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Author: Mark Hollow

A Guide to Thai Police and
 Armed Forces Ranks

Thai Frequency Lists with English Definitions

Thai police and
 army ranks…

Thai newspaper reports contain many abbreviations of police & army ranks and these can be difficult to understand at first. They are, however, quiet simple and just need a little practice to master. This article presents a summary of the most common ranks, the handful of words needed to understand them and a chart of commissioned and non-commissioned officers in the Thai army, navy, air and police forces.

The English rank equivalents used here are based on UK & Commonwealth standards and the wording for other countries may differ. The English language translations and transliterations are from Mary Haas’ Thai-English Student’s Dictionary.

Commissioned Officer (CO) Ranks…

CO ranks are split into four main classes. The highest is for the individual who heads the organisation and is translated as Field Marshall, Air Marshall or Admiral, depending on which force the role relates to:

Thai rank: จอมพล /jom pon/
English translation: highest, supreme; head of.
English rank equivalent: Field Marshall, Air Marshall, Admiral

Note: the police do not use this top rank.

There are three lower CO ranks, each of which has three has three numerical classes (explained below):

Thai rank: พล /pon/
English translation: 1 n. troops, forces 
2 n. soldier; member of military or police force
English rank equivalent: General

Thai rank: พัน /pan/ *
English translation: n. thousand
English rank equivalent: Colonel

Thai rank: นาวา /naa waa/ **
English translation: vessel; boat
English rank equivalent: 

Thai rank: ร้อย /rói/ *
English translation: n. hundred
English rank equivalent: Captain

Thai rank: 
เรือ /reua/ **
English translation: boat; ship
English rank equivalent: Captain

* Police & Army only
** Navy & Air Force only

The พัน (thousand) and ร้อย (hundred) ranks simply relate to the approximate number of subordinates commanded at that rank (although these may be out-of-date with the size of the modern-day forces).

Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) Ranks…

NCO ranks are split into two main classes, each also with three numerical classes (explained below) plus a rank for the lowest-level private/constable rank:

Thai rank: จ่า /jàa/ *
English translation: n. leader
English rank equivalents: Sergeant

Thai rank: 
พันจ่า /pan jàa/ **
English translation: 
n. warrant officer
English rank equivalents: Flight Sergeant, Chief Petty Officer

Thai rank: สิบ /sìp/ *
English translation: n. ten
English rank equivalents: Sergeant

Thai rank: 
จ่า /jàa/ **
English translation: 
n. leader
English rank equivalents: Sergeant, Petty Officer

Thai rank: พลทหาร /pon tá-hăan/
English translation: n. private
English rank equivalents: Private, Airman, Seaman

Thai rank: 
พลตำรวจ /pon dtam-rùat/
English translation: 
n. constable
English rank equivalents: Constable (Police)

* Police & Army only
** Navy & Air Force only


Each of the CO and NCO ranks above, except the highest (Marshall etc) and lowest (Private, Constable) ranks have three classes which are used in the same way for all the forces. They are numerical (eg. 1, 2, 3) and based on Sanskrit numbers:

No: 1
Class: เอก /èek/
Abbreviation: อ.

No: 2
Class: โท /toh/
Abbreviation: ท.

No: 3
Class: ตรี /trii/
Abbreviation: ต.

For example, in the army, there are three rank divisions for a General:

General: พลเอก /pon èek/
Lieutenant General: พลโท /pon too/
Major General: พลตรี /pon trii/

The police, navy and air force also add the name of the force into the rank, so the air force the equivalent of the above army ranks are:

Air Chief Marshall: พลอากาศเอก /pon aakàat èek/
Air Marshall: พลอากาศโท /pon aakàat too/
Air Vice Marshall: พลอากาศตรี /pon aakàat trii/


The rank abbreviations are formed by combining the initial consonant from columns 2, 3 (except for the army), and 4 from the table below:


Rank (English): Chief/Admiral
Rank (Thai): จอมพล
Force: (บก) อากาศ เรือ

Rank (English): General
Rank (Thai): พล
Force: ตำรวจ (บก) อากาศ เรือ
Class: อ ท ต

Rank (English): Colonel/Cmdr
Rank (Thai): พัน (Police, Army)
Force: ตำรวจ, (บก)
Class: อ ท ต

Rank (English): Colonel/Cmdr
Rank (Thai): นาวา (Air, Navy)
Force: อากาศ, เรือ
Class: อ ท ต

Rank (English): Captain
Rank (Thai): ร้อย (Police, Army)
Force: ตำรวจ, (บก)
Class: อ ท ต

Rank (English): Captain
Rank (Thai): เรือ (Air, Navy)
Force: อากาศ, เรือ
Class: อ ท ต


Rank (English): Sergeant Major, Flight Sergeant, Chief Petty Officer, etc
Rank (Thai): ดาบ, จ่าสิบ (Police)
Force: ตำรวจ
Class: See Note 2

Rank (English): Sergeant Major, Flight Sergeant, Chief Petty Officer, etc
Rank (Thai): จ่าสิบ (Army)
Force: (บก)
Class: อ ท ต

Rank (English): Sergeant Major, Flight Sergeant, Chief Petty Officer, etc
Rank (Thai): พันจ่า (Air, Navy)
Force: อากาศ, เรือ
Class: อ ท ต

Rank (English): Sergeant,
 Petty Officer
Rank (Thai): สิบ (Police, Army)
Force: ตำรวจ (บก)
Class: อ ท ต

Rank (English): Sergeant, 
Petty Officer
Rank (Thai): จ่า (Air, Navy)
Force: อากาศ เรือ
Class: อ ท ต

Rank (English): Private, Constable
Rank (Thai): พลฯ
Force: ตำรวจ 
 ทหารอากาศ ทหารเรือ

The police, navy and air force also add the name of the force into the rank, so the air force the equivalent of the above army ranks are:

Air Chief Marshall: พลอากาศเอก /pon aakàat èek/
Air Marshall: พลอากาศโท /pon aakàat too/
Air Vice Marshall: พลอากาศตรี /pon aakàat trii/

Notes: (บก) indicates the rank is used for the army, but the word บก is not written in the rank.

The upper-level NCO police ranks are irregular, having just two ranks:

ดาบตำรวจ (“sword officer”) = Police Senior Sergeant Major

จ่าสิบตำรวจ = Police Sergeant Major

For example:
Police Sergeant = สิบตำรวจเอก = ส.ต.อ.
Army Sergeant = สิบเอก = ส.อ.
Air force Sergeant = จ่าอากาศเอก = จ.อ.อ.

Usage & Exceptions…

When reading newspapers etc, it’s necessary to remember:

  1. The main ranks (พล general, พัน colonel etc)
  2. Each force (except the army) add their name into the rank
  3. The “1, 2, 3” class suffix.

For general reading and comprehension, just these three rules are sufficient for understanding the seniority of an officer. For more formal translations etc, the equivalent English language ranks (and foreign equivalents) would need to be checked too.


พล.อ. เปรม ติณสูลานนท์
literal rank translation: General 1st class
translation: General Prem Tinsulanonda

พ.อ. โมอัมมาร์ กัดดาฟี่
literal rank translation: Colonel 1st class
full translation: Colonel Muammar Gaddafi

พ.ต.ท. ทักษิณ ชินวัตร
literal rank translation: Colonel Police 2nd class
full translation: Police Lieutenant Colonel Thaksin Shinawatra

Note that previously-held ranks are often used even if the person is no longer serving in the force, as is the case with the last example and this is also true for other positions (eg. Prime Minister). Academic titles, either from higher degrees (eg. Doctor) or academic positions (eg. Professor) may also be listed too.

Referring to the accompanying chart (PDF) will make visualisation of this information a lot easier. It shows the ranks of each force aligned to each other with full titles and abbreviations in Thai and UK equivalents. It also includes a few additional ranks not included in this article such as archaic or honourary ones. Print it out, and keep a copy in your dictionary! For other rarely used ranks refer to the references listed below.

Further Reading…

The information in this article is a summary of two Wikipedia articles which contain a lot more information including trainee/cadet ranks, archaic & honourary ranks, NATO Code equivalents etc.

Wikipedia (English): Military Ranks of the Thai armed forces

Wikipedia (Thai): ยศทหารและตำรวจในประเทศไทย (Army and Police Ranks in Thailand)

Vocabulary Summary…

จอม: highest, supreme; head of
พล: troops, soldier, member of the armed forces
พัน: 1000
นาวา: vessel (eg. boat, plane)
ร้อย: 100
เรือ: boat (also combined with ~อากาศ for plane)
ดาบ: sword
จ่าสิบ: leader
จ่า: leader
สิบ: 10
ตำรวจ: police
ทหาร: soldier (general term)
ทหารบก: soldier (army)
ทหารอากาศ: airman
ทหารเรือ: sailor
เอก: one (Sanskrit)
โท: two (Sanskrit)
ตรี: three (Sanskrit)
ยศ: Rank

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Review: A Guide to Thai Grammar Books

A Guide to Thai Grammar Books

A Guide to Thai Grammar Books…

Presented here are short introductions to Thai grammar books, both in the English language for foreign learners and Thai language books for Thai school and university students which are also useful for foreign learners with a good Thai reading ability. As these are reference books, not tutorials, they are not intended to be read from cover-to-cover, but instead used to support continued studies.

Each book overview here covers the general structure and content together with comments about any specific, notable features. However, no opinion or rating is given about their suitability for any particular learning approach which is, of course, very subjective to each learner.

The books listed here are not the only books available. I welcome comments and further suggestions on this topic which would assist us all with our continued studies.

English Language Grammar Books…

The in-print books listed here can usually be found at all large book shops in Thailand which stock foreign language books. Many online shops (both Thai and foreign) sell them too. Google Books has free previews of some and, where relevant, a link is provided.

The Fundamentals of the Thai LanguageThe Fundamentals of the Thai Language (5th edition)
Author: Stuart Campbell and Chuan Shaweevongs
Format: out-of-print but available online (free)
Language: English with examples in Thai script and transliteration.
Website: Fundamentals of the Thai Language

While this is more of a language course than a grammar book, it does have a strong emphasis on basic grammar and outlines some key differences from English which is useful for beginners. Each topic is presented with basic vocabulary lists and example conversations. The first edition was printed in 1956 so some of the vocabulary is showing its age but the clear explanations and well structured content make this a useful book.

Thai: Essential GrammarThai: An Essential Grammar
Author: David Smyth
Formats: paperback, hardback, eBook (Kindle, PDF, ePub, Microsoft Reader)
ISBN: 978-0415226134 (paperback)
Language: English with examples in Thai script and transliteration.

Thai Reference Grammar: The Structure of Spoken ThaiThai Reference Grammar: The Structure of Spoken Thai
Authors: James Higbie and Snea Thinsan
Format: paperback
ISBN: 978-9748304960
Language: English with examples in Thai script and transliteration.

These two books are perhaps the most commonly available grammar books for foreign learners. They’re good introductions to Thai grammar and language patterns and useful for beginners as well as advanced learners. Both are written for general learners and only use basic grammatical terminology (eg. nouns, verbs, conjunctions etc) and therefore are straight forward to read and very approachable.

Different styles of transliteration are used in each book. Smyth’s system is not too different from that developed by Mary Haas and is easy to learn for readers familiar with Haas’ works or the system used in the Thai for Beginners book. Higbie’s transliteration style is unique, using under- and over-scoring representing tones, but after the initial “what is that?” reaction, it’s quick to learn and intuitive.

Given the rising popularity of eBook readers and tablet computers, Smyth’s publisher (Routledge) deserves praise for making his work available in digital formats. However, the Kindle and ePub editions use miniature graphics files for the Thai text and some transliteration symbols so resizing the layout doesn’t work properly on all readers (the graphic files don’t resize along with the normal text). The PDF version does not have this problem. (I’ve not seen the Microsoft Reader version so can’t comment about it.)

Thai Reference GrammarThai Reference Grammar
Author: Richard B. Noss
Formats: PDF (free online), paperback
ISBN: 978-1456503307 (paperback)
Language: English with transliteration (no Thai script)
Website: FSI: Thai Reference Grammar PDF download.

Obviously written at a time when people didn’t worry about the health effects of smoking, this book introduces the topic of classifiers with a demonstration of how to buy cigarettes as “the yellow pack”, “those five packs”, “the big pack” etc. – not something found in modern books! Printed in 1964, this is an updated version of the author’s PhD dissertation so academic linguistic terminology is heavily used throughout eg. nouns are defined as “any substantive which occurs as the head of an endocentric expression”, but there are plenty of examples which help if the lingo is hard to understand. It’s perhaps unfortunate that only transliteration is used – no Thai script at all – but this is a book about spoken Thai.

One feature that stands out is the focus on stress, rhythm and intonation in spoken Thai and the transliteration (also based on Mary Haas’ system) includes symbols to represent these features. Other grammar books generally give less focus on this topic so its inclusion here is welcome.

The PDF version at the above website is free and is a scan of the original print edition. It’s mostly of good quality although there are a few faint or illegible words to be found. There are “new” editions of this book being sold online, but they seem to be identical to this PDF except for the front cover.

A Reference Grammar of ThaiThai Reference Grammar A Reference Grammar of Thai
Authors: Shoichi Iwasaki and Preeya Ingkaphirom
Formats: paperback, hardback
ISBN: 978-0521108676 (paperback)
Language: English with examples in Thai script, transliteration and part-of-speech analysis.
Google Preview: A Reference Grammar of Thai

This book is also for a more academic audience. The terminology used is somewhat difficult at first if the reader is not familiar with technical linguistic terms (eg. chapter titles such as “Deontic Modal Auxiliaries”, “The Periphrastic Causative” etc), although each chapter has a short, less-technical introduction but not totally jargon free. Reading the chapter summaries first will give a clearer overview of the content and the terminology is arguably easier to understand than that used in Noss’ book.

The academic approach used to compile this book is clear from the conversational data: transcriptions of real conversations between teachers & parents, parents & children, business meetings etc. Even hesitations and repetition of words are transcribed, transliterated and analysed into parts of speech as spoken. Top marks for the analysis of real-life speech as this is something that’s not evident in the other books presented here.

The part-of-speech analysis is a feature not found in the other books in this article, although it’s common in many academic papers. For example:

nát khoŋ mây maa lɛ́ɛw
(name) may NEG come ASP
“Nat may not come any more.”

Lines 1, 2 and 4 are the Thai script, transliteration and translation respectively. Line 3 is the part-of-speech analysis showing how each word fits in the sentence: (name) denotes a persons name, NEG is a “negative marker” (“not”) and ASP is an “aspect auxiliary” (for time/tense).

However, there are a few mistakes: a few transliterations and translations are incomplete, and some incorrect spellings can be found too. But don’t let these minor negatives put you off though as this is otherwise a detailed, insightful (albeit expensive) book. The Smyth and Higbie books are great quick references for learning language structures but this one is more detailed and will often better answer the question “how does that word really work?”

Thai Language Grammar Books…

These grammar books are primarily for native Thai speakers so the focus is very different from those above. The foreign language books are about second language acquisition and understanding whereas books for native speakers explain the workings of the reader’s own native language which they already use fluently in daily life.

The first two books can be found in Thai university bookshops and larger general bookshops. The บรรทัดฐานภาษาไทย books are limited in availability and details are provided separately below.

หลักภาษาไทยหลักภาษาไทย [The Fundamentals of the Thai Language]
Author: กำชัย ทองหล่อ
Formats: paperback, hardback
ISBN: 978-9742466350
Language: Thai

Previews: Two chapters with partial translations can be found on the thai-language.com website:

Parts of Speech

This book is the standard reference book of the Thai language, first printed about 60 years ago. It’s a very detailed, academic tome (540 pages) covering the evolution of the Thai script, alphabet, tones, types of words, their use (including royal vocabulary or “ratchasap”), clauses, sentences, loan words (mainly Pali and Sanskrit with limited discussion of Khmer, Chinese and English), prose and poetry.

This book has no index but the table of contents is very detailed (spanning 11 pages) and lists all chapters, sections and subsections making it quick and easy to find the right page.

This reference manual is the definitive reference book for the Thai language.

ไวยากรณ์ไทยไวยากรณ์ไทย [Thai Grammar]
Author: นววรรณ พันธุเมธา
Formats: paperback, hardback
ISBN: 974-9993276
Language: Thai

This book covers all the essentials and isn’t overly technical. It’s less detailed than หลักภาษาไทย and perhaps easier to understand while being organised in a similar manner. It starts with chapters covering word types (verbs, nouns, conjunctions etc) and then phrase and sentence construction. The book only discusses the modern Thai language as used in normal daily life so there’s limited discussion of royal vocabulary, and nothing on the language history or traditional forms of verse that are covered in หลักภาษาไทย. Plenty of examples are given throughout and there are also exercises at the end of each chapter.

Unfortunately, finding information in this book can be slow as there’s no index and the table of contents is short (one page) which lists only the chapter titles, not subsections. Also, the page headers only contain the author’s name, book title and page numbers (no chapter or section titles) so the reader must scan the pages for section headings instead.

However, this book does have a logical organisation and its non-technical approach makes it useful as both a tutorial and reference guide.

บรรทัดฐานภาษาไทย เล่ม ๑-๖บรรทัดฐานภาษาไทย เล่ม ๑-๖ [Standard Thai, Books 1-6]
Author: Thai Language Institute, Office of Academic and Educational Standards, Office of the Basic Education Commission, Ministry of Education
Format: paperback
Language: Thai

Availability generally limited to ศึกษาภัณฑ์พาณิชย์ (Suksapan Phaanit) shops.
Branch locations can be found at suksapan.or.th and an online ordering service is available.

เล่ม ๑ ระบบเสียง อักษรไทย การอ่านคำและการเขียนสะกดคำ
Book 1 Phonology, Thai alphabet, Reading and Spelling Words

เล่ม ๒ คำ การสร้างคำและการยืมคำ
Book 2 Words, Word Construction and Loan Words

เล่ม ๓ ชนิดของคำ วลี ประโยคและสัมพันธสาร
Book 3 Types of Words, Clauses, Sentences and Discourse

เล่ม ๔ วัฒนธรรมการใช้ภาษาไทย
Book 4 Cultural use of the Thai Language

เล่ม ๕ กระบวนการคิดและการเขียนร้อยแก้ว
Book 5 The Art of Writing Prose

เล่ม ๖ ฉันทลักษณ์และขนบการเขียนร้อยกรอง
Book 6 Prosody and Patterns for Writing Verse

1. Book 1 of the current print-run has sold out (as of November 2011)
2. Books 5 and 6 have not yet been published (as of November 2011)
3. This review is based on books 2, 3 and 4

These recent books, published in 2009 and 2010, present a modern approach to understanding Thai for “teachers of Thai, students at secondary school level or higher and anyone interested in the Thai language”. They are written by “contemporary academic researchers and experts in the Thai language” which is evident from the bibliographies referencing many modern academic papers (from both Thai and foreign universities). By using a modern, broad base of linguistic research, the authors have developed a series of books that explain the Thai language clearly and concisely.

The vocabulary in these books is relatively straightforward and good use is made of charts and tables where appropriate. Some technical terminology has come from English and translated into Thai (eg. “socio-cultural information” translated to “ข้อมูลด้านสังคมและวัฒนธรรม”) but the English terms/phrases are also given on first use, which is helpful for foreign readers.

Footnotes are used to highlight where deviations have been made from older books such as หลักภาษาไทย (above) and its predecessor, the almost century-old work of พระยาอุปกิตศิลปสาร (not included here because it’s out-of-print). Such deviations are primarily where different terminology is used eg. the new books use คำนามวิสามัญ (proper noun) instead of วิสามานยนาม as used in the older books.

The up-to-date nature of these texts can be clearly seen in the second book (Words, Word Construction and Loan Words). The loan words chapters in the older books focus on Pali, Sanskrit and Khmer with a little Chinese and English but these newer books have extensive chapters for Pali, Sanskrit, Khmer, Chinese, Java-Malaya, and English. Likewise, in book 4 (Cultural use of the Thai Language) there are chapters on regional dialects in Thailand and modern language use in business, advertising, media, legal, religion, ceremonies, and word play/humour too.

In summary, these are well-thought out, up-to-date books with clear explanations, ample examples and a broad scope. They are likely to satisfy the most inquisitive students of the Thai language.

The in-print books listed here can usually be found at all large book shops in Thailand which stock foreign language books. Many online shops (both Thai and foreign) sell them too. Google Books has free previews of some and, where relevant, a link is provided.

Mark Hollow

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