Korean Translation Tip: Here’s Why You Can’t Blindly Search-and-Replace in a Korean Text

About Korean search-and-replace

Nobody uses the search-and-replace function in Word more often than translators. Search-and-replace in Korean is a common task in the Korean translation workflow.

When I’m working on a Korean-to-English translation [EXPIRED LINK REMOVED: http://uz9.25e.myftpupload.com/korean-to-english-translation/] project, I’ll get started using a certain term and later, with more context, decide a different word would be better… It happens all the time! 

Sometimes client reviewers come to us on translations of English documents into Korean [EXPIRED LINK REMOVED: https://uz9.25e.myftpupload.com/english-to-korean-translation/] with term revisions that need to be applied globally to a Korean document. 

Unfortunately, if you don’t know Korean, you’re playing with fire if you do a global search-and-replace of terms in a document on your own. 

That’s because the spellings of various Korean grammatical markers vary with search-and-replace depending on whether the word they’re attached to ends in a vowel or a consonant. 

Ooooh…. Korean sounds so hard, right? Not really… It’s the same in English! 

A search-and-replace example

“I want to eat an apple.” 

Let’s suppose we need to change “apple” to “carrot”. Here’s what we get, right? 

“I want to eat an carrot.” 

Oops… the “an” needs to be changed to an “a” since “carrot” starts with a consonant… 

Here’s “I want to eat an apple” in Korean: 

내가 사과를 먹고 싶다. 

In Korean, 사과 is apple and 당근 is carrot. 

Alright, let’s make the switch… 

내가 당근를 먹고 싶다. 

Nope… The Korean search-and-replace effort failed! Apple in Korean ends in a vowel but carrot ends in a consonant, so the grammatical marker indicating that the word is the direct object of the sentence has to be changed from 를 to 을. Here’s how it should be written after the switch: 

내가 당근 먹고 싶다.

And it’s not just the object marker; the subject marker changes too, as do other cases that are too nuanced to explain here. 

You can’t even be 100% confident with search-and-replace if you’re merely changing a number in the middle of a Korean sentence, since you don’t know if that number pronounced in Korean ends in a consonant or a vowel. This could affect things, too. 

And get this… Even some English words that end in a consonant in English actually have an added vowel sound at the end when spoken in Korean (such as “bus” and “golf”) and this affects the spelling of grammatical tags as well. 


Have I given you enough reasons not to tamper with a Korean text on your own using the search-and-replace function? 

Best-Practice Tip – If you’ve got to make a change to a term in a Korean translation, you’d better ask your translator (or at least a Korean speaker) to do it for you… and tell them to be careful!

Steven Bammel

Steven S. Bammel is president and chief translator/consultant at Korean Consulting & Translation Service, Inc. A graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington (B.B.A. Economics) and Hanyang University (M.S. Management Strategy), Steven has worked for over twenty years in Korean business and translation. | more about Steven

You may also like...