The sentence structure of Thai is likely not the first thing you think about when you want to learn the language. However, as you start to progress, you will find that the way a sentence is ordered is an important consideration as it greatly impacts the grammar of the language. Without knowing it, you will likely end up sounding very weird when you try to speak Thai, and many people will have trouble understanding.
To help you with this, we will have a look at Thai sentence structure and how it affects the way Thai is written and spoken.
Basic Sentence Structure
The most basic explanation of Thai sentence structure is SVO – Subject, Verb, and Object. This is similar to English, which means that it is one less major change to have to consider.
I eat pad thai.
Chan gin pad thai.
Subject – Verb – Object
As you can see in this basic sentence, it follows the same general order as in English. The subject of the sentence, the person or thing that the sentence is about, is followed by the verb or action, and finally the object that the subject is acting upon.
However, there are a few situations where things would move around a bit.
Particles That Create Meaning
Unlike in English, particles are used in Thai as a way to convey emotion, mood, and politeness.
We have talked before about the polite words/particles in Thai ‘khrap’ and ‘ka’. These are added to make a sentence more polite.
There are also particles that are used to make a sentence of question less intense or sound softer. ‘Na’ (นะ) is an example of this:
What is it?
On the opposite end, there is ‘wa’ (วะ), which is used to make a sentence more intense/sound more impolite. This is most likely used if someone is angry.
What the hell do you want?
There are many examples of these particles, and these are just a few. These can be very helpful to know, so you should try learning them.
Using Tense Words
In Thai, verbs are not inflected (changed) to indicate tense as it is in English. Instead, separate time words are used.
’Laew’ (แล้ว) is an example of a particle. It doesn’t translate exactly into English but it best translates to ‘already’. For example:
I already ate
Chan gin laew
As you can see here, ‘laew’ is added at the end of the sentence. It essentially changes the sentence to the past tense. The word ‘ja’ (จะ), meaning ‘will’ or ‘shall’, allows a sentence to be changed to future tense. Here is an example of that:
I will have eaten
Chan ja gin
‘Ja’ is added before the verb to make it future tense. Finally, for the present tense, ‘gamlung’ (กำลัง) is used.
I am eating
Chan gamlung gin
In this case, ‘gamlung’ should be added before the verb. This would be the equivalent of adding ‘ing’ to an end of a verb in English. The different placements for these words make it a bit more difficult to learn and remember, but you will eventually get used to it.
Remembering Question words
Question words, including why, what, where and when are placed at the end of a sentence in Thai, while in English they generally go at the beginning. Here is an example of a question:
What will I eat?
Chan ja gin arai?
‘Arai’ (อะไร) means ‘what’ which you can see is placed right at the end of the question. This isn’t too difficult to get used to. What is more difficult is the word ‘mai’ (ไหม). This word can be seen as the equivalent to a question mark. It can be used to change a normal sentence to a question.
Want to eat?
In this case, just the verb with the question word forms a complete question, though this is more informal. Again, it is placed at the end of the sentence. We can do something similar in English by inflecting our voice (e.g. asking a friend ‘eaten?’ with your voice rising would have the same implication). However, since Thai is a tonal language, inflections can’t be used. It is also worth noting that punctuation is nearly completely absent from Thai.
Thai Sentence Order is Not So Difficult
Ultimately, Thai sentence structure is not so different from English. It follows the same SVO structure, though it can deviate from that a bit. However, for shorter sentences as you will be learning at the beginning, this should be easy to follow.
There are no articles which is overall good as it means less words to remember. There are, however, time words that specify when an action occurred, determining the tense. Question words will also impact how a sentence is made.
Using this knowledge, it is possible to place together sentences using the vocabulary you know. To help you learn vocabulary and test yourself further, try the Ling Thai app