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Your Ultimate Guide to Learning Thai Tones

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เป้าเป่าซาลาเปาร้อน ๆ ก่อนเก็บลงกระเป๋า (bpâobpào-saa-laa-bpao-ráawn-ráawn-gàawn-gèp-long-grà bpǎo) means “Bpâo blew the hot bun before putting it in the bag” in Thai.  

For those who aren’t familiar with the Thai language, or who have just started learning it, when you hear this sentence, you may wonder why Thai people repeat the same word so often. However, Thai people didn’t repeat the same word; the words in color, despite sounding very similar, have different tones.

Thai is one of many languages that uses tone. Thus, to communicate in Thai, it’s important that you master Thai tones. Luckily for you, this lesson will teach you everything you need to know. 

How many tones are there in Thai? How can you identify Thai tone markers in writing? In this article, we’ll cover a variety of essential topics ranging from Thai tone symbols to their pronunciation. We’ll also provide you with some tips on how to learn Thai tones effectively. 

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Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Thai Table of Contents
  1. Basic Information About Tones in Thai
  2. Mid Tone
  3. Low Tone
  4. Falling Tone
  5. High Tone
  6. Rising Tone
  7. Comparing Thai Language Tones
  8. Thai Tone Rules and Exceptions
  9. Tips on Mastering Thai Tones
  10. Conclusion

Man Practicing His Thai Tone Pronunciation

1. Basic Information About Tones in Thai 

เสียงวรรณยุกต์ (sǐiang-wan-ná-yúk) is “tone” in the Thai language, and there are five Thai tones that you’ll need to master. When Thai people say the name of each tone, they use เสียง (sǐiang) + the name of the tone.  

วรรณยุกต์ (wan-ná-yúk) is “tone mark” in Thai, and there are only four Thai tone marks: 

However, it’s important to keep in mind that you can’t just rely on tone marks to guide your pronunciation and tone changes. Thai alphabet tones also matter, and thus the only way to pronounce the correct tone is to combine the sounds of consonants, vowels, and tone marks together.   

The Thai tones chart below summarizes everything you need to know about the five tones of Thai.

Tone NameMid ToneLow ToneFalling ToneHigh ToneRising Tone
Thai Tone Nameสามัญ
(sǎa-man)
เอก
(èek)
โท
(thoo)
ตรี
(dtrii)
จัตวา
(jàt-dtà-waa)
Romanization Tone Marknone
Tone Level
Graph
ExampleThai Wordกาก่าก้าก๊าก๋า
Romanizationgaagàagâagáagǎa

In the following sections, ThaiPod101.com will explain each Thai tone in detail. We’ll also provide example sentences, phrases, or dialogues with each of the Thai tones. 

2. Mid Tone 

Tone name: สามัญ (sǎa-man)

Romanization tone mark: For the mid tone, there is no romanization tone mark.

Pronunciation: If you think of Thai tones as being like music, the mid tone, like its name suggests, is in the middle.  

Example 1:
วันนี้อากาศดี
wan-née-aa-gàat-dii
“The weather today is good.”

Example 2:
แกงร้านนี้เค็มมาก
gaaeng-ráan-níi-kem-mâak
The curry at this restaurant is very salty.”

Example 3:
ตาของเธออายุมากแล้ว
dtaa-khǎawng-thooe-aa-yú-mâak-láaew
“Her grandfather is very old.”

Example 4:
อาจารย์ของฉันใจดี
aa-jaan-khǎawng-chǎn-jai-dii
“My professor is kind.”

My Professor Is Kind

Example 5:
กาตัวใหญ่เกาะอยู่บนต้นไม้
gaa-dtuua-yhài-gàw-yhùu-bon-dtôn-mái
“A big crow is on the tree’s branch.”

3. Low Tone 

Tone name: เอก (èek)

Romanization tone mark: For the low tone, a short line that’s higher on the left end is put on the first vowel of the word. ( -̀ )

Pronunciation: Using the music analogy again, the low tone is lower than the mid tone, but higher than the rising tone.

Example 1:
ไข่ไก่มีประโยชน์ต่อร่างกาย
khài-gài-mii-bprà-yòot-dtàaw-râang-gai
“Eggs are good for your health.”

Example 2:
จดหมายฉบับนี้ส่งมาจากไหน
jòt-mhǎai-chà-bàp-níi-sòng-maa-jàak-nhǎi
“Where is this letter from?”

Example 3:
เด็ก ๆ กำลังเล่นน้ำอย่างสนุก
dèk-dèk-gam-lang-lên-nám-yhàang-sà-nhùk
“Children are now playing in the water cheerfully.”

Example 4:
ปู่เลี้ยงเต่าตัวเล็ก ๆ เอาไว้หลายตัว
bpùu-líiang-dtào-dtua-lék-lék-ao-wái-lhǎai-dtua
My grandfather has many small turtles.”

Example 5:
สุนัขเห่าเสียงดัง
sù-nák-hào-sǐiang-dang
“The dog barks loudly.”

The Dog Barks Loudly

4. Falling Tone

Tone name: โท (thooe)

Romanization tone mark: For the falling tone, a little hat is put on the first vowel of the word. ( -̂ )

Pronunciation: The falling tone is lower than the high tone, but higher than the mid tone.

Example 1:
บ้านของป้าฉันหลังไม่ใหญ่ แต่สวยมาก
bâan-khǎawng-bpâa-chǎn-lhǎng-mâi-yhài dtàae-sǔuay-mâak
“My aunt’s house is not big, but is very beautiful.”

Example 2:
เธออ่านหนังสือห้าเล่มจบในเก้าวัน
thooe-àan-nhǎng-sǔue-hâa-lêm-jòp-nai-gâao-wan
“She finished five books in nine days.”

Example 3:
อาหารปิ้งย่างกำลังเป็นที่นิยม
aa-hǎan-bpîng-yâang-gam-lang-bpen-thîi-ní-yom
“Grilled food is very popular now.”

Example 4:
หน้าหนาวส้มอร่อยและราคาไม่แพง
nhâa-nhǎao-sôm-à-rhôi-láae-raa-khaa-mâi-phaaeng
“During winter, oranges taste good and are not expensive.”

Oranges During Winter Are Good

Example 5:
แม่บอกว่าเธออ้วนขึ้น ต้องลดน้ำหนักแล้ว
mâae-bàawk-wâa-thooe-aûuan-khûen dtâawng-lód-nám-nhàk-láaew
“Mom said she is getting fatter and must go on a diet now.”

5. High Tone 

Tone name: ตรี (dtrii)

Romanization tone mark: For the high tone, a short line that’s higher on the right end is put on the first vowel of the word. ( -́ )

Pronunciation: The high tone is the highest tone.

Example 1:
น้ำทะเลที่ปราณบุรีใสมาก
nám-thá-lee-thîi-praan-bù-rii-sǎi-mâak
“The sea at Phetburi is crystal-clear.”

Example 2:
คิ้วของน้าสวยมาก
khíu-khǎawng-náa-sǔuay-mâak
“My aunt’s eyebrows are very beautiful.”

Example 3:
ตอนนี้ฟ้ามืดลงเรื่อย ๆ เหมือนฝนจะตกเลย
dtaawn-níi-fáa-mûuet-long-rûueai-rûueai-mǔuean-fǒn-jà-dtòk-looei
“The sky is getting darker and darker now; it looks like it will rain soon.”

(It Will Rain Soon

Example 4:
เธอเคยเห็นช้างเตะฟุตบอลมั้ย
thooe-khooei-hěn-cháang-dtè-fút-baawn-mái
“Have you ever seen an elephant playing football?”

Example 5:
วันนี้คนมาซื้อของที่ร้านเยอะมาก
wan-níi-khon-maa-súue-khǎawng-thîi-ráan-yóe-mâak
“Today, there are a lot of people coming to the shop to buy things.”

6. Rising Tone 

Tone name: จัตวา (jàt-dtà-waa)

Romanization tone mark: For the rising tone, a little “v” is put on the first vowel of the word. ( -̌ )

Pronunciation: The rising tone is the lowest tone.

Example 1:
พ่ออ่านหนังสือพิมพ์ทุกเช้า
phâaw-àan-nhǎng-sǔue-phim-thúk-cháo
“Dad reads the newspaper every morning.”

Example 2:
ตอนนี้ภาคเหนือของไทยอากาศเริ่มหนาวแล้ว
dtaawn-níi-phâak-nhǔuea-khǎawng-thai-aa-gàat-rôoem-nhǎao-láaeo
“The weather in northern Thailand is getting cold now.”

Example 3:
น้องชายฉันอยากไปดูเสือที่สวนสัตว์
náawng-chaai-chǎn-yhàak-bpai-duu-sǔuea-thîi-sǔuan-sàt
“My brother wants to go see the tiger at the zoo.”

My Brother Wants to Go See the Tiger at the Zoo

Example 4:
ผิวหน้าของเธอดีมาก ๆ
phǐu-nhâa-khǎawng-thooe-dii-mâak-mâak
“Her complexion (literally: facial skin) is very good.”

Example 5:
ฉันไม่ชอบหมา
chǎn-mâi-châawp-mhǎa
“I don’t like dogs.”

7. Comparing Thai Language Tones

You now know that there are five tones in Thai, and you’ve learned the basic Thai tone rules for pronunciation. In terms of vocabulary, knowing how to pronounce Thai tones accurately is crucial. A little change in tone can completely change the meaning of a word. 

In this section, we’re going to give you a little bit of practice material to help you see what we mean! These are examples of Thai words with different tones.

1- Near / Far 

  • ใกล้ (glâi) is “near” in Thai.
  • ไกล (glai) is “far” in Thai.

ToneMid ToneLow ToneFalling ToneHigh ToneRising Tone
Thai ไกลไกล่ใกล้ใกล๊ไกล๋
Pronunciationglaiglàiglâigláiglǎi
Meaning“far”“near”

2- Fishy / News / Rice / White 

  • คาว (khaao) is “fishy” in Thai.
  • ข่าว (khàao) is “news” in Thai.
  • ข้าว (khâao) is “rice” in Thai.
  • ขาว (khǎao) is “white” in Thai.

ToneMid ToneLow ToneFalling ToneHigh ToneRising Tone
Thai คาวข่าวข้าวค้าวขาว
Pronunciationkhaaokhàaokhâaokháaokhǎao
Meaning“fishy”“news”“rice”“white”

3- Come / Horse / Dog 

  • มา (maa) is “come” in Thai.
  • ม้า (máa) is “horse” in Thai.
  • หมา (mǎa) is “dog” in Thai.

ToneMid ToneLow ToneFalling ToneHigh ToneRising Tone
Thai มาหม่าม่าม้าหมา
Pronunciationmaamàamâamáamǎa
Meaning“come”“horse”“dog”

4- Envelope / Look through / Brothel / Acclaim / Two  

  • ซอง (saawng) is “envelope” in Thai.
  • ส่อง (sàawng) is “look through” in Thai.
  • ซ่อง (sâawng) is “brothel” in Thai.
  • ซ้อง (sáawng) is “acclaim” in Thai.
  • สอง (sǎawng) is “two” in Thai.

ToneMid ToneLow ToneFalling ToneHigh ToneRising Tone
Thaiซองส่องซ่องซ้องสอง
Pronunciationsaawngsàawngsâawngsáawngsǎawng
Meaning“envelope”“look through”“brothel”“acclaim”“two”

5- Carry / Hungry

  • หิ้ว (hîu) is “carry” in Thai.
  • หิว (hǐu) is “hungry” in Thai.

ToneMid ToneLow ToneFalling ToneHigh ToneRising Tone
Thaiฮิวหิ่วหิ้วฮิ้วหิว
Pronunciationhiuhìuhîuhíuhǐu
Meaning“carry”“hungry”

8. Thai Tone Rules and Exceptions

As mentioned at the beginning of this lesson, Thai tone marks aren’t the only factor that affect the tone of a word. The information we’re going to cover here is a bit more advanced than what you’ve learned so far. If you understand it, that’s great! It will help you understand the logic behind Thai tones.  

However, if you find this part hard, don’t pressure yourself. When Thai children learn how to pronounce tones, they don’t learn about lessons like this until later. So you don’t need to fully understand these rules and exceptions to pronounce Thai tones correctly.

1- Three Classes of Thai Consonants

In Thai, consonants affect how you pronounce a word. You may have noticed in the examples from the previous section that some letters can take on every tone, while some can’t. This is because there are ไตรยางศ์ (dtrai-yaang), or “three classes of Thai consonants”: 

  • High-toned alphabet
  • Middle-toned alphabet
  • Low-toned alphabet 

Middle-toned letters can take on all five tones, so if the initial letter of a word is middle-toned, that word has five possible tones. High-toned and low-toned letters can only take on three tones, so in order to pronounce five tones, you need two initial letters.  

There’s no need to remember which letter is in which class since it’s likely to confuse you more. Just remember that some words can only have three tones, and you have to change the initial letter in order to pronounce five tones. Also, when you try to pronounce a word, if you pronounce the Thai consonants and vowels correctly, this will help you get the right tone.

can be used with every tone.

ToneMid ToneLow ToneFalling ToneHigh ToneRising Tone
Thai ไกลไกล่ใกล้ใกล๊ไกล๋
Pronunciationglaiglàiglâigláiglǎi
Meaning“far”“near”

and can only be used with certain tones. 

ToneMid ToneLow ToneFalling ToneHigh ToneRising Tone
Thaiซองส่องซ่องซ้องสอง
Pronunciationsaawngsàawngsâawngsáawngsǎawng
Meaning“come”“look through”“brothel”“acclaim”“two”

2- Dead Syllables and Live Syllables 

Other factors that affect a word’s tone are the sound of the vowels and the final letter. คำเป็น (kham-bpen) means “live syllables” and คำตาย (kham-dtaai) means “dead syllables.” Dead syllables and live syllables are special classifiers Thai people use; we’ll explain this more below.

A- Live syllables

Thai words that are considered to be “live syllables” must have one of these characteristics:

  • If the word has no final alphabet, it must have a long vowel. For example, สามี (sǎa-mii) which is “husband” and อาหาร (aa-hǎan) which is “food.”

    The final alphabet is the last alphabet of the syllable or word. Some syllables or words may not have a final alphabet. For example, มีด (mîit), meaning “knife,” is composed of ม, -ี, and ด. ม is the initial alphabet. -ี is a vowel. ด is the final alphabet.
  • If the word has a final alphabet, it must end with sonorant final letters (ng, n, m, i, and o in romanization). For example, ส้ม (m), which is “orange,” and กางเกง (gaang-geeng), which is “pants.”

Words that are live syllables can be used with three to five tones, depending on the class of the initial alphabets.

B- Dead syllables

Thai words that are considered to be “dead syllables” must have one of these characteristics:

  • If the word has no final alphabet, it must have a short vowel. For example, มะลิ (má-lí), which is “jasmine,” and กระทะ (grà-thá), which is “pan.” 
  • If the word has a final alphabet, it must end with a stop consonant (k, t, and p in romanization). For example, ซัก (k), which is “wash,” and ขับ (khàp), which is “drive.”

Words that are dead syllables can be used with two to four tones, depending on the class of the initial alphabets. Mid-tone and dead syllable words can’t be used together.

9. Tips on Mastering Thai Tones

As mentioned before, tones play a very important role in pronunciation. Unfortunately, if your native language has no tones, you’ll find Thai pronunciation and tones quite difficult. We have some tips for you on how to practice Thai tones effectively. 

1- Practice All Five Tones for New Words

ผันวรรณยุกต์ (phan-wan-na-yuk) is “pronounce five tones of words” in Thai. 

When you learn new words, one of the best ways to get in some Thai tones practice is to try pronouncing that word in all five of its tones (not just the one you’re learning). For example:

ToneMid ToneLow ToneFalling ToneHigh ToneRising Tone
Thai พาผ่าผ้าพ้าผา
Pronunciationphaaphàaphâapháaphǎa

By practicing the pronunciation of all five tones, you’ll be able to distinguish between each tone better. This is how Thai children learn the different Thai tones as well.

2-  Listen to Native Thai Speakers Often

When it comes to understanding Thai tones, listening and speaking go hand-in-hand. By listening to Thai people speak a lot, you’ll get used to how Thai people speak and will eventually be able to hear the differences between tones.  

3- Watch Thai Educational Programs for Kids

For those who have just started learning Thai, watching Thai educational programs for kids can certainly help. Normally, hosts or characters in programs like this talk or pronounce words slowly and clearly. This makes it easier for you to practice repeating what they say.

10. Conclusion

You’ve reached the end of this lesson! Do you feel like you’re any closer to distinguishing between and pronouncing Thai tones? We hope you at least know how many tones there are in Thai. Let us know by commenting below.

Learning Thai tones is a very important step in mastering the language. So we hope you practice this lesson a lot. It may be hard now, but you’ll get used to Thai tones in no time.

Be sure to check out other fun lessons on ThaiPod101.com. We make learning Thai both fun and informative.

Happy Thai learning! 

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