24 – The Sky Is The Limit 空

(Originally published March 2015)

The character 空 in Korean is pronounced 공 (“Gong”- with a long ‘oh’ sound). It can mean both ‘empty space’, or ‘sky’.


For example, the word 공군 (空軍 – “Gong-Gun”) means ‘Air Force’. It is a compound word made up of 공 (空 – “Gong”) meaning ‘sky’, and 군 (軍 – “Gun”) which means ‘military’. So the Korean word 공군 (“Gong-Gun”) literally means ‘Sky-Military’.

The Korean word for ‘notebook’ is 공책 (空冊 – “Gong-Chaek”). In this case 공 (空- “Gong”) means ‘empty space’. The second part of this compound word, 책 (冊 – “Chaek”) means ‘book’. When combined, 공책 (空冊 – “Gong-Chaek”) literally means ‘Empty-book’.

The word 공기 (空氣 “Gong-Gi”) means ‘air’ or ‘atmosphere’. The first part, 공 (空- “Gong”) again means sky, and the second part, 기 (氣 -“Gi”) has several similar meanings – ‘air’, ‘breath’, and ‘weather’.

Since 공 (空 “Gong”) can mean ‘sky’, it can be found in several compound words relating to aviation. For example, the Korean word for ‘airport’, 공항 (空港 – “Gong-Hang”). In this word, the second part 항 (港 – “Hang”) means ‘port’ or ‘harbor’. This makes the literally meaning of “Sky-port” very similar to the literal meaning of airport!

The word for ‘aviation’ or ‘flight’ itself is 항공 (航空 – “Hang-Gong”). When said out loud it is the literal opposite of the previous word 공항 (“Gong-Hang”), however in this compound word the sound 항 (“hang”) comes from the character 航 which means ‘sail’, ‘navigate’, or ‘ship’.

One of my favorite Korean words is 공짜 (“Gong-Jja”) which means ‘free’. It’s just fun to say. It is also one of those unique words in which the first syllable is from a Chinese character but the second syllable, 짜 (“Jja”) doesn’t come from Chinese. It’s a hybrid word!

Here are some more common words with 공 (空 “Gong”) in them:

공간 (空間 – “Gong-Gan”): Space, room

공연히 (空然 – “Gong-Yeon-Hee”): Unnecessarily, needlessly

공중 (空中 – “Gong-Jung”): The air, midair

항공기 (航空機 – “Hang-Gong-Gi”): Aircraft

I hope that knowing what 공 (空 “Gong”) means makes learning these vocabulary words easier. Have a word or character that you would like to know more about? Send your questions and comments to newhanja@gmail.com. And I’d like to say hello to Sunny – thanks for the 부대찌개 and you better read the whole article this time!


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