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Ten Essentials of Thai Conversation: Thai Greetings and Ending Particles

The Ten Essentials of Thai Conversation

Ten Essentials of Thai Conversation: Thai Greetings and Ending Particles…

You say goodbye and I say hello – Beatles

The Thai formal greeting…

สวัสดี /sà-wàt-dee/ – hello, greetings, goodbye, farewell

First impressions are as important in Thailand as anywhere else, and the first impression one usually gives is how you say “Hello”. So this is our first of the Ten Essentials.

In order to use a Thai greeting successfully we need to know a little about Thai culture and history.

One of the first words a new Thai student learns is สวัสดี / sà-wàt-dee /, often phonetically transcribed as “sawasdee”, but the “s” at the end of the second syllable is pronounced as a “t”.

Every Thai textbook and teacher will tell you that this is the Thai word for “hello” and also for “goodbye”. But that isn’t the whole story.

Up until the 1930s Thais greeted each other without the use of สวัสดี /sà-wàt-dee/ (we’ll get to other Thai greetings below.) It is an invented word (by Phraya Upakit Silapasan of Chulalongkorn University) supposedly to help bring the Thai people into the modern era. It is probably based on the Sanskrit word svasti, and is now in common usage all over the country – but we should use this greeting, as well as most all the Thai language vocabulary and phrases we will be covering, with some caveats.

In order to use สวัสดี /sà-wàt-dee/ correctly we first need to understand how to use the Thai polite particles.

Thai polite particles…

A Thai particle is a word used at the end of a sentence or phrase – it doesn’t have a specific meaning but does imply a feeling and sometimes a relationship with the listener. Speaking Thai without the use of the ending particles can sound stilted, sometimes harsh, and lacking in fluency. And can often lead to the dreaded language faux pas.

There are many particles in Thai. The two most important ones, especially for beginning Thai students, are the ones used to express politeness.

ครับ /kráp/, rhymes with “up” – a polite particle used by males
Example: สวัสดี ครับ /sà-wàt-dee kráp/ – hello, goodbye

คะ /kâa/ – a polite particle used by females
Example: สวัสดี คะ /sà-wàt-dee kâa/ – hello, goodbye

It is important for Thais to use the polite ending particles at the end of most sentences when they are speaking in a formal situation, and speaking with someone older, or of a higher status, or someone of importance to you (e.g. your boss, your mother-in-law. a police officer, an immigration official).

The Thai wai…

We will often wai when we greet someone (or say Goodbye, or Thank you, or I’m sorry). In order to wai correctly you should first have a Thai teach you how to wai.

Or watch this video clip, How to Wai Properly (by Learn Thai with Mod) which is fun and will show you how and when to wai.

Usually the Thai wai is given as the greeting words are spoken (when meeting a new person, or someone older or someone with a higher status).

The younger person, the one with a lower status wais first and if a person wais you it is a social requirement for you to return the wai. We usually don’t wai children, people who work for us, or serving people – unless they wai us first. We wai monks but they do not return a wai.

When to use สวัสดี ครับ/คะ /sà-wàt-dee kráp/kâa/…

  • Said with people we first meet.
  • Said when we greet people in a fairly formal situation.
  • Said when we greet someone of a higher status or an older person.
  • Said when we greet an acquaintance we haven’t seen recently.
  • It is probably a good idea to say it to someone who says it to you first.
  • It is not necessarily said with people we meet often or daily as with coworkers, or family members.
  • We don’t usually say it with people who serve us or work for us.
  • It is usually not said to monks – although we do wai monks, but silently.
  • The younger person or the one with a lower status wais first and the older person returns the wai (exception: If you happen to be older than your mother-in-law it would suit you well if you were to wai first).

Conversation:

You are meeting the department head for the first time:
You: สวัสดี ครับ/คะ /sà-wàt-dee kráp/kâa/ (wai as you speak)
Dept. Head: สวัสดี คะ /sà-wàt-dee kâa/ (and she returns your wai)

You are visiting your mother-in-law:
You: สวัสดี ครับ/คะ /sà-wàt-dee kráp/kâa/ (and you wai her)
Mother-in-law: สวัสดี คะ /sà-wàt-dee kâa/ (she returns your wai)

Someone greets you first:
Your student: สวัสดี คะ /sà-wàt-dee kâa/ (she wais you)
You: สวัสดี ครับ/คะ /sà-wàt-dee kráp/kâa/ (you return her wai)

You are leaving a party and saying goodbye to the hostess:
You: สวัสดี ครับ/คะ /sà-wàt-dee kráp/kâa/ (wai only in formal situations)
Hostess: สวัสดี คะ /sà-wàt-dee kâa/ (she returns the wai if you wai)

When greeted with a perfunctory greeting, answer with a contraction:
Guard at gated community: สวัสดี ครับ /sà-wàt-dee kráp/ (as he salutes you)
You: ครับ/คะ /kráp/kâa/ (no need to wai)

Other forms of greetings…

Although สวัสดี /sà-wàt-dee/ is more or less the “official” Thai greeting, one does not hear it that often when close friends and acquaintances greet each other.

The following can all be used to greet someone close to you, like coworkers, drinking buddies, a paramour, anyone we feel comfortable with, and in less formal situations. No polite particles are required with them but you can say them just to add respect if you wish. No need to wai either.

These other forms of greetings probably shouldn’t be used with people of higher status or importance to you like your mother-in-law, etc. Then you can stick with สวัสดี/sà-wàt-dee/, and don’t forget the polite particle.

All the following are in the form of rhetorical questions but can be interpreted into English as a simple greeting. The conversations could all be interpreted as:

Them: Hello.
You: Hello.

ไป ไหน / bpai năi / – Where are you going?…

Ubiquitous, and rhetorical question. Doesn’t require a true answer. It is the Thai equivalent to the English, “How are you?” No one usually cares how you are. It is just a way to say “Hi”. Here no one really cares where you are going, so any answer is okay.

Some answers to ไป ไหน /bpai năi/:
ไป ตลาด /bpai dtà-làat/ – going to the market.
ไป เที่ยว /bpai tîeow/ – going to have some fun.
ไป ทำงาน /bpai tam ngaan/ – going to work.
ไม่ ไป ไหน /mâi bpai năi/ – not going anywhere.

Conversation:
Your boss: ไป ไหน /bpai năi/ – Where are you going?
You: ไป ทำงาน ครับ/คะ /bpai tam ngaan kráp/kâa/ – Going to work.
Your neighbor: ไป ไหน /bpai năi/ – Where are you going?
You: ไม่ ไป ไหน /mâi bpai năi/ – Nowhere (in particular).

ไป ไหน มา /bpai năi maa/ – Where are you coming from? (The มา /maa/, literally “to come” at the end indicates something you have just come from doing.

The same usage as the above but it may be obvious to the speaker that you are coming from somewhere or from doing something. It also doesn’t require a true answer.

Some answers to ไป ไหน มา /bpai năi maa/:
ไป ตลาด มา /bpai dtà-làat maa/ – I went to the market
ไป เที่ยว มา /bpai tîeow maa/ – I came back from doing some fun stuff.

Conversation:
A friend: ไป ไหน มา /bpai năi maa/ – Where are you coming from?
You: ไป ตลาด มา /bpai dtà-làat maa/ – I just went to the market.
Your in-law: ไป ไหน มา /bpai năi maa/ – Where are you coming from?
You: ไป เที่ยว มา /bpai tîeow maa/ – Coming back from hanging out.

กิน ข้าว หรือ ยัง /gin kâao rĕu yang/ – Have you eaten yet? (informal)

This is more or less taken word-for-word from a Chinese greeting. If you say that you haven’t eaten yet, many a friend would be obliged to take you out for a meal. So it is wise to say that you have already eaten, even if you have to bend the truth a bit.

Some answers to กิน ข้าว หรือ ยัง:
กิน แล้ว /gin láew/ – I’ve already eaten.
เรียบร้อย แล้ว /rîap rói láew/ – normally means “neat”, “everything is in order”, but here it is slang for “I have already eaten”.

Conversation:
A work colleague: กิน ข้าว หรือ ยัง /gin kâao rĕu yang/ – Have you eaten yet?
You: กิน แล้ว /gin láew/ – Yes I have.

ทาน ข้าว หรือ ยัง/ taan kâao rĕu yang / – Have you eaten yet? (a little formal)

The same as above except that the word ทาน is used instead of กิน. Both words mean “to eat” but ทาน is considered the more polite form. It is probably good to use ทาน as it works for close friends as well as the upper crust.

Some answers to ทาน ข้าว หรือ ยัง /taan kâao rĕu yang/:
ทาน แล้ว/ taan láew / – I’ve already eaten.
ทาน เรียบร้อย แล้ว / taan rîap rói láew / – I have already eaten.

Conversation:
Your boss: ทาน ข้าว หรือ ยัง/ taan kâao rĕu yang / – Have you eaten yet?
You: ทาน เรียบร้อย แล้ว ครับ/คะ / taan rîap rói láew kráp/kâa / – I’m okay.

เป็น อย่างไร บ้าง /bpen yàang rai bâang/ – How are you doing? How is it going?
เป็น ไง บ้าง /bpen ngai bâang/ – contraction of the above

Literally, “how are you?” A lot of new Thai speakers make the mistake of interpreting this question as being similar to the Thai inquiry about one’s health, สบายดี ไหม. เป็น อย่าง ไร บ้าง (usually shorten to เป็น ไง บ้าง) is often used to ask “what’s the matter?” if you notice something out of quilter. But it is also heard as a greeting, similar to the English “how are you?” which is in fact not a question about one’s health but simply a “hello”.

The answer to “how are you?” is quite often “how are you?” or a silent lift of the head (which you could also do in response to เป็น ไง บ้าง /bpen ngai bâang/).

Conversation:
Your friend: เป็น ไง บ้าง /bpen ngai bâang/ – How you doin’?
You: ดีมาก /dee mâak/ – Very well.
Your companion: เป็น ไง บ้าง /bpen ngai bâang/ – How you doin’?
You: ไม่ เป็น อะไร /mâi bpen a-rai/ – Nothing. I’m fine.

ว่า อย่าง ไร /wâa yàang rai/ – What’s up?
ว่า ไง /wâa ngai/ – contraction of the above

Literally “how do you say?” but as above it really means “hello”. This is another phrase that is more often shortened (ว่า ไง).

Conversation:
Your friend: ว่า ไง /wâa ngai/ – What do you say?
You: ว่า ไง /wâa ngai/ – What do you say?

เจอ กัน ใหม่ /jer gan mài/ – meet again
It is more or less the equivalent to the English “See you later”

Conversation:
Your friend: สวัสดี ครับ /sà-wàt-dee kráp/ – Goodbye
You: สวัสดี ครับ/คะ เจอ กัน ใหม่ ครับ/คะ /sà-wàt-dee kráp/kâa jer gan mài kráp/kâa/ – Goodbye. See you later.

สบาย ดี /sà-baai dee/ – Feeling good
Just wanted to add this one as it is really the greeting in the Lao language which is spoken widely in the northeast of Thailand.

Conversation:
Your Laotian friend: สบาย ดี /sà-baai dee/ – Hello
You: สบาย ดี /sà-baai dee/ – Hello

Time to leave…

Let’s say you are visiting with someone and you feel you have to leave. Thai has a few very polite ways of saying, “Gotta Go. Bye.”

ลาก่อน /laa · gòn/ (ลา /laa/ – to leave + ก่อน /gòn/ – before)
Goodbye, farewell

And to be quite polite you can ask permission.
ขอ ลา ก่อน /kŏr laa gòn/ (ขอ /kŏr/ – please)

Same as above but more like “With your permission …”

And even more apologetic:
ขอ ตัว /kŏr dtua/ (ตัว /dtua/ – body)
Excuse me, I beg to be excused

Conversation:
You: ขอโทษ ขอ ลา ก่อน ครับ/คะ /kŏr tôht kŏr laa gòn kráp/kâa/ – Apologies, please excuse me.
Your hostess: ไม่เป็นไร คะ /mâi bpen rai kâa/ – That’s alright.
You: ลา ก่อน ครับ/คะ เจอ กัน ใหม่ /laa gòn kráp/kâa jer gan mài/ – I have to go. See you soon.
Your hostess: เจอ กัน ใหม่ คะ /jer gan mài kâa/ – See you again.
You: ขอ ตัว ครับ/คะ /kŏr dtua kráp/kâa/ – With your permission I’ll take my leave.
Your hostess: เชิญ คะ /chérn kâa/ – Go right ahead.

Good morning, Good evening, Good night…

There are two very formal and not often used Thai greetings. You will probably not hear them in normal conversation but may hear a TV show host use it to greet their viewers.

The suffix สวัสดิ์ /sà-wàt/, the ดิ์ at the end is silent in these two greetings is an indication that they are also invented words similar to สวัสดี /sà-wàt-dee/.

อรุณ สวัสดิ์ /a-run sà-wàt/ – Good Morning
อรุณ /a-run/, pronounced /a-roon/ – dawn
สวัสดิ์ /sà-wàt/ – happiness
ราตรี สวัสดิ์ /raa-dtree sà-wàt/ – Good Evening, Good Night
ราตรี /raa-dtree/ – evening
สวัสดิ์ /sà-wàt/ – happiness

Note: There really isn’t an informal way of saying “good morning”, “good evening”, or “good night” in Thai. It will feel odd for most westerners not to wish someone a good morning or good night, but it is just not a requirement in Thai culture. If you use either of the above you might give your listener a good laugh.

Vocabulary used in this post…

เจอ /jer/ to meet
เชิญ /chérn/ to invite
เที่ยว /tîeow/ trip, fun
เรียบร้อย /rîap rói/ neat, orderly
แล้ว /láew/ already
ใหม่ /mài/ new, again
ไป /bpai/ to go
ไม่ /mâi/ no, not
ไม่เป็นไร /mâi bpen rai/ It doesn’t matter. Don’t mention it., etc.
ไหน /năi/ where
ก่อน /gòn/ before
กัน /gan/together
กิน /gin/ to eat
ขอ /kŏr/ please
ขอโทษ /kŏr tôht/ excuse me
ข้าว /kâao/ rice
ดี /dee/ good
ตลาด /dtà-làat/ market
ตัว /dtua/ body
ทาน /taan/ to eat
ทำงาน /tam ngaan/ to work
บ้าง /bâang/ some
มาก /mâak/ a lot
ยัง /yang/ yet
ราตรี /raa-dtree/ evening
ลา /laa/ to leave
ว่า /wâa/ to say
สบาย /sà-baai/ comfortable
สวัสดิ์ /sà-wàt/ happiness
หรือ /rĕu/ or
อย่างไร /yàang rai/ how
อรุณ /a-run/ dawn
อะไร /mâi bpen a-rai/ what

Review of Thai greetings…

สวัสดี ครับ /sà-wàt-dee kráp/

สวัสดี คะ /sà-wàt-dee kâa/

ไป ไหน /bpai năi/

ไป ไหน มา /bpai năi maa/

กิน ข้าว หรือ ยัง /gin kâao rĕu yang/

ทาน ข้าว หรือ ยัง /taan kâao rĕu yang/

เป็น อย่างไร บ้าง /bpen yàang rai bâang/

เป็น ไง บ้าง /bpen ngai bâang/

ว่า อย่าง ไร /wâa yàang rai/

ว่า ไง /wâa ngai/

ลาก่อน /laa gòn/

ขอ ตัว /kŏr dtua/

เจอ กัน ใหม่ /jer gan mài/

สบาย ดี /sà-baai dee/

อรุณ สวัสดิ์ /a-run sà-wàt/

ราตรี สวัสดิ์ /raa-dtree sà-wàt/

 

Audio and Pdf Downloads…

Pdf download (with transliteration): The Ten Essentials of Thai Conversation: Thai Greetings and Ending Particles
Pdf download (sans transliteration): The Ten Essentials of Thai Conversation: Thai Greetings and Ending Particles

Audio download: Thai Greetings and Ending Particles: Audio

Note: apologies for the background noise in Khun Phairoa’s recordings (she’s having difficulties finding a quiet place to record these days).

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Hugh Leong loves explaining things. And during his 40 plus years of trying to learn Thai and its culture, he learned to love the cross-cultural aspect of living in a foreign country and speaking its language. His series, Thai Language Thai Culture, covers various aspects of learning Thai, and how the Thai culture influences how we say things.

4 Comments

  1. Bernard Le Du

    July 21, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    What avery good piece of lesson you give us, Hugh !
    And thanks for writing also everything in Thai script , I will manage by myself with the transliteration… oh I didn’t saw that a sans transliteration PDF is also at the party ! Nice (and the audio is not bad at all, I found it very clear and not “noisy” as you pretend).
    Thank you gain Hugh.

  2. Nice reading! But still wondering what was said before the “invention” of sawasdee…

  3. Michel,

    Thanks. I really don’t know what was said before. I am old, but not that old, so I wasn’t around. It was probably one of the other greetings I mentioned. You can help me. If you know a really old Thai try asking them and get back to us.

  4. Hugh, I found this very useful and nicely presented. Thank You and all involved.

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