Unnie Meaning – What Does Unnie 언니 Mean In Korean!

Have you ever heard your korean friend kpop idol calling someone Unnie? Do you know what does Unnie mean in korean language? In this article I will share to you all about Unnie meaning in korean. There are 8 possible definition of Unnie in korean language you need to know!

The worse thing you can do in korea is to call someone ‘unnie’, without really understand the context in which someone can call another with this words. If you have a lot of korean friends or plan to live and stay in south korea for a while, then continue to read on before you made a terrible mistake by calling someone ‘unnie’. Let’s take a look at what terms and how you can call someone ‘unnie’!

Table of Contents

Unnie Meaning - What Does Unnie Mean In Korean

Unnie is a term used by a younger women to address another older woman. Generally, Unnie is translated as older sister. However, this word can also be used as a way of showing respect to someone older even if that women have no blood relationship with us. Do note that if you are a man, you can’t use this word, instead, you can use Noona to call your older sister. Here are some other meaning of Unnie to help you understand more about this intimate word!

1. Blood Older Female Sibling / Older Sister (Biological)

Credit to Hwayoung

Generally speaking, Unnie means biological older sister in korean language. However, since there are some other meaning for this word, to make it clear that someone is your biological older sister, you can add the word  ‘친 Chin’ or ‘우리 uri’ which makes ‘친언니 chin unnie’ or ‘우리언니 uri unnie’.

2. Sister In Law

Other than biological older sister, Unnie can also mean older sister in law. You can call your brother’s wife with ‘Unnie’. If you want to emphasize that she is your older sister in law, you can add the word ‘새 sae’ in front of ‘Unnie’ which makes ‘새언니 sae unnie’. the word ‘새 sae’ means ‘new’, so it literally means ‘new unnie’.

3. Older Female Relatives

In addition to biological sisters and in laws, you can also call your older female relatives with ‘Unnie’. If you want to emphasize that she is your ‘cousin’, you can add the word ‘사촌 sachon’, which makes ‘sachon unnie 사촌언니‘.

4. Older Female Acquaintance

Unnie can also refer to older female acquaintance. Since Unnie is a friendly way to call someone, you can use this word to refer to someone you know well. To makes it clear that she is your close acquaintance, you can use the word ‘아는언니 Aneun Unnie’ which means ‘My close older female friends’.

5. Female Senior

Formally, a women will call their seniors by the word ‘sunbae 선배’. However, once you develop your relationship with the person and start getting close with one another, you can just call them ‘Unnie’.

6. Female Korean Idol

Credit to IU 

Most of korean women call their favourite korean idol ‘Unnie’ just to show they admiration and high respect towards that person. It doesn’t really matter if they are in the same age, they call someone ‘Unnie’ to show their inner admiration towards their idol.

7. Female Staff

Most of korean women call a young female staff at almost any store with the word ‘Unnie’. In fact, sometimes they will call one another with the word ‘Unnie’, it just act as a friendly way to call someone.

8. Respected Female Friends

You can also use the word ‘Unnie’ to someone you esteem highly eventhough you are only have slight age gap. While it doesn’t really mean you think they’re older, it just the word you use to emphasize your respect and dependant upon that person.

In addition to that, you can also use it for fun, if your friend treat you like a ‘dongsaeng’ or give you free coffee, then you can say ‘thank you Unnie’, because she fulfill the role of real ‘unnie’ to you.

Various Unnie Spelling

Unni, Onnie, Eonnie, Onni, Unnie, you can find all these various spelling for ‘Unnie’ In korean language, they are all having the same meaning! According to National Institute of Korean Language ‘Romanization of Korean’ rules, the best spelling version of the word Unnie is ‘Eonnie’. However, it just seems too complicated and we better keep it simple by using the word ‘Unnie’.

Korean Age System

Here are some things you want to know and consider to know and understand the different measurement use in Global age system and Korean age system.

Omnicalculator Korean Age
  • In Korea, you are born one years of age.
    Many of us consider newborn babies to be ‘zero’ upon birth. However, koreans actually calculate the time babies spend in their mother’s womb as a ‘year’ (although, technically, it is 9 months, they round it up to one year), so when babies are born in Korea, they are considered to be 한 살(han sal)=”one year old”. This automatically adds one year to the age that you may be used to.
  • More over, in Korea, you increase your age count on January 1st of every year, not on your birthday. Koreans automatically gain a year on January 1st, regardless of whether or not their birthday has passed. In simple, International Age measures how long you have lived while Korean Age measures how many years you have experienced.

If you feel confuse in how you can know exactly your age in korean, you can just use korean age calculator and simply put your birthdate!

'Unnie' Usage In The Past.

In Korean culture, ‘unnie’ has a long history of usage. The word is often used to address or refer to an older female in a friendly and respectful way. It may be used among family members, friends, acquaintances and even strangers. 

In the past, it may have been viewed as more formal than today’s use given the respect associated with it, as a sign of admiration and esteem. Over time its meaning has evolved and now can sometimes also be used to express friendship and fondness towards someone regardless of age or relationship.

How Is 'Unnie' Used Today?

Today, the use of ‘unnie’ has become much more informal and often refers to anyone female that the speaker holds in high regard. Younger Korean women might use it when addressing someone of a similar age, as a sign of respect or closeness. 

Women may also use ‘unnie’ when describing somebody who is not necessarily close but someone whom they admire for either physical beauty, intelligence or kind character.

Call Someone Unnie

As we know that korean most likely ask your age as you have a long conversation with them. Once you identify each other’s age, you can ask her if you can just call her ‘Unnie’ to make it sounds even more friendly.

Do note to never use the word ‘Unnie’ in a formal settings, like when you work in a company or having a meeting with a seniors. It is much better to call them by their name + title + suffix -nim. This sounds a lot better and feels a lot more professionals.

FAQ about Unnie

Here are some common and frequently asked question about Unnie in korean language including.

What is Older Sister in Korean?

If you’re a female and you have an older sister, you can call them unnie 언니. However, If you’re a male and you have an older sister, you can call them Noona.

Difference Between Unnie and Noona?

While both of them have the same meaning of ‘older sister.’ A younger female can only use the word Unnie, while a younger male can only use the word Noona.

Acceptable Age Difference to Call someone Unnie?

Personally, I think the common and acceptable age gap to call someone Unnie is when we have at least 2 years gap but still less than 10 years different. However, even if it’s only one year gap, you can ask if you can call her ‘Unnie’.

Sum Up

Unnie is a very common and friendly word used by younger female as they address another older female whether it is their biological sister or staff. These are all the other meaning of Unnie in korean language you might never knew before. I wish this article is helpful in helping you understand more about ‘Unnie’.

Do you have Unnie in your life? How’s your relationship with your ‘Unnie? Let me know in the comment sections below! More than that, pin this article to help others understand more about korean language and culture!

unnie meaning

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