THAI LANGUAGE LESSONS
L12 - Pronouns & Titles
We have already seen that Thais will omit pronouns when they think the context makes it obvious who they are talking about. One of the reasons for this is their use of pronouns is a little more complex than in English. Your choice of pronoun indicates the amount of respect you are showing to the subject.
Good use of pronouns will very much improve the sound of your Thai and give the listener a better impression.
The following list of pronouns is far from complete but they are the ones you are most likely to hear. That does not mean you should use them all. The ones highlighted in yellow are the ones you should consider using. The others we include so you understand them when you hear them. Do not use them yourself.
(informal - would be insulting to use to a stranger)
|tahn||you (polite and formal)|
(from an elder to a child or younger)
(informal and rough sounding)
(informal - would be insulting to use to a stranger)
|kao||he / she|
|gair||he / she
(an inferior or close friend)
Note that unlike in English, the pronoun form does not change depending whether it is the subject or object of the sentence. Thai does not have separate words such as 'I' & 'me', 'she' & 'her' or 'they' & 'them'.
Standard Thai sentence order is the same as English, i.e. subject-verb-object.
How to say 'I'
pom is the polite way for men to refer to themselves.
di-chan is the polite way for women to refer to themselves.
chan is a more informal way for men or women to refer to themselves. It is fine to use this word in informal conversation with friends. In more formal situations or with strangers you should use 'pom' or 'di-chan'.
pom chorp bee-a - I like beer
chan bpai gin kaow - I'm going to eat food
How to say 'You'
koon is the standard polite form of 'you'. It is the safest choice to use when you are first learning the language.
tahn is polite and a little more formal than 'koon'.
terr is an option as you get better with the language. It is an informal 'you', usually to a female or child although it may also be used affectionately to a man. You will notice it can also be used as a third-person pronoun for her/she.
pom ruk koon - I love you (formal)
koon ruk pom - You love me (formal)
chan ruk terr - I love you (informal)
terr ruk chan - You love me (informal)
Notice there is no change to the pronoun form regardless of whether it is the subject or object of the sentence.
How to say 'He' & 'She'
kao is the standard form of 'he' or 'she'.
terr is an option as you get better with the language. It can be used as an informal third-person pronoun.
kao bpai gin kaow - he/she has gone to eat food
How to say 'We'
puak rao is the standard form of 'we' or 'us'. Puak is used in pronouns to show a plural.
rao is a slightly less formal form but is fine to use in everyday conversation.
rao bpai gin kaow - we are going to eat food
How to say 'They'
puak kao - this is a combination of puak (plural) and kao (he/she). Used in combination these two words make 'they' or 'them'.
puak kao bpai gin kaow - they are going to eat food
How to say 'It'
mun - this is the standard form of 'it' used in the same way as in English for objects or animals. (You may hear it used to refer to people. This can be insulting, affectionate or neutral.)
mun bpai gin kaow - it has gone to eat food
Because of the complications with selecting the correct pronoun, even Thais will often choose to use the person's name instead. They will even do this with their own name rather than 'I', or your name rather than 'you'.
koon mah-lee ruk koon steve - Mahlee loves Steve (rather than 'I love you')
When calling someone by name, it is polite to give them a title. In the example above 'koon' is being used as a title in the same way that we use 'Mr', 'Mrs' or 'Miss'.
The most common titles you will hear are:
|koon||the general polite title|
|nai||for a man of equal social standing|
|pee||from a younger to an elder|
|norng||from an elder to a younger|
koon - this is the most commonly used title. It can be applied to both men and women. It can be used with people of equal of higher social standing. This is the title you should generally use. It shows a good level of respect for the subject. You would not use this title for a child or for a subserviant such as a maid or waitress.
nai - this title is only used for men of equal social status. You will be better off using 'koon' but we include it so you understand it if you hear it.
pee - a title for an elder person from a younger. The whole pee/norng thing is tied up in the Thai system of family and social standing. Age is one of the major factors in social standing. Elders should be respected. Foreigners are generally outside this social status table and are almost never referred to as 'pee'. However you will hear Thais use it between themselves. Younger siblings refer to elder siblings as 'pee'. Even beyond family relations, younger people may refer to elders as 'pee'. It all gets far too complicated to give a full explanation here.
norng - a title for a younger person from an elder. Although foreigners are generally excluded from the pee/norng thing, you can feel free to use this one yourself for your own children or other people's children.
norng jenny nah-ruk - young Jenny is lovely
You can also use it for young serving staff at restaurants.
Titles in Summary
To conclude on titles. Regardless of what you hear Thais use with each other, until you are very comfortable with the language you should stick with the following:
Use 'koon' for people of equal or superior social standing.
Use only the name, no title, for people of lower social standing, e.g. staff, maids, waitresses.
Use 'norng' for children.