Korean Honor Titles You Must Know (KWOW#47)


In KWOW #47, we've learned some important social titles: SUNBAE and HOOBAE. These terms are omnipresent in the academic and Korean entertainment worlds. Check out the latest episode if you haven't already:

Shall we do a quick review? The English translation of sunbae is "senior." Sunbae is NOT synonymous with elderly people. The term has nothing to do with age.

Someone is sunbae to you if they…

  • attended the same school as you (before you did).
  • worked in the same company as you (before you did).

Anyone who entered your academic or work environment before you is sunbae.

Sunbae is informal. The formal version is sunbaenim. Use sunbae only to those you are good friends with. For all other relations it is recommended to use sunbaenim. In most cases it is safer to speak formally. On the other hand, it can be awkward if you speak formally to your same-age friends.

If sunbae means "senior," is there a Korean word for juniors? Yes! "Junior" is hoobae. Keep in mind that sunbae and hoobae do NOT refer to grade levels (i.e. freshman, sophomore, junior, senior). Sunbae and hoobae are titles used beyond the school years. Alumni continue to call their seniors as sunbae long after they've have graduated.

The sunbae culture is taken seriously in Korea. If you don't address your sunbaes correctly, they may be offended.


Think you understand the sunbae and hoobae system? Let's put your skills to the test! (Answers at end of blog entry)

Question #1: G-Wagon was born in 1988. Taeyin was born in 1984. G-Wagon started working for Galbi Entertainment in 2001. Taeyin entered the same company in 2005. Who's the sunbae?

Question #2: You were an 11th grader at Kimchi High School, but just transferred to Tongdak High. You became friends with Bobby Lee, a 9th grader. Who's the sunbae?

Question #3: Your new 9th grade buddy Bobby Lee transferred to Kimchi High School. An year later you graduated from Tongdak High. Who's the sunbae now?

Question #4: Your grandmother is heading back to school! She was recently accepted at your college, which you graduated from last year. Who's the sunbae?

Question #5: Where do you hear sunbaenim in this video?

ANSWERS BELOW. NO PEEKING!

Answer #1: Even though Taeyin is four years older, G-Wagon is sunbae to Taeyin. Remember, age has nothing to do with someone being your sunbae.

Amswer #2: Regardless of age and grade level, Bobby Lee is sunbae because he attended Tongdak High School before you.

Amswer #3: Bobby Lee is still sunbae to you at Tongdak High School. This is because Bobby attended the school before you did. But guess what? You are sunbae to him at Kimchi High School. How? Because you had attended Kimchi High before Bobby did. You are both sunbaes, but at different schools!

Amswer #4: You are sunbae to your grandma. Once again, age has nothing to do with being a sunbae. It has everything to do with who attended the school first.

Answer #5: Sunbaenim appears at 0:16.

How did you do? Did you get all of them right? Awesome. If not, don't worry. Go watch KWOW #47 again ;)



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