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 of the 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!
Also read: 15 Easy Korean Words & Phrases Every K-Drama Fan Should Know!
Korean terms of endearment you will often hear in K-dramas
1. Aein – “Sweetheart” / “Lover”
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Image credit: Guardian: The Lonely and Great God on IMDb
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
Image credit: What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim? on IMDb
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. 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.
Also read: Chill With Park Seo-joon: Here Are All His Netflix Shows!
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)
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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”
Image credit: It’s Okay to Not Be Okay on IMDb
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”
Image credit: Something in the Rain on IMDb
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”
Image credit: Descendants of the Sun on IMDb
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’s literally treating 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”
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Image credit: 100 Days My Prince on IMDb
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.
Also read: 10 Romantic Phrases in K-Dramas and What They Mean
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.