Essential Korean Titles: The Real Meaning of Oppa (오빠) Explained by a Korean


Oppa Explained by a Korean

Not sure when to call someone oppa?

Find out what it means and when to use it.

We also cover:

  • what oppa does for you
  • what church oppa style is
  • and more!

Let’s get started!

Oppa is a super fun word that can be innocent or flirty depending on how you use it. Find out some of the nuances below!

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Korean has a unique way of referring to siblings that changes based on relative age and gender. The five titles are:

What does oppa mean in Korean?

The literal definition of oppa (오빠) is “older brother”, used by women. But, there are other times where the word is used.

Actual brother

To emphasize that he’s your own brother, you can add “chin (친)” before oppa: chin oppa (친오빠). Koreans can tell when you’re talking to an actual brother by tone and level of speech.

Male relatives and cousins

You can call older male relatives such as cousins, “oppa”.

An older male cousin in Korean is “sa-chon oppa (사촌오빠)”.

About Korean Age

Age is calculated differently in Korea according to these rules:

  1. Everyone is 1 year old when they’re born since time spent in the womb counts.
  2. Everyone ages 1 year on New Year’s Day, January 1st.

When in doubt, compare birth years instead by asking “몇년생이세요? (myut-nyun-saeng-yi-seh-yo?)” to get a quick idea of what to call someone.

Older male friend or acquaintance

You can also address an older man in a friendly way by calling him oppa. This can be interpreted as flirting, so it’s good to pay attention to the tone.

  • Example: 옆집 오빠 (Oppa next door)

Male upper classmates

If you’re a girl in college, you start calling older males by “name + sunbae (선배 or senior)”, which is gender neutral. Then, once you get close to them, you can call them by “name + oppa”.

Many Korean guys like to hear oppa from a younger female, so they’re more likely to tell you to call them oppa.

  • Example: 지민 선배 → 지민 오빠 (Jimin sunbae → Jimin oppa)

Some women don’t call male sunbae oppa to avoid flirting.

Handsome guy (usually, celebrity)

Koreans say, “잘생기면 다 오빠다”, which means “If you’re handsome, you’re oppa” or “all handsome men are oppa” regardless of age.

Insider Tips

  1. If you’re a guy, don’t refer yourself “oppa” in a sentence. Many Korean women will find it unattractive or 느끼하다 (sleazy).
  • Example: “오빠가 말이야~ (Oppa is(I am)…)” “오빠가 뭐해줄까? (What can oppa(I) do for you?)”

2. If you’re a girl, don’t call someone oppa at work. It looks very unprofessional and female coworkers will think of you as clueless. Instead, call them by “name + title“.

What does oppa do for you?

For biological sisters:

Chin oppa (biological older brother) is a strange creature. In a very RARE case, super nice chin oppa exist. Most chin oppa treat their younger sister like an underling who runs errands or cooks for them. But still, when it comes to other guys bullying their sister, oppa become protective because they want to be the only one with the privilege of teasing them.

Korean chin oppa are very blunt about weight or looks. Whenever I gained 1kg (about 2 pounds), my brother always said I looked chubby or fat and needed to go on a diet. This is common in Korean culture.

Many Korean girls without oppa envy the ones with one. Whenever they ask, “isn’t it nice to have oppa?”, someone with oppa will often express disgust, “ugh”, because it can be more trouble than you’d think.

Korean girls will sometimes call their chin oppa “eomma adeul (엄마 아들 or my mom’s son)” because they don’t want to even acknowledge any relation by calling them oppa.

Webtoon, “오빠 왔다 (oppa’s here)”, that describes chin oppa from a younger sister’s perspective

For girlfriends:

On the other hand, dating oppa can be nice. In other words, oppa always seem nicer than my mom’s son.

Oppa (older guys) will try to buy you everything. They’ll also drive you home, even if you live on the opposite side of the city. Some Korean women only date oppa because they feel more mature or responsible. However, they sometimes tend to be overprotective and controlling.

How to make oppa honorific?

Knowing what to call someone is tough for Korean language learners.

There are two levels of kinship terms, plain and honorific.

The honorific suffix “-nim” is the most common way to make a word honorific. But, it’s never used for oppa.

We have different words for oppa honorifics, which are orabeoni (오라버니) or orabeonim (오라버님). These are old-school words, mostly used by older people or in families that value traditional etiquette. You’ll hear them a lot in historical K-dramas.

What is church oppa (교회 오빠) style?

교회 오빠 (Church Oppa) literally means “oppa that you meet at church”.

Over time, “church oppa” has become an expression for a nice guy or Mr. Perfect, similar to “엄친아”.

엄친아 or Umchinah is an abbreviation for my “mother’s friend’s son” (들) who’s perfect in every way that your mom always compares you to.

Jonny_Kim_neighbor's perfect son
Johnny Kim, the ultimate neighbor’s son

The requirements of church oppa are:

  1. Fair skin tone and neat appearance
  2. Sincere, diligent and polite lifestyle
  3. Decent and clean fashion style (horn-rimmed glasses are a plus)
  4. Positive expressions using only nice words
  5. Excellent guitar or singing skills with a clear voice
Lee Seok-hoon is the definition of Church Oppa.

FAQ

Does oppa mean boyfriend?

Oppa simply refers to an older brother/man in a friendly tone. It can also mean a boyfriend or husband. You need to read between the lines in order to tell which one.

What’s the difference between Oppa and Hyung?

Both Oppa and Hyung mean an “older brother” in Korean, but Oppa is used by women and Hyung is used by men.

Is oppa used romantically?

It can be neutral or romantic depending on the tone or using Aegyo (애교). It’s all about nuance.

What’s oppa in Satoori (사투리)?

The most well-known satoori (dialect) for oppa is Oppaya (오빠야) used in Gyeongsang-do. Seoul guys tend to love it when they hear the satoori version oppaya, because it sounds cute.

Learning Korean

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Did we miss anything?

Let us know your thoughts on oppa in the comments!

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