K-Culture: 15 Korean proverbs and sayings you should learn

They say ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ but there are words or short phrases that convey a deeper meaning. My curious mind was recently teased by The Undateables where female lead Yoo Jung-eum always mixed up sayings she used. I then decided to search for popular proverbs and sayings in Korean. Ready?

Korean Proverbs and Sayings

The English-speaking world has thousands of proverbs but Korea has their own wise sayings we could also live by.

고생 끝에 낙이 온다 (Gosaeng kkeute nagi onda)
At the end of hardship comes happiness.
Meaning: a proverb that we could use to cheer up someone, who is going through some hardships.

등잔 밑이 어둡다 (Deungjan miti eodubda)
It’s dark under the lamp.
Meaning: this proverb reminds us that we sometimes overlook things and look for answers somewhere else.

찬물도 위아래가 있다 (Janmuldo Hwiaregaitda)
Cold water is at the top and bottom
Meaning: this a reminder that there is a proper order for everything.

김치국부터 마시지 말라 (Kimchigugbuteo masiji malla)
Don’t drink the kimchi soup first.
Meaning: this proverb is warning not to make plans based on assumption.

Maknae’s note: Kimchi is known to help with digestion. So, Kimchi soup is typically consumed after eating the main course.

엎질러진 물이다 (Eobjilrojin mulida)
There is no use in crying over spilt milk.
Meaning: being upset about something that has already happened won’t fix it.

낮말은 새가 듣는다 (Natmarin sega deudneunda)
The walls have ears.
Meaning: a warning that other people could be listening to what someone is saying.

아는 길도 물어가라 (Aneun gildo muleogara)
Even if you know the way, ask one more time.
Meaning: plan in a thorough manner before taking action.

원숭이도 나무에서 떨어진다 (Wonsungido namueseo tteoleojinda)
Even monkeys fall from trees.
Meaning: this proverb is a reminder that even experts can make mistakes.

시작이 반이다 (Shijaki banida)
Starting is half the task.
Meaning: having a solid beginning of anything would make things much easier on the go.

하늘의 별 따기 (Haneureui byeol ttagi)
Plucking a star from the sky.
Meaning: A proverb that can be used when something seems impossible to do.

남의 떡이 더 커 보인다 (Nameui tteogi deo keo boinda)
Others’ rice cakes always look bigger.
Meaning: This proverb means people always think other’s possession is better than theirs even when they are really not.

산 넘어 산 (san neomeo san)
Mountains after mountains.
Meaning: A phrase that describes facing one difficulty after another.

짚신도 짝이 있다 (jipsindo jjagi itta)
Even the straw shoe has a mate.
Meaning: Everybody will find someone to love.

누워서 떡 먹기 (Nuwoseo tteog meoggi)
Eating rice cakes while lying down.
Meaning: an expression that can be used to say a task is easy.

옷이 날개다 (Osi na-gaeda)
Clothes are wings.
Meaning: this is a saying that stresses the importance of dressing well.

What’s your favorite wise saying? Share it with us!

References (1)(2)(3)

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