Thai Language Thai Culture: Word order in Thai “Wh” Questions

Thai Language

This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.

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Word order in Thai “Wh” questions…

It is common for beginning students of Thai (or students of most foreign languages for that matter) to start off making sentences and answering the teacher’s questions. In fact, quite often the art of ASKING questions is frequently left to much later, and sometimes is forgotten altogether. This is a problem with Thai since Thai questions are asked in quite a different way than English questions.

Word order of Thai “wh” questions – who, what, where, how, why – is different from the word order of English questions. The question words are in a different place. In English, the question word begins the sentence, so everyone knows the question is coming. Thai needs to set you up first. If you want to know where something is, you name that thing first and then use the question word. So, “where is the book?” in Thai word order becomes “the book is where?” Exceptions are the why questions where the question word is either in front or behind, such as “why are you sad?” or “you are sad why?”

Note that tenses in Thai questions such as in “what will”, “what did”, “what are”, as well as all the other “wh” type questions use the same pattern. It takes adding other context words to clarify your meaning. For example with: “what will you do tomorrow“, “what did you do yesterday“, “what are you doing now“, “what are you doing tonight“. And even though there is a nice future indicator in Thai such as จะ /ja/, as well as other time indicators, they are often dropped. My feeling is that it’s done specifically to confuse me, but I might just be paranoid about that.

If everyone understands the context, then these words are not needed. But many an Expat is left confused as to whether they are being asked about something they did, or will do, or are doing. When I am the one doing the asking, in order to be understood I use the context words.

There are so many ways to ask questions. I have shown just a few here but you are sure to come across many more question patterns. Observe the word order in the examples below. The Thai question words have been underlined for clarity.

How long…

Time:

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จากกรุงเทพฯ ไปเชียงใหม่ ใช้เวลานานเท่าเท่าไร
jàak grung tâyp bpai chiang-mài chái way-laa naan tâo-rai
How long does it take to go from Bangkok to Chiang Mai?

เราจะต้องรอ นานแค่ไหน
rao jà dtông ror naan kâe năi
How long do we have to wait?

Length:

เรือ ยาวแค่ไหน
reua yaao kâe năi
How long is the boat?

How many…

นก กี่ตัว อยู่บนต้นไม้
nók gèe dtua yòo bon dtôn mái
How many birds are in that tree?

How much…

Cost:

เสื้อตัวนี้ราคา เท่าไหร่
sêua dtua née raa-kaa tâo rài
How much does this shirt cost?

Weigh:

คุณน้ำหนัก เท่าไหร่
kun náam nàk tâo rài
How much do you weigh?

Want:

คุณต้องการเงิน เท่าไหร่
kun dtông gaan ngern tâo rài
How much money do you want?

How do you say… in Thai…

“Hello” ว่ายังไง เป็นภาษาไทย
“Hello” wâa yang ngai bpen paa-săa tai
How do you say “hello” in Thai?

How often do you…

เรียนภาษาไทย บ่อยแค่ไหน
rian paa-săa tai bòi kâe năi
How often do you study Thai?

What did (will, etc) you do…

Future:

คุณ จะทำอะไร พรุ่งนี้
kun jà tam à-rai prûng né
What will you do tomorrow?

Past:

คุณ ทำอะไร เมื่อวาน
kun tam à-rai mêua waan
What did you do yesterday?

Present:

คุณ กำลังทำอะไร อยู่
kun gam-lang tam à-rai yòo
What are you doing?

What do you do…

คุณ ทำงานอะไร
kun tam ngaan à-rai
What do you do (for a living)?

คุณ ทำอะไร ตอนเย็น
kun tam à-rai dton yen
What do you do (in the evening)?

What do you need…

คุณ ต้องการอะไร
kun dtông gaan à-rai
What do you need?

What do you want…

คุณ ต้องการอะไร
kun dtông gaan à-rai
What do you want?

What does this mean…

Meaning:

หมายความว่าอะไร
măai kwaam wâa à-rai
What does … mean?

Translation:

“คำศัพท์” แปลว่าอะไร
”kam sàp” bplae wâa a-rai
What does “คำศัพท์” mean? (the Thai word for “vocabulary”)

What is this…

นี่ คืออะไร
nêe keu à-rai
What is this?

นี่ อะไร
nêe à-rai
What is this?

When does it…

มันจะเริ่มต้น เมื่อไหร่
man jà rêrm dtôn mêua rai
When does it begin?

ฝนตกในประเทศไทย เมื่อไหร่
fŏn dtòk nai bprà-tâyt tai mêua-rài
When does it rain in Thailand?

When will you…

คุณจะไปกรุงเทพฯ เมื่อไหร่
kun jà bpai grung tâyp mêua-rài
When will you go to Bangkok?

Where are you going…

คุณจะไปเที่ยวพักผ่อน ที่ไหน
kun jà bpai tîeow pák pòn tîi-nǎi
Where are you going on your vacation?

Where do you…

คุณเรียน ที่ไหน
kun rian têe năi
Where do you study?

Where is the…

วัดอยู่ ที่ไหน
wát yòo têe năi
Where is the temple?

Which do you like…

คุณชอบมือถือ อันไหน
kun chôp meu tĕu an năi
Which cell phone do you like?

Which is better (best, worse, worst)…

รถ คันไหน ดีกว่า
rót kan năi dee gwàa
Which car is better?

รถ คันไหน ดีที่สุด
rót kan năi dee têe sùt
Which car is the best?

รถ คันไหน แย่กว่า
rót kan năi yâe gwàa
Which car is worse

รถ คันไหน แย่ที่สุด
rót kan năi yâe têe sùt
Which car is the worst?

Who is…

เธอเป็น ใคร
ter bpen krai
Who is she?

อาจารย์ของคุณคือ ใคร
aa-jaan kŏng kun keu krai
Who is your teacher?

Who is this (on the telephone)…

นี่ ใคร ครับ
nêe krai kráp
Who is this?

ใคร พูดครับ
krai pôot kráp
Who is this?

Why…

ทำไม คุณร้องไห้ or คุณร้องไห้ ทำไม
tam-mai kun róng-hâi or kun róng-hâi tam-mai
Why are you crying?

เธออ่านหนังสือ ทำไม or ทำไม เธออ่านหนังสือ
ter àan năng-sĕu tam-mai or tam-mai ter àan năng-sĕu
Why is she reading?

Hugh Leong
Retire 2 Thailand
Retire 2 Thailand: Blog
eBooks in Thailand

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