14 ways to say "I" in Thai
What should you use in in which situation? What are the most common expressions?
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Lingo Ninja Research Team
6 min read · published May 4, 2021 · last update August 22, 2021
In this article we will explore the different words and ways to say "I" in Thai:
Which way you use depends on your sex and the situation you are in. Usually, you would mix the appropriate pronouns during a conversation, not only use one. 

Overview of the different types of situations

In this article, and the entire Thai Grammar, we will distinguish between four different situations:
  • Formal situations: when you are talking to a person of high status (see below), or you are in a meeting, government office, etc.  It is seen as impolite to interrupt each other, and there is no joking.
  • Consultative situations: E.g. among work colleagues. Interruptions are seen as impolite, jokes are made with regard to the audience.
  • Casual situations: when you are among friends. Colloquial language is commonly used, it is ok to interrupt each other and to make jokes.
  • Intimate situations: an informal, private situation when you are alone with your spouse, partner, or lover. 
Informal situations: If a situation is either consultative, casual, or intimate it belongs into the group of "informal situations".


People of high status can be, for example, Thai officials, doctors, monks, university professors, your boss, or simply older people. Those people deserve to be treated very politely because of their social status, occupation, function, authority, or age. We are assuming that you approach these people as a "normal person", and not as someone else of high status.

Overview of the different ways to say "I" in Thai

  1. ผม I (for men); hair
    See in Dictionary
    - "I" for men, all situations
  2. ดิฉัน I (formal; for female speakers)
    See in Dictionary
    - "I" for women in formal situations
  3. ฉัน I (for women; informal)
    See in Dictionary
    - "I" for women in informal situations
  4. หนู mouse, rat
    See in Dictionary
    - mouse. "I" for women in informal situations
  5. เรา we; I (informal)
    See in Dictionary
    - both sexes, in informal situations
  6. leave out the pronoun - both sexes, all situations
  7. your nickname - both sexes, informal situations
  8. polite pronouns: พี่ you (polite; for older people)
    See in Dictionary
    (older person) and น้อง you (for a younger person than the speaker)
    See in Dictionary
    (younger person) - both sexes, informal situations
  9. your title, e.g. ครู teacher
    See in Dictionary
    (teacher) - both sexes, formal and normal situations
  10. เค้า I, he (informal, cute)
    See in Dictionary
    - less common - used with close friends
  11. กู I
    See in Dictionary
    - less common - vulgar
  12. ข้า I; slave, servant
    See in Dictionary
    - less common - vulgar
  13. อั๊ว I (used only by Chinese Thais)
    See in Dictionary
    - less common - used only by Chinese-Thai
  14. ข้าพเจ้า I
    See in Dictionary
    - less common - used in contracts and speeches
Let's look at each way in more detail.

1. ผม - for men

ผม Speaker
female male
Situation
intimate tomboy ok
casual tomboy ok
consultative tomboy ok
formal tomboy ok
  • As a man, you have it relatively easy. ผม I (for men); hair
    See in Dictionary
    can be used in most situations by male speakers. 
  • If you use ผม I (for men); hair
    See in Dictionary
    intimate situations, it can be seen as (overly) formal. Another interpretation is that it conveys maturity and respect for your partner.
  • If a woman were to use ผม I (for men); hair
    See in Dictionary
    , she would be immediately considered a tomboy

2. ดิฉัน - for women, formal

ดิฉัน Speaker
female male
Situation
intimate very formal, distant very formal, distant. ladyboy
casual
consultative distant distant, ladyboy
formal ok ladyboy
  • ดิฉัน I (formal; for female speakers)
    See in Dictionary
    is used by female speakers in formal situations, and when you talk to someone of high status.
  • If a man were to use it, he would be immediately considered a ladyboy.
  • If a woman uses ดิฉัน I (formal; for female speakers)
    See in Dictionary
    in intimate situations, it can be seen as (overly) formal. Another interpretation is that it does not necessarily convey distance, but it can be out of respect for the partner's high social status.

3. ฉัน - for women, informal

ฉัน Speaker
female male
Situation
intimate ok in songs, not in real life
casual ok in songs, not in real life
consultative ok ladyboy
formal not respectful not respectful. ladyboy
  • ฉัน I (for women; informal)
    See in Dictionary
    is used by women in everyday life.
  • But ฉัน I (for women; informal)
    See in Dictionary
    has also a more interesting aspect: Did you know that ฉัน I (for women; informal)
    See in Dictionary
    can also be used by men? You mainly hear that in songs. If a man uses ฉัน I (for women; informal)
    See in Dictionary
    to refer to himself (in a song), he would use it in combination with เธอ she; you
    See in Dictionary
    for "you".
  • If a man uses ฉัน I (for women; informal)
    See in Dictionary
    in real life (outside songs), it gives the impression he is a ladyboy.

4. หนู - female, informal

หนู Speaker
female male
Situation
intimate ok ladyboy
casual ok ladyboy
consultative ok ladyboy
formal not respectful not respectful. ladyboy
  • หนู mouse, rat
    See in Dictionary
    literally means "mouse". It is used by women in everyday life, especially in casual and intimate situations or when talking to kids. 
  • It is also used by young girls when talking to anyone older
  • If a man were to use it, he gives the impression of being a ladyboy.

5. เรา - both sexes, informal

  • เรา we; I (informal)
    See in Dictionary
    is interesting, as it is often translated as "we", not as "I". But in informal situations, it is completely fine for both sexes to use เรา we; I (informal)
    See in Dictionary
      for "I". 
  • If you use it in formal or consultative situations, it might be seen as inappropriate or disrespectful.

6. dropping the pronoun - both sexes, all types of situations

  • Appropriate for all types of situations.
See also here


Dropping pronouns is something Thai people do very often. The simple rule is, if you can derive the pronoun out of context, you can drop it.

For example, instead of

A: How are you? - คุณ Ms, Mrs, Mr; you
See in Dictionary
สบายดี fine
See in Dictionary
ไหม yes/no question
See in Dictionary
ครับ polite word for men
See in Dictionary
?
B: I am fine.         - ฉัน I (for women; informal)
See in Dictionary
สบายดี fine
See in Dictionary
ค่ะ polite word for women
See in Dictionary

you often only hear: 

A: How are? - สบายดี fine
See in Dictionary
ไหม yes/no question
See in Dictionary
ครับ polite word for men
See in Dictionary
?
B: fine.          - สบายดี fine
See in Dictionary
ค่ะ polite word for women
See in Dictionary

In the short conversation above it is clear from the context, that A is asking B, and B is talking about herself.

Note: As a Thai beginner, you might think you simply should adapt this technique and always drop all pronouns, as this technique can be used in all types of situations. But that conclusion would be wrong. This technique will only get you through part of the conversation. As soon as topics get more complicated you still need to use pronouns for clarity and to avoid ambiguity.

7. nickname- both sexes, not formal

your nickname Speaker
female male
Situation
intimate ok ok
casual ok ok
consultative ok ok
formal not appropriate not appropriate
  • Using your nickname is fine in most - except in very formal - situations. 
  • It is also one of the few ways men can refer to themselves in intimate situations.
For more details, please read names as personal pronouns

8. น้อง and พี่ - polite pronouns - both sexes, all types of situations

One way to get around the complications of finding the right pronoun for the situation is to rely on pronouns that depend on your age difference.

If you are older, you can refer to yourself as พี่ you (polite; for older people)
See in Dictionary
(older person) and to the other party as น้อง you (for a younger person than the speaker)
See in Dictionary
(younger person).

If you are younger, you flip it around and refer to yourself as น้อง you (for a younger person than the speaker)
See in Dictionary
(younger person) while referring to the other party as พี่ you (polite; for older people)
See in Dictionary
(older person).

Words like พี่ you (polite; for older people)
See in Dictionary
and น้อง you (for a younger person than the speaker)
See in Dictionary
belong to the group of family terms. You can read more on them here: Family terms as personal pronouns

This is appropriate in most informal situations.

9. using your title - both sexes, formal & normal

If you have a title like อาจารย์ professor, teacher
See in Dictionary
(professor) or ครู teacher
See in Dictionary
(teacher), you can use it in formal situations and e.g. when talking to colleagues. It might sound overly formal when talking to friends, though.

For more examples, please read here: using titles as personal pronouns

10. เค้า - by young people with close friends

  • can be used by both sexes
  • Also means he/she/they, as เค้า I, he (informal, cute)
    See in Dictionary
    is a variation of เขา he; she, they
    See in Dictionary
    .
  • Should only be used with close friends, boyfriends/girlfriends/partners.
  • Paired with the pronoun ตัว body; animals, clothing, furniture
    See in Dictionary
    เอง by oneself
    See in Dictionary
    for "you".

11. กู - vulgar

  • กู I
    See in Dictionary
    is seen as vulgar. You should not it unless you are ready to pick a fight. It is used by both sexes, mainly by teenagers or mobsters who try to be tough. 

12. ข้า - vulgar and outdated

  • similar to กู I
    See in Dictionary
    , ข้า I; slave, servant
    See in Dictionary
    is seen as vulgar. It is seldom used in modern Thai, you mainly find it in literature. So only if you want to sound like an old-fashioned mobster, ready to get beaten up, go ahead and use it. Or better not.

13. อั๊ว - only if you are Chinese-Thai

  • อั๊ว I (used only by Chinese Thais)
    See in Dictionary
    is of Chinese origin and used by some Chinese-Thai speakers of both sexes in informal situations. It can sound harsh if used by non-Chinese-Thai. If a Thai learner would use it, it definitely would confuse people why you are using it. So better don't.

14. ข้าพเจ้า - in contracts and speeches

  • ข้าพเจ้า I
    See in Dictionary
    is used by both sexes in formal speeches or contracts. It is more often seen in written form than heard aloud. You don't use it in day-to-day life.
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