Have you found yourself a Korean lover? Or do you perhaps wish to live the K-drama life by using Korean terms of endearment with your significant other? Using your partner’s native language is a romantic and impressive gesture.
Korea is a country for lovers. From matching ‘couple looks’ to 100-day anniversaries to gift-giving, Korean couples (especially younger ones) have unique and fun ways of declaring their love. It’s also quite common to address one’s partner with terms of endearment or Korean pet names, rather than first names.
Whether you want to use Korean terms of endearment for your boyfriend or girlfriend, or you’re simply an avid Korean language learner looking to expand your vocabulary, you’ve come to the right place.
Korean terms of endearment for both men and women
1. 애인 (ae-in) — sweetheart
애인, pronounced as aein, is a gender-neutral Korean endearment for couples. The closest English term to this Korean word is “sweetheart.”
애 means “love” and 인 means “person” and when you put them together, you’ve got the love of your life! In general, 애인 is used when referring to someone’s partner. A word of caution though: this term is only appropriate for unmarried couples. There are other Korean terms of endearment for your wife or husband. Don’t use 애인 unless you want others to think that the two of you are having an affair on the side.
2. 자기 or 자기야 (ja-gi or ja-gi-ya) — honey or darling
If you’ve watched a K-drama (who hasn’t?!) you’ve most definitely heard one character lovingly call his or her partner jagiya, with matching googly eyes. One of the most popular Korean terms of endearment, 자기 or jagi means honey or darling. It applies to both married and unmarried couples.
Interestingly, 자기 means “self” or “oneself.” The evolution of the word usage is unclear but some speculate that since husband and wife are of “one heart, same body” (a concept known as 일심동체 in Korean), it makes sense to see your other half as your other self, hence 자기.
And since there is a deep level of intimacy between couples, they can be informal. Adding 야 (ya) to the term, or 자기야 (jagiya), makes it more informal and this is perfectly fine between Korean couples.
3. 애기야 (ae-gi-ya) – baby
If 자기야 is not sweet or cute (or cringey, depending on who you ask) enough for you, go for 애기야 or aegiya.
애기 or aegi is a cute way of saying 아기 (agi), which means “baby.” Adding 야 (ya) makes it informal. So you can use this if you want to call your partner “baby.”
4. 여보 (yeo-bo) — honey or darling
Used since time immemorial, 여보 or yeobo is also one of the most famous Korean terms of endearment. It translates to honey or darling and is used exclusively between married couples.
Fun fact: yeobo used to mean “look here” or “hey, you” in a respectful way. 여보세요 (Yeoboseyo?), which means hello? on the phone stems from this term. However, 저기요 (jeogiyo) has now replaced the word and is used to call someone’s attention.
As a Korean endearment for lovers, older married couples, especially those in their late 40s and up, prefer 여보. Although they do use yeobo, using 자기야 (jagiya) is more common among newlyweds and younger married couples.
5. 내 사랑 (nae sa-rang) – my love
Some Korean words of endearment work better for written expressions like poems and lyrics. 내 사랑 or nae sarang, which literally translates to “my love” is one of those terms.
This Korean endearment is the informal version of 저의 사랑 (jeo-ui sa-rang). Here’s a quick Korean lesson to illustrate:
- 저 (jeo): I (formal)
- 의 (ui): possessive marking particle
- 사랑 (sa-rang): love
- 제 (je): 저 + 의 (my [formal])
- 나 (na): I (informal of jeo)
- 내 (nae): 나 + 의 (my [informal])
So, 제 사랑 (je sa-rang) is the formal shorter version of 저의 사랑 (jeo-ui sa-rang). 나의 사랑 (na-ui sa-rang) is the informal long version while 내 사랑 (nae sa-rang) is the informal short version. All versions sound theatrical as is but if you want to be more poetic in your love letters, use the formal versions.
6. 내꺼 (nae-kkeo) – mine
If you’ve been a long-time K-pop listener and you pay attention to lyrics, you’re likely familiar with this word. I once typed “naekkeo song” on YouTube to search for the song Some, which repeated the word in its chorus.
내꺼 or naekkeo translates to “mine” or “my sweetheart” and if you’re cringing, it’s probably because this word has aegyo (overly cute) roots and is usually said in a cute tone. As you can imagine, this goes best with younger couples.
Korean terms of endearment for men
7. 남자친구 (nam-ja-chin-gu) — boyfriend
This isn’t really a term of endearment, but important to know nonetheless. The standard Korean word for boyfriend is 남자친구, pronounced as namjachingu.
남자 (namja) means “man” while 친구 (chingu) means “friend.” In Korean slang, many words are contracted so make it informal. In this case, 남자친구 (namjachingu) becomes 남친 (namchin).
What about a guy who’s just a friend? You can call him 남자 사람 친구 (namjasaramchingu). The added 사람 (saram) means “person” so this literally translates to “male person friend.” Neat, right?
8. 남편 (nam-pyeon) – husband
Again, not a term of endearment, but just in case you want to know the standard Korean word for husband, it’s 남편 (nampyeon).
9.서방님 (seo-bang-nim) – husband
Like nampyeon, 서방님 (seobangnim) simply translates as husband. The less formal version of this is 서방 (seobang). This term has deep historical roots in Korea. These days, however, the word is usually used to call sons-in-law by attaching the family name to it. For example, Kim seobang or Choi seobang.
10. [name] + 아빠 (a-ppa) – [name]’s father
Once a married couple has kids, they can call each other as their child’s mom or dad. No longer are they just jagiya or yeobo to each other, but parents of a child, too. In a sense, this is one of the most unique and sweetest Korean terms of endearment.
For example, if the child’s name is 민호 (Minho), the father can be called 민호 아빠 or Minho appa. This endearment can be used by the wife, in-laws, and even people outside of the immediate family.
11. 오빠 (o-ppa) — older brother
Probably the most popular among Korean terms of endearment, 오빠 or oppa actually means “older brother” of a female or older guy friend of a female. As far as cute Korean nicknames for boyfriend goes, this is the most overused (and wrongly used).
You’re probably wondering, if 오빠 means older brother, how did it evolve into a term of endearment? In most romantic relationships, a couple usually starts out as friends. During this stage, the girl calls the guy oppa if he’s older (which is usually the case in Korea). Once they become a couple, the girl continues to call him oppa out of habit.
12. 왕자님 (wang–ja–nim) — prince
Feeling like a princess in a fairy tale? Then you can call your boyfriend 왕자님 (wangjanim).
왕자 (wangja) means “prince” and the suffix 님 (-nim) shows a sign of respect. If you think your boyfriend is a dashing, romantic lad, feel free to use this Korean endearment for him.
Korean terms of endearment for women
13. 여자친구 (yeo-ja-chin-gu) — girlfriend
You already know that 친구 (chingu) means “friend.” 여자 (yeoja), on the other hand, means “woman” so 여자친구 is the standard Korean word for girlfriend.
14.아내 (a-nae) – wife
Curious what the Korean term for wife is? There are a few but the standard and most common word is 아내, pronounced as anae. This is the counterpart of 남편 (nampyeon).
15. 색시 (saek-si) – wife
This interestingly sounds like the English word sexy, but 색시 (saeksi) means a young maiden or bride. Along with 서방님 (seobangnim), newlyweds of the olden times used these terms to address each other. Nowadays though, using 남편 (nampyeon) and 아내 (anae) is more common.
16. 와이프 (wai-peu) – wife
The Korean language is constantly evolving and new slang and Konglish (combination of Korean and English) terms are emerging every now and then.
와이프 is simply the Konglish pronunciation of the English word wife. More and more Koreans are using this term now.
17. 공주님 (gong-ju-nim) — princess
If you’re a guy and you want to use a sweet endearment in Korean for your girlfriend, you can call her 공주님 (gongjunim).
공주 (gongju) means princess and like mentioned above, 님 (-nim) is added as part of an honorific title. Think of it like treating your girlfriend as royalty.
18. 귀요미 (gwi-yo-mi) — cutie
One of the cutest Korean terms of endearment, literally and figuratively, is 귀요미 (gwiyomi). If you think the word is familiar, it’s because the aegyo-filled Gwiyomi Song took Korea and Asia by storm from late 2012 to 2013. A lot of K-pop artists covered this song.
귀요미 (gwiyomi) evolved from the word 귀엽다 (gwieopda) which means cute. Although the term is gender-neutral, more guys say this to their girlfriends than the other way around.
19. [name] + 엄마 (eo-mma) – [name]’s mother
Like in [name] + 아빠 (a-ppa), a child’s mom can also be addressed this way.
So again, if the child’s name is 민호 (Minho), the mother can be called 민호 엄마 or Minho eomma. One of the most practical Korean terms of endearment, this can be used by the husband, in-laws, and people outside of immediate family.
20. 우리 강아지 (uri-gang-a-ji) – our puppy
Literally a cute Korean pet name, 우리 강아지 (uri gangaji) translates as “our puppy.”
Don’t ask me why boyfriends want to call their girlfriends puppy but in any case, this is one of the common Korean terms of endearment that some parents also use for their kids.
Korean terms of endearment or ways to address friends
Although these are not Korean terms of endearment per se, these words are also nice additions to your vocabulary, especially if you plan on making more Korean friends:
- 친구 (chin-gu) – friend
- 남자 사람 친구 (nam-ja-sa-ram-chin-gu) – male friend
- 여자 사람 친구 (yeo-ja-sa-ram-chin-gu) – female friend
- 제일 친한 친구 (je-il chin-han chin-gu) – best friend
- 절친한 친구 (jeol-chin-han chin-gu) – great friend or close friend
- 절친 (jeol-chin) – shortened version of jeolchinhan chingu
Another fun word to learn is 베프 (bepeu), which is a slang, shortened term from the Konglish phrase 베스트 프렌드 (beseuteu peurendeu) or best friend. If you and your best friend are not Koreans, but share a common love for all things Korean, why don’t you try using this endearment for each other?
Polite language is big in Korea and this extends to even friendly relationships. Oppa, hyung, and unnie are some of the common ways of addressing friends of different ages. You can check this list of honorific terms.
Things to remember when using these Korean terms of endearment
If you’re learning Korean and have a Korean partner, using Korean terms of endearment is not only an awesome way of going beyond “textbook Korean.” It is also a great way of showing affection and in some cases, reverence for your significant other.
However, it’s best to exercise mindfulness as rules of politeness govern the Korean language and cultural nuances do apply even in these sweet terms. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Yes, Koreans do use these terms of endearment. It’s very rare for couples to call each other by first names, especially when they’re married. Some even consider it rude. If you’re a foreigner with a Korean partner and you’re not sure what to call him/her, it wouldn’t hurt to ask.
- “Cute” is cool. At least for younger couples. If you’re a younger married couple and you’ve decided to call each other 애기야 (aegiya) or 우리 강아지 (uri gangaji), that’s fine. But it’s best to stick with 자기야 (jagiya) or 여보 (yeobo) in the presence of other people, especially your in-laws.
- You will lose your first name when you get married. You’ll be someone’s wife/husband or someone’s parent, hence “name of your child” followed by “appa” or “eomma.”
- Intonation matters in Korea. These Korean terms of endearment are meant to show affection, love, and intimacy so your partner will expect you to say it softly or sweetly.
Now that you know these Korean terms of endearment, you can express your love and impress your loved one. But even if you’re not in a relationship, knowing these sweet and cute terms will help you enjoy watching K-dramas more.
Want to go even further in your Korean learning journey? From mobile apps and podcasts to books to online courses, we have an extensive list of Korean resources for you. Happy learning!