Korean Honor Titles You Must Know (KWOW#47)

Professor Oh May 1, 2012 17

In KWOW #47, we’ve learned some important social titles: SUNBAE and HOOBAE. These terms are omnipresent in the academic and Korean entertainment worlds. Check out the latest episode if you haven’t already:

Shall we do a quick review? The English translation of sunbae is “senior.” Sunbae is NOT synonymous with elderly people. The term has nothing to do with age. Someone is sunbae to you if they…

-attended the same school as you (before you did).
-worked in the same company as you (before you did).

Anyone who entered your academic or work environment before you is sunbae.

Sunbae is informal. The formal version is sunbaenim. Use sunbae only to those you are good friends with. For all other relations it is recommended to use sunbaenim. In most cases it is safer to speak formally. On the other hand, it can be awkward if you speak formally to your same-age friends.

If sunbae means “senior,” is there a Korean word for juniors? Yes! “Junior” is hoobae. Keep in mind that sunbae and hoobae do NOT refer to grade levels (i.e. freshman, sophomore, junior, senior). Sunbae and hoobae are titles used beyond the school years. Alumni continue to call their seniors as sunbae long after they’ve have graduated.

The sunbae culture is taken seriously in Korea. If you don’t address your sunbaes correctly, they may be offended.

Think you understand the sunbae and hoobae system? Let’s put your skills to the test! (Answers at end of blog entry)

Question #1: G-Wagon was born in 1988. Taeyin was born in 1984. G-Wagon started working for Galbi Entertainment in 2001. Taeyin entered the same company in 2005. Who’s the sunbae?

Question #2: You were an 11th grader at Kimchi High School, but just transferred to Tongdak High. You became friends with Bobby Lee, a 9th grader. Who’s the sunbae?

Question #3: Your new 9th grade buddy Bobby Lee transferred to Kimchi High School. An year later you graduated from Tongdak High. Who’s the sunbae now?

Question #4: Your grandmother is heading back to school! She was recently accepted at your college, which you graduated from last year. Who’s the sunbae?

Question #5: Where do you hear sunbaenim in this video?

Where does the first sunbae appear in this clip of “Boys Before Flowers”?

Answer #1: Even though Taeyin is four years older, G-Wagon is sunbae to Taeyin. Remember, age has nothing to do with someone being your sunbae.

Amswer #2: Regardless of age and grade level, Bobby Lee is sunbae because he attended Tongdak High School before you.

Amswer #3: Bobby Lee is still sunbae to you at Tongdak High School. This is because Bobby attended the school before you did. But guess what? You are sunbae to him at Kimchi High School. How? Because you had attended Kimchi High before Bobby did. You are both sunbaes, but at different schools!

Amswer #4: You are sunbae to your grandma. Once again, age has nothing to do with being a sunbae. It has everything to do with who attended the school first.

Answer #5: Sunbaenim appears at 0:16.

Answer #6: Write ONE answer in the comment section below with a question to Taekwon Do. First *three* people to get the correct answer will get a reply from our handsome KWOW host!

How did you do? Did you get all of them right? Awesome. If not, don’t worry. Go watch KWOW #47 again ;)


  1. Mary Ann July 14, 2013 at 12:08 pm - Reply

    thanks nw I have a better understanding of korean titles..:-)

  2. rachel May 11, 2012 at 11:41 am - Reply

    i have a question! what if someone is a singer and your a singer but worked in different companies, who’s what?

    • Elemeniah June 21, 2013 at 6:31 pm - Reply

      It’d be the person who’s worked at their company the longest.

  3. Pinkgloom May 10, 2012 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    Thanks for all the different examples of the keyword with real TV and drama clips. It helps me better understand and remember the word.

  4. Jim K May 4, 2012 at 1:02 am - Reply

    In front of the sports gym. He pretended to have met in coincidence. In Japanese for “sunbae” you say “sempai”. Usually you experience this in schools/college in the Asian area->China/kore/Japan.
    But in the US it may not have the same effect. Nobody makes a big deal just because you are 1 years different. What you have (inside) is more important. Also Bowing is not popular In the western world and you dont call anybody “oppa”…”hey brother or “agassi”…”hey sister”. But in Asia it works especailly if you are asking them for a favor…”Oppa TaeKwonDo Pegopayo!!!”

  5. Ryan (64packets) May 3, 2012 at 12:44 am - Reply

    Bit late to the game here stupid time zone difference :-) (but the listening practise will please youngahn) 2:57

    How did you and Billy Jin meet?

  6. Mariana Rosas May 2, 2012 at 7:09 pm - Reply

    Ji Ho is the first sunbae!! :D She’s alwas calling him “Ji Hoo sunbae!”

  7. Aoi May 2, 2012 at 12:09 pm - Reply

    When the girl came out from the building, she called the man.

    The question to Taekwon Do is: Which place does he most often go with Billy Jin?
    (I mean have a date.)

    Q#3 is very interesting.
    I learn a lot. :>

    • sweetandtastytv May 8, 2012 at 11:43 pm - Reply

      Hey Aoi!
      Nice job getting the right answer. Whenever I have an inch of free time, Billy Jin drags me to the karaoke. For dates I like to take her for some traditional Korean food, like restaurants that serve a bunch of banchan (sidedishes). Then have patbingsoo for dessert. Yum. We live in Koreatown LA every weekend. If you see us, say hello :)

      Rock on,
      Taekwon Do

  8. author May 2, 2012 at 10:24 am - Reply

    2:57 – 2:58
    Question – His idol crush?

    • sweetandtastytv May 8, 2012 at 11:33 pm - Reply

      Hey there!
      Congrats on getting the correct answer. It’s hard to choose one idol crush. Every individual has their own unique beauty. However there is this K-pop star who’s stolen my heart for the past decade: Hyori Lee. She’s cute and hot at the same time. Don’t tell Billy Jin. She doesn’t like me eyeing other girls. Even if they’re celebrities.

      Rock on,
      Taekwon Do

  9. garethrwhite May 2, 2012 at 9:14 am - Reply

    And the question to Taekwon Do is: What is his favourite girl-group?

    • sweetandtastytv May 8, 2012 at 11:26 pm - Reply

      Hey Bro!
      Good job on getting the answer right. I love Girls’ Gerenation because there’s so many members. More girls the better!

      Rock on,
      Taekwon Do

  10. garethrwhite May 2, 2012 at 9:08 am - Reply


  11. mk! May 2, 2012 at 12:34 am - Reply

    i got all of them right!! whats my prize? free korean bbq?! :D

    • sweetandtastytv May 2, 2012 at 8:47 am - Reply

      Maybe if you get question #6 right ;)

      • mk! May 2, 2012 at 11:30 am - Reply

        i chose not to answer it and let others have a chance too! :P plus…tkd is a guy lol

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