Thai Polite Particles
More than just ค่ะ ka and ครับ krap
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Lingo Ninja Research Team
2 min read · first published March 20, 2021 · last update June 16, 2021


Introduction

This is a guideline for Thai learners, so it is heavily simplified. Which particle a Thai speaker uses depends on many factors and can be changed according to the situation or the personal style of the speaker.
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The most important particles - ค่ะ ka and ครับ krap

ค่ะ or ครับ are the particles you will need every day. Which one you use depends on your sex: 
  • ค่ะ is used by women, 
  • ครับ by men
These particles are used the following way:
  • for politeness: put ค่ะ or ครับ at the end of almost every sentence, so you don't sound rude.
  • to say "yes": if you use these particles by themselves, they mean "yes". You can also use them if someone calls your name, meaning "yes", or "I'm here". 

But there are more than two particles

  • At the end of questions women use คะ , not ค่ะ . (Men continue to use ครับ )
  • ขา is sometimes used by women instead of ค่ะ for saying "yes"
  • จ๊ะ or จ้ะ can be used as polite particles as well and จ๋า can be used for "yes".  They are used by: 
    • by girls/young women 
    • by older women talking to friends or kids 
    • by lovers talking to each other
  • LGBT use ฮ่ะ and in questions ฮะ .
  • นะ is often used in combination with other particles. You often hear นะ คะ , นะ ครับ or นะ จ๊ะ at the end of statements.  This mainly sounds more "cute".
    But careful: 
    • นะ + ค่ะ --> นะ คะ (not ค่ะ )
    • นะ + จ้ะ --> นะ จ๊ะ (not จ้ะ )

Why are there polite particles?

Western languages use tones for sentences, e.g. you can say "I have a house" in different ways:
rising: I have a house? → question
medium: I have a house. → normal statement
falling: I have a house. → aggressive

In tonal languages like Chinese and Thai, tones are used for words. So it is not clear from the sentence alone if it's a question, a polite statement, a challenge or an impolite statement. So most tonal languages are quite pragmatic: they use an additional word to indicate if it is a question and another for politeness.

These particles are very important in Thai. If you leave them out, your sentence can sound odd or even slightly rude. But if you want to sound agressive or rude, there are specific particles for that.

Also, as mentioned in the introduction, many particles depend on the speaker's style. E.g. some speakers like more playful particles, others don't. As a Thai learner, pick only a few particles that match your character.



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