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Thai language

Thai (th. ภาษาไทย (paasaa thai), lit. the language of Thai) is the official language of Thailand, and of no other country. It is part of the Tai/Daic language family, whose origin is uncertain but which is sometimes linked to the Austroasiatic, the Austronesian or Sino-Tibetan language families. Thai is a tonal language, with both lexical and grammatical uses of tones.

Table of contents
1 Dialects
2 Thai alphabet
3 Grammar
4 Six-hour clock
5 Reference


The status of many of these dialects is debated. Statistics from Ethnologue 2003-10-4.

Thai alphabet

The Thai alphabet (q.v. for full details) originates from the Devanagari script via Pali, and is quite complex from the perspective of Unicode and computer text rendering, because:

  1. It is an abugida script, in which the default vowel is a long O.
  2. Vowels associated with consonants are nonsequential: they can precede, follow, or surround their associated consonant(s).
  3. Tone markers can occur at several places relative to the vowel grapheme.

There is no universal standard for transliterating Thai into English. For example, the name of King Rama IX, the present monarch, is transliterated variously as Bhumibol, Phumiphon, or many other versions. Each guide book, text book and dictionary invents its own system. For this reason, most language courses recommend that learners master the Thai alphabet before attempting the language.

The Thai Royal Institute [1] publishes a set of rules for transliterating English words into the Thai alphabet, but these rules are not intended to be used in reverse.


From the perspective of linguistic typology, Thai can be considered to be an analytic language. Like many Asian languages, the Thai pronomial and inflectional system includes markers for the sex and relative status of both speaker and audience. This combination of tonality, complex orthography, relational markers, in addition to a complex phonology, can make Thai a difficult language for many Europeans to learn.


There are five tones: middle, low, high, rising and falling. The last four are hinted at in written Thai by tone marks, although these are not sufficient to define the correct tone unambiguously, and may be absent if the tone is implicit.


The word-order is Subject-Verb-Object.


Adjectives follow the noun. The are no definite or indefinite articles.


Verbs do not change with person (I, you, they etc.) or with tense.


Nouns are uninflected, and there are no plural forms. Plurals are expressed by adding "nouns of multitude".


For conversational use

For sacred and royal use

To be continued.


Adjectives do not change with number (singular or plural).


Many adverbs are expressed by repeating the adjective. Adverbs usually follow the verb.

Polite Particles

The so-called polite particles are untranslatable words added to the end of a sentence to indicate respect for the listener. They are not used in written Thai. A man finishes a sentence with ครับ (pronounced "krup", with a high tone) and a woman with ค่ะ (pronounced "ka" with a falling tone).

Classes of Thai

The Thai langauge can be spoken in different forms depending on the social context. These can be listed as: Less educated Thais can speak only at the first level. Few Thais can speak the Sacred or Royal versions.

Six-hour clock

Thais use two systems for telling the time: the 24-hour clock and the traditional Thai six-hour clock. The latter system has been used in some form since the days of the Ayutthaya kingdom, but was codified in its present form in 1901 by King Chulalongkorn (in Royal Gazette 17:206) and is widely used in colloquial speech. It works by dividing the day into four equal parts, then counting the hours within each part. The hours are named as follows:

1 amti 1ตีหนึ่งti = strike
2 amti 2ตีสอง
3 amti 3ตีสาม
4 amti 4ตีสี่
5 amti 5ตีห้า
6 am6 meung chaoหกโมงเช้าchao = morning
7 am7 meung chaoเจ็ดโมงเช้าmeung = chime
8 am8 meung chaoแปดโมงเช้า
9 am9 meung chaoเก้าโมงเช้า
10 am10 meungสิบโมง
11 am11 meungสิบเอ็ดโมง
12 noonthiang wanเที่ยงวัน
1 pmbai meungบ่ายโมงbai = slant, i.e. setting sun
2 pmbai 2 meungบ่ายสองโมง
3 pmbai 3 meungบ่ายสามโมง
4 pm4 meung yenสี่โมงเย็นyen = cool, i.e. late afternoon
5 pm5 meung yenห้าโมงเย็น
6 pm6 meung yenหกโมงเย็น
7 pm1 thumหนึ่งทุ่มthum = drumbeat
8 pm2 thumสองทุ่ม
9 pm3 thumสามทุ่ม
10 pm4 thumสี่ทุ่ม
11 pm5 thumห้าทุ่ม
12 midnighttieng keunเที่ยงคืน
Note: These pronunciations are approximate, and would probably not be understood by native Thais.


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