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Meaning of Oppa, Hyung, Unnie, Noona, Sunbaenim and more!!

If you are a K-pop or K-drama fan, you might have definitely come across your favourite idols or actors addressing people with suffixes like -hyung, -unnie, -ssi,-sunbaenim in kpop. And you might have wondered why do Koreans use these honorifics. Yes, there is absolutely no scenario where you have ignored this. Now it’s time to explore these honorifics!

In East Asian cultures, language act as more than just a medium of communication, it reflects deep-rooted societal values, hierarchies, and respect. Nowhere is this more evident than in the sophisticated honorific systems of Korea. Honorifics play a crucial role in shaping social interactions and relationships. Let's dive into the fascinating world of Korean honorifics to understand their importance.


1.      What are Korean Honorifics?

Korean honorific terms are distinct titles that refer to people older than you or higher than you in the social hierarchy. They are used to show respect and distance in the hierarchy.  That is because the Korean language and culture are hierarchical. Age and status are important in Korean society. That’s why you’ll often notice Koreans ask your age when they first meet you, and they’re trying to guess where you fit in on the hierarchy.

In the example below, let’s use “happy birthday” in Korean.

Korean honorifics


2.      Korean Honorific Family Titles


Below is a list of the most commonly used honorific family titles. For parents, you’ll use different honorific titles depending on whether or not it’s your mother’s parents or your father’s parents.

How to call your family in Korean


Hyung, Noona, Oppa, Unnie,


3.      What does hyung,oppa,noona mean?

For siblings, you will use different honorific titles depending on gender and if they are older than you. Some of these terms can also be used with older friends who aren’t necessarily family members. You might also use these titles with extended family members who are older than you.

 What does hyung mean?

Meaning of Hyung () = older brother for male.

The Korean word hyung is used to address an older brother or male friend. The only difference is that oppa is only used by girls, while hyung is only used by boys.

Hyung is an informal honorific that is used to address someone that you are very close to. It would be incorrect to use hyung when addressing an older male colleague because the workplace demands a formal address.

What does Oppa mean?

Meaning of Oppa (오빠) = older brother for female.

Oppa is a very intimate way of addressing somebody. It is casual and friendly and should not be used in formal settings. Today it could be considered slang. You definitely do not want to use oppa in a business meeting!

There are a number of different meanings of oppa. Sometimes, it is straightforward and easy to know what the intended meaning is. Other times, you need to depend on the context and personal relationship you have with the individual. Oppa can mean your actual, biological brother, male relatives and cousins, older male friend or acquaintance, male upper classmates, handsome guy (usually a celebrity), darling or honey.

Oppa is often used by Korean fangirls to refer to K-pop idols or celebrities. When oppa is used to refer to an idol, the requirements pointed out above do not apply. All that matters is that the idol or celebrity has status and/or is considered handsome enough to be addressed as oppa!

What does Noona mean?

Meaning of Noona (누나) = older sister for male

A younger brother or a younger man will use the Korean word. 누나 (noona) to address a female friend who is older. Nuna is the opposite of oppa. While oppa is used exclusively by females when addressing older males, nuna is used exclusively by males when addressing older females.

You may also see 누나 spelled as “Nuna.” Nuna is used in place of a person’s name. Just as with the other honorifics covered in this article, nuna is informal and only used when addressing older female relatives and very close older female friends in your social group. It would not be appropriate to address someone as nuna at work.

What does Unnie mean?

Meaning of Unnie (언니) = older sister for female

If you are a woman and another woman is older than you, the honorific with which to address them is 언니 (unnie). It is the female equivalent of hyung above. Unnie is only used by girls and only when addressing older female siblings or females you are very close with.

Additionally, it could be used to get the attention of the female staff members at a restaurant. Unnie is an informal, friendly way to address somebody therefore, it would not be appropriate to use unnie in the workplace when addressing an older colleague or your female superiors, even if they are older than you!

What does Sunbaenim mean?

Meaning of Sunbaenim (선배) = Sunbae means senior

What does Hoobae mean?

Meaning of Hubae  (후배)= Hubae means Junior

4.      Korean Suffixes and Honorifics to address people on a daily basis


Below are some Korean suffixes and forms of address that you’ll frequently hear. These are titles you can use when you need to address someone. Someone may use these titles to address you as well. Some of them are used in combination with the person’s name, and others just use the title by itself.


The Korean suffix 님 (nim) is a high-level honorific used to show respect to someone. This suffix is used with people’s names and titles. The word nim in Korean could be roughly translated to “Mr.” or “Madam” in English.

For example, if you take a taxi, you can call the driver gisa nim, which is a polite way to address the driver.

If you go to a hospital in Korea, they’ll call you by saying your name + nim. When going to a store, gogaek nim is used. The nim is attached to the word gogaek, which means “customer.”

For business honorifics, you’re going to add the 님 (nim) to the end of the workplace title. You will want to use this with anyone older than you, higher on the social hierarchy, or not yet on familiar terms with.

SSI (Pronounced as -shi)

Ssi (shi) in Korean is used to address people who are roughly on the same level of the social hierarchy. They may be slightly older or younger than you, but you’re roughly at the same hierarchy level because of the situation. An example you are already familiar of this might be two idols from the same K-pop Group.

This suffix is used with a person’s name + ssi. For example, let’s say in K-pop Group BTS, Kim Namjoon and Jung Hoseok (j-hope) are of the same age and often address each other as Namjoon ssi and j-hope ssi


Seonbaenim or Sunbaenim means seniors or mentors who are higher than you in the social hierarchy. Notice that it has the nim suffix at the end, which shows respect.

This suffix is used with a person’s name + seonbaenim. An example you are already familiar of this might be two K-pop groups addressing each other. K-pop group Shinee debuted in 2008 and the members are older. Hence the groups which debuted later will address them as Shinee Seonbaenim.


The suffix hubaenim is commonly used to address those younger than you when meeting for the first time. Koreans often ask about ages early on to figure out who is older or younger. Although hubae nim isn’t used with someone older than you, the nim is still used to show respect.


This term denotes respect and is typically used for someone older or in a professional setting. It’s similar to addressing someone as “sir” or “ma’am. “You can address your teachers, doctors and your superiors with this suffix.

By understanding the nuances of honorific language and practicing their usage, you can navigate conversations with confidence and demonstrate your respect for Korean culture and traditions. Keep learning, practicing, and embracing the richness of the Korean language through its honorifics.

Korean is even simpler and easier with LearnningTree. With diverse language learning courses, interactive learning and cultural insights, it enriches your linguistic development. At LearnningTree, we provide a variety of resources which enhances your Korean holistic skills. The courses are tailored from beginner to advanced levels. We embrace your vision and aspirations, empowering you to explore new horizons through our strategic language learning guidance.





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