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Tips For Korean Language Learners: The Basics of Age Introduction in Social Interactions

learning korean Apr 25, 2023
Tips for Korean language learners: The basics of age introduction in social interactions

Question by: Natasha, Ecuador
Answered by: GJK Team

 A Korean learner asked this question.


 “How do you say an unspecified age? For example when you want to say someone is in their ‘30s’ or ‘20s’?”


 This is a very interesting question because generally speaking, many people around the world do not like exposing their ages. However, in Korean culture, age plays an important role in social relationships and is often used as a way to show respect. Therefore, it is often asked and introduced during the very first time people meet.


Asking For Other People’s Age in Korean

 In some countries, asking someone their age at the first meeting may come across as rude and may seem a little strange. However, this is one of the most important and common questions during the introduction stage in Korea. Therefore, learning how to ask one’s age is very crucial in social settings.


 Let us go through some terms referring to the word “age” in Korean:

1. 연세 (yeon-se) - 연세 should be used when speaking to someone who is a lot older, to show respect to the person the speaker is talking to.


2. 나이 (na-i) - 나이 can be used when speaking to someone who appears to be in the same age group or younger as the speaker.


3. 살 (sal) - 살 is a counter used for age.


4. 세 (se) - Similar to 살, 세 is a counter for age but it is more commonly used when talking to a person who is older. It is also usually used in written documentation.


 Now, how do we ask someone’s age in Korean? There are five ways you may use depending on the social setting you are in:

 1. 연세가 어떻게 되십니까? 
 This sentence format is intended for the elderly or for someone who appears much older than you. By using the formal verb ending ‘니까’, it is suitable for formal situations such as interviews.

*Note: To show respect to the person the speaker is talking to, 시- honorific suffix is usually added to a verb in a sentence or question.


 2. 연세가 어떻게 되세요?
 This sentence is less formal than no.1 but it is still in polite form. Therefore, it is used when speaking to a person who is older.


 3. 나이가 어떻게 되세요?
 When speaking to somebody who is of a similar age group, then “나이” can be used in replacement of 연세.


 4. 몇 이에요?
 This expression sounds less formal than no.3 above but it is still acceptable in situations where the speaker is talking to people who are younger or of a similar age.


 5. 몇 이야? 
 This format is the most informal way of asking someone’s age, and it is only acceptable when talking to someone who is a lot younger. Otherwise, the speaker may come off as rude, or as if trying to start a fight.


Introducing Your Age in Korean

 When Koreans introduce themselves, they would start off with their names and most of the time, when the age gap is not apparent, they would ask each other of their ages so as to know what level of respect they should use with each other. They usually state their “Korean age.”


What is the Korean Age?

 Korean age is a system of calculating age that is commonly used in Korea and some East Asian countries, which is determined by the year of their birth instead of their actual birthday. In December 2022, the South Korean parliament passed a law to scrap the Korean age system on official documents.


 Under the Korean age system, a person is considered to be one year old upon birth and they would add one year to their age on January 1st of each year. This is contrary to the Western age system whereby the age is based on the number of full years since the person’s birthdate. In this system, a person’s age increases by one on their birthday each year.


 The Korean age system may come as a confusion to many people unaccustomed to Korean culture. This is why:

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Err… what??


 Let us explore how the Korean age is calculated. There are several ways to calculate your Korean age:

1. Using this formula: (Current Year +1) - (Year You Are Born).

 a) If you were born in 1993 and the current year is 2023:

 (2023 + 1) - 1993 = 31

 b) If you were born in 2005 and the current year is 2023:

 (2023+1) - 2005 = 19


2. If your birthday has passed upon calculation, add one year to your international age. If it hasn’t, add two years.

 Birthday has passed this year: Your Age + 1 = Korean Age

 a) You were born on 14 February 1993 so you are 30 years old in international age: 30 + 1 = 31


 Birthday has not passed this year: Your Age + 2 = Korean Age

 b) You were born on 14 December 1993 so you are 29 years old in international age: 29 + 2 = 31


3. If you are still confused, keep calm and use the Korean age calculator here.


How to Say “I am ______ Years Old” In Korean?

 During self-introductions, you may use this sentence:


 저는 ____(your age)____ 살입니다.


 살 (sal) is the counter for an age of people or animals and it can only be used with native Korean numbers.


 For example, if you are 25 years old, you would say:

 저는 스물 다섯 살입니다.
 I am 25 years old.


  You may refer to the below for native Korean numbers:

To get numbers 11-19, simply combine with the next number, for example, 11 is 열하나, 12 is 열둘, and so on and so forth.


 How about 20, 30, 40 etc? They are as below:

Similar to 11-19, you may just combine the tens and the ones to get the numbers in between. For instance, 25 is 스물다섯, 46 is 마흔여섯, 88 is 여든여덟.


 Do note that native Korean numbers one, two, three, four, and twenty change when they are followed by the age counter, as shown below:

 1 year old - 한 살

 2 years old - 두 살

 3 years old - 세 살

 4 years old - 네 살

 20 years old - 스무 살


 How do we use 세 when talking about age?

 세 (se) is a counter for age which is more formal than 살 so it tends to be used in formal situations such as news broadcasts, presentations, signs, or notes. Please note that 세 can only be used to count age for people, and not animals. It can only be used with Sino-Korean numbers.

 For examples:


십구 세 이상만 입장 가능
Admission restricted to those 19 years old and older


한국 나이로 이십 세가 되면 술을 살 수 있습니다.
In Korea, you can buy alcohol when you turn 20 years old.


You may refer to the table below of Sino-Korean numbers:

Sino-Korean numbers are a lot less complicated. You may simply combine the tens and ones for numbers above 10, such as 십일 (11), 이십이 (22), 팔십사 (84), etc.


So, back to the original question.


How do we say “I am in my 20s” in Korean?

 You may use the following formats depending on the level of politeness:

 저는 20대입니다 (formal)

 저는 20대예요 (polite)

 나는 20대야 (casual)


 “대“ here carries the meaning of “an extent”. Therefore “20대” means “an extent of 20-29.


 You may also add 초반 (early), 중반 (mid), and 후반 (late) for a more specific age group.

 For examples:


 저는 20대 초반입니다.
 I am in my early 20s.


 저는 20대 중반입니다.
 I am in my mid-20s.


 저는 20대 후반입니다.
 I am in my late 20s.


For this format, do note that Sino-Korean numbers are used, as shown below:

In one’s teens: 대에

In one’s 20s: 이십대에

In one’s 30s: 삼십대에

In one’s 40s: 사십대에

In one’s 50s: 오십대에

In one’s 60s: 육십대에

In one’s 70s: 칠십대에

In one’s 80s: 팔십대에

In one’s 90s: 구십대에


 In conclusion, introducing age during social interactions is very common among Koreans. Therefore, it is very important to learn how to ask someone’s age, and how to tell people your age while getting to know new people.

Question by: Natasha, Ecuador
Answered by: GJK Team