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McCune–Reischauer romanization ( /məˈkn ˈr.ʃ.ər/) is one of the two most widely used Korean language romanization systems. A modified version of McCune–Reischauer was the official romanization system in South Korea until 2000, when it was replaced by the Revised Romanization of Korean system. A variant of McCune–Reischauer is still used as the official system in North Korea.


The system was created in 1937 by George M. McCune and Edwin O. Reischauer. With a few exceptions, it attempts not to transliterate Korean hangul but to represent the phonetic pronunciation. McCune–Reischauer is widely used outside Korea.

Characteristics and criticism

Korean has phonologically no distinction between voiced and voiceless consonants, but it phonetically distinguishes them. Aspirated consonants like p', k', and t' are distinguished by apostrophe from unaspirated ones, which may be falsely understood as a separator between syllables (as in 뒤차기twich'agi, which consists of the syllables twi, ch'a and gi). The apostrophe is also used to mark transcriptions of ㄴㄱ (n'g) as opposed to ㅇㅇ (ng): 잔금chan'gŭm vs. 장음changŭm).

Critics of the McCune–Reischauer system claim that casual users of the system omit the breves ( ˘ ) over the o for and the u for because typing o or u without the breves is often easier than adding them. That can lead to confusion over whether the o being romanized is or or the u being Romanized is or . Casual users also often omit the apostrophe that differentiates aspirated consonants (, , , and ) from their unaspirated counterparts (, , , and ), which can also lead to confusion.

Defenders of the McCune–Reischauer system, however, respond that even if it is still best to include breves and apostrophes, even when they are omitted, a casual user unfamiliar with Korean can easily approximate the actual pronunciation of a Korean word.

Such common omissions were the primary reason the South Korean government adopted a revised system of romanization in 2000. Critics of the revised system claim it fails to represent and in a way that is easily recognizable. Also, it misrepresents the unaspirated consonants the way that they are actually pronounced.

Meanwhile, despite official adoption of the new system in South Korea, many in the Korean Studies community, both inside and outside South Korea and international geographic and cartographic conventions generally continue to use either the McCune–Reischauer or the Yale system. Also, North Korea uses a version of McCune–Reischauer.

Even within South Korea, usage of the new system is less than universal, like the variant of McCune–Reischauer that was the official Romanization system between 1984/1988 and 2000.


This is a simplified guide for the McCune–Reischauer system. It is often used for the transliteration of names but does not convert every word properly, as several Korean letters are pronounced differently depending on their position.


  • is written as ë after and . This is to distinguish (ae) from ㅏ에 (), and (oe) and ㅗ에 (). The combinations ㅏ에 () and ㅗ에 () very rarely occur except in sentences when a noun is followed by a postposition, as, for example, 회사에서 hoesaësŏ (at a company) and 차고에 ch'agoë (in a garage).
  • The Korean surnames 이/리(李) and 이(異) are transcribed as Yi not I (e.g. 이순신 as Yi Sunsin)
  • Consonants

  • The consonant digraphs (ㄳ, ㄵ, ㄶ, ㄺ, ㄻ, ㄼ, ㄽ, ㄾ, ㄿ, ㅀ, ㅄ) exist only as finals and are transcribed by their actual pronunciation.
  • For ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ, the letters g, b, d, or j are used if voiced, k, p, t, or ch otherwise. Pronunciations such as those take precedence over the rules in the table above.


  • Voiceless/voiced consonants
  • 가구 kagu
  • 등대 tŭngdae
  • 반복 panbok
  • 주장 chujang
  • Of course, the initial consonant ㅇ is disregarded in romanization, since it is only used in order to indicate the absence of sound.
  • 국어 (pronounced 구거) kugŏ (not kukŏ)
  • 믿음 (pronounced 미듬) midŭm (not mitŭm)
  • 법인 (pronounced 버빈) bin (not pin)
  • 필요 (pronounced 피료) p'iryo (not p'ilyo)
  • r vs. l
  • r
  • Between two vowels: 가로 karo, 필요 p'iryo
  • Before initial ㅎ h: 발해 Parhae, 실험 sirhŏm
  • l
  • Before a consonant (except before initial ㅎ h), or at the end of a word: 날개 nalgae, 구별 kubyŏl, 결말 kyŏlmal
  • ㄹㄹ is written ll: 빨리 ppalli, 저절로 chŏjŏllo
  • Consonant assimilations
  • 연락 (pronounced 열락) llak
  • 독립 (pronounced 동닙) tongnip
  • 법률 (pronounced 범뉼) mnyul
  • 않다 (pronounced 안타) ant'a
  • 맞히다 (pronounced 마치다) mach'ida
  • Palatalizations
  • 미닫이 (pronounced 미다지) midaji
  • 같이 (pronounced 가치) kach'i
  • 굳히다 (pronounced 구치다) kuch'ida
  • Exceptions that do not exactly follow pronunciation

  • The sequences -ㄱㅎ-, -ㄷㅎ- (only when palatalization does not occur)/-ㅅㅎ-, -ㅂㅎ- are written kh, th, ph respectively, even though they are pronounced the same as ㅋ (k'), ㅌ (t'), ㅍ (p').
  • 속히 sokhi (pronounced 소키)
  • 못하다 mothada (pronounced 모타다)
  • 곱하기 kophagi (pronounced 고파기)
  • When a plain consonant (ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, ㅅ, or ㅈ) becomes a tensed consonant (ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, ㅆ, or ㅉ) in the middle of a word, it is written k, t, p, s, or ch respectively, even though it is pronounced the same as ㄲ (kk), ㄸ (tt), ㅃ (pp), ㅆ (ss), or ㅉ (tch).
  • 태권도 (pronounced 태꿘도) t'aekwŏndo
  • 손등 (pronounced 손뜽) sontŭng
  • 문법 (pronounced 문뻡) munpŏp
  • 국수 (pronounced 국쑤) kuksu
  • 한자 (漢字, pronounced 한짜) hancha
  • North Korean variant

    In North Korea's variant of McCune–Reischauer, aspirated consonants are not represented by an apostrophe but are instead by adding an "h". For example, 평안 is written as Phyŏngan. The original system would have it written as P'yŏngan.

    South Korean variant

    A variant of McCune–Reischauer was in official use in South Korea from 1984 to 2000. The following are the differences between the original McCune–Reischauer and the South Korean variant:

  • was written as shi instead of the original system's si. When ㅅ is followed by ㅣ, it is realized as the [ɕ] sound (similar to the English [ʃ] sound (sh as in show)) instead of the normal [s] sound. The original system deploys sh only in the combination , as shwi.
  • was written as wo instead of the original system's in this variant. Because the diphthong w ( or as a semivowel) + o () does not exist in Korean phonology, the South Korean government omitted a breve in .
  • Hyphens were used to distinguish between ㄴㄱ and ㅇㅇ, between ㅏ에 and , and between ㅗ에 and in this variant system, instead of the apostrophes and ë in the original version. Therefore, apostrophes were used only for aspiration marks and ë was not used in the South Korean system.
  • When is followed by , the was written as l in the South Korean variant. Under the original McCune-Reischauer system, it is written as r.
  • Assimilation-induced aspiration by an initial is indicated. ㄱㅎ is written as kh in the original McCune-Reischauer system and as k' in the South Korean variant.
  • The following table illustrates the differences above.

    Other systems

    A third system, the Yale Romanization system, which is a transliteration system, exists but is used only in academic literature, especially in linguistics.

    The Kontsevich system, based on the earlier Kholodovich system, is used for transliterating Korean into the Cyrillic script. Like McCune–Reischauer romanization it attempts to represent the pronunciation of a word, rather than provide letter-to-letter correspondence.


    McCune–Reischauer Wikipedia

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