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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
n.
English rank equivalent: Colonel


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

Thai rank: ร้อย /rói/ *
English translation: n. hundred
n.
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(hundred) ranks simply relate to the approximate number of subordinates commanded at that rank (although these may be out-of-date with the size of the modern-day forces).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

Classes…

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/

Abbreviations…

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

CO…

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

NCO…

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 
ทหาร
 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.

Examples:

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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9 Comments

  1. Where is the PDF? Can’t seem to find the link.

  2. Thanks for the reminder Liam. I’ve coded in the PDF.

  3. If I understand this correctly, the abbreviation for any given rank is the first consonant of Rank – Force – Class except for Army which is just Rank – Class? Except for general it looks like you use the entire word? It’s a bit confusing, but thanks for the reference!

  4. Hi Mark,

    Good work and thanks for this. Since my son is in the military (U.S. Marines) this will come in quite handy. But there is one thing you might have missed. You left out the CO rank of “major”. This is important to me because my son just got promoted to major.

    Major is one of the พัน /pan/ ranks but is not a colonel which makes it a bit confusing.

    พันเอก pan-​èek = colonel
    พันโท pan-​too = lieutenant colonel
    พันตรี pan-​dtrii = major

    Thanks again. I don’t think I will forget the word “major” again.

    BTW, I just learned a new word the other day that you have here too. It is the word จ่า /jàa/ = sergeant. I learned it when I was taking a road trip and we kept coming across that funny police man doll that they put up at check points. They always make people slow down instinctively.

    It turns out his name is จ่าเฉย /jàa chə̌əi/ = the still (unmoving) sergeant.

  5. Hi Hugh,

    Many thanks for your feedback and sorry for accidentally overlooking Major it in the article (although it’s in the PDF chart). Perhaps Catherine would be kind enough to add it in when she has time.

    Also, there are some differences between the UK ranks (used in this article) and the US equivalents. You may find the Wikipedia links useful to check the differences – mainly in the NCO ranks if I remember correctly.

    Apologies to your son for missing out his rank, but congratulations to him on his promotion!

    Regards,
    Mark

  6. Thanks for this interesting post on Thai police & military rankings. My question concerns the use of Thai pronouns in such settings. For example, would a police sub-lieutenant refer to her/himself as ‘sub-lieutenant’ when speaking to a superior officer, or would s/he use the usual pronoun such as ‘nong’?

    Also, at which rank would you except a Thai police officer to be actively (as opposed to from the desk) leading an investigation into a criminal matter such as a robbery: Colonel? Lieutenant Colonel?

    Thanks for any help you can provide

  7. Hi Angela, I asked my Thai friend who’s father was in the BKK police and this is what she came back with:

    Sawatdii kha, they use pronouns as usual like ผม (men) and ดิฉัน (woman). But sometimes police woman use หนู to call herself when speaking with a superior. The words พี่ and น้อง are commonly used amongst Thai people in all kinds of casual ways. There are two phrases related to the year of their studying and working: รุ่นพี่ (senior) and รุ่นน้อง (junior).

  8. Angela Savage

    May 1, 2014 at 7:46 am

    Thanks so much Catherine, and please thank your friend for me, too. Of course, as a farang, I find it amazing to think a policewoman would refer to herself as ‘little mouse’ when speaking with a superior!

  9. Angela, Thais are quite fun loving so if you look at it that way, it fits (but I’ll ask her just to see what she comes up with :)

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