Korean has an unusual consonant ㅇ, which is silent, depending on its position within a syllable. As you know, Korean characters (Hangeul/Hangul) consist of at least one consonant and one vowel. If just the vowel sound is needed, ㅇ is used as a filler. That’s because ㅇ doesn’t have any sound when it is located at the beginning of a syllable. On the other hand, at the end of a syllable, it’s pronounced as [ng].
Let’s take a look at an example, 용 [yong] (dragon).
The first ㅇ is silent. But, the second ㅇ, which is 받침 [batchim], has a [ng] sound. Therefore, 용 is pronounced as [yong].
Interestingly, ㅇ has a very unique pronunciation rule because it has no sound at the beginning of a syllable. As a Korean teacher, I’m definitely sure this rule is the most essential one for your native-like pronunciation.
Please keep in mind if a final consonant (받침) is followed by ㅇ, the consonant is pronounced as the second syllable’s initial consonant for ease of pronunciation.
Can you try to speak out the word below in two different ways?
① [할아버지] [hal-abeoji]
② [하라버지] [ha-labeoji]
See the difference? It’s much easier to pronounce [하라버지] than [할아버지], right?
If ㅇ is preceded by final consonant, the pronunciation of the consonant is ‘moved’ to the position of the ㅇ.
할아버지 [하라버지] [ha-labeoji] grandfather
도서관에 [도서과네] [doseogwane] to the library
목요일에 [모교이레] [mogyoi-le] on Thursday
일요일에 [이료이레] [i-lyo-ile] on Sunday
옆에 [여페] [yeope] beside
있어요 [이써요] [isseoyo] to exist, to have
읽어요 [일거요] [ilgeoyo] to read
앉아요 [안자요] [anjayo] to sit
- Taylor I, Taylor M. Writing And Literacy In Chinese, Korean, And Japanese. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Pub. Co.; 1995.
- Shin J, Kiaer J, Cha J. The Sounds Of Korean. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2012.
- En.wikibooks.org. Korean/Essential Pronunciation Rules – Wikibooks, open books for an open world. 2015. Available at: https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Korean/Essential_Pronunciation_Rules. Accessed December 16, 2015.