More than two years collecting examples of incorrect English signs in Korea

One of the reasons I started DC CopyPro was to help improve the quality of English signs in Korea. I’ve been posting about errors in signs, menus, and other public places for more than two years. In many of my daily posts, especially early on, I offer to help people—for free. Sadly, I haven’t had many people take me up on that offer.

A few weeks ago, I came across this article about the abundance of English signs in Korea. I was interested to learn that it’s illegal to have a sign written only in English in Korea. I was less surprised that this law is rarely enforced.

The article also supports my hunch that Koreans use English signs to look professional or sound sophisticated. In essence, it’s cool. But there’s nothing cool about glaring errors in your English signs. And those mistakes do not make you look professional.

I’ve compiled examples of the most common mistakes I see on English signs in Korea. To live up to my word of helping people for free, I’ve also included the proper way to write these signs. I hope business owners and sign makers will consult this post to ensure the English sign they’ve created is correct.

You know where I’m going to start—for the millionth time, it’s not “Grand Open!”

This was my first post

One of the most commo English signs in Korea—Grand Open

Since then, I’ve posted almost 20 examples of this mistake. I have another 20+ examples of the same mistake in my collection.

Open can be a verb or an adjective—it’s not a noun. The event you hold for a new store is a Grand Opening (Grand is the adjective, opening is the noun). From

  • opening – a ceremony accompanying the start of some enterprise

I have seen a few places get this right—which I’ve celebrated. I’ve made posts applauding signs that correctly display Grand Opening.

Don't see many English signs in Korea that get this right—Grand Opening
See full Instagram post

I fear this trend is deeply rooted in Korean English signs, but I’m going to keep fighting to be rid of it. I hope you’ll help me by pointing out the error to people when you see Grand Open signs. Tell ‘em DC CopyPro sent you. 😉 

I’ve also seen Open Event, which is also incorrect. It should be Opening Event or Grand Opening.

  • Grand Open = ❌, Open Event = ❌
  • Grand Opening = ✅

I’ve recently also seen a few signs for Renewal Open. The proper phrase is Grand Reopening. I also saw an ad for a Grand Opening, but in Korean, it also said 1주년, which means one year. You can’t have a 1-year Grand Opening. As I used to teach my students, you can only say “Nice to meet you” to a person once. After that, you can never use it again because you’ve already met them. You can have a 1-year anniversary sale but not a 1-year grand opening.

Because ‘grand’ is used in this sense, I’ve also seen it used as “Grand Sale”. That’s not a typical expression. It’s much more common to say Big Sale, Massive Sale, Huge Sale.

  • Renewal Open = ❌
  • Grand Reopening = ✅
  • Grand Sale = ❌
  • Big Sale, Massive Sale, Huge Sale = ✅

Come in, we’re open!

A neon open sign that shows the business hours from Monday through Sunday.

Many businesses helpfully put the hours they’re open on their doors or signs. Unfortunately, most of the time in Korea, they get it wrong.

  • Open AM 10:00 / Closed PM9 = ❌
  • Open 10:00 AM / Close 9:00 PM = ✅

In Korean, you indicate morning or afternoon before the time (오전 10시, 오수 9지), but in English, it comes afterwards. Though you don’t have to, most style guides suggest putting a space between the time and AM/PM. This is the format I always use.

You’re open for more than one hour, so it needs to be “Opening Hours.” Then you list your hours (i.e., 10 am – 8 pm, Mon.-Sat). I’ve also seen Opening Hours. Writing this as Business Hours (see the image above) or Hours of Operation would be more common. 

  • Sunday close = ❌
  • Closed on Sundays, Sundays—Closed = ✅
Sign on business door that says Closed 9:30 and Closed on sundays (with a lowercase s)
This sign was close, but they didn’t capitalize Sunday. It should also be “Close 09:30 pm”.

If your store is open all the time, the correct sign is not 24 hour open.

  • 24 Hour Open = ❌ (Ex. 1, Ex. 2)
  • Open 24 Hours, Open 24/7 = ✅

Don’t make these mistakes if you need to put up a sign announcing that your business will open soon.

In the unfortunate situation that your business has to close, this is not the way to go.

If you’re having a sale to get rid of a lot of your stock, you can use one of these signs.

  • Going Out of Business Sale = ✅
  • Liquidation Sale = ✅
  • Clearance Sale = ✅

Danger, danger—poor grammar ahead!

I see a lot of signs warning about danger—at least they’re trying to. All these warning signs are incorrect.

  • Caution Stair Fall = ❌ (Ex. 1, Ex. 2)
  • Watch Your Step⁠ / Caution⁠—Stairs⁠ = ✅
  • Fall Attention = ❌ 
  • Warning: Risk of Falling⁠ = ✅
  • Caution: Fall Hazard⁠ = ✅
  • Danger: Watch Your Step⁠ = ✅
A warning side that says Be careful Slide

When you want people to focus on your message rather than trying to understand what the warning is, be clear.

I see a lot of signs warning that people aren’t allowed to smoke. Unfortunately, a lot of these signs are full of mistakes.

A No Smoking sign, with the N in No written backwards

Make sure your sign isn’t destined for the garbage

When talking about garbage or recycling, these are uncountable nouns, so we don’t add an ‘s’ at the end of the word.

  • Wastes/Garbages = ❌ 
  • Waste, Garbage, Trash = ✅

But items that are countable, like bottles and cans, should end in ‘s’. But paper, plastic, and glass are also uncountable, so they shouldn’t end in ‘s’. You can also label a container as “recyclable materials” if it’s for all types of materials that can be recycled.

But don’t command people what to do.

  • Recycle = ❌
  • Recycling / Recyclables⁠ = ✅

Don’t ruin fine dining with poor grammar

Telling people that they can’t eat or drink in your establishment is one thing. Telling them they can’t bring their own food into your establishment is another.

  • No Food or Drink Allowed (Ex. 1, Ex. 2) = You cannot eat or drink here (i.e. in a library or a museum).
  • No outside food or drink = You can only eat and drink food and beverages you buy at this establishment. You cannot consume food or beverages you’ve brought into this establishment. 
A Korean sign for a self-serve bar, with the only English on the sign being Self Tab

Adding “self” to a phrase is a Konglish expression. It’s more correct to say that something is “self-serve.”

It’s pretty common to have toilets in your restaurant. You have a few options, but it’s also easy to make mistakes:

  • Man / Woman / Man’s / Woman’s = ❌
  • Men / Women = ✅
  • Men’s Room / Ladies’ Room = ✅
  • Men’s Toilet / Women’s Toilet = ✅

And whatever you do, don’t use disabled or handicapped bathroom.

  • Disabled toilet/Handicapped toilet = ❌
  • Accessible toilet = ✅ 

Other common incorrect English signs in Korea I see regularly

  • Wellbeing Food = This is a Konglish term. It’s more common to simply refer to health food. 
An example of an English sign in Korea on a chicken restaurant awning that reads We serve fresh and delicious fried Chicken everyday—everyday is incorrectly written as one word
  • Everyday = An adjective meaning ordinary, usual, or common. (These are my everyday clothes., i.e. I’m not dressed up or wearing anything special).
  • Every day = Each day (I wear shorts every day, but I never wear socks.)
  • Crap (Ex. 1, Ex. 2, Ex. 3) = ❌
  • Crab = 🦀

And the popular beverage sold all around the world is not “cock” (남자성기)—it’s Coke.

Let me know how I can help with your English signs in Korea

I hope you’ve found this list useful. This is a small collection of the most common mistakes I’ve seen while posting about English signs in Korea for the past two years. But it doesn’t cover every situation. Did I miss any signs you’d like to see? What signs do you see all the time that you think need to be fixed?

If you have to make a sign for your business and it hasn’t been covered in this post, please reach out to me. For a quick question that involves a few words, I’ll gladly help for free. If you want me to review your entire menu, I can’t do that for free. But I’m more than happy to help ensure you get your Grand Opening or No Smoking sign correct—for free! Check out this post to see what I can and can’t do for free.

Leave a Reply