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Korean grammar - Common Korean idioms

Common Korean idioms

Here are 30 common Korean idioms to finish off.

Using the grammar you have mastered above and the vocabulary in the notes, you should be able to decipher the literal meanings.

여행하고 싶지만 그것은 그림의 떡이다.
Something you desire, but can’t have or afford

I would like to travel but its pie in the sky

그림 means 'picture' or 'painting'

means 'rice cake'

한 번에 두 마리 토끼를 잡으려다 둘 다 놓친다.
If you try to do many things at once, you can't succeed in anything.

He who hunts two hares loses both

토끼 means 'rabbit'

놓치다 means 'to let skip' or 'to let go'

남의 떡이 커 보인다.
Others' looks more or better than mine.

The grass is greener on the other side of the fence

means 'another person'

윗물이 맑아야 아랫물도 맑다.
Only when the older is nice and honest can the younger be nice and honest.

The fish always stinks from the head downwards

means 'above' or 'upper'

아랫 means 'below' or 'lower'

맑다 means 'to be clean' or 'to be fresh' or 'to be pure'

서당 개 삼 년이면 풍월을 읊는다.
If you see and hear anything for a long time, you will know how to do it.

The sparrow near a school sings the primer

서당 means 'private school' (historical)

풍월 means 'a traditional form poetry'

읊다 means 'to recite'

선무당이 사람 잡는다.
An inexperienced person makes a mess of things by needless interrupting.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

선무당 means 'novice shaman'

잡다 means 'to catch' or 'to hunt and kill' or 'to slaugther (an animal)'

공자 앞에서 문자 쓴다.
A person who lacks knowledge pretends to know in front of a more knowledgeable person than himself.

To teach a fish how to swim

공자 means 'Confucius'

문자 means 'letter' or 'character'

김칫국부터 마신다.
One person makes a hasty generalization and acts foolishly.

Don't count the chickens

김칫국 means 'kimchi liquid'

옷이 날개다.
If someone wears nice clothes, it looks better.

Fine feathers make find birds

means 'clothing'

means 'day'

개다 means 'to make clear' or 'to make bright'

달도 차면 기운다.
Once everything in the world has flourished, it is bound to decline again. Luck never lasts.

Every flow must have its ebb

means 'moon'

차다 means 'to be full'

기울다 means 'to tilt' or 'to wane'

빛 좋은 개살구.
Never judge from appearance.

All that glitters is not gold

means 'glow' or 'gleam'

개살구 means 'wild apircot'

손바닥도 마주쳐야 소리가 난다.
It's hard to do alone without an opponent. Both are to blame.

It takes two to tango

손바닥 means 'palm of the hand'

마주치다 means 'to clash together' or 'to run into'

소리 means 'sound'

나다 means 'to come out' or 'to result'

세 살 적 버릇 여든 간다.
You cannot break childhood habits even when you're old; 버릇 means 'habit'

A leopart can't change its spots

means 'at the time of'

버릇 means 'habit' or 'manners'

여든 means 'eighty'

엎어진 물이다.
Once done, there is no turning back.

No use crying over split milk

엎어지다 means 'to spill' or 'to tip over'

낮말은 새가 듣고 밤말은 쥐가 듣는다.
Watch your language even where no one hears.

Walls have ears

means 'daytime'

우는 아이 젖 준다.
You can get anything quickly if you ask for it.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease

means 'breast' or 'milk'

쥐구멍에도 볕 들 날이 있다.
Even in the most challenging and difficult situations, good days will come.

Every dog has his day

구멍 means 'hole'

is short for 햇볕

햇볕 means 'sunshine'

들다 means 'to come in'

식은 죽 먹기.
It is an effortless thing to do.

Piece of cake

식다 means 'to cool down'

means 'soup' or 'porridge'

아닌 땐 굴뚝에 연기 나랴.
Every rumor has a cause for such a rumor.

There is no smoke without fire

때다 means 'to burn (firewood)'

굴뚝 means 'chimney

연기 means 'smoke'

우물 안의 개구리.
Someone is conceited without knowing the wide world.

A big fish in a little pond

우물 means 'well'

means 'inside'

개구리 means 'frog'

빈 수레가 요란하다.
A person, who doesn't know much about something, pretends to understand and talks more.

A barking dog never bites

비다 means 'to be empty'

수레 means 'cart'

요란하다 means 'to bustle' or 'to make a fuss'

호랑이도 제 말하면 온다.
Speak of someone and he is sure to appear

Speak of the devil

호랑이 means 'tiger';

잘되면 제 탓, 못되면 조상 탓.
People don't think about their poor skills but only try to find excuses.

A bad workman blames his tools

means 'reason' or 'cause' or blame'

조상 means 'ansestor'

팔은 안으로 굽는다.
Judgment in any way favors one's family or relative.

Charity begins at home

굽다 means 'to be bent'

실패는 성공의 어머니다.
Don't be afraid of failure, and challenge yourself.

Failure is but a stepping stone to success

실패 means 'failure'

성공 means 'success'

눈코 뜰 새 없다
I don’t have time to open my eyes and nose.

Too busy and have no time to lose

뜨다 means 'to open (eyes)'

눈을 뜨다 means 'to open ones eyes'

is a contraction of 사이

사이 means 'gap' or 'share time'

가재는 게 편이라
Those that are similar, stay together

Bird of a feather flock together

가재 means 'crayfish'

means 'crab'

means 'way' or 'side'

꼬리를 흔들다
Flattering or enticing another

To try to get into another persons good graces

꼬리 means 'tail'

흔들다 means 'to wave' or 'to wag'

눈이 높다
Having high standards or unrealistic expectations

높다 means 'to be high' or 'to be lofty'

눈이 뒤집히다
To be mad, insane

To flip one lid

뒤집다 means 'to turn inside out'

뒤집히다 (causative) means 'to be turned inside out'