This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.
Tones Thai syllables…
Thai children can apply the tone rules long before they can explain them. This is because they learn words in groups with similar characteristics. For instance, the group of words ending in “p” (บ, ป, พ, ภ) and starting with a low class consonant. When they meet a new word, they automatically know the correct group and therefor will know the tones to use.
Knowing Thai tone rules is important if you intend to speak Thai clearly. Sometimes reading through the rules helps, but for others charts make more sense. I’ve included both in this post.
In Thai there are three kinds of consonants:
If you are looking for a good resource to learn Thai online, check out Learn Thai from a White Guy. Upon entering your email, you'll get five free lessons to help you start learning to read Thai.
- low class: ค,ฅ,ฆ,ง,ช,ซ,ฌ,ญ,ฑ,ฒ,ณ,ท,ธ,น,พ,ฟ,ภ,ม,ย,ร,ล,ว,ฬ,ฮ
- mid class: ก,จ,ฎ,ฏ,ด,ต,บ,ป,อ
- high class: ข,ฃ,ฉ,ฐ,ถ,ผ,ฝ,ศ,ษ,ส,ห
You best remember the mid and the high class consonants – the low class are all the rest.
In Thai there are two kinds of vowels:
- short vowels: -ั, -ิ, -ุ, -ึ and ฤ. And all vowels with ะ or -็ in them.
- long vowels: all the rest
In Thai there are two kinds of syllables:
- dead syllable: ends a short vowel or on a p t or k sound.
- live syllable: all the rest
In Thai there are four tones marks:
- -่ : normally indicates a low tone
- -้ : normally indicated a falling tone
- -๊ : normally indicates a high tone
- -๋ : normally indicates a rising tone
The Thai tone rules…
If the syllable has a tone mark:
- follow the tone mark
- exception: the first consonant is low class: take the next tone
If the syllable doesn’t have a tone mark:
- and the syllable is a life syllable: mid tone
- exception: the first consonant is high class: rising tone
- and the syllable is dead: low tone
- exception: the first consonant is low class
- and the syllable has a short vowel: high tone
- and the syllable has a long vowel: falling tone
Chart of the Thai tone rules…