Geulja Geek: ㄱ, ㄴ, ㄷ, ㄹ, and ㅁ

Welcome to part 1 of our new series, Geulja Geek (geulja = letter). Each month we will be dissecting a set of letters from the Korean alphabet.

Having not grown up with Korean one of the struggles when learning it for me was recognizing the different ways each letter could be written, especially in handwriting. And one of the most fascinating things for me was discovering all the little things that differed from what I knew of typography in English. So, to put everything into one resource we will go over how to read and write each letter, how to call each letter, and how each letter looks in a few type styles. 

Since this is the first in the series lets start with some nomenclature. The letters used to write English are from the Latin alphabet, also known as the Roman alphabet. Various other languages (Latin, Spanish, German, Vietnamese) also use the Latin alphabet. The letters used to write Korean are called hangul (한글). This naming of the Korean alphabet started at the beginning of the 20th century and previous names, other than the original, aren’t used anymore.

Hunminjeongeum (훈민정음) is the original Korean alphabet. It literally translates into The Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People—the document explaining the alphabet when it was first created in 1446. Hunminjeongeum (훈민정음) consists of basic lines and circles, which differs from the modern-day alphabet.

Due to the differences of how the Latin and Hangul alphabets evolved through time the type classification nomenclature deserves some explanation. In the Latin alphabet the serif originated both from letters written with a chisel and the form of letters when written with a flat pen (more on that). The serif in Hangul is easily traced back to influences from letters written with a traditional brush (in an evolved form of Hunminjeonguem/훈민정음 by those who knew how to write Chinese). The accents made by the brush when the ink makes first contact with the paper, when the brush changes direction, and when the brush lifts up to end contact with the paper create the equivalent to serifs in the Latin alphabet.

There are also typefaces that emulate a more decorative brush (which are actually scripts), so it doesn’t make sense to call the serif classification brush. Instead, the serif classification translates into the word myeongjo/명조 (or myeongjo-che/명조체, using che as a suffix for typefaces). Going one step deeper, myeongjo translated back into English means ming which I can only assume refers to the Chinese Ming Dynasty which is the time period in which the Korean letters were originally made which also means this is the time when people wrote these letters with a brush.

In Korean sans-serif typefaces are normally called gothic/고딕 (or gothic-che/고딕체). This is interesting because in English gothic typefaces are a subclass of sans-serif typefaces. Although, Hangul does have typefaces in similar subclasses as in Latin typefaces.

When writing (and when creating a typeface) in Korean the stroke order is very important. This is the order and direction to write each line. When written in the correct stroke order each letter achieves a certain balance and legibility is at its highest. Write a single stroke without lifting up your pen or pencil. After writing the first stroke then it is time to lift up your pen or pencil and write the second stroke, and so on.

Part 1: ㄱ, ㄴ, ㄷ, ㄹ, and ㅁ
Part 2: ㅂ, ㅅ, ㅇ, ㅈ, and ㅊ
Part 3: ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ,  and ㅎ
Part 4: 아, 야, 어, 여, 오, and 요

Now it’s time to take a deeper look into this months letters: ㄱ, ㄴ, ㄷ, ㄹ, and ㅁ


Hangul Character: 
Character Name: Giyeok
Pronunciation: Between a k and g sound

When it’s before a vowel the sound is closer to a g and when it comes after a vowel the sound is closer to a k. Think of it as a softer version of k and a slightly snappier version of g. Write it with one stroke, so the writing utensil doesn’t leave the paper at all. Instead, pause at the corner without lifting your pen or pencil and continue the downward stroke.
Geulja Geek - Giyeok

Hangul Character:
Character Name: Nieun
Pronunciation: The n sound

Notice that for myeongjo typefaces it is proper to show the first point where the brush hits the paper before creating the down stroke as well as the end point where the brush comes off the paper. These two points create the serifs.
Geulja Geek - Nieun

Hangul Character:
Character Name: Digeut
Pronunciation: In between d and t but is closer to d as there is another letter that creates a clear t sound

Note that this letter has two strokes, so the first is the top horizontal stroke. Then lift your pen or pencil up and start the second stroke at the top left corner to make the vertical line and continue to create the bottom horizontal line without lifting your pen or pencil up.Geulja Geek - Digeut

Hangul Character: 
Character Name: Rieul
Pronunciation: In between r and l and it wavers between the two depending on if it’s before or after a vowel

When preceding a vowel it is closer to a r sound and when it follows after a vowel it is closer to a l sound. Think of it as a sound like rolling r’s, but without the rolling.
Geulja Geek - Rieul

Hangul Character: 
Character Name: Mieum
Pronunciation: Creates an m sound

A fun fact, this character is similar to the word for mouth in Chinese (口) and this letter is based on the shape of the mouth when open. Coincidentally the word mouth begins with an m which is how I remembered this letter.
Geulja Geek - Mieum


If you want to read more about the origin of Hangul, check out our article The Drama of Creating Hangul. Stay tuned for part 2!

Part 1: ㄱ, ㄴ, ㄷ, ㄹ, and ㅁ
Part 2: ㅂ, ㅅ, ㅇ, ㅈ, and ㅊ
Part 3: ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ,  and ㅎ
Part 4: 아, 야, 어, 여, 오, and 요

Typefaces used:
Gothic (top): Nanum Gothic
Gothis (bottom): Dohyeon
Myeongjo: Un Batang
Modern: Shin Graphic
Handwritten: Nanum Songulshi
Original: Heumjeonguem

  • María José

    This 글자 Geek posts have been really useful! Especially the handwritten part because I used to have trouble with some hangul letters as I noticed natives wrote them differently than how they’re shown with computer fonts. Thanks for making this series of posts!

  • Erin

    The handwritten is okay, but not very inclusive. It’s as though you’re saying that it is the only or correct way to hand write the characters, but I have seen many natives write them in different ways, as do I for a few of them.