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Basic Vowels

Vowels, Consonants and Syllables
Hangul is a very logical alphabet. But to understand it you need to keep in mind Vowels, Consonants and Syllables.

First of all, what are vowels in English? Well they are the sounds represented by: a, e, i, o, u and y. That's 6 letters.

Now, what are consonants in English? Well they are the other 20 letters.

So, what is a syllable in English? Well a syllable in English is a unit of sound that has EXACTLY ONE vowel. In English a syllable can have between 0 to 3 consonants before AND after the vowel. Take a look at these words and try to break them up into syllables:
  • bullet
  • strong
  • banks
The first word is two syllables: bul-let. The last two are each only one syllable. But the 2nd word has 3 consonants before the vowel and the last word has 3 consonants after the vowel.

Korean syllables are very different, you can only have a single consonant before each vowel and there is a maximum of two after the vowel.

Hangul Syllable Blocks
Hangul has 40 letters (19 consonants and 21 vowels). But they are written in Blocks that represent a syllable and which contain between 2 to 4 letters. Here are examples of of Hangul blocks containing 2, 3, and 4 letters each.

2 3 4

There is a rule that the first letter in each block must be a consonant. For this lesson we will be focusing on simple blocks that contain only two letters: the Placeholder Consonant and a single vowel.

As you will see blocks can be written from top to bottom, left to right or a mixture. But don't worry, after just a little practice the order will become obvious to you.

The Placeholder Consonant
A Hangul syllable block MUST begin with a consonant. So how do you write a block that starts with a vowel? There is a special silent placeholder letter that you can just ignore if it is the first letter:


This same letter actually has a real sound if it is not the first letter in a block. But don't worry about that yet.

As you'll learn in the next section, all vowels have either a long vertical or horizontal line. If the line is horizontal then you draw the placeholder above the vowel. If the line is vertical the the placeholder is written to the left of the vowel:

Horizontal Vertical

Hangul Vowels
Now let's learn some vowels. We will be showing you vowels with the Placeholder consonant you learned about in the last section. How many vowels does Korean have? It has 8 vowels that you will learn in this lesson plus 11 semi-vowels you will learn about later. Does that sound like a lot?

How many vowels does English have?
You may say 5 or 6 because in English vowels are written using only six letters: a, e, i, o, u and y. However that is just the number of letters used to write the vowels. In fact English uses between 11 and 20 different vowel sounds depending on the accent.

The vowel letters in English do a poor job of showing how to pronounce things. Look at these 3 words that are pronounced the same but spelled with different vowels: Bi, Buy and Bye.

And the letter "a" in these 3 words is pronounced differently: fate, father and apple

At least in Hangul each vowel gets its own letter.

Horizontal Vowels

1) A single horizontal line.

Sounds like: the "u" in pull.
Transliteration: eu

eu (으)

2) A long horizontal line with a short line on top.

Sounds like: the "o" in poke.
Transliteration: o

o (오)

3) A long horizontal line with a short line below.

Sounds like: the "oo" in boot.
Transliteration: u

u (우)

Vertical Vowels

1) A single vertical line.

Sounds like: the "ee" in meet
Transliteration: i

i (이)

2) A long vertical line with a short line on the right.

Sounds like: the "a" in father.
Transliteration: a

a (아)

3) A long vertical line with a short line on the left.

Sounds like: the "o" in son.
Transliteration: eo

eo (어)

Hangul Trivia: When Hangul was first created, the short vertical and horizontal lines used today in vowels like ㅓ and ㅗ were instead represented using a dot.

Next Steps
Now open up the Basic Vowels Quiz and use the flashcards to review. Once you feel comfortable with the material take the quiz.