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An overhead sign in rose and white with a big number 8 and the words Chamshil and Amsa in hangul and Latin script.
In this sign on Seoul Subway Line 8, Chamshil (잠실역) and Amsa (암사역) are romanized with the South Korean variant of McCune–Reischauer. They would be Jamsil and Amsa in Revised Romanization.

McCune–Reischauer romanization (/məˈkjn ˈrʃ.ər/ mə-KEWN RY-shour) is one of the two most widely used Korean-language romanization systems. It was created in 1937 and the ALA-LC variant based on it is currently used for standard romanization library catalogs in North America.[1]

The system was first published in 1939 by George M. McCune and Edwin O. Reischauer.[2][3] With a few exceptions, it does not attempt to transliterate Korean hangul but rather represents the phonetic pronunciation.[4]

A variant of McCune–Reischauer is still used as the official system in North Korea.[5] South Korea formerly used another variant of McCune–Reischauer as its official system between 1984 and 2000, but replaced it with the Revised Romanization of Korean in 2000.

Characteristics and usage[edit]

Under the McCune–Reischauer system, aspirated consonants like k', t', p' and ch' are distinguished by apostrophes from unaspirated ones. The apostrophe is also used to distinguish ㄴㄱ from ㅇㅇ: 연구 is transcribed as yŏn'gu while 영어 is yŏngŏ.

The breve is used to differentiate vowels in Korean: is spelled u, is ŭ, is o and is ŏ.


Because of the dual use of apostrophes—the more common being for syllabic boundaries—it can be ambiguous for persons unfamiliar with McCune–Reischauer as to how a romanized Korean word is pronounced. For example, 뒤차기twich'agi, which consists of the syllables twi, ch'a and gi).

In the early days of the Internet, the apostrophe and breve were even omitted altogether for both technical and practical reasons, which made it impossible to differentiate the aspirated consonants k', t', p' and ch' from the unaspirated consonants k, t, p and ch, ㄴㄱ (n'g) from ㅇㅇ (ng), and the vowels and as well as from . As a result, the South Korean government adopted a revised system of romanization in 2000.[6] However, Korean critics claimed that the Revised System fails to represent and in a way that is easily recognizable and misrepresents the way that the unaspirated consonants are actually pronounced.

Regardless of the official adoption of the new system in South Korea, North Korea continues to use a version of McCune–Reischauer.


This is a simplified guide for the McCune–Reischauer system.


Romanization a ae ya yae ŏ e[a] ye o wa wae oe yo u we wi yu ŭ ŭi i
  1. ^ is written as ë after and . This is to distinguish ㅏ에 () from (ae), and ㅗ에 () from (oe). 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'.


Romanization Initial k kk n t tt r m p pp s ss ch tch ch' k' t' p' h
Final k l t t ng t t k t p
  • The heterogeneous consonant digraphs (ㄳ, ㄵ, ㄶ, ㄺ, ㄻ, ㄼ, ㄽ, ㄾ, ㄿ, ㅀ, ㅄ) exist only as finals and are transcribed by their actual pronunciation.
Final consonant of the previous syllable + initial consonant of the next syllable











Final (vowel)3 g n d r m b s j ch' k' t' p' h
k g kk ngn kt ngn ngm kp ks kch kch' kk' kt' kp' kh
n n n'g nn nd ll/nn nm nb ns nj nch' nk' nt' np' nh
t d tk nn tt nn nm tp ss tch tch' tk' tt' tp' th
l r lg ll ld4 ll lm lb ls lj4 lch' lk' lt' lp' rh
m m mg mn md mn mm mb ms mj mch' mk' mt' mp' mh
p b pk mn pt mn mm pp ps pch pch' pk' pt' pp' ph
ng ng ngg ngn ngd ngn ngm ngb ngs ngj ngch' ngk' ngt' ngp' ngh
  1. is an initial consonant before a vowel to indicate the absence of sound.
  2. is romanized shwi.
  3. When the previous syllable ends in a vowel (for example, 아주 is romanized aju, not achu).
  4. In Sino-Korean words, lt and lch, respectively.

For , , , and , the letters g, d, b, or j are used if voiced, k, t, p, 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
  • The initial consonant 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)
    • 촬영 (pronounced [촤령]) ch'waryŏng (not ch'walyŏng)
  • r vs. l
    • r
      • Between two vowels: 가로 karo, 필요 p'iryo
      • Before initial h: 발해 Parhae, 실험 sirhŏm
    • l
      • Before a consonant (except before initial h), or at the end of a word: 날개 nalgae, 구별 kubyŏl, 결말 kyŏlmal
      • ㄹㄹ is written as ll: 빨리 ppalli, 저절로 chŏjŏllo
  • Consonant assimilations
    • 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 predict pronunciation[edit]

  • The sequences -ㄱㅎ-, -ㄷㅎ- (only when palatalization does not occur)/-ㅅㅎ-, and -ㅂㅎ- are written as kh, th, and ph, respectively, even though they are pronounced the same as (k'), (t'), and (p').
    • 속히 (pronounced [소키]) sokhi
    • 못하다 (pronounced [모타다]) mothada
    • 곱하기 (pronounced [고파기]) kophagi
  • When a plain consonant (, , , , or ) is pronounced as a tensed consonant (, , , , or ) in the middle of a word, it is written as k, t, p, s, or ch, respectively, even though it is pronounced the same as (kk), (tt), (pp), (ss), or (tch).
    • 태권도 (pronounced [태꿘도]) t'aekwŏndo (cf. 대궐 (pronounced [대궐]) taegwŏl)
    • 손등 (pronounced [손뜽]) sontŭng (cf. 전등 (pronounced [전등]) chŏndŭng)
    • 문법 (pronounced [문뻡]) munpŏp (cf. 맨발 (pronounced [맨발]) maenbal)
    • 국수 (pronounced [국쑤]) kuksu
    • 한자 (漢字, pronounced [한짜]) hancha (cf. 환자 (pronounced [환자]) hwanja)

Personal names[edit]

The rules stated above are also applied in personal names, except between a surname and a given name. A surname and a given name are separated by a space, but multiple syllables within a surname or within a given name are joined without hyphens or spaces.

The original 1939 paper states the following:[7]

The Romanization of Proper Names and Titles

Proper names like words should not be divided into syllables, as has often been done in the past. For example, the geographic term 光州 should be romanized Kwangju. Irregularities occurring in proper names such as in P'yŏngyang 平壤 which is colloquially pronounced P'iyang or P'eyang, should usually be ignored in romanizations intended for scholarly use.

Personal names demand special consideration. As in China, the great majority of surnames are monosyllables representing a single character, while a few are two character names. The given name, which follows the surname, usually has two characters but sometimes only one. In both two character surnames and two character given names the general rules of euphonic change should be observed, and the two syllables should be written together.

The problem of the euphonic changes between a surname and given name or title is very difficult. A man known as Paek Paksa 백 박사 (Dr. Paek) might prove to have the full name of Paeng Nakchun 백낙준 because of the assimilation of the final k of his surname and the initial n of his given name. The use in romanization of both Dr. Paek and Paeng Nakchun for the same person would result in considerable confusion. Therefore it seems best for romanizations purposes to disregard euphonic changes between surnames and given names or titles, so that the above name should be romanized Paek Nakchun.

For ordinary social use our romanization often may not prove suitable for personal names. Even in scholarly work there are also a few instances of rather well-established romanizations for proper names which might be left unchanged, just as the names of some of the provinces of China still have traditional romanizations not in accord with the Wade–Giles system. There is, for example, Seoul, which some may prefer to the Sŏul of our system. Another very important example is 李, the surname of the kings of the last Korean dynasty and still a very common Korean surname. Actually it is pronounced in the standard dialect and should be romanized I, but some may prefer to retain the older romanization, Yi, because that is already the familiar form. In any case the other romanizations of 李, Ri and Li, should not be used.

The original paper also gives McCune–Reischauer romanizations for a number of other personal names:

  • Footnotes on page 1: Ch'oe Hyŏnbae (최현배), Chŏng Insŏp (정인섭), Kim Sŏn'gi (김선기)
  • Footnotes on page 4: Ch'oe Namsŏn (崔南善 (최남선))
  • Footnotes on page 20: Kim Yongun (金龍雲 (김용운)), O Sejun (吳世𤀹 (오세준))


North Korean variant[edit]

A variant of McCune–Reischauer is currently in official use in North Korea. The following are the differences between the original McCune–Reischauer and the North Korean variant:

  • Aspirated consonants are represented by adding an h instead of an apostrophe.
    • However, is transcribed as ch, not chh.
  • is transcribed as j even when it is voiceless.
  • is transcribed as jj instead of tch.
  • ㄹㄹ is transcribed as lr instead of ll.
  • ㄹㅎ is transcribed as lh instead of rh.
  • When is pronounced as , it is still transcribed as r instead of n.
  • ㄴㄱ and ㅇㅇ are differentiated by a hyphen.
    • But when ng is followed by y or w, a hyphen is not used, like the original system.
  • In personal names, each syllable in a Sino-Korean given name is separated by a space with the first letter of each syllable capitalized (e.g. 안복철 An Pok Chŏl). Syllables in a native Korean name are joined without syllabic division (e.g. 김꽃분이 Kim KKotpuni).
    • However, it is not really possible to follow this rule because a certain name written in hangul can be a native Korean name, or a Sino-Korean name, or even both. For example, 보람 cannot only be a native Korean name,[8] but can also be a Sino-Korean name (e.g. 寶濫).[9] In some cases, parents intend a dual meaning: both the meaning from a native Korean word and the meaning from hanja.

The following table illustrates the differences above.

Hangul McCune–Reischauer North Korean variant Meaning
편지 p'yŏnji phyŏnji letter (message)
주체 Chuch'e Juche Juche
안쪽 antchok anjjok inside
빨리 ppalli ppalri quickly
발해 Parhae Palhae Balhae
목란 mongnan mongran Magnolia sieboldii
연구 yŏn'gu yŏn-gu research, study
영어 yŏngŏ yŏng-ŏ English language
안복철 An Pokch'ŏl An Pok Chŏl personal name (surname , given name 복철)
렬도 ryŏlto ryŏldo archipelago

South Korean variant[edit]

A variant of McCune–Reischauer[10][11] 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 is followed by , 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.
  • ㄹㅎ was written as lh instead of rh.
  • 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.
  • In personal names, each syllable in a given name was separated by a hyphen. The consonants , , , and right after a hyphen are written as k, t, p, and ch, respectively, even when they are voiced (e.g. 남궁동자 Namgung Tong-cha). But a hyphen can be omitted in non-Sino-Korean names (e.g. 한하나 Han Hana).

The following table illustrates the differences above.

Hangul McCune–Reischauer South Korean variant Meaning
시장 sijang shijang market
쉽다 shwipta swipta easy
소원 sowŏn sowon wish, hope
연구 yŏn'gu yŏn-gu research, study
영어 yŏngŏ yŏng-ŏ English language
회사에서 hoesaësŏ hoesa-esŏ at a company
차고에 ch'agoë ch'ago-e in a garage
발해 Parhae Palhae Balhae
직할시 chikhalsi chik'alshi directly governed city[12]
못하다 mothada mot'ada to be poor at
곱하기 kophagi kop'agi multiplication
남궁동자 Namgung Tongja Namgung Tong-cha personal name (surname 남궁, given name 동자)

ALA-LC variant[edit]

The ALA-LC romanization of Korean[13] is based on but deviates from McCune–Reischauer.

  • Unlike the original McCune–Reischauer, it addresses word division in seven pages of detail.
    • A postposition (or particle) is separated from its preceding word, even though the original McCune–Reischauer paper explicitly states that this should not be done.[14]
  • // + // is written as ts instead of ss.
  • For personal names:
    • The surname is written as Yi instead of I.
    • A hyphen is inserted between the syllables of a two-syllable given name only when it is preceded by a surname, with the sound change between the syllables indicated. The original McCune–Reischauer paper explicitly states that this also should not be done.[15]
      • However, if a given name is three syllables long or is of non-Sino-Korean origin, the syllables are joined without syllabic division (e.g. 신사임당 Sin Saimdang, 김삿갓 Kim Satkat).

The following table illustrates the differences above.

Hangul McCune–Reischauer ALA-LC variant Meaning
꽃이 kkoch'i kkot i flower + (subject marker)
굳세다 kusseda kutseda strong, firm
이석민 I Sŏngmin Yi Sŏng-min personal name (surname , given name 석민)

Other systems[edit]

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.

See also[edit]


  • McCune, G.M.; Reischauer, E.O. (1939). "The romanization of the Korean language, based upon its phonetic structure". Transactions of the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. 29: 1–55.


  1. ^ "McCune-Reischauer Romanization". University of Chicago.
  2. ^ Lee, Sang-il (2003). "On Korean Romanization". The Korean Language in America. 8. via JSTOR: 407–421. JSTOR 42922825.
  3. ^ Tables of the McCune-Reischauer System for the Romanization of Korean. Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Korea Branch. 1961. p. 121.
  4. ^ Song, Jae Jung (2006). The Korean Language: Structure, Use and Context. Routledge. p. 87. ISBN 9781134335893.
  5. ^ "Working Paper No. 46" (PDF). UNGEGN. Retrieved 2018-03-17.
  6. ^ "Romanization of Korean". Korea.net. Ministry of Culture & Tourism. July 2000. Archived from the original on 16 September 2007. Retrieved 9 May 2007.
  7. ^ McCune & Reischauer (1939), pp. 52–53.
  8. ^ "김보람(金보람)". 한국법조인대관 [List of Legal Professionals in Korea] (in Korean). 법률신문 (The Law Times). Retrieved 2023-08-15.
  9. ^ "강보람(姜寶濫)". 한국법조인대관 [List of Legal Professionals in Korea] (in Korean). 법률신문 (The Law Times). Retrieved 2023-08-15.
  10. ^ Academy of the Korean Language (October 1984). "국어 로마자 표기법" [Romanization of Korean] (PDF) (in Korean). Korean-language Life (국어생활).
  11. ^ Republic of Korea (1987-08-25). "Report on the State of Standardization of Geographical Names and Romanization in Korea" (PDF). United Nations Economic and Social Council.
  12. ^ 직할시 (直轄市; "a directly governed city"; jikhalsi in the Revised Romanization) is one of a former administrative divisions in South Korea, and one of a present administrative divisions of North Korea. In 1995, it was replaced by 광역시 (廣域市; gwangyeoksi; "metropolitan city") in South Korea.
  13. ^ "ALA-LC Romanization Tables" (PDF). Library of Congress.
  14. ^ McCune & Reischauer 1939, p. 51: "The nouns, likewise, should be written together with their postpositions, including those called case endings, not separately as in Japanese, because phonetically the two are so merged that it would often be difficult and misleading to attempt to divide them."
  15. ^ McCune & Reischauer 1939, p. 49: "A simple example, the word Silla, will help to clarify the point. In Chinese, hsin 新 plus lo 羅 are pronounced Hsin-lo but in Korea, sin 新 plus na (la) 羅 are pronounced Silla. To hyphenate this name as Sil-la would imply that it is composed of two parts which individually are sil and la, which is obviously misleading."

External links[edit]