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Version 3, August 8th, 2015, Latest update March 20th, 2017 - audio

by Bertil Jansson   



Tone rules for words with a short vowel

Words ending with a short vowel or with a short vowel and a short consonant - p, t or k

In page 4 we learned about words starting off with a consonant belonging to the green class of consonants and after that having a short vowel or a short vowel plus a 'short' consonant, i.e. a consonant pronounced as p, t or k. These words are pronounced with a high tone.



High tone:

รั        r-uh-g (ruhk) love                             m-o-d (mott)   ant


But, now we will learn about words starting with a black or red initial consonant with a short vowel or a short vowel plus a 'short' consonant, a consonant pronounced p, t or k at the end. Those will be pronounced with a low tone.

Low tone :

จะ        j-a    (dj-uh)   will, shall                                h-d (hot)     to shrink

I guess you would like me to comment on the short "uh". Well, whenever it ends a word it will be written in a double setting like this. The rule really is that the single setting   ัis only possible when there is a following consonant. So the double setting will appear sometimes inside long words too. Nothing to pay much attention right now.



Words ending in a short vowel plus a 'long consonant' - m, n or ng

They go by the same rules as words with long vowels in the same position, which just as them yields a neutral tone if the initial consonant is black or green.

Neutral tone:

บิน       b-i-n         to fly                      วั    w-uh-n     day

and a rising tone for those starting of with a read initial consonant.


Rising tone:

 สั     s-uh-n (sun)     back (of your body)


Summarizing our work with Thai tones so far

  Red initial Black initial Green initial
Rule # 1 "rise"      
Words with 'long' endings rising neutral neutral
      Words ending in a long vowel      
      or with a 'long consonant' - m, n or ng      
Rule # 2 "lowlow-fall"      
Words ending with a long vowel plus a' low low falling/dropping
    short consonant pronounced p, t, or k in the end      
Rule # 3 "lowlow-high"      
      Words ending in a short vowel low low high
      or short vowel + short consonant p, t or k      


Well this is the way it looks, still not any tone markers, just the alphabet and some ingenuity. Actually there are more ways of writing tones, just by using the Thai alphabet.

The word for temple - wuht and the word for ' a cold' - wuht, are pronounced different only by which tone is used. Temple is written simply. วั w-a-d pronounced w-uh-t with a high tone according to rule 3 above.

The word wuht meaning 'a cold' is pronounced with a low tone. Well, since the only words with a short vowel that are pronounced with a low tone are words beginning with black or red initial consonants we of course look after alternative  'w' among the letters of the alphabet belonging to the black and red classes. However, we will not get lucky - there is no such thing as a 'w' in these classes. :(

Well, the Thais have solved this problem elegantly. There is one letter - one of the Thai 'h'-letters that is a red consonant. So the Thais start the word wuht meaning 'a cold' by an initial 'h' and write it hwuht. Since there is no possibility what so ever for a Thai person to pronounce wuht as Americans pronounce 'what?' with an initial h-sound, there will be no problem. The 'h' in this context will remain a silent letter just helping you out in writing tones. Problem solved. According to rule number 3 the word is pronounced with a low tone.

วั h-w-uh-d w-uh-t

Using the same technique you can force words with a neutral tone becoming words that are prounced with a rising tone    h-m-oo for example means doctor and is pronounced with a rising tone according to rule #1.

But not to cause further confusion the great-great-grandfathers of our Thai friends stopped here. They did not bring in any other silent letters or so, to make even more sophisticated tone rules. Instead they constructed a few tone markers.


Tone markers

There are four tone markers. The two first are used a lot. The other two seldom and with a very simple rule. The rules of the two first have been worked out in harmony with the other tone rules and in order to be able to use them as seldom as possible - energy saving.

We shall explore the tone markers by using fake words and using the Thai 'g' for illustration. g-aa กา

ก่า  ก้า  ก๊า  ก๋า

Each of the tone marks have a name, and a bit peculiar it is that the three first have names resembling the Swedish words for one-two-three which in Thai is et-to-tri. It is of course a linguistic bridge between Indoeuropean languages and Thai through Sanskrit. We Europeans got the mathematics from the Arabs and the Indians and we got the pronounciation in the package. We - the Vikings had no Academy or anything like that, so we just kept it the way it came delivered ett - två - tre, while the Latins shoved the pronounciation as well as the writing into the dustbin.

3 and + (or in Thai     and  ๋  ) are simple to pass by in a hurry. They are just used together with black class initial consonants. 3 makes the tone high of the word and + makes the tone of the word a rising one. They are seldom used.


1 and 2 however are important and are used as an integrated part of the sophisticated set of rules that we have learned and are about to sum up, when we have passed through the rules for 1 and 2.


Tone marker 1

1 makes a word with a long vowel, not ending in p, t nor k, go by the same rule as if it in fact did end in p, t or k. What I am saying is that rule #2 applies for tone marker 1.

Some examples below

ไก่    g-uy         hen, chicken                          สี่      s-ee      4, four   
are pronounced with a low tone, exactly as words ending in a long vowel plus + p, t or k. (rule #2)


ม่     m-uy         not        
pronounced with a falling / dropping tone exactly as a word ending in a long vowel + p, t or k (rule #2)


  Red initial Black initial Green initial
  สี่  ไก่ ม่
  low low falling / dropping



Tone marker 2


Tone mark 2 makes words with black and red initial consonants to get a falling dropping tone.

บ้าน b-ah-n          house, home        ห้อง     h-aw-ng    room


and words with a green initial consonant and thus belonging to the green class of words getting a high tone.

ร้อน r-aw-n   warm, hot


  Red initial Black initial Green initial
  ห้อง บ้าน ร้อน


falling/dropping falling/dropping high


Well, that's it. Simple and easy! Well, to be honest with you, I am still dizzy and I think I will continue to be, but even though the whole thing is swirling around my head, I have managed through spending a lot of time with my Thai versions of Harry Potter, to step by step, pressing the system into my spine, lots of practice and no cheating. I fell I got to get that correct. Cheating is to give up the tones, not cheating is to look up, each and every time as you lost the rule, over and over again. Of course a lot easier for those who start with Thai while still relatively young. But to try to learn to read and pronounce the tones correctly will not make you a Thai speaker but it will make you a person that can be understood by Thais as you try to speak Thai. Hopefully you will also be able to understand a lot better too.

Well I will carry on a bit more. First a clearification around words that have many syllables. They come from Sanskrit and are sometimes spelled funny. Let's look a bit at the very common word sawatdee. The different syllables gets its own tone according to the rules above. In the case of sawatdee - 'hello' it is suh-wuht-dee and the tones according to the rules are low-high-neutral.

สวัสดี sawatdee

If you wonder why sawahtdee is written s-w-uh-s-d-ee with an 's' and not as prounounced 't' well, it is not written wrongly rather pronounced Thai-style. Thais will pronounce a final 's' as a 't'

Tennis becomes tennit, finish becomes finnit, even the word for country in the Thai way of saying Thailand illustrates this. Thailand is in Thai pronounced Prateht Thai, which is written Prades Thai, prades same as Indian Pradesh - Uttar Pradesh for example.

ประเทศ  bp-r-uh-t-e-s    

In the same way words ending in L or R will be pronounced with N instead.


The last vowel

And finally on this page a bit more about vowels, so we catch up in our knowledge of vowels to reach the same high level as our knowledge of consonants and tones.

At Page 1 we left a vowel that perhaps is a bit special to pronounce. We will transliterate it as 'eu' here. It is pronounced similar to the vowel sound in the English word 'word' or 'bird' and no r-sound involved. Or if you wish French seule or Russian 'bl'.

มืด                        m-eu-t            "dark"                       long vowel   falling dropping tone   

ขึ้น                        k-eu-n            "to rise, up"              short vowel    falling dropping tone

We still have a few vowel combinations to learn. There are some more not often used consonants and some rules for pronounciations. Then you need to learn the order of the alphabet, so you can find yourself around in dictionaries. It is logical and easy if you notice how they have built up the order.

Well, then it is just to read and read. Real good skill of language you get by reading. Listen to people, radio and TV, and talk as often as you get the chance, in company or alone. Slowly but surely you will transform into a Thai, well perhaps not, but a bit Thai-ish at least.