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Words with Irregular Pronunciation

The spelling of Thai words in the Thai alphabet is generally more regular than the spelling of English words with the English alphabet. That is, if you know the pronunciation rules of Thai you can pronounce most Thai words correctly from their spelling. However, the following exceptions should be noted.

1. Variation in Vowel Duration

Some Thai words are pronounced with a short-duration vowel although the Thai spelling would seem to indicate a long-duration. This most often occurs with words that use the vowel -- along with any written tone mark:

Thai wordImpliedActualDefinition
เก่ง gaengLgengL[is] skilled; talented; superbly performed; skillful; clever
เข่งkhaengLkhengLa basketwork crate typically used to package fish
เข่นkhaenLkhenLto beat or pound upon; to hit
เด้ง daaengFdengFto bounce; spring; bound; leap
เร่ raaeFrehFto hawk or peddle
เล่น laaenFlenFto play; have fun; enjoy; amuse; to jest
เล่ม laaemFlemF[of a book] a volume
เว้น waaenHwenHto exclude; omit; skip over
เฉ่งchaengLchengLto pay off; to settle; to settle debts; to pay the money due; to meet liabilities
เช้งchaaengHchengH[is] showy; elaborately dressed

Also, when the ไม้เอก  tone mark appears in a live syllable with -- and a mid- or high-class initial, the syllable has a short vowel sound. Examples: แต่ง , แห่ง , แกว่ง .

There are yet other cases of short-duration pronunciation. In some of these (i.e. น้ำ), the syllable may be pronounced short when followed by at least one syllable in compound words, and long in isolation or in final position.

Thai wordImpliedActualDefinition
กระเช้า graL chaaoHgraL chaoHbasket of bamboo or rattan
ค้ำ khaamHkhamHto hold up; to prop up; to uphold; to support
เงิน ngeernMngernMmoney; finance; silver
เจิ่งjeerngLjerngLto flood; to overflow; to inundate
ช่าง chaangFchangFengineer; artisan; mechanic; craftsman; specialist; repairman; barber
ช้ำ chaamHchamHbruise
ซ้ำ saamHsamH[is] repeated; recurrent
ต้อง dtaawngFdtawngF[auxiliary verb] has to...; must...; is required to...; is duty-bound to...
ท่านthaanFthanF[a respectful 2nd or 3rd person singular pronoun] you; he; she; him; her
น้ำnaamHnamHwater; fluid; liquid
บริการbawL riH gaanMbawL riH ganMto serve, help, assist, support, service
เพชร phaehtFphetHdiamond
เพชรบูรณ์ phaH chaehnM buunMphetH chaH buunMPhetchabun, a province in northeastern Thailand with a 1995 population of 1,026,137 (rank 17 of 76)
ย่อง yaawngFyawngFto tiptoe
ล่อกแล่กlaawkF laaekFlawkF laekF[is] restless; uncertain; shifty; roving
ล้ำlaamHlamHextremely; very; exceptionally; surpassing; superior
เว้า waaoHwaoH[is] concave; caved-in; indented

The following words are pronounced with a long-duration vowel although the Thai spelling would seem to indicate a short-duration.

Thai wordImpliedActualDefinition
เก้า gaoFgaaoFnine; the number or quantity nine
คาเฟอินkhaaM faehM inMkhaaM faehM eenM[Thai transcription of the foreign loanword] caffeine
จระเข้ jaL raH khehFjaawM raH khaehFalligator; crocodile
จะเข้jaL khehFjaL khaehFcrocodile
ได้daiFdaaiFcan; to be able; is able; am able; may; might [auxiliary of potential, denoting possbility, ability, or permission]
ตะเข้dtaL khehFdtaL khaehFcrocodile
เปล่า bplaoLbplaaoL[is] void; empty; naked; nothing
ไม้ maiHmaaiHwood; woods; forest; stick; rod
ลิซ่า liH saaFleeM saaFLisa [an English given name]
ว้าเหว่waaH wehLwaaH waehL[is] lonely; forlorn; friendless; to feel lonesome
เสน่ห์saL nehLsaL naehLcharm; appeal; attraction; charisma; glamour
เหว่wehLwaehLsolitary; lonely; deserted

2. Variation in Tone

We list a few common words that have exceptional variation in the pronunciation of their tone. Not included in this list are words that follow the clustered consonant tone rule. For a discussion, please refer to the article Inside a Thai Syllable: Part I.

Thai wordImpliedActualDefinition
เขา khaoRkhaoH[3rd person singular or plural pronoun] he; she; him; her; they; them
ฉัน chanRchanH[used by females in an informal setting—also used by males with intimate friends or lovers] I, me, my
ไหมmaiRmaiH[word added at the end of a statement to indicate a question]
หนังสือ nangR seuuRnangH seuuRbook; document; letters; alphabet; printed document; written document

3. Consonant Omission

In some words, a consonant, often /l/ or /r/, may be dropped from a cluster in pronunciation by some speakers.

Thai wordImpliedActualDefinition
ครับ khrapHkhapH[word added by a male speaker to the end of every sentence to convey politeness or] "yes"; "that's right"; "I see."
ปลา bplaaMbpaaMfish
ครับผมkhrapH phohmRkhapH phohmR[spoken politely by a male] yes
กลับ glapLgapLto return or go back

4. Consonant Clusters Expressed as Syllables

In some words, the entire initial syllable or prefix may act as if it were the first consonant in a cluster. This initial syllable thus determines the tone of the second syllable, in the manner described in Inside a Thai Syllable: Part I and Inside a Thai Syllable: Part II.

Thai wordImpliedActualDefinition
ประมาทbpraL maatFbpraL maatL[is] careless; remiss; negligent; overconfident
ประโยค bpraL yo:hkFbpraL yo:hkL[Thai grammar] a sentence
ประโยชน์ bpraL yo:htFbpraL yo:htLbenefit; use; usefulness
ประวัติ bpraL watHbpraL watLhistory; record; story; account; chronicle
ดำรัสdamM ratHdamM ratLroyal words; royal remark; royal observation royal speech
ดำริdamM riHdamM riL[Royal use only] to think
ตำรวจdtamM ruaatFdtamM ruaatLa policeman; cop
ตำรับdtamM rapHdtamM rapLa recipe, a formula; a treatise; a pharmacopeia, a prescription
สิริsiL riHsiL riLfortune; grace; luck
อดิเรก aL diL raehkFaL diL raehkLhobby
กิเลสgiL laehtFgiL laehtLlust; evil wish; desire; longing; greed; avarice; rapacity
หิริhiL riHhiL riLshame; modesty; bashfulness
ดิลกdiL lohkHdiL lohkLmark; powdered spot on the forehead; ornament; forehead ornament
อริ aL riHaL riLenemy; foe
บำราบbamM raapFbamM raapLto overcome; intimidate
กำราบgamM raapFgamM raapLto suppress; subdue; intimidate; tame; subjugate
กำเนิด gamM neertFgamM neertL[formal, written Thai] to be born; to bring forth
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