Learning Thai Classifiers (ลักษณนาม: lák-sà-nà-naam) is a very important part of learning Thai Grammar. When counting things in Thai you will have to use Classifiers.
Technically, there are many Thai classifiers you will have to learn (see this list). However, in this article, I will tell you the ones I feel you will use most of the time. You will also learn about a classifier you can use if you are not sure which one to say.
When do you have to use Thai Classifiers?
1) You use Thai classifiers whenever you are quantifying or counting items. English actually has a very similar concept for many of its nouns.
- For example, in English, you can’t say “I have 5 water” but you can quantify water with a word like “glasses, cups, bottles” and say “I have 5 cups of water”.
- Another example is you can’t say “I have 20 foods” but you can quantify “food” by saying something like “I have 20 plates of food”.
- There are more examples like “I have 20 pairs of glasses” where you quantity “glasses” with the word “pair”
- In Thai you will always have to quantify the noun with a classifier.
2) You will also use classifiers when asking “which” questions.
- For example: คุณชอบรถคันไหน (kun chôp rót kan năi): Which car do you like? – Literally translates to: you like car (car classifier) which?
Pattern for using Thai classifiers
The pattern for using Thai Classifiers is to use the noun – followed by the quantity – followed by the classifier.
For example, “6 friends” in Thai would be เพื่อน หก คน (pêuan hòk kon) where เพื่อน is the noun meaning friend, หก is the quantity meaning 6 and คน is the classifier for people. So the literal translation in English is “friends 6 people”.
Most Common Thai Classifiers
The following are the Thai classifiers I use most often and the most common objects they quantify.
- อัน an (classifier for many small objects like dice, pliers, canes. You can also use it if you don’t know which classifier to use)
- คน kon (classifier for people)
- ตัว dtua (classifier for animals, letters, numbers, clothing that doesn’t come in pairs, chairs, tables)
- แก้ว gâew (classifier for glasses)
- จาน jaan (classifier for plates)
- เล่ม lâym (classifier for knives, books)
- คัน kan (classifier for cars and vehicles except boats or planes)
- แท่ง tâeng (classifier for bars and cylindrical objects like pencils)
- เครื่อง krêuang (classifier for machines and electrical appliances like computers, phones)
- ใบ bai (classifier for pieces of paper, documents)
- ชุด chút (classifier for a set or group of something or uniforms, bathing suits)
- แผ่น pàen (classifier for thin or flat objects, like CDs and slices of bread)
- เม็ด mét (classifier for seeds, pills, buttons)
- ชิ้น chín (classifier for a piece of something like 3 pieces of cake )
- หลัง lăng (classifier for a house)
- เส้น sâyn (classifier for strings, noodles)
- ลูก lôok (classifier for balls, fruits, and other small and round objects)
- ขวด kùat (classifier for bottles)
- ห้อง hông (classifier for rooms)
- มื้อ méu (classifier for meals)
If you don’t know which classifier to use I recommend using อัน (an). While it is technically wrong if you use it all the time it is the one I would consider as “all purpose” classifier. For example, if you don’t know the correct classifier for mirror, while the correct classifier is บาน (baan), if you didn’t know you can say อัน (an).
- I want 4 pineapples
ฉันเอาสับปะรด 4 ลูก
chăn ao sàp-bpà-rót sèe lôok
- There are 2 men in the store
มีผู้ชาย 2 คนในร้าน
mee pôo chaai sŏng kon nai ráan
- I drink 4 bottles of beer
ฉันดื่มเบียร์ 4 ขวด
chăn dèum bia sèe kùat
- 3 plates of Pad Thai
ผัดไทย 3 จาน
pàt tai săam jaan
- I eat 3 slices of cake
ฉันกินเค้ก 3 ชิ้น
chăn gin káyk săam chín
- Today I had only 3 meals
wan née chăn gin aa-hăan kâe sŏng-méu
Examples when asking “which” questions
- Which one do you like?
kun chôp an năi
- Which book will you bring? – Literally translates to : You will bring book (book classifier) which?
kun jà ao năng-sĕu lâym năi
Or you can even omit the noun and just use the classifier because the noun is already implied. For example:
- Which car do you like? – Literally translates to : you like (car classifier) which?
kun chôp kan năi
- Which book will you bring? Literally translates to : You will bring (book classifier) which?
kun jà ao lâym năi
There are many classifiers to learn, however, I recommend starting by learning the ones above which I think are the most common. With those, you will be able to correctly classify most everyday things. If you want to find a classifier you don’t know then I recommend this list.
If you don’t know which classifier to use I recommend you use อัน (an) (although it is technically wrong).