Up to now we have used the words CHUN “I” and TAHN or KOON “you” because they can be used by either sex and are fairly correct or at least understandable in most circumstances.
There are however a great number of other pronouns in the Thai language, and though you need not bother about them all, you should have a working knowledge of the more common ones and be able to recognise them and use them correctly.
You will notice that some words can be classified as 1st. person pronouns, but there is no very clear distinction between 2nd. and 3rd. person pronouns.
This is a word used by both males and females when speaking to intimates, servants or children. You should not use it when speaking to people who are superior to you in rank or social status but it is alright amongst friends if you know them well. From the above it follows that if you use CHUN you will not normally use the “polite” words KA or KRUP at the end of your sentence.
This has the same meaning as CHUN but is a more “polite” word and is generally used when talking with equals or superiors. This word can only be used by males.
This is the female counterpart of POM and is used in the same circumstances. It is often abbreviated to CHUN. This word can only be used by females.
This is a very formal word which may be used by either males or females but is seldom met with except in writing. You will mostly come across it in official documents.
This is a rather insulting word which you should never use. It is mentioned here because a Thai can and often does use it to a really intimate friend as a very informal and friendly word.
This corresponds to POM and DICHUN and can be used by either males or females. It is generally used amongst intimates and is a good “polite” word to use to superiors. It is the pronoun most commonly heard in any conversation can be used in either the 2nd. or 3rd. person. As it indicates considerable personal respect, you should not use it to inferiors such as servants or taxi drivers.
This word can be used as a 2nd. or 3rd. person pronoun by either males or females. Actually it is a “polite” word and would be used in conversation by a Thai only when speaking to someone of high rank. In the written language however it is the ordinary word to use for “you”. It shows respect for rank rather than personal respect.
This is a very familiar form of address used mainly by women talking to each other, a man talking to his wife or girl friend or when talking to small children. It is also used a 3rd. person pronoun under the same conditions.
This is often used as a pet name when talking to or about small children or girl friends and corresponds roughly to “little one” as used in English in similar circumstances. Can also be used to waitresses and young servants.
This is another very low word which you should never use although you will sometimes hear Thai people use it to very intimate friends.
This is the 3rd. person pronoun singular or plural and may be used by either sex referring to anyone. Just as in English however it is more polite to refer to people as NAI or KOON “Mr.” or KOON “Mrs.” or “Miss” rather than just KOW “He”, “She” etc.
“You”, “He”, “She”,
This is a 2nd. or 3rd. person pronoun. Used as a 2nd. person pronoun it sounds rather rough and you had better avoid it but you can use it as a 3rd. person pronoun when referring to servants or people of inferior status. A Thai will sometimes use it as a 3rd. person pronoun referring to his friends.
This is sometimes used for animals and things and for the impersonal “it” in such sentences as “if you like this, it will be a good thing”. You should not try to use it until you get more familiar with the language.
This can be used in all cases for “we” or “they” and if necessary as a 2nd. person pronoun.
POO-AK ROW d-c
This is a variation of the above which you may come across in reading and means “Our group” or “Our sort of people”.
This is really an appellation for a person with the rank or PRAYAH and may be used in the 2nd. or 3rd. person. Although there is no equivalence in rank, its use is similar to the use of the word “Sir” in English when talking to or about someone who has been knighted except that you can use JOWKOON as a pronoun without adding the name after it. (See Appendix 4.)
This is a respectful form of address used when speaking to or about the wife of PRAYAH, a princess below the rank of MOM JOW or a commoner who has had certain high decorations conferred on her. (See Appendix 4.)
Note on the 2nd person
The 2nd. person pronoun is difficult for foreigners mainly because of the wide variety of words a Thai may use and the Thai habit of dispensing with it altogether in so many cases.
When speaking to persons you consider your equals, there is no trouble; you can use KOON for either sex or NAI for a man and that is as a Thai would use it.
When it comes to people in the market, taxi drivers, shop assistants etc. the position becomes difficult because KOON or NAI are not appropriate.
There are a number of words a Thai may use, but just which he would use in any particular circumstances is bound up with his or her whole social background as a Thai, his or her official position and his or her relationship and intimacy with the person spoken to.
What a Thai would use however is by no means always suitable for a foreigner who has no well defined social status vis-a-vis any Thai. Traditional habits are not easy to cast aside, and though a Thai will forgive a foreigner for using an impolite form of address it will still make him squirm a little and it is far better to err on the over polite side.
If you must use a 2nd. person pronoun to a car driver, servant, shop attendant etc. and want to appear friendly you can use “ROW” (เรา).
As mentioned above however it is better to try and avoid the 2nd. person pronoun altogether if you can and use first names or occupational designations in cases where it is inappropriate to use KOON or NAI.
If you are speaking to someone and they know you are speaking to them, the pronoun is after all fairly redundant in many cases.
The above rather formidable list of pronouns, though by no means the full list, has been given because it comprises those you are likely to run across in conversation or in your reading.
There is no necessity to try and learn them all at this stage, that will come as you gain more facility in the language.
For the present you can confine yourself to the following which will get you along fairly well.
Man speaking: POM, Woman speaking: DICHUN
or CHUN. POM will sound a little over polite to your servant or the taxi driver
but they won’t be offended. If you can remember to use CHUN (male or
female) to servants or taxi drivers it sounds better.
Use KOON to your equals or superiors and
if you can’t avoid the pronoun use ROW to all others. When speaking to
servants you can use their name alone e.g. BADOOM, MAHLEE etc. or the
designation of their job e.g. KON KUP ROT “driver”.
Both sexes use KOW for everyone, but when
talking about your equals or superiors it is better to use their name prefixed
by NAI “Mr.” or KOON “Mr.”, “Mrs.” or
“Miss”. Do not use NAHNG “Mrs.” or NAHNG CAOU
“Miss” in conversation. For servants etc. use the name alone or
refer to them by the designation of their job.
Both sexes use ROW for all
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