Need Inspiration? 26 Wise Korean Proverbs to Change Yourself

Source: blogspot
Source: blogspot


Koreans have been educated to live by wise words by their ancestors and teachers. But these wise words are applicable to anyone in the world. If you need a bit of inspiration in life, check out these 26 wise Korean proverbs. After you read all of them, tell us which proverb is most applicable to your life in the comments!

Essential Tour-Afternoon 620×140


1. Korean Proverb: 김치국부터 마시지 말라

Pronunciation: Kimchi-guk-buteo ma-si-ji mal-ra

Literal meaning: Don’t drink the Kimchi soup first

Situation: You can say this when someone gets ahead of him or herself when planning for a project of future.  It’s like when you eat a Kimchi based dish, you won’t drink the kimchi sauce first right?


2. Korean Proverb: 공자 앞에서 문자 쓴다

Pronunciation: Gong-ja app-eh-seo mun-ja sseun-da

Literal meaning: Writing chinese characters in front of Confucius

Situation: When a foreigner visits Seoul for the first time and tells a tour guide where the best places are.  Use this to point out someone who tries to teach a expert and area of their expertise…a.k.a the annoying one in class who tries to prove the teacher wrong all the time.

Confucius source:

3. Korean Proverb: 그림의 떡.

Pronunciation: Crim-ue ddeok

Literal meaning: A picture of a rice cake.

Situation: You might have noticed the intense love the Koreans have for rice cakes by now.  They love it so much that when they see a picture or a painting of it their eyes will light up and feel the growl in their tummies, but sadly they cannot get hold of it because it is only a picture after all.  The meaning is similar to this~ it is to describe a desire that you cannot have, so you should better forget about it ^^


4. Korean Proverb: 고생 끝에 낙이 온다.

Pronunciation: Go-saeng Ggeut-eh naki eun-da

Literal meaning: At the end of hardship comes happiness.

When to use: Studying for your exams? Stressed about a business project?  Use these wise words to encourage and to not give up.  With hard work there is always success.  Fighting!


5. Korean Proverb: 원숭이도 나무에서 떨어진다

Pronunciation: Weon-sungi-do namu-eh-seo ddeoleo-jinda

Literal meaning: Even monkeys fall from trees.

Situation: Humans aren’t perfect.  Neither are experts on their designated areas of expertise.  So if you are a mathematician and you solved a problem incorrectly, it doesn’t matter. Even experts make mistakes some times.  Though if you are a wrist watch repairman and you break a watch…just worry more about how you will deal with that customer.

source: deviantart
source: deviantart


6. Korean Proverb: 서당개 삼 년에 풍월 읊는다

Pronunciation: Seodanggae sam nyeone poongweol eulpneunda

Literal meaning: After three years at a village schoolhouse, even a dog can recite a poem

Situation: How to hone your skills?  By practicing of course! Encourage someone with these words as practice makes perfect!


7. Korean Proverb: 가려운 곳을 긁어 주다

Pronunciation: Ga-ryeo-oon Go-seul geul-geo ju-da

Literal meaning: You scratch where it itches!

Situation: Do you have a friend who has the same taste and mind? If you have a friend who wants to do something that you want to do too, or if someone buys you coffee as you are falling asleep on your desk then it is like someone scratching your back when it itches! You will feel happy and comforted at t eh same time!


8. Korean Proverb: 콩 심은데 콩나고, 팥 심은데 팥난다

Pronunciation: Kong sim-eun-dae kong-na-go, pat sim-eun-dae pat nanda

Literal meaning: Beans come out from where beans are planted, and red beans (팥) come out from where red beans are planted.”

 Situation: A house can be really telling as to what type of person the owner is.  Therefore it can be said that we can judge a man from his surroundings. For example, a messy house might indicate a messy owner, or a kind group of friends might indicate you are a kind person also.


9. Korean Proverb: 낮말은 새가 듣고 밤말은 쥐가 듣는다

Pronunciation: Natmaleun saega deudgo bammaleun juiga deudneunda

Literal meaning: Birds listen to day-words and rats listen to night-words

Situation: Wherever and whenever you are you should be careful who you talk about because you might be overheard by someone. This is used as a warning (that’s right, trolls).


source: impactnottingham
source: impactnottingham


10. Korean Proverb: 시작이 반이다

Pronunciation: Shi-jaki bani-da

Literal meaning: Starting is half the task

Situation: This is to tell someone that a good start is very important to project/activity/competition e.t.c.


11. Korean Proverb: 가재는 게 편이라

Pronunciation: Ga-jae-neun ge pyeoni-ra

Literal meaning: The crayfish sides with the crab.

Situation: Used to describe how people with similar traits and backgrounds tend to stick together and side with each other (international students…*ahem*)

source: tumblr
source: tumblr

12. Korean Proverb: 찬물도 위아래가 있다

Pronunciation: Chan-mool-do ooi-arae-ga it-da

Literal meaning: Cold water is from the bottom up

Situation: There’s a certain order in life. And in Korea, this is used for impolite and impatient kids eating at the dinner table before elders.  In Korea there is a proper order for everything even as simple as drinking water.  The older person always gets served first before the younger ones.  This may seem very strict, but once you are accustomed to it, it will look soooo good!

13. Korean Proverb: 가는 말이 고와야오는 말이 곱다.

Pronunciation: Ga-neun mali gowa-ya oneun gop-da

Literal meaning: If the outgoing words are beautiful, then the incoming words will be beautiful too.

Situation: Target~ bullies, backstabbers, and gossip queens.  These wise words are used to encourage someone to be nice to others if they want others to be nice to them.

Source: blogspot
Source: blogspot

See the next page for more Korean Proverbs you can live by!

About Ken Lee

Born and raised in London UK, and currently residing in Korea, Ken Lum Lee is currently an English Teacher at a middle school in Gwangju and the blogger and photographer behind the Korean lifestyle blog Seoul State of Mind. Ken enjoys travelling around Korea, aiming to capture the unique beauties, discover stories and secret hideouts of Korea. Ken can usually be seen with his camera, which is currently the love of his life, and pigging out in Korean BBQ restaurants.Check out his awesome blog: For regular updates, follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram


  1. negar

    wonderful post :)

  2. kevin

    Thanks a lot! I really enjoyed reading these proverbs. This is a nice and different input on korean culture, which I haven’t explored yet. Appreciate it!

  3. Sid Lee

    many of these, both in their literal translations and their interpretations, are completely wrong.

  4. Sid Lee

    8. this proverb isn’t about judging a person by their surroundings or company. it’s about accepting the consequences of one’s actions. or simply, “you reap what you sow.”

    12. he got the meaning for this one right, but the literal translation is way off. “from the bottom up” makes no sense at all. it should be “even cold water has its hierarchy” or “even when drinking water, there is a pecking order.”

    16. EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS ONE IS COMPLETELY WRONG. most korean words are homophonous, and 적 means “time when,” NOT “enemy” in this sentence.
    so the literal translation should be: “the frog cannot remember what it was like to be a tadpole.”
    and the interpretation should be: “forgetting what it was like to be young and foolish, the elderly tend to scold the young too harshly.”

    17. somehow, this guy took this one to mean “appreciate what you have close by.” but it actually means “your greatest weakness is always closest to you,” or “the chink in the armor is right under your nose,” anything along those lines.

    20. this is another one that is completely wrong, like #16. it doesn’t mean the next generation will do better than the last, or anything like that.
    literal translation: “the horn that grows last is the most erect.” (hehe. . . hehe)
    meaning: “slow and steady wins the race” or “he who finishes last finishes first.”

    21. the interpretation is correct, and the literal translation is MOSTLY correct. . . except for the word “insect.” i don’t know where the hell this guy got that from, but there’s no mention whatsoever of any insect in the proverb. . . maybe he used bing for his translation. :S

    24. this one is not so much about untrustworthy people in general, so much as people who are untrustworthy in particular situations.
    “don’t entrust a cat with a fish” basically means that a pothead shouldn’t sell weed cuz he’ll smoke his own supply.

  5. Donna

    I was surprised this was missing from your list, since many people try this at least once…but you cannot deny a problem by closing your eyes!!

    손바닥으로 하늘을 가리려한다
    Sonbadageuro haneuleul gariryeohanda
    Don’t try to cover the whole sky with the palm of your hand.

  6. James

    Hi Ken,

    This is a great list, thank you. Do you have any Korean proverbs derived from Confucianism?


  7. vivian

    Thanks for exposing us Korean-Americans of what Korean culture has to offer. I really have a lot to learn. Missing Korea~