Copied from two old articles on Google Sites, updated on Jan 26, 2017 10:16PM and Jan 17, 2017 11:33PM
This article was last updated on July 7, 2019 0:51AM (8-minute read)
If you don't understand Thai's 5 tones, if you don't know how to select the proper pronoun for speaking to me, then please refrain from speaking Thai. There are around 20+ ways to say "I" and another 20+ ways to say "you", and if you use them incorrectly, then... good luck!
Thai has never been an easy language to me. We have to choose the right word for the right sentence despite the lack of proper grammar. And it has been very difficult for locals to try to guess the right word the foreigners speak due to the weird tones that don't exist in many languages. Even Chinese may find that it's very difficult to pronounce Thai tones, too!
How to say "I" in Thai
It is true that the Thai language has tons of words which share the same meaning but are used differently. And when you are using the wrong word, although the meaning is correct, others may get angry at you, laugh at you, etc. For example, in Hormones Season 3 (2015), episode 10, the See Scape Band members apologized San, the lead vocal, differently, โทษทีว่ะ (thō̂t thī wà) and โทษนะเว่ย (thō̂t ná wôei), but if you use these "sorry" with your teachers, you would be punished.
Just to say "I love you", Thai people have many different ways to say it. The most popular one (known among foreigners) should be "phǒm rák khun" (ผมรักคุณ; male to female) and "chǎn rák khun" (ฉันรักคุณ; female to male). But to Thais, "kū rák mueng" (กูรักมึง; among friends) is one of the most commonly used among friends, but most likely those being friendzoned.
In this article, I am introducing you how to say "I" in Thai and only Thai. I mean the standard Thai "only". The words originated from the Northeastern Thai and Laos will be excluded. Hopefully, this list will help you understand more about the language.
Phǒm (ผม; masculine) and Chǎn (ฉัน; feminine) are both polite first-person pronouns. Normally used with those older than you or those in higher social classes. Anyway, most of the times the word chǎn is difficult to pronounce due to its tone so it becomes chán (ชั้น) instead.
Rao (เรา; neutral) is a non-polite neutral I-word that is commonly used. It is soft and can be used widely for any informal situations.
Khā̂ (ข้า; masculine) is more masculine, not a soft one, but not too rude also. Normally used among close friends nowadays. In the past, khā̂ used to be the most common one and still can be commonly heard in period films today. Younger generations may say that this word is already "deprecated".
Kū (กู; more masculine, but also used among girls) is used among close friends. Since khā̂ is softer, kū is hard. This word was also used widely in the past together with neighboring empires, so you can still hear Malaysians and Indoensian say "ku" like in "ku cinta mu (I love you). The word aku ("ku" in short) in Bahasa Malaysia means I, too! (And "Ini lah iPhoneku" in Bahasa Malaysia is "Īnī̂ làe aifōn kū" (อีนี่แหละไอโฟนกู) in Thai! See how close the two langauges are!?)
Dìchǎn (ดิฉัน; feminine) is polite and formal I-word for working women. It is very hard to say so the tone is sometimes adjusted to dìchán (ดิชั้น) when the situation does not need politeness. Anyway, to make it much less polite, some women also shorten the word to dī́an (เดี๊ยน).
Nū̌ (หนู; feminine) is a girly-childish word used among girls aged less than 20 years old. Anyway, among family members, many women still use this word despite their age.
Your own name or your position can also be used as a first-person pronoun in Thai. For example, you can call yourself khrū (ครู; teacher) when you are talking with your students, phɔ̄̂ (พ่อ; father) when you are talking with your children. Normally, children called themselves using their own name when they are talking to a family member. The positions that can be used are also limited, namely phɔ̄̂ (พ่อ; father), mā̂e (แม่; mother), pā̂ (ป้า; aunt), lung (ลุง; uncle), nā́/ā (น้า/อา; aunt/uncle), pū̀/tā (ปู่/ตา; grandfather), yā̂/yāi (ย่า/ยาย; grandmother), phī̂ (พี่; if you are older), nɔ̄́ng (น้อง; if you are younger), and khrū (ครู; teacher).
So if you are a fan of Thai entertainments, you could probably hear a person uses different word as a first person pronoun. For example, Sômsôm (in Hormones Season 3) says "rao" in front of Phálá (her boyfriend), "kū" in front of her gang members, and "nū̌" with Phálá's grandmother.
Ā̀ttàmā (อาตมา; Buddhist/masculine) is used by the Buddhist monks only.
Kràphǒm (กระผม; official/masculine) is used in highly official ceremonies or for reporting anything in military.
Khâphájā̂o (ข้าพเจ้า; formal/neutral) is used in any formal ceremonies like the funeral.
Khā̂phráphútthájā̂o (ข้าพระพุทธเจ้า; royal/neutral) is used in royal ceremonies.
Kràmɔ̀m (กระหม่อม) is more royal.
Mɔ̀mchǎn (หม่อมฉัน) is more royal.
Well... I don't really know in what occations we used these words exactly.
How to say "Thank You" in Thai?
Thank you very much for reading my article. The word "Thank you" in Thai is also very difficult to use because you have to think about the situation before choosing the right one. Although the most popular one is "khòp khun", but it is less commonly used.
Alright, let's start from the base word, khòp khun (ขอบคุณ; base word). This word is a little bit too polite for using with friends. Anyway, we need to use this word in any occasions that require some respect, and we (most likely) need khráp (for male) or khà (for female) at the end. Making it "khòp khun khráp" or "khòp khun khà".
To make it even more polite, you have to add phrá (พระ) at the middle of it, making it "khòp phrá khun khráp/khà" (ขอบพระคุณครับ/ค่ะ; polite).
To add 'very much', the adjective mā̂kmā̂k is added. Finally, you have "khòp (phrá) khun mā̂kmā̂k khráp/khà" (ขอบ(พระ)คุณมากๆ ครับ/ค่ะ; thank you very much).
To add a little bit more politeness, usually used in the formal announcements or with customers, you would find yourself better to use "khō̌ khòp phrá khun thân _(name or position, e.g. lū̂k khā́ ~ customer)_ pen yā̀ng sū̌ng" (ขอขอบพระคุณท่าน_(ลูกค้า)_เป็นอย่างสูง; very polite).
But among friends, you don't use these words. What you normally use (as the base word) is "khòp jai" (ขอบใจ; casual - base word). And keep in mind that Thais do not use khráp or khà with friends, so you use khòp jai alone. The suffixes for using with friends will be introduced later.
Anyway, khòp jai is too long, so in some situations, we use "jai" (ใจ; casual). Short and easy. We can also add the second-person pronoun like mueng (มึง) or kāe (แก) after jai to separate it with another adjective (e.g. mā̂kmā̂k) and other suffixes. Alternatively, if mueng or kāe is absent, it can be the last word, too!
Please note that kāe is more feminine.
And here are the list of adjectives and suffixes that you can add. The list can go on and on infinity, anyway.
With this list, we can construct the "thank you" word in Thai by using the following template: (khòp) + jai + (mueng/kāe) + (adjective) + (suffix) + (mueng/kāe). For example:
How about "I'm Sorry"?
To apologize someone in Thai is much easier. The base word is thō̂t (โทษ; base word), shorten from khō̌ thō̂t (ขอโทษ; formal base word). We can make more polite by adding the very same khráp (for male) and khà (for female), making it khō̌ thō̂t khráp/khà (ขอโทษครับ/ค่ะ; polite).
But if the situation requires you to be even more polite, you have to use khō̌ àphai khráp/khà (ขออภัยครับ/ค่ะ; more polite). Some (another set of) suffixes can also be added here, but much less choices can be selected from. For example, you may hear restaurant's waiters or waitresses say khō̌ àphai dûai ná khráp/khá (ขออภัยด้วยนะครับ/คะ; polite, softer). Please note that if khà follows ná, it is changed to khá.
But if the situation requires you to be fucking even more and more polite, we suggest you copy this one: krā̀p khō̌ àphai thân _(name or position, e.g. lū̂k khā́ ~ customer)_ pen yā̀ng sū̌ng (กราบขออภัยท่าน_(ลูกค้า)_เป็นอย่างสูง; very polite).
People can still go more polite, but here we should spend more times on the words that Thais normally use every day. The list of suffixes is not as long as that of thank you, and here it is.
And we mix them, like before:
So... do you still want to speak Thai? No! I don't want you to use it wrongly and it's very difficult to use the correct one. I myself, despite the fact that I grew up there and spent 24 years in Thailand, I don't think that I can use them correctly. So... Don't risk yourself by speaking Thai a lot because you may end up badly.