Useful Thai Phases and Vocabularies in Various Situations

Written By: Hugh Leong

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Talking Thai on the telephone

It probably took me ten years before I could understand anything anyone said on the telephone here in Thailand. It’s not the language. My wife had the same problem in English when she got to America. It is just really hard dealing with a disembodied voice and not seeing the person who is talking. We quickly realize how important body posture, facial expressions, and mouth movements are when we are talking to someone on the phone, especially in a foreign language.

One way to make things easier is to be able to use telephone-specific speech correctly. Every language has its own special telephone phrases. Below are some useful Thai phone words and phrases.

Note: Thai ending particles or หางเสียง /hăang sĭang/ (e.g. ครับ/คะ /kráp/ká/) are very important in everyday life and even more so over the telephone. I have even heard someone comment on the undesirability of a person because they didn’t use หางเสียง /hăang sĭang/ appropriately. When it comes to telephone conversations, especially when we are talking to someone on the other end of the line who we may not know, you can never overuse หางเสียง /hăang sĭang/. The more the better. Never underestimate the importance of Thai ending particles; try to make liberal use of them in any telephone conversations we have.

Saying Hello

Thais will typically answer the phone with สวัสดีครับ /sà-wàt-dee kráp/. But occasionally they will use the English loan word ฮัลโล /ha-loh/. As native English speakers, we usually answer the phone in Thailand simply by saying “hello”. As innocent as this may be it can lead to some problems.

If you answer with “hello” the caller will almost invariably know that you are not a native Thai speaker no matter how good your Thai pronunciation is. I am always a bit disgruntled when I answer the telephone and the caller knows immediately that I am not a native speaker. I mean, I work really hard at my pronunciation and I have only said one word, “hello”. How do they know? Well, it turns out that a Thai “hello” (and this is officially a Thai word now and can be found in the dictionary) and an English “hello” are different animals.

When I answer the phone with “hello”, often the person calling will stutter and try to speak English to me, or they sometimes hang up altogether.

Here is how that kind of conversation usually goes (taken from an actual conversation I had just this morning). You may have encountered something similar.

Telephone: Ring
Me: Hello.
Caller: (after hesitating) ฮัลโล /ha-loh/.
Me: Hello?
Caller: (longer hesitation) ฮัลโล /ha-loh/.
Me: Hello!
Caller: Hangs up.

What’s the story? I think I have discovered the reason. Native speakers of English usually say the word “hello” like this, /hel lôw/, stressing the second syllable which makes it sound like a falling tone. The Thai way to say “hello” is ฮัลโล /hel loh/ where both syllables have a mid tone. I have even heard this word used with a rising tone and an elongated vowel on the second syllable. Also, the English “hello” ends with a “w” sound. The Thai “hello” has a more elongated second syllable with maybe a hint of an “h” at the end.


So you see, when a native English speaker says “hello” in Thai we are usually using the incorrect tone and sometimes even an incorrect ending sound. Since the caller often doesn’t want to hassle with speaking to a foreigner over the phone they just hang up. Now I stick with สวัสดีครับ /sà-wàt-dee kráp/ when I answer the phone.

Typical telephone-specific speech situations

ขอพูดกับ… ครับ
kŏr pôot gàp… kráp
May I speak to…

ผมอยากจะพูดกับ… ครับ
pŏm yàak jà pôot gàp… kráp
I would like to speak with …

nêe krai pôot kráp
Who is this.

นี่…พูด ครับ
nêe… pôot kráp
This is…

bpròht tĕu săai wái sàk krô kráp
Hold on a minute.

gà-rú-naa ror sàk krô kráp
One minute please.

jà kâo maa mêua-rai kráp
When will he be back?

dĭeow maa kráp
He’ll be right here.

Voice mail (message): ข้อความ /kôr kwaam/

kŏr fàak kôr kwaam kráp
Can I leave a message?

jà fàak kôr kwaam măi ká
Would you like to leave a message?

gà-rú-naa fàak kôr kwaam ká
Please leave a message.

hâi ráp chái à-rai ká
How may I help you?

ขอโทษค่ะ Mr. Wallace ไม่อยู่ค่ะ
kŏr tôht ká/ Mr. Wallace /mâi yòo ká
I am sorry. Mr. Wallace is not available.

Put you through, connect you: ต่อให้ /dtòr hâi/

jà toh maa mài kâ
I will call you back.

ต่อ 411
dtòr 411
Extension 411.

dì-chăn jà sòng fâek àyk-gà-săan
I’ll fax you.

Asking Age

Normally the question “how old are you?” is อายุเท่าไหร่ /aa-yu tâo-rài/ (how much age).

And since the Thais are so laid back you could probably get away with using this with just about anyone, children and royal princes included.

But sometimes when we want to impress our Thai friends a bit we can ask their child’s age by saying “ลูกกี่ขวบ /lôok gèe kùap/ (how many child-years). And they would answer something like ห้าขวบ /hâa kùap/ (five child-years old). But be careful as the word ขวบ /kùap/ is only used with young children.

There are some other age related Thai words that we will encounter frequently. The word วัย /wai/ means age or period of time. It is used in the following age-related words:

Childhood: วัยเด็ก /wai-dèk/ (child: เด็ก /dèk/)
Teenage: วัยรุ่น /wai-rûn/ (adolescent: รุ่น /rûn/)
Middle age: วัยกลาง /wai glaang/ (middle: กลาง /glaang/)
Senior: วัยทอง /wai-tong/ (gold: ทอง /tong/)

Another word used for older people and senior citizens – much better than old person: คนแก่ /kon gàe/ – is the one I use when I go to the golf course and ask for their senior discount. It is ผู้สูงอายุ /pôo-sǒong-aa-yú/ or “the person with the high age”.

A good Thai word to use in referring to old fogies is เกษียณแล้ว /gà~sǐan láew/ (one who is already retired).

Supermarkets in Thailand

If you are going to live in Thailand, one of the things you will find yourself doing is food shopping. When I first came to Thailand there were no such things as supermarkets. Now they are as ubiquitous as Thailand’s outdoor markets. They may not be as much fun or as exciting as the outdoor kind, but supermarkets are cleaner, and air conditioned. So, except for the small stuff, that is where we usually shop.

As a primer on supermarket shopping here are some vocabulary words that will help on your next outing. We’ll also make some short sentences to put the words into context. General food categories are listed; as you get hungry you will learn specific food names rather quickly.

Supermarket: ซูเปอร์มาร์เก็ต /súp-bpêr-maa-gét/

Note: In some parts of the kingdom, namely Bangkok, the shortened form ซูเปอร์ /súp-bpêr/ is sometimes used. I haven’t heard it in Chiang Mai yet though. Let us know if it is in use in your neck of the woods.

The following are general categories of food

Food(s): อาหาร /aa-hǎan/

Baked goods: อาหารประเภทอบ /aa-hǎan bprà~pâyt òp/
Beverage: เครื่องดื่ม /krêuang-dèum/
Bread: ขนมปัง /kà~nǒm-bpang/
Frozen food: อาหารแช่แข็ง /aa-hǎan châe-kǎeng/
Fresh vegetables: ผักสด /pàk sòt/
Fruit: ผลไม้ /pǒn-lá~máai/
Meat: เนื้อ /néua/
Milk or dairy: นม /nom/
Seafood: อาหารทะเล /aa-hǎan-tá~lay/
Snacks: ของว่าง /kǒng-wâang/

Departments or sections in a supermarket

Department: แผนก /pà~nàek/

Bakery department: แผนกประเภทอบ /pà~nàek bprà~pâyt òp/
Bakery or bread department: แผนกขนมปัง /pà~nàek kà~nǒm-bpang/
Dairy department: แผนกผลิตภัณฑ์ นม /pà~nàek pà~lìt-dtà~pan nom/
Frozen foods department: แผนกอาหารแช่แข็ง /pà~nàek aa-hǎan-châe-kǎeng
Fruit department: แผนกผลไม้ /pà~nàek pǒn-lá~máai/
Meat department: แผนกเนื้อ /pà~nàek néua/
Produce (vegetable) department: แผนกผักสด /pà~nàek pàk sòt/
Seafood department: แผนกอาหารทะเล /pà~nàek aa-hǎan-tá~lay/

Things you might find in a supermarket

Aisle: ช่อง /chông/
Aisle: ทางเดิน(ระหว่างชั้นวางของ) /taang-dern (rá~wàang chán waang kǒng)/
Bag (paper, plastic): ถุง (กระดาษ, พลาสติก) /tǔng (grà~dàat, pláat-sà~dtìk)/
Can: กระป๋อง /grà~bpǒng/
Cashier: แคชเชียร์ /ká chia/
Cashier: พนักงานเก็บเงิน /pá~nák-ngaan gèp-ngern/
Manager: ผู้จัดการ /pôo-jàt-gaan/
Queue, line, checkout line: คิว /kiw/
Shopping cart: รถเข็น /rót-kěn/

Supermarket words in context

chûay séu bp-sêe grà-bpŏng nèung lŏh
Please get a dozen cans of Pepsi.

séu aa-hăan wâang láe krêuang-dèum tèrt
Let’s get some snacks and drinks.

ai-sòk-reem yòo nai pà-nàek aa-hăan châe kǎeng
Ice cream is in the frozen foods department.

chăn dtông gaan séu kà-nŏm bpang
I need to buy some bread.

ter séu má-kĕua tâyt nai pà-nàek pàk sòt
She is buying tomatoes in the produce department.

súp-bper-maa-gèt née mee pà-nàek néua dee
This supermarket has a good meat department.

aa-hăan tá-lay yòo nai chông râek
The seafood is in the first aisle.

เขาไม่ชอบผัก แต่เขาชอบเนื้อ
kăo mâi chôp pàk dtàe kăo chôp néua
He doesn’t like vegetables but he loves meat.

Kiw nán yaao
That’s a long checkout line.

ter jàai kâet-chia
She paid the cashier.

Thai House

In English the word “house” indicates a structure whereas “home” includes the idea that this is where you “live”, thus we have the song “A House is Not a Home”. But all my Thai dictionaries (I have 8 now) define “house” and “home” the same – บ้าน /bâan/

บ้าน /bâan/ is the root of lots of other Thai words too. Here are a couple:

Birthplace: บ้านเกิด /bâan-gèrt/
– to be born: เกิด /gèrt/

Countryside: บ้านนอก /bâan-nôk/
– outside: นอก /nôk/

Vacation home: บ้านพักตากอากาศ /bâan-pák-dtàak-aa-gàat/
– to rest: พัก /pák/
– get outside, literally: to air out: ตากอากาศ /dtàak-aa-gàat/

Country, e.g. Thailand: บ้านเมือง /bâan-meuang/
– city, country, town: เมือง /meuang/

Address: บ้านเลขที่ /bâan-lâyk-têe/
– number: เลขที่ /lâyk têe/

Village: หมู่บ้าน /mòo-bâan/
– group, constellation: หมู่ /mòo/

A house is to be lived in of course. There are a number of Thai words for “to live”. The most frequently encountered is อยู่ /yòo/, and then there is the more formal อาศัย /aa-sǎi/. And, as Thai will often do, there is the combination of two words that mean the same thing อยู่อาศัย /yòo aa-sǎi/. Or to make it even more fun, we can flip the two giving us อาศัยอยู่ /aa-sǎi yòo/.

So all the following mean “he lives with his parents” which is probably not so great in any language. Although many Thais do live with their parents until, and sometimes after, marriage.

kăo yòo têe bâan pôr mâe

kăo aa-săi têe bâan pôr mâe

kăo aa-săi yòo têe bâan pôr mâe

kăo yòo aa-săi têe bâan pôr mâe

Parts of a House

Bathroom: ห้องน้ำ /hông-náam/
Dining room: ห้องกินข้าว /hông-gin-kâao/
Kitchen: (ห้อง)ครัว /(hông)-krua/
Living room: ห้องนั่งเล่น /hông-nâng-lên/ also ห้องรับแขก /hông-ráp-kàek/
Room: ห้อง /hông/

Ceiling: เพดาน /pay-daan/
Door: ประตู /bprà~dtoo/
Floor: พื้น /péun/
Roof: หลังคา /lǎng-kaa/
Wall (of a room): ผนัง /pà~nǎng/
Window: หน้าต่าง /nâa-dtàang/

Things in a house

Air conditioner: เครื่องปรับอากาศ /krêuang-bpràp-aa-gàat/ or แอร์ /ae/
Bed: เตียง /dtiang/
Chair: เก้าอี้ /gâo-êe/
Drapes: ม่าน /mâan/
Fan: พัดลม /pát-lom/
Furniture: เฟอร์นิเจอร์ /fer-ní~jêr/ or เครื่องเรือน /krêuang-reuan/
Rug: พรม /prom/
Sofa: เก้าอี้นวม /gâo-êe-nuam/ or โซฟา /soh-faa/
Table: โต๊ะ /dtó/
TV: โทรทัศน์ /toh-rá~tát/ or ทีวี /tee-wee/

Thai Restaurant

Writing about eating got me thinking that about the jargon used in Thai restaurants. It’s quite specific. And those who take the time to learn Thai restaurant talk just might be able to order what they want.

I’ll stick with generic restaurant and food words and leave the other’s for another time. Many restaurants in Thailand have English menus anyway, so after you get these words and phrases down, you can slowly build up your food vocabulary with the dishes you enjoy most.

Here is the trick to do just that. In a Thai restaurant, point to a dish or picture in the menu and say:

paa-sǎa tai wâa yang-ngai
How do you say this in Thai?

Write it down and the next time you order try it out. Hopefully you’ll get what you want. If not, then you’ll be trying something new, which is always a good thing.

There are two words for your basic restaurant.

ร้านอาหาร /ráan-aa-hǎan/
ภัตตาคาร /pát-dtaa-kaan/

The first word is ร้านอาหาร /ráan-aa-hǎan/ and can be used universally. It literally means “food shop”. The second word, ภัตตาคาร /pát-dtaa-kaan/ (Sanskrit for “place of food”), is one of those fancy, HiSo words.

So which one do you use? The real answer is I almost never use the HiSo word. But the fun answer is, if each dish cost between 30 and 50 baht (a typical price here), then ร้านอาหาร /ráan-aa-hǎan/ is the way to go. If each dish is in the 100s of baht (not a place I frequent often, unless someone else is paying of course), then go with ภัตตาคาร /pát-dtaa-kaan/ just to be HiSo and cool.

Restaurants that serve noodles:
ร้านก๋วยเตี๋ยว /ráan gǔay-dtǐeow/ (noodle shop)

These shops will serve noodle dishes with rice noodles (ก๋วยเตี๋ยว /gǔay-dtǐeow/) or wheat noodles (บะหมี่ /bà~mèe/), in soup (น้ำ /náam/) or dry (แห้ง /hâeng/).

Restaurants that serve rice with side dishes:
ร้านข้าวแกง /ráan kâao-gaeng/ (shop serving rice with curry)

These shops have dishes already cooked and displayed in trays (both curries and other stuff). You simply point at the dish/dishes you like and they will serve them to you over rice. It is probably best, if you don’t know what something is but want to try it, to ask เผ็ดมั้ย /pèt mái/ – “is it hot (spicy)?” You’ll be glad you asked.

Restaurants with meals cooked to order:
ร้านอาหารตามสั่ง /ráan-aa-hǎan dtaam sàng/ “restaurant made to order”

These shops will cook whatever you tell them from simple fried rice – ข้าวผัด /kâao-pàt/ to vegetarian dishes – อาหารเจ /aa-hǎan jay/. The trick is that you will need to know the dish name before ordering or be really good with world-traveler sign language. At first it is probably best to go with what is already on the menu instead of ordering something complicated.

Restaurant people

It is interesting that many of the words for people working in restaurants are borrowed from English.

The serving employee (borrowed from “serve”): พนักงานเสิร์ฟ /pá~nák-ngaan-sèrp/
The person who serves the food (borrowed from “serve”): คนเสิร์ฟอาหาร /kon sèrp-aa-hǎan/
A fancy word for “the service person”: คนบริกร /kon bor-rí~gon/
A word out of style now but used to be used often (borrowed from “boy”): บ๋อย /bǒi/

The person who collects the money: คนเก็บเงิน /kon-gèp-ngern/
Borrowed from “cashier”, the second syllable pronounced like “cheer”: แคชเชียร์ /káet-chia/

The person of the kitchen: คนครัว /kon-krua/
The father of the kitchen: พ่อครัว /pôr-krua/
The mother of the kitchen: แม่ครัว /mâe-krua/
Cook (borrowed from “cook”): กุ๊ก /gúk/
Chef (borrowed from “chef”): เชฟ /chép/

Words for things in the restaurant

Table: โต๊ะ /dtó/ (said like the Homer Simpson expression, “dho!”)
Chair: เก้าอี้ /gâo-êe/ (two falling tones in a row; fun to say)
Menu: เมนู /may-noo/ (borrowed from “menu”), รายการอาหาร /raai-gaan-aa-hǎan/ (the list of food)

Plate: จาน /jaan/
Bowl: ชาม /chaam/
Glass: แก้ว /gâew/
Cup: ถ้วย /tûay/

A bit of confusion might occur when we use the classifiers (counting words) for all the above. The classifier for the above is ใบ /bai/. That is, only if they are empty. If they contain food or drinks then they are said differently.


Two plates: จานสองใบ /jaan sǒng bai/
Two plates of food: อาหารสองจาน /aa-hǎan sǒng jaan/

Two bowls: ชามสองใบ /chaam sǒng bai/
Two bowls of noodles: ก๋วยเตี๋ยวสองชาม /gǔay-dtǐeow sǒng chaam/

Two glasses: แก้วสองใบ /gâew sǒng bai/
Two glasses of water: น้ำสองแก้ว/náam sǒng gâew/

Two cups: ถ้วยสองใบ /tûay sǒng bai/
Two cups of tea: น้ำชาสองถ้วย /nám-chaa sǒng tûay/

Fork: ส้อม /sôm/
Spoon: ช้อน /chón/
Chopsticks: ตะเกียบ /dtà~gìap/
Knives: มีด /mêet/ (almost never seen on a Thai table)

The official classifiers for fork and spoon is คัน /kan/ which I have never heard spoken. For some reason this is the same classifier used with cars and motorcycles. But most people will just use อัน /an/. There are two classifiers for chopsticks, whether you are talking about one chopstick, ตะเกียบหนึ่งข้าง /dtà~gìap nèung kâang/, which is fairly useless unless you are cleaning out your ear, or a pair of chopsticks, ตะเกียบหนึ่งคู่ /dtà~gìap nèung kôo/. ข้าง /kâang/ and คู่ /kôo/ are also the classifiers for things like shoes (one shoe หนึ่งข้าง /nèung kâang/, a pair of shoes หนึ่งคู่ /nèung kôo/) and other things that come in pairs.

Words for drinks:
Drink (in general): เครื่องดื่ม /krêuang-dèum/ (that which you drink)
Water: น้ำ /náam/
Soft drinks: น้ำอัดลม /nám-àt-lom/ (carbonated liquid); also น้ำขวด /nám kùat/ (liquid in a bottle)
Beer: เบียร์ /bia/ (borrowed from “beer”) indicating that this drink did not exist until it was introduced by an outsider.
Alcohol (the normal word in use): เหล้า /lâo/, สุรา /sù-raa/ (the more fancy word)
Ice: น้ำแข็ง /nám-kǎeng/ (hard water)
Ice water: น้ำแข็งเปล่า /nám-kǎeng bplàao/ (empty ice – probably because there is no soft drink or alcohol in it).

Restaurant verbs

To order: สั่งอาหาร /sàng aa-hǎan/ (order food)
To cook: ทำอาหาร /tam-aa-hǎan/ (make food)
To serve: เสิร์ฟอาหาร /sèrp aa-hǎan/ (serve food)
Self serve: บริการตัวเอง /bor-rí~gaan-dtua-ayng/ (serve yourself)
Bill/check (when calling for it): เก็บเงิน /gèp ngern/ (collect money), เก็บตางค์ /gèp dtaang/ (collect coins)

Also when calling for the check, and I am reluctant to include the following because it is such a weird borrowing of two English words is, เช็คบิล /chék bin/ (borrowed from “check” and “bill”). If you want to be cool when asking for the check then use one of the first two and leave the last to those who want to impress others by using a borrowed (however weirdly) English phrase.

Money Vocabularies

One thing that might make living in a foreign country a bit easier is to know lots of words on the subject of money. It seems I can’t go more than an hour or so before I have to either use, or talk about money.

So, I thought some Thai vocabulary about this stuff we’re constantly concerned with might be helpful. Money subjects below are broken down into topics we all need to deal with.


The general Thai word for “money” is เงิน /ngern/. It may or may not be historically significant (linguistically, that is) but เงิน /ngern/ is also the same Thai word for “silver”.

kăo mee ngern yúh
He has lots of money.

chăn mâi mee ngern loie
I don’t have any money.

The Thai unit of currency is บาท /​bàat/ or เงินบาท /ngern-​bàat/. Originally the baht was a unit of measurement (about 15 grams). Today this unit of weight is used almost exclusively in the measurement of gold.

kâao pàt raa-kaa săam sìp bàat
Fried rice is 30 baht.

เขามีสร้อยทองคำ น้ำหนัก 2 บาท
kăo mee sôi tong kam nám nàk 2 bàat
He has a gold necklace weighing 2 baht.

Another word that is used to mean “money” is ตังค์ /dtang/. It is the short form of สตางค์ /sà~​dtaang/ which originally was a small coin, 100th of a baht.

pŏm mâi mee dtang
I have no money (I don’t have a penny).

พ่อ ขอตังค์หน่อย
pôr kŏr dtang nòi
Dad, can I have some money?

Personal Finances

The word for “income” or “salary” is เงินเดือน /ngern-​deuan/. It uses the Thai word for “money” เงิน /ngern/ along with the word for “month” เดือน /deuan/. This comes from the fact that in Thailand most paydays come on the last day of the month, so your salary is defined as your “monthly income”.

chăn dâai ngern deuan láew
I got paid.

kăo dâai ngern deuan kêun
He got a raise (in salary).

On the 29th or so of each month, with their salary almost gone (sound familiar?), most people will be “broke” ถังแตก /tǎng-​dtàek/. This is an idiom, made from the Thai words for “bucket” or “container” ถัง /tǎng/ and the word for “broken” แตก /​dtàek/. So if you say that “your bucket is broken” then you are clean out of cash. Another idiom used to say you are broke is หมดตัว /mòt-​dtua/ which is made up of the words หมด /mòt/ “to run out of” and ตัว /​dtua/ “body” or “one self”.

ฉันไม่สามารถซื้ออะไร ฉันถังแตก (ฉันหมดตัว)
chăn mâi săa-mâat séu a-rai chăn tăng dtàek (chăn mòt dtua)
I can’t buy anything. I’m broke.


The dreaded Thai word for “tax” is ภาษี /paa-​sěe/. To “pay tax” is เสียภาษี /sǐa paa-​sěe/. It is probably just a coincidence that the word เสีย /sǐa/ not only means “to pay” as in taxes, but it also means “out of order”, “broken”, “spoiled”, “to lose”, “to waste”, and interestingly enough “to die” (as Ben Franklyn told us, the only other thing in life besides taxes that we can be sure of).

paa-sĕe tai nói gwàa paa-sĕe a-may-rí-gan
Thai taxes are lower than American taxes.

It is hard to find anything funny about taxes but there is an amusing idiom using ภาษี /paa-​sěe/. It is ภาษีสังคม /paa-​sěe-​sǎng-​kom/ which uses the word for “tax” along with the Thai word for “community” or “society”, สังคม /​sǎng-​kom/. This idiom is used when we have to make obligatory donations or gifts to friends and family, as in wedding presents or donations at funerals. These are taxes we have to pay if we want to be part of a community or family.

ถ้าเราไปงานศพ เราต้องเสียภาษีสังคม
tâa rao bpai ngaan sòp rao dtông sĭa paa-sĕe săng-kom
If we go to a funeral we need to make a donation.


For various reasons some foreigners think investing ลงทุน /long-​tun/ in Thailand is a good idea. For those, I hope that they will make a profit กำไร /gam-​rai/ and not lose their money เสียเงิน /sǐa ngern/, and go “broke” ถังแตก /tǎng-​dtàek/.


Going to a “bank” ธนาคาร /tá~​naa-​kaan/ in Thailand and “opening” /เปิด/ an “account” /บัญชี/ is fairly simple. But it is difficult to get a good “rate” อัตรา /àt-dtraa/ of “interest” ดอกเบี้ย /dòk-​bîa/. You can “change” แลกเปลี่ยน /lâek-​bplìan/ money there and hopefully you will get a good “exchange rate” อัตราแลกเปลี่ยน /àt-​dtraa-​lâek-​bplìan/.

P.S. If you are interested in learning more about banking and money in Thailand you can check out this blog post: how to open a bank account in Thailand.

Here is a primer on Thai legal words and phrases on legal issues that you will encounter frequently in Thailand.

General Legalese

Law: กฎหมาย /gòt-mǎai/
The prefix กฎ /gòt/ means “rule” as in “rules of golf” (กฎของกอล์ฟ /gòt kǒng góp/) or the “rules of the road (traffic)” (กฎจราจร /gòt jà~raa-jon/) neither of which are exactly universally followed here.

Lawyer: ทนายความ /tá~naai-kwaam/
The short form, used in everyday speech, is simply ทนาย /tá~naai/. If there is a place where lawyers are held in lower esteem than in the West, it is right here in Thailand.

Court: ศาล /sǎan/
To go to court (or if something is brought to court) is เข้าศาล /kâo sǎan/ “enter the court”. For those who enjoy homophones (not a sexual inclination but sound-alike words) this sounds an awful lot like ข้าวสาร /kâao-sǎan/ the word for uncooked rice and the name of the infamous Bangkok street “Khao San Road”.

Sue: ฟ้อง /fóng/
When we add the word for “court” ฟ้องศาล /fóng sǎan/ “to sue in court”, then there will be no confusion. ฟ้อง /fóng/ by itself could mean “to tell” or “to inform” on someone, or as the children would say “to tattle tale”.

Judge: พิพากษา /pí-pâak-sǎa/
This is the verb “to judge”. I see this word often but in a very peculiar place. I see it on big yellow signs nailed high up in trees alongside beautiful country roads. The sign says “เยซูจะมาพิพากษาโลก” /yay-soo jà maa pí-pâak-sǎa lôhk/ which basically reads “Jesus is coming to judge you (the world).”

I have two problems with these signs.

1. Big yellow signs in beautiful first growth trees are quite ugly. Who climbs those trees anyway?

2. When Thais see a sign saying that someone is coming to judge them, they aren’t going to be enthusiastic about it.

Instead, how about “there is a person coming to give you the winning lottery number” or “a person is coming to make your neighbor’s dog stop barking in the middle of the night” ? They’d perk up for either of those.

Judge: ผู้พิพากษา /pôo-pí-pâak-sǎa/
The prefix ผู้ /pôo/ is used to mean “the person who”, in this case “the person who judges”.

Crime Legalese

Evidence หลักฐาน /làk-tǎan/
You can have evidence มีหลักฐาน /mee làk-tǎan/ or not have any evidence ไม่มีหลักฐาน /mâi mee làk-tǎan/. หลักฐานยืนยัน /làk-tǎan-yeun-yan/ is corroborating evidence. The word ยืนยัน /yeun-yan/ means “confirm” or “validate”.

Accused: ผู้ต้องหา /pôo-dtông-hǎa/
There is that ผู้ /pôo/ word again, along with ต้องหา /dtông-hǎa/ “to accuse”, which gives us “the person who is accused”. If you read the Thai newspapers at all this word will become quite familiar. It is usually under the caption of a picture on the front page where the police are standing on both sides of quite disheveled person, or maybe a picture of an accuser pointing a figure at him/her, or a picture of the accused sitting in front of a pile of evidence (like maybe 1,000,000 ยาบ้า /yaa-bâa/ “amphetamine” tablets). He/She is always referred to as ผู้ต้องหา /pôo-dtông-hǎa/ or in TV English “the alleged perpetrator”.

Capture: (apprehend) จับกุม /jàp-gum/
Also next to the same picture mentioned above it will probably say ตำรวจจับกุมผู้ต้องหา /dtam-rùat jàp-gum pôo-dtông-hǎa/ “the police apprehended the accused (alleged perpetrator).” You see this sentence so often on the front page of most Thai newspapers that you can speed-read right through it.

Witness: พยาน /pá~yaan/
One interesting thing about this word is that it can use either of 2 classifiers to count with. It can use คน /kon/ which is the normal classifier for a person, and in writing it can use ปาก /bpàak/ which is the Thai word for “mouth”. Pretty appropriate way to count witnesses I would say.

Guilty: มีความผิด /mee-kwaam-pìt/
ผิด /pìt/means “bad” or “wrong”, so this word comes out meaning “to have badness or wrongness”. A very descriptive word.

Innocent: /ไม่ผิด mâi-pìt/
“No badness”.

Charge: (legal) ข้อหา /kôr-hǎa/
Indictment ดำเนินคดี /dam-nern-ká~dee/
According to the law: ตามกฎหมาย /dtaam-gòt-mǎai/
The 3 terms above are usually combined at the end of a newspaper article on a crime. You’ll see a version of this in almost every crime article – the police always get their man. There are ข้อหา /kôr-hǎa/ filed against the ผู้ต้องหา /pôo-dtông-hǎa/ and then a ดำเนินคดี /dam-nern-ká~dee/ is carried out ตามกฎหมาย /dtaam-gòt-mǎai/

“Charges were filed against the accused and he has been indicted according to the law.”

Family Legalese

Birth certificate: สูติบัตร /sǒo-dtì-bàt/
This word is made up of the literary word for “birth สูติ /sòot/ and the word บัตร /bàt/ meaning “card” or “ID”. For pronunciation purposes a “dti” is put in between the words สูติ /sòot/ and บัตร /bàt/ to be pronounced /sǒo-dtì-bàt/. I have heard, and this could be just a lazy mouth of the speaker, or a local accent, the middle syllable as “gee” instead of “dti”

Marry: แต่งงาน /dtàeng-ngaan/
Marriage: การแต่งงาน /gaan-dtàeng-ngaan/
This quite often refers to the ceremony of marriage. See below for the more official word.

Register (marriage): ลงทะเบียน /long-tá~bian/ (also จดทะเบียน /jòt-tá~bian/)
ลงทะเบียน /long-tá~bian/ usually means “to register” but when used in context everyone will know that it means that you have gone down to the district office and officially registered your union. Many newcomers here think that just because they have gone through a ceremony (การแต่งงาน /gaan-dtàeng-ngaan/) that they are “married”. But for a union to be recognized by law it must be registered.

Dowry: สินสอด /sǐn-sòt/
Traditionally (not legally) in Thailand the groom or his family would pay a dowry to the girl’s family (although this is becoming rarer by the day). This is the opposite of the Indian tradition where the girl’s family is the payer and which is why few people here are afraid of having baby girls. Other words for dowry are ทองหมั้น /tong mân/ meaning “gold (for) engagement”, and then there is ค่าน้ำนม /kâa náam nom/ “price of milk”, the cost of the milk she drank growing up, a fee for raising her.

It is quite interesting that many Expats come here and find a girl to marry and wind up paying a large sum as a สินสอด /sǐn-sòt/. Quite often this will be the girl’s second or third marriage and there may be children involved from her other unions. Traditionally a สินสอด /sǐn-sòt/ is only given once, for a virgin girl. Although a man is not required to pay a สินสอด /sǐn-sòt/ for a non-virgin girl, one is often requested from an Expat.

Very few Thai men would even consider marrying a divorced woman (they don’t like buying used cars or buying an already-lived-in house either so they usually aren’t interested in “used women”). But if they did they would never consider paying a สินสอด /sǐn-sòt/ for the privilege.

Suggestion for the Expat man in this situation: If you are going to be “buying” something here in Thailand then “caveat emptor”.

(To my female readers, sorry about the “buying” metaphor but that is more or less what the สินสอด /sǐn-sòt/ tradition is.)

BTW, I have never heard of a Thai man paying a สินสอด /sǐn-sòt/ to the family of an Expat woman, virgin or otherwise.

Divorce: หย่า(กัน) /yàa (gan)/
If you have paid a large สินสอด /sǐn-sòt/ to the family of a girl and this happens to you, sorry, you are out of luck (and a lot of cash as well).

Divorce certificate: ใบหย่า /bai-yàa/
If you haven’t ลงทะเบียน /long-tá~bian/ then you won’t have to get one of these either.

Custody: การได้สิทธิในตัวลูก /gaan-dâi-sìt-nai-dtua-lôok/
ได้สิทธิ /dâi-sìt/ means to “obtain the rights” and ตัวลูก /dtua-lôok/ is ‘the (body of the) child”. Although men and women are legally equal it is usually a cold day in Bangkok before a man will get full legal custody of the children. Lots of heartaches where this is concerned.

Business Legalese

Corporation: บริษัทจำกัด /bor-rí~sàt-jam-gàt/
This word is made up of two words บริษัท /bor-rí~sàt/ “company” and จำกัด /jam-gàt/ “limited”. A “corporation” legally is a “limited” (Ltd.) company, or a company with a “limited liability”.

Incorporate: รวมกันเป็นกลุ่มบริษัท /ruam-gan-bpen-glùm-bor-rí~sàt/
The Thai word for “to incorporate” adds the prefix expression รวมกันเป็นกลุ่ม /ruam-gan-bpen-glùm/ to the word for company บริษัท /bor-rí~sàt/. These words are รวมกัน /ruam-gan/ “to join together” and เป็นกลุ่ม /bpen-glùm/ “to be a group”.

Tax: ภาษี /paa-sěe/
A virtual four-letter-word in any language.

Pay tax: จ่ายภาษี /jàai paa-sěe/
The word จ่าย /jàai/ is “to pay”.

Evade tax: นีภาษี /něe paa-sěe/
The word นี /něe/ means “to escape” or “to run away from”.

Estate Legalese

Estate (legacy, inheritance): มรดก /mor-rá~dòk/
The prefix มร /mor-rá/ has its roots in Sanskrit and means “death” (think of the English “mortality” or the French “mort”). This word is also used in the phrase มรดกโลก /mor-rá~dòk lôhk/ (โลก /lôhk/ means “world”) as in “world heritage (site)”

Inherit: รับมรดก /ráp-mor-rá~dòk/
รับ /ráp/ means “to receive”, as in “to receive an inheritance”.

Will: พินัยกรรม /pí-nai-gam/
The word พินัยกรรม /pí-nai-gam/ is probably the most used word in Thai soap operas. It (or its lack) usually forms the basis for all the conflicts, screaming, arguing, murdering, and other bits of chaos associated with these daily shows.

What is quite interesting is that so few people have wills in this country (even after watching on TV all the troubles that people without wills cause) that the stories from the soap operas could come right out of the daily newspaper headlines. So much for the Expat thinking that the Thai “soaps” are complete fantasies. People like them because, believe it or not, this stuff really happens.

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