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How to actually say 'I' in Thai

posted Jan 9, 2017, 5:23 AM by Ratinan Lee   [ updated Jan 26, 2017, 7:16 AM ]

It is true that the Thai language has tons of words which share the same meaning but are used differently. And when you are using the wrong word, although the meaning is correct, others may get angry at you, laugh at you, etc. For example, in Hormones Season 3 (2015), episode 10, the See Scape Band members apologized San, the lead vocal, differently, โทษทีว่ะ (thō̂t thī wà) and โทษนะเว่ย (thō̂t ná wôei), but if you use these "sorry" with your teachers, you would be punished.

Just to say "I love you", Thai people have many different ways to say it. The most popular one (known among foreigners) should be "phǒm rák khun" (ผมรักคุณ; male to female) and "chǎn rák khun" (ฉันรักคุณ; female to male). But to Thais, "kū rák mueng" (กูรักมึง; among friends) is one of the most popular.

In this article, I am introducing you how to say "I" in Thai and only Thai. I mean the standard Thai "only". The words originated from the Northeastern Thai and Laos will be excluded. Hopefully, this list will help you understand more about the language.

Commonly Used

Phǒm (ผม; masculine) and Chǎn (ฉัน; feminine) are both polite first-person pronouns. Normally used with those older than you or those in higher social classes. Anyway, most of the times the word chǎn is difficult to pronounce due to its tone so it becomes chán (ชั้น) instead.

Rao (เรา; neutral) is a non-polite neutral I-word that is commonly used. It is soft and can be used widely for any informal situations.

Khā̂ (ข้า; masculine) is more masculine, but a softer one. Normally used among close friends nowadays. In the past, khā̂ used to be the most common one and still can be commonly heard in period films today. Younger generations may say that this word is already "deprecated".

(กู; more masculine, but also used among girls) is used among close friends. Since khā̂ is soft, kū is hard. This word was also used widely in the past together with neighboring empires. The word aku ("ku" in short) in Bahasa Malaysia means I, too! (And "Ini lah iPhoneku" in Bahasa Malaysia is "Īnī̂ làe aifōn kū" (อีนี่แหละไอโฟนกู) in Thai!)

Sômsôm says "rao" in front of Phálá, "kū" in front of her gang members, and "nū̌" with Phálá's grandmother. (photo from Thai series "Hormones the Series, Season 3")

Dìchǎn (ดิฉัน; feminine) is polite and formal I-word for working women. It is very hard to say so the tone is sometimes adjusted to dìchán (ดิชั้น) when the situation does not need politeness. Anyway, to make it much less polite, some women also shorten the word to dī́an (เดี๊ยน).

Nū̌ (หนู; feminine) is a girly-childish word used among girls aged less than 20 years old. Anyway, among family members, many women still use this word despite their age.

Your own name or your position can also be used as a first-person pronoun in Thai. For example, you can call yourself khrū (ครู; teacher) when you are talking with your students, phɔ̄̂ (พ่อ; father) when you are talking with your children. Normally, children called themselves using their own name when they are talking to a family member. The positions that can be used are also limited, namely phɔ̄̂ (พ่อ; father), mā̂e (แม่; mother), pā̂ (ป้า; aunt), lung (ลุง; uncle), nā́/ā (น้า/อา; aunt/uncle), pū̀/tā (ปู่/ตา; grandfather), yā̂/yāi (ย่า/ยาย; grandmother), phī̂ (พี่; if you are older), nɔ̄́ng (น้อง; if you are younger), and khrū (ครู; teacher).

Specific Situation

Ā̀ttàmā (อาตมา; Buddhist/masculine) is used by the Buddhist monks only.

Kràphǒm (กระผม; official/masculine) is used in highly official ceremonies or for reporting anything in military.

Khâpháchā̂o (ข้าพเจ้า; formal/neutral) is used in any formal ceremonies like the funeral.

Khā̂phráphúttháchā̂o (ข้าพระพุทธเจ้า; royal/neutral) is used in royal ceremonies.

Not Common

Kràmɔ̀m (กระหม่อม) is more royal.

Mɔ̀mchǎn (หม่อมฉัน) is more royal.