What does oppa mean?

Korean oppa meaningKorean dictionary defines Oppa ( 오빠 ) as “older brother of a female”. However, addressing other people in Korean language is never that simple. To truly understand the meaning of the word oppa, you must understand a bit about Korean culture.

For Koreans, it is really important to observe the relationship between the speaker and the subject of the sentence and the speaker and the audience. That’s just a fancy way to say you must be careful who you are speaking about and who is listening. That sounds paranoid, haha, but it’s actually all about showing respect to those with higher status than you. And who has higher status? Anyone in your family who is older than you, any stranger of equal or greater age, employer, customer, teacher, etc.

This may be difficult for non-Koreans to accept, but if a person is superior to you, you should never use their name or say “you”.

I have already been Kimchi Man’s girlfriend for a few weeks when I realized I don’t know his parents’ names! Feeling like a bad girlfriend, I asked him what their names were. Instead of an answer I just got a few grunts and then silence. Thinking he didn’t understand, which is not a rare occurrence considering neither of us is a native speaker of English, I asked again. Silence. After more prodding I finally realized what the problem was. And it wasn’t until I explained that I would just like to have that as an information and promised never to say their name in front of them, that he finally told me their names.

And if that is not curious enough, I recently read an article stating that there used to be women in Korean villages who didn’t even know their own names! All their lives they had been called sister, daughter, Ms., mother, wife, and they never needed to use their names.

Even if you don’t speak Korean, if you have watched Korean dramas you are probably already familiar with some of this. Hyung, ajusshi, ajumma, seonsaengnim, noona, … Everyone has their title. Did you know that ajusshi and ajumma used to be terms reserved just for family, meaning aunt and uncle? Well, same thing happened with the definition of oppa: it used to be exclusively a family term meaning older brother, but its meaning expanded to mean unrelated older male who you have somewhat close relationship with. What it hasn’t changed is implied respect and superiority of the person you are addressing, and that is something most non-Korean women using this term don’t understand.

Who can I call oppa?

You can say oppa ONLY to an older male. Older person is anyone who was born in the year prior to your birth. So, even if he is a few months older, but born in the same year as you, you can’t call him oppa. Also, it can be strange calling men over certain age oppa. That age is not strictly defined, but probably somewhere over 30.

Why do Korean guys like to be called oppa?

Even though calling a guy oppa can be no more exciting than calling an older woman ajumma, if said with the right tone of voice, it indicates that you like a guy as more than just a friend. And who doesn’t like being liked? It’s flirtatious, and flirting is usually exciting.

Do Korean guys dislike when non-Korean girls call them oppa?

Some Korean guys say ‘yes’ some say ‘no’. But I believe it’s not that simple. It all depends on the intent. First, realize that word itself doesn’t have any magical powers. The magic comes from the person using it.  If a foreign girl is going around squealing oppa at a guy she barely knows I can see how that can be a turnoff. But if you wait until you develop a more intimate relationship, and use it sincerely, I’m sure the guy would be pleasantly surprised.

I rarely use oppa with Kimchi Man. It just sounds unnatural to throw in a random Korean word when speaking English. But I once I start speaking Korean with my boyfriend (and hopefully that will be before he becomes ajusshi) I would probably naturally switch to calling him oppa.

How to pronounce oppa?

Hear correct Korean pronunciation of 오빠. Please let me know if you are having trouble hearing this file.

And that’s all you need to know to give a correct translation of oppa.



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107 thoughts on “What does oppa mean?

  1. The link doesn’t work:(
    Can anyone give me a link that let’s me hear (I learn better when I can hear the word) how to pronounce the words Oppa, Jagiya, Jagi, and T.O.P from big bangs real name Choi Seunghyun? Thanks.

    • Really? I tried it now and it works fine for me. It’s supposed to take you to Naver’s Dictionary.

      Either way you can search for Naver’s or Daum’s Dictionary and they have audio files for what you’re looking for. Maybe not the personal names, though.

  2. What do you call an older male who you aren’t close to, but need to address respectively? Like just mentioning their name?

  3. Hello, I’m so confused right now.
    He asked me to go shopping together for some staff together and bought me snacks for study to get energy. And that day he said it’s a great day to date, which was first day going out together. And he treated me by sweet staff and ate together. Then I gave him some staffs also to give energy to study for him cuz it’s exam period. And recently I met him at night cuz he was woking night in the outside, that time he asked me about going trip after exam period. (anyway it’s after a week from going shopping) But we don’t really text each other just sometimes, once a day.. Are we in a relationship or just?? Advice me pls..

  4. this is interesting especially the “tone of voice part” because an oppa wanted me to call him “옵화” when we text. he cant hear me but i think he could imagine me saying that. haha thank you oegukeen!

  5. I have an online korean friend, we text each other frequently. One day we were talking about ages and we found out that he was 1 year older than me. He asked if I knew the meaning of 오빠, I said I knew and he said korean guys like the sound of oppa. When I asked why, he just said it was difficult to explain (since he doesnt know english that well).. Later he just simply said “I want you to call me oppa”. Is that a way of flirting?? I mean.. We talk to each other a lot but I have met him for just 1 week o_o… I wont define us as “close”

    • I think he just wants you to drop formalities so that you guys can act more like friends. I think it’s common for Koreans to ask each other for permission to speak at a different level of formality, or to ask to be talked to in a different level of formality. He probably feels comfortable with you now that he has gotten to know you, so he might or might not have been flirting, but you can’t know for sure with just that one statement.

  6. I’m a year older than my boyfriend, but I use Oppa and he thinks it’s adorable (he actually asked me to call him Oppa). But he’s been living in Canada as an international student for 4 years so maybe he’s more relaxed on the hierarchy system! Great blog, thank you!

  7. Interesting indeed. One thing for sure, not to use that word ‘oppa’ randomly.. When I was in Seoul, I was told several times by some nice Korean dudes not to call any man ‘oppa’ unless you are really close & know them very well. The reason was .. ‘Girls in night entertainment clubs use that ‘oppa’ to flirt around & it makes you sound cheesy though you meant well’.. For foreigners, it’s ok to address them by Mr, Miss, Sir & the likes.. I don’t know.. Maybe I’m wrong about that ‘oppa’ thing.. 😃😃

  8. thank you i was so curious about it…in korean movies they used the word “oppa” for both the one they loved and their brother…i wondered why..

  9. thanx for the article it really been helpful especially for such ones like me who are big fans of korean movies. i think am better able to follow the movies now.

  10. Thanks for the article – just realised how I might sound like a dick. I guess – it’s always important to be aware of the surroundings and culture before we say things.

    • Yes, I believe knowledge and education (not just formal) are the only way to be kind and respectful. But of course, we can’t know everything from the get-go.

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  14. This article is really interesting and it reminds me of something. I was met a Korean guy 4years older than me 2 weeks ago and we met from social media then we continue our chat on KakaoTalk. On the first time we chat on Kakao i suddenly called him ‘Hi Oppa!’ without knowing the terms of ‘dont call oppa before you close to him’ and his response was laughing but he didnt mad at me at all. On the next day he called me and once i received the call i also called him ‘Hi Oppa!’ and he was laughing so hard. He said I was really cute when saying that. I really dont know the terms of being cheesy if call oppa before close to him but after my ‘Hi Oppa!’ incident, we become really close til now and yesterday he just confessed that he loves me… Whoa.. what a luck on me!

  15. Hi- is Oppa an appropriate term for a much older adult man I’m seriously dating?over40?
    If not- can you offer me a more appropriate term of endearment?

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  19. Hi, I’m a girl and I have a korean guy friend. I don’t think we are close enough for me to call him oppa, he’s just a friend but he’s older than me. What would I call him?

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  21. Thanks for this! I always wondered at what level of closeness a young girl had to be to call an older male friend “oppa,” and what it implied aside from the “I’m a younger girl and you’re an older guy” thing. Also good to know it can’t be a guy a just few months older than you unless he was born the year before! Very helpful!

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