How to say When in Thai

by | May 8, 2020 | Vocabulary

A common mistake a lot of Thai learners make is thinking เมื่อ (mêua) is the way to say ‘when’ in all situations. However, Thais generally don’t use เมื่อ in everyday conversation. เมื่อ is a more formal way of saying ‘when’ and you will mostly see it in newspapers or in fixed expressions such as yesterday เมื่อวาน.

The most common ways of saying when are เวลา (way-laa), ตอน (dton), พอ (por). However, each word is used in different situations.

when in thai

เวลา (way-laa)

เวลา (way-laa) is used when referring to a general sense of time that you can’t pinpoint or specify the exact time. Let’s look at some examples:


  • When I order pizza I ask for extra sauce
    way-laa chăn sàng pít-sâa chăn kŏr sót pêrm

  • When the professor taught math I had to pay attention
    way-laa aa-jaan sŏn ká-nít-dtà-sàat chăn dtông dtâng jai

  • When we see barking dogs we get scared
    way-laa rao hĕn măa hào pûak rao glua

In all the above examples, it’s just referring to a general sense of time instead of a specific point in time. If there was a specific time when a dog barked and I got scared then you could use ตอน (dton) as explained below.

However, in everyday conversation ตอน and เวลา (dton and way-laa) can be used interchangeably. Personally, I mostly use ตอน even if I am not talking about a specific point in time.

ตอน dton

ตอน (dton) is used when you do have a specific time. It can also be defined as ‘at’.

For example, let’s say, yesterday I saw a barking dog and I was telling my friend the story. Since I can point to an exact point in time when it happened then I would use ตอน.

I would say ตอนหมาเห่าฉันกลัว (dton măa hào chăn glua) – when the dog barked I got scared.


  • When I was five years old I was happy
    dton chăn aa-yú-hâak-wóp chăn mee kwaam sùk

  • She left at midnight.
    ter òk bpai dton-tîang keun

Let’s say I am telling a story of when I was in college. Since being in College was during a specific period of time I can point to I can say

  • When I was in college I broke my leg.
    dton chăn yòo nai wít-tá-yaa-lai chăn kăa hàk

พอ por

พอ (por) is used to say ‘when’ but it means more like ‘as soon as’ or ‘just after’.

For example: Since businessmen shake hands as soon as they meet we can use พอ to describe it. พอนักธุรกิจเจอกัน พวกเขาก็ จับมือกัน (por nák tú-rá gìt jer gan pûak kăo gôr jàp meu gan).


  • When I ate the food I got sick / as soon as I ate the food I got sick
    por chăn gin aa-hăan chăn gôr bpùay

Asking When

If you are asking “when?”, you will always use เมื่อไหร่ (mêua rài)

Examples with answers

  • When are you going to cook food? Answer: ton song tum
    คุณจะทำอาหารเมื่อไหร่ ? Answer: ตอนสองทุ่ม
    kun jà tam aa-hăan mêua rài? Answer: dton sŏng tûm

  • When will we buy a new house? Answer: When we are rich
    เราจะซื้อบ้านใหม่เมื่อไหร่ ? Answer: เวลาพวกเรารวย
    rao jà séu bâan mài mêua rài? Answer way-laa pûak rao ruay

  • When did she start learning french? Answer: When she got back from France / As soon as she got back from France.
    เธอเริ่มเรียนภาษาฝรั่งเศสเมื่อไหร่? Answer: พอเธอกลับมาจากประเทศฝรั่งเศส
    ter rêrm rian paa-săa fà-ràng-sàyt mêua rài ? Answer: por ter glàp maa jàak bprà-tâyt fà-ràng-sàyt

  • When did you hurt your leg? Answer: Yesterday
    คุณเจ็บขาเมื่อไหร่ ? Answer: เมื่อวานนี้
    kun jèp kăa mêua rài ? Answer: mêua waan née


I hope this clarifies any confusion you might have had with using the word when in Thai. To summarize, you use เมื่อไหร่ (mêua rài) to ask when?

When you have a specific point in time you are referring to you use ตอน (dton).

When you are talking about a general sense of time then you use เวลา (way-laa).

However, in everyday colloquial conversation เวลา (way-laa) and ตอน (dton) can be used interchangeably.

If you want to say when but give the sense of ‘as soon as’ or ‘just after’ then you use พอ (por).

You don’t really use เมื่อ (mêua) unless its a fixed expression like เมื่อวานนี้ (mêua waan née).

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