15 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 · first published May 4, 2021 · last update July 7, 2021

The most basic ways to say "I" in Thai

These are the most common ways to say "I" in the Thai language:
  1. ผม - "I" for men, all situations
  2. ดิฉัน - "I" for women in formal situations
  3. ฉัน - "I" for women in informal situations
  4. หนู - mouse. "I" for women in informal situations
  5. เรา - 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 (older person) and น้อง (younger person) - both sexes, informal situations
  9. your title, e.g. ครู (teacher) - both sexes, formal and normal situations
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. 

The top 3 ways are your "basic toolkit". Use them, if you are not sure if any of the more advanced words are appropriate. 

Let's look at each way in more detail.

Formal situations and people of high status

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.

Formal situations exist if you are talking to a person of high status, or you are in a meeting, government office, etc.  

1. ผม - for men

ผม Speaker
female male
Talking to
a lover tomboy ok
friends tomboy ok
colleagues tomboy ok
high status tomboy ok
  • As a man, you have it relatively easy. ผม can be used in most situations by male speakers. 
  • If you use ผม with your lover/partner/spouse, 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 , she would be immediately considered a tomboy

2. ดิฉัน - for women, formal

ดิฉัน Speaker
female male
Talking to
a lover very formal, distant very formal, distant. ladyboy
friends
colleagues distant distant, ladyboy
high status ok ladyboy
  • ดิฉัน 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 in a conversation with her partner/lover/spouse, 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
Talking to
a lover ok in songs, not in real life
friends ok in songs, not in real life
colleagues ok ladyboy
high status not respectful not respectful. ladyboy
  • ฉัน is used by women in everyday life.
  • But ฉัน has also a more interesting aspect: Did you know that ฉัน can also be used by men? You mainly hear that in songs. If a man uses ฉัน to refer to himself (in a song), he would use it in combination with เธอ for "you".
  • If a man uses ฉัน in real life (outside songs), it gives the impression he is a ladyboy.

4. หนู - female, informal

หนู Speaker
female male
Talking to
a lover ok ladyboy
friends ok ladyboy
colleagues ok ladyboy
high status not respectful not respectful. ladyboy
  • หนู literally means "mouse". It is used by women in everyday life, especially when talking to friends, a lover, or some kids. 
  • It is also used by girls when talking to anyone
  • If a man were to use it, he gives the impression of being a ladyboy.

5. เรา - both sexes, informal

  • เรา 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   for "I". 
  • If you use it in formal situations or with colleagues who are not friends, it might be seen as inappropriate or disrespectful.

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

  • Appropriate for all types of situations.

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.

Thai is a pronoun-dropping language (or short pro-drop language), similar to Japanese, Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, Turkish, Spanish, and many other languages.

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 สบายดี ไหม ครับ ?
B: I am fine.         - ฉัน สบายดี ค่ะ

you often only hear: 

A: How are? - สบายดี ไหม ครับ ?
B: fine.          - สบายดี ค่ะ

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

7. nickname- both sexes, not formal

your nickname Speaker
female male
Talking to
a lover ok ok
friends ok ok
colleagues ok ok
high status 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 when talking to a lover.

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 (older person) and to the other party as น้อง (younger person).

If you are younger, you flip it around and refer to yourself as น้อง (younger person) while referring to the other party as พี่ (older person).

This is appropriate in most informal situations.

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

If you have a title like อาจารย์ (professor) or ครู (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.

Even more Thai pronouns for I (very advanced)

So there are even more pronouns for "I" used by Thai speakers. But these appear in very specific situations, so you are very unlikely to encounter them. Also, for most Thai learners, they are of very limited use.

10. เค้า - by young people with close friends

  • can be used by both sexes
  • Also means he/she/they, as เค้า is a variation of เขา .
  • Should only be used with close friends, boyfriends/girlfriends/partners.
  • Paired with the pronoun ตัว เอง for "you".

11. กู - vulgar

  • กู 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 , ข้า 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 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 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.

15. ข้าพพระพุทธเจ้า - when addressing the Royal Family

  • ข้าพพระพุทธเจ้า is used by both sexes when addressing members of the Thai Royal Family. It can sometimes be seen in Facebook posts addressing the Royal Family, like congratulations, etc.
  • Don't use it for fun! If you say this word in the wrong context, it can be interpreted as disrespectful towards the Royal Family. This is a criminal offense in Thailand! 
  • So, unless you are in the presence of a member of the Royal Family, do not use this word. And if you do have that honor, make sure you prepare yourself well, as there are many other protocols to observe.
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