Language Information

Thai alphabet is syllabic, consisting of 44 basic consonants representing 21 distinct consonant sounds, each with an inherent vowel: [o] in medial position and [a] in final position. The [a] is usually found in words of Sanskrit, Pali or Khmer origin while the [o] is found native Thai words.

The 18 other vowels, diphthongs and triphthongs are indicated using diacritics which appear in front of, above, below of after the consonants they modify.

For some consonants there are multiple letters. Originally they represented separate sounds, but over the years the distinction between those sounds was lost and the letters were used instead to indicate tones.

Thai is a tonal language with 5 tones. The tone of a syllable is determined by a combination of the class of consonant, the type of syllable (open or closed), the tone marker and the length of the vowel.

There are no spaces between words, instead spaces in a Thai text indicate the end of a clause or sentence.

The direction of writing in the Thai language is horizontal from left to right.

Consonants

Consonants are divided into three classes: middle, high and low, which help to determine the tone of a syllable. The sounds represented by some consonants change when they are used at the end of a syllable (indicated by the letters on the right of the slash below). Some consonants can only be used at the beginning of a syllable.

The following chart contains Thai consonants, their names and transcription.

Symbol

 

Name 

Class

 

Symbol

Name 

Class

k

kor kai (chicken)

M

 

n

nor nuu (mouse)

L

kh/k

khor khai (egg)

H

 

b/p

bor baimaai (leaf)

M

kh/k

khor khuat (bottle) [obsolete]

H

 

p

por plaa (fish)

M

kh/k

khor khwaai (water buffalo)

L

 

ph

phor phueng (bee)

H

kh/k

khor khon (person) [obsolete]

L

 

f

for faa (lid)

H

kh/k

khor ra-khang (bell)

L

 

ph/p

phor phaan (tray)

L

ng

ngor nguu (snake)

L

 

f/p

for fan (teeth)

L

j/t

jor jaan (plate)

M

 

ph/p

phor samphao (sailboat)

L

ch

chor ching (cymbals)

H

 

m

mor maa (horse)

L

ch/t

chor chaang (elephant)

L

 

y

yor yak (ogre)

L

s/t

sor soo (chain)

L

 

r/n

ror ruea (boat)

L

ch

chor choe (bush)

L

 

rue

ror rue (short) *

-

y/n

yor ying (woman)

L

 

ฤๅ

rue

ror rue (long) *

-

d/t

dor chadaa (headdress)

M

 

l/n

lor ling (monkey)

L

t

tor patak (goad)

M

 

lue

lor lue (short) *

-

th/t

thor santhaan (base)

H

 

ฦๅ

lue

lor lue (long) *

-

th/t

thor naangmonthoo (dancer)

L

 

w

wor waen (ring)

L

th/t

thor phuuthao (old person)

L

 

s/t

sor saalaa (pavilion)

H

n

nor neen (novice monk)

L

 

s/t

sor reusii (hermit)

H

d/t

dor dek (child)

M

 

s/t

sor seua (tiger)

H

t

tor tao (turtle)

M

 

h

hor hiip (chest)

H

th/t

thor thung (sack)

H

 

l/n

lor julaa (kite)

L

th/t

thor thahaan (soldier)

L

 

**

or aang (basin)

M

th/t

thor thong (flag)

L

 

h

hor nok-huuk (owl)

L

* Consonant-vowel combination characters, not members of any group.

** is a special case in that at the beginning of a word it is used as a silent initial for syllables that start with a vowel.

Vowels

The vowels each exist in long-short pairs: these are distinct phonemes forming unrelated words in Thai, but usually transliterated the same. The long-short pairs are as follows (a dash () indicates the position of the initial consonant after which the vowel is pronounced):

Long

Short

Thai

 

Explanation

Thai

 

Explanation

a:

a in "father"

a

u in "nut"

i:

ee in "see"

i

y in "greedy"

u:

ue in "blue"

u

oo in "look"

e:

a in "lame"

e

e in "set"

æ:

a in "ham"

æ

a in "at"

ɨ:

u in French "dur" (long)

ɨ

u in French "du" (short)

ə:

u in "burn" (long)

อะ

ə

u in "burn" (short)

o:

ow in "bowl"

o

oa in "boat"

ɔ:

aw in "raw"

าะ

ɔ

o in "for"

The basic vowels can be combined into diphthongs as follows:

Long

Short

Thai

 

Explanation

Thai

 

Explanation

าย

aːj

I in "I" (stressed)

, ,

ɑj

I in "I"

าว

aːw

ao in "Lao"

aw

ow in "cow"

ีย

iːa

ea in "ear" (long)

ียะ

ia

ea in "ear"

 

 

 

ิว

iw

ew in "new" (short)

ัว

uːa

ewe in "newer"

ัวะ

ua

ure in "pure" (short)

ูย

uːj

ooee in "cooee!"

ุย

uj

uey in "bluey"

eːw

a in "lame" + o in "poke"

็ว

ew

e in "set" + o in "poke"

æːw

a in "ham" + o in "poke"

 

 

 

ือ

ɨːa

u in French "dur" + a in "father"

 

 

 

əːj

u in "burn" + y in "yes"

 

 

 

อย

ɔːj

oy in "boy" (long)

 

 

 

oːj

oe in "Chloe"

 

 

 

Additionally, there are three triphthongs, all of which are long:

Thai

 

Explanation

ียว

iow

ee + aow

วย

uɛj

oo + I in "I"

ือย

ɨɛj

u in French "dur" + I in "I"

Numerals

Thai numerals

Tone indication

There are five phonemic tones: middle, low, high, rising and falling. They are indicated in the written script by a combination of the class of the initial consonant (high, mid or low), vowel length (long or short), closing consonant (unvoiced/plosive or voiced/sonorant) and sometimes one of four tone marks. The tonal rules are shown in the following chart:

Tone of syllable

Syllable

Initial consonant

Tone mark

Syllable composition

High class

Mid class

Low class

none

long vowel or vowel plus sonorant

rising

mid

mid

none

long vowel plus plosive

low

low

falling

none

short vowel at end or plus plosive

low

low

high

mai ek

any

low

low

falling

mai tho

any

falling

falling

high

mai tri

any

high

high

high

mai chattawa

any

rising

rising

rising

The letters (high class) and sometimes (mid class) are used as silent letters before another consonant to produce the correct tone. In polysyllabic words, an initial high class consonant with an implicit vowel renders the following syllable also high class.

There are a few exceptions to this system, notably the pronouns chan and khao, which are both pronounced with a high tone rather than the rising tone indicated by the script.

Grammar

The word order in Thai is Subject-Verb-Object, although the subject is often omitted. As in many Asian languages, the Thai pronominal system varies according to the sex and relative status of speaker and audience.

Adjectives follow the noun. A duplicated adjective is used for emphasis, e.g. คนอ้วนๆ (khon uan uan)- "a really fat person."

Comparatives take the form "A X กว่า (gwa) B" (A is more X than B). The superlative is expressed as A X ที่สุด (theesut).

Verbs do not inflect (i.e. do not change with person, tense, voice, mood or number) nor are there any participles. Duplication conveys the idea of doing the verb a lot. The passive voice is indicated by the insertion of โดน (dohn) or ถูก (thuuk) before the verb. Tense is conveyed by tense markers before or after the verb: กำลัง (gamlang) before the verb for ongoing action (like English -ing form) or อยู่ (yuu) after the verb for the present; จะ (ja) before the verb for the future; ได้ (dai) before the verb (or a time expression) for the past.

Many adverbs are expressed by a duplicated adjective. Adverbs usually follow the verb.

Nouns are uninflected and have no gender; there are no plural forms or articles. Plurals are expressed by adding "nouns of multitude" (ลักษณนาม) or classifiers in the form of noun-number-classifier, e.g. "teacher five person" for "five teachers".

While in English, such classifiers are usually absent ("four chairs") or optional ("two bottles of beer" or "two beers"), a classifier is almost always used in Thai (hence "chair four item" and "beer two bottle").

Subject pronouns are often omitted, while nicknames are often used where English would use a pronoun. There are specialized pronouns in the royal and sacred Thai languages. The following are appropriate for conversational use:

ผม (phom)

I/me (masculine)

ดิฉัน (di-chan)

I/me (feminine)

ฉัน (chan)

I/me (masculine or feminine; informal)

คุณ (khun)

You (polite)

เธอ (thœ)

You (informal)

เรา (rao)

We

เขา (khao)

He/she

มัน (man)

It

พวกเขา (phuak-khao)

They

พี่ (phee)

Older brother or sister (often used loosely for older non-relatives)

น้อง (nong)

Younger brother or sister (often used loosely for younger non-relatives)

The particles are often untranslatable words added to the end of a sentence to indicate respect, a request, encouragement or other moods (similar to the use of intonation in English), as well as varying the level of formality. They are not used in written Thai. The most common particles indicating respect are ครับ (pronounced "khrap", with a high tone, the "r" sound is usually omitted) for a man, and ค่ะ (pronounced "kha" with a falling tone) for a woman; these can also be used to indicate an affirmative.

Other common particles are:

นะ (na)

Request

จ๊ะ (ja)

จ้ะ, จ้า or จ๋า (ja)

Emphasis

ละ or ล่ะ (la)

สิ (si)

Emphasis or an imperative

 

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