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Basic Thai Grammar & Syntax

Introduction To Thai Language
Basic Thai Vocabulary & Useful Phrases

Learn Thai Language Textbooks, Audio Courses & Software

Personal Pronouns   Basic Syntax: Negation, Questions And Answers
Adjectives And Adverbs   Plural Forms   Genitive   Past, Present, Future
Temporal And Conditional Clauses   Time Specification In Thai

On a most fundamental level Thai grammar is very simple, especially when compared with English or other more complicated European languages. For example,
verbs do not inflect in Thai - each lexical unit (word) always stays the same. There is no declination in Thai grammar, no plural forms of nouns and no conjugation of verbs either. Additionally, no distinctive verb forms are being used in order to signalize distinctive time levels (past tense, present, future).
Whereas in English the verb "to have", depending on the speaker, time level a.s.o., is modified each time (I have, she has, they had) the equivalent Thai verb mee = "to have" always stays mee, no matter what context.

There is
no morphological distinction between classes of words such as nouns, verbs, adjectives or adverbs. Instead of different categories certain combinations of words define the current usage of a word.
To give a simple example, by simply doubling the adjective reo = "fast" it's turned into an adverb (reo reo = "quickly") whereas the prefix kwaam turns adjectives into nouns (kwaam reo = "speed"). There are
no articles in Thai language, and much less prepositions are being used.

Thai syntax is also incredibly simple, every sentence is structured
by an "S-P-O" pattern:

Subject - Predicate - Object

or negations are signalized by addition of meaningful particles
to a sentence without destroying its basic structure. If the meaning of an utterance is not diminished both
subject and predicate can be deleted as well.
Personal pronouns (e.g. "I", "you") that refer to a 1st or 2nd person speaker or subjects/ objects which have been mentioned previously can be deleted without diminishing the meaning of a sentence (examples below).
As Thai words do not inflect and the fundamental structure of a sentence always represents a simple pattern it is very easy just to learn some basic vocabulary and start building phrases and sentences.
This basic simplicity of Thai grammar, however, doesn't mean that Thai is a "primitive" or less precise language than its Western counterparts. In order to exemplify some basic patterns of Thai grammar and demonstrate a few more complicated features of the language let's learn a few new words first!
For a Basic Thai vocabulary click here.

Personal Pronouns

Depending on the level of speech, there are different personal pronouns in use. The ones listed are the most commonly used personal pronouns. There are no reflexive or other personal pronouns.

As mentioned above, in Thai language every sentence is fundamentally structured by an  "S-P-O" pattern =


For example,
pom bpai pattaya = I go (to) Pattaya.

Negation can be expressed by simply placing mai (falling tone) in front of the verb.
pom mai bpai pattaya = I do not go to Pattaya.

Questions are signalized by mai (rising tone) at the ending of a sentence. For example, khun bpai pattaya = You go to Pattaya.
khun bpai pattaya mai? = Do you go to Pattaya?

rue plao has the same function but a slightly different meaning ("or not"). khun bpai pattaya rue bplao? = Do you go to Pattaya (or not)?
(laew) rue yang (roughly translates as "already or not yet") is being used in order to add a temporal aspect to a question, e.g.
khun kin khao (laew) rue yang? = Have you already eaten (or not yet)?
The correct Yes-answer is kin laew (khrab) = I (have) eat(en) already, the correct No-answer is yang mai kin (khrab) or simply yang (khrab) = not yet.

Deletion of subject and/ or object
As mentioned above, in certain cases both subject and object (or either of them) can be deleted when the reference is obvious.
Question: khun bpai pattaya mai?
Answer: (phom) mai bpai (pattaya) = (I do) not go (to Pattaya).
The same rule applies when a first person speaker makes a reference to him/ herself or addresses a conversational partner. When uttered by a 1st person speaker "hiu khao" has the same meaning as pom hiu khao = I am hungry. Or hiu khao mai? has the same meaning as khun hiu khao mai? = Are you hungry?
hiu (khrab) instead of pom hiu khao would be fully sufficient as answer and could be translated as "yes" in this case.

This example also displays a common method of
replying to questions. For a Yes-answer you simply repeat the "most important" word of the question (usually the verb), for a No-answer you simply place mai in front of the most important word of the question, e.g.
Question: hiu khao mai? Answer: mai hiu.
On a polite level of speech khrab (for male speakers) or kha (female) are added to the answer, e.g. mai hiu khrab/ kha is more elegant and polite than just mai hiu.

Question words are usually placed in front of the S-P-O structure. (The only exception is arai = what.) For example,
tam-mai khun hiu khao = Why are you hungry? (tam-mai = why)

Adjectives follow the respective noun they describe, e.g. poo ying tai suai. (poo ying = woman, suai = beautiful.) Literally translated, "woman/ women thai bautiful" (= "Thai women are beautiful.")

Comparative forms of adjectives are built with kwaa, e.g.
suai kwaa = more beautiful (than).
poo ying tai suai kwaa poo ying yoo-rop = women Thai beautiful more than women European ("Thai women are more beautiful than European women.")

Superlative forms are built with tee soot, e.g. suai tee soot = most beautiful.
poo ying tai suai tee soot = women Thai beautiful most ("Thai women are the most beautiful.")
The "Too-form" of a given adjective, e.g. "too expensive", is indicated by the particles koern bpai which follow the adjective, for example,
paeng = expensive
paeng koern bpai = too expensive.

Adverbs are created by simply doubling an adjective. For example,
reo = quick/ fast,
reo reo = quickly.

Plural Forms & Classifiers
Basically there are no plural forms of nouns in Thai language. poo ying can mean both woman and women. Unless the context points out the current usage or in order to make a more precise statement so-called "classifiers" must be used following the noun. There are different classifiers for different classes of nouns. Altogether there are twelve classifiers.
For example, khon is the classifier for human beings.
"Two women" = poo ying so:ng khon,
literally translated, "women two people" (so:ng = two; [o:] signalizes a long O-sound as in "morning").
To give another example. dtua is the classifier for animals,
maa = dog, (see) dam = black.
maa dtua dam = the black dog (dog animal black).
maa song dtua = two dogs (dog two animal).
In a few exceptional cases plural forms are created by simply doubling the respective noun, for example, dek = child, dek dek = children.

As exemplified by the sentence poo ying thai suai the Thai equivalent of "to be" = bpen can be deleted if an adjective is used to describe a noun. It is
toy bpen khon tai = "Toy is a Thai", but
poo ying tai suai (without bpen)
poo ying thai bpen suai would be incorrect Thai language.

Genitive can be expressed with ko:ng which roughly translates as "of". For example baan ko:ng phom ("house of me") has the meaning "my house".

Verbs do not inflect in Thai, so there is no conjugation either, no distinctive verb forms are being used in order to signalize distinctive time levels.
Time levels, however, can be clarified by using certain adverbs and conjunctions.

kamlang, placed between subject and predicate, signalizes an action that is currently going on and can be compared to the "Present continuous" in English (e.g. "I am eating"). kin khao = to eat.
Pom kin khao = I eat
Pom kamlang kin khao = I am eating (right now).

dtorn nee/ diao nee/ khana nee have an equivalent meaning as "now" in English, e.g.diao nee pom kin khao = I eat now.

bpat-joo-ban (nee) has the meaning of "now, nowadays" as opposed to "before, in the past", e.g.
bpat-joo-ban pattaya bpen muang yai = Nowadays Pattaya is a big city (in the past it was just a fishing village).

we-laa/ dtorn tee/ khana tee are temporal conjunctions with a similar meaning as "when" in English.
aharn tai = Thai food, took wan = every day. For example,
we-laa pom yoo pattaya pom kin aharn tai took wan = When I stay in Pattaya I eat Thai food every day.

ja signalizes an action that is going to take place in the future and has the same function as "to be going to" or "will" in English.
proong nee = tomorrow
proong nee pom ja bpai pattaya = Tomorrow I will go to Pattaya.

diao ... ja, placed around the subject, signalizes an action that is going to happen in the immediate future, e.g.
diao pom ja kin khao = I am going to eat (right now).

eek ... ja adds a precise time information to an action that is going to happen in the future. pee = year.
eek so:ng pee pom ja bpai pattaya = In two years I will visit/ go to Pattaya.

phoeng signalizes an action that has just taken place. tueng = to arrive. pom phoeng tueng pattaya = I have just arrived in Pattaya.

... korn and mua ... tee laew  indicate that an action has taken place in the past and equal English "ago" or "before". They must be combined with a precise indication of time.
so:ng pee korn = two years ago/ before
mua so:ng pee tee laew = two years ago/ before.

mua korn indicates a previous state and can be translated as "before", "previously" or "in the past". lek = small, little.
mua korn pattaya pen mue-ang lek = In the past Pattaya used to be/ was a small town.
mua and dtorn tee signalize actions that have occured in the past and can be translated as "when".
dtorn tee pom maa tueng pattaya = When I arrived in Pattaya ...
mua pom maa tueng pattaya = When I arrived in Pattaya ...

Temporal When-clauses are correctly built with the temporal conjunction we-laa which originally has the meaning "time" but can be translated as "when" in this case. For example,
we-laa pom yoo pattaya pom kin aharn tai took wan = When I stay in Pattaya I eat Thai food every day.

Conditional If-clauses are built with taa which has an equivalent meaning as "if" in English. It is not obligatory yet possible to extend the main clause with the future particle ja (see above). For example,
taa pom bpai pattaya pom (ja) kin aharn tai took wan = If I go to Pattaya I (will) eat Thai food every day.

There are
less prepositions in Thai language than there are in English. The one used most frequently and that can be used either as a preposition or relative pronoun is tee. When used as relative pronoun tee can mean both "who" or "which/ that".
For example, tee pattaya = In Pattaya (preposition)
poo ying tee suai = women who are beautiful (relative pronoun)

Time specification
There are several methods of time specification in Thai, the most traditional method splits up the day (24 hours) into 4x6 hours, i.e. four 6-hour cycles. Within each cycle hours are counted from 1 to 6.
For Thai numbers please visit our
Basic Thai Vocabulary page.

dtee ... - specifies hours between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m.,
... mo:ng chao  -  6 a.m. to 12 p.m,
bai ... mo:ng  -  12 p.m. to 6 p.m.,
... toom - 6 p.m. to midnight. For example:

khrueng signalizes half hours, e.g.
8.30 p.m./ 20.30h = so:ng toom khrueng

All other time specifications are made by hours + minutes.
sip = ten, naatee = minute/s.
8.10 p.m./ 20.10h = so:ng toom sip natee.
For the last quarter of an hour eek can be used.
7.50 p.m./ 19.50h = eek sip natee so:ng toom ("ten to eight").

For some basic Thai vocabulary and useful Thai phrases or in order to turn grammatical theory into conversational practice please visit

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Personal Pronouns  
I pom (male)
  chan (female
you khun, tur
he/ she khao
it mun
we rao
they puak khao
bpai to go
mai (falling tone) expresses negation ("not")
mai (rising tone) signalizes a question
hiu khao hungry
kin khao to eat
poo ying woman/ women
suai beautiful. pretty
reo ("leo") fast, quick
so:ng two
sip ten
maa dog
(see) dam black
bpen to be
yai big, large
lek small, little
aharn tai thai food
took wan every day
(maa) tueng to arrive
bpee year
natee minute
12 a.m./ midnight tiang khuen
1 a.m. dtee nueng
2 a.m. dtee so:ng
3 a.m. dtee saam
... ...
6 a.m. hok mo:ng chao
7 a.m. nueng mo:ng chao
8 a.m. so:ng mo:ng chao
... ...
12 p.m. tiang wan
1 p.m., 13h bai nueng mo:ng
2 p.m., 14h bai so:ng (mo:ng)
... ...
6 p.m., 18h hok mo:ng yen
7 p.m., 19h nueng toom
8 p.m., 20h so:ng toom
... ...
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