Every so often when listening to Thai people speak, you will hear certain phrases that you are unsure of the meaning. The use of ‘na ka’ (นะคะ) and ‘na khrap’ (นะครับ) in Thai is one example of this. These are the Thai particles.
As a pretty common phrase, you will likely hear it often. This will especially be the case when speaking with shop workers or those speaking with higher-ups. For today, we will have a look into the meaning of this Thai phrase and some other similar words that anyone learning Thai should be prepared for.
So, what does this phrase mean? The meaning of ‘Na kha’ and the male equivalent ‘Na khrap’ is to soften a statement and make it sound less abrupt or rude.
By itself, ‘na’ is a particle/modifier that is placed at the end of a sentence or phrase that will impact the way it is perceived by the listener. For example, someone could say ‘Roh sak khroo na ka’ (รอสักครู่นะคะ), which means ‘Wait a moment’. In Thai, this sounds more pleasant than if it didn’t include the ‘na’ particle. When combined with the ‘ka’ or ‘khrap’, it adds another element of politeness.
In Thai, this sounds more pleasant than if it didn’t include the ‘na’ particle. When combined with the ‘ka’ or ‘khrap’, it adds another element of politeness.
In some cases, it can also be a way of seeking approval for a statement or opinion. You can say ‘Wan nii man ron na?’ (วันนี้ร้อนนะ) which means ‘It is hot today, right?’.
Other than na, the Thai language also has other, similar-sounding particles that they use for certain reasons. We will look at a couple more today to highlight their different meanings.
As mentioned, the ‘ka’ (ค่ะ) and ‘khrap’ (ครับ) parts are also particles that make the sentence more polite, as we have looked into before. In a way, all of the particles mentioned can be seen as a way of expressing politeness. However, some of the examples are a bit more contextual and can have slight differences that have different implications.
These will likely be the particles you use most often in Thailand. When speaking to most people, you can use these ones. In the worst case, using it in the wrong situations will be seen as funny and not offensive.
While you may have heard someone say ‘na’ before, you may have also heard someone say ‘ja’ (จ๊ะ). Just like before, it is a particle added to the end of a sentence. It does not actually have any true translation. Instead, it again changes the way the sentence is understood.
It is a more informal way to end a sentence than ‘ka’ or ‘khrap’. Most often, it is used by women to others. If you hear an acquaintance use it when speaking to you, it may be a sign that they feel closer to you and that they see you as a friend.
As you can see, there are some guidelines that should be followed when choosing which of these particles to use. Two of them, ja and ka, are generally used by women, though there are cases when ja can be used by men. Na, on the other hand, can be used by everyone.
Ja is more informal, so it should only be used when speaking to those you are close to like friends, children, or those of lower social status. Be careful about who you use this with, as it can cause offense/ be seen as rude.
Ka, as the female polite particle, should only be used by women. Khrap should be used by men. These will be used when speaking to others that are of higher social status, or people like shop workers, parents, and bosses.
For na, you can use it in any situation where you want to say something that may sound harsh but don’t want to come across as demanding. Similarly, it can be used when making statements that are looking for approval, showing that you are looking for some sort of response.
So, that is the English translation of ‘na kha’ and a few other related phrases. Since the concept of these sorts of words are a bit different from what you will find in languages like English, getting used to them will take time. It will likely then take longer before you are comfortable using them when you speak Thai. In the end, knowing and understanding them will be of great help. They also reveal a lot about traditional Thai society and roles, as some of these words are used to show respect to others.
To learn more Thai phrases like this, try out the Ling Thai app. Test yourself and build up your confidence to speak to the locals of Thailand in their native language.