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Thai Slang You Might Need to Know: Free Audio and Spreadsheet Downloads Included

Benjawan Poomsan Becker

Benjawan Poomsan Becker (of Paiboon Publishing fame) has a Thai and Lao Interpreters’ Study Group ล่ามไทย ນາຍພາສາລາວ on Facebook where they share tips and secrets of the trade.

While Benjawan hasn’t lived in Thailand for years she’s passionate about keeping up with new additions to the Thai language. And whenever she comes across new Thai slang, she adds it to the exceptional Talking Thai <> English Dictionary+Phrasebook.

Interpreters and translators will obviously be aware of homegrown slang but they need to have the translations at the tips of their tongues. Understanding Thai slang is also a great way for students to learn more about the language as well.

Just recently Benjawan shared her shortlist of Thai slang with the Interpreters’ Study Group.

With permission from Benjawan (thanks!) below is her list. The notes in the parenthesis are mine (not set in stone) so if you have suggestions, please, don’t be shy (contact me).

At the bottom of this post you’ll find two files to download: audio and spreadsheet (English, Thai script, and transliteration included). Of course, audio files for each of the words (recorded by Benjawan) can also be found in the dictionary. Have fun! I sure did.

กรอบ /gròp/ dirt poor
กร่อย /gròi/ boring
กระตั๊ก /grà dták/ abundant
กระต่ายตื่นตูม /grà-dtàai dtèun dtoom/ chicken little and the sky is falling (rabbit frightened of noise)
กิ๊ก /gík/ boyfriend, girlfriend, lover in a non-serious relationship
เกิด /gèrt/ have a chance to shine
แก้มือ /gâe meu/ try to do better when given a second chance (to fix a new hand)
ไก่อ่อน /gài òn/ inexperienced person (innocent chicken)
ขาประจำ /kăa bprà-jam/ regular customer
ขี้เต่า /kêe dtào/ armpit
ขี้เลื่อย /kêe lêuay/ dull minded (sawdust)
ขึ้นกล้อง /kêun glông/ photogenic (rise in the camera)
เขี้ยวลากดิน /kîeow lâak din/ tough, not easily give in (long in the fang)
ควาย /kwaai/ stupid person (buffalo)
ค่าโสหุ้ย /kâa sŏh-hûi/ overhead (cost / expense – Chinese origin?)
คุณไสย /kun-săi/ black magic
เครื่องร้อน /krêuang rón/ act immediately with enthusiasm (hot engine)
งก /ngók/ stingy
งงเต็ก /ngong dtèk/ confused
งูๆปลาๆ /ngoo ngoo bplaa bplaa/ knowing very little about something (snake snake fish fish)
จ๋อย /jŏi/ be sad and dejected (to be pale)
จับกบ /jàp gòp/ stumble and fall (to catch a frog)
จ๊าบ /jáap/ cool (Onomatopoeic word?)
จิ๊ก /jík/ steal little things (the sound of pecking something?)
เจ๊ /jáy/ older sister (Chinese word)
เจ๊ง /jéng/ going out of business (collapse)
เจ๋ง /jĕng/ cool, great!
เจาะลึก /jòr léuk/ investigate thoroughly (to drill deep)
แจ๋ว /jăew/ wonderful! (Onomatopoeic word?)
แฉ /chăe/ reveal (possibly from English ‘share’)
ชวด /chûat/ miss, lose out on (rat, animal of the Thai zodiac)
ชะนี /chá-nee/ “woman” used by gay men (gibbons sound like ผัว /pŭa/, husband)
ช้างน้ำ /cháang náam/ big, fat person (hippo)
เช้งกะเด๊ะ /cháyng gà dé/ beautiful and sexy woman (Onomatopoeic word?)
เชย /choie/ old-fashioned
เชียร์แขก /chia kàek/ try to get customers to buy (English loanword: ‘cheer’ on guests)
ซวย /suay/ unlucky
ซา /saa/ subside
ซ่า /sâa/ showy
ซิ่ง /sîng/ brave and hip in expressing oneself (shortened from ‘racing’)
เซ้ง /sáyng/ lease (Chinese origin?)
เซ็ง /seng/ dull
ดอกฟ้า /dòk fáa/ high-ranking woman of rich and powerful family (sky flower)
ดองงาน /dong ngaan/ procrastinate on one’s work (pickling the job)
ดำน้ำ /dam náam/ guess (diving without knowing what you’ll hit)
ดีแตก /dee dtàek/ turning out to be not so good (broken goodness)
ดูไม่จืด /doo mâi jèut/ not looking good (look not bland?)
เด็กกะโปโล /dèk gà-bpoh-loh/ dirty, uncivilized and innocent child (childish child)
เด็กแนว /dèk naew/ young person that follows all the new trends (stylish kids)
เดิ้น /dêrn/ stylish and modern, go-go (shortened from ‘modern’)
เดี้ยง /dîang/ dead, out of order, broken
ไดโนเสาร์ /dai-noh-săo/ old-fashioned (dinosaur, English loanword)
ตกม้าตาย /dtòk máa dtaai/ fail before reaching success (fall down from horse and die)
ตงฉิน /dtong-chĭn/ work honestly (Chinese origin?)
ต้ม /dtôm/ bamboozle, trick, deceive (to boil)
ต่อยหอย /dtòi hŏi/ very talkative (to keep punching a shell to break it)
ตัวซวย /dtua suay/ jinx (unlucky person)
ตาถั่ว /dtaa tùa/ be careless (peanut eyes)
ติ๊งต๊อง /dtíng-dtóng/ wacky (Onomatopoeic word?)
ติดดิน /dtìt din/ down-to-earth, earthy (to stick to the ground)
ตีนแมว /dteen maew/ burglar (cat feet – cats walk softly, soundless)
เตะฝุ่น /dtè fùn/ unemployed (to kick the dust)
เต่าล้านปี /dtào láan bpee/ very old-fashioned person (million year old turtle)
แต๊ะอั๋ง /dtáe-ăng/ grope or touch sexually (Chinese origin?)
ทึ่ง /têung/ amazed (Onomatopoeic word?)
ทุเรศ /tú-râyt/ obscene, shabby (ugly)
นกเขา /nók kăo/ cock, penis (dove)
นกต่อ /nók dtòr/ informant (bird decoy)
นั่งนก /nâng nók/ sleep while sitting (sitting bird)
น้ำเน่า /nám nâo/ soap operas (drains are not filled with good water)
นิ้ง /níng/ superb (Onomatopoeic word?)
เนี้ยบ /níap/ perfect, smart
บอกผ่าน /bòk pàan/ inflate the price of something
บ๊อง บ๊องๆ /bóng · bóng bóng/ crazy (Onomatopoeic word?)
บ้าๆบอๆ /bâa bâa bor bor/ crazy (Onomatopoeic word?)
ปล่อยไก่ /bplòi gài/ embarrassed, make silly or careless mistakes (to release chickens)
ปอดแหก /bpòt hàek/ chicken-hearted (broken lungs)
ปั้นเรื่อง /bpân rêuang/ make up a story (to mold a story)
ปากหอยปากปู /bpàak hŏi bpàak bpoo/ someone who gossips and causes damage to others (shell mouth, crab mouth)
ปิ๊ง /bpíng/ click – between lovers (Onomatopoeic word?)
แป๊บ /bpáep/ one little moment (Onomatopoeic word?)
ผีเสื้อสมุทร /pĕe sêua sà-mùt/ big ugly woman (character from Thai literature)
เผา /păo/ gossip about, talk behind one’s back (to burn someone)
ฝรั่งจ๋า /fà-ràng jăa/ Western idolizer
ฝอย /fŏi/ chat, brag
เพื่อนซี้ /pêuan sée/ very close friend
แพะรับบาป /páe ráp bàap/ scapegoat (goat sin)
ภาษาดอกไม้ /paa-săa dòk máai/ language of love (flower language)
ม้ามืด /máa mêut/ dark horse (unexpected winner)
มีกะตังค์ /mee gà dtang/ rich (to have coins – gà dtang comes from satang สตางค์ which means coins/money)
มือขึ้น /meu kêun/ having good luck (hand up)
มือตก /meu dtòk/ having bad luck (hand down)
เมาท์ /mao/ speak with friends for fun, chat (shortened from ‘mouth’)
แมงดา /maeng-daa/ pimp (insect, giant waterbug)
ไม่ใจ /mâi jai/ coward (no heart)
ไม่เป็นสับปะรด /mâi bpen sàp-bpà-rót/ bad tasting or low quality (not a pineapple)
ยาบ้า /yaa bâa/ methamphetamine, meth, amphetamine, speed (crazy medicine)
ร้อนตับแตก /rón dtàp dtàek/ darn hot (row of dried nipa palm leaves used as a roof – doesn’t break but feels like it)
รู้อย่างเป็ด /róo yàang bpèt/ jack of all trades, master of none (to know like a duck)
เรื่องขี้ผง /rêuang kêe pŏng/ easy matter or trivial (story dust)
ลองของ /long kŏng/ try something usually bad
ลักไก่ /lák gài/ cheat in a game (to steal a chicken)
ลูกมือ /lôok meu/ helper or assistant (small hand)
วาบหวาม /wâap wăam/ provoking sensation or sexually explicit (Onomatopoeic word?)
เวอร์ /wer/ too much (shortened from ‘over’).
สวิงเด้ง /sà-wĭng dâyng/ scream with excitement
สะเออะ /sà-ùh/ meddle
สันดาน /săn daan/ trait
ไส้แห้ง /sâi hâeng/ destitute (dry intestines – to be starving)
หน้าโหล /nâa lŏh/ common looking face (a dozen faces – everything the same)
หมดตูด /mòt dtòot/ dead broke (finished pooping)
หมวย /mŭay/ young Chinese woman (Chinese origin?)
หมาวัด /măa wát/ poor man (temple dog)
หมาหมู่ /măa mòo/ group of dangerous men (a group of dogs)
หมู /mŏo/ easy (pig)
หยวน /yŭan/ give in reluctantly
หลุดโลก /lùt lôhk/ eccentric or quirky (out of this world)
หวย /hŭay/ lottery, lotto
ห่วย /hùay/ bad, no good
ห่วยแตก /hùay dtàek/ crap! (bad broken)
ห้องกง /hông gong/ jail (cell room – hông gong rhymes with Hong Kong)
หายต๋อม /hăai-dtŏm/ disappear for a long time (disappear + the sound of throwing something into the water)
แห้ว /hâew/ lose one’s opportunity, to blow it (chestnut)
เฮง /hayng/ fortunate, lucky (Chinese origin?)
เฮี้ยน /hían/ manifesting the power of an evil spirit
ไฮโซ /hai soh/ high-class (shortened from ‘high society’)

Speak Like a Thai 1&2…

Many of the words (with phrases) in this list can be found in Benjawan’s Speak Like a Thai series.

Speak Like a Thai Volume 1
Speak Like a Thai Volume 2

Smartphone Apps: Talking Thai <> English Dictionary+Phrasebook…

There is no better Thai dictionary with audio and phrases than the Talking Thai-Eng-Thai Dictionary by Paiboon Publishing and Word in the Hand. It’s an amazing resource that keeps on getting better. Most of the slang used in this post will be in the dictionary.

iOS app: Talking Thai <> English Dictionary+Phrasebook
Android: Talking Thai <> English Dictionary+Phrasebook

Thai slang download files…

Spreadsheet Download (zip): Thai Slang To know – 498kb
Spreadsheet Download (pdf): Thai Slang To know – 80kb
Audio Download (zip): Thai Slang To know – 1.9mg zip

Note: These files are for personal use only (please do not place them on other websites).

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Bab.la’s New (Community Driven) Online Thai-English Dictionary

Bab.la's Dictionary

Congrats to Bab.la! They’ve now added Thai-English to their massive collection of crowdsourced online dictionaries, making the Thai language number 42.

Just check it out!: Bab.la’s new online Thai-English Dictionary

About bab.la: bab.la is a language project by Andreas Schroeter and Patrick Uecker.

The idea has been on Andreas’ mind for quite some time. During his high school and university years he lived in Canada, France, Sweden and the USA. He noticed that just knowing the exact translation often doesn’t really help. You really need to “live” the language to come up with the right word.

Andreas has been collecting dictionaries from different languages for a long time. Putting the things together was just a natural step: Starting a portal where language lovers can meet and exchange their ideas and learn languages from each other.

Who is a better teacher than a native speaker who likes to share his knowledge?

Side note: To support the foreign language community, Bab.la hosts the amazing Top 100 Language Lovers Competition each year. It’s a huge effort (kudos to their team).

Whether your goal is to get your head around some basic Thai survival phrases for your travels around the country, or if you plan to stay in the longer term and need a more in-depth understanding, the bab.la Thai-English dictionary will come in handy.

Did you know that you can contribute to bab.la’s dictionaries? By joining the bab.la community, you can suggest new words and verify words contributed by others. You can also ask for grammar, translation, spelling or pronunciation help in babla’s forum.

For fun, be sure to check out bab.la’s infographic sharing interesting facts about the Thai language and the Thai culture.

Again, congrats to bab.la! I’ve been patiently waiting for this to happen :)

Twitter: @babla
Website: en.bab.la
Blog: lexiophiles.com
Facebook: babla.languages
Dictionary: Thai-English Dictionary

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Thai Style: Feeling Like a Thai: Don’t be Sad

Thai Style

Feeling Like a Thai Introduction…

You may have read my first post, Be Happy, in my Feeling Like A Thai Series and it may have made you feel a bit downhearted when seeing so many different feeling words to learn in order to express yourself naturally in Thai. When you think you can express yourself quite well sometimes you may be misunderstood by native speakers and/or do not understand why they react in such a way when you feel differently.

To elaborate, to feel like a Thai I mean to understand how Thais would think and feel towards different situations. In my opinion, you probably would never be able to feel like native Thais unless you have been living, working and socialising with Thais for decades and/or have Thai family since in order to understand how natives think and feel, you should understand Thai culture, customs, beliefs, personality, attitudes and the ways Thais express themselves. To understand these aspects can take a life time. Moreover, words can not always be translated directly into another languages. To understand a word you need to understand the elaborated meanings of that word.

For example, if you were looking in a phrase book or in a dictionary for a Thai translation of the word ‘sorry’, most of the time you probably translate the meaning as ขอโทษ /kŏr-tôd/ however, did you know that this is only used when you would like to make an apology to someone and not when you feel sorry when you hear sad news, in which case we would use the word เสียใจ /sĕar-jai/. For that reason, you should also learn to look up the definition; a statement of the exact meaning of a word, not just a direct translation. Personally, I believe a good language book or good dictionary should include comprehensive definitions, usage explanations and example sentences to help you correctly understand the meaning of new words.

There are many factors, as stated above, that may effect how and when to use different feeling words. Therefore, in this series, I write a list of different types of feelings to help you to use correct words to indicate your feeling in Thai language as well as explanations on how and when to use them. There are six posts in total; ‘Be happy’, ‘Don’t be sad’, ‘Oh no! A Thai is angry!’, ‘So scary!’, ‘I’m confused. What have I done wrong?’ and lastly, ‘Wheel of Feelings’.

For those who haven’t read my first post, I suggest you to have a read before learning the vocabulary in this post. There are principles and grammar points that you need to understand to help you correctly construct a sentence to express your feelings. After reading that, you are ready to continue with this one. Good luck and don’t feel discouraged!

Feeling Like a Thai: Don’t be Sad…

Grammar point: In language, there is not always a direct feeling verb that can be used to indicate one’s feeling. We sometimes use other types of words, e.g. modifier (adjective or adverbs) or nouns, to try to describe our feelings as best as we can and there are certain grammar rules you should know. The following are different ways to construct a sentence to indicate one’s feeling.

Direct verb / Direct form of verb (Active Voice)…

เขาเสียใจ /kăo sĕar-jai/ = He/She is sad.

เสียใจ /sĕar-jai/ is a direct feeling verb which can be used after a subject to clarify the subject’s feeling.

More examples:

เขาเศร้าใจ /kăo săo-jai/ = He/She is sorrowful.
เขาเหนื่อยใจ /kăo nùeay-jai/ = He/She is drained.
เขาอับอาย /kăo ub-aai = He/She is disgraced.


1) Negative modifier ไม่ /mâi/ is used before the word it modifies except a noun e.g. เขาไม่เสียใจ /kăo mâi sĕar-jai/ = He/She is not sad.

2) Negative in grammar & logic (of a word, clause, or proposition) is to express denial, negation, or refutation; stating or asserting that something is not the case.

Expressing one’s feeling by using quality modifiers (adjective or adverb)…

เขารู้สึกแย่ /kăo rûu-sùek yâe/ = He/she feels bad/terrible.

Feeling verb รู้สึก /rûu-sùek/ = to feel.

แย่ /yâe/ is a quality modifier (adjective or adverb) meaning be bad, be terrible and is not a direct feeling verb. Therefore you need to use the word รู้สึก /rûu-sùek/, meaning to feel, which is a direct feeling verb used after a subject to clarify that the subject feels as in the stated quality modifier.

More Examples:

เขารู้สึกล้มเหลว /kăo rûu-sùek /ó’m-lăew/ = He/She feels defeated.
เขารู้สึกไร้ค่า /kăo rûu-sùek rái-kâa/ = He/She feels worthless.
เขารู้สึกต่ำต้อย /kăo rûu-sùek dtùm-dtôi/ = He/She feels humbled.

Note: Negative modifier ไม่ /mâi/ is used before the word it modifies except a noun e.g. เขาไม่รู้สึกแย่ /kăo mâi rûu-sùek yâe/ = He/she does not feel bad/terrible.

Expressing one’s feeling by using a state noun…

1) เขารู้สึกทุกข์ /kăo rûu-sùek tóok/ = He/She feels miserable.
2) เขาเป็นทุกข์ /kăo bpe’n tóok/ = He/She is in misery.
3) เขามีทุกข์ /kăo mee tóok/ = He/She has miserableness.

All three = He/She are unhappy, distressed or in misery.

1) Feeling verb รู้สึก /rûu-sùek/ = to feel
ทุกข์ /tóok/ is a state noun meaning adversity, misery, hardship, suffering and is not a direct feeling verb. Therefore you need to use the word รู้สึก /rûu-sùek/, meaning to feel, which is a direct feeling verb used after a subject to clarify that subject feels something as sentence 1 above.

2) Status / state of being verb เป็น /bpe’n/ = to be, is/am/are (used in front of a noun). We can also describe that a person be in the state of having adversity as sentence 2 above.

3) Existence verb มี /mee/ = to have/has/had, to own, to possess, there is/are/was/were, consist of, contain of (used in from of a noun), to undergo. Or we describe that a person has or undergo adversity in ones mind as sentence 3 above.

More examples:

เขาเป็นแผลในใจ /kăo bpe’n plăe nai jai/ = He/She be in the state of having a wound in the heart (feels wounded).

เขามีแผลในใจ /kăo mee plăe nai jai/ = He/She has a wound in the heart (feels wounded).

เขาไม่มีความสุข /kăo mâi mee kwaam+sóok/ = He/She doesn’t have happiness. He/she is not content. He/she is unhappy with life.

Note: Negative modifier ไม่ /mâi/ is used before the word it modifies except a noun. Therefore we would not say ‘เขารู้สึกไม่ทุกข์ /kăo rûu-sùek mâi tóok/’.

Expressing one’s feeling by using an abstract noun…

(existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence)

1) เขา(รู้สึก)มีภาระหนักหน่วง /kăo (rûu-sùek) mee paa-rá nùk-nùang/ = He/She feels having a heavy burden. He/She feels undergoing a heavy burden.

2a) เขา(รู้สึก)มีความทุกข์ /kăo (rûu-sùek) mee kwaam+tóok/ = He/She feels having adversity. He/She feels undergoing adversity.

2b) รู้สึกมี /rûu-sùek mee/ = to feel having/undergoing or มี /mee/ = (see explanation above).

1) ภาระ /paa-rá/ is an abstract noun meaning burden and is not a direct feeling verb therefore you need to use the word (รู้สึก)มี /(rûu-sùek) mee/ after a subject to clarify that subject feels or have/undergo something.

2) ความทุกข์ /kwaam+tóok/ is an abstract noun meaning adversity, misery, hardship, suffering and is not a direct feeling verb therefore you need to use the word (รู้สึก)มี /(rûu-sùek) mee/ after a subject to clarify that subject feels or have/undergo something.


1) You do not need to say รู้สึก /rûu-sùek/ with abstract noun if the explanation obviously exhibits one’s feeling.

2) We cannot say เขารู้สึกภาระ /kăo rûu-sùek paa-rá/, as it would mean ‘He/She feels burden’ which is weird to say.

3) We also cannot say เขาเป็นภาระ /kăo bpe’n paa-rá/ as it would mean ‘He/She is a burden’ not ‘‘He/She feel/is burdened’.

4) Negative modifier ไม่ /mâi/ is used before the word it modifies except a noun. Therefore we can either say: ‘เขารู้สึกไม่มีภาระหนักหน่วง /kăo rûu-sùek mâi mee paa-rá/ = He/She feels not having a burden. He/She feels not undergoing a burden’ or ‘เขาไม่รู้สึกมีภาระหนักหน่วง /kăo mâi rûu-sùek mee paa-rá/ = He/She does not feel having a burden. He/She does not feel undergoing a burden.’

Although, the two sentences above have subtle different meanings they can exhibit the same feeling.

Downloads: Feeling Like a Thai: Don’t be Sad…

Same as with the previous post, Feeling Like a Thai: Be Happy, this resource is enormous, making it impossible to include everything here. Instead, the 25 pages filled with examples and audio files are in downloads for you to enjoy.

Pdf: Feeling Like a Thai: Don’t be Sad: 402kb
Audio: Feeling Like a Thai: Don’t be Sad: 9.8mg

Note: These files are for personal use only (please do not place on other websites).

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Thai Time: Using Pronouns Like a Pro (Part 1: How to Say ‘I’ in Thai)

Bingo Lingo

Using pronouns like a pro…

“I” for males is ผม /pǒm/ and for females is ดิฉัน /dichán/, “you” is คุณ /kun/, and “he” and “she” are เค้า /káo/. Every student knows that. Every student uses these. That’s how the Thais do it. Or do they?

One of the blessings of the English language is the ease of the choice of pronouns. It is generally agreed that there are 7: I, we, you, he, she, it and they (we’ll put vernacular variations such as “one”, “y’all”, “youse” aside). There are only 3 factors that govern the choice of these pronouns: person (1st, 2nd, or 3rd), number (singular or plural) and sex (masculine, feminine, or non-human neuter).

And that’s it. “I” will always be “I” no matter who “I” am. “You” will always be “you” whether “you” are a president or a beggar. However, if you have even a little bit of knowledge of the Thai language, you must have at least heard that there are OODLES more pronouns than just 7. If a learner asks “How do you translate the pronoun XXX into Thai?”, they will get something like this as a result:

Bingo Lingo

The tabulated mess above is caused by the Thai pronoun system which reflects the interconnected relationships amongst Thai people. Thai people’s choice of pronouns is NEVER absolute; they will choose a pronoun that suits the situation and the relationship between them and the person they’re speaking to. They can refer to themselves and others in many different ways.

Bingo LingoAt this point, you would probably think, “Yeah, it’s all well and lovely that Thai language is so profound, I get it, but please just give me one word for each English pronoun to use, just one word!” After doing some quick look-up on your favourite phrasebook, your wish is granted:

And I think that these equivalents are a good place to start. When you start learning a language, no one wants to have the entire grammar book shoved down their throat. You tear off each page, chew, swallow, and digest. These words are perfectly functional and will get the job done. However, learners will benefit greatly from the ability to shuffle between different pronouns appropriately, as the ability to do so is another milestone that will move you up a few steps from “poot Thai daai nit noi”, and you will convince Thai people you have an understanding not only of their language but of Thailand’s social structure, which encourages Thais to speak to you in Thai. If you sound natural then Thais will think you ‘get’ them.

But before we go into each individual word, let’s look at some of the factors that influence the choice of pronouns.

Factors that govern the choice of Thai pronouns…

This is a deep, hard, complex subject to touch upon. I do not dare to claim I have it all figured out and certainly cannot provide you the perfect formulae for the choice of pronouns. It seems there are countless variables at work when it comes to this, but I can give you what I think of as the most important for determining your relationship with whomever you’re conversing with. So here goes:

Person: This factor is universal for all languages, not just Thai. The 1st person is the speaker (or yourself in this case), the 2nd person is the person you are speaking to, and the 3rd person is the person you mention while speaking to the 2nd person.

Sex: Obviously. Some pronouns can tell you the gender of the person being referred to. Everyone knows ผม /pǒm/ is for male and ดิฉัน /dichán/ is for female. However, a lot of Thai pronouns can be used to refer to either sex, such as เขา /káo/ which can either refer to the male or female 3rd person.

Formality: The situation or circumstance people are in restricts the way in which they refer to one other. You might call your friend such obscene nicknames in private, but when you refer to him during a formal quarterly meeting—for whatever reason—you will most definitely have to refer to him as ‘Mr. (followed by surname)’. Formality also comes from your audience. Rude nicknames that you give to your friend can’t be used when both of you are talking to your university professor. A respected individual brings about a formal air wherever they go, so take that into account.

Respect: In Thailand, you would want to express your modesty to people who are ranked high in the social hierarchy, be it through age, authority, or other criteria. This can be done in two ways: address the listener or the mentioned individual with a respectful pronoun and/or refer to yourself with a humble pronoun. Beware however, as excessive reverence can be seen as sarcasm.

Politeness: A lot of people seem to mix this one up with the respect factor. Being polite means that you’re following social norms because you want to show the world that you’re good-mannered and educated, while being respectful means that you want to display some kind of reverence to a particular individual because society dictates that they deserve it. Politeness is more about ‘expressing your virtue’ but respect is more about ‘expressing your subservience’.

Familiarity: You wouldn’t call a guy you just met ‘Toby Boo Boo’. That would be such an egregious violation of personal space. This factor is not really apparent in English, but in Romance languages there are pronouns designated for different levels of intimacy: tu-vous in French, tú-usted in Spanish, and so on (for reference: “T-V distinction” by Brown & Gilman, 1960). In Thai, there are also pronouns you reserve for people you don’t know well and pronouns you exclusively use with those you are close to.

Please note that I’m missing the ‘Number’ factor from this article, because most pronouns in Thai can be used to refer to a single person or a group of people. If you must express that you’re referring to more than just 1 person, you can stick the พวก /pûak-/ prefix in front of that pronoun. However, the reality is that Thai people do not use it that much and I imagine if you’re here reading this, you want to speak like a native speaker, not the Thai language that follows English’s grammatical rules (the only exception being เรา /rao/ which I’ll talk about in the pronoun list).

There is also another important factor: ‘Moods & attitudes’. Our state of mind and our attitude towards people or things are reflected in our speech. This is how humans can read each other; through their rhetoric. You know your Mum is in a good mood when you’re referred to as ‘Ben honey’ and you know her wrath is about to rain down upon you when that turns to ‘Benjamin’. However, we’re not going to talk much about it in this article because of its complicated nature. For instance, some forms of moods can change the speaker’s intention entirely. To give you an example, while the word คุณ /kun/ shows politeness [+polite], it implies that you and the person you’re speaking to are not that close [-intimate]. However, if it’s meant as a sarcasm or irony towards your friend (like when you’re being extra polite to your best friend as a joke), suddenly it is not polite [-polite] but very familiar [+intimate]. As you can see, this is going to be problematic for our simplistic, box-ticking method, so I’ll leave it out until someone cares enough to do a proper analysis on it.

How to say ‘I’ in Thai…

With the factors explained above combined, you can read through this list to see what attributes each pronoun has. I’ll also give a short description and concrete examples of interpersonal and situational context where the pronoun may be deemed appropriate. If that factor has blank (-) at any pronoun, it means that that factor isn’t really relevant and the pronoun can be used in either situation.

In this post, we’ll take a look at the 1st person pronouns first.

Some 1st person pronouns also have a counterpart which is normally used in the 2nd person as its pair. I’ll note which word each pronoun is paired with, if any.

Let’s start!

ผม /pŏm/
Person: 1st
Sex: Male
Formality: Yes
Respectful: Yes
Polite: Yes
Familiar: No

If you’re a guy, you’ve probably used this word hundreds of time by now. This very convenient male pronoun for men can be used with pretty much everyone and will never offend anyone. However, keep in mind that ผม /pǒm/ carries an air of formality, so while it is a nice little polite word, it can also sound stuffy when using with friends.

  • When to use: Pretty much with everyone e.g. teacher, older people, younger people that you don’t know well, in a (mature) relationship, strangers, acquaintances, etc.
  • When not to use: Probably with close friends or with friends you want to get close to.
  • Paired pronoun: คุณ /kun/

ดิฉัน /dichán/
Person: 1st
Sex: Female
Formality: VERY
Respectful: Yes
Polite: Yes
Familiar: HELL NO

I can’t think of many pronouns that are more official-sounding than ดิฉัน /dichán/. While it is true that it’s polite and you’ll never offend anyone with it, it sounds frighteningly distant and is rarely used among people who have any kind of relationship of any degree of familiarity with each other rather than professional. Thai teachers use it a lot in Thai classrooms because it’s easy to teach, but in reality you’ll only hear this word from Thai females in situations which they consider formal, such as in meetings with clients, in interviews, making a speech. Some female friends of mine say they have never even used this word in their lives!

For female learners who want to sound natural, I suggest you find another strategy, such as referring to yourself by name (I know, some of you think it’s silly, but hey, that’s what we do).

  • When to use: Dealing with Thai officials, people you have a professional relationship with, being interviewed, with strangers, etc.
  • When not to use: In any situation that requires solidarity. Not with your friends, partner, partner’s family, colleagues, bosses, or anyone you wish to love you.
  • Paired pronoun: คุณ /kun/

ฉัน /chán/
Person: 1st
Sex: Mostly female
Formality: –
Respectful: Sometimes no
Polite: –
Familiar: Yes

ฉัน /chán/ is a funny one—it is considered a default ‘I’ pronoun, this is why you’ll hear this word used a lot in songs and literature. In real life, it is commonly used by females in informal situations, but can also be used by men as well, especially when talking to females of equal or lower status. Many male learners think this word is exclusively feminine and are reluctant to use it. It’s a fun word to use with female friends who you are close to!

Another myth I want to debunk, there is nothing polite about the word ฉัน /chán/. If anything, with a sharp tone of voice and a wrong attitude, it makes you sound arrogant! It’s not impolite, it’s just not polite either.

  • When to use: Talking to friends of the opposite sex, people who do not mind you being a bit cheeky to them.
  • When not to use: When you need to be extremely polite. Certainly not with people of higher status, such as doctor, monks, university professors. Probably not even with your Thai teachers, unless they don’t mind. (Chances are they won’t, because they’re the one teaching this word to you!)
  • Paired pronoun: เธอ /ter/

เรา /rao/
Person: 1st
Sex: Both
Formality: –
Respectful: No
Polite: –
Familiar: Somewhat

If you look up a dictionary you’ll see เรา /rao/ being translated as ‘we’ in English, but in fact this word is often used as singular. (Think of the royal singular ‘we’, it’s not the same but you get the point.) This nice little word is very versatile—both male and female speakers can use it with almost everyone around the same age or younger, as long as the circumstance doesn’t require you to be formal.

  • When to use: Talking to friends or acquaintances of the same age. Pretty much with anyone who isn’t older or who doesn’t have a higher social status.
  • When not to use: With older people or people you should be showing respect to.

หนู /nǔu/
Person: 1st
Sex: Mostly female
Formality: –
Respectful: Yes Polite: Yes
Familiar: Somewhat

The literal meaning of หนู /nǔu/ is ‘rat, mouse’. The metaphorical use of this word as a pronoun expresses deference towards the listener who is of a higher status or deserves respect; calling yourself a rat surely makes anyone feel small! It is normally used by females when talking to their parents, older relatives, teachers, bosses or more senior colleagues, although some small boys may use this word when talking to their parents as well. (In which case they generally drop this use when they’re older—or not, I know a few male adult ‘rats’!)

This word is a good word to show respect to older Thais while sounding friendly as well. At first they might be surprised when female foreigners try to use this word. I say keep at it, if you want to win over their heart.

  • When to use: You’re female and you want to show respect and win favour from older Thais.
  • When not to use: You’re male. (unless you want people to second-guess your sexual orientation.)

กู /guu/
Person: 1st
Sex: –
Formality: HELL NO
Respectful: HELL NO
Polite: HELL NO
Familiar: VERY

Years ago before the polite pronouns had been invented, กู /guu/ used to be the default pronoun for ‘I’. Everybody used it, including kings. Nowadays it is considered a profanity. The only context in which this would be acceptable to use is with your really close friends to express intimacy, and even then you mustn’t use it in the presence of a respected audience; you can call yourself กู /guu/ with a friend who doesn’t mind that, but if your professor is there too then their presence will automatically create an environment where only polite language is allowed. Violate this and prepare to be scolded, or at least judged!

Also, if you try and use this word with people you’re not close to, it will immediately be interpreted as a provocation. For a nation that avoids confrontation at all cost, provocation is a serious issue for Thais! No matter how angry you are with anyone, do not attempt to use กู /guu/ and มึง /mueng/ with them unless you’re prepared to handle the ramifications that may follow… it can turn pretty ugly, in my experience.

I say avoid using this word until your Thai proficiency is right up there first. Don’t run before you can walk, don’t swear before you can talk.

On a side note, males tend to use this word more than females but it is not really an uncommon thing to hear Thai females using it any more, if they feel comfortable enough with their company.

  • When to use: Very limited use. With close friends (only when they initiate it, and only when respected individuals are not around).
  • When not to use: When you’re not sure you can get out of it alive.
  • Paired pronoun: มึง /mueng/

ข้า /kâa/
Person: 1st
Sex: –
Formality: No
Respectful: No
Polite: No
Familiar: VERY

Similar to กู /guu/ above, this one is also considered vulgar, although it is nowhere near as vulgar as กู /guu/. However ข้า /kâa/ sounds quite archaic for the 21st century. Its implication is that the speaker is of an older generation or that he or she comes from quite a remote part of Thailand. You’ll see this word a lot in old literature or in stories set in the past. Granted, there are people still using this word, but it’s not really a fashionable word people use today. It’d be an odd choice of pronoun for non-native speakers, dost thou not agree?

  • When to use: Never? Unless you’re writing a Thai epic novel.
  • When not to use: When you’re not writing a Thai epic novel.
  • Paired pronoun: เอ็ง /eng/

ข้าพเจ้า /kâapajâao/
Person: 1st
Sex: –
Formality: VERY
Respectful: –
Polite: Yes
Familiar: HELL NO

The use of ข้าพเจ้า /kâapajâao/ is restricted only to the ‘frozen register’—the level of language that is highly ceremonial and unchanging, often in one-directional communication style, such as formal speeches, pledges, contracts or declarations, etc. Therefore, normally you’ll only see it written, not said.

  • When to use: Drafting a speech or a housing lease.
  • When not to use: In general two-way communication.

อั๊ว /úa’/
Person: 1st
Sex: –
Formality: No
Respectful: No
Polite: No
Familiar: Yes

This word comes from the Teochew word我 [ua˥˨] (I). This word is used mainly by people of Teochew ancestry who migrated to Siam/Thailand throughout its history. As the influence of the Chinese-Thai grew, ethnic Thais also started picking up Chinese words to use in their speech as well.

In Chinese-Thai families where the Chinese identity is still strong, code-mixing between Thai and Chinese is very common and it is perfectly fine and inoffensive, but when spoken by Thai people (who have no Teochew background) this word can be off-putting because it has a harsh, angry tone to it. This is not to mention it might also confuse your listener, because why would you use a word of Teochew Chinese origin when speaking Thai?

  • When to use: When you’re Chinese-Thai.
  • When not to use: When you’re not Chinese-Thai.
  • Paired pronoun: ลื้อ /lúe/

เค้า /káo/
Person: 1st
Sex: Mostly female
Formality: No
Respectful: –
Polite: –
Familiar: Yes

Confused? You should be. Me too. This word is originally a 3rd person pronoun, but you might have witnessed overt Thai lovebirds referring to themselves by this word. เค้า /káo/ as a 1st person pronoun is largely used by Thai females who have a ‘sweet girl’ personality. You know, lovely and cute and naive. They won’t just use it with anyone either, it has to be their close friends, boyfriend or husband. This pronoun, used in this way, expresses the speaker’s affection towards the listener, albeit a little nauseating. So it’s a good thing! I guess…

  • When to use: Should you use this word? No. At least save it for when talking to your boyfriend/girlfriend only.
  • When not to use: Need I say more?
  • Paired pronoun: ตัวเอง /dtua-eeng/

…And that was just the words for “I”! In my next post, Thai time: Using pronouns like a pro (Part 2: What should I call ‘you’), in addition to the factors we’ve learnt in this post we’ll also explore the crucial concept of ‘social status’ and how to apply that to addressing Thai people appropriately. It’s not as straightforward as in English, but at least I hope you’ll find it interesting.

Until next time!

(Bingo) Arthit Juyaso
Principal of Duke Language School
My book on reading Thai fast: Read Thai in 10 Days

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Thai Time: Thai Sentence Expansion Drills

Bingo Lingo

Thai Sentence Expansion Drills…

The idea for this brief post came from Aaron Myers’ handy Language Learning Tip: Sentence Expansion Drills (see his post for further explanation). For sure, it’s a quick way to increase your Thai skills!

How It Works: You can do sentence expansion drills in a lot of different ways. The simplest is to just have these sorts of conversations with yourself about the things you see around you. You could also do this drill on paper. Another great way to do these sorts of drills is to do them with a native speaker.

Using this method, below are sample sentences. Added words have been underlined.

–>> And please don’t panic. Pdf files with and without transliteration are in the downloads below. Audio downloads are included.

I go to school.

I like going to school.

I like going to study at school.

I like going to study Thai at school

I like riding a bicycle to go to study Thai at school.

My friend and I like riding bicycles to go to study Thai at school.

My Chinese friend and I like riding bicycles to go to study Thai at school.

My Chinese friend and I like riding bicycles to go to study Thai at school every morning.

My Chinese friend and I like riding bicycles to go to study Thai at school every Saturday and Sunday morning.

My Chinese friend and I don’t like riding bicycles to go to study Thai at school every Saturday and Sunday morning


Tips and rules…

1. Thai is an SVO language; the word order is subject-verb-object.

2. In Thai, adjectives come after nouns, e.g. เพื่อนคนจีน (friend human-China) “a Chinese friend”.

3. When using multiple verbs in one sentence, you can often just “stack” them up without using any connector, e.g. ฉันชอบไปเรียน (I like go study) “I like to go to study”.

4. When doing sentence expansion drill in Thai, it’s easier start from the core components first (nouns & verbs) and then use descriptive words such as adjectives and adverbs (time, place & manner) to expand sentences.

Downloads: Thai Sentence Expansion Drills…

Thai Sentence Expansion Drills (pdf with transliteration): 174kb
Thai Sentence Expansion Drills (pdf without transliteration): 170kb
Thai Sentence Expansion Drills (audio): 796kb

Note: These files are for personal use only (please do not place them on other websites).

Until next time!

(Bingo) Arthit Juyaso
Principal of Duke Language School
My book on reading Thai fast: Read Thai in 10 Days

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Translating Thai Song Lyrics: How I Do It, and You Can Too!

Translating Thai Song Lyrics

Translating Thai Song Lyrics: How I Do It, and You Can Too!…

Hi, It’s Ann Norman of CarabaoinEnglish.com. I’ve made it a project to translate as many Carabao คาราบาว and Aed Carabao แอ๊ด คาราบาว songs into English as I can before I die or get bored, whichever comes first.

I’ve finished about 150 songs out 1,000+ existing songs (more are being written each week). I’m having lots of fun and I’ve decided to share my translating secrets with you, so you can have just as much fun translating your favorite Thai songs into English.

Step 1A: Google for lyrics and plug everything into Thai2English.com…

Note: please download the T2E Software (a wonderful resource) if you have Windows.

Goggle for lyrics using the song title and name of the band, which you have copied and pasted from a YouTube + “เนื้อเพลง” (lyrics). The band I follow is famous, and the lyrics are almost always online.

Next plug your lyrics into Thai2English. This word-by-word translation program is WONDERFUL and the only reason I can do any of this. It is also very glitchy.

Read the output and be prepared to mentally override half of what comes out, especially homonyms. For instance, my Thai2English guesses that each instance of ตา (“dtaa”) probably means “grandmother.” (In song lyrics, it almost always means “eye.”) The program is also easily confused by the word ได้ /dai/ when it does not mean “get or receive” but instead plays a grammatical role in the sentence–as it so often does.

So plug in your lyrics and read the Thai2English output with your brain in gear, combining their huge hints with your existing knowledge of the language.

Step 1B: Re-divide the words in the Thai2English box…

When output is nonsensical, help the program by breaking up the words yourself, and try again. Run the words through in different groups.

Words that sound alliterative probably go together. If you have a combined word that sounds like “bliap-blong” (a made-up example) it’s a good bet that the “blong” part just adds flavor to the meaning of “bliap,” and vice versa. The meaning of “bliap-blong” will be probably be similar to the meaning of the two one-syllable words separately. (The word เปรียบเทียบ /bpriap-tiap/ is a real life example. Each part means “compare” and so does the whole word.)

Unfortunately it can also work the other way. Two words you totally understand as separate words can go together to make a new word or meaning that you don’t know. Just recently, I discovered that ก็ /gor/ and ตาม /dtaam/ (“also” and “follow”) go together (ก็ตาม) to mean “no matter.” Thai2English will make wild guesses about which sets of words go together. Redivide the words into different sets and see if that gets you a more sensible answer from Thai2English.

And watch out for tricky divisions like “mai bliap mai blong” used to mean “mai bliapblong” (I am using my made-up word in this example). Below are some examples of this pattern from actual song lyrics:

สักวี่สักวัน /sak wee sak wan/ = สักวี่วัน sak weewan (even one day)
ตามเหตุตามผล /dtam hayt dtaam pon/ = ตามเหตุผล (dtaam hayt-pon) (according to the reasons)
ไม่อดไม่ทน /mai ot mai ton/ = ไม่อดทน (not bear up [under pressure])

Throughout, keep in mind this is POETRY; the songwriter will be playing with words—to make a joke, to be alliterative, to surprise.

Step 2: Google Translate…

Google translate is notoriously horrible at translating Thai sentences. However, it is actually REALLY good at translating individual words and sometimes phrases of up to 3 words. Take your problem words and phrases to google translate, and look at the suggestions there.

Step throughout: Decipher any English loanwords…

A long word that doesn’t sound very Thai probably isn’t. And it might be English. Close your eyes and relax; the answer might come to you. My favorite example: In a song titled “Santana Carabao” (referring to the bands Santana and Carabao): I had the mystery line:

ฮูสสต๊อกได้บอกเล่าเรื่องราว ถนนสายดนตรี ฮิปปี้ร๊อคแอนด์โรล
hoo satook dâai bòk lâo rêuang raao tà-nŏn săai don-dtree híp-bpêe rók aen rohn.

The English loan words “hippie” and “rock and roll” were easy to hear, and I quickly got: “Hoo-satook” told the story of the path of music: Hippie, rock and roll.

But who or what is “hoo-satook”? The answer came to me days later as I watched a tribute to Carlos Santana on a music awards show. I learned that he had achieved stardom playing at the famous music festival … (I’ve written it here backwards): “kcotsdooW”.

Step 3: Use Google images…

Translating Thai Song LyricsThis is a really slick TRICK. Take your mystery words and phrases to google images and see hundreds of pictures of what your string of letters might mean. And prepare yourself for anything. Because maybe Thai2English hid the meaning of these words from you for a reason. I have unwittingly requested images of “shot in the head,” “trampled,” and “crotch itch” in the process of translating Carabao songs.

And yes, the word “crotch itch” (สังคัง /sang-kang/) appears in several Carabao songs, probably because it is alliterative with the word “society” (สังคม /sang-kom/). So these words can be paired to good effect in a protest song: “อนาถหนาสังคมสังคัง” “Pitiful diseased society!” (Or something . . . I am open to suggestions!)

Googling images is the only way to go when your song mentions an exotic tree, flower, or food that English speakers have no name for. Even if you can’t explain your findings to the next person, at least you will know that that tree in this song has bright orange flowers, or that the snacks Aed Carabao is singing about his mother making are those Chinese kanom with mung beans in the middle.

Google images is the only way to match proper names to faces or brand names to products.

My favorite google image translation story: I was translating the lyrics of a brand new, song—a gorgeous melody with just voice and piano, called “Yaak Daiyin” ([What Words Would You] Like to Hear?]:

The verse was falling out beautifully:

“We have mountains, rivers, and oceans. We have all kinds of animals sharing the habitat. There are humans, there is you and me. Here is paradise: the one and only world right here. They say that our world is equal to the tip of the mustache of a shelled slug . . . . “

YIKES! It seemed all the poetry had come to a screeching halt with the mention of the mustached slug. But, then I thought, “He says ‘They say . . .” so it’s a saying. There WILL be pictures.” I googled “tip of the mustache of a shelled slug”: ปลายหนวดหอยทาก.


LOOK AT THOSE little translucent balls on the tip of the antennae of the snail! And, no, they are not really antennae. A mouth is in the middle, so why not call it a mustache? And so, like magic, the rest of the verse falls out:

“They say that our world amounts to the tip of the antennae of a snail, that life is cheaply tossed away like a cigarette butt. We must learn about our hearts and minds; release the spirit to cross the bridge to freedom.”

Step 4: Google the meaning of a word IN THAI and read the answer in Thai..

Note: if necessary, use Thai2English.

Plug your word into google search. My untranslatable word is “แว่บ”. When I plug that into google search, the helpful search suggestions includes “แว่บ แปลว่า” (“’weip’ translates as”). Other suggestions may be “BLANK คืออะไร” (“What is BLANK?”) or “BLANK หมายถึงอะไร” (“What does BLANK mean?”) click on one of those.

In this case the Thai dictionary online says: “ปรากฏให้เห็นชั่วประเดี๋ยวหนึ่งก็หายไป เช่น แสงไฟจากรถดับเพลิงแวบเข้าตามาเดี๋ยวเดียวแว็บไปแล้ว. ว. อาการที่ปรากฏให้เห็นชั่วประเดี๋ยวหนึ่ง เช่น ไปแวบเดียวกลับมาแล้ว เพิ่งมาได้แว็บเดียวจะกลับแล้วหรือ.” Running that through Thai2English (and my brain), we get: “To appear for just a moment and then disappear, for instance the light from a fire engine ‘waep’s’ into the eye for just a moment and then ‘waep’s’ away.”

There! Aren’t you glad we did this like a Thai, and got the full definition? (And if you are really ambitious, search Thai Wikipedia for whole articles relating to your song or its theme.)

Step 5: Beg help from your friends…

Be humble. You are never going to get to the end of this foreign language learning. This is especially the case with proverbs and sayings. There is too much context and history that you are missing out on. There are random-sounding expressions that come to mean a thing for reasons no one can remember. Why does “putting on airs” mean “pretending to be higher class” in English? I don’t know and it’s my language. So go check your translation with the experts, and be prepared for the possibility that your best guess was wrong. And don’t feel bad. It is already very satisfying to just get 85% or 90% of the way to understanding the songwriter’s intentions.

Step 6: Your mystery word might not mean anything, and the odd metaphor is open to interpretation…

A Thai friend recently told me, “In your translating, you might see that many words you can’t find because they are just put in without meaning, but it makes a beautiful sentence!” This is music, this is poetry. There are pretty-sounding words thrown in. There are vocalizations: the ooo’s and ahh’s and la, la, la’s.

Ponder the metaphors but don’t get frustrated with not knowing. Neil Young was searching for a “Heart of Gold.” Aed Carabao famously loves that song. In a recent concert at Khun Aed’s home in Chaing Mai, in the patter between songs, he mentions that although he is a big admirer of Neil Young, he never got to meet him. And if he were to meet him, he’d love to ask him one question: “’Heart of Gold,’ is the meaning like a person is searching for the value of the heart, or something like this?”*

(No, I don’t think it is . . .)

Then he launches into a perfect cover of “Heart of Gold.” When I first watched the concert DVD, I was stunned: Did pondering this question provide Khun Aed inspiration for his even better song “ทะเลใจ” /Telay Jai/ (Ocean Heart), which IS about a person coming to terms with their own heart so they can be happy?!

At that moment I decided never again to apologize for only halfway understanding a song.

In turn, I’m not sure I completely understand Aed Carabao when he sings about the little bird drifting and bobbing, blown by the wind, till it unfortunately falls into the center of the ทะเลใจ.” But I LOVE IT!

Step 7: Stop fussing!…

You are close enough. Don’t overanalyze. Play the song. Listen closely, hum, bounce, and sing along, and let the movie play out inside you.

*The concert is “วันวานไม่มีเขา” /Waan Wan Mai Mi Kow/, the Exclusive Concert at Aed Carabao’s home in Chiang mai. You can listen for yourself at 1:16:4 of this video:

Ann Norman

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Thai Style: Feeling Like a Thai: Be Happy

Thai Style

Feeling Like a Thai…

A month ago, Catherine asked how would I feel writing a post about a list of emotion/feeling words. She got the idea from a post at Mental Floss, Improve Your Vocabulary With the “Wheel of Feelings”.

I said to her ‘Great! I am willing to do it and I feel excited and enthusiastic to complete it.’

When I learnt English I used a similar system to help me understand English emotion/feeling words so I can see how it would benefit Thai learners as well. I was confident and determined to finish the post within a week or two, however, when I started the work I realised this is going to be a long project.

Not only do we, Thais, have our own perceptions about emotion and feeling, but the language we use to indicate emotions/feelings is also so different to English both grammatically and in meaning. Therefore I decided to create a series of posts called ‘Feeling like a Thai’. There are going to be six posts in total; ‘Be happy’, ‘Don’t be Sad’, ‘Oh no! A Thai is angry!’, ‘So scary!’, ‘I’m confused. What have I done wrong?’ and lastly, ‘Wheel of Feelings’.

These posts will help you to use correct words to indicate your feeling in Thai language as well as explanations on how and when to use them.

Today, I proudly present to you the first post ‘Be Happy’. I would love to hear how this post helps you. Please provide some feedback describing how you feel about the post. Are you happy with it? Do you feel encouraged to try it out with your Thai friends? Are you more confident to how to express feelings in Thai? I would be grateful if you could take a moment to write a comment below.

Now, I feel relieved and relaxed that my first post of this series is done as well as feeling gratified that this post is going to help Thai learners. I am so happy! :)

Note to beginners: Transliteration along with Thai script is in the explanation of the pdf download at the end of the post (tables are Thai only).

Feeling Like a Thai: Be Happy…

Before learning the emotion/feeling words, let’s learn about the grammar as it is very important for you to construct a sentence correctly in order to indicate your emotion/feeling in Thai language.

First of all, I would like us to understand the definitions of ‘emotion’ and ‘feeling’.

[definition] a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.

1. an emotional state or reaction.
2. senses detecting what you feel through your 11 inputs; Hearing, Taste, Sight, Smell, Heat, Cool, Pain, Pleasure, Sense of balance (vestibular), Pressure, Motion (kinaesthetic).

As you can see, emotion and feeling, although different, have a very similar definition and are often interchangeable. In my series, I am writing about feelings as ‘an emotional state or reaction’ and I would like to explain in detail how to construct a sentence to indicate our feelings.

When indicating emotion or feeling in Thai the word ‘รู้สึก, to feel (mentally and physically)’, is used as a verb, yet the word ‘รู้สึก to feel’, is commonly omitted from a sentence if the explanation word that comes after is an emotion/feeling word.

In Thai, we view emotions as they happen in our heart, so the word ‘ใจ [Noun] heart [Noun] mind ; disposition ; spirit’ is used to make up many compound words to denote different types of emotions/feelings. For example, ดีใจ [feeling verb] feel delight / be delighted / be happy, is a compound word combined from the word ‘ดี means [quality modifier] be good, be nice’ and the word ‘ใจ’.

Some modifier (adjective/adverb) words can also be used after the word ‘รู้สึก, to feel’ to describe someone’s emotion or feeling. For example, กระชุ่มกระชวย is [modifier] be hale and hearty, be full of vitality, be energetic, and รู้สึกกระชุ่มกระชวย is feel energised.

Sentence structure:

Subject + (รู้สึก, to feel) + feeling word/explanation.

For example:

I feel delight/happy.

I am delighted/happy.

I feel good.

‘ดี means [quality modifier] be good, be nice’ which is not a feeling word therefore when you are not using the word ‘รู้สึก, to feel’ before the word ‘ดี’, without context the sentence ‘ผมดี would be interpreted as ‘I am nice.’

When you want to connect the emotion/feeling with the causes, you should use the link word ‘ที่, [relative pronoun] … that …’

Sentence structure:

Subject 1 + (รู้สึก, to feel) + Feeling word/Explanation + ที่ + (Subject 1) or Subject 2 + Explanation.

For example:

I feel delight/happy that I receive the reward. / I feel delight/happy to have received the reward.

I feel delight/happy that mum comes to see me.

When someone makes or causes someone to feel something, we use the word ‘ทำให้’.

Sentence structure:

Subject 1 + ทำให้ + Subject 2 + (รู้สึก to feel) + Feeling word/Explanation.

For example:

Mum makes me feel happy.

The prefix ‘ความ’ is an element placed at the beginning of a verb or adjective to adjust or qualify the verb’s or adjective’s function and meaning to an abstract noun.

Examples: ดี [quality modifier] be good/nice, ความดี [noun] goodness, รัก [feeling verb] to love, ความรัก [noun] love, จริง [quality modifier] true, real, ความจริง [noun] truth, สบาย [feeling verb/modifier] be comfortable, be relax, be cozy, ความสบาย [noun] comfortableness.

Example sentences:

I truly love him.

I would like to know the truth.

He is comfortably sitting (the place, space and time is comfortable for him).

He likes comfortableness.

The prefix ‘อย่าง+’ is an element placed in front of a modifier (adverb or adjective) or a noun to adjust or qualify the modifier’s function to an adverb and the meaning to ‘having a particular quality’, ‘… in that type of quality’, ‘… in the way of …’. It is similar to the use of the suffix -ly in English e.g. brotherly, quickly.

Examples: ดี [quality modifier] be good/nice, อย่างดี [adverb] nicely, สบาย [feeling verb/modifier] be comfortable, be relax, be cozy, ความสบาย [adverb] comfortably, เร็ว [speed modifier] be quick, อย่างเร็ว = [adverb] quickly.

Example sentences:

I do the work nicely.

He is comfortably sitting down (he bends down and sits in a comfortable way).

He is quickly sitting down (he bends down and sits quickly).


  1. Words in brackets can be omitted.
  2. The level of intensity of the English feeling words is copied from a research article. I tried my best to explain the intensity of Thai feeling words within the descriptions however I still feel every feeling is unique and words cannot describe our feelings exactly as well as the intensity can be subjective.

Downloads: Feeling Like a Thai: Be Happy…

As this resource is enormous (20+ pages filled with examples and tables, plus audio files to boot) we’ve created downloads for you. Enjoy!

Pdf: Feeling Like a Thai: Be Happy: 269kb
Audio: Feeling Like a Thai: Be Happy: 5.2mg

Note: These files are for personal use only (please do not place on other websites).

By ครูเจี๊ยบ: Kru Jiab
Thai Style

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Picnicly: These Foreigners Love Thai (Language)


These foreigners love Thai…

After studying languages on and off for the majority of my life, I’ve started to develop some theories as to what works and what doesn’t work. Thing is, I’m not an education expect, so it’s really all just guesses as to what’s best. A sample size of one doesn’t make a full research project.

Last week I got together three friends who all speak Thai fluently and asked them about their own tricks and techniques. It really interested me to find out that they all have different approaches, different ways to get to the same destination. The only thing I really found in common was an initial total immersion period of around a year where they didn’t socialize with people from their own country. Where they forced themselves to speak only Thai.

One other common factor is that everyone was motivated to learn Thai, they all really wanted to understand their adoptive homes through its language as much as possible.

After watching, I’d love to hear what you all think. My “research” still has a very small sample size, so let me know what works for you and what doesn’t.

Luke Cassady-Dorion

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Thai Time: Relearn Thai Tense the Thai Way (Part 1)

Bingo Lingo

Relearn Thai Tense the Thai Way (Part 1)…

If I were to ask you: what is the future tense word in Thai? Most of you would probably respond instantaneously-“จะ /jà/, of course!” And if I ask you: how about the most common past tense word? There are a few but you’d probably invariably select แล้ว /láeo/ as your first choice. Then let me ask you: then what does the sentence “จะไปแล้ว” /jà bpai láeo/ mean? How do ‘future’ and ‘past’ tense occur in the same sentence?

The Thai language appears to warp spacetime, making the past and the future collide, resulting in a big black hole in your brain. No wonder you never understand it.

In the vast majority of Indo-European languages such as English, French or German, everything that you do has a temporal reference: you did something; you have done something; you will do something, etc. You can even refer to an alternative past that didn’t exist (I would have gone to Chiang Mai if I hadn’t had to work on Sunday). This concept of tense is so fundamental to Indo-European languages that it’s ingrained into the speakers’ perceived reality and is something many of you probably think you cannot do without. “How can I ever say anything at all if I can’t say when I do it?”

However, Thai is a tenseless language and it doesn’t really deal with time in the same way that languages with grammaticalised tenses do.

At this point you may ask: “So what about all these translations such as ‘will’ for จะ /jà/, or ‘to have (done) already’ for แล้ว /láeo/? Is my teacher/school/book wrong?” No, they’re not wrong. That’s just one way to ease your learning difficulty by analogising Thai into concepts that you’re already familiar with in your native tongue. But if you do not want to end up with something called ‘interlanguage’ and speak broken Thai for eternity, you may want to approach Thai time in a Thai way.

That is why in this post I’m offering you an alternative approach to some of the most common time markers in Thai. My approach may seem a bit different but I’m sure it will all come together.

แล้ว /láeo/ VS ยัง /yang/ – fulfilled VS unfulfilled…

I decided to pair these two up instead of แล้ว /láeo/ VS จะ /jà/ because their functions really complement each other beyond just a past-future pairing. You’ll see why.

แล้ว /láeo/ is a fulfilled particle. It is dubbed so because it shows that the action is already done, or at least it has been set in motion, hence the conditions are fulfilled. It is often translated as ‘already’ or ‘now’:

เค้า ไป เกาหลี หนึ่ง อาทิตย์ แล้ว
káo bpai gaolǐi nùeng aatít láeo
She already went to Korea a week ago.

Her ‘going to Korea’ has already happened and now she’s in Korea.

จะ ถึง แล้ว
jà tǔeng láeo
I’m nearly there.

I’m arriving now – the ‘arriving’ part is set in motion and is bound to happen any time soon.

หนู จะ สอบ พรุ่งนี้ แล้ว
nǔu jà sòrp prûngníi láeo
I’ve got an exam tomorrow.

She hasn’t taken her exam yet but the exam has been scheduled (or as in my word- ‘set in motion’), and แล้ว /láeo/ in this case is used to express the imminence of that event.

On the other hand, ยัง /yang/ is the absolute opposite of แล้ว /láeo/: it is an unfulfilled particle. It shows that the action is still ongoing, or it has not even started yet. The action feels somewhat pending and incomplete. It is often translated as “still” or “yet”:

yang mâi rúu weelaa nát loei
I don’t know the appointment time yet.

At the moment of speaking he doesn’t know what time the appointment will be. The ‘knowing’ part is therefore unfulfilled.

เล็กเค้ายังอายุแค่ 15 เอง
Lek káo yang aayú kâe sìphâa eeng
Lek is still only 15.

The implication of this phrase is that Lek’s still not old enough for whatever purpose that requires him to be older.

On a different note, when you use the ‘Have you…?’ question (แล้ว)รึยัง? /(láeo) rúe yang?/, you now know that you literally say: แล้ว + หรือ + ยัง /láeo/ + /rǔe/ + /yang/: ‘fulfilled or unfulfilled’!

ได้ /dâi…/ – achievement particle…

Although they’re written the same, this ได้ /dâi…/ does NOT have the same function as /…dâi/ ‘can, able to’. /dâi…/ is dubbed an achievement particle and is always put in front of the verb. The deeper meaning is something like “I got (the chance) to …” or “I succeeded in (doing something)”. It’s often used to describe past events (but not always).

mâi dâi gin kâao mûeacháao
I didn’t eat this morning.

This means the speaker didn’t get the chance to have anything for breakfast. If you drop ได้ /dâi…/ from this sentence: ไม่กินข้าวเมื่อเช้า /mâi gin kâao mûeacháao/, it means that the speaker made a conscious decision not to have breakfast, not because he didn’t have the chance to do so.

duean nâa jà dâi bpai fáràngsèet
I get to go to France next month.

This demonstrates how ได้ /dâi…/ doesn’t necessarily talk about the past, because in this case the event will take place in the future! The speaker of this sentence feels that his ‘going to France’ is an achievement and he’s looking forward to it.

มา / …maa/ – perfect particle…

Now this particle is probably the only Thai time marker that actually has a tense in a traditional sense. มา /…maa/ describes events that started in the past and lead up to the present moment, or as it is popularly known, the “present perfect tense”:

gin kâao maa rúe yang?
Have you eaten?

In many situations, กินข้าวรึยัง? /gin kâao rúe yang?/ would perhaps suffice. However, since กินข้าวรึยัง? /gin kâao rúe yang?/ has no temporal reference, it can also mean something like “Are you ready to eat?” or “Do you want to eat now?”. มา / …maa/ is there to eliminate this ambiguity.

Essentially, this word is the same มา /maa/ as in ‘to come’, but when it’s used as a time marker it follows the main verb:

รอมา 5 ชั่วโมงแล้ว
ror maa hâa chûamoong láeo
I have been waiting for 5 hours now.

/ror maa/ roughly translates as ‘have been waiting’. Although this guy has been in constant anticipation for 5 hours, he may have been doing other things while waiting. Whereas,

มารอ 5 ชั่วโมงแล้ว
maa ror hâa chûamoong láeo
I came here to wait 5 hours ago.

/maa/ in this case is NOT a time marker and literally means “to come”, so /maa ror/ in this case just means “come to wait”. Whoever this poor soul is, he hasn’t left the spot for 5 hours now. Frightening thought…

The deep sense of this time-marking มา /…maa/ is explored thoroughly in Stuart Jay Raj’s Thinking in Meanings – Cracking Thai Fundamentals Part 2 in which he explains that the famous Thai greeting ไปไหนมา? /bpai nǎi maa?/ doesn’t literally mean ‘to come’ but rather in a metaphorical sense: “Where have you been to arrive at this point (in time)?”

จะ /jà/ – intention particle…

/jà/ is widely understood as ‘will’ or ‘the future tense word’, and it often refers to the future. But more fundamentally, /jà/ is an intention particle, expressing the intention of a person to do something e.g. เค้าจะสอน /káo jà sǒrn/ can be translated as “She will teach”, “She’s going to teach” or “She intends to teach”.

jà norn dtorn sìi tûm
I will go to bed at 10 p.m., I intend to go to bed at 10 p.m.


por jà òrk jàak bâan, fǒn gôr dtòk
As I was leaving home, it started to rain.

In this case, จะ /jà/ does not refer to the future. It shows that the speaker intended to leave home, but it started to rain before she could do so. So it’s really not valid to keep calling จะ /jà/ a future tense marker. It’s not.

chán jà mâi jer káo ìik loei
I never want to see him again.

In this sentence, the speaker has made a conscious decision not to see him again. It is by choice. If you remove จะ /jà/ from this sentence, it takes on a whole new meaning: ฉันไม่เจอเค้าอีกเลย /chán mâi jer káo ìik loei/ means that the speaker has not seen him for some time (perhaps even though she wanted to).

One interesting fact about จะ /jà/: it also appears in a lot of words such as อาจ(จะ) /àat (jà)/ ‘perhaps’, คง(จะ) /kong (jà)/ ‘possibly’, น่า(จะ) /nâa (jà)/ ‘likely, should’, เกือบ(จะ) /gùeap (jà)/ ‘almost’, ควร(จะ) /kuan (jà)/ ‘should, ought to’, etc. Unpredictability, conditionality and subjectivity seem to be the theme for the word จะ /jà/ here. Note that จะ /jà/ in all these cases can almost always be dropped.

กำลัง /gamlang/ VS อยู่ /yùu/ – ongoing action VS ongoing state…

กำลัง…อยู่ /gamlang…yùu/ pattern is more or less an equivalent of ‘to be …ing’ in English. One difference from the English counterpart is that this pattern strictly refers only to an ongoing present and not to a future plan such as “I’m going to New York next week”. You can use both of these words together for any ‘to be…ing’ structure most of the time, but the two words have slightly different functions. I’ll start with กำลัง /gamlang/:

กำลัง /gamlang/ literally means ‘power, labour, energy’. When it is used as a time marker, it focuses on the ongoing ACTION (the action is being carried out at the time of the event):

pǒm gamlang gin kâao
I’m eating; currently what I’m doing is eating.

This sentence illustrates the movement of the speaker having his meal. The focus is on the action.

aagàat gamlang dii
The weather is just about right.

I believe this needs an explanation. While it is true that in this sentence there cannot be any literal ‘action’ going on because nobody controls weather, ‘กำลัง /gamlang/’ in this case shows that the weather itself is keeping its balance; it’s not too cold or too hot, as if some effort is being made to make it so. Therefore the event seems “active”.

อยู่ /yùu/ on the other hand literally means ‘state of being, to be in a state of…’ (The word อยู่ /yùu/ itself means to live or to be alive as well.) When it is used as a time marker, it focuses on the ongoing STATE (that the current state exists at the time of the event):

pǒm gin kâao yùu
I’m eating; the current state that I’m in is eating.

This sentence illustrates the ongoing state of the speaker having his meal. Although the meaning is almost identical to the similar sentence we’ve seen previously, the focus of this sentence is actually on the state. Imagine you’re enjoying a meal and someone calls you on the phone, interrupting your blissful ‘state of eating’. This sentence would better suit the situation than ผมกำลังกินข้าว /pǒm gamlang gin kâao/, although both sentences would be grammatically accurate. The difference is insignificant.

pǒm gamlang gin kâao yùu
I’m eating; currently what I’m doing is eating and the current state that I’m in is eating.

The translation of the sentence above is probably somewhat repetitive to you, but it is a good description of how กำลัง /gamlang/ and อยู่ /yùu/ work together. If you use them both, it simply shows that both the action and the state of that action’s result are ongoing. They more or less have the same referent: eating.

แม่มีเงินอยู่ 10 บาท
mâe mii ngern yùu sìp bàat
Mum has 10 Baht.

This sentence is interesting. Verbs like ‘to have’, ‘to be’ or ‘to know’ are called static verbs–verbs that describe a state (rather than an action like ‘to go’ or ‘to eat’). Possessing something is not an action–you don’t ACT out your possession over it. In this sentence, the mother has 10 Baht. It is a state of having money, not an action.

Therefore, you cannot use กำลัง /gamlang/ instead of อยู่ /yùu/ in this case:

*แม่กำลังมีเงิน 10 บาท
*mâe gamlang mii ngern sìp bàat
Mum has 10 Baht; currently what she’s doing is having 10 Baht.

As you can see from this erroneous example above, although the difference between กำลัง /gamlang/ and อยู่ /yùu/ is minute and they can coexist most of the time, in some cases the interchangeability ceases and you’re forced to choose only one.

But most of the time you can use them both or either one. No need to overthink this.

These are some of the most common time markers in Thai. By this time you have probably realised that the irony of this post is that almost all of these ‘time markers” can’t decisively mark, ‘past’, ‘present’, or ‘future’ tense! The way they express time is entirely relative to the actual event and context, among other things.

The objective of this part 1 is to guide you through the conceptual thinking of the words’ function rather than finding a non-existent equivalence for each of them in your language.

In my next post, Thai Time: Relearn Thai Tense the Thai Way (Part 2), we will create a whole new dimension of time expression by combining these words! Sounds fun? You’re such a geek!

Download Tense Audio: 987kb zip

Until next time!

(Bingo) Arthit Juyaso
Principal of Duke Language School
My book on reading Thai fast: Read Thai in 10 Days

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Thai Teachers Teaching Thai Twisted English

Thai Teachers Teaching Thai Twisted English

Thai Teachers teaching Thai twisted English…

There’s a hilarious video about Thais teaching English to Thais being shared around Facebook. I got it from Maarten Tummers (isn’t he talented?) who got it from Kruu Jiab (Learn Thai Style). I don’t know where Kruu Jiab got it from, but it was created by the new (to me) comedians at WorkPointOfficial.

This Thai way of teaching English to Thais is oh so common in Thailand. I too have been on a weird receiving end of discussions about what’s right or not as far as English pronunciation goes (tedious). But when it comes to grammar, I’ve been known to bow out because my Thai friends are sometimes better informed about English grammar than I am. I do know what sounds right (but it sometimes isn’t).

Expats with kids in the Thai school system will recognise this scenario. Teachers in Thailand demand respect no matter what. And from what I’ve read, expat parents are having to advise their kids to ignore incorrect teaching the best they can. It’s either that, or receive bad grades from teachers who know best. Difficult.

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