Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Which Direction is Korean Written?

Dear Korean,

Is Korean written left to right or top to bottom?

Kathy R.

It can be both. Like other East Asian scripts like Chinese or Japanese, Korean script may be written horizontally or vertically. But in today's Korea, overwhelming majority of Korean is written horizontally, to be read from left to right.

An article from Chosun Ilbo, dated July 9, 1970 about bus companies.
The headline is written horizontally, while the body is written vertically.
Several decades ago, Korea's newspapers generally employed vertical writing. But that practice was abandoned for the most part by early 1990s. In contemporary Korea, vertical writing in Korean can only be found in old books and newspapers, some scattered old-school literary journals, and decorative materials.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. Forgot to mention that that newspaper clipping in addition to being vertical reads from right to left.

  2. My old Korean and Chinese history professor used to joke that the Chinese were more positive than Westerners. Because when the Chinese read they move their heads up and down. Westerners move their heads left and right.

  3. For beginner students of Korean it is also quite useful to know that vertical writing is most commonly encountered on wall menus. I remember being stumped on my first encounter with vertically written hangeul in a hole in the wall eatery.

  4. i remember korean comic books being read from the back of the book to front and left to right :D
    this was also when I was a kid which was 20 years ago...

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  6. When it's vertical, is it always from right to left?
    And does anyone know why did this shift happen? Was there some reason to it or was it simply an evolution of readers preferences?

  7. I've only ever seen it go from right to left when it's vertical. I believe Hankyoreh was first newspaper to be printed horizontally and read from left to right (in 1988). A look at the 4 newspapers in Naver's News Library shows that the Maeil Gyeongje changed to this format around 1997, and the Kyunghyang Shinmun and Donga Ilbo around 1998. I don't know why, though. It's an interesting question.

  8. No, vertical text can be in written in either direction. Horizontal is always L to R. Older vertical texts seem to be written this way(R to L) whereas modern vertical texts mostly do not. The horizontal headline in the above clipping is read L to R whereas the body of the article is Vertical & R to L. Confusing, if you're not familiar with Hangul.

    Korean characters are read starting at the top then left to right. So the character 'HAN'(I can't spell in hangul on my computer) would be read as Hiut(H), Ah(A), Niun(N).

  9. I have a black belt in taekwondo and on my belt it says my name and "taekwondo alliance" in vertical Korean calligraphy, I would like to get it as a tattoo but horizontally. What changes need to be made, can I just turn the characters 90 degrees?


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