Want to Know When and How to Say "Teacher" in Korean?

It’s 선생님. 선생님 is the most common way for students to address a teacher in Korean and it is considered formal.

In America, I grew up using the suffixes “Mr.” “Mrs.” and Miss plus my teacher’s surname.

This can be done in Korean but in a slightly different way. You say the teacher’s first name followed by 선생님.

first name + 선생님

For example: 지히 선생님


In Korea, using your teacher’s first name by itself is considered rude so it’s best to stick to saying 선생님.

Sample Sentences using “Teacher” or 선생님:

이 분은 제 첼로 선생님이에요.
This person is my cello teacher.

선생님께 말대꾸하지 마라.
Don’t talk back to your teacher.


What's the difference between 선생님 and 쌤?

샘 or 쌤 is a less formal way to say 선생님, “Teacher” in Korean. It is usually used when students have a closer relationship with their teacher and feel very comfortable.

쌤 is pronounced like “Sam,” the English name.

This form, 샘, is derived from the original word, 선생님. According to some Korean people I know, if you say 선생님 very fast it becomes 쌤. 

You can add a teacher’s first name in front of this version too.

first name + 쌤

For example: 지히 쌤


Sample Sentences using “Teacher” or 쌤:


지히 쌤, 질문이 있습니다.
Jeehee teacher, I have a question.

스미스 쌤, 우리 숙제가 있나요?
Smith teacher, do we have homework?



Play the quick video below to hear the pronunciation of 선생님.

Korean teachers call each other "Teacher" too.

Korean teachers use the shortened 쌤 to address each other all the time. It is quite impressive how they almost never confused when they are talking to each other.

쌤 1: 쌤 where is the stapler?
쌤 2: I’m not sure 쌤.

They are pros.


Korean Vocabulary Related to "Teacher"

교사 = teacher
교수 = professor
교장 선생님 = principal
교감 선생님 = vice principal
총장님 = dean or president of a university
부장 선생님 = head teacher
과외 선생님 = tutor
담임 선생님 = homeroom teacher
원어민 선생님 = native teacher
엄한 선생님 = strict teacher (idiom)

Is "Teacher" 선생님 or 선생?

선생 is “Teacher” but people usually attach 님 to it. 님 often comes at the end of important titles.

For example:
부장님 = department head
사장님 = company head
손님 = guest
아버님 = father
어머님 = mother
공주님 = princess

When is teacher's day in Korea?

Teacher’s Day (스승의 날) is on May, 15th which coincides with Sejong the Great’s birthday.

If May 15th does not fall on a school day then Teacher’s Day is celebrated on the closest school day.

Students traditionally give carnations to teachers but law now prohibits public teachers from accepting gifts from students.

스승 is also “Teacher” in Korean. 선생님 is already a very respectful way of saying “Teacher” but 스승님 is the most respectful form of the word.

스승님 is used when referring to a teacher that greatly impacted your life.

So the official name of “Teacher’s Day” is 스승의 날.

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