|Creator||Ramkhamhaeng the Great|
Thai, Southern Thai
Pattani Malay and others
|ISO 15924||Thai (352), Thai|
|The Brahmi script and its descendants|
The Thai script (Thai: อักษรไทย, RTGS: akson thai) is the abugida used to write Thai, Southern Thai and many other languages spoken in Thailand. The Thai alphabet itself (as used to write Thai) has 44 consonant symbols (Thai: พยัญชนะ, phayanchana) and 16 vowel symbols (Thai: สระ, sara) that combine into at least 32 vowel forms and four tone diacritics (Thai: วรรณยุกต์ or วรรณยุต, wannayuk or wannayut) to create characters mostly representing syllables.
Although commonly referred to as the "Thai alphabet", the script is in fact not a true alphabet but an abugida, a writing system in which the full characters represent consonants with diacritical marks for vowels; the absence of a vowel diacritic gives an implied 'a' or 'o'. Consonants are written horizontally from left to right, and vowels following a consonant in speech are written above, below, to the left or to the right of it, or a combination of those.
The Thai alphabet is derived from the Old Khmer script (Thai: อักษรขอม, akson khom), which is a southern Brahmic style of writing derived from the south Indian Pallava alphabet (Thai: ปัลลวะ). According to tradition it was created in 1283 by King Ramkhamhaeng the Great (Thai: พ่อขุนรามคำแหงมหาราช). The earliest attestation of the Thai script is the Ram Khamhaeng Inscription dated to 1292, however some scholars question its authenticity. The script was derived from a cursive form of the Old Khmer script of the time. It modified and simplified some of the Old Khmer letters and introduced some new ones to accommodate Thai phonology. It also introduced tone marks. Thai is considered to be the first script in the world that invented tone markers to indicate distinctive tones, which are lacking in the Mon-Khmer (Austroasiatic languages) and Indo-Aryan languages from which its script is derived. Although Chinese and other Sino-Tibetan languages have distinctive tones in their phonological system, no tone marker is found in their orthographies. Thus, tone markers are an innovation in the Thai language that later influenced other related Tai languages and some Tibeto-Burman languages on the Southeast Asian mainland. Another addition was consonant clusters that were written horizontally and contiguously, rather than writing the second consonant below the first one. Finally, the script wrote vowel marks on the main line, however this innovation fell out of use not long after.
Sukhothai consonant inventory
ศ, ษ, ส
|[z - ʑ]
Historical Sukhothai pronuncation
|Letters||IPA||Word in Sukhothai (in Modern Thai script)||Pronunciation in IPA (excluding tone)||Meaning and Definitions|
|วรรค ก | Varga Kor|
|ก||k||เกิด||kɤːt̚||v. to be born|
|ฃ||x||ฃึ้น (ขึ้น)||xɯn||v. to go up|
|ฅ||ɣ||ฅวาม (ความ)||ɣwaːm||n. affair; matter; content|
|ฆ||g||ฆ่า||gaː||v. to kill|
|หง||ŋ̊||หงอก||ŋ̊ɔːk̚||v. to whiten (hair)|
|วรรค จ | Varga Jor|
|ฉ||tɕʰ||ฉาย||tɕʰaːj||v. to shine (on something)|
|ซ||z - ʑ||ซ้ำ||zam||adv. repeatedly|
|ญ||ɲ||ญวน||ɲuan||v. Vietnam (archaic)|
|วรรค รฏ | Varga Ra Tor|
|ฎ||ʔd||ฎีกา||ʔdiːkaː||n. petition notice|
|ฐ||tʰ||ฐาน||tʰaːn||n. base, platform|
|ณ||n||เณร||neːn||n. novice monk|
|วรรค ต | Varga Tor|
|ถ||tʰ||ถอย||tʰɔj||v. to move back|
|ธ||d||ธุระ||duraʔ||n. business; affairs; errands|
|วรรค ป | Varga Por|
|อวรรค | Avarga|
|อย||ʔj||อย่า||ʔjaː||adv. do not|
|หย||j̊||เหยียบ||j̊iap||v. to step on|
|ร||r||รัก||rak||v. to love|
|ศ||s||ศาล||saːn||n. court of law|
|ษ||s||ฤๅษรี (ฤๅษี)||rɯːsiː||n. hermit|
|อ||ʔ||อ้าย||ʔaːi||n. first born son|
There is a fairly complex relationship between spelling and sound. There are various issues:
- For many consonant sounds, there are two different letters that both represent the same sound, but which cause a different tone to be associated. This stems from a major change (a tone split) that occurred historically in the phonology of the Thai language. At the time the Thai script was created, the language had three tones and a full set of contrasts between voiced and unvoiced consonants at the beginning of a syllable (e.g. b d g l m n vs. p t k hl hm hn). At a later time, the voicing distinction disappeared, but in the process, each of the three original tones split in two, with an originally voiced consonant (the modern "low" consonant signs) producing a lower-variant tone, and an originally unvoiced consonant (the modern "mid" and "high" consonant signs) producing a higher-variant tone.
- Thai borrowed a large number of words from Sanskrit and Pali, and the Thai alphabet was created so that the original spelling of these words could be preserved as much as possible. This means that the Thai alphabet has a number of "duplicate" letters that represent separate sounds in Sanskrit and Pali (e.g. the breathy voiced sounds bh, dh, ḍh, jh, gh and the retroflex sounds ṭ ṭh ḍ ḍh ṇ) but which never represented distinct sounds in the Thai language. These are mostly or exclusively used in Sanskrit and Pali borrowings.
- The desire to preserve original Sanskrit and Pali spellings also produces a particularly large number of duplicate ways of spelling sounds at the end of a syllable (where Thai is strictly limited in the sounds that can occur but Sanskrit allowed all possibilities, especially once former final /a/ was deleted), as well as a number of silent letters. Moreover, many consonants from Sanskrit and Pali loanwords are generally silent. The spelling of the words resembles Sanskrit or Pali orthography:
- Thai สามารถ (spelled sǎamaarth but pronounced sa-mat /sǎː mâːt/ with a silent r and a plain t that is represented using an aspirated consonant) "to be able" (Sanskrit समर्थ samartha)
- Thai จันทร์ (spelled chanthr but pronounced chan /tɕān/ because the th and the r are silent) "moon" (Sanskrit चन्द्र chandra)
- Thai phonology dictates that all syllables must end in a vowel, an approximant, a nasal, or a voiceless plosive. Therefore, the letter written may not have the same pronunciation in the initial position as it does in the final position. See Alphabet listing below for more detail.
- Even though the high class letter ho hip ห is used to write the sound /h/, if the letter comes before a low class letter in a syllable, it will become the silent ho nam and turn the initial consonant into high class. See Tones below for more detail.
Minor pauses in sentences may be marked by a comma (Thai: จุลภาค or ลูกน้ำ, chunlaphak or luk nam), and major pauses by a period (Thai: มหัพภาค or จุด, mahap phak or chut), but most often are marked by a blank space (Thai: วรรค, wak). Thai writing also uses quotation marks (Thai: อัญประกาศ, anyaprakat) and parentheses (round brackets) (Thai: วงเล็บ, wong lep or Thai: นขลิขิต, nakha likhit), but not square brackets or braces.
Several obsolete characters indicated the beginning or ending of sections. A bird's eye ๏ (Thai: ตาไก่, ta kai, officially called ฟองมัน, fong man) formerly indicated paragraphs. An angkhan kuu ๚ (Thai: อังคั่นคู่) was formerly used to mark the end of a chapter. A kho mut ๛ (Thai: โคมูตร) was formerly used to mark the end of a document, but is now obsolete.
Thai (along with its sister system, Lao) lacks conjunct consonants and independent vowels, while both designs are common among Brahmic scripts (e.g., Burmese and Balinese). In scripts with conjunct consonants, each consonant has two forms: base and conjoined. Consonant clusters are represented with the two styles of consonants. The two styles may form typographical ligatures, as in Devanagari. Independent vowels are used when a syllable starts with a vowel sign.
There are 44 consonant letters representing 21 distinct consonant sounds. Duplicate consonants either correspond to sounds that existed in Old Thai at the time the alphabet was created but no longer exist (in particular, voiced obstruents such as b d g v z), or different Sanskrit and Pali consonants pronounced identically in Thai. There are in addition four consonant-vowel combination characters not included in the tally of 44.
Consonants are divided into three classes — in alphabetical order these are middle (กลาง, klang), high (สูง, sung), and low (ต่ำ, tam) class — as shown in the table below. These class designations reflect phonetic qualities of the sounds to which the letters originally corresponded in Old Thai. In particular, "middle" sounds were voiceless unaspirated stops; "high" sounds, voiceless aspirated stops or voiceless fricatives; "low" sounds, voiced. Subsequent sound changes have obscured the phonetic nature of these classes.[nb 1] Today, the class of a consonant without a tone mark, along with the short or long length of the accompanying vowel, determine the base accent (พื้นเสียง, phuen siang). Middle class consonants with a long vowel spell an additional four tones with one of four tone marks over the controlling consonant: mai ek, mai tho, mai tri, and mai chattawa. High and low class consonants are limited to mai ek and mai tho, as shown in the . Differing interpretations of the two marks or their absence allow low class consonants to spell tones not allowed for the corresponding high class consonant. In the case of digraphs where a low class follows a higher class consonant, often the higher class rules apply, but the marker, if used, goes over the low class one; accordingly, ห นำ ho nam and อ นำ o nam may be considered to be digraphs as such, as explained below the Tone table.[nb 2]
- Modern Thai sounds /b/ and /d/ were formerly — and sometimes still are — pronounced /ʔb/ and /ʔd/. For this reason, they were treated as voiceless unaspirated, and hence placed in the "middle" class; this was also the reason they were unaffected by the changes that devoiced most originally voiced stops.
- Only low class consonants may have a base accent determined by the syllable being both long and dead.
To aid learning, each consonant is traditionally associated with an acrophonic Thai word that either starts with the same sound, or features it prominently. For example, the name of the letter ข is kho khai (ข ไข่), in which kho is the sound it represents, and khai (ไข่) is a word which starts with the same sound and means "egg".
Two of the consonants, ฃ (kho khuat) and ฅ (kho khon), are no longer used in written Thai, but still appear on many keyboards and in character sets. When the first Thai typewriter was developed by Edwin Hunter McFarland in 1892, there was simply no space for all characters, thus two had to be left out. Also, neither of these two letters correspond to a Sanskrit or Pali letter, and each of them, being a modified form of the letter that precedes it (compare ข and ค), has the same pronunciation and the same consonant class as the preceding letter, thus making them redundant. They used to represent the sound /x/ in Old Thai, but it has merged with /kʰ/ in Modern Thai.
Equivalents for romanisation are shown in the table below. Many consonants are pronounced differently at the beginning and at the end of a syllable. The entries in columns initial and final indicate the pronunciation for that consonant in the corresponding positions in a syllable. Where the entry is '-', the consonant may not be used to close a syllable. Where a combination of consonants ends a written syllable, only the first is pronounced; possible closing consonant sounds are limited to 'k', 'm', 'n', 'ng', 'p' and 't'.
Although official standards for romanisation are the Royal Thai General System of Transcription (RTGS) defined by the Royal Thai Institute, and the almost identical ISO 11940-2 defined by the International Organization for Standardization, many publications use different romanisation systems. In daily practice, a bewildering variety of romanisations are used, making it difficult to know how to pronounce a word, or to judge if two words (e.g. on a map and a street sign) are actually the same. For more precise information, an equivalent from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is given as well.
|ก||ก ไก่||ko kai||chicken||k||k||/k/||/k/||mid|
|ข||ข ไข่||kho khai||egg||kh||k||/kʰ/||/k/||high|
|ฃ[a]||ฃ ขวด||kho khuat||bottle (obsolete)||kh||k||/kʰ/||/k/||high|
|ค||ค ควาย||kho khwai||buffalo||kh||k||/kʰ/||/k/||low|
|ฅ[b]||ฅ คน||kho khon||person (obsolete)||kh||k||/kʰ/||/k/||low|
|ฆ||ฆ ระฆัง||kho rakhang||bell||kh||k||/kʰ/||/k/||low|
|ง||ง งู||ngo ngu||snake||ng||ng||/ŋ/||/ŋ/||low|
|จ||จ จาน||cho chan||plate||ch||t||/tɕ/||/t/||mid|
|ฉ||ฉ ฉิ่ง||cho ching||cymbals||ch||–||/tɕʰ/||–||high|
|ช||ช ช้าง||cho chang||elephant||ch||t||/tɕʰ/||/t/||low|
|ซ||ซ โซ่||so so||chain||s||t||/s/||/t/||low|
|ฌ||ฌ เฌอ||cho choe||tree||ch||t||/tɕʰ/||/t/||low|
|ญ[c]||ญ หญิง||yo ying||woman||y||n||/j/||/n/||low|
|ฎ||ฎ ชฎา||do chada||headdress||d||t||/d/||/t/||mid|
|ฏ||ฏ ปฏัก||to patak||goad, javelin||t||t||/t/||/t/||mid|
|ฐ[d]||ฐ ฐาน||tho than||pedestal||th||t||/tʰ/||/t/||high|
|ฑ||ฑ มณโฑ||tho montho||Montho, character from Ramayana||th or d||t||/tʰ/ or /d/||/t/||low|
|ฒ||ฒ ผู้เฒ่า||tho phu thao||elder||th||t||/tʰ/||/t/||low|
|ณ||ณ เณร||no nen||samanera||n||n||/n/||/n/||low|
|ด||ด เด็ก||do dek||child||d||t||/d/||/t/||mid|
|ต||ต เต่า||to tao||turtle||t||t||/t/||/t/||mid|
|ถ||ถ ถุง||tho thung||sack||th||t||/tʰ/||/t/||high|
|ท||ท ทหาร||tho thahan||soldier||th||t||/tʰ/||/t/||low|
|ธ||ธ ธง||tho thong||flag||th||t||/tʰ/||/t/||low|
|น||น หนู||no nu||mouse||n||n||/n/||/n/||low|
|บ||บ ใบไม้||bo baimai||leaf||b||p||/b/||/p/||mid|
|ป||ป ปลา||po pla||fish||p||p||/p/||/p/||mid|
|ผ||ผ ผึ้ง||pho phueng||bee||ph||–||/pʰ/||–||high|
|ฝ||ฝ ฝา||fo fa||lid||f||–||/f/||–||high|
|พ||พ พาน||pho phan||phan||ph||p||/pʰ/||/p/||low|
|ฟ||ฟ ฟัน||fo fan||tooth||f||p||/f/||/p/||low|
|ภ||ภ สำเภา||pho samphao||junk||ph||p||/pʰ/||/p/||low|
|ม||ม ม้า||mo ma||horse||m||m||/m/||/m/||low|
|ย||ย ยักษ์||yo yak||giant, yaksha||y||–
|ร||ร เรือ||ro ruea||boat||r||n||/r/||/n/||low|
|ล||ล ลิง||lo ling||monkey||l||n||/l/||/n/||low|
|ว||ว แหวน||wo waen||ring||w||–[f]||/w/||/w/||low|
|ศ||ศ ศาลา||so sala||pavilion, sala||s||t||/s/||/t/||high|
|ษ||ษ ฤๅษี||so ruesi||hermit||s||t||/s/||/t/||high|
|ส||ส เสือ||so suea||tiger||s||t||/s/||/t/||high|
|ห||ห หีบ||ho hip||chest, box||h||–||/h/||–||high|
|ฬ||ฬ จุฬา||lo chula||kite||l||n||/l/||/n/||low|
|อ||อ อ่าง||o ang||basin||–[g]||–||/ʔ/||–||mid|
|ฮ||ฮ นกฮูก||ho nok huk||owl||h||–||/h/||–||low|
- ฃ kho khuat is obsolete and replaced by ข kho khai, which has identical phonetic values.
- ฅ kho khon is obsolete and replaced by ค kho khwai, which has identical phonetic values.
- The lower curves of the letter ญ are removed when certain letters are written below them, such as ญ + the mark phinthu (lower dot) = ญฺ, etc.
- The lower curves of the letter ฐ are removed when certain letters are written below them, such as ฐ + the vowel mark ุ = ฐุ, etc.
- When ย ends a syllable, it is usually part of the vowel. For example, mai (หมาย, /mǎːj/), muai (หมวย, /mǔaj/), roi (โรย, /rōːj/), and thui (ทุย, /tʰūj/). There are some cases in which ย ends a syllable and is not part of the vowel (but serves as an independent ending consonant). An example is phinyo (ภิยโย, /pʰīn jōː/).
- When ว ends a syllable, it is always part of the vowel. For example, hio (หิว, /hǐw/), kao (กาว, /kāːw/), klua (กลัว, /klūa/), and reo (เร็ว, /rēw/).
- อ is a special case in that at the beginning of a word it is used as a silent initial for syllables that start with a vowel (all vowels are written relative to a consonant — see below). The same symbol is used as a vowel in non-initial position.
The consonants can be organised by place and manner of articulation according to principles of the International Phonetic Association. Thai distinguishes among three voice/aspiration patterns for plosive consonants:
- unvoiced, unaspirated
- unvoiced, aspirated
- voiced, unaspirated
Where English has only a distinction between the voiced, unaspirated /b/ and the unvoiced, aspirated /pʰ/, Thai distinguishes a third sound which is neither voiced nor aspirated, which occurs in English only as an allophone of /p/, approximately the sound of the p in "spin". There is similarly an alveolar /t/, /tʰ/, /d/ triplet. In the velar series there is a /k/, /kʰ/ pair and in the postalveolar series the /tɕ/, /tɕʰ/ pair.
In each cell below, the first line indicates International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), the second indicates the Thai characters in initial position (several letters appearing in the same box have identical pronunciation). The conventional alphabetic order shown in the table above follows roughly the table below, reading the coloured blocks from right to left and top to bottom.
Pronunciation of Thai characters in initial position
ผ, พ, ภ
ฐ, ฑ, ฒ, ถ, ท, ธ
ข, ฃ, ค, ฅ, ฆ[a]
ฉ, ช, ฌ
ซ, ศ, ษ, ส
Although the overall 44 Thai consonants provide 21 sounds in case of initials, the case for finals is different. The consonant sounds in the table for initials collapse in the table for final sounds. At the end of a syllable, all plosives are unvoiced, unaspirated, and have no audible release. Initial affricates and fricatives become final plosives. The initial trill (ร), approximant (ญ), and lateral approximants (ล, ฬ) are realized as a final nasal /n/.
Only 8 ending consonant sounds, as well as no ending consonant sound, are available in Thai pronunciation. Among these consonants, excluding the disused ฃ and ฅ, six (ฉ, ผ, ฝ, ห, อ, ฮ) cannot be used as a final. The remaining 36 are grouped as following.
Pronunciation of Thai characters in final position
ณ, น, ญ, ร, ล, ฬ
บ , ป, พ, ฟ, ภ
จ, ช, ซ, ฌ, ฎ, ฏ, ฐ, ฑ, ฒ,
ด, ต, ถ, ท, ธ, ศ, ษ, ส
ก, ข, ค, ฆ
Thai vowel sounds and diphthongs are written using a mixture of vowel symbols on a consonant base. Each vowel is shown in its correct position relative to a base consonant and sometimes a final consonant as well. Vowels can go above, below, left of or right of the consonant, or combinations of these places. If a vowel has parts before and after the initial consonant, and the syllable starts with a consonant cluster, the split will go around the whole cluster.
Twenty-one vowel symbol elements are traditionally named, which may appear alone or in combination to form compound symbols.
|ะ||วิสรรชนีย์, นมนาง||wisanchani, nom nang
(from Sanskrit visarjanīya)
|◌ะ; ◌ัวะ; เ◌ะ; เ◌อะ; เ◌าะ; เ◌ียะ; เ◌ือะ; แ◌ะ; โ◌ะ|
|◌ั||ไม้หันอากาศ, ไม้ผัด, หางกังหัน||mai han akat, mai phat, mai kanghan||◌ั◌; ◌ัว; ◌ัวะ|
|◌็||ไม้ไต่คู้||mai tai khu||◌็; ◌็อ◌; เ◌็◌; แ◌็◌|
|า||ลากข้าง||lak khang||◌า; ◌า◌; ◌ํา; เ◌า; เ◌าะ|
|◌ิ||พินทุ์อิ, พินทุอิ||phin i, phinthu i||◌ิ; เ◌ิ◌; ◌ี; ◌ี◌; เ◌ีย; เ◌ียะ; ◌ื◌; ◌ือ; เ◌ือ; เ◌ือะ|
|◌̍||ฝนทอง||fon thong[a]||◌ี; ◌ี◌; เ◌ีย; เ◌ียะ|
|◌̎||ฟันหนู, มูสิกทันต์||fan nu[a]||◌ื◌; ◌ือ; เ◌ือ; เ◌ือะ|
|◌ํ||นิคหิต, นฤคหิต, หยาดน้ำค้าง||nikkhahit, naruekhahit, yat namkhang||◌ึ; ◌ึ◌; ◌ํา|
|◌ุ||ตีนเหยียด, ลากตีน||tin yiat, lak tin||◌ุ; ◌ุ◌|
|◌ู||ตีนคู้||tin khu||◌ู; ◌ู◌|
|เ||ไม้หน้า||mai na||เ◌; เ◌◌; เ◌็◌; เ◌อ; เ◌อ◌; เ◌อะ; เ◌า; เ◌าะ; เ◌ิ◌; เ◌ีย; เ◌ีย◌; เ◌ียะ; เ◌ือ; เ◌ือ◌; เ◌ือะ; แ◌; แ◌◌; แ◌็◌; แ◌ะ|
|โ||ไม้โอ||mai o||โ◌; โ◌◌; โ◌ะ|
|อ||ตัว อ||tua o||◌อ; ◌็อ◌; ◌ือ; เ◌อ; เ◌อ◌; เ◌อะ; เ◌ือ; เ◌ือะ|
|ย||ตัว ย||tua yo||เ◌ีย; เ◌ีย◌; เ◌ียะ|
|ว||ตัว ว||tua wo||◌ัว; ◌ัวะ|
|ฤ||ตัว ฤ||tua rue||ฤ|
|ฤๅ||ตัว ฤๅ||tua rue||ฤๅ|
|ฦ||ตัว ฦ||tua lue||ฦ|
|ฦๅ||ตัว ฦๅ||tua lue||ฦๅ|
The inherent vowels are /a/ in open syllables (CV) and /o/ in closed syllables (CVC). For example, ถนน transcribes /tʰànǒn/ "road". There are a few exceptions in Pali loanwords, where the inherent vowel of an open syllable is /o/. The circumfix vowels, such as เ–าะ /ɔʔ/, encompass a preceding consonant with an inherent vowel. For example, /pʰɔʔ/ is written เพาะ, and /tɕʰapʰɔʔ/ "only" is written เฉพาะ.
The characters ฤ ฤๅ (plus ฦ ฦๅ, which are obsolete) are usually considered as vowels, the first being a short vowel sound, and the latter, long. The letters are based on vocalic consonants used in Sanskrit, given the one-to-one letter correspondence of Thai to Sanskrit, although the last two letters are quite rare, as their equivalent Sanskrit sounds only occur in a few, ancient words and thus are functionally obsolete in Thai. The first symbol 'ฤ' is common in many Sanskrit and Pali words and 'ฤๅ' less so, but does occur as the primary spelling for the Thai adaptation of Sanskrit 'rishi' and treu (Thai: ตฤๅ /trɯ̄ː/ or /trīː/), a very rare Khmer loan word for 'fish' only found in ancient poetry. As alphabetical entries, ฤ ฤๅ follow ร, and themselves can be read as a combination of consonant and vowel, equivalent to รึ (short), and รือ (long) (and the obsolete pair as ลึ, ลือ), respectively. Moreover, ฤ can act as ริ as an integral part in many words mostly borrowed from Sanskrit such as กฤษณะ (kritsana, not kruetsana), ฤทธิ์ (rit, not ruet), and กฤษดา (kritsada, not kruetsada), for example. It is also used to spell อังกฤษ angkrit England/English. The word ฤกษ์ (roek) is a unique case where ฤ is pronounced like เรอ. In the past, prior to the turn of the twentieth century, it was common for writers to substitute these letters in native vocabulary that contained similar sounds as a shorthand that was acceptable in writing at the time. For example, the conjunction 'or' (Thai: หรือ /rɯ̌ː/ rue, cf. Lao: ຫຼຶ/ຫລື /lɯ̌ː/ lu) was often written Thai: ฤ. This practice has become obsolete, but can still be seen in Thai literature.
The pronunciation below is indicated by the International Phonetic Alphabet and the Romanisation according to the Royal Thai Institute as well as several variant Romanisations often encountered. A very approximate equivalent is given for various regions of English speakers and surrounding areas. Dotted circles represent the positions of consonants or consonant clusters. The first one represents the initial consonant and the latter (if it exists) represents the final.
Ro han (ร หัน) is not usually considered a vowel and is not included in the following table. It represents the sara a /a/ vowel in certain Sanskrit loanwords and appears as ◌รร◌. When used without a final consonant (◌รร), /n/ is implied as the final consonant, giving /an/.
|Short vowels||Long vowels|
(English RP pronunciation)
|Name||Symbol||IPA||RTGS||Variants||Similar Sound |
(English RP pronunciation)
|/aʔ/, /a/||a||u||u in "nut"||สระอา||sara a||◌า
|/aː/||a||ah, ar, aa||a in "father"|
|/i/||i||y in "greedy"||สระอี||sara i||◌ี
|/iː/||i||ee, ii, y||ee in "see"|
|/ɯ/||ue||eu, u, uh||Can be approximated by pronouncing the oo in "look" with unrounded lips
German: the ü in Mücke
|/ɯː/||ue||eu, u||Can be approximated by pronouncing the oo in RP "goose" with unrounded lips|
|/u/||u||oo||oo in "shoot"||สระอู||sara u||◌ู
|/uː/||u||oo, uu||oo in "too"|
|/eʔ/, /e/||e||e in "neck"||สระเอ||sara e||เ◌
|/eː/||e||ay, a, ae, ai, ei||a in "lame"|
|/ɛʔ/, /ɛ/||ae||aeh, a||a in "at"||สระแอ||sara ae||แ◌
|/ɛː/||ae||a||a in "ham"|
|/oʔ/, /o/||o||oa in "boat"||สระโอ||sara o||โ◌
|/oː/||o||or, oh, ô||o in "go"|
|/ɔʔ/, /ɔ/||o||aw||o in "not"||สระออ||sara o||◌อ
|/ɔː/||o||or, aw||aw in "saw"|
|สระเออะ||sara oe||เ◌อะ||/ɤʔ/||oe||eu||e in "the"||สระเออ||sara oe||เ◌อ
|oe||er, eu, ur||u in "burn"|
|สระเอียะ||sara ia||เ◌ียะ||/iaʔ/||ia||iah, ear, ie||ea in "ear" with glottal stop||สระเอีย||sara ia||เ◌ีย
|/ia/||ia||ear, ere, ie||ear in "ear"|
|สระเอือะ||sara uea||เ◌ือะ||/ɯaʔ/||uea||eua, ua||ure in "pure"||สระเอือ||sara uea||เ◌ือ
|/ɯa/||uea||eua, ua, ue||ure in "pure"|
|สระอัวะ||sara ua||◌ัวะ||/uaʔ/||ua||ewe in "sewer"||สระอัว||sara ua||◌ัว
|/ua/||ua||uar||ewe in "newer"|
|สระอิ + ว||sara i + wo waen||◌ิว||/iw/||io||iu, ew||ew in "few"|
|สระเอะ + ว||sara e + wo waen||เ◌็ว||/ew/||eo||eu, ew||สระเอ + ว||sara e + wo waen||เ◌ว||/eːw/||eo||eu, ew||ai + ow in "rainbow"|
|สระแอ + ว||sara ae + wo waen||แ◌ว||/ɛːw/||aeo||aew, eo||a in "ham" + ow in "low"|
|สระเอา||sara ao[e]||เ◌า||/aw/||ao||aw, au, ow||ow in "cow"||สระอา + ว||sara a + wo waen||◌าว||/aːw/||ao||au||ow in "now"|
|สระเอีย + ว||sara ia + wo waen||เ◌ียว||/iaw/||iao||eaw, iew, iow||io in "trio"|
|สระอะ + ย||sara a + yo yak||◌ัย||/aj/||ai||ay||i in "hi"||สระอา + ย||sara a + yo yak||◌าย||/aːj/||ai||aai, aay, ay||ye in "bye"|
|สระไอ||sara ai[e]||ใ◌,[f] ไ◌|
|สระเอาะ + ย||sara o + yo yak||◌็อย||/ɔj/||oi||oy||สระออ + ย||sara o + yo yak||◌อย||/ɔːj/||oi||oy||oy in "boy"|
|สระโอ + ย||sara o + yo yak||โ◌ย||/oːj/||oi||oy|
|สระอุ + ย||sara u + yo yak||◌ุย||/uj/||ui||uy|
|สระเออ + ย||sara oe + yo yak||เ◌ย||/ɤːj/||oei||oey||u in "burn" + y in "boy"|
|สระอัว + ย||sara ua + yo yak||◌วย||/uaj/||uai||uay||uoy in "buoy"|
|สระเอือ + ย||sara uea + yo yak||เ◌ือย||/ɯaj/||ueai||uai|
|สระอำ||sara am||ำ||/am/||am||um||um in "sum"|
|rue, ri, roe||ru, ri||rew in "grew", ry in "angry"||ฤๅ||rue||ฤๅ||/rɯː/||rue||ruu|
|ฦ||lue||ฦ||/lɯ/||lue||lu, li||lew in "blew"||ฦๅ||Lue||ฦๅ||/lɯː/||lue||lu|
- Only with ร (ro ruea) as final consonant, appearing as ◌ร /ɔːn/.
- Only with the word ก็ /kɔ̂ʔ/, /kɔ̂ː/.
- Used only in certain words.
- Traditionally, these sets of diphthongs and triphthongs are regarded as combinations of regular vowels or diphthongs with wo waen (ว, /w/) or yo yak (ย, /j/) as the final consonant, and are not counted among the thirty-two vowels.
- sara ai (ใ◌ and ไ◌) and sara ao (เ◌า) are also considered extra vowels.
- Mai malai (ไ◌) is used for the /aj/ vowel in most words, while mai muan (ใ◌) is only used in twenty specific words.
- ไ◌ย is found in ไทย Thai and in Pali loanwords which contain -eyya. The ย is redundant, but may be pronounced in a compound word when joined by samāsa.
- Extra vowels are not distinct vowel sounds, but are symbols that represent certain vowel-consonant combinations. They are traditionally regarded as vowels, although some sources do not.
Thai is a tonal language, and the script gives full information on the tones. Tones are realised in the vowels, but indicated in the script by a combination of the class of the initial consonant (high, mid or low), vowel length (long or short), closing consonant (plosive or sonorant, i.e., dead or live) and, if present, one of four tone marks, whose names derive from the names of the digits 1–4 borrowed from Pali or Sanskrit. The rules for denoting tones are shown in the following chart:
|Symbol||Name||Syllable composition and initial consonant class|
|Thai||RTGS||Vowel and final||Low||Mid||High|
long vowel or vowel plus sonorant
short vowel at end or plus plosive
long vowel plus plosive
"None", that is, no tone marker, is used with the base accent (พื้นเสียง, phuen siang). Mai tri and mai chattawa are only used with mid-class consonants.
Two consonant characters (not diacritics) are used to modify the tone:
- ห นำ ho nam, leading ho. A silent, high-class ห "leads" low-class nasal stops (ง, ญ, น and ม) and non-plosives (ว, ย, ร and ล), which have no corresponding high-class phonetic match, into the tone properties of a high-class consonant. In polysyllabic words, an initial mid- or high-class consonant with an implicit vowel similarly "leads" these same low-class consonants into the higher class tone rules, with the tone marker borne by the low-class consonant.
- อ นำ o nam, leading o. In four words only, a silent, mid-class อ "leads" low-class ย into mid-class tone rules: อย่า (ya, don't) อยาก (yak, desire) อย่าง (yang, kind, sort, type) อยู่ (yu, stay). All four have long-vowel, low-tone siang ek; อยาก, a dead syllable, needs no tone marker, but the three live syllables all take mai ek.
|Low consonant||High consonant||IPA|
|Low consonant||Middle consonant||IPA|
In some dialects where words are spelled with one tone but pronounced with another often occur in informal conversation (notably the pronouns ฉัน chan and เขา khao, which are both pronounced with a high tone rather than the rising tone indicated by the script). Generally, when such words are recited or read in public, they are pronounced as spelled.
|Tones||Nakhon Si Thammarat accent rules||IPA|
|First tone||An initial consonant class "high" with long sound, and an initial consonant class "low" after the word.||[˦˥˧]|
|An initial consonant class "high" with short sound, and an initial consonant class "low"
with [k̚], [t̚], [p̚] finals after the word.
|Second tone||An initial consonant class "high" both short long sound,
and an initial consonant class "low" after the word.
|Third tone||An initial consonant class "middle" long sound.||[˧˦˧]|
|An initial consonant class "middle" short sound with [k̚], [t̚], [p̚] finals.||[˧˦]|
|Fourth tone||An initial consonant class "middle" both short long sound.||[˧]|
|Fifth tone||An initial consonant class "low" with head word.||[˨˧˨]|
|Sixth tone||An initial consonant class "low" long sound.||[˨˦]|
|Seventh tone||An initial consonant class "low" short sound.||[˨˩]|
Other diacritics are used to indicate short vowels and silent letters:
- Mai taikhu means "climbing stick". It is a miniature Thai numeral 8 ๘. Mai taikhu is often used with sara e (เ) and sara ae (แ) in closed syllables.
- Thanthakhat is an archaic word for "capital punishment"
|◌็||ไม้ไต่คู้||mai tai khu||shortens vowel|
|◌์||ทัณฑฆาต or การันต์||thanthakhat or karan||indicates silent letter|
Fan nu means "rat teeth" and is thought as being placed in combination with short sara i and fong man to form other characters.
|"||ฟันหนู||fan nu||combined with short sara i (◌ิ) to make long sara ue (◌ื)|
|combined with fong man (๏) to make fong man fan nu (๏")|
For numerals, mostly the standard Indo-Arabic numerals (Thai: เลขฮินดูอารบิก, lek hindu arabik) are used, but Thai also has its own set of Thai numerals that are based on the Hindu-Arabic numeral system (Thai: เลขไทย, lek thai), which are mostly limited to government documents, election posters, license plates of military vehicles, and special entry prices for Thai nationals.
|ฯ||ไปยาลน้อย||paiyan noi||marks formal phrase shortened by convention (abbreviation)|
|ฯลฯ||ไปยาลใหญ่||paiyan yai||et cetera|
|ๆ||ไม้ยมก||mai yamok||preceding word or phrase is reduplicated|
|๏||ฟองมัน, ตาไก่||fong man, ta kai||previously marked beginning of a sentence, paragraph, or stanza (obsolete); now only marks beginning of a stanza in a poem; now also used as bullet point|
|๏"||ฟองมันฟันหนู, ฟันหนูฟองมัน, ฝนทองฟองมัน||fong man fan nu, fan nu fong man, fon tong fong man||previously marked beginning of a chapter (obsolete)|
|ฯ||อังคั่นเดี่ยว, คั่นเดี่ยว, ขั้นเดี่ยว||angkhan diao, khan diao, khan diao||previously marked end of a sentence or stanza (obsolete)|
|๚||อังคั่นคู่, คั่นคู่, ขั้นคู่||angkhan khu, khan khu, khan khu||marks end of stanza; marks end of chapter or long section|
|ฯะ||อังคั่นวิสรรชนีย์||angkhan wisanchani||marks end of a stanza in a poem|
|๛||โคมูตร, สูตรนารายณ์||kho mut, sut narai||marks end of a chapter or document; marks end of a story|
|๚ะ๛||อังคั่นวิสรรชนีย์โคมูตร||angkhan wisanchani kho mut||marks the very end of a written work|
|฿||บาท||bat||baht (the currency of Thailand)|
Pai-yan noi and angkhan diao share the same character. Sara a (–ะ) used in combination with other characters is called wisanchani.
Some of the characters can mark the beginning or end of a sentence, chapter, or episode of a story or of a stanza in a poem. These have changed use over time and are becoming uncommon.
|ย, ร, ล, ว||ศ, ษ, ส||ห||ฬ||อ||ฮ|
|Blue||Paired low class; has its high class counterpart|
|Purple||Single low class; turns into high class if preceded by ห|
|ก, ข, ฃ
ค, ฅ, ฆ
|/k/||จ, ฉ, ช, ซ, ฌ
ฎ, ฏ, ฐ, ฑ, ฒ, ด, ต, ถ, ท, ธ, ศ, ษ, ส
|/t/||บ, ป, ผ, ฝ
พ, ฟ, ภ
|ง||/ŋ/||ญ, ณ, น, ร, ล||/n/||ม||/m/|
- If the syllable contains no ending consonants, it is considered alive if the vowel is long and dead if it is short.
|เ-||เ-อ||โ-||*โ- > โ-, –|
|แ-||ะ,า||-อ||*-อ > เ-าะ, -็อ|
pink: long vowel, shortened by add "ะ"(no ending consonant) or "-็"(with ending consonant)
green: long vowel, has a special form when shortened
|high||-ิ /i/||-ี /iː/||-ึ /ɯ/||-ือ,-ื /ɯː/||-ุ /u/||-ู /uː/|
|mid||เ-ะ,เ-็ /e/||เ- /eː/||เ-อะ /ɤʔ/||เ-อ,เ-ิ /ɤː/||โ-ะ,-- /o/||โ- /oː/|
|low||แ-ะ,แ-็ /ɛ/||แ- /ɛː/||-ะ,-ั /a/||-า /aː/||เ-าะ,-็อ /ɔ/||-อ /ɔː/|
|vowel+/a/||เ-ียะ /iaʔ/||เ-ีย /ia/||เ-ือะ /ɯaʔ/||เ-ือ /ɯa/||-ัวะ /uaʔ/||-ัว /ua/|
|/a/+vowel||ไ- ใ- /aj/||-าย /aːj/||-ำ /am/||-าม /aːm/||เ-า /aw/||-าว /aːw/|
|low||dead (short vowel)||high||fall||–|
|low||dead (long vowel)||fall||–||high|
Sanskrit and Pali
|The Brahmi script and its descendants|
The Thai script (like all Indic scripts) uses a number of modifications to write Sanskrit and related languages (in particular, Pali). Pali is very closely related to Sanskrit and is the liturgical language of Thai Buddhism. In Thailand, Pali is written and studied using a slightly modified Thai script. The main difference is that each consonant is followed by an implied short a (อะ), not the 'o', or 'ə' of Thai: this short a is never omitted in pronunciation, and if the vowel is not to be pronounced, then a specific symbol must be used, the pinthu อฺ (a solid dot under the consonant). This means that sara a (อะ) is never used when writing Pali, because it is always implied. For example, namo is written นะโม in Thai, but in Pali it is written as นโม, because the อะ is redundant. The Sanskrit word 'mantra' is written มนตร์ in Thai (and therefore pronounced mon), but is written มนฺตฺร in Sanskrit (and therefore pronounced mantra). When writing Pali, only 33 consonants and 12 vowels are used.
This is an example of a Pali text written using the Thai Sanskrit orthography: อรหํ สมฺมาสมฺพุทฺโธ ภควา [arahaṃ sammāsambuddho bhagavā]. Written in modern Thai orthography, this becomes อะระหัง สัมมาสัมพุทโธ ภะคะวา arahang sammasamphuttho phakhawa.
In Thailand, Sanskrit is read out using the Thai values for all the consonants (so ค is read as kha and not [ga]), which makes Thai spoken Sanskrit incomprehensible to sanskritists not trained in Thailand. The Sanskrit values are used in transliteration (without the diacritics), but these values are never actually used when Sanskrit is read out loud in Thailand. The vowels used in Thai are identical to Sanskrit, with the exception of ฤ, ฤๅ, ฦ, and ฦๅ, which are read using their Thai values, not their Sanskrit values. Sanskrit and Pali are not tonal languages, but in Thailand, the Thai tones are used when reading these languages out loud.
In the tables of this section, the Thai value (transliterated according to the Royal Thai system) of each letter is listed first, followed by the IAST value of each letter in square brackets. The IAST values are never used in pronunciation, but sometimes in transcriptions (with the diacritics omitted). This disjoint between transcription and spoken value explains the romanisation for Sanskrit names in Thailand that many foreigners find confusing. For example, สุวรรณภูมิ is romanised as Suvarnabhumi, but pronounced su-wan-na-phum. ศรีนครินทร์ is romanised as Srinagarindra but pronounced si-nakha-rin.
Plosives (also called stops) are listed in their traditional Sanskrit order, which corresponds to Thai alphabetical order from ก to ม with three exceptions: in Thai, high-class ข is followed by two obsolete characters with no Sanskrit equivalent, high-class ฃ and low-class ฅ; low-class ช is followed by sibilant ซ (low-class equivalent of high-class sibilant ส that follows ศ and ษ.) The table gives the Thai value first, and then the IAST (International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration) value in square brackets.
|class||Sanskrit unvoiced||Sanskrit voiced|
|Thai unvoiced||Thai voiced|
None of the Sanskrit plosives are pronounced as the Thai voiced plosives, so these are not represented in the table. While letters are listed here according to their class in Sanskrit, Thai has lost the distinction between many of the consonants. So, while there is a clear distinction between ช and ฌ in Sanskrit, in Thai these two consonants are pronounced identically (including tone). Likewise, the Thai phonemes do not differentiate between the retroflex and dental classes, because Thai has no retroflex consonants. The equivalents of all the retroflex consonants are pronounced identically to their dental counterparts: thus ฎ is pronounced like ด, ฐ is pronounced like ถ, ฑ is pronounced like ท, ฒ is pronounced like ธ, and ณ is pronounced like น.
The Sanskrit unaspirated unvoiced plosives are pronounced as unaspirated unvoiced, whereas Sanskrit aspirated voiced plosives are pronounced as aspirated unvoiced.
|palatal||ย||yá||य [ya] /j/||อิ and อี|
|ฤ and ฤๅ|
|ฦ and ฦๅ|
|อุ and อู|
Inserted sounds (เสียดแทรก siat saek) follow the semi-vowel ว in alphabetical order.
Like Sanskrit, Thai has no voiced sibilant (so no 'z' or 'zh'). In modern Thai, the distinction between the three high-class consonants has been lost and all three are pronounced 'sà'; however, foreign words with a sh-sound may still be transcribed as if the Sanskrit values still hold (e.g., ang-grit อังกฤษ for English instead of อังกฤส).
- ศ ศาลา (so sala) leads words, as in its example word, ศาลา. The digraph ศรี (Indic sri) is regularly pronounced สี (si), as in Sisaket Province, Thai: ศรีสะเกษ.
- ษ ฤๅษี (so rue-si) may only lead syllables within a word, as in its example, ฤๅษี, or to end a syllable as in ศรีสะเกษ Sisaket and อังกฤษ Angkrit English.
- ส เสือ (so suea) spells native Thai words that require a high-class /s/, as well as naturalized Pali/Sanskrit words, such as สารท (สาท) in Thetsakan Sat: เทศกาลสารท (เทด-สะ-กาน-สาท), formerly ศารท (สาท).
- ซ โซ่ (so so), which follows the similar-appearing ช in Thai alphabetical order, spells words requiring a low-class /s/, as does ทร + vowel.
- ทร, as in the heading of this section, เสียดแทรก (pronounced เสียดแซก siat saek), when accompanied by a vowel (implicit in ทรง (ซง song an element in forming words used with royalty); a semivowel in ทรวง (ซวง suang chest, heart); or explicit in ทราย (ซาย sai sand). Exceptions to ทร + vowel = /s/ are the prefix โทร- (equivalent to tele- far, pronounced โทระ to-ra), and phonetic re-spellings of English tr- (as in the phonetic respelling of trumpet: ทรัมเพ็ท.) ทร is otherwise pronounced as two syllables ทอระ-, as in ทรมาน (ทอระมาน to-ra-man to torment).
ห, a high-class consonant, comes next in alphabetical order, but its low-class equivalent, ฮ, follows similar-appearing อ as the last letter of the Thai alphabet. Like modern Hindi, the voicing has disappeared, and the letter is now pronounced like English 'h'. Like Sanskrit, this letter may only be used to start a syllable, but may not end it. (A popular beer is romanized as Singha, but in Thai is สิงห์, with a karan on the ห; correct pronunciation is "sing", but foreigners to Thailand typically say "sing-ha".)
This represents the retroflex liquid of Pali and Vedic Sanskrit, which does not exist in Classical Sanskrit.
All consonants have an inherent 'a' sound, and therefore there is no need to use the ะ symbol when writing Sanskrit. The Thai vowels อื, ไอ, ใอ, and so forth, are not used in Sanskrit. The zero consonant, อ, is unique to the Indic alphabets descended from Khmer. When it occurs in Sanskrit, it is always the zero consonant and never the vowel o [ɔː]. Its use in Sanskrit is therefore to write vowels that cannot be otherwise written alone: e.g., อา or อี. When อ is written on its own, then it is a carrier for the implied vowel, a [a] (equivalent to อะ in Thai).
The vowel sign อำ occurs in Sanskrit, but only as the combination of the pure vowels sara a อา with nikkhahit อํ.
Other non-Thai symbols
There are a number of additional symbols only used to write Sanskrit or Pali, and not used in writing Thai.
In Sanskrit, the anusvāra indicates a certain kind of nasal sound. In Thai this is written as an open circle above the consonant, known as nikkhahit (นิคหิต), from Pali niggahīta. Nasalisation does not occur in Thai, therefore, a nasal stop is always substituted: e.g. ตํ taṃ, is pronounced as ตัง tang by Thai Sanskritists. If nikkhahit occurs before a consonant, then Thai uses a nasal stop of the same class: e.g. สํสฺกฺฤตา [saṃskṛta] is read as สันสกฤตา san-sa-krit-ta (The ส following the nikkhahit is a dental-class consonant, therefore the dental-class nasal stop น is used). For this reason, it has been suggested that in Thai, nikkhahit should be listed as a consonant. Also, traditional Pali grammars describe nikkhahit as a consonant. Nikkhahit นิคหิต occurs as part of the Thai vowels sara am อำ and sara ue อึ.
Because the Thai script is an abugida, a symbol (equivalent to virāma in devanagari) needs to be added to indicate that the implied vowel is not to be pronounced. This is the phinthu, which is a solid dot (also called 'Bindu' in Sanskrit) below the consonant.
Yamakkan (ยามักการ) is an obsolete symbol used to mark the beginning of consonant clusters: e.g. พ๎ราห๎มณ phramana [brāhmaṇa]. Without the yamakkan, this word would be pronounced pharahamana [barāhamaṇa] instead. This is a feature unique to the Thai script (other Indic scripts use a combination of ligatures, conjuncts or virāma to convey the same information). The symbol is obsolete because pinthu may be used to achieve the same effect: พฺราหฺมณ.
The means of recording visarga (final voiceless 'h') in Thai has reportedly been lost, although the character ◌ะ which is used to transcribe a short /a/ or to add a glottal stop after a vowel is the closest equivalent and can be seen used as a visarga in some Thai-script Sanskrit text.
Thai script was added to the Unicode Standard in October 1991 with the release of version 1.0.
The Unicode block for Thai is U+0E00–U+0E7F. It is a verbatim copy of the older TIS-620 character set which encodes the vowels เ, แ, โ, ใ and ไ before the consonants they follow, and thus Thai, Lao, Tai Viet and New Tai Lue are the only Brahmic scripts in Unicode that use visual order instead of logical order.
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
- Thai language
- Thai typography
- Thai numerals
- Thai braille
- Thai literature
- Thai honorifics
- Thai spelling reform of 1942 – simplified spelling system in use from 1942 to 1944
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- Comprehensive free Thai alphabet resource
- Comparing Thai script with Devanagari, Khmer, Burmese, and Tai Tham
- Omniglot – Thai
- Thai consonants
- Thai vowels
- Transliterations for Thai Vowels, Thai Consonants
- Phonetic Organization of the Thai Consonants, by Richard Wordingham
- Virtual Thai Keyboard Freeware for the Windows operating system
- Insert Zero-Width Space Character – This utility prepares Thai text by inserting the Unicode "Zero-Width Space Character" between detected word breaks.