What Does Oppa Mean in Korean?

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Ever heard of the Korean expression “oppa”? In this article we will understand in depth the real meaning of this word popularized thanks to Korean Dramas and K-Pop.

A lot of people have some doubts about what the word “oppa means, its value and its use in Korean life, but don't worry, the uncle here will explain it to you.

오빠 – What does Oppa mean?

The word "oppa" means "elder brother", it is often used by women to refer to their older brothers. It's like a korean honorific of treatment.

As in the Japanese language we have oniichan and onechan. In the Korean language we have Oppa (오빠) and Hyung (형) for “older brothers”, and Noona (누나) and Unnie (언니) for “older sister”.

Although the word was originally used for older brother, some girls often use it to refer to their boyfriend or crush, as long as they are a little older than them.

Oppa is used by women, but if a man wants to refer to his older brother, he can use Hyung. All these terms mentioned here can be used with friends as well.

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Other Meanings of Oppa

Oppa is a super versatile and useful word, used just as often as a pronoun like you. This is because the word you in Korean is reserved and used only among close friends due to the Korean hierarchy.

The expression also conveys an idea of flirtation, resulting in meanings such as crush, darling and darling. It doesn't just mean big brother, but rather a word of endearment or nickname.

Korean girlfriends and wives can say a lot of “oppa” with different intonations. Korean men can distinguish the tones and can tell if she is happy, angry, upset or wants something. 

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Who can I call Oppa?

We have already seen in this article that girls can call their older brothers oppa, also boyfriends and even close friends, but you can use this word with other people.

Their older male relatives and cousins can be called “oppa”. In fact, an older male cousin in Korean is “sa-chon oppa“.

As mentioned, you can use “oppa” with friends or acquaintances, but you need to be careful that this could be interpreted as flirting. Whether or not to be a flirt will depend on your tone.

As in Japanese we have the term senpai to refer to a veteran, in the Korean language we use sunbae, but some may prefer to be called “oppa”, even ask to use that term.

The most popular form of the expression oppa in the West is used to refer to celebrities. The term “oppa” is often used with young people K-POP singers or actors from Korean dramas.

Other Korean women are smart and use the term to get benefits in bars, restaurants, clubs and other places, either for visitors or for local employees.

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Rules for using Oppa

Before using this word, make sure of the following:

  1. You must be female, otherwise there are only 3 exceptions. Are you a man who is joking or telling a woman to call him “oppa, or are you singing Gangnam Style.
  2. You must say that to a man.
  3. The male must be at least one year older but not more than 10 years old. If he is 10 years older than you, he should use the terms samchon or ajeossi.
  4. You must have a familiar and friendly relationship with him.

You can use “oppa” regardless of the person's age, but if the man is over 30, other more popular terms are “ajeossi, samchon and sajangnim”.

The "oppa" can be used both as an honorific suffix and as a pronoun. That is, you can use it after the person's name or without their name.

Different ways to say Oppa

Depending on the tonality, the meaning of the expression can change completely. Here are some ways to say oppa below:

Oppa – The standard way of calling a blood relative as a male brother or cousin. If there's no zhuzh in the word, they're probably talking about family. The flat, emotionless tone is a dead giveaway.

Oppaaaah – This is a whiny way to get what you want. One of the most powerful aegyo techniques. Can be used friends, boyfriends or even strangers when interested.

oops – Fun way to joke or show annoyance.

Oppah – General way of greeting and showing that you are happy to see someone.

OPPPA! - The sharp and abrupt tone shows that the girl is upset. Try some treat for dessert or dinner.

Saying oppa in an eerily calm tone, usually followed by “we need to talk”, sets you up for things to get ugly.

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