Korean lessons: Lesson 12

Numbers (II)

Native Korean Numbers

Another set of numbers are of native Korean numbers.  They are indigenous in Korean, possibly stemmed through a different route from that of the Chinese-based set.  Although they used to have a complete system of native numbers that can go up to three digits (or more), they now only use the numbers up to two digits (99).  The formation of numbers is quite similar to that of English numbers in the sense that you have a set of numbers for single digits (1-10) and another set for tens (10-90).  


Numbers and formation

Single digits

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Native numbers 하나 다섯 여섯 일곱 여덟 아홉

Ten, twenty, thirty….

  10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Native numbers 스물 서른 마흔 예순 일흔 여든 아흔

The formation is quite simple:

15 = 10+5 열 다섯

21 = 20+1 스물 하나

87 = 80+7 여든 일곱


Using with counters and measure words

Such formation as “five birds,” however, is not directly applicable in Korean.  When you speak of a thing with its amount, the proper formation should be the following:

**Noun + number + counter**










(counter for animals)

Thus, an expression like “다섯 새” is not used in Korean.  It may remind you of such expressions as “two bottles of wine” in English.  It is necessary in English to specify the measure unit when it comes to uncountable nouns, such as ‘water,’ ‘coffee,’ etc.  In Korean, this is applied to all nouns.  Does this mean that they have different counters for all nouns and that you have to memorize all of them?  Probably.  Do not panic, though, for there are a certain number of counters that are more frequent and common than the others, and you could strat by learning them and then move on to the rest.  

There is yet another issue of when to use Chinese numbers and when to use native Korean numbers.  This will be discussed in the next lesson. 

Slight changes when used before counters

Also, when before counters, numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 20, change their shape slightly, for the ease of pronunciation.






“a bird”
마리: counter for animals)

“two students”
명: counter for people)

“three apples”
개: counter for countable objects)

“four volumes of books”
권: counter for books)



나이 스무
“age of twenty”
: counter for age)