earworm to boot. Start playing the video above at the 0:55 mark, where Junggigo sings, Naekkeoin deut naekkeo anin naekkeo gateun neo. By repeating naekkeo here, the singer is wondering, “It feels like you’re mine, it seems like you’re mine, but not…” You’re welcome for the bop, by the way!
8. Gwiyomi – “Cutie”
Does this word ring a bell? You’ve probably heard it repeatedly from the Gwiyomi Song by South Korean singer Hari. As you can tell by the song’s chipper tone and wholesome vibe, gwiyomi refers to a cute person — or to be more precise, a young girl who looks adorable and innocent.
The Gwiyomi Song exploded into a viral phenomenon all over Asia, where famous celebrities performed their own versions of the song and replicated the cute hand movements from the music video.
9. Yeojachingu – “Girlfriend”
To refer to a woman as your girlfriend, say yeojachingu. If you break down this word into two parts, it’s really just a combination of yeoja (“woman”) and chingu (“friend”). Simple, right?
10. Namjachingu – “Boyfriend”
Song Joong-ki, Kang Ha-neul, Jung Hae-in, Hyun Bin, Park Seo-joon… Sorry, are we still talking about words? Right, okay, so! To call someone your boyfriend, you can use namjachingu. Similar to the previous example, this term of endearment comprises two Korean words: namja (“man”) and chingu (“friend”).
Now all you have to do is slide into Kim Soo-hyun’s and Ji Chang-wook’s DMs. (Just kidding. Please don’t do that.)
11. Gonjunim – “Princess”
Any historical K-drama fans out there? Gonjunim is a Korean term of endearment that means “princess.” Yes, it means referring to your girlfriend as if she were royalty; hence, the honorific suffix nim is added to convey reverence. When used humorously and with someone’s approval, this can be a flattering way to treat your girl with respect and let her know who’s boss. (It’s her. She’s the boss.)
But just promise us that you won’t use this knowledge to address women in a creepy or patronising way. Nobody needs that in their life!
12. Wangjanim – “Prince”
Following the example above, wangjanim (“prince”) is a term of endearment that some women might use to compliment their cool, dashing, and gentlemanly boyfriends. In a more literal sense, this might sound a little out-of-place when applied outside the context of period K-drama like 100 Days My Prince, but there you have it.
13. Uri gangaji – “Our puppy” or “My puppy”
Typically, boyfriends will use this Korean term of endearment when addressing their girlfriends. It is a pet name to call your special person or loved one. As a matter of fact, it’s quite common for parents to use this phrase to refer to their children as well. Quite adorable, isn’t it?
14. Bepeu – “Best friend”
Not all terms of endearment have to be for couples or romantic relationships. There are a few fun and cute Korean words that you can use to address friends and family, too. This next one is not a Korean term of endearment per se, but it still shares the same sentiment and intention.
Bepeu is a Korean slang word and the shortened version of the Konglish (Korean-style English) phrase beseuteu peurendeu or best friend. If you and your bestie share a common interest for hallyu or Korean culture, then give bepeu a try.
15. Bu bu – “Married couple”
Bu bu translates to “husband and wife” or “married couple.” Couples don’t really use this term of endearment to address each other, but people will refer to another couple as such. This Korean word is specifically used for couples in marital relationships. It’s quite cute and charming, nonetheless.
It turns out that we owe both our sleepless nights and our polyglot dreams to K-dramas. All joking aside, we hope you enjoyed this crash course on Korean terms of endearment. If there are any topics you’d like us to cover next in our Korean language series, let us know.