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!
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?
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.
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 ^^
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!
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.
Pronunciation: Seo–dang–gae sam nyeon–e poong–weol eulp–neun–da
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!
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!
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.
Pronunciation: Nat–mal–eun sae–ga deud–go bam–mal–eun jui–ga deud–neun–da
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).
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.
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*)
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!
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.
See the next page for more Korean Proverbs you can live by!
wonderful post 🙂
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!
many of these, both in their literal translations and their interpretations, are completely wrong.
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.
Very well said – accurate corrections.
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.
This is a great list, thank you. Do you have any Korean proverbs derived from Confucianism?
Thanks for exposing us Korean-Americans of what Korean culture has to offer. I really have a lot to learn. Missing Korea~
고싱 끝에 낙이 온다
I really like it
These are amazing! I learned so much from these. What I need to know next is on how to pronounce these correctly. Thank you!
Definitely number 26 lol I’m a college student working on a paper where I have to create a myth of my own and was wanting to do one in the Korean standpoint so came here looking for inspiration and then I got to #26
Lovely. We have similar ones in England.
Sayings from other cultures are wonderfully revealing.
There are two Korea proverbs I’ve been curious about their meanings. Can anyone help me decipher them?
The first one is: “A Kitchen knife cannot carve its own handle.”
The second one is: “Do not draw your sword to kill a fly.”
Korean culture brings wisdom. I liked sentence 4: At the end of hardship comes happiness. I do get nervous a lot, and not just during exams. Then it seems to me that everything is fine, but the stress remains on the subconscious and does not go anywhere. I realized this when I went to the link https://us.calmerry.com/anxiety-test/ and passed the test. After that, I began to pay attention to inner sensations. I decided to work with a psychologist, go to yoga and start learning about Korean culture.