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Compiling a Top 100 Thai Vocabulary List

Compiling a Top 100 Thai Vocabulary List

Compiling a top 100 Thai vocabulary list…

Hey all, I need your help putting together a top 100 Thai vocabulary list. The aim is to create a word list for newbies to communicate in Thai at a basic level. Only the barest Thai words are needed, but which ones?

I compiled a sample list of Thai words (below) but I took a kitchen sink approach. So what I need are opinions (yours) on words that are missing or unnecessary. Bottom line: What 100 words do/did you absolutely need to get by in Thai?

EDIT: If you gravitate towards phrases instead of individual words, please share your top sentences as well.

To explain my search for 100 Thai words…

My last post, The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, hooked me on the Loci Method for learning more Thai vocabulary.

Following his instructions (sort of) I experienced the beauty of Loci. Excited about the possibilities, I dropped everything to discover ways to actually show how Loci works for learning Thai. Theory is all fine and good, but…

So I downloaded everything I could find on amazon (co and uk) to my Kindle regarding Loci and read the language related bits.

After getting as much as I could into my head, and as I have an anal nature, I decided that a top 100 Thai vocabulary list was needed.

Well, there isn’t an actual top 100 vocabulary list for the Thai language.

Ok, there is a Thai 100 word list on Glenn’s forum, Most Frequently used words in Thai. But… I wasn’t 100% happy with it so after copying it off I kept hunting.

Tony Buzan has several versions of an English top 100 vocabulary list in a book called Use Your Memory. An early version of the book was published by BBC Books (1995) with the list shared around the Internet (take a peek if you like).

Oxford Online also created a top 100 English vocabulary list: Most common words in English.

The Reading Teachers Book of Lists claims that the first 25 words make up about one-third of all printed material in English, and that the first 100 make up about one-half of all written material.

Note that the items listed may represent more than one actual word; they are lemmas. For instance the entry “be” contains within it the occurrences of “are”, “is”, “were” and “was”.

Note also that these top 100 lemmas listed below account for 50% of all the words in the Oxford English Corpus.

Ok, that’s all well and good but I’m going for spoken, not written (and in Thai to boot). But it does outline the importance of learning a select few words in your target language. So again, for good measure (and the lack of a spoken list) I copied off this one as well.

So I ended up with three lists of 100 top words each. The top Thai, Buzan’s list, and one from Oxford Online. I threw them together, added Thai to the English, and then added Thai words I felt were missing. I also peppered polite particles and classifiers around (I couldn’t resist). Figuring that they could be acquired as needed, I ignored category lists such as food, animals, colours, numbers, days of the week, months, such as that. Hmmmm…

But after compiling the list I realised that there wasn’t a focus on the bare minimum words to get by in Thai. What I have instead is a list of Thai words one should know but that’s not the same. And that’s why I need you.

Below is the list so far. In your opinion, what Thai words are missing? What are not needed at this stage? Please leave your advice in the comments or send it via my contact form. Up to you ;-)

Round 1: The top 100 Thai words one must know…

about, regarding, concerning a problem, trouble, matter, affair, thing: เรื่อง /rêuang/
– classifier: movie, story or tale
again, once more, more: อีก /èek/
already: แล้ว /láew/
– general marker indicating a specified action has happened or a state has been attained
also, likewise, then, so, therefore, well, umm, err, in addition, as a result: ก็ /gôr/
– often used when trying to think what to say
as well, also, too: ด้วย /dûay/
as, like, way, sort, variety: อย่าง /yàang/
– converts an adjective to an adverb, equivalent to English -ly suffix or saying “in a … way”
– classifier: types, kinds or sorts of objects
ask for, request for, ask: ขอ /kŏr/
back side: ข้างหลัง /kâang lăng/
bad (not good): ไม่ดี /mâi-dee/
be (+ noun), to be something: เป็น /bpen/
be at, live at, stay: อยู่ /yòo/
beautiful, attractive, pretty: สวย /sŭay/
because, because of, beautiful (voice): เพราะ /prór/
before, first, former: ก่อน /gòn/
big: ใหญ่ /yài/
but, only: แต่ /dtàe/
can, be able to, get, have done, have chance to: ได้ /dâai/
can’t, cannot (when used after verb): ไม่ได้ /mâi-dâai/
case, item: ราย /raai/
cause, make, to do for: ทำให้ /tam-hâi/
come, arrive: มา /maa/
– shows direction to the speaker
day: วัน /wan/
delicious: อร่อย /a-ròi/
didn’t, did not (when used before verb): ไม่ได้ /mâi-dâai/
do, make: ทำ /tam/
don’t have, there isn’t: ไม่มี /mâi-mee/
excuse me, apologize, sorry: ขอโทษ /kŏr-tôht/
far: ไกล /glai/
follow, come after: ตาม /dtaam/
for, in order to: เพื่อ /pêua/
for, to, on behalf of: สำหรับ /săm-ràp/
friend: เพื่อน /pêuan/
from, depart, leave, go away from: จาก /jàak/
front: ข้างหน้า /kâang-nâa/
get, receive: ได้รับ /dâai-ráp/
give, offer, let, have someone do something, to become, for: ให้ /hâi/
go, leave, depart: ไป /bpai/
– shows direction away from the speaker
good, nice: ดี /dee/
happy, well, fine: สบาย /sà-baai/
have, there is: มี /mee/
have to, must: ต้อง /dtông/
he, she, him, her, they, them, horn, mountain: เขา /kăo/
heart, mind, spirit: ใจ /jai/
hello, goodbye, good morning, good afternoon, good evening: สวัสดี /sà-wàt-dee/
help, aid, assist: ช่วย /chûay/
here: ที่นี่ /têe-nêe/
home, house: บ้าน /bâan/
how much: เท่าไหร่ /tâo-rài/
I (to someone younger), you (to someone older), he, she, him, her (referring to someone older): พี่ /pêe/
I, me (feminine): ฉัน /chan/
I, me (masculine): ผม /pŏm/
if: ถ้า /tâa/
in front of, front, face, front, top, next, following, upcoming: หน้า /nâa/
in, of: ใน /nai/
– intensifier: 1. ‘So… !, Extremely… !, 2. therefore, as a result, 3. to go further
it, potato, greasy, the fat, to be fun (slang): มัน /man/
keep, save, store: ไว้ /wái/
know (someone, something, face, place, know at a basic level): รู้จัก /róo-jàk/
know (something, know in detail): รู้ /róo/
like: ชอบ /chôp/
little bit: นิดหน่อย /nít-nòi/
little, few, not many: น้อย /nói/
love: รัก /rák/
maybe: อาจจะ /àat-jà/
name, be named: ชื่อ /chêu/
near: ใกล้ /glâi/
never mind, no problem, it’s ok: ไม่เป็นอะไร /mâi-bpen-a-rai/
new, recent, the latest, again, once more: ใหม่ /mài/
no, not: ไม่ /mâi/
now, right now, at this moment: ตอนนี้ /dton-née/
of, item: ของ /kŏng/
ok, right? (confirmative particle masculine): นะครับ /ná-kráp/
ok, right? (confirmative particle feminine): นะคะ /ná-ka/
old (humans, animals): แก่ /gàe/
old, to be old: เก่า /gào/
one: หนึ่ง /nèung/
out: ออก /òk/
particle: softens a sentence: หน่อย /nòi/
particle: softens a sentence, makes it more persuasive: นะ /ná/
particle: used by female speakers at the end of questions to make them more polite: คะ /ka/
particle: used by female speakers at the end of sentences to make them more polite: ค่ะ /kâ/
particle: used by male speakers at the end of sentences to make them more polite: ครับ /kráp/
person, people: คน /kon/
– classifier: people
play: เล่น /lên/
prefix: กำลัง… /gam-lang/ 
– put before a verb to show action is happening (present/past continuous tense)
reach, arrive, get to, until: ถึง /tĕung/
really: จริงๆ /jing jing/
say, tell, blame, criticise, sentence connector ‘that’: ว่า /wâa/
search for, look for, to meet: หา /hăa/
self, oneself: ตัว /dtua/
– character, letter, entity
– body, physique
– prefix: for an actor or character
– prefix: meaning “someone or something that does/is…”
– classifier: animals, all pieces of clothing (except ones that come in pairs, but including trousers), chairs, tables and other pieces of furniture, letters and numbers of the alphabet, musical instruments and also functions as a general purpose classifier for things and objects.)
send, send something to someone: ส่ง /sòng/
sense, meaning, substance: ความ /kwaam/
– prefix: converts a verb or adjective into an abstract noun
small, little: เล็ก /lék/
still, yet: ยัง /yang/
suffix: อยู่ /yòo/
– put after verb show the action is happening (present/past continuous tense)
task, work, job: การ /gaan/
– prefix: converts a verb or adjective into an verbal noun
tell, say, describe: บอก /bòk/
Thai currency: บาท /bàat/
Thai, Thailand: ไทย /tai/
thank you: ขอบคุณ /kòp-kun/
that, those: นั้น /nán/
– marker: used after a noun or pronoun to emphasize it as the subject of the sentence, or to show the end of a relative clause
there: ที่นั่น /têe-nân/
there (further): ที่โน่น /têe-nôhn/
think, calculate: คิด /kít/
this (+ noun/classifier): นี้ /née/
time, when: เวลา /way-laa/
to, at, that, which, who, the place, area: ที่ /têe/
together, jointly, one another, each other, obstruct: กัน /gan/
very much, a lot, very: มาก /mâak/
want (+ noun), take, bring: เอา /ao/
want to: อยาก /yàak/
watch, look, see, appear, seem: ดู /doo/
we, us, our: เรา /rao/
what about? (question particle masculine): ละครับ /la-kráp/
what about? (question particle feminine): ละคะ /la-ká/
what, something, anything: อะไร /a-rai/
where, which place: ที่ไหน /têe-năi/
who, someone, anyone: ใคร /krai/
why: ทำไม /tam-mai/
will, shall: จะ /jà/
with, together with, and: กับ /gàp/
work, job, task, event, ceremony, festival: งาน /ngaan/
yes (masculine): ครับ /kráp/
yes (feminine): ค่ะ /kâ/
you, he, she, him, her (used when referring to someone younger): น้อง /nóng/
you (to a friend, teacher to student…): เธอ /ter/
you, your: คุณ /kun/
you; your (to a child, someone younger), I; me (used by young children, and by women when speaking to their elders): หนู /nŏo/

Other top Thai vocabulary lists…

sealang.net: Thai Vocabulary List
thai-language.com: Most Frequently used words in Thai
thai-language.com: Common Words of the Thai Language
womenlearnthai.com: The Top 39 Thai Words You Must Know
womenlearnthai.com: FREE: Quick & Dirty Thai Vocabulary Download

And lastly, an ongoing conversation: Putting together a 100 word list for conversation in Thai.

Note: The transliteration comes from T2E as is. The English translations are also from T2E and late last night it was edited by Thai Skype Teacher Khun Narisa. The final edits were made by me so I will obviously take the responsibility for any snafus found. Coding this in was a pain and my brain fuzzed out when it came time to do a final edit so there might be some weirdness going on too…

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My passion is promoting the Thai language. Fullstop. Oh, and traveling. I'm passionate about that as well. And photography too.

30 Comments

  1. Excellent idea Cat, but of course it would be it’s coming from you :)

    I’ve added a few that might be helpful…

    You when referring to someone older( waiter, waitress )…Pii

    on…bon

    off…bpit

    hot… Laawn

    Cold…yen

    Spicy…pet

    room…hong

    hotel…roong raam

    hospital…roong paya baan

    I’m sure I’ll think of more as time goes by.

  2. almost forgot my favorite and one needed to know by anyone visiting Pattaya due to the over zealous street merchants…

    Mai Ow…don’t want

  3. Thank you muchly for the kind kudos Talen. And for the words as well. They are good ones to add. Please keep them coming :-)

    ‘Don’t want’ is a phrase useful for all over Thailand (but in Pattaya it should be learned right off the boat, right?)

    And maybe that’s how I need to approach this project? By breaking down the simplest of phrases to find what’s needed? I’m a phrase collector more than a vocabulary stuffer so that suits me fine.

    But I’m still in need of other’s ears and eyes… like, what main Thai words do you use on a daily basis? Besides taxis there’s ordering meals, shopping, small talk, asking directions…

  4. WLT’s posts also go to Facebook and here are the suggested words from Nils Bastedo:

    Combinations of these also give expressions. It might be best to have 100 phrases rather than words. Obviously the target audience would also be a great determiner in coming up with a relevant list. Single words could include What – Arai, How many/How much – Gih/Taorai, Cost – Rakah, Feel well – Sabai, Good – Dih, Well- Geng, Morning – Chao, Day – Wan, Evening – Yen, Night – Koen, Cold – Yen, Warm – Rohn, This – Nih, Not – Mai, etc etc. Phrases may be more useful than individual words, so a Top 100 phrases might be better. Individual translations of words in phrases can then raise understanding of the language even more. For single words, fruits, colours, foods, directions, purchasing words, basic question words, vehicles, hygiene, leisure activities, clothes, beach necessities etc ought to be good topics – depending on target group.

    Niles mentioned using phrases instead of vocabulary but the actual phrases/patterns will come later (I will check phrases out though :-)

  5. Also from FB…

    John Boegehold: You should add ไม่เข้าใจ to learn if you only know 100 words haha. Seriously though, this is always a challenging task . All the words you list are essential, but even at 6am and still half asleep the first thing I noticed was no หรือ as a conjunction, particle or question word, by itself or as part of หรือยัง or หรือเปล่า. A few more I’d add would be ไช่ ไหม อย่า กี่ ถึง รอ ระมาณ กินข้าว และ ซื้อ ขาย น้ำ เข้า เปิด and ปิด but I have no idea what I’d remove from your list to make them fit.

    ไม่เข้าใจ is a phrase (one I used to use often) but it’s important so will make it to the sentences compiled from the vocab.

    Thanks all! Please keep them coming :-)

  6. I think this actually should be two lists – 100 top words, and 50 top phrases. ไม่เข้าใจ is incredibly important, we all agree, but since it’s a phrase it should be included somewhere else.

  7. If we’re not talking tourist-related, here are some:

    bathroom
    food
    yesterday
    to buy
    tomorrow
    the numbers 1-10 (you have 1 already)
    understand
    hungry
    eat
    week
    water
    yes (chai)

    If you include tourist words:

    bottle
    sit
    taxi
    bus
    bank
    hotel

  8. Right…kwa…liaw kwa

    Left…sai…turn left…liaw sai

    yu ton kwa…on the right

    yu ton sai…on the left

    sii yeek…intersection

    police…dtam ruuat

    gang kiow wan gai…green curry…but that.s one for me :)

    More coming just brain dead at the moment…

  9. Hi everyone,

    How about compiling 100 phrases first, then taking the vocab from the phrases?

  10. Josh and Simon, I’m coming around to the phrases idea…. adding them in this post would save time…. or… I can create a dedicated phrases post out of the findings… or even before… apologies, I’m suffering from a cold so my brain is moving slooooooooooow… thinking… for a request post I need to get a starter list together… it might take until tomorrow…

    In the meantime, what top phrases you use daily? More often than others?

  11. Josh and Talen, excellent additions to the vocab list. Ta :-)

    Thinking… I’ll settle on a top 100 and then follow it up with a second tier from the vocabulary shared here… because once the top 100 for the Loci gets sorted, another 100 will be needed asap anyway. And another… marching this all the way to 1000 and up…

  12. Hey Cat,

    Thanks for putting together a list. I really have a terrible memory and short attention span so I always end up trying to find a new way to start out learning the language.

    That said, I’m glad to know I’m not the only person to recommend phrases over words.

    Partly because of my memory issue, I find phrases more useful than words for two reasons. 1) Because real life conversations are constructed more often than not in full (or close enough) sentences rather than single words; and 2) because if the list of phrases are constructed cleverly enough, one can learn very useful insights into the grammatical nuances of a second language.

    Take for example ไปไหน. This is possibly the second most common phrase one would hear walking the streets of Thailand and yet were one to interpret this phrase solely as the sum of its parts (“Where are you going?”), you would miss out on the full understanding of the phrase–that is–as a common greeting used to initiate conversation. In this sense, it is more similar to “How are you?” than “Where are you going?”

    Incidentally, back in 2008, Brett from Learn Thai From a White Guy posted a file on Google Docs entitled the Hundred Sentence Project that I’d highly recommend adding to the list of links in the original post :)

    Sidebar:
    In linguistic terminology, the collection of both words and phrases constitutes one’s lexis. This is probably the most useful English term I’ve ever learned because it replaces ‘vocabulary’ with a term that encompasses units of meaning that are made up of one or more than word.

    Thanks for letting me ramble again :)

    E

  13. Catherine what a great idea and couldn’t agree more with the words chosen thus far. Because I like to eat (a lot:) I’d include ราด or ลาด/lâht/covered…as many dishes are indeed ‘covered’ over rice.
    also ใส่/sài/containing/with, because I drink coffee with milk, but without sugar.

    Ordering food was one of the most daunting tasks we faced when first arriving…usually we’d just watch what was being prepared/eaten and point to what looked good, then indicate 2 of them please.

  14. Hi Emil. Sentences will absolutely come in handy to break down – and I’d love to see a LOT – but in the end I need the…. you got it… vocabulary :-D I aim to write a post showing how the Loci Method works for learning Thai vocabulary (mostly for those struggling to get new Thai words into their brains).

    Hi Snap, great suggestion on the restaurants. Being able to point and give minor instructions would help a great deal. Requesting ‘no sugar’ was high on my absolutely must know vocabulary list!

  15. Yesterday I picked a range of what I believe are the best Thai phrase books on the market (I have pretty much all of the top ones). I sat down on the sofa and dug in. And then it came to me…

    When Snap mentioned ordering food, I started thinking about how everyone uses a foreign language differently. Different subjects are needed for each individual. For instance, before moving here, I’d been coming to Thailand for 1-3 times a year, over a 9 or so year span. I’d go on road trips all over the countryside with no Thai. Most menus have photos so I didn’t starve. And I mostly did without coffee in the very beginning because I didn’t know how to order it without sugar.

    What I’m trying to say is that there will only be 100 words on this list so those wanting specific items need to either do without, or learn additional vocabulary. So this list will be a jumping off point, not a end all. It will includes the basics for creating sentences but the specialty subjects will need to be chosen as needed, to be slotted into the patterns.

    Sample: Some can go years without knowing the days of the week or colours but absolutely need to know how to say numbers in Thai. Others won’t need to know the different vegetables but fruit would be high on their agenda. And bargainers would need to know how the vocabulary to ask for discounts… etc… etc…

    But knowing what’s important will help this basic list immensely. Because after listening to you all, I believe that auxiliary lists are needed.

    Not the whole range of lists, but enough of the top subjects to show the possibilities of creating needed sentences… numbers, days of the week, fruits, veg, meat… antonyms… and I could link to already available lists. Good lists that won’t confuse (there are problems with picking just any ‘ole word out of the dictionary).

    Anyway, I’m not done with the phrases… phrases are my Sunday project… they are giving me a lot of good ideas about what words should be included in the top 100 list.

    Happy Sunday everyone – and thanks!

  16. Btw: I copied off everyone’s suggestions. Where needed, I’ve put them into Thai script, transliteration, and translation. I’ve also taken out any repeats.

    I have a few queries re spoken vrs written (I’m going for spoken only) so after I ask Khun Narisa a few questions I’ll post them in the comments for you all to see.

  17. Snake
    Pharmacy
    Mosquito
    Taxi,Tuk Tuk,etc
    Holiday
    Menu
    Ice (cubes)
    That’s
    Not
    A
    Gun
    In
    My
    Pocket
    I’m
    Just
    Pleased
    To
    See
    You

  18. Martyn, I can always count on you to make me smile :-)

    Snake?

  19. And I’ll especially translate…

    That’s
    Not
    A
    Gun
    In
    My
    Pocket
    I’m
    Just
    Pleased
    To
    See
    You

    ….and get back to you

  20. “Ngoo” screamed at the top of someone’s voice with the aid of a pointed finger would be far easier for a Thai to understand than:

    “Jesus sh*t I’ve just seen a bloody great big black and yellow snake slither through the shrubbery by the swimming pool”.

  21. Hah! You’ve nailed the aim of the search. A lot of phrase books expect beginners to learn a zillion new words and phrases. So finding the most commonly used words and then offering a comfortable range of building blocks (templates) … should work… I believe so anyway.

  22. Ok, I poked around my computer and found an old top 100 Thai list compiled from much larger lists: Haas, NECTEC’s Linguistics and Knowledge Science Laboratory (LINKS), Chula University’s Orchid Corpus, Tax.

    Some of the included lists are iffy (the reason why I didn’t poke around before) but I only need to use it as a reminder of what’s out there.

    The guy who combined the list hasn’t been seen since 2009 so I can’t alert him of the use. Pity.

    So what I’ve done is add the lists together: What you’ve shared here, my list, plus the old top 100. This is to see how they compare. I figured it will help show what important words need to be included, bumping off the less important ones.

    I’m also keeping an eye on what we’ll need for the patterns. Because in the end, sentence patterns will be the deciding factor. Deciding which 100 words give the most mileage is going to be… yeah…

  23. Thais randomly stop in front of you. You can wait politely for someone to notice the ignorant farang, or you can say “Get out of my way, please” or words to that effect. Very important for getting out of lifts, buses etc.
    Kor Tang works.

  24. Thanks Roger. This is exactly what I need. Both words are useful at the basic level (what I’m looking for).

    ask for, request for, ask: ขอ /kŏr/
    way, path, route : ทาง /taang/

    request way: ขอ ทาง /kŏr taang/

    excuse me, apologize, sorry: ขอโทษ /kŏr-tôht/

    – on the right: อยู่ ทาง ขวา /yòo taang kwăa/
    – on the left: อยู่ ทาง ซ้าย /yòo taang sáai/

    And if you have any more…

  25. Some people might find phrases more useful, but the question is what is the purpose of the list in the first place? If I understand Cat correctly, the idea of coming up with the list is to explore how the loci method can be used for memorizing vocabulary, not necessarily to come up with a Thai phrase book to walk around BKK with. Not saying that’s a bad thing, just not necessarily the intended purpose of the list. That’s why I suggested making a phrase list separate.

  26. Josh, you are correct. The aim is to come up with the most useful words overall. Only 100. To explain the Loci.

    As I’m now far along with the list, a separate phrase post could work like this… post the combined list and ask readers to make phrases out the available vocabulary… words that don’t fit the criteria don’t make the final list… new words to be considered.

    Just an idea…

  27. Dan, hands down you win the award for using the least amount of Thai words ever :-)

  28. A short vocab I learned from a few trips to Thailand (mostly Pattaya). I know the spelling is funny but that’s what I hear.
    Lawn – Hot
    Now – Cold
    Gai – Chicken
    Moo – Pork
    Oink – Beef?
    Blah – Fish
    Kai – Egg
    Nam – Water
    Chown – Spoon
    Lo Lo – Hurry up
    Bai Nai – Where we going?
    Sawadee – Hello
    Kopkun – Thank You
    Sodeka (krap) – Cheers!
    Alloy – Delicious
    Sep – Delicious
    Kow – Rice
    Neow – Sticky
    Kow Neow – Sticky Rice
    Falang – Non-Thai
    Sanuk – Fun
    Mai – Not
    Mai – Question Mark
    Mai Kow Jai – I don’t understand
    Eem – Full (stomach)
    Wat – Temple
    Maa – Horse
    Maa – Dog
    Mao – Drunk
    Mak Mak – Very
    Ko – Island
    Ao – Beach?
    Ped – Spicy
    Pet – Duck
    Chang – Elephant
    Baht – about 3 cents
    Soi – Street
    Rak – Love

    Less than 40 words – not too good!

    Numbers I know names but not correct order…
    Nueng
    Song
    Sam
    Sii
    Haa
    Hok
    Jet

    I guess I didn’t have to know much Thai as so many Thai I met knew English. I remember my first day or so I was really scared because I thought that no one would understand me there.

  29. Hi Rambone, that’s a good holiday list. On my first trips to Thailand I mostly stood back to let other people communicate. Oh, and I did a lot of smiling!

  30. Hello, I’m a bit late for reply, but thanks so much for the list! A lot of the words I already know, but you have made the meanings sooo much clearer! Feel that I am better equipped to use them – just have to practise!!

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