The Korean Age: 5+ Amazing Facts

Original blog post:

Did you know that the Korean age is not the same as the age you might be aware of? Your age might be different once you go to South Korea. To save you from such a cultural shock, we will give you all the significant details that you need about the Korean age in this blog post. If you are ready for that, then let’s dive right into it!

Korean Age System

The Korean age system is technically very unique and different. It does not follow the Gregorian calendar. The Korean age, 한국 나이 (Hanguk nai), needs to be calculated according to the Lunar calendar. The age in other areas like Eastern Mongolia had comparatively different systems for calculations as compared to the Korean system.

The traditional Korean age is used by adding the unit sal (살) at the end. Sal (살) means a year in the Korean language. This can be added with both one and more than one number since the rules of the plurality are not especially important in Korean culture.

Brief History

The Chinese people tend to say that their children are born with sui 嵗/岁, which technically means that they are born with one year of life. They then have to follow the Lunar calendar to change their age and become one year older. It is 두 살 (du sal) in Korean which means two years old.

If we look at history, we would realize that this system was prevalent among all the Chinese-influenced East Asian cultural spheres: China, Japan, Korea, Viet Nam, and some other regions.

Difference Between Korean And International Age

Korean people use two age systems, and therefore they must have a way to distinguish between both ages. As you may know that there are two types of number systems used in the Korean language: Sino Korean numbers and native Korean numbers.

While using the Sino Korean numbers to tell the age, you should use the age units 세 (se) and 살 (sal) while using the native Korean numbers. For example, 칠세 (chilse) would be seven years old in the Sino Korean numbers and 두살 (dusal) would be two years in native Korean numbers.

Now to differentiate the traditional Korean age from the international age system, i.e., 만나이 (man-nai), the Korean people will add the word 만 (man) before the age/number. For instance, 두살 (dusal) using the international system will be 만두살 (man dusal).

You should also know that if the Korean people are casually talking to each other without any professional/formal connotation to their conversation then they would be using the traditional Korean system 한국 나이 (Hanguk nai) instead of 만나이 (man-nai).

Year Age

While learning about the Korean age system, it is important to know about the concept of year age in South Korea. Year age is adding one to the actual age. If you measure your age according to the western system, you need to add one in it to have your year age.

January 1st

Each Korean person gets one year older on January 1st. This is not a hard and fast rule. It is just a way of Korean culture to increase the age of people and make them get older. If your baby is born on New year’s day, it is not one year old after a day but two years old, which might fascinate you.

At the start of the Lunar year, the age changes all of a sudden, so even a day can make you get one year older than you were the day before that.

The Legal Drinking Age In Korea

The legal drinking age in Korea is international 19 years which could be Korean 20 or even 21 years if the person was not born on the same day a year ago. At this age, it is legally permitted to drink in Korea. Other things are told using the international age system, such as the legal age to watch movies that are supposed to be watched at a specific age, etc.

Celebrating 백일 (baegil)

If you are a non-Korean person, you might not know about 백일 (baegil), which is celebrated on the 100th of birth in Korea. You can think of it as a milestone that a child has achieved, and the parents and relatives are eager to celebrate. If this does not make much sense to you, then allow us to give you a glimpse of its context.

Context Of 백일 (baegil)

In ancient times, children used to die because of countless reasons. The seasons used to be extreme for the babies to survive, and thus the babies used to suffer a lot. The medical conditions were also not advanced like they are these days. Many children used to either die because of famine or harsh weather conditions.

To prevent the babies from dying at that time, the parents used to keep their children hidden from all such hazards for the first 100 days. It was believed that an infant who easily passes the first 100 days of their birth tends to be healthy and can live a long life.

The parents spent their time praying to god for their child’s health and consulting shamans to ask about how to proceed. Once their child passes that crucial time, the entire family celebrates that event zealously.

The family used to gather together and have a feast. They showed their gratitude to the gods and gave shamans and the people food. In those times, 백일 (baegil) was extremely important for every Korean person. Nowadays, people do not celebrate 백일 (baegil) as much as they used to. These days, more importance is given to dol (돌), which is the first anniversary of a child’s birthday.

Calculating The Korean Age

Here we bring you an easy formula to learn and use to calculate your Korean age. Korean Age = (Current Year − Birth Year) + 1. If you ever find yourself confused about the Korean age, this should be your go-to formula.

Let’s look at all the Korean ages

How To Ask Someone’s Age

There are several ways to ask about someone’s age. All of those ways depend upon the level of formality and speech in the Korean language. Let’s learn some of the most common ways.

몇 살이야? (myeot sa-ri-ya?)

The most informal way of asking someone’s age in Korean is 몇 살이야? (myeot sa-ri-ya?). Western countries don’t have such specific expressions. Most of the Korean people talking to younger people ask 몇 살이야? (myeot sa-ri-ya?).

나이가 어떻게 되십니까? (na-i-ga eo-tteo-kke doe-sim-ni-kka?)

This is yet another phrase. It is a good way to ask how old someone is. However, this is a very formal way of asking and is usually asked from an individual with a very higher authority like the president, etc.

몇 살이에요? (myeot sa-ri-e-yo?)

While talking to the strangers, Korean people tend to ask 몇 살이에요? (myeot sa-ri-e-yo?). Strangers are not the people that you can easily be casual or informal with. Some might feel okay but mostly could feel offended and awkward.

Like they say “better safe than sorry”, ask 몇 살이에요? (myeot sa-ri-e-yo?) from everyone around you.

나이가 어떻게 되세요? (na-i-ga eo-tteo-kke doe-se-yo?)

Let’s take the respect up a notch and learn how to ask age in an even more informal way. 나이가 어떻게 되세요? (na-i-ga eo-tteo-kke doe-se-yo?) is a nice and respectful way of asking someone’s age. While talking to your senior or boss, you could ask 나이가 어떻게 되세요? (na-i-ga eo-tteo-kke doe-se-yo?) if you are curious.

연세가 어떻게 되십니까? (yeon-se-ga eo-tteo-kke doe-sim-ni-kka?)

Talking to a really old person like older 60 years or older? This phrase has the word 연세 (yeonse), which is a formal way of saying age.

몇 년생이에요? (myeot nyeon-saeng-i-e-yo?)

Another respectful way to ask someone their age is 몇 년생이에요? (myeot nyeon-saeng-i-e-yo?). The person might tell you their year of birth. If someone asks this, you can tell the year you were born.

How To Respond

To respond to such questions, you could use the following phrases:

Same Age Response

If you realize that you are the same age as someone else, then feel free to say 우리는 동갑이다 (urineun donggapida). This means that “we both are of the same age.” You don’t need to follow the formal rules anymore and feel free to try being casual with a person who says this.

Wrapping Up

Hopefully, you had a lot to learn in this blog post. Besides learning how to ask and tell age, you also learned about the Korean age system. If you liked this blog, you must also be interested in checking out the best words for describing body parts and ways to say sorry in Korean.

Also, be sure to download the Ling App. The Ling App by Simya Solutions is a great platform to start learning any language. With different options to learn, your language learning can go perfectly. Learn more about its unique features here.

Happy Learning!



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