I am not a language expert, so when I came across the topic of classifiers in Thai, I had no idea what it meant. There are many different types of words that make up a sentence and each play a different role in creating meaning. Classifiers are no different. However, their role is not as easy to explain as verbs or nouns, which is why I wanted to cover and look into classifiers in Thai. There are a lot of different examples, so this won’t be a definitive list. Saying that, I hope that it will help you understand what they do.
This is the big question. What are classifiers in Thai and how do they work? Well, to put it simply, classifiers are a type of word in a sentence. Also known as counters, their role is to classify, as the name suggests, a noun. They appear when it comes to counting nouns. For some words, it is not possible to simply say a number and then the noun. Instead, you will need to put a classifier or counter word into the sentence.
In English, for example, we would not just say ‘two shoes’. We would say ‘two pairs of shoes’, where the word ‘pairs’ is acting as the classifier. Likewise, we wouldn’t say ‘two breads’, we would say ‘two loaves of breads’. The word is placed in between the number and the noun. Other than these two, there are many different examples of these types of words.
As you can probably tell, explaining what they actually do is quite difficult and they could technically be avoided, but it would make you sound very odd and may also make you difficult to understand. While there are a lot, it should become more natural when you start putting them into use.
Thai also has these classifier words that act much in the same way. Because words in Thai do not change when they are plurals, these classifiers help the listener to determine whether the word is pluralized.
If a number amount for the noun is specified, then a classifier for the noun is required. In these cases, the classifier comes after the noun and the number at the end of the sentence. The order would be noun, number and then classifier. However, when adjectives are being used, the classifier would come after the noun and before the adjective.
It is worth noting that these types of words are used more often in Thai than in English, so it is something you will need to get used to using. There are hundreds of different examples of classifiers in Thai, so it would take a long time to cover them all. However, here are a few of the more common ones you would use often when speaking and writing Thai.
There are a whole variety of these classifier words that must be used for their specific area. For example, if you are referring to houses, the word would be ‘lang’ (หลัง).
When talking about eggs, the word you will need to use is ‘forng’ (ฟอง). this can also e used when talking about some other spheroid objects like bubbles.
Some classifiers belong to seemingly random groups of nouns. The word ‘dtuua’ (ตัว) is used as a classifier for animals, clothing and furniture. While it is nice to have multiple groups under one word (so there is less to learn overall), this random nature can make it a bit more complicated.
Another common classifier you should know is ‘bai’ (ใบ). This classifier is used for things such as money, bottles, drinking glasses, backpacks, leaves, sheets and some other flat objects.
The way it is presented/ split up can change the classifier that is used, not unlike in English. The classifiers for food in Thai can differ. You would either need to use ‘chin’ (ชิ้น) when talking about small pieces or slices of food, or ‘jahn’ (จาน) when talking about whole plates of food.
This was a quite difficult topic due to how abstract the concept of classifiers is. Essentially, they are used when counting things and are added after you say the noun and number. It is unfortunately a case of where you will need to learn and remember each of them and use them with the right nouns. There are some ways to avoid this and it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you don’t remember them every so often, but they are important to know.
If you want to carry on learning Thai and learn other Thai words such as Thai conjunctions, i recommend you try the Ling Thai app. Test your skills with fun games and challenges that will help you learn a range of different topics in Thai.