These examples demonstrate the importance of
correct pronunciation including tone pitches. If a word is
pronounced incorrectly, their meaning changes completely.
A wrong emphasis does somtimes lead to embarrassing or cheerful
situations. Because the set of Thai tone rules seems to be
difficult manageable at the beginning, I can only recommend
to listen to the examples over and over again, until the words
as a whole, ie including the correct pronunciation are learned
The Thai language has five
The smallest unit of speech in Thai is the syllable.
The intonation has to be therefore calculated on syllables.
A syllable can be spoken in high, low, rising, falling or
in a medium tone. More about the pitch can be found
How a given syllable is pronounced can be derived on the
basis of fixed rules of the written word. There are however
several factors that need to be considered for a determination
of the pitch. It is therefore necessary to examine:
What is the class of the initial consonant?
Consonant classes are described here.
Further details will follow on this page below.
Is it a short or a long vowel?
Details on vowels are described here.
Is it a living or a dead syllable?
What is this, see below on this page.
Is a tone mark to take into account?
More about tone marks here. How they
are applied is the topic of this page.
The importance of consonant
In principle, any Thai syllable
starts with (at least) one consonant. For now, we restrict
to those syllables that have only a single initial consonant.
One of the criteria by which the emphasis of
syllables is determined is the membership of initial consonants
to one of three classes: Middle, High or Low.
Listen to each one of the first consonant of the three classes
in the table, paying attention to the first part before the
epithet. The ga:w of ga:w
gai (Middle class) and the kha:w
of kha:w khway (Low class) are spoken
in a mid-level pitch, but the kha:w
of kha:w khay (High class) in a rising
pitch. This is already a function of the consonants class.
If consonants are referred to individually
they are spoken together with a long a:w.
Thus the answer to criterion 2 is "long". A "living
syllable is it also (criterion 3), and a tone mark (criterion
4) does not exist. Thus the emphasis is such, as you have
heard before by listening to the consonants.
I am aware that here I had to prejudge
the criteria 2-4, we have not yet discussed. Therefore, now
the rest of the definitions.
Length of the vowel (2)
Most vowels exists in a short and
a long version. To determine the vocal length we would probably
make the least difficulty. Together with an initial consonant
from the low class (and only there) a syllable may be pronounced
differently depending on the length of the vowel. We'll come
back to this point.
Live and dead syllables (3)
This may sound a little cruel. But you will never be in need
to kill a living syllable - you can always take one that is
all ready dead!
What is meant is that if a syllable ends abruptly (dead syllable)
or can linger (living syllable). Lingering is a syllable as
if it ends in a long vowel. If you say kha:
or khaaaaa: - it is still a long
vowel and a living syllable.
After a short vowel as in kha
is quite fast final, because otherwise it would become a long
vowel. A syllable with short vowel and without a final consonant
is called therefore "dead".
Even with a so-called nasal น,
a syllable is lingering. At a word like na:m
you can "hum" the "m" sound if you want
without altering the meaning.
Also "dead" is a syllable if it is ended with a
so-called plosive. A K-, P-or T-sound at the end of a syllable
is closing the sound, there is nothing that could be drawn
In the following table are detailed examples of the two syllable
types listed. Note that on one line very different tones may
appear. The type of the syllable is merely one of several
A syllable may or may not have
a tone mark. Only at initial consonants of the middle group,
all four tone marks are used. For the high and low consonants
are only the first two applicable (MAI EEK and MAI THOO).
* Depending on the class of the initial consonant
** Only for middle-class consonants
The following generally applies: If an tone
mark is given, then it determines the pitch together with
the class of the initial consonant. If none exists, type of
the syllable and vowel length must be considered too.
Tone rules of single initial consonants
After we have clarified the terms in the previous sections,
here is a table that addresses all four criteria. There are
examples of each listed.
Here you can see that the tone rules for the 3rd Class are
uniformly, no matter whether they are paired or unpaired consonants.
They are therefore listed separately because only the consonants
of group 3.2 (unpaired consonants) can be preceded by HO HIP
or O ANG, and are treated then as if they were part of their
The four examples in a preceding O ANG are the only words
with this prefix.
Tone rules of double initial consonants
With double initial consonants a distiction is made between
preceding and consecutive consonants. The difference is whether
the two consonants together can be pronounced or not. Preceding
HO HIP or O ANG from previous section ar not included here,
because they are not pronounced as consonants. Learn more
about double initial consonants here.
With consecutive consonants these combinations are meant,
either spoken together (true cluster) or changed as a single
sound (false cluster).
Only if the first consonant of a cluster is one out of ก, ข, ค, ต, ป, ผ
or พ followed by
ร, ล or ว,
they can be true clusters. But even here, not all combinations
are possible, as the following table shows:
All other cases of double initial consonants are prefixed
consonants. Such syllables are pronounced in two syllables,
after the first consonant a short "a" is inserted.
The following tone rules for such clusters are determined:
If consonants of the classes 1 or 2 preceding on
of the consonants 3.2, the tone rules of the first
consonant are valid for both syllables.
For other combinations of consonants within the
three classes: Tone rules according to the class of
the first consonant for the first syllable and the
tone rules according to the class of the second consonant
for the second syllable speech.
I need your help!
I'm not a native English speaker and my English is poor.
I've translated this page from my German site because it can be helpful
for Thai students everywhere in the world.