23+ Easy Korean Proverbs for Korean Learners to Know

If you’re learning Korean…

It’s good to learn Korean proverbs and idioms. These sayings make you sound like a more fluent and fluid speaker. Instead of saying things literally, you say things creatively… and on a level that native speakers understand.

So, in this guide, you’ll learn 23+ Korean proverbs. Ready?

1. A frog doesn’t remember being a tadpole.

  • 개구리 올챙이 생각 한다
  • Gaeguri olchaengi jeok saenggak mot-handa

This is a metaphorical phrase that’s used tauntingly to refer to a person whose circumstances have improved compared to the past. But, specifically, this is used for people who don’t seem to remember that they came from more humble and difficult times.

2. Losing the cow and fixing the barn.

  • 잃고 외양간 고친다
  • So ilhgo oeyang-gan gochinda

This Korean idiom sarcastically implies that mending or repairing a barn is only done after the cow is lost (perhaps stolen). In short, it is useless to fix things after you’ve lost everything.

3. Words turn into seeds.

  • 말이 씨가 된다
  • Mal-i ssiga doenda

This is one of my favorite Korean proverbs.

This is a saying for a situation where something you’ve kept on saying for a long time ends up coming true. Ever had that? It’s like your words turn into seeds and become a plant. 

4. There’s a flying man above a running man.

  • 뛰는 위에 나는 있다
  • Ttwineun nom wi-e naneun nom itda

This is not just a Gangnam style reference but a Korean proverb which means that no matter how talented or successful you are, there is always somebody who is better than you; and the fact that people are always wary of others’ success. There is also a word play here as “ttwieonada” (runs) means outstanding in Korean. 

You’d probably know this as “there’s always a bigger fish. ”

5. Even if I have ten mouths, I have nothing to say.

  • 입이 개라도 말이 없다
  • Ib-i yeol gaerado hal mal-i eobda

Figuratively, this phrase means people can make no excuses for a clear mistake on their part. You would say this in situations when you are sorry and feels shameful of his wrongdoings. As in, you could say a whole lot… but because you know you are wrong… you can’t say anything.

6.  Enemies meet on a single log bridge.

  • 원수는 외나무다리에서 만난다
  • Wonsuneun oenamudari-eseo man-nanda

Does this remind you of certain romance tropes? Well, this proverb is used to imply that in life, you will often meet a person you’d want to avoid (an enemy, for example) in situations where you will have to face them. Like, on a single log bridge.

7. The crow flies and the boat sinks.

  • 까마귀 날자 떨어진다
  • Kkamagwi nalja bae tteoreo-jinda

This is another one of my favorite Korean proverbs.

In this idiom, you have two obviously unrelated events in one sentence. This is to show how different events happening at the same time can make people think there’s a relationship between them. 

So, use this idiom when people mistakenly think things are related. But, just because these 2 happened at the same time doesn’t mean they’re related.

8. Even a dog would not catch a cold in midsummers.

  • 오뉴월 감기는 개도 걸린다
  • Onyuwol gamgineun gaedo an geol-linda

This is a teasing expression for a person suffering from a cold during the warm months of the year. As, even a dog wouldn’t catch it… but you did!

9. The coy cat climbs up to the stove first.

  • 얌전한 고양이가 부뚜막에 먼저 올라간다
  • Yamjeonhan goyangi-ga buttumag-e meonjeo ollaganda

A metaphoric expression referring a person who seems to be composed and reserved on the outside but proves to be substantial and capable when he sets his real essences on the table. 

10. The bear does the tricks and the man earns the money.

  • 재주는 곰이 넘고 돈은 되놈이 번다
  • Jaejuneun gom-i neomgo doneun doenom-i beonda

One man sows and another man reaps. This proverb signifies the times when a person works hard on something, but someone else receives the money for the work.

11. I can’t spit on a smiling face.

  • 웃는 낯에 뱉는다
  • Ut-neun nach-e chim mot baet-neunda

This Korean idiom preaches good-heartedness. It means that if someone is always kind to you, you can’t treat them badly despite the shortcomings in your relationship.

12. Even hedgehogs think that their child is beautiful.

  • 고슴도치도 새끼가 제일 곱다고 한다
  • Goseumdochido je saekkiga jeil gobdago handa]

In the eyes of all parents, all their children are handsome and pretty. It discourages parents who nitpick on their children’s appearances. 

13. Throwing eggs at a rock.

  • 계란으로 바위 치기
  • Gyeran-euro bawi chigi

This idiom depicts an unwinnable fight– a situation where one is bound to fail no matter how many times or how hard he tries. Like pushing a boulder up a mountain or tossing pails of water on a raging fire.

14. Too many boatsmen will drive the boat to the mountain.

  • 사공이 많으면 배가 산으로 간다
  • Sagong-i manh-eumyeon baega san-euro ganda

The Korean version of “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” It means that if several boatsmen try to control the same boat, it will eventually end up on the mountain. Figuratively, it is difficult to do things properly if too many people make their own arguments without anyone in charge.

15. Even a straw shoe has its pair.

  • 짚신도 제짝이 있다
  • Jipsindo jejjak-i itda

For all the people who have given up hopes of finding a perfect partner, this Korean proverb is a form of encouragement. It simply means that if something as basic as a straw shoe can have its pair, so can anyone else.

16. There are days when sunlight enters a mouse hole.

  • 쥐구멍에도 있다
  • Jwigumeong-edo byeol deul nal itda

It means that there are days when good luck breaks out even in a life of great hardship. A pleasant quote to hear amidst your daily struggles.

17. Rice ears bow as they ripe.

  • 이삭은 익을수록 고개를 숙인다
  • Byeo isageun igeulsurok gogaereul suginda

Rice plants tend to bow their heads as they grow ripe. This is used to say that the more elegant and successful people are, the more humble they are and do not want to boast in front of others.

18. See a mosquito and pull out a knife.

  • 모기 보고 빼기
  • Mogi bogo kal ppaegi

Have you ever overreacted over something insignificant and regretted later on? Well this figurative idiom is just for you. It is used when people make a fuss over trivial matters. 

You might know this as “making a mountain out of a molehill.”

19. Being unaware of your clothes getting wet in a drizzle.

  • 가랑비에 젖는 모른다
  • Garangbi-e os jeojneun jul moreunda

We all underestimate many things that seem small but have noticeable impacts, just like time. You don’t expect to get wet in a light drizzle of rain but you’re drenched in no time.

A similar proverb is 티끌 모아 태산 [Tikkeul moa taesan] or ‘Gathered dust creates a mountain.’

20. There’s nothing to eat at a rumoured feast.

  • 소문난 잔치에 먹을 없다
  • Somun-nan janchi-e meogeul geos eobda

A sarcastic phrase that refers to a case where groundless rumors do not match with the reality. When people base their expectations on rumors they will eventually have nothing to feed on but disappointment.

21. It is dark under the lamp.

  • 등잔 밑이 어둡다
  • Deungjan mit-i eodubda

Meaning you can not recognize the true colors of a person/situation when you’re too close to it. Kind of like a variation of  “missing the forest for the trees.”

22. Swallow if sweet, spit if bitter.

  • 달면 삼키고 쓰면 뱉는다
  • Dalmyeon samkigo sseumyeon baet-neunda

Pleasing words that preach seeking your interests and trying out stuff carefree; because you can then decide to relish them or just get rid of them. 

23. Not even giving others a cold.

  • 감기 고뿔도 남을 준다
  • Gamgi goppuldo nam-eul an junda

This is a Korean idiom mocking people who are so stingy that they would refuse to give even their cold to others.

How about you?

Would you be kind enough give someone else a cold?

You Owe Me a Comment

Now you know a whole bunch of Korean proverbs and idioms.

And since you made it this far down, you owe me a comment. Why? Because I said so! And what’s the point of just reading and NOT using the Korean you learn? So…

Which one is your favorite?

Leave me a comment.

If anything, it’ll help you remember the Korean proverbs you learned.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *