15 Commonly Used Korean Maxims

15 Commonly Used Korean Maxim


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가는 말이 고와야 오는 말이 곱다.
Nice words for nice words.
(When you speak gently and kindly, people speak back nicely to you too.)


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겉 다르고 속 다르다.
The surface is different and the inside is different.

You cannot believe a person just by looking at them superficially.

Wolf in sheep’s clothing.


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꿩먹고 알먹고 
Literal meaning: Eat a pheasant and eat its eggs too. 
Kill two birds with one stone.


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긁어 부스럼
Literal meaning: Scratch a boil/spot

Scratching the itch.
Leave well enough alone.
Open up can of worms.


누워서 침뱉기 
Literal meaning: Spit whilst lying down.

Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.
It’s an ill bird that fouls its own nest.
What goes around, comes around.


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금강산도 식후경
Literal meaning: You can’t even enjoy the view of Kumgang on an empty stomach.

(Mountain Kumgagn is a famous mountain in North Korea)

A loaf of bread is better than song of many birds.



첫술에 배부르랴.
Literal meaning: One spoon of food doesn’t make you full.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.


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믿는 도끼에 발등 찍힌다.
Literal meaning: Be chopped in the foot by a trusted axe.

Stabbed in the back.
Trust makes way for treachery.



김칫국부터 마신다.
Literal meaning: Drink a Kimchi soup already.

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch


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울며 겨자먹기 
Literal meaning: Crying and eating mustard.

Face the music.
Bite the bullet.


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남의 떡이 커 보인다.
Literal meaning: Their rice cakes always look bigger than mine.

The grass is always greener on the other side.



벼룩의 간을 빼먹는다.
Literal meaning: Taking a liver from a flea.

You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.


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갈수록 태산 
Literal meaning: Mountains beyond mountains.


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돌다리도 두들겨보고 건너라

Literal meaning: Even it’s a stone bridge knock it and check if it’s safe or not before you cross.

Look before you leap.

You can’t be too careful.


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마른 하늘에 날벼락

Literal meaning: Sudden thunderbolt on Sunny day.

Out of the blue.




Amy Kim is a South Korean native who relocated to Manchester. When not teaching Korean, she spends her free time reading & painting.