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Version Feb 22th, 2022

by Bertil Jansson   



Deciding tone from Thai writing

In page 2 we learnt rule number 1. In this page we will learn rule number 2.

We learnt that each Thai consonant belongs to one of three classes that influences what tone the word will have. In combination class of the first consonant, type of vowel, and the way the word ends, will decide the tone of the word. Sometimes special tone markers also will be used.

As described in the last page a red consonant at the start of a word, will result in a rising tone if the vowel is long and if the word does not end in a consonant that is pronounced as p, t or k.

                      Example: าม s-ah-m   "three"   s-aa-m

The p, t and k could be described as "short consonants" pronounced shortly and abruptly where as m, n and ng can be pronounced for ever, or at least as long as your breath will last. Anyway words starting red followed by long vowel or by long vowel and long consonant will be pronounced by a rising tone as shown above.

In the group short consonants you will find p, t and k, but also b, d and g. At the end of words they are prounced very much the same, very vague and not at all distinct, makes it all the trickier to understand spoken Thai :)


Next tone rule

To get to the next tone rule we will pay some attention to the green class of consonants. At first I want to point out that the green is similar with the black in that words starting with a green consonant will be pronounced in a neutral tone, exactly like words starting with a black consonant if it is followed by a long vowel or a long vowel and a long consonant like m, n or ng.

Neutral tone:

        k-ah            get stuck              าง      t-ah-ng        road                    m-ah            come

If a word starting with a green consonant is followed by a long vowel and a short consonant pronounced p, t or k, the whole thing will fall down, drop, the falling tone will be used.  

Example: าก m-ah-g "much" pronounced more like m-ah-k. with a k in the end as described above. However, I do agree if you say that you cannot hear neither a K nor a G at the end when you listen to this word pronounced by this speaker.


ค ง     ช ซ    
g-k-k-ng-                  j-ch-ch-s    
ด ต ท ธ       บ ป ผ ฝ พ ฟ
d-dt-t-t-t-                                n-b-bp-    p-f-  p-f
ภ ม ย              ร ล ว ศ ษ ส
p-m-y-                                      r-l-w- s-s-s-  h

Below you have some more examples:

Falling tone :

าก         m-ah-g            much              พู      p-ou-d        speak          ลู          l-ou-g            child


Remember that pronounciation of these words rather should be m-ah-k, p-ou-t and l-ou-k, the last letter in each word prounounced a bit different from what you write, since they are at the end of the word. "d" becomes "t", "g" becomes "k" and "b" becomes "p" all without any "h"-sounds in the end.

Words starting with a consonant from other classes - red or black will instead be pronounced with a low tone when ending in a long vowel plus a short consonant pronounced like p, t and k.

The low tone is a low and even base tone:

บาด   b-ah-d    Baht หี       h-ee-b     box อีก  ee-g    more

pronounced    Baht,

"d" in the end becoming "t" 


"b" becoming "p"  

and eek.

"g" becoming "k"



And as we have learned earlier if instead the ending had been 'long' either a long vowel only or long vowel plus long consonant like m, n or ng, words with a red start would have a rising tone, while words with a green or black start would have a neutral tone.
Rising tone :
        h-ah            look for                าม      s-ah-m        three                       k-ah            leg
Neutral tone:
        m-ah            come                    ดี         d-ee              good            มี        m-ee         have


Review of tone rules with words with a long vowel and no special tone markers

Rule 1

Long ending either by a long vowel only, or a long vowel plus a long consonant m, n or ng

Red initial consonant   + long vowel (+m/n/ng)  ---> rising tone

Black or green initial consonant + long vowel (+m/n/ng)   ---> neutral tone


Rule 2

Short consonant p, t or k-sound in the end, after a long vowel

Green initial consonant + long vowel + p/t/k      ---> falling tone

Black or red initial consonant + long vowel + p/t/k ---> low tone an even base tone


Still we have not used any tone markers, but by smart usage of the Thai alphabet we have managed to write words with four out of the alltogether five tones of the Thai language - the falling tone, the rising tone, the neutral tone and the low tone. The high tone remains. To be able to make words with the high tone, still not using any tone indicating marker, we will have to get over to short vowel words. That will bring us to rule number 3.

Words starting off with a green initial consonant followed by a short vowel or a short vowel plus a short consonant - consonants pronounced as p, t or k will have a high tone.


Green initial consonant + short vowel + (p/t/k) ---> high tone

รั        r-u-g       love                ทุ       t-ou-g      each           พ        p-o-b         meet


And again remember the ending consonant being pronounced more like k, t and p without any 'h'-sound in the end in these examples.

love = ruck                                           each = touk                               meet = pop

A little, but enormously important and basic comment about the Thai way of writing will be done here. The word 'pob' which means 'to meet' does not have any written vowel. That is something that ocurrs in many languages. A short vowel is pronounced by the speakers of the language. The same in Hindi, Bangla and Arabic. Each language has its particular vowel that it uses.

In Thai the rule is that a short 'o'-sound as pronounced in 'pob' appears if it is a two letter - a two consonant word. If a word has more syllables a short 'uh'-sound is pronounced after the first consonant whereas the 'o'-sound is pronounced after the second consonant as in

นน t-n-n pronounced tuh-non. The word means 'street', so you can practice reading it and talking about it all over Bangkok and other cities and towns all over Thailand.

Tuhnon is pronounced with a rising tone according to rule number 1.

Well then, just by picking the right combinations of letters of the alphabet we have managed to construct words with all the five Thai tones. In the next page we will use the special tone markers indicating tone - markers used when our tone rules so far will not provide sufficient help to write tones. Well, we will learn a rule or two about short vowels without tone markers too.