This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.
The Thai phrases you use most often…
Moving to a county with a new foreign language to tackle, I depend on two sure-fire phrases. The first phrase I learn is ‘I don’t understand’. And the second phrase is ‘this does not work’. I also practice my blank stare.
Why these three? Ok, I know from past experience that 1) something is going to break on my first day in any new country; and 2) I need someone else to do all the heavy language lifting; and 3) since I’m using their language, even if it’s ‘I don’t understand’, then they are not going to believe me and will start talking really fast until they take pause to admire my really brilliant blank stare.
So if you follow my instructions, eventually everything will be well in your foreign world too.
Hah! Well, let me know how that works out for you, ok?
The recent post about Andrew Biggs, Andrew Biggs on Twitter and Facebook, got me thinking about the phrases people use most often in Thailand. What I mean is, beyond the typical สวัสดี /sà-wàt-dee kha/ and all. And since you already know my two phrases, what I did was ask around. I asked those in the know to please pay attention to the Thai phrases they found themselves saying the most, and then send them to me.
Those I asked are from varied backgrounds, so there is sure to be something here for you: Thai, expat, men, women, single, married, students, teachers, employed, retired, moms, pops, and those in their thirties all the way up to grannies and grandpas. Nice.
Here are phrases that I often use. A lot of them are from Speak Like a Thai Volume 1.
tam à-rai yòo
What are you up to?
Just one moment.
bpai gòn ná
I have to go now.
I’ll be right back.
bòk láew ngai
I told you so.
sŏm náam nâa
It serves you right.
sĭa way-laa jing jing
What a waste of time!
mâi ruay gôr sŭay dâi
You may not be rich, but you can be beautiful.
mâi sŭay gôr ruay dâi
You may not be beautiful, but you can be rich.
láew jer gan
See you later.
kâe née ná
That’s all for now.
ror mâi wăi láew
I can’t wait any longer.
láew dtàe kun
It’s up to you.
òt mâi dâi
I can’t help it.
bâa réu bplào
Are you crazy?
tam dâi ngai
How did you do it?
mâi dâi yin
I can’t hear you.
Are you certain?
bpen bpai dâi yang ngai
How can it be?
dĭeow gôr róo
We shall see.
Paiboon Publishing | Phrases from: Speak Like a Thai Volume 1
On WLT: Interview: Benjawan Poomsan Becker | Learn Thai with Benjawan Poomsan Becker
Besides “Oscar, fetch the ball”, I’ve discovered that my top phrase is “ha ha ha ha” (my hubby makes me laugh). Here’s the third most uttered phrase by me (or if not in actuality, I fancy it is 🙂
Something like that.
(It’s a very “Bangkok” vernacular)
Thai Woman Talks – Language, Politics & Love
On WLT: Thai Sex Talk for St Valentine’s Day
My angle on this project is child-centered Thai phrases, so I’ve included phrases said quite often to my son Aidan. Yes, these are simple little phrases, but they are honestly used around my house!
No doing somersaults.
jà tam à-rai
What are you going to do?
pôr tam hâi ayng
Daddy will do it for you.
yàa pêung, yàa pêung
làp sà-baai mái
Did you sleep well?
dâi way-laa sài sêua pâa
Time to get dressed.
bpai bpraeng fan
Go brush your teeth.
réo réo nòi
The Expat Woman’s Guide to Living in Thailand (no longer online)
On WLT: Learning Thai with Thai Husband and Child | The Expat Women’s Guide to Bangkok
This is a very informal way to reply affirmatively to a question. While it is something that your teachers will tell you never to say, they likely say it with friends.
prûng née bpai doo năng mái
Do you want to see a movie tomorrow?
A: เออ /er/
(the more polite answer is ไปครับ /bpai kráp/
ดูก่อน /doo gòn/
Literally translates as “see before” which makes absolutely no sense. Instead, translate this entire expression to mean something like “let’s see, let me check, I’ll let you know”. It is a way of replying to an invitation and saying that you don’t know yet, but will let the person know when you finally decide. It can also be used when you want to reply in the negative but don’t want to offend the other person by directly turning down the invitation. It is often used if you just don’t feel like committing to something.
prûng née bpai doo năng mái
Do you want to see a movie tomorrow?
A: ดูก่อน /doo gòn/
Let me see how I feel tomorrow…
เป็นคนที่… /bpen kon têe/
Literally translates to mean “am person that” or “I am a person that” or something along those lines. Usage is relatively clear, it is just that we don’t have an expression like this in English. This expression is used pretty frequently to stress a detail about themselves.
prûng née bpai doo năng má
Do you want to see a movie tomorrow?
bpai ká chăn bpen kon têe-chôp doo năng mâaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaak
Yes! I love watching movies.
kŏr tôht têe mao mâak keun gòn · pŏm bpen kon têe kor mao ngâai
Sorry I got drunk the other night, I tend to get drunk easily.
ai bpen kon têe-chôp sài sĕe sà-daeng sòt săi
I (using the informal English loanword) like wearing bright colors.
Goldenland Polygot | Single Production Company
On WLT: Interview: Luke Cassady-Dorion: Photographer and Linguist | Grokking the Thai Writing System Part 1: Consonants
อี๊อี๊ /ée ée/
An equivalent of ‘Ewwww’.
kít dâi yang ngai
“How could you think that?”
“Are you insane?”
Isaan/Lao equivalent of ไม่เป็นไร /mâi bpen rai/.
Cheeky laughter, “hehe”.
A sound representing astonishment/excitement/hysteria.
Of a girl – young-looking. e.g. หน้าเอ๊าะ /nâa ór/ or simply เอ๊าะ ๆ /ór ór/.
Embarrassed, e.g. from a compliment.
Really really hungry.
This is Thai and Lao. It means really delicious. Also can mean really delicious and extremely spicy. You see this in the names of a few shops (such as ‘yum sap’, the chain that sells very spicy Isaan food), and I am sure you’ve heard it before. If you want your som-tam really spicy you can say ‘phet’ until you’re blue in the face, but with the farang face you’re only ever getting it ‘quite spicy’. If you ask for it ‘saep-saep’ you’ll get it proper-spicy.
ไม่ไหว /mâi wăi/
Literally “not able”. “I’ve had enough, I can’t take any more”. Also, ไม่ไหวแล้ว /mâi wăi láew/ is heard often.
I guess that means I need to find nine more? Sigh.
Scott’s website and blog
As every good language learner knows the best way to learn is to practise in authentic, real life situations. Striking up a conversation out of nothing can be a bit tricky if you don’t know the cultural platitudes or small talk.
The few following phrases come in very handy, being the Thai equivalents of “How are you?” or “What’s up?”, and the kind of small talk one engages in with new acquaintances. They are the natural way to precipitate the slide into deeper conversation, and of course that’s where the good stuff is.
While of course not all of these are appropriate with all people, I find myself using one or two of them at least when I meet a new person.
gin kâao rĕu yang
Have you eaten or not yet?
ไปไหน /bpai năi/
Where are you going?
bpen ngai bâang
mee lôok rĕu yang
Do you have any children, or not yet?
dtàeng ngaan rĕu yang
Are you married, or not yet?
How old are you?
maa jàak jang wàt năi
Which province do you come from?
bâan yòo năi
Where is your home?
yòo tăew năi
Which area do you live in?
tam ngaan à-rai
What’s your work?
I have found that the other side of making the most of good, instructive conversation is to try where possible to convince your conversation partner that your Thai is better than it actually is. This way you are pushed out of your comfort zone and into your learning zone. To do this I throw in as many colloquialisms as I can naturally muster, as well as a few Thai back channel responses (Thai equivalents of the English ‘umms’ and ‘ahhs’), and those oh so abundant untranslatable particles.
mâi bpen rai
The colloquialism to end all colloquialisms!
Exclamatory interjection e.g. โอ้โห /ôh-hŏh/ David Beckham วิ่งเร็วมาก /wîng réo mâak/: Wow! David Beckham runs fast.
a particle used to form questions (among others) e.g. แล้วคุณละ /láew kun lá/: And how about you?
a particle to soften a statement (maybe like asking “…OK?” after a making a command) e.g. อย่านะ /yàa ná/: Don’t … just yet, OK?
a particle to add emphasis e.g. ไปสิ /bpai sì/: Go!
a particle to add mild emphasis e.g. ไปกันเภิอะ /bpai gan à/: Let’s go!
a particle used to imply that the preceding statement is self evident e.g. นี่ไง /nêe-ngai/: This one!
a particle used instead of ครับ /kráp/ or คะ /ká/ which is softer and less formal.
a particle used to sound affectionate when calling someone’s name.
N.B. All of these particles take on multiple meanings depending on context. I’ve mentioned just one for each. They all take lots of trial and error and careful listening to others’ use to get right.
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Me (sort of)…
Below are more sentences from Andrew Biggs on Twitter. I chose these because (not) sleeping is always on my mind. And if you read through Andrew’s tweets, the subject of sleep is often in his thoughts as well.
chăn nèuay sùt sùt
jà non láew
[I’m] going to sleep
non làp făn dee
kŏr hâi hăai réo kha
Get well soon.
I just woke up.
mêua keun chăn làp sà-nìt
Last night I slept like a log.
chăn non làp bpòk-gà-dtì dee kêun
I am sleeping better.
wan née chăn dtèun săai
Today I woke up late.
Btw, a general purpose Thai phrase for “this doesn’t work” is นี่ใช้ไม่ได้ /nêe chái mâi dâi/ but I get straight to the point with ไม่เวิร์ค /mâi wêrk/ or มันไม่เวิร์ค /man mâi wêrk/. The Thai phrase for “I don’t understand” is ไม่เข้าใจ /mâi kâo jai/. These are invaluable phrases one cannot live without in any country (even your own). Now about that blank stare… heh.
20 thoughts on “What are YOUR Top Useful Thai Phrases?”
Thanks Tt (and my apologies for coming in late – I don’t always get alerts).
Some here will be happy to know that I’ve done away with the rollovers. In preparation for adding audio files to all of the Thai, the rollovers are gone.
Just want to correct something (a bit late i know!)
To say I’m a lightweight (alcohol wise) ผมเป็นคนคออ่อน is better than เป็นคนที่คอเมาง่าย
It literally means ‘I’m someone with a soft neck’. คอผมแข็ง (I’ve a hard neck) is the opposite, someone who can hold their drinks. A claim that could potentially backfire…
Would just like to add, drinking (too much) is an important bonding process for Thai people, and knowing how to treat someone who’s worse for wear is an important part of this process.
If one of your Thai friends is throwing up (อ้วก) from too much booze, you should help by stroking his/her back, using heavy upward strokes. Thais think this helps with the process and is considered a sign of a caring friend. Not medically proven but will be appreciated by your friends.
If this sounds too complicated, patting on the back will also be looked on positively.
Hi Kaewmala, I thought your one phrase was absolutely fabulous (and funny as well). And now you’ve come up with another I’m going to get a lot of use out of, so thank you 🙂
I’m feeling baddddd. Sorry it took me long to return, Cat. Having seen others’ useful lists of phrases I now realize how lazy I was. 🙂 Isn’t this strange? A native speaker and I have a hard time coming up with a good list of often uttered phrases. Maybe I live too much in my head and not through my vocal cord. 🙂
I swear I did come up with 2 good phrases this morning and now I can’t remember what they are! Drat! It’s a miracle how I get through the day among my fellow Thais. Oh, oh, one just came to me right now: กำลัง… /kam-lang/ meaning “about to…[insert verb – or not].” (leaving off a verb will make the expression sometimes conveniently vague, as you’ll see)
Scenario: After 20 minutes of waiting for the dear wife, the properly-dressed-for-dinner husband is anxious to leave the house.
Husband: “Are you done putting on make-up? We’re running late!”
Wife: “ใกล้เสร็จแล้วจ้า อีกห้านาที!” /klai ja set laew jaa, eek haa naa tee/ (Almost done. Five more minutes!)
Husband: “You’ve been saying that for the last 20 minutes! Come on, let’s get going.”
Then he walks off to the garage and hollers: “Are you coming?”
Wife: กำลัง กำลัง /kam-lang, kam-lang/, while drawing her second eyebrow at the lighting speed.
I swear this has never happened to me personally (really, I never draw my eyebrows). 🙂
.-= kaewmala´s last blog ..“Play” in Thai Idioms – Part 3- Erotic Play =-.
Christopher, I’m smiling because that’s so like older people everywhere I go. And it’s one trait that I’ll watch when I get to a certain age as well – the fascination with the young (their tangled love lives mostly). Already with my son I hold my questions at arms length because I remember back when my mother would dig and dig and dig (she still does, only slower).
Not that it is important, but I thought I would mention that I am also a person without a Thai other. I am only a person with Thai friends in the midst of love and the opposite of love; neighbors with somewhat long distance crushes or the opposite of crushes; and old folks who never stop asking about whether or not I’ve met someone, and never stop accusing me about hiding the fact that I’ve someone.
สู้ๆ นะเพื่อน (suu suu na peuan — sorry that’s terrible translit.)
Hi Chris, not having a Thai other, I don’t have a lot of sugar words on hand. So thanks for this one as it can be used for others as well. Kaewmala’s book is loaded with sweet goodies, so I should reread it soon.
กินไอติมป๊ะ (gin ai dteem bpa) Shall we eat ice cream?
ไอติม = ไอศกรีม (ai dteem = ai sa greem) Ice Cream
ป๊ะ = ไหม, หรือเปล่า (bpa = mai, ruu blao)
I don’t know, who doesn’t love ice cream?
Oh, one more thing. Several months ago, while on my way home from work, a woman in the neighborhood who had shown, um, an interest (ปลื้ม – bplêum, to crush (on someone); this is a word that in the dictionary, you only get the usage from 1950) asked a question. I thought it to be sort of heartwarming; as I thought about it more, I thought it to be a rather important lesson in particle usage. Really, try to say it:
คริสจ๋า วันนี้จ้ะ ไปไหนมาจ๊ะ (keet4 jaaaa5\ wan1 nee4 ja3 \ bpai1 nai5 maa1 jaa4)
Chris, where have you been today?
จ๋า (jaaa5) I think we should call this “the particle of affection and affectionate tone.” As far as my experience with it goes, it used for addressing someone, well, that you have affection for: a mom to a child, a lover to a lover, a crusher to the crushed…
Talen, fabulous that you’ve booked your flights to Thailand! After all this time, you must be walking on air 🙂
Cat, as Martyn said this is a brilliant post and why you keep many of us coming back time and again. I too have printed this out and will definitely be coming in handy…and very soon as I booked my flights today!
Good morning Amy 🙂 it’s the little touches that ease us into a language. It also makes us sound more fluent (which can be good as well as bad).
I found the particles to be quite interesting. I hear my son and husband using si, la and ngai quite often and now I understand their meanings better.
Christopher, one of my reasons for starting this post is to see if I could extract real Thai from contributors and readers.
Like other sporadic Thai students, I’ve (embarrassingly) taken on a few bits of expat Thai. In addition, on the fly I’ve created phrases only Shakespeare would say. So if I’m amazing anyone at all… heh…
When I asked Thais why they don’t correct expats, some come back with 1) We can understand you 2) We expect foreigners to speak Thai that way.
And that explanation seems to stand for a few of the courses you see around as well. Someone will tell their staff to create an equivalent Thai phrase for an English one. As you know, there are times when there are no equivalents, but that does not stop anyone from cobbling something together that no Thai would say. To further confuse, there are expat phrases that Thais are now sporting.
On a side note: Thais don’t inject ดีฉัน/ฉัน and such at the beginning of every sentence. I automatically discount it after typing it in, and then forget to mention that point to readers. Sure, it was brought up in early posts… so my only real excuse is that I’m lazy.
PS: You are not an annoying commenter. Not even close 🙂
By the way, very good post, Catherine; it has me thinking about all the funny stuff I hear around. I think we download a lot of information that is available if we search for it, yet most of the time I find myself just marching straight trying to download new information. Thank you for bringing this about.
I know I’m the most annoying sort of commenter, but I had one other thought. When you render a Thai person speechless with your fabulous Thai (which is probably pretty often, eh?), you could say:
อ้ำอึ้งทำไมเนี่ย (am3 êung3 tam-mai1 nia3) – why are you all speechless?
Ok, I’ll be silent for a while. When you get a chance, folks, type up some more stuff. I’m curious about what other people use on the daily.
Christopher, Thanks for adding the Thai bits (it’s before 9am and I’m still not awake yet). Fabulous. I use จริงเหรอ all the time (crazy that I didn’t think to add it in). Like you, I don’t cuss out loud, but I do mutter darkly under my breath (not strong words, but said with real meaning).
เอ… (Eh… or Um…) I’m definitely a person that gets a lot of use from eh. I noticed that a couple phrases from above haven’t got the Thai touch yet:
อะไรก็ได้ (aray gaw day)
เหนื่อยจะตาย (nueay ja dtaai)
ทำอะไรอยู่ (tam aray yoo)
Sorry, I suck at this. I’m just going to put a number after the transliteration to tell of the tone: 1-middle 2-low 3-falling…
ไอ้บ้าเอ๊ย (aai3 baa3 óie4) – shit, damnit (impolite way to express frustration when we make an error or when others make us frustrated); I say it when I’m alone.
จริงด้วย (jing1 duay3) – true, that’s true, good point (something like that)
จริงดิ (jing1 di2) – really?! (จริงเหรอ (jing1 lor5)); I’ve heard it mostly used by younger people in the city
อะไรของพี่ (aray1 khawng5 pee3) – what you are you talking about or what’s up with you (in response to “crazy talk” from the person you are talking to — the example is with an older person)
นั่งก่อนไหม (nung3 gawn2 mai4) – have a seat, would you like to sit?
จอดบ้ายหน้าด้วยนะครับ (jawt2 baai3 naa3 duay3 na4 khap4) – please stop at the next (bus) station (I use it while riding in those mini-van things)
โทษที (tôht3 tee1) – sorry (pretty informally)
แค่นี้นะ (kâe3 nee4 na4) – (on the phone) let’s call it a conversation, that’s all for now
บ๊ายบาย (baai4 baai1) – bye-bye (another one from the kids)
Morning Martyn. Apologies, I didn’t think about not being able to print the transliteration. To make up for it, this weekend I’ll create a word doc with transliteration to download. But please remember that the tone markers are not exact, ok? I grab it from T2E and do not dress it up from there.
Tip: To get phrases with sound and the works, Benjawan’s CD is all inclusive.
Catherine at this rate I may have to bill you for a new ink cartridge for my printer. Thankfully I do have lots of paper (not sure where it all came from).This post is a gem.
I loaded the printer with paper and off it went….suddenly a thought entered my head.
“Sh*t, it’s not going to print the roll over transliteration…oh well.”
This post is fantastic to someone like me because some of the phrases are one’s I will use time and time again. I think it would have taken years to have learned them and yet here they are in one brill post.
I’ll get over the transliteration by writing the one’s in I consider most useful to me….tam a-rai yoo? has gone straight in, that’s a good opener on the phone.
Fantastic and a more than useful lesson in learning some basic but needy Thai language small talk.
Welcome Betti! And thanks for your two phrases. Being tired after ten hour shifts is understandable (and I soooo remember those days). It’s almost 11 out here, so unless someone beats me to it I’ll get the script for your phrases in the morning. Happy weekend!
didn’t want to be the first to comment.
my favourites come from work – three of us need to closely cooperate for 9-10 hours a day, each decision involves at least two people.
so, “arai k’dai” (whatever, up to you) can drive people up the wall and is absolutely not permitted but of course said all the time when someone is too tired to make a decision or just wants to tease the others.
“nueay ja taai” (very tired) is a personal favourite (note those 10 hours at work).
sorry about lack of Thai letters. too tired to spend five mins finding all the right keys.