Thai vs English Language

Updated 14-Sep-2023

For someone who is learning Thai as a second language (and knows English), it is useful to get an overview of the differences between the languages so that certain assumptions don't impede language acquisition.

Differences in Written Thai from Written English

  • The Thai script is used, and may include use of Thai numerals (Thais also use standard Arabic numerals).
  • The Thai script has a single case, there is not upper-case / lower-case distinction.
  • The Thai script is largely written without spaces between words. Some spacing can be used between clauses, but complete sentences can be without any spaces between all the words in the sentence.
  • There is much less punctuation in Thai, though modern Thai can borrow from English (commas, periods, question marks), they are not in the Thai language.
  • There is a huge variety of Thai typefaces / fonts, and at least two major styles (looped and loopless) which makes recognizing Thai letters difficult for a beginner.
  • The Thai script has close to 100 different characters (vowels, consonants, tone marks, punctuation, numbers, etc.). Some characters are obsolete, but are still used for government records, such as on license plates.
  • Thais typically use both the Thai and the English keyboard layouts, switching to English for Arabic numerals, brackets, quotation marks, commas, periods, the equal sign, etc.

Difference in Thai from English Sounds

  • There are several sounds in Thai not found in English.
  • There are several sounds in English not found in Thai.
  • Thai consonants can have different sounds depending upon whether the consonant begins or ends a syllable.
  • There are consonant clusters in English not found in Thai.
  • Thai has a trilled R but it is generally pronounced as an L.

Difference in Thai from English Tones

  • Thai is a tonal language and English is not. English uses tone for meaning, whereas Thai uses tone as a sound distinction (as well as meaning).
  • The tone of the utterance is generally in the written form (with a few exceptions).
  • There are five tones (high, falling, mid, low, rising), though also the tones are different for short and long vowels (one can say there are 10 tones).

Differences in Thai Grammar from English Grammar

  • Adjectives follow nouns in Thai and do not precede them as in English (the cat black vs. the black cat).
  • There are no verb tenses in Thai, but rather they use auxiliary verbs and prepositions to indicate time.
  • Thai has a heavily used politeness particle, spoken differently by males and females (krap/ka).
  • Thai has S-V-O just like English.
  • There are no plural forms of nouns in Thai, but Thai uses a range of classifiers (and/or numbers) to indicate quantity
  • Thai has question words (rather than change of sentence order and a question mark).
  • There is no equivalent to yes and no in Thai, but there are other ways of expressing affirmation and negation.
  • There are male and female first person pronouns in Thai.