Regardless of the language you’re writing in, punctuation is an essential element not to be excluded. Not only does it serve as a guide to tell readers where to pause or stop, it also helps us to better interpret sentences and determine the intended tone and emphasis of the text. Without punctuation, many texts would lose their clarity and coherence.
In Korean language, however, some punctuation marks take on a slightly different function as compared to when they’re used in English texts. In this article, we’ll share more about punctuation and how they differ when used in both languages.
Learn More: Learning About Korean Sentence Structures
Punctuation Marks that are Used Similarly
Question Mark (?) | 물음표 (mul-eum-pyo) | 물음 (question) + 표 (mark)
The question mark serves the same purpose in both Korean and English texts. It is the primary indicator of a question, and is added to the end of the sentence.
Exclamation Mark (!) | 느낌표 (neu-kkim-pyo) | 느낌 (feeling) + 표 (mark)
The exclamation mark is used similarly in both Korean and English sentences to emphasise, or express surprise, excitement, and strong emotions.
Double Quotation Marks (") | 큰 따옴표 (keun tta-om-pyo) | 큰 (big) + 따옴 (quotation) + 표 (mark)
Double quotation marks are usually used to enclose and indicate direct speech or quoted text in English. It is also used to mark dialogues or quoted speech in Korean text.
Single Quotation Marks (') | 작은 따옴표 (jag-eun tta-om-pyo) | 작은 (small) + 따옴 (quotation) + 표 (mark)
In both English and Korean texts, single quotation marks are used to enclose a quote within a quote or to draw attention to a word or phrase being discussed. It is also used when you’re writing down one’s thoughts into texts.
Ellipsis (...) | 줄임표 (jul-im-pyo) | 줄임 (shorten) + 표 (mark)
The ellipsis is a punctuation mark characterised by three dots, used to indicate an omission, a pause, or a trailing-off thought. They serve a similar purpose in both Korean and English.
Punctuation Marks that are Used Differently
Periods (.) | 마침표 (ma-chim-pyo) | 마침 (finish) + 표 (mark)
Known as a '마침표' (ma-chim-pyo) or '점' (jeom), periods are used to mark the end of sentences in both English and Korean. While it is used fairly frequently throughout English text, it isn’t used as often in Korean text. It can also be used in abbreviations and dates in Korean. For instance, 18.08.2023 instead of 18 August 2023.
Commas (,) | 쉼표 (swim-pyo) | 쉼 (pause) + 표 (mark)
In English, commas are used to serve several purposes: separate items in a list, enclose information within a sentence, and join independent clauses. For instance, “The cake, which is for her birthday, is in the refrigerator.” or “I wanted to go for a picnic, but it was raining”
In Korean language, however, commas are used rather differently. They are not used to enclose information or join clauses, but are used only to separate items in a list. For independent clauses, conjunctions like ‘그리고’ (geu-li-go), which means ‘and’, ‘하지만 (ha-ji-man), which translates to ‘but’, sentence-ending particles, or pauses are used instead. For example, “사과, 바나나, 오렌지.”
Tilde (~) | 물결표 (mul-gyeol-pyo) | 물결 (wave) + 표 (mark)
The tilde is occasionally used for different purposes in informal English writing. It can be used before a number to mean “approximately” (e.g. the bus stop is ~200 metres away) or used at the end of a sentence to sound polite or playful (e.g. thank you for the gifts~).
In Korean, the tilde is rarely used for approximation. Usually, the word ‘정도’ (jeong-do) is placed after the number to mean “roughly” or “approximately”. For instance, 백화점은 200미터 정도 떨어져 있어요 (baeg-hwa-jeom-eun 200mi-teo jeong-do tteol-eo-jyeo iss-eo-yo), which translates to “The departmental store is about 200 metres away.”
It is, however, also used to sound polite. For example, “오늘 카페에서 만나자~” (o-neul ka-pe-e-seo man-na-ja~), which translates to “let’s meet at the café today~
Additionally, it can be used to indicate a range. For example, “20분~30분 걸어요” (20bun~30bun geol-eo-yo) or it’ll take about 20 to 30 minutes.
Middle Dot (ㆍ) | 가운뎃점 (ga-un-det-jeom) | 가운데 (centre) + 점 (dot)
Known as the interpunct, the middle dot is a punctuation mark used for interword separation in ancient Latin script when word-separating spaces did not exist. Today, it is used mostly in mathematics, and rarely in English texts. It also isn’t widely used in Korean, but is occasionally used to separate words in a list, or for clarity in more formal or technical writing.
Want to learn more about the Korean language and how it differs from English? At ONLYOU Korean Language School in Singapore, our Korean teachers will guide you towards becoming masters of the language. Sign up for our classes here.