27 – Dollar Dollar Bill Y’all …Or Not 不

(Originally published June 2015)

The character 不 in Korean can either be pronounced 불 (“Bul”- with a long “u” like ‘bool’) or just 부 (“Bu” – with a long “u” like “boo”) and usually means “not”, although it also happens to means “dollar”. For example, to say “fifty dollars” you would say 50불 (“Oh-ship Bul”).


Many words with a negative meaning will start with this character when it has the meaning “not”. For example the character 法 (법 “Beop”) means ‘law’. When you put the character不 (불 – “Bul”-‘not’) in front you get 불법 (不法 – “Bul-Beop”) which literally means ‘not-law’ and is the Korean word for ‘illegal’.

The Korean word 완전하다 (完全 – “Wan-Jeon Ha-da”) means “complete”. When you put불 (不 – “Bul”) in front you get 불완전하다 (不完全 – “Bul-Wan-Jeon Ha-da”) which means ‘incomplete’.

The word 편하다 (便 – “Pyeon Ha-da”) means ‘comfortable’, ‘relaxed’, or ‘easy’. If you put 불 (不 – “Bul”) in front you get 불편하다 (“Bul-Pyeon Ha-da”) which means ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘awkward’.

The word 가능하다 (可能 – “Ga-Neung Ha-da”) means possible. Can you guess what 불가능하다 (不可能) – “Bul-Ga-Neung Ha-da”) means? It means ‘impossible’ of course!

Here are some other common Korean words with 부/불 in them:

부재 (不在 –“Bu-Jae”): Absence

부정 (不正 – “Bu-Jeong”): Corruption

부족하다 (不足 – “Bu-Jok Ha-da”): Insufficient

불가피하다 (不可避) – “Bul-Ga-Pi Ha-da”): inevitable, unavoidable

불구하다 (不拘 – “Bul-Gu Ha-da”): Despite, regardless of

불리하다 (不利 – “Bul-li Ha-da”): unfavorable, disadvantageous

불만 (不滿 “Bul-Man”): dissatisfaction, discontent

불안 (不安 – “Bul-Ahn”): anxiety, apprehension, uneasiness

불이익 (不利益 – “Bul-Ee-Ik”): Disadvantage

불평 (不平 – “Bul-Pyeong”): complaint, grievance, grumble

불행 (不幸 – “Bul-Haeng”): unhappy, unfortunate, unlucky

I hope that knowing what 부/불 (“Bu”/”Bul”) 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 would like to wish a Happy Birthday to my son Harrison Routh. He is turning 7 this month!!!


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