Consonant Clusters - Learn Thai from a White Guy

Consonant Clusters

Consonant clusters occur when two or more consecutive consonants that appear within a syllable.  Basically, 2 or more consonants are sharing the same vowel, as opposed to something like BA-NA-NA (NO CLUSTER) in which case each consonant has its own vowel.  Below are some examples of words with consonant clusters in English.

Consonant Clusters

  • ‘str’ in “street” – the STR sounds are all sharing the same EE vowel sound.
  • ‘bl’ in “black”
  • ‘tr’ in “tree”
  • ‘br’ in “Brett”


In Thai, consonant clusters only occur in the initial position.  Let’s quickly run through any consonants we’ll see in this lesson.

  • – the CHICKEN.  If you don’t know this MIDDLE class consonant really well by now we are in big trouble.

High Class Consonants:

  • – the BEE.  It’s an aspirated Ph sound as in ‘purple,’ ‘people,’ or ‘punt.’

Low Class Consonants: 

The Thai L and R are very commonly found as the 2nd consonant in a cluster:

  • – the MONKEY
  • – the BOAT

Here are some additional consonants you’ll see in the examples below.  Don’t feel bad if you have to scroll back up to check them again when looking at the examples.

  • – the SOLDIER  –  The SOLDIER is the Th in the Thai spelling of the word “Thai”.  It’s just an aspirated T like in ‘table,’ ‘torch,’ or ‘tent.’
  • – the BUFFALO  – The BUFFALO looks similar to the CHILD, but the position of the circle (and how it’s written) is different.
  • – the SNAKE – This is that fun NG sound, that’s already in you mouth, but feels hard at first because you’ve never had to say it at the start of a word.
  • – the HORSE – It’s just an M sound.
  • – the GIANT – the GIANT is a Y sound.
    • Mnemonic: Y are there no more GIANTS in Thailand?
  • – the RING – the RING is a W sound.

Below is the word I get the most emails about, so let’s start with that first:

  • ใกล้ – near
    • Let’s break this down into its components:
      • Initial Position: กล-  The chicken and the monkey can cluster up.
      • Vowel: ใอ
      • Tone Marker: ้   – The 2nd tone mark on a MIDDLE class consonant ก, gives us a FALLING tone.
  • ไกล –  far
    • If you understand what’s happening in the word for “near” you should be ok with the word for “far.”  These 2 words take different tones: ใกล้ (near) is FALLING.  ไกล (far) is MID.

Useful Tip:

  • When a word contains a consonant cluster, the tone mark will always go over the 2nd consonant in the cluster.  Note the position of the tone mark in all the words below that have one.