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How to Use a Thai Dictionary

Sorting words into Thai alphabetical order is a more intricate process than in English. It is necessary to understand this ordering if you wish to look up Thai words in a Thai dictionary or the "browse" section of this website. In short, vowels are considered at a separate, lower level of precedence than consonants. Finally and if required, tone marks are considered with the least precedence.

To determine Thai dictionary order:

1. Ignore preposed vowels to find the first consonant of the word (including silent ออ นำ  /aawM namM/ or หอ นำ  /haawR namM/) and determine its place according to the ordering of the 44 consonants (plus 4 ligatures):

Order of the 44 Thai consonants and 4 ligatures


ฤๅ ฦๅ
Always treat , and as consonants when determining sort order, even if they are functioning as vowels.

2. Next, consider inherent vowels. If there is no written vowel associated with the consonant, then this case has highest precedence, and ordering continues with the next syllable. This means that all combinations of a given consonant with any other consonant will appear before that consonant appears with a written vowel. Note that both inherent vowels, โอ and อะ, have equal precedence and thus do not participate in determining the ordering, as in the following example:

example 2
...
สงวน   /saL nguaanR/
สงสัย   /sohngR saiR/
สงัด   /saL ngatL/
...
3. Double-consonants are sorted as in step (2.) except when they use one of the preposed vowels (เอ  แอ  โอ  ใอ  ไอ). In this case the word will appear sorted with the preposed vowel as in step (4.)

example 3
...
กร   /gaawnM/
กรอบ   /graawpL/
กระ   /graL/
กล   /gohnM/
กับ   /gapL/
เกรง   /graehngM/
...
4. Next, vowels are considered without regard to their position before, above, below, or after the consonant. In fact, the preposed vowels have lowest precedence. The following is the order of precedence for vowels.

Order of the Thai vowels
  อ-   อ   อ   อ   อ   อ   อ   อ   อ   เอ   แอ   โอ   ใอ   ไอ

There are numerous diphthongs, tripthongs, and other vowel combinations whose orderings can be inferred from this basic ordering once a feel for the system is obtained. A complete list of all vowel combinations is given on the vowels reference page.

5. At this point, prior to considering tone marks, words which terminate have higher priority than those that continue, so the following order is determined (see section 7 for more remarks on this example):

example 5
...
สง   /sohngR/
ส่ง   /sohngL/
สงกรานต์    /sohngR graanM/
สงสปาเกตตี  /sohngR saL bpaaM gaehtL dteeM/
...
6. Most cases will be resolved by the above. In the case that two words differ only by the tone marks or ไม้ไต่คู้  /maaiH dtaiL khuuH/, then the following ordering is used. It's not too important to memorize this since you're down to a few adjacent words now.

Order of the Thai tone marks
(no tone mark) อ็ อ่ อ้ อ๊ อ๋
There's no case of a single spelling generating a valid Thai word for all five of these. Example (7a.) below shows sorting based on tone marks.

7. Notwithstanding rule (5.), in printed dictionaries, compound words sometimes appear with their base word as shown here.

example 7a
...
จอง   /jaawngM/
จองตั๋ว  /jaawngM dtuaaR/
จ่อง  /jaawngL/
จ้อง   /jaawngF/
จ้องตา  /jaawngF dtaaM/
จ๋อง  /jaawngR/
...
This treatment of compound words is not used on this website and with most computer-generated sorting, since the computer typically has no way to determine if an extended word is related or not. Example (7b.) shows the same words as example (5.) in the order that a printed dictionary might present. Compare this table with example (5.) to note the difference. Again, the following example represents a system which is not used on this website.

example 7b
...
สง   /sohngR/
สงสปาเกตตี  /sohngR saL bpaaM gaehtL dteeM/
ส่ง   /sohngL/
สงกรานต์    /sohngR graanM/
...
Note that สงกรานต์    /sohngR graanM/ still appears after all instances of สง with any tone mark, since it is not a compound of any of them.

Tips
  • Don't forget to look up words beginning with silent under that consonant.
  • Some words beginning with กระ are sometimes spelled with กะ, and vice-versa.
  • Some words beginning with ประ are sometimes spelled with ปะ, and vice-versa.
  • In some words, อ- is sometimes spelled with รร.

This article by Glenn Slayden
May 18, 2007
Incorporated suggestions by Kris Willems
May 16, 2009
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