The Thai Alphabet: Everything you need to know

The Thai Alphabet: Everything you need to know

Published: Aug 2, 2023 | By: Treesukondh Thaleikis

Everything you need to know about the Thai alphabet

​​In the heart of Southeast Asia, lies a land of diverse traditions, vibrant culture, and a rich linguistic heritage—the Kingdom of Thailand. At the core of this linguistic richness is the Thai alphabet, an ancient script that embodies the profound connection between language, history, and art. 

Let’s explore the enigmatic beauty of the Thai alphabet and its significance in Thai society through an in-depth analysis of its structure, historical evolution, and cultural context. 

We’ll shed some light on the intricate web of symbols that constitutes this linguistic marvel as we hopefully gain a profound understanding of the Thai alphabet, revealing the essence of a nation through the strokes of its written language.

What is the Thai Alphabet?

First things first, let's talk about what the Thai alphabet actually is. The Thai script, also known as "อักษรไทย" (ak-sorn Thai) in Thai, is an abugida – a writing system that combines consonant symbols with diacritic marks for vowels. That means when you see a Thai character, it typically represents a consonant sound, and the vowel sounds are indicated by different marks attached to that consonant.

Thai Alphabet Chart

Picture this: you're learning Thai, and you need a cheat sheet to refer to whenever you get stuck. Well, that's where the Thai alphabet chart comes in handy! It's like a roadmap for navigating the world of Thai script. This chart shows you all the consonant characters and the main vowels that go along with them. Keep it close by as you read on!

thai-alphabet-chart
Shared from: https://www.thaialphabet.net

How Many Letters in the Thai Alphabet?

Okay, let's get to the nitty-gritty. The Thai alphabet consists of 44 consonant characters. Remember, these aren't like the English letters you're used to. Each is a unique symbol representing a specific sound in the Thai language. It may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but trust me, with a bit of practice, you'll start recognizing them like a pro.

How Many Vowels are in the Thai Alphabet?

Good question! There are 24 vowels in the Thai alphabet, and they come in different forms. Some are short vowels, while others are long vowels. Don't let the number scare you; they follow patterns, and once you get the hang of it, it becomes much easier.

Wait, How Many Tones are There?

Hold on, I see you're one step ahead, and you've probably heard about Thai tones. You're right – Thai is a tonal language. But don't worry, we're focusing on the Thai alphabet for now. Tones will be a story for another time!

Is the Thai Alphabet Easy to Learn?

Now, the big question: is the Thai alphabet easy to learn? Well, that depends on your perspective. If you're coming from a non-tonal language, the concept of tones might take some getting used to. But fear not, the Thai script itself is actually quite logical and systematic.

Getting into the advanced components of the Thai alphabet

Now that we’ve covered the basics of the Thai alphabet and how it affects the language, I’m going to dive deeper into the more advanced aspects of the Thai script. 

Just a warning, we’re going to be going into much more depth in the coming sections, so if you’re not a bit of a language nerd, proceed at your own risk ;)

The Thai writing system and how it's unique

Thai script is very different from the Latin alphabet and can be a real challenge for new learners. It consists of four units starting with consonants, vowels, final consonants, and tones. They all are put together and become a word to be pronounced in single or many syllables.

Thai Consonants in depth

  • There are 44 consonant characters.

    ก ข ฃ ค ฅ ง จ ฉ ช ซ ฌ ญ ฎ ฏ ฐ ฑ ฒ ณ ด ต ถ ท ธ น บ ป ผ ฝ พ ฟ ภ ม ย ร ล ว ศ ษ ส ห ฬ อ ฮ
  • But,  24 consonants have the same sounds.

    ข ฃ / ค ฅ ฆ / ช ฌ / ญ ย / ฎ ด / ฏ ต / ถ ฐ / ณ น / พ ภ / ล ฬ / ศ ษ ส

Thai Vowels

In the beginning, there are 32 vowels. But exceptions, 4 vowels were considered consonants. Currently, there are 28 vowels in total.

Short Sounds: 12

อะ อิ อึ อุ เอะ แอะ โอะ เอาะ อัวะ เอียะ เอือะ เออะ 

Long Sounds: 12

อา อี อือ อู เอ แอ โอ ออ อัว เอีย เอือ เออ

Short Sound: 4

อำ ใอ ไอ เอา

Exceptions: 4

ฤ ฤา ฦ ฦา

 

Final Consonants in Thai

The 44 consonants are grouped into 8 units except ฃ ผ ฝ ห อ ฮ.

Units Names Names Numbers Consonants
1. go︡k กก 5


ก ข ค ฅ ฆ

2. go︡p กบ 5 บ ป พ ฟ ภ
3. go︡t กด 18 จ ฉ ช ซ ฌ ฎ ฏ ฐ ฑ
ฒ ด ต ถ ท ธ ศ ษ ส
4. go͞ng กง 1
5. go͞n กน 6 น ญ ณ ร ล ฬ
6. go͞m กม 1
7. gə͞əi เกย 1
8. gwə͞əo เกวอ 1

 

Tones as used in writing

There are 5 different tones in the Thai language. Let’s start with the sound “a͞a,” which is pronounced like the “R,” but you don't roll the tongue.

Consonant Classes Middle Low Falling High Rising
Middle ga͞a ga︡a ga͡a ga︠a ga͝a

can make 5 tones

กา ก่า ก้า ก๊า ก๋า
High   ka︡a ka͡a   ka͝a
can make 3 tones   ข่า ข้า   ขา
Low-Single ka͞a   ka͡a ka︠a  
can make 3 tones คา   ค่า ค้า  
Low-Double 1 nga͞a   nga͡a nga︠a  
can make 3 tones งา   ง่า ง้า  
Low-Double 2 nga͞a nga︡a nga͡a nga︠a nga͝a
can make 5 tones by adding ห in front งา หง่า หง้า ง้า หงา

Difficulty in making the 5 tones

No. Tones Start Finish
1. Middle Flat tone Flat tone
2. Low Low tone Very low tone
3. Falling High tone Low tone
4. High High tone Very high tone
5. Rising Low tone High tone

A word is written and read by breaking out to each unit if you follow these steps, I can guarantee you won’t go astray.

1. Start with an initial consonant.
2. Follow with a vowel. _า
3. Add the final consonant.
4. Finish with a tone mark, which is written above an initial consonant. ไม้โท
5. Read a word “ข้าว” means “rice” ข้าว

There are many ways to practice writing Thai, and a way that I’m going to show you is the standard curriculum from Thai textbooks for Thai kids to learn and use regularly when they are in school, even me.

Thai word spellings

The word is pronounced step by step as in parenthesis.      

(คอ-อา) คา 

(คา-งอ) คาง 

(คาง-โท) ค้าง = stay overnight

(kͻ͞ͻ-a͞a) ka͞a (ka͞a-ngͻ͞ͻ) ka͞ang (ka͞ang-to͞o) ka︠ang

Vowel Reductions 

The vowel isn’t written and is invisible in words, but it is pronounced.

(คอ–โอะ–นอ) คน = people

(kͻ͞ͻ-o︡-nͻ͞ͻ) ko͞n

Consonant Clusters

(กวอ-อา-งอ) กวาง = deer

(gͻ͞ͻwͻ͞ͻ-a͞a-ngͻ͞ͻ) gwa͞ang

Leading Consonants or Double Consonants

The consonant ห is added in front of the initial consonant น in order to make the rising tone with no writing tone mark.

(หอ-นอ-อา) หนา = thick 

(hͻ͝ͻ-nͻ͞ͻ-a͞a) na͝a

Orthography

The mark is written above the final consonant of a word to indicate that it is silent or unvoiced. It is a special mark and rule, which is derived from an English word and transliterated into Thai sounds.

(คอ-อา) คา (รอ-การันต์) คาร์ = car

(kͻ͞ͻ-a͞a) ka͞a (rͻ͞ͻ-ga͞a-ra͞n) ka͞a

Overcoming complexity to appreciate beauty

It may seem complicated and intimidating now, but the Thai alphabet stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of a nation, where the artistry of language converges with the essence of its people. It is a treasure trove of knowledge, encapsulating the wisdom of centuries and a bridge that connects the past with the present.

As you step back into your own world after reading this post, I hope you carry with you a newfound appreciation for the intricate artistry and cultural significance of this unique writing system. The Thai alphabet serves as a reminder of the beauty that emerges when language and heritage converge, forming an inseparable bond that shapes the soul of a nation.

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Treesukondh Thaleikis from the Weaver School

Treesukondh (Tree) Thaleikis is a professional Thai teacher for foreigners, translator, and content writer from Bangkok, Thailand. She graduated from Mae Fah Luang University with with first-class honors. Tree loves traveling and is passionate about language learning, especially English. You can contact her on LinkedIn, or you can read more from her on her personal blog here.

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