Hanja: 작을, 소 & 적을, 소

While studying hanja, I came across the following two:

小 meaning: 작을 pronunciation: 소

少 meaning: 적을 pronunciation: 소

Notice how similar they are! So cruel that they even have the same pronunciation.
At first I didn’t even notice. The sample word that made me realise it was the word 소년 (boy).

It was written 소년 in 한글 and 少年 in hanja, which I first misread as “small year” since I learned 小 before 少 and therefore automatically associated the sound of 소 with 小. I thought it was such a weird way to phrase it since the years themselves will not ‘get bigger’ as someone ages, rather it’s the number of them that increases. Only then I realised that it was of course “few years” which makes somewhat more sense since a child is of course “a few years old”.

I don’t know if this is the official explanation of the characters, but at least now I can remember the difference easily.

For those who wonder what a young girl is called, it’s 소녀 (少女)

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