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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/) 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 2002, when it was replaced by the Revised Romanization of Korean system introduced two years earlier. A variant of McCune–Reischauer is still used as the official system in North Korea.[1]

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

Characteristics and criticism[edit]

Under the McCune–Reischauer system, aspirated consonants like , , and are distinguished by apostrophes from unaspirated ones, which may also be falsely understood as a separator between syllables (as in 뒤차기twichʼagi, which consists of the syllables twi, chʼa and gi). The apostrophe is also used to mark transcriptions of ㄴㄱ (n'g) as opposed to (ng): 잔금chan'gŭm vs. 장음changŭm). These diverse applications of apostrophes made people confused once omitted. Also, the breve is used to differentiate vowels in Korean. So, if the apostrophe and breve are omitted from this system, it would make it impossible to differentiate the aspirated consonants kʼ,tʼ,pʼ and chʼ from the unaspirated consonants k, t, p and ch, ㄴㄱ (n'g) from (ng), and the vowels 으 and 우 from 오 and 어.

An omission of the apostrophe on the internet and lack of a breve on keyboards were the primary reasons the South Korean government adopted a revised system of romanization in 2000.[5] However, Korean critics aggressively 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. However, the counterargument for this assertion is that it is impossible to find perfectly matching pairs of letters between the two different writing systems, Latin script and Hangul, and priority should be given to revised system of romanization created by the help of many Korean linguists at the National Academy of the Korean Language over a five-year period than the McCune–Reischauer system created by two foreigners with the help of three Korean linguists over a two-year period during the Japanese colonial era.

Despite 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* ye o wa wae oe yo u we wi yu ŭ ŭi i
  • 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 chʼagoë (in a garage).
  • The Korean surnames 이/리(李) and 이(異) are transcribed as Yi not I[6] (e.g. 이순신 as Yi Sunsin)


Romanization Initial k kk n t tt r m p pp s ss ch tch chʼ h
Final k l t t ng t t k t p
  • 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.
Initial consonant of the next syllable








k g kk ngn kt ngn ngm kp ks kch kchʼ kkʼ ktʼ kpʼ kh
n n n'g nn nd nn nm nb ns nj nchʼ nkʼ ntʼ npʼ nh
t d tk nn tt nn nm tp ss tch tchʼ tkʼ ttʼ tpʼ th
l r lg ll/nn ld3 ll lm lb ls lj3 lchʼ lkʼ ltʼ lpʼ rh
m m mg mn md mn mm mb ms mj mchʼ mkʼ mtʼ mpʼ mh
p b pk mn pt mn mm pp ps pch pchʼ pkʼ ptʼ ppʼ ph
ng ng ngg ngn ngd ngn ngm ngb ngs ngj ngchʼ ngkʼ ngtʼ ngpʼ ngh
  1. ㅇ is an initial consonant before a vowel to indicate the absence of sound.
  2. 쉬 is romanized shwi.
  3. In Sino-Korean words, lt and lch respectively.

For ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ, 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
  • 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
    • 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-, -ㅂㅎ- are written kh, th, ph respectively, even though they are pronounced the same as ㅋ (), ㅌ (), ㅍ ().
    • 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

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.


  • McCune, G.M., and E.O. Reischauer (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.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Working Paper No. 46" (PDF). UNGEGN. Retrieved 2018-03-17.
  2. ^ Lee, Sang-il (2003). "On Korean Romanization". The Korean Language in America. via JSTOR. 8: 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. ^ Jae Jung Song (2006). The Korean Language: Structure, Use and Context. Routledge. p. 87. ISBN 9781134335893.
  5. ^ "Romanization of Korean". Ministry of Culture & Tourism. July 2000. Archived from the original on 16 September 2007. Retrieved 9 May 2007.
  6. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Library of Congress. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2015-06-16. Retrieved 2015-07-02.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) page 13

External links[edit]