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The Top 39 Thai Words You Must Know

The Top 39 Thai words you must know

Top Thai words extracted from pop music…

Language lists can be wonderful things. Remember when you searched for the top ten Thai phrases to memorise? Or the four polite to down right eyebrow raising ways to say hello in Thai? Or what about the three words you must never ever say to your Thai mother-in-law?

And now I’m proposing yet another list: The top 39 Thai words you must know to get by in Thai.

But this is not my work. The vocabulary is from the academic paper, Thai Pop Music: Corpus Analysis and Second Language Learning (google for it). To make it so, authors Teddy Bofman and Paul Prez (Northeastern Illinois University) put 400 songs from e-Thaimusic.com (offline for now) under a linguists’ microscope.

We had access to hundreds of songs, amounting to roughly 103,000 running words. The corpus provides authentic material using modern colloquial Thai.

To the best of our knowledge, there is still no frequency list of vocabulary for Thai comparable to the General Service List (GSL) that exists for English (West 1953). These lists provide a rank order of vocabulary in terms of usefulness and frequency of usage.

Our corpus comprises 4,931 types, or different words. Thirty-nine types make up 50.02% of the total running words. These thirty-nine words are basic vocabulary items and are likely to be learned in a first-year Thai class.

What is important here is the fact that fifty percent of the vocabulary in this corpus is likely to be covered very early on in a Thai class. This fact alone suggests that the corpus is highly suitable for a beginner’s class, since the majority of its vocabulary consists of words that are of high frequency.

Those thirty-nine Thai words you must know…

To see if you are safely beyond the beginning stages of learning Thai, scan through the list below.

Note: A thanks goes to Chris and Benjawan for permission to use their new software dictionary, Thai-English English-Thai Talking Dictionary, for the transliteration and definitions. The words within brackets [] are from the paper.

1) เธอ /ter/
pron. she (use with friends); you (used with very familiar person or subordinate)
pron. I [informal]

2) ไม่ /mâi/
adv. no; not
aux. doesn’t; do not (negation)

3) ฉัน /chǎn/
pron. I (female speaker); me (female speaker)
pron. I [informal]

4) ที่ /têe/
adv. on (by, at)
n. place (site, spot), land (property); property (land); real estate (land) 
prep. as (that, which); at (place); in (by, at); on (at); to (e.g. go to)
pron. which

5) ให้ /hâi/
vt. give; grant (give); let (allow, give); present (give); provide (make available); yield (e.g. fruit, labor)
[causative, to]

6) จะ /jà/
aux. shall; will; would
part. used in questions, to urge or suggest

7) ก็ /gôr/
adv. also; too (also)

8) รัก /rák/
v. love

9) ไป /bpai/
adv. away
vi. go; proceed (go)

10) ว่า /wâa/
conj. that
v. criticize (censure)
vt. say (state)
[direct or indirect quotation marker]

11) มี /mee/
v. have; there is
vi. exist (be)

12) คน /kon/
clf. for human, person
n. people (persons in general)
pron. somebody (as object)
verb. stir (blend)

13) ได้ /dâai/
aux. can (able to)
interj. okay!
vt. able to; get (take, receive); obtain (get, gain); realize (obtain)

14) เป็น /bpen/
adj. alive (living)
v. become, to know how to; be (something)
vi. exist (be)

15) ใจ /jai/
n. mind

16) มา /maa/
vi. come (reach, arrive)

17) กัน /gan/
adv. one another
pron. each other

18) แต่ /dtàe/
conj. but; only (but)

19) รู้ /róo/
vi. know (have knowledge)
vt. realize (be or become aware of)

20) มัน /man/
pron. he (derogatory); her; him; it; she (derogatory)

21) นี้ /née/
adj. this

22) อยู่ /yòo/
v. be (somewhere); live (dwell)
vi. dwell (reside); reside; stay (remain)

23) อยาก /yàak/
adj. hungry (desirous)
vt. want to (do something)

24) ทำ /tam/
v. perform (act)
vt. commit (do); do; make (produce, create)

25) ๆ
(repetition character)

26) ใคร /krai/
pron. anybody (used in a question); who (which person); whom (question word)

27) แค่ /kâe/
adv. as far; as far as (just, only); as long; only (just)
prep. to the extent of; as long

28) วัน /wan/
n. day of the week; day

29) ดี /dee/
adj. fine (e.g. good, quality); good; nice (good)

30) ต้อง /dtông/
aux. must
vi. have to

31) ยัง /yang/
adv. still (yet); yet (still, thus far)

32) ความ /kwaam-/
pref. to form a noun from a verb or adjective

33) เรา /rao/
pron. us; we

34) นั้น /nán/
adj./pron. that

35) กับ /gàp/
conj. /prep. to (e.g. give to); versus; with (accompanying or against someone)

36) แล้ว /láew/
adj. ready (finished, done)
adv. already
[then, past tense marker]

39) บอก /bòk/
v. say (state); tell

41) ใน /nai/
prep at (place); in; inside

42) อย่าง /yàang/
n. kind (sort, type, category)

As you can see, the top 39 shown above do not exactly follow the 400 high frequency words listed in the paper. Number 38 (ไหม /mǎi/- question particle) is missing as is number 37, คง /kong/ (last; permanent). I was curious as to why, but no response has come back yet.

To see the words in action, either go to e-Thaimusic.com to check out their translations, or google Thai Pop Music: Corpus Analysis and Second Language Learning

More Thai high frequency lists…

You might not know this, but the hunt for the top Thai words one must know has been a slooooow and ongoing process. Some are still working on it while others have given up or are long dead.

Our findings provide guidance to language teachers in a number of ways. For example, they point out which vocabulary is high frequency and therefore essential to teach. They also indicate major collocational usage, essential knowledge for the language learner.

In the hopes of coming up with a Top Thai 500/1000/2000, I dropped vocabulary compiled from books, online courses, and other lists into an excel spreadsheet. I’m still in the collecting stage and will take note on how this 400 top frequency list looks next to each list.

In the 1940’s George Bradley McFarland used thirty different sources to compile the top 1000+ Thai words in his Thai-English dictionary. With the help of Rikker, I was able to get McFarland’s list via screens shots from Google Books, but you can see it at thai-language.com: Most Frequently used words in Thai.

Glenn (thai-language.com) also keeps his eye on his own personal list of Common Words of the Thai Language.

SEAlang Lab has a Thai Vocabulary List that is quite interesting because it brings in high frequency via web ranking (something like that). Some words in the list have a WebRank number, some not. More to come.

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


  1. Very helpful to keep in mind as I study Thai. I’m glad to know I’m familiar with most of these words. :)

  2. And it’s always great to get confirmation, right? :-)

  3. Cat, Great list and as Amy said words I am already familiar with. I’ve been compiling my own lists with the use of flash cards with the words written phonetically, in English and in Thai …it’s been a great help to my studies.

  4. Flashcards are great. Have you tried adding your lists to BYKI? The sound aspects of the program was the selling point for me.

  5. Hi Cat, I do think these lists can be really helpful. I also think that it is interesting how they are created; it sounds like a lot of work. Lucky for us there are so many people out there who are prepared to do this type of thing – I just wouldn’t have the patience.

  6. Paul, the way they did it was a huge amount of work. As you know, Thai doesn’t have spaces between words so they needed to make individual judgements. In addition, some Thai words are made from combos, so again judgements needed to be made. That’s a lot of work.

    Collecting my lists was easier. Some of the lists I added were already out there and others just needed to be typed up from course books.

  7. Thanks again Catherine for such a great and useful post. Like the others, I’m happy to read that I know those words. Whew! And I can confirm that I am learning those words in my Level 1 Thai class. (I decided I needed a refresher after being away.)

  8. Lani, refreshers are such fun, yes? I’ve decided that I’ll only do refreshers from now on… (can you tell that I’m just waking up? :-)

    Quoting Rikker (or maybe even misquoting – or is that called paraphrasing?): ‘Each list is sure to have a different twist in subject matter. This one is focused on heart throbs and lost love, so the further down the list, the less common the vocabulary.’

    Something like that…

    The last four words on the full 400 bears this out:

    ร้องไห้ – to cry; weep
    วอน – to beg; beseech; plead
    เขี้ยว – protrusion
    เท – to take away in large numbers; to haul off; to pour

    So, what kind of sentence can you make with those four plus a few from the top 39?

  9. thanks for all of the brilliant info
    you all are a great resource

  10. Cat, I did think about adding the words to BYKI but decided against it as the flash cards work in a much better fashion for me…I don’t know if it’s holding them or flipping through them but it makes me feel more connected to the process.

  11. Thanks for the post. Common word in Thai is a topic I’ve looked at some. I’ve made it a practice to put each new word (and few phrases) that I encounter into my personal dictionary. It looks like once you get beyond 500 or so common words, subject domain becomes much more important than how common a word is overall in Thai.

    One of my measuring rods is words that occur in the books “Thai for Beginners” by Becker (TFB) and “Everyday Thai for Beginners” by Kesavatana-Dohrs (ETFB). It’s interesting that the top word เธอ on “The Top 39 Thai Words You Must Know” list doesn’t appear in the 1000+ vocabulary words in TFB. Fewer than half the words on Glenn’s list “Common Words of the Thai Language” appear in the 1500+ vocabulary words found in TFB and ETFB.

    When I start reading Thai texts such as Maanee Reader- Grade 2- Lesson 2, I come up with 137 unique words in the text, 99 of which are either in or easily inferred from the TFB and ETFB words lists. That leaves me a fair amount of dictionary work to do as a try to grasp the meaning of that story.

    The bottom line for me is that I find it more profitable to learn the words in the context that I’m currently working on rather than simply attempt to memorize words found on someone else’s list common words.

    Please keep up your good work. The resources and insights you’re compiling are a valuable resource for beginners like me.

  12. Talen, just the process of physically writing the words/phrases on cards helps get the Thai into my head.

    And along the way, I found that I’m great at getting all the materials done – flashcards, BYKI, spread sheets – what I need are the actual study skills.

    I can almost taste a post on the subject coming real soon…

  13. Yedian, Welcome to WLT :-) I compared the 400 in this paper with my spreadsheet and was surprised at the differences.

    In the future I’d like to gather in the top phrases needed to communicate, and then create lists from there. Because as you know, lists without structure don’t get you very far. But they are interesting!

    Btw – do you have a top 500 Thai word list to share? I’d love to see it (and I’ll do a trade if you like).

  14. Sorry, but I haven’t tried to compile a top 500 word list from the small corpus of texts that I’ve collected. But then, any word list compiled from my corpus would be pretty heavily skewed towards words that appear in Thai beginners text books plus first and second grade Thai kids text and story books.

    If you have a corpus of texts which contain a lot of words or phrases needed to communicate please feel free to share it with me. I have the tools to break those texts up into words and compile word lists from it.

    The problem that I’m finding with the Thai kids reading material is that it’s aimed at teaching native Thai speakers how to read. When I find I have to look up in the dictionary between a third and half the words in a given kids story, I simply give up and try to find something else which is both interesting and easier.

    My current strategy is to focus on the words in the Thai beginners text books and slowly add to that vocabulary with new reading material that I come across and feel that I have modest chance of comprehending. One of things that makes Thai (and many other languages, for that matter) hard for beginners is real paucity of texts which take a beginners vocabulary and make lots of good use of it. I would love to find the equivalent of VOA’s “Special English” in Thai.

  15. Yedian, apologies for taking so long to get back to you. I was on in road yesterday along with a zillion other people trying to get back into Bangkok. Crazy traffic.

    I’ve often thought about what would make the perfect Thai course. The top words used, obviously. Then would come sentence patterns that we could drop vocabulary in to create unlimited sentences. A way to get those sentences and vocabulary into our brains – the best way would be by fun repetition and exercises what we’d actually use out in the real world (questions with more than one answer).

    I’ll gather what I have here and send it over to you in one file…

  16. Sweet! I know most of these words, too…and I watch a lot of Thai pop music videos (sadly, I’m not being sarcastic), so I’ll try to listen for all these. Thanks, Catherine!

  17. Catherine I’m happy to report I know about 75% of your list, probably 90% if I include the “Jesus I forgot that” ones.

    Reading Talen’s comments I think I’m more of a flashcard/notebook kind of person. Seeing something written in my own handwriting kind of makes it stick in the old walnut a whole lot better.

  18. Megan, excellent! When you have the time, I’d like to chat about the music videos you find most interesting.

    Martyn, writing may be old-fashioned, but it does get the Thai script into your head. In the early days, I practiced the Thai alphabet using a moleskin. You can read all about it here: Thai Alphabet: Ninja Techniques and Moleskins

    Moleskins are handy, so I continue to use one to jot down notes during my travels around Thailand.

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