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

by Bertil Jansson   


The tones in Thai can be figured out using the rules below. The English names of the classes are used. Up to now we named them by colours, which has been practical for learning purposes.

Tones in Thai

  High Class Middle Class Low Class
Rule # 1 "rise" - AAM      
Word with long ending rising neutral neutral
   Words ending in long vowel      
   Words ending in sounds m, n or ng      


Rule # 2 "lowlow-fall" - AAP

Words using the tone marker 1 low low falling/dropping
Words with long vowel and p, t or k in the end      


Rule # 3 "lowlow-high" - AP

Words ending with a short vowel low low high
      or with short vowel + p, t or k -sounds      


Rule # 4 "fallfall-high"

Words with tone marker 2 falling/dropping falling/dropping high


Rule # 5 and # 6

Words with tone marker 3   high  
Words with tone marker +   rising  


Tone combinations

If you want to exercise speaking a language with tones, one good drill is, combining tones in couples, picking up words or word combinations that are common in the language and grasp them real good. Then you can use them as models when other similar tone combinations pop up while learning new things.




Second word



Falling Low Neutral High

First word






Falling บ้านผม
baan pom
my home

tii geudt

birth place

to blush

Low สอบถาม





Neutral ทีหลัง
tii lang

tii raek

wan geudt
rawng riian

rawng rawtt

High รักษา

to cure

bottom floor
tuk haeng







Thai is written without any spaces between the words. It does not use commas, periods, question marks and such tools. Spaces are used instead. To read the words all glued to together makes it hard at times, but then again the Thai language and the way they write it has several features that contribute to making it relatively easy most of the time to tell where a word starts, and where it ends. And after all, while speaking our own languages, who will make clear pauses between every word?

In Thai writing the vowels that always should be at the beginning of a word is a great help to separate words, some examples below.


ไม่             m-uy      "not"   written    uy-m
แรง          r-ae-ng     "strong"   written  ae-r-ng


Then we have still another vowel

โรง     r-oo-ng "building, hall"  written    oo-r-ng


ไม่แรง 'my-raeng' can only be read as two words meaning 'not strong' since 'ae' always is at the start of a word.


We have learned to write m-uy ไม่ but there is another way of writing 'uy'. The word meaning inside is written ใน n-uy . The pronounciation is the same. Well, an Englishman cannot object to this of course, being able to spell most anything, as one pleases. Also in Swedish we have examples like c, s and z many times representing exactly the same sound.

Center, senter or zenter - all the same.


Then we have all the words with diphtongs and since they often start with theit is clear where a word ends and where another begins. We will get to a few of these diphtongs below.




The diphtong "ia"

One of the most common diphtongs is "ia". To write it in Thai you use e-ee-y. The Thai word for 'to write' is

k-ee-a-n och skrivs เขียน dvs e-k-ee-y-n.


The diphtong "eua"

Another common diphtong is 'eua' as in i m-eua-ng which means country เมือง e-m-eu-aw-ng.

เมืองไทย  (e-m-eu-aw-ng uy-t-y)        m-eua-ng t-uy-y  Thailand



Words in the streets

Some of the words we have learned you will find when you move around in a city.


โรงเรียน (oo-r-ng   e-r-ee-y-n)          r-oo-ng    r-ee-a-n   school



โรงพยาบาล  r-oo-ng    p-y-ah-b-ah-l     hospital
(remember that L in the end becomes N) roong payaabaan


The diphtong "ua"

A special way of writing a diphtong is "ua". Dt-o-a is written dt-a-w ตัว. If you did not know better you would believe the word is pronounced dt-a-o, but that is not the case. It is dt-o-a and not anything else. It is written backwards, one of these things to just accept.

Well, then there is a stack of more diphtongs, but they are all pretty normal to put together and they are not used as much as these we have just learned.



A couple of special cases in writing

When you want to write 'ahm' in Thai you have a special way which is   as in the words

ทำ     t-ahm     do คำ     k-ahm     'word' น้ำ      n-ahm      'water'



Then we have another way of writing the "eu" (English word 'word')

We already learned

มื    m-öö-t    long vowel  "dark" falling tone
ขึ้  k-ö-n  short vowel "rise, up, get up " falling tone


The word for money in Thai is ng-eu-n but is spelled e-ng-i-n

เงิน                       ng-eu-n                                          "money"



Short vowel

Then there is a sign that means that the vowel is short    ็  . 


เป็น          bp-e-n       "is"               เล็ก    l-e-k       "small"



Silent consonants

Some letters of the alphabet are not pronounced. Mostly they appear in words of foreign origin, in foreign names etc. The silence of the letter is marked by    . It makes it often makes it easier for us to recognize foreign words in Thai or words of foreign origin.



Same same

Words will sometimes be repeated in Thai. Instead of writing these words twice we just write the sign which means that the word shall be prounounced twice.



As you perhaps know Bangkok has an uncomfortably long name in Thai which is abbreviated to Grung-thep or Grung-thep maha nakorn. You write Gr-u-ng t-e-p   or in Thai   กรุงเทพ ฯ  instead of writing:





Grungthep Mahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathani Burirom-udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amonphiman Awatansathit Sakkathattiya Witsanu Kamprasit.

You must admit that the little comes in very handy..



is in Thai written    ฯ ล ฯ   and pronounced with a short "lah".


More letters of the alphabet

We have not learned all the letters of the alphabet. 'y' is one of those, we have not learnt so far. It belongs to the green class. We are going to learn aThai word 'big' where this letter is used. The rest of these letters are relatively seldom used.                                                                              

ฎ ฑ ณ    ฐ ฤ ฆ ฏ  ฌ ฒ ฬ ฦ
d   t   n   y     t    reu   k   dt   ch   t   l   leu



Manipulating tone

Earlier w e have to use 'h' to get words into the red class set of tone rules. Now we will combine this possibility with using the tone mark 1 to get a word with the new letter 'y' to get a low tone. 'Y' belongs to the green class and would be pronounced with a neutral tone if followed by a long vowel. If we put an 'h' before it and adds the tone mark 1 we will make it have the low tone according to rule # 2. As you may have noticed the 'uy' wins over the 'h' in the battle of being the first letter of the word.

y-uy   "big"   low tone


We also use tone mark 2 to make words end up with high tones like these below according to rule # 4

ฟ้าร้อง   f-ah r-aw-ng  "thunder"  high tones for both syllables
ช้าง    ch-ah-ng    "elephant" high tone




๑๒๓      ๔๕๖      ๗๘๙   ๐

1 2 3                4 5 7               7 8 9            0

n-eu-ng             s-ee                j-e-d           s-oo-n

s-aw-ng            h-ah                p-ae-d

s-ah-m              h-o-k              g-ao


Ten is s-i-b ๑๐, hundred is r-aw-y and thousand is p-a-nn .

You can practice the numbers at the excellent Thai Language site   www.thai-language.com from which all the sound illustrations of these pages have been linked. The tone of the figures you will find at that page marked in the upper right corner of the word with (H- High, R-Rising M-Middle L-Low F-Falling).


Telling time

Just a little memory help when you learn how to tell time in Thai. There are two ways of telling time in Thai. One simple system, just like ours, that is used in official time telling on the radio for example. The 24-hour system is used in combination with the word

naa-li-gah นาฬิกา 

2 p.m in the 24-hour system is 14 hours, in Thai

s-i-b s-ii naa-li-gah   สิบ สี่ นาฬิกา




For those of you who want to get down to the daily way of telling time in the street and telling time among friends, the Thais use a 6-hour based system. Not only a.m. and p.m. but two more of those so to say.

A day is diveded into 4 periods, each covering 6 hours, the first period starting at midnight. So the 3rd hour of each period, that is, 3, 9, 15 and 21 or if you prefer 3 and 9 a.m and 3 and 9 p.m. will be as below:


3 a.m.   -   dt-ee s-ah-m    -     ตีสาม

9 a.m.   -    s-ah-m m-oo-ng ch-ao  -  สามโมงเช้า

3 p.m.   -    b-ah-y s-ah-m m-oo-ng   - บ่ายสามโมง

9 p.m.   -   s-ah-m t-ou-m   -   สามทุ่ม




Two rules

1. Time telling on the left side of the watch starts with the number of the hour followed by other words.

Telling times of the right side of the watch a small other word will preceed the number of the hour.


2. Hours daytime are followed by the word m-oo-ng.





Adding information about minutes will not cause any problems. If lacking minutes for a certain hour you will use the word อีก ee-g. The word nah-teeนาที means minute or minutes.


10 minutes before 3 p.m. is

ee-g s-i-b (ten) n-ah-tee (minutes) b-ah-i s-ah-m m-oo-ng อีกสิบนาทีบ่ายสามโมง


10 minutes after 3 p.m. is

b-ah-i s-ah-m (three) m-oo-ng s-i-b (ten) n-ah-tee (minutes) บ่ายสามโมงสิบนาที


6 and 12 o'clock

6 a.m. is h-o-g m-oo-ng ch-ao หกโมงเช้า

Noon is t-ee-a-ng เที่ยง

Midnight is t-ee-a-ng k-eu-n เที่ยง คืน

6 p.m. is    h-o-g m-oo-ng y-e-n หกโมงเย็น

The word y-e-n in 6 p.m. means 'cold' and is used instead of b-ah-i for the last hours of the afternoon, 5 and 6 o'clock. 4 o'clock can also take this form. Y-e-n puts rule number 1 out of order, you will have to look at it as a small inspiring exception.

If we are observant we will notice that 6 a.m. is hog moong chao and 7 a.m is neung moong chao. Well, 'hog' means 6 while 'neung' means one. Thinking about that can make you a bit dizzy. Well again, nothing to figure out here, just to accept, a bit of oriental mindfulness is what we need, as we continue.

If you want to use the concept of half hours as you keep telling time, you will have to learn the word ครึ่ง k-r-eu-ng meaning half. You can continue rapporting time with further assistance by http://www.thai-language.com/ref/time



The Alphabet and the classes

If you want to practice the alphabet as you are preparing to use dictionaries you can use

http://www.thai-language.com/id/589831 .

Below is a table with two of the classes complete - the High, and the Middle class. If you learn them you will not have to learn all the letters that belong to the Low class. They will simply be those that cannot be seen here.

The following are red and belong to the High Class:

ข, ฃ, ฉ, ฐ, ถ, ผ, ฝ, ศ, ษ, ส, ห
k (k), ch, t t, p, f s, s, s, h


The following are black and belong to the Middle Class

ก, จ, ฎ, ฏ, ด, ต, บ, ป, อ
g, j, d, dt d, dt b, bp, aw

The rest are green and belong to the Low Class.


I have used the invented words Kachtosh och Gadjadbaw to memorize these two classes. K-ch-t-sh for the red and

G-j-d-b-aw for the black.



Here you will find everything, the little square up in the left corner will be your best dictionary

1) basic language practice http://www.thai-language.com/lessons,

2) about the language http://www.thai-language.com/ref and

3) special features at http://www.thai-language.com/id/589873 .

4) and the ultimate tool at http://www.thai-language.com/dict/search#5


Google Translate

Google Translate has a Thai translater that keeps the words apart.




When you in the future will need more you will find it in http://dict.longdo.com/


Thai at Voice of America

http://www.voanews.com/thai/ The idea is that you load it down to your Ipod and fill your ears with it as you take your evening walk:)

And please feed-back and proposals! I will also have to ask anyone who feels she or he has the time, to correct my English.