Counting in Korean with Quantifiers

After learning about numbers in Korean, it still remains to figure out how to actually count things with those numbers. Similarly to languages like Chinese and Japanese, in Korean a number combined with a quantifier is used to count objects, and pretty much any concept that can be counted. This means that in order to express an amount of something, we must join a numerical prefix with a quantifier.

For a refresher on numbers, see the previous post on the number systems in Korean.

Numbers in Korean

A summary of the native Korean and Sino-Korean numbers, and an explanation of their differences.

As a starter, an example: the quantifier song-i (송이) is used for bunches of fruit, which grapes would classify under – in Korean this is the word podo (포도). Thus to say “two bunches of grapes” you would say podo du song-i (포도 두 송이). The number two is dul (둘), yet when joined with the quantifier, we drop the final consonant (바침) for pronunciation’s sake, so it becomes du (두).

Similarly, to say “one bowl of ramyeun” in Korean, you would say ramyeon han geureut (라면 한 그릇), using the word geureut (그릇) as a quantifier for food served in bowls. To order a pint of beer (맥주) along with that ramyeun, you would say maekju han jan (맥주 한 잔).

In the cases above, the quantifiers take pure Korean numerals as a prefex. Those numbers must be used to count those kind of objects. However, of course with there being two number systems, there are also a several quantifiers which take the Sino-Korean numerals, e.g. most units of time. Yet note that, remarkably, to say the current time in hours and minutes, we must mix the two number styles, e.g. yeol si sip bun (열시 십분), to indicate 10 o’clock and 10 minutes.

So far, I’ve come across a dozen or so quantifiers. And so far, using these have been sufficient in daily life. I’ll list these below, as well as with what type of numeral they accept, i.e. pure Korean or Sino-Korean.

A more exhaustive list can be found on Wikipedia – Korean count words.

Object Korean Sino-K.
general things
long things 자루
papers, envelopes, flat things
cars, vehicles and machines
animals 마리
picked flowers, bunches of fruits 송이
glasses, cups
bowls 그릇
servings (of a dish) 인분
weeks 주일
Written by
Paul J.
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Last updated at on .


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