The Thai Alphabet
One of the things which has always fascinated me about this wonderful language is the orderly alphabet system. At first, to a foreigner, a set of 44 consonants may seem daunting. The fact that there’s more than one of most sounds (there are 4 consonants that make the “s” sound) may even seem confusing. But don’t worry! There’s a method and a reason for why it is this way. It’s my hope that this chart will help clear up any confusion you may have about names and sounds of the Thai consonants. Knowing these facts will make reading and writing Thai much, much easier for you!
Using This Chart
Character Names: The line above each consonant displays the character’s name. Every character in the Thai alphabet has a name to make memorizing and spelling easier. The name of each is divided into two words. The first word is the stand-alone sound of the consonant and the second word is a “name word” or “title word”.
For example: ก is called Gaw Gai. “Gaw” is the stand-alone sound of the character. If you see ก in an abbreviation, you would say “Gaw”. The second word “Gai” is it’s name word. A word associated with with this particular word to avoid confusion. “Gai” means chicken. So ก is the chicken… gaw gai. Every consonant has it’s own name word. So, if you memorize the Thai alphabet you will actually get to memorize 44 new vocabulary words as well. It’s a win-win!
An example of how this clears up the confusion is like this…
There are more than one Thai characters which make the “s” sound. We’ll use ส and ศ in this example. Both of them have the stand-alone sound of “saw”. So, if you asked your friend how to spell. สัตว์ (sat = animal) and he said “saw” for the first consonant you would have to ask; which “saw”? wouldn’t you? But thanks to the system of names for Thai characters, you will never have this problem. You friend would say “Saw Seua” for the first letter and you would know right away that ส is the “s” in this word. สัตว์ is spelled-out: ส = saw seua, ั = mai han a-gaat, ต = dtaw dtao, ว = waw waen, ์ = ga-raan
Stand-Alone Sounds: The first line beneath the character is it’s stand-alone sound. These are used in abbreviations.
ส.ค.ส. = สอ คอ สอ saw-kaw-saw (abbreviation for wishing a Happy New Year)
ค.ศ. = คอ ศอ kaw-saw (Thai abbreviation for A.D. – Anno Domini)
These particular sounds are are like the names we have for our letters.
Think about it… we pronounce A, B, C “Aay, Bee, See” even though there are no vowels after the consonants themselves. It’s the same with these sounds, only that Thai makes it even simpler by tacking an “aw” (“or” if you’re British) to end of every consonant sound. While we have several sounds (F = eff; J = jay; Z = zee etc.) Thai makes it more consistent by using the “aw” sound with every letter. (gaw, kaw, raw, maw, etc.)
Sound when at the beginning of a syllable: This is the sound that the character will make when it comes at the beginning of a syllable.
Sound when at the end of a syllable: This is the sound that the character will make when it comes at the end of a syllable.
ก – When at the beginning of a syllable makes the “g” sound. กบ = Gop
ก – When at the end of a syllable makes the “k” sound. นก = Nok
Here’s a word with both sounds in it: ก็อก = Gawk
Here’s a word where ก doubles as the end of one syllable and the beginning of another- all in the same word! สกปรก = Sok – ga – brok (it breaks down like this; สก – กะ – ปรก)
Not hard at all, is it?
(Note: You’ll notice there are a few letters on the chart which don’t have an sound for when they end a syllable. This is because, these letters never come at the end of a syllable!)