Basic Thai Vocabularies: How to Call Your Relatives in Thai?

Written By: Hugh Leong

The following chart is relationship words to call your family members in Thai.

Note: Just to make things a bit more complicated, most of the following terms can be used with people who are not your real relatives but simply with people who are of a similar age to them. Thus you get the situation where your Thai friend introduces you to someone she calls “my sister” (she’s thinking of the term พี่ /pêe/), but the person being introduced could be a sibling, or a cousin, a classmate, a coworker, or maybe just a friend.

And these are just the most common terms in use. There are lots more.

Example: The Thai word for “child” or “offspring” could be the more common/ลูก/ lôok, or one you might find in writing บุตร /bùt/, or ทายาท /taa-​yâat/ which you will see them in legal document and has more of the meaning “heir”.

Grandparents’ generation: ตายาย /dtaa-​yaai/

The names Thais use for grandparents depends on whether they are on your mother’s side (maternal) or your father’s side (paternal). Collectively they are referred to as ตายาย /dtaa-​yaai/. Quite often these terms are used as endearments in familiar settings with any older men or women, even if we don’t know them.

  • Maternal grandmother: ยาย /yaai/
  • Maternal grandfather: ตา /data/
  • Paternal grandmother: ย่า /yâa/
  • Paternal grandfather: ปู่ /bpòo/

Note: The word for great grand parent is ทวด /tûat/. To be specific we can add it to the above.

Example: Maternal great grandfather becomes ตาทวด /dtaa-​tûat/, etc.

Parents’ generation: พ่อแม่ /pôr-​mâe/

If your parents have siblings these would simply be your aunts and uncles in English. In Thai we have to know whether they are on your mother’s side or your father’s and we also need to know whether they are their older or younger sibling.

On your mother’s side:

  • Mother: แม่ /​mâe/
    • Sisters (your maternal aunts)
      • Older: ป้า /bpâa/
      • Younger: น้า /náa/
  • Brothers (your maternal uncles)
    • Older: ลุง /lung/
    • Younger: น้า /náa/

On your father’s side:

  • Father: พ่อ /pôr/
    • Sisters (your paternal aunts)
      • Older: ป้า /bpâa/
      • Younger: อา /aa/
    • Brothers (your paternal uncles)
      • Older: ลุง /lung/
      • Younger: อา /aa/

Note: The word ลุง /lung/ can be used as an endearment with men old enough to be your parents’ age. The word ป้า /bpâa/ is the female equivalent.

Wife’s parents:

  • Mother-in-law: แม่ยาย /mâe-​yaai/ (combines the words for mother and maternal grandmother)
  • Father-in-law: พ่อตา /pôr-​dtaa/ (combines the words for father and maternal grandfather)

Husband’s parents:

  • Mother-in-law: แม่ย่า /mâe-​yâa/ (combines words for mother and paternal grandmother)
  • Father-in-law: พ่อปู่ /pôr-​bpòo/ (combines words for father and paternal grandfather)

Your generation

You: คุณ /kun/, your siblings: พี่น้อง /pêe-​nóng/, your cousins: ลูกพี่ลูกน้อง /lôok-​pêe-​lôok-​nóng/, your spouse: แฟน /faen/, and children: ลูก /lôok/.

  • Siblings: พี่น้อง /pêe-​nóng/
    • Older sister: พี่สาว /pêe-​sǎao/
    • Younger sister: น้องสาว /nóng-​sǎao/
    • Older brother: พี่ชาย /pêe-​chaai/
    • Younger brother: น้องชาย /nóng-​chaai/
  • Cousins: ลูกพี่ลูกน้อง /lôok-​pêe-​lôok-​nóng/
    • Older cousin: พี่ /pêe/
    • Younger cousin: น้อง /nóng/

Note: We can use พี่ /pêe/ and น้อง /nóng/ as a personal pronoun with close friend and other relatives (referring to them as well as ourselves).

  • Spouse: คู่ครอง /kôo-​krong/ is formal, แฟน /faen/ is more familiar
    • Wife: ภรรยา /pan-​rá~​yaa/
    • Husband: สามี /sǎa-​mee/

Note: It is best to avoid using the terms ผัว /pǔa/ for husband and เมีย /mia/ for wife in polite company. They can be construed as being derogatory by some people and it is usually best to err on the side of politeness.

  • Sister-in-law
    • Wife of your younger brother: น้องสะใภ้ /nóng-​sà~​pái/
    • Wife of your older brother: พี่สะใภ้ /pêe-​sà~​pái/
  • Brother-in-law
    • Husband of your younger sister: น้องเขย /nóng-​kǒie/
    • Husband of your older sister: พี่เขย /pêe-​kǒie/

Note: The use of พี่ /pêe/ and น้อง /nóng/ for the in-laws is determined by the age of your sibling, not the age of the person (in-law).

*Sometimes it is a little awkward to directly ask a person how old they are. But age relationships are quite important in Thai society so for people when they just meet (especially when you look of a similar age) it is important to know who is the พี่ /pêe/ (older sibling), and who is the น้อง /nóng/ (younger sibling).

A good way to find out indirectly (without being crass enough to ask how old they are) is to ask someone “what year were you born?” คุณเกิดปีอะไร /kun gèrt bpee à~rai/. But the answer you would be looking for is not the number of the year. That would be the same as asking someone how old they are. What you would be looking for is for them to tell you what year of the zodiac they were born under. A Thai asked this question would know that.

If you know you were born in the year of the rat and they were born in the year of the ox then you would be the older sibling or พี่ /pêe/. If they were born in the year of the pig then most likely you would be younger or น้อง /nóng/. This works of course unless the other person looks extremely young (or old) for their age. If that is the case, you would have to ask something like what year they graduated from school. In the end the Thais always seem to get the age relationship down correctly.

The Zodiac

If anyone asks you how old you are, use the below to tell them what “year” you were born.

Rat: 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020
Ox: 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021
Tiger: 1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022
Rabbit: 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023
Dragon: 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024
Snake: 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025
Horse: 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026
Ram: 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1980, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027
Monkey: 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1981, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028
Rooster: 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029
Dog: 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1983, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030
Pig: 1293, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1984, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031

You would think that the year of the rat would be ปีหนู /bpee nŏo/ (rat, mouse: หนู /nŏo/). But nooooo! It is really ปีชวด /bpee chûat/. When talking about the animals in the zodiac there are completely different words than the common ones we are used to.

As we said above “just in case this language isn’t confusing enough” here are the different animals of the Thai zodiac.

Zodiac animal names (year of the…):

Rat: ปีชวด /bpee chûat/
Ox: ปีฉลู /bpee chà-lŏo/
Tiger: ปีขาล /bpee kăan/
Rabbit: ปีเถาะ /bpee tòr/
Dragon: ปีมะโรง /bpee má-rohng/
Snake: ปีมะเส็ง /bpee má-sĕng/
Horse: ปีมะเมีย /bpee má-mia/
Ram: ปีมะแม /bpee má-mae
Monkey: ปีวอก /bpee wôk/
Rooster: ปีระกา /bpee rá-gaa/
Dog: ปีจอ /bpee jor/
Pig: ปีกุน /bpee gun/

Common animal names:

Rat: ปีหนู /bpee nŏo/
Ox: ปีวัว /bpee wua/
Tiger: ปีเสือ /bpee sĕua/
Rabbit: ปีกระต่าย /bpee grà-dtàai/
Dragon: ปีงูใหญ่ /bpee ngoo yài/
Snake: ปีงูเล็ก /bpee ngoo lék/
Horse: ปีม้า bpee /máa
Ram: ปีแพะ /bpee páe/
Monkey: ปีลิง /bpee ling/
Rooster: ปีไก่ /bpee gài/
Dog: ปีหมา /bpee măa/
Pig: ปีหมู /bpee mŏo/

The next generation

  • Children: ลูก /lôok/
    • Daughter: ลูกสาว /lôok-​sǎao/
      • Son-in-law: ลูกเขย /lôok-​kǒie/
    • Son: ลูกชาย /lôok-​chaai/
      • Daughter-in-law: ลูกสะใภ้ /lôok-​sà~​pái/
    • Children of aunts and uncles: หลาน /lǎan/
      • Niece: หลานสาว /lǎan-​sǎao/
      • Nephew: หลานชาย /lǎan-​chaa/

And the next

  • Grandchildren: หลาน /lǎan/
    • Granddaughter: หลานสาว /lǎan-​sǎao/
    • Grandson: หลานชาย /lǎan-​chaai/

And the next

  • Great grandchildren: เหลน /lǎyn/

And all the rest

  • Relative/relation/kin: ญาติ /yâat/ or ญาติพี่น้อง /yâat-​pêe-​nóng/

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