Useful Thai Compound Words

One thing I like to do as a vocabulary building exercise is when I come across a word that I find is often used paired up with other words (making compounds) I like to see how many different combinations I can come up with. Of course it would help a lot if you have a good dictionary or a knowledgeable “informant”.

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กัน /gan/

I recently did this with the Thai word กัน /gan/ (each other, together). It turns out that this word has lots good of uses. The word กัน /gan/ is often used together with ด้วย /dûay/, to form the compound ด้วยกัน /dûay-gan/, meaning together or along with another person or thing.

When กัน /gan/ is used:

  • Activities that we do with someone.
  • Relationships with someone.
  • Physical location to describe things that are near, next to, or mixed with something else.

Here are just a few examples using กัน /gan/:


Together, at the same time: พร้อมกัน /próm-gan/

rao jà bpai próm gan
We’ll go at the same time (together).

Gather (people), to rally together: ชุมนุมกัน /chum-num-gan/

pûak sêua kĭeow chum-num gan
The Green Shirts staged a rally.

To fight, to compete: (ต่อ)สู้กัน /dtòr sôo-gan/

gong táp dtòr sôo gan
The armies fought each other.


To argue, to talk back: เถียงกัน /tǐang-gan/

mâe gàp lôok săao tĭang gan
Mother and daughter were arguing.

To accept, to agree: ตกลงกัน /dtòk-long-gan/

rao dtòk long gan rêuang raa-kaa kŏng rót
We agreed on the price of the car.

To agree, concur, think similarly: เห็นด้วยกัน /hěn-dûay-gan/

nai têe sùt rao hĕn dûay gan
We finally saw eye to eye.

To chat or converse together: คุยกัน /kui-gan/

nák rian chôp kui gan
The students like to chat together.

To kill (each other): ฆ่ากัน /kâa-gan/

dtam-rùat láe kà-moi kâa gan
The policeman and the thief killed each other.

Crash (e.g. car), to collide (with someone): ชนกัน /chon-gan/

chăn chon-gan gàp rót -grà-bà
I collided with a pickup truck.

Meet, rendezvous: นัดกัน /nát-gan/

เรานัดกัน 8 โมงเช้า
rao nát gan 8 mohng cháo
We have a meeting scheduled at 8 am.

Get along (with someone): เข้ากัน /kâo-gan/

rao mâi kâo gan
We don’t get along (with each other).

Help each other: ช่วยกัน /chûay-gan/

hàak rao chûay gan rao jà jòp réo
If we help each other we will finish quickly.

A pair, a couple: คู่กัน /kôo-gan/

sǒng kon róng-playng kôo-gan
The two sang a duet together.

To live together: อยู่(ด้วย)กัน /yòo-( dûay)-gan/

kăo yòo dûay gan gòn dtàeng ngaan
They lived together before getting married.

Doing something with someone

The words ด้วยกัน /dûay-gan/ can be used with lots of other words to show you are doing something with someone else.

พวกเขา ทำงาน ด้วยกัน
pûak kăo tam ngaan dûay gan
They work together.

พวกเขา กินข้าว ด้วยกัน
pûak kăo gin kâao dûay gan
They eat together.

พวกเขา ดูหนัง ด้วยกัน
pûak kăo doo năng dûay gan
They go to the movies together.

พวกเขา ไปเที่ยว ด้วยกัน
pûak kăo bpai tîeow dûay gan
They go out together.

Relationships (with someone)

rao bpen pêuan-gan
We’re friends.

rao bpen sàt-dtroo-gan
We’re enemies.

rao bpen yâat-gan
We’re related.

rao bpen pêe-nóng-gan
We’re siblings.

rao bpen faen-gan
We’re going out together.

rao dtàeng-ngaan-gan
We’re married.

rao rák-gan
We’re in love with each other.

Physical Location

Attached together, joined together: ติดกัน /dtìt-gan/
Gather (things), combine, unite: รวมกัน /ruam-gan/
Combine, blend, mingle (mix): ผสมกัน /pà~sǒm-gan/

รู้ /róo/

Look up “know” in any good English/Thai dictionary and you will come back with two very good and proper Thai words, ทราบ /sâap/, and รู้ /róo/. They both mean “to know” and the only difference seems to be that ทราบ /sâap/ is usually labeled “formal”. But that label really doesn’t tell us when to use one and when to use the other.

Because our ideas of social rank differ greatly from the ways the Thais think of it, “formal” is a word that is difficult for most westerners to understand. Other terms we might use to indicate the same thing are: polite, respectful, differential, and well-mannered. Or as one dictionary puts it, “used in a setting where those of a higher social rank are present.” See, we have different ways to say the same thing too.

So, if they mean the same thing, when do we use ทราบ /sâap/ and when do we use รู้ /róo/?

The word รู้ /róo/ seems to be the more useful of the two since, besides having a meaning itself, lots of compound words are formed with it.


To know a piece of information: รู้ /róo/
To know a person or place: รู้จัก /róo jàk/
To feel an emotion; to experience: รู้สึก /róo sèuk/
To know (one’s) mind: รู้ใจ /róo jai/
To be aware: รู้ตัว /róo dtua/
To know the language of: รู้ภาษา /róo paa-săa/
To know (what’s going on): รู้เรื่อง /róo rêuang/

ความรู้ /kwaam róo/ means “knowledge” but there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent using ทราบ /sâap/. One rare compound using ทราบ /sâap/ is the word รับทราบ /ráp sâap/, which means “acknowledge”. Another is ซึมทราบ /seum sâap/, meaning “understand clearly” or “empathize”.

The use of รู้ /róo/ in a compound word is always OK in both informal or formal settings and even when “those of a higher social rank are present”.


Do you know Somchai?

รู้จัก (ครับ/ค่ะ)
róo jàk (kráp/kâ)
Yes I do.

ไม่รู้จัก (ครับ/ค่ะ)
mâi róo jàk (kráp/kâ)
No I don’t.

How are you feeling?

รู้สึกดี (ครับ/ค่ะ)
róo sèuk dee (kráp/kâ)

รู้สึกไม่ดี (ครับ/ค่ะ)
róo sèuk mâi dee (kráp/kâ)
Not so good.

kăo mee kwaam róo mâak maai
He is very knowledgeable.

But if someone asks you if you know something or some piece of information, it is often better to answer with ทราบ /sâap/ or ไม่ทราบ /mâi sâap/. It is a softer, less abrupt way of speaking.


Do you know when they are coming?

ทราบ (ครับ/ค่ะ) …
sâap (kráp/kâ) …
Yes I do.

ไม่ทราบ (ครับ/ค่ะ)
mâi sâap (kráp/kâ)
No I don’t.

Do you know what time the movie begins?

ทราบ (ครับ/ค่ะ) …
sâap (kráp/kâ) …
Yes I do.

ไม่ทราบ (ครับ/ค่ะ)
mâi sâap (kráp/kâ)
No I don’t.

ขี้ /kêe/

I was reading one of those Thai expat blogs recently when I came across someone discussing the Thai word for “stingy” (seems like his girlfriend uses this word with him often). To add a little humor to his blog he did a direct translation of the Thai word for “stingy”, ขี้เหนียว /kêe-nǐeow/. ขี้ /kêe/ means “sh!t” he said and เหนียว /nǐeow/ means “sticky”. So, according to him, his girlfriend was calling him “sticky sh!t”. Good try.

The problem our blogger (and many expats) have with this interesting little word is that they have learned only one definition of the word ขี้ /kêe/. Since one of the definitions really is “feces or excrement”, many people think that all uses of this word have a connection with this meaning. But this little word, the root of dozens of good polite Thai words, is a little more robust than that.

The following are the three basic definitions of ขี้ /kêe/:

ขี้ /kîi/
Waste product; feces; excrement
Characterized by, given to, having the quality of
Indicates a bad or negative character trait

Here are a number of words using ขี้ /kêe/, none of which are off-color, and none having anything to do with “sticky sh!t”. Note that the meanings of a lot of the words using ขี้ /kêe/ are exactly the same as their roots. The prefix just adds a bit of feeling (usually negative as in Category 3) to the word. I have split the words into categories depending on which Category of ขี้ /kêe/ the word falls under.

Category 1: Waste product; feces; excrement

ขี้กบ /kêe gòp/ – wood shavings (กบ: capenter’s plane, also frog)
ขี้กบ: the waste product from a carpenter’s plane, wood shavings, or literally frog droppings.

ขี้เขม่า /kêe kà-mào/ – soot (เขม่า: soot)
ขี้โคลน /kêe klohn/ – muck; mud; grime (โคลน: mud)
ขี้ตา /kêe dtaa/ – eye snot; eye secretion (ตา: eye)
ขี้เถ้า /kêe táo/ – ash (เถ้า: ashes, cinder)
ขี้บุหรี่ /kêe bù~rèe/ – cigarette ash (บุหรี่: cigarette)
ขี้ผึ้ง /kêe pêung/ – beeswax (ผึ้ง: bee)
ขี้ฝุ่น /kêe fùn/ – dust; dirt (ฝุ่น: dust, powder, fine particles)
ขี้มูก /kêe mûk/ – snot; mucus; boogers (มูก: mucus)
ขี้ยางลบ /kêe yaang-lóp/ – eraser shavings (ยางลบ: eraser, rubber)
ขี้รังแค /kêe rang-kae/ – dandruff (รังแค: dandruff)
ขี้เลื่อย /kêe lêuay/ – sawdust (เลื่อย: saw)

Category 2: Characterized by, given to, having the quality of

ขี้โกง /kêe gohng/ – deceitful; cheating; crooked (โกง: to cheat)
ขี้โกง: having a cheating quality, deceitful

ขี้กลัว /kêe glua/ – always afraid, “scaredy cat” (กลัว: afraid, fear)
ขี้เกียจ /kêe giàt/ – lazy (เกียจ: idle, inactive)
ขี้ขโมย /kêe kà~moi/ – thieving; pilfering (ขโมย: to steal)
ขี้ขลาด /kêe klàat/ – cowardly (ขลาด: fearful)
ขี้เหนียว /kêe nǐeow/ – stingy (เหนียว: sticky, tough)
ขี้คุก /kêe kúk/- jailbird; prison inmate (คุก: jail, prison)
ขี้คุย /kêe kui/ – boastful (คุย: chat, speak)
ขี้งอน /kêe ngawn/ – peevish; petulant; churlish; fractious (งอน: to pout, sulk)
ขี้แง /kêe ngae/ – whiny; [is a] crybaby (แง: whine)
ขี้ใจน้อย /kêe jai nói/ – over sensitive (ใจน้อย: easily offended, sensitive)
ขี้บ่น /kêe bòn/ – complainer; nagging (บ่น: to complain)
ขี้เมา /kêe mâo/ – drunkard; drunken; very drunk; often drunk (เมา: drunk)
ขี้โมโห /kêe moh-hǒh/ – resentful; easily mad; irritable (โมโห: angry)
ขี้แย /kêe yae/ – given to crying; crybaby (แย: whimsical)
ขี้โรค /kêe rôhk/ – sickly; frail; weak; ailing (โรค: disease)
ขี้ลืม /kêe leum/ – absent minded; forgetful (ลืม: forget)
ขี้เล่น /kêe lên/ – playful; joking (เล่น: play)
ขี้อาย /kêe aai/ – shy; feel shy; is shy; timid (อาย: shy, ashamed)
ขี้อิจฉา /kêe ìt-chǎa/ – envious, jealous (อิจฉา: envy )
ขี้สงสัย /kêe sǒng-sǎi/ – suspicious; dubious; doubtful; skeptical (สงสัย: suspect)
ขี้สงสาร /kêe sǒng-sǎan/ – overly sensitive; soft hearted (สงสาร: pity)
ขี้หึง /kêe hěung/ – jealous (หึง: jealous)
ขี้เหล้า /kêe lâo/ – a drunk; alcoholic (เหล้า: alcohol)

Category 3: A bad or negative character trait

Most of the words in Category 1 and 2 sound a bit negative. Here are a couple that leave no doubts:

ขี้กลาก /kêe-glàak/ – ringworm (กลาก: ringworm)
ขี้ข้า /kêe-kâa/ – slave; servant (ข้า: servant)
ขี้เซา /kêe sao/ – halfsleep; sleepy; sluggish; torpid (เซา: calm down)
ขี้อ้อน /kêe ôn/ – crybaby (อ้อน: to beg)

Special cases

ขี้นก /kêe nók/ – (usually preceded by ฝรั่ง /fà~ràng/) fake; inferior; worthless (ฝรั่ง: guava, foreigner, ขี้นก: bird dropping)

The guava, being introduced from the West Indies, was referred to as a foreign or ฝรั่ง /fà~ràng/ fruit. There is a special kind of guava called ฝรั่งขี้นก /fà~ràng kêe nók/ which is deemed a worthless fruit since no one would buy it. This doesn’t lessen the opinion of many an expat that the Thais are calling all ฝรั่ง /fà~ràng/ or foreigners, usually westerners, worthless bird droppings. You can take your pick of which definition is more fun. It is probably a bit of both as Thais simply love word-play of all kinds. I have heard women of the night refer to stingy expats as ฝรั่งขี้นก /fà~ràng kêe nók/ or worthless foreigners. Just know that if someone calls you this it is definitely not a compliment.

พริกขี้หนู /prík kêe nǒo/ – chili pepper (ขี้หนู: mouse droppings)

These little green and red chili peppers are to be eaten in limited quantities except for those without the taste buds for “hot”. It is probably their shape that gave them their name. They look exactly like their namesake.