How to determine tone of a Thai word?
Each syllable gets its own tone and there are a few steps we need to take to find out the tone of a word in Thai. If you aren’t yet familiar with what tones there are in Thai or how a tonal language works, start here.
First, we need to determine the CLASS of the syllable or word. We do this by having memorized the Middle and High Class letters so we can identify them instantly. If it’s not Middle Class or High Class, it must be Low Class. If you haven’t already done so, start with the MIDDLE CLASS STORY which will help you tie together the 7 most important middle class consonants.
- Step #1: The class of the first letter determines the the class of the word. This rule applies even if the first letter of the word is silent.
- Step #2: Check the word for any “modifiers.” There are 2 types of modifiers: TONE MARKS and HARD ENDINGS.
- Step #3: Apply rules for consonant CLASS + STATE.
There are 3 possible “states” for a Thai word or syllable. Each “class” or group has a formula to follow once you know the state of the word. Remember, CLASS = the group of letters of which there are 3 in Thai. STATE refers to whether or not the word/syllable has any modifiers. There are 2 types of modifiers: TONE MARKS and HARD ENDINGS. If a word has no modifiers, it will always take the DEFAULT tone for its consonant CLASS. If it has a modifier, you will need to apply the rule for that consonant CLASS + the corresponding rule. Read this paragraph a couple of times. It’s not as hard as it sounds, but you probably won’t get it on your first read through.
- Has Tone Mark
- Has Hard Ending
The tricky part is that each class has its own default starter tone and its own set of rules. Middle and High class are very similar which is why we want to master them first. Low class turns everything upside down and is considerably more difficult so it’s a good idea not to even get into it until you have completely mastered the middle and high class rules. If you want to do it the easy way, than at least have a look at my course which holds your hand and guides you though all of this.
Default tones for each class: =
- Middle Class = Mid Tone
- High Class = Rising Tone
- Low Class = Mid Tone
Did you ever study trigonomotry? I didn’t until I was at university here in Thailand and I was very surprised to see that Thai works in a similar way. When you look at a word, you have to determine which of the 3 classes(groups of letters) that the word is a part of. This is based on the first letter of the word (even if it is a silent letter). Then, you go follow the formula for that CLASS. So if we take a couple middle class words as examples:
บ้าน = house
- What class is บ ? = Middle Class
- Does it have a tone mark? = Yes (middle class + 2nd tone mark = Falling Tone)
ไก่ = chicken
- What class is ก? = Middle Class
- Does it have a tone mark? = Yes (middle class + 1st tone mark = Low Tone)
ตาย = to die
- What class is ต? = Middle Class
- Does it have a tone mark? = No
- Does it have a hard ending? = No
- Default tone = Mid Tone (We checked for 2 modifiers. There were none so we apply the default tone for Middle Class)
จาก = from
- What class is จ? = Middle Class
- Does it have a tone mark? = No
- Does it have a hard ending? = Yes (Middle Class + Hard Ending = Low Tone)
Now practice it until your eyes bleed! Mastering the process = Mastering the tone rules
Want to read more about Thai tones? Check out this post for more examples: