L10 - Classifiers

It seems like every language has its own peculiarities that frustrate new learners. English is one of the worst with its mass of irregular forms. In French every noun is male or female and in German there are 18 articles. The two major frustrations for learners of Thai are the tones and classifiers.

Classifiers are the words used to count objects. In Thai, you cannot count a noun, e.g. 'I have five dogs'. Instead you have to use a classifier.

The easiest way to describe this is it to compare it to the English concept of countable and non-countable nouns.

'Dog' is a countable noun - you can say 'I have five dogs'.

'Sand' is a non-countable noun - you cannot say 'I have five sands'. Instead you must say 'I have five grains of sand'. In this case 'grain' is the classifier.

'Grass' is a non-countable noun - you cannot say 'I have five grasses'. Instead you must say 'I have five blades of grass'. In this case 'blade' is the classifier.

In Thai, every noun is non-countable. So the problem is for every noun you want to count, you have to know its classifier.

Some common classifers:

an general classifier (you can use it for small objects if you cannot remember the right classifier)
kon people
dtua animals (and other objects with arms or legs such as shirts, trousers, chairs and tables)
kan vehicles
met pills, seeds, grains, etc
lem books, cutlery, umbrellas and things with handles
bai paper, leaves, tickets, hollow objects such as cups, bowls, hats.

These are just a small selection of the available classifiers. As you can see, the way they are applied to nouns are often very ambiguous and there is no shortcut other than to memorise them.

How Classifiers Work in Thai

Let's look at some examples:

New Vocabulary:

peu-an friend
rot yon car
mah dog

mee peu-an hok kon - I have 6 friends. Literally 'I have friends, 6 people'.

mee rot yon sorng kan - I have 2 cars. Literally 'I have cars, 2 vehicles'.

mee mah sahm dtua - I have 3 dogs. Literally 'I have dogs, 3 bodies'


Classifiers are an intrinsic part of the Thai language and you cannot speak it well without using them. If you go to a bar and say:

ao sorng bee-a - I want two beers.

They probably will not understand because you have not used a classifier. You need to say:

ao bee-a sorng kuat - I want beer, two bottles.


For a fuller list of classifiers see Appendix 5: Classifiers




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