How to Politely Address People
In-depth explanations of titles, family terms, names, pronoun dropping, as well as addressing monks & royals
Content
Lingo Ninja Research Team
6 min read · published June 13, 2021 · last update July 6, 2021

Introduction: How to address a person in Thai?

The right way to address someone in Thai depends on many factors: the situation, your relationship to the person, as well as the status and age of the other person. In this section, we try to give a short guideline on how to address someone, followed by more detailed explanations in the next sections. 

We assume you try to address a "common" Thai person. If you want to address monks or royalty, please look at the guidelines at the end of this article.

Formal situations

If you are not close to someone, or the situation is formal, you give the person the most respectful pronoun/title of which you know it fits:

1. Position
People in prestigious positions should be addressed by their title. Just using คุณ Ms, Mrs, Mr; you
See in Dictionary
would be seen as disrespectful towards their position.

If you know the other person has a prestigious position or an occupation, you use that. E.g. professor อาจารย์ professor, teacher
See in Dictionary
, doctor หมอ doctor
See in Dictionary
, taxi driver แท็กซี่ taxi
See in Dictionary
2. Age
Otherwise, chose a family term based on age: if the person is older than you, use พี่ you (polite; for older people)
See in Dictionary
. If the person is younger or serves you, use น้อง you (for a younger person than the speaker)
See in Dictionary

Informal situations

If you don't know the person well, follow the rules for formal situations.

If you are introduced to the family of a Thai friend, you can use the same terms to address people as your Thai friend, but add คุณ Ms, Mrs, Mr; you
See in Dictionary
before: E.g. คุณ Ms, Mrs, Mr; you
See in Dictionary
แม่ mother
See in Dictionary
, คุณ Ms, Mrs, Mr; you
See in Dictionary
พ่อ father
See in Dictionary
, คุณ Ms, Mrs, Mr; you
See in Dictionary
ยาย grandmother
See in Dictionary


If you are friends with someone, and the situation is not formal, you can use the nickname of the person, combined with พี่ you (polite; for older people)
See in Dictionary
or น้อง you (for a younger person than the speaker)
See in Dictionary
, e.g. พี่ you (polite; for older people)
See in Dictionary
หญิง female, woman; Ying
See in Dictionary
, or น้อง you (for a younger person than the speaker)
See in Dictionary
หญิง female, woman; Ying
See in Dictionary
.

If you are talking to a kid, you can use หนู mouse, rat
See in Dictionary
.

Titles or occupations as personal pronouns

Titles or occupations are often used as personal pronouns. If you refer to someone else using a title or occupation, it is polite to put คุณ Ms, Mrs, Mr; you
See in Dictionary
before them. 

Titles are used as first, second or third person pronouns (e.g. I, you, he, she, they):
Occupations are not used as first-person pronouns ("I"), e.g.:

Examples


Family terms as personal pronouns

Family terms (also called "kin terms") are often used as first-, second-, or third-person pronouns. This can be confusing for Thai beginners. For example, depending on the context, the sentence พ่อ father
See in Dictionary
ไม่ no, not
See in Dictionary
ชอบ like
See in Dictionary
(Literally: father - not - like) can mean:
  • I don't like it (father is speaking)
  • You don't like it (someone talking to the father)
  • He doesn't like it (someone talking about the father)

List of common family terms

Family terms are also used outside the family

Family terms are handy in all types of situations. Especially พี่ you (polite; for older people)
See in Dictionary
(older brother/sister) and น้อง you (for a younger person than the speaker)
See in Dictionary
(younger brother/sister) are commonly used to address people outside the family or even strangers:
  • If you are older, you can refer to yourself as พี่ you (polite; for older people)
    See in Dictionary
    and to the other party as น้อง you (for a younger person than the speaker)
    See in Dictionary
    .
  • 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
    while referring to the other party as พี่ you (polite; for older people)
    See in Dictionary
    .
  • Thais commonly address waiters and other people serving them as น้อง you (for a younger person than the speaker)
    See in Dictionary
  • Uncle/Aunt can also refer to friends of your parents. But you need to pick the right term depending on age and which parent, e.g. a younger friend of your father can be referred to as คุณ Ms, Mrs, Mr; you
    See in Dictionary
    อา uncle, aunt (younger brother/sister of father)
    See in Dictionary
    .

Combining family terms with names or คุณ 

Family terms are very often combined with names or nicknames, e.g. ป้า aunt (older sister of parents)
See in Dictionary
หญิง female, woman; Ying
See in Dictionary
= Aunt Ying. They can also be combined with คุณ Ms, Mrs, Mr; you
See in Dictionary
  to show respect, e.g. คุณ Ms, Mrs, Mr; you
See in Dictionary
แม่ mother
See in Dictionary
, คุณ Ms, Mrs, Mr; you
See in Dictionary
พ่อ father
See in Dictionary
or คุณ Ms, Mrs, Mr; you
See in Dictionary
อา uncle, aunt (younger brother/sister of father)
See in Dictionary
.

Names as personal pronouns

Using names or nicknames instead of personal pronouns is very common among Thai speakers. Replacing the first person pronoun "I" with their nickname (or sometimes their name) is often done by women, but not so often by men. If names are used as  second or third person pronouns, they are often preceded by คุณ Ms, Mrs, Mr; you
See in Dictionary
or family relationship terms like พี่ you (polite; for older people)
See in Dictionary
or น้อง you (for a younger person than the speaker)
See in Dictionary
:
  • คุณ Ms, Mrs, Mr; you
    See in Dictionary
    + [first name / last name / nickname]
  • พี่ you (polite; for older people)
    See in Dictionary
    + [first name / last name / nickname]
  • น้อง you (for a younger person than the speaker)
    See in Dictionary
    + [first name / last name / nickname]
Some additional points:
  • 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.

Examples

I don't know. (Ying is speaking)
หญิง female, woman; Ying
See in Dictionary
ไม่ no, not
See in Dictionary
ทราบ know
See in Dictionary

Literally: Ying - not - know

You know. / She knows. / Ying knows. (Someone else is talking about or to Ying)
พี่ you (polite; for older people)
See in Dictionary
หญิง female, woman; Ying
See in Dictionary
ทราบ know
See in Dictionary

Literally: older brother/sister - Ying - know

He/Mr. Somchai does know. (Someone else is talking about or to Mr. Somchai)
คุณ Ms, Mrs, Mr; you
See in Dictionary
สมชาย Somchai
See in Dictionary
ทราบ know
See in Dictionary

Literally: Mr./Mrs. - Somchai - know

Dropping the pronoun

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. This is appropriate for all types of situations, formal and informal.

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

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.

Example

With pronouns:
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

Without pronouns:
(It is clear from the context, that A is asking B, and B is talking about herself)
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

Addressing Buddhist monks

Speaking to monks utilizes a further complicated set of personal pronouns.

A monk speaking to you:
  • referring to himself (I): อาตมา I (only used by monks)
    See in Dictionary
  • referring to you, a layperson: โยม you (used by monks to address laypeople)
    See in Dictionary
You speaking to a monk:

Addressing royalty

When members of royalty address you, they will not use special pronouns.  But you have to use special pronouns addressing members of the Royal Family:
  • referring to yourself ("I"): ข้าพพระพุทธเจ้า I (only used in conversation with a member of the Royal Family)
    See in Dictionary
  • referring to the King or Queen ("You"): ใต้ฝ่าละอองธุลีพระบาท you (used to address His Majesty the King or Her Majesty the Regent Queen)
    See in Dictionary
  • referring to high-ranking royalty ("You"): ใต้ฝ่าละอองพระบาท you (used to address a high-ranking member of the Royal Family)
    See in Dictionary
Warning:
  • Do not use these words for fun! If you use them in the wrong context, your actions can be interpreted as disrespectful towards the Royal Family. This is a criminal offense in Thailand! 
  • If you have the honor to be in the presence of a member of the Royal Family, make sure you prepare yourself well. There are many other protocols to observe.

Thai Grammar Online
Share article:
content_copy
more_horiz
written by
Lingo Ninja Research Team
Visit The best way to learn Thai