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Easy Khmer Sentence Structure: #1 Useful Guide

April 21, 2022

One of the first things that one should learn when studying a new foreign language is the basic sentence structure. In today's post, we will walk you through the Khmer sentence structure and give some valuable tips on how you can master this in no time. If you are ready for that, then let's get started!

 

The Khmer Language

The Khmer language, which is also known as the Cambodian language, belongs to the Mon-Khmer branch of the Austroasiatic language family. It is spoken as a second or foreign language by 1 million people in the world. Today, Khmer is the official language of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

There are three common dialects of the Khmer language:

  • Standard Khmer: It is spoken in big cities such as Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Most Khmer speakers use this dialect.
  • Northern Khmer: It is spoken in eastern Thailand which was separated from Standard Khmer in the past.
  • Western Khmer: It is spoken in southwestern Cambodia.

Most learners prefer the Standard Khmer since it is the most common one. But be careful about learning vocabulary and make sure it has the dialect you want to speak. It is crucial since the word meaning, and the Khmer spelling may change from one dialect to another.

 

Khmer Sentence Structure

Khmer is an analytic language that doesn't have inflections according to the persons or grammatical relations. They are expressed according to the word order and various grammatical particles. Let's dive deep into that in the sections below.

Word Order

The word order of the Khmer language is Subject – Verb – Object. Modifiers take place after nouns. This order is usually fixed since changes in the word order can also change the meaning of the sentence. The sentence's topic is placed at the beginning, and the rest of the sentence follows that topic.

Nouns

Nouns in Khmer don't express any gender or number. To represent numbers, you can use numerals, or to express genders you can use specific words that already identify a gender such as a son, wife, father, male and female, etc.

Example:

  • ឆ្កែ(cʰkae) - Dog > Dog three > Three dogs
  • បី(ɓəj) - Three

Pronouns

The pronoun system of the Khmer language is complicated since you should change it according to one's age, status, and intimacy level. Here are the subject pronouns in Khmer:

WordPronunciationMeaning
ញុំ(khnhom)I
អ្នក(anak)You
គាត់(keat)He
នាង(neang)She
ពួកយើង(puok yeung)We
ពួកគេ(puokke)They

Verbs

Like nouns, verbs don't express person, number, tense, and aspect. Grammatical particles and adverbs show tense and aspect, or they can be understood in context. Here are ten some common verbs in Khmer:

WordPronunciationMeaning
មើល(meul)to see
ស្រលាញ់(sralanh)to love
(aoy)to give
លេង(leng)to play
អាន(an)to read
មាន(mean)to have
រៀន(rien)to learn
ធ្វើការ(thveukear)to work
និយាយ(niyeay)to speak
ចេះ(cheh)to know

Social Registers

The Khmer language has a system of registers which means you have to use different sentences based on other occasions or audiences. Hence, there are differences between informal and polite speech or speaking to or about royals. That's why each register uses different verbs and pronouns. Let's look at the various forms of the verb "to eat" among different social registers.

Intimates Or AnimalsCommonersHigher Social StatusMonksRoyals
siiɲampisacʰansaoj

 

How Is Khmer Written?

Khmer Sentence Structure

The Khmer script is different from European languages since the Khmer alphabet doesn't have Latin letters. It has 33 consonants, 24 dependent vowels, 12 independent vowels, and some diacritic symbols for pronunciation. There shouldn't be any spaces between words in Khmer. You can leave space only at the end of a sentence to indicate that you finished a sentence and starting another one. Let's see the example in Northern Khmer below:

Example: ខ្ញុំឈ្មោះម៉ារី។ ខ្ញុំ​មាន​អាយុ​ម្ភៃ​ឆ្នាំ។ (khnhom chhmoh meari. khnhom​ mean​ ayou​ mphei​ chhnam.)

English: My name is Mary. I am twenty years old.

 

Basic Khmer Vocabulary

The word derivation in the Khmer language happens by adding suffixes such as prefixes and infixes. In history, during the period of French domination, many French words were borrowed into the Khmer, and they have taken place in both the spoken language and the terminology. Today, the colloquial Khmer language also has some Chinese and Vietnamese loanwords in the vocabulary.

Some Basic Phrases In Khmer

  • ជំរាបសួរ (Choum reap sour) - Hello!
  • ឣរគុណ (Au kun) - Thank you.
  • អ្នកសុខសប្បាយទេ (Tau neak sok sabye) - How are you?
  • សូមទោស (Som to) - Excuse me! / Sorry.
  • សូម (Sohm) - Please.
  • បាទ (Baht) - Yes.
  • អត់ទេ (Ot teh) - No.
  • យល់ព្រម (Ylprom) - OK.
  • លាហើយ (Leahaey) - Goodbye!

 

How To Make A Question-Based Sentence?

If you want to ask a yes-no question, you can form the sentence by placing the particle ទេ /teː/ at the end of the sentence. In addition to that, you should adjust your intonation to indicate that you are asking a question. However, if you want to ask a WH question, the question word remains in its usual grammatical position in the sentence, you don't need to take it to the head of the sentence as we do in the English language.

 

How To Make A Negative Sentence?

A negative sentence in Khmer can be formed in three different ways:

1. The most common way of negation is placing the particle មិន (mɨn), which means "not," before the main verb and ending the sentence with ទេ (teː), but grammatically it can be omitted.

Example:

ញុំ (kʰɲom) ជឿ (cɨə) > ញុំជឿ > I believe.

ញុំ (kʰɲom) មិន (mɨn) ជឿ (cɨə) ទេ (teː) > ញុំមិនជឿទេ > I don't believe.

2. The other common way of forming a negative sentence uses អត់ (ɑt) instead of មិន. It means "without" or "lacking" on its own and shows a similar meaning when used to negate a verb.

Example:

ខ្ញុំ (kʰɲom) អត់ (ɑt) ឃ្លាន (khliə̯n) ទេ (teː) > ខ្ញុំអត់ឃ្លានទេ > I am not hungry.

3. The third way is similar to the first way except for ពុំ (pum) is used instead of (mɨn). This is used only in literary or very formal contexts.

 

Do You Want To Learn Khmer?

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