Simple Rules For Thai Consonant Clusters

If you’ve recently started studying Thai, you probably have come across consonant clusters. If you teach yourself to read, write, or how to spell Thai words you may also want to know the advanced rules to improve your Thai language skills.

It might help you remember that two consonants appearing together are called consonant clusters.

We will be looking at three types of consonant clusters.

  1. True clusters – be pronounced together
  2. False clusters – are pronounced as single consonants
  3. Leading consonant clusters -not pronounceable as a unit



1. True Clusters (Sound As A Merged Phoneme)

True Thai cluster know as ‘อักษรควบกล้ำแท้’ (àk-sɔ̌ɔn-kuuam-glàm-tɛ̀ɛ).

  • Thai cluster: the first consonant is one of ก, ข, ค, ต, ป, ผ, and and the second consonant is one of ร, ล, and .

กร- /gr-/, กล- /gl-/, กว- /gw-/. For example กราบ (grâap) – prostrate, กลอง (glɔɔng ) – drum, (มาก) กว่า [(mâak) -gwàa] – more

ขร– /kr-/, ขล– /kl-/, ขว– /kw-/. For example ขรุขร (krù-krà) – rough, ขี้ขลาด (kǐi-klàat) – coward, ของขวัญ (kɔ̌ɔng-kwǎn) – gift

คร- /kr-/, คล- /kl-/, คว- /kw-/. For example เครื่องบิน (krʉ̂ʉang-bin) – airplane, คลอง (klɔɔng) – canal, ความสุข (kwaam-sùk) – happiness

ปร- /bpr-/, ปล-  /bpl-/. For example ประมาณ (bprà-maan) – around, ปลา (bpla) – fish

ผล- /pl-/. For example ผลัก (plàk) – to push

พร- /pr-/, พล- /pl-/. For example พระ (prá) – monk, เพลง (pleeng) – music

ตร- /dtr-/. For example ตรวจ (dtrùat) – to check

  • Loanword cluster: influenced by foreign countries like English, Sanskritt. The first consonant is one of บ, ด, ฟ, and and the second consonant is one of ร, and .

บร- /br-/. For example บรา (brǎa) – bra

บล- /bl-/. For example บลูเบอร์รี่ (blu-ber-rii) – blueberry

ดร– /dr-/. For example ไฮโดรเจน (hai-dro-jəən) – hydrogen

ฟร- /fr-/. For example ฟรี (frii) – free

ฟล- /fl-/. For example ฟลูออรีน (flu-ɔɔ-riin) – fluorine

ทร- /tr-/. For example แทรกเตอร์ (trɛ́k-dter) – tractor

2. False Clusters (Sound As Single Consonant)

False cluster know as ‘อักษรควบกล้ำไม่แท้’ (àk-sɔ̌ɔn-kuuam-glàm-mâi-tɛ̀ɛ).

False cluster where the second consonant is silent. That means only pronounce the first consonant.

ทร /s-/. For example ทราบ (sâap) – know, ทราย (saai) – sand, ทรัพย์สิน (sáp-sin) – asset

จร– /j-/. For example จริง (jing) – true

สร /s-/. For example สร้าง (saang) – to build, เตียงเสริม (dtiiang-sə̌əm) – extra bed

ศร- /s-/. For example – เศร้า (sâo) – sad

3. Leading Consonant Clusters

Leading Consonant Clusters know as ‘อักษรนำ’ (àk-sɔ̌ɔn-nam).

ห นำ (hor nam)

+ ง ญ น ม ย ร ล ว

For example:

ห + ง: เหงือก (ngʉ̀ʉak) – gum

ห + ญ: ผู้หญิง (pûu-yǐng) – woman

ห + น: หนาว (nǎao) – cold

ห + ม: หมา (mǎa) – dog

ห + ย: หยก (yòk) – jade

ห + ร: บุหรี่ (bù-rìi) – cigarette

ห + ล: สีเหลือง (sǐi-lʉ̌ʉang) – yellow

ห + ว: แหวน (wɛ̌ɛn) – ring

อ นำ (ɔɔ nam)

For อ นำ (ɔɔ nam), we now use only 4 words in Thai: อย่า (yàa), อยู่ (yùu), อย่าง (yàng), and อยาก (yàak)

For example:

อย่า (yàa) – don’t

(ที่) อยู่ [(tîi) yùu] – address

(บาง) อย่าง [(baang) yàng] – something

อยาก (yàak) – want

As general rule consonant clusters are two consonants with no discernible vowel separating them. There are fourteen to be found in the Thai language:

1. กร- gr-
2. คร- kr-
3. ขร- kr-
4. ตร- dtr-
5. ปร- bpr-
6. พร- pr-
7. กล- gl-
8. คล- kl-
9. ขล- kl-
10. ปล- bpl-
11. พล- pl-
12. กว- gw-
13. คว- kw-
14. ขว- kw-

Groupings of two consonants other than the ones above will have a hidden vowel associated with them.

When working with a consonant cluster, vowel and tone markers will appear over the second consonant.

For example กลิ้ง (glîng) – roll ขว้าง (kwáang) – pitch

Let’s clarify

The general tone rules (High/Medium/Low consonants etc and how the length/ending/tone markers affect the tone)

ครับ or ครู or ปลา etc where the ร, ล or ว joins with the first syllable to create a new sound.

When อ or ห are silent at the start of a word to change the consonant to medium/high class.


Reading Consonant Clusters

There are a variety of words that start with a consonant cluster. However, in Thai the range of possible such clusters is limited to these:

+ร /rɔɔ/ +ล /lɔɔ/ +ว /wɔɔ/
ก /gɔɔ/ กร- /gr-/ กล- /gl-/ กว- /gw-/
ข /kɔɔ/ ขร- /kr-/ ขล- /kl-/ ขว- /kw-/
ค /kɔɔ/ คร- /kr-/ คล- /kl-/ คว- /kw-/
ต /dtɔɔ/ ตร- /dtr-/
ป /bpɔɔ/ ปร- /bpr-/ ปล- /bpl-/
พ /pɔɔ/ พร- /pr-/ พล- /pl-/


The tone of the word is determined by the initial consonant. For all clusters, the tone of the syllable is calculated based on the consonant class of the first consonant in the cluster; the tone marker (if any) is nevertheless placed above the second consonant in the group. So, for example:

ปลูก (bplùuk) –  to plant: low tone determined by mid-class consonant ป /bpɔɔ/
กล้อง (glɔ̂ɔng) – camera: falling tone determined by ก /gɔɔ/, yet tone mark appears above ล /lɔɔ/


      • กลาง (glaang) – medium
      • ตรอก (trɔ̀ɔk) – lane
      • ควัน (kwan) – smoke
      • พริก (prík) – chill

This rule neatly accounts for the operation of the อักษรนำ (àk-sɔ̌ɔn-nam), or “silent” leading consonants, หอ นำ (hɔɔ nam) and ออ นำ (ɔɔ nam)

The tone mark is written above the second consonant of the cluster.

In syllables with initial consonant clusters, the overall lexical tone is determined by the consonant class of:

• the first consonant in the cluster, if the second consonant is a sonorant;
• the second consonant in the cluster, if the second consonant is not a sonorant.


      • ใกล้ (klâi) – near
      • แคร่ (khrɛ̂ɛ) – litter
      • ครั้ง (khráng) – time, occasion

Unfortunately, when reading polysyllabic words in Thai we can no longer rely upon a consonant associated with a vowel to be the first consonant of a syllable when that consonant is //. We need to look at the preceding consonant to determine whether or not we’re dealing with a consonant cluster.

Successive consonants are not uncommon in the Thai language. In words such as ‘Album’ or ‘Swiss’, this can be simply spoken together. The Thais cannot do this so easily

The use of “ng”, is unusual for Thai, although they can express it very well. But we do not want to teach them how to properly pronounce “album”, but learn ourselves how Thai words are pronounced and written correctly. Be aware also that writing the tone mark (incorrectly) over the first consonant of a cluster is a very common mistake for beginners.


Keep On Practicing

If you are interested in learning more Thai, try using the Ling Thai app. You can practice for a few minutes each day. Over time, you will learn more and become more confident in speaking the language.

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