It is important to learn how to use Thai ending particles. The most common and well known are ครับ /kráp/ (for males) and คะ /ká/ (for females). They are used as a “politeness tag” at the end of sentences.
Ending particles are also known as หางเสียง /hăang sĭang/ (tail of the sound). And someone who speaks without them (ไม่มีหางเสียง /mâi mee hăang sĭang/) is someone who speaks abruptly and is not considered very polite.
Some people ask the question of how many khrups and kaas should be used and how often we should use them. That is really a context specific situation. But one thing you can do is listen to how the person talking to you is using them and answer in the same manner.
An interesting use of ending particles is how some people (usually women) talk to little children. They will use the ending particle of the gender of the child they are talking to. When talking to a little boy they use ครับ /khrup/ and with little girls they use คะ /ká/. This is meant to help the youngsters learn how to use the ending particles by hearing them spoken to them.
Beginning Thai learners may think that the only meaning ending particles carry is to finish off a sentence in a nice polite manner. But ending particles can also carry meaning. If you want to answer a question in the affirmative you can simply use one of the ending particles. For example, if someone asks you a question like:
kun yàak gin kâao măi ká
Do you want to eat?
You can simply answer ครับ/คะ /khrup/ká/. In this case you would be answering, “yes (I would).”
But depending on the context the Thai ending particle can carry lots of different meanings. Here is a telephone conversation I overheard one day at the shopping mall (I only overheard one side of the conversation of course.).
สวัสดีค่ะ, ค่ะ, ค่ะ, ค่ะ, ค่ะ, ค่ะ, ค่ะ, OK ค่ะ, สวัสดีค่ะ
Sà-wàt-dee ká, ká, ká, ká, ká, ká, ká, OK ká, Sawadee ká.
One interpretation: Hello, yes, right, sure, that’s right, good, of course, OK, bye.
It is probably best to stick with คฺรับ /kráp/ and คะ /ká/. But as a reference here is a short list (there are many more) of some common Thai ending particles and how they are used. When you begin to use these correctly in context you Thai will seem lots smoother and fluency will be right around the corner.
Colloquial, less formal version of khrup/khaa, at the end of a question: ฮะ /há/
gin kâao măi há
Do you want to eat?
Conveys intimacy, or with children, or someone of lower status: จ๊ะ /já/
gin kâao măi já
Do you want to eat?
Indicates a mild question; to seek agreement or confirmation: นะ /ná/
gin kâao ná
Let’s eat, OK?
Used in the imperative and to add emphasis: ซิ /sí/
gin kâao sí
Let’s: เถอะ /tùh/
gin kâao tùh
Come on, let’s eat.
A softener (makes things sound more polite): ด้วย /dûay/
kŏr kâao dûay
Can I have some rice please?
To soften the meaning of a sentence: หน่อย /nòi/
kŏr kâao nòi
Can I have a little rice please?
After a negative statement to make it seem milder: หรอก /ròk/
mâi yàak gin kâao ròk
I don’t want to eat.
These next three particles are considered impolite but are often used between friends. Quite often an impolite word between friends becomes a sign of intimacy. But their use is quite subtle so unless you are really familiar with how to use them it would be best to avoid their use until then.
Shows contempt, dislike, disgust, annoyance, anger: วะ /wá/
Similar to วะ /wá/: โว้ย /wói/
Dismissive, impolite or informal: ยะ /yá/
Then there is the infamous ครับผม /kráp pŏm/. This ending particle (used by males) is often overly used by expats. It is not exactly the same as ครับ /kráp/ since it carries the meaning of “Sir/Madam” or “yes Sir”, instead of a simple “yes”. It is an ending particle that is used to sound very polite and deferential. I am an advocate of listening first and using what you hear. But this may be the cause of the ครับผม /kráp pŏm/ problem. We hear it used by others when talking to us. In this case it doesn’t mean we should use it back.
I hear it often from my gardener and on a recent trip to Bangkok the taxi drivers made frequent use of it. It is usually used by men of a lower status with people of a higher status. But I have heard expats using ครับผม /kráp pŏm/ with little children, market vendors, and house servants. They should probably just stick with a simple ครับ kráp. By the way, theoretically there is a female equivalent to ครับผม /kráp pŏm/. It is ค่ะท่าน /kâ tâan/. I have never heard this used.
Here are some examples of how ครับผม /kráp pŏm/ is used:
Boss: อย่าขี้เกียจ ไปทำงาน
yàa kêe gìat bpai tam ngaan
Don’t be lazy. Get to work.
And this is heard very often:
pai dtòr sôo sàt-dtroo
Fight the enemy.
Yes sir! (snapping to attention and saluting).
And if you are ever in the north you will hear the very melodic female ending particle จ้าว /jâow/, with an elongated vowel, spoken by the ladies of Chiang Mai. Bangkok men come up to Chiang Mai just to hear the girls say จ้าว /jâow/. It buckles their knees.