Asking Questions in Thai

When I told คุณย่า (koon ya – paternal grandmother) I was moving to Thailand she offered to give me a little crash course in the language. She had taught me bits and pieces throughout my childhood but never anything too formal so I was definitely interested. There was one grammatical structure she considered the most important for me to know for asking Yes or No questions.

It looks like this:

Question:

X mǎi?

Negative Response:

mâi X

Positive Response:

X

Note that mǎi (ไหม) and mâi (ไม่) have different tones (rising VS falling) but it’s one of the only time the tone makes total sense to me since you put an inflection that sounds like you’re asking a question for mǎi and and tone like you’re responding with “No” for mâi. Also, if you’re reading Thai script, you’ll notice there are no question marks, the particles/ending words are used to signify a question instead of any dedicated symbol.

Some examples:

เอาไหม (ow mai?) – Do you want?
ไม่เอา (mai ow) – I don’t want.
เอา (ow) – I want.

ชอบไหม (chawp mai?) – Do you like it?
ไม่ชอบ (mai chawp) – I don’t like it.
ชอบ (chawp) – I like it.

หล่อไหม (laaw mai?) – Handsome?
ไม่หล่อ (mai laaw) – Not handsome.
หล่อ (laaw) – Handsome.
หล่อมาก (laaw mak) – Very handsome.

ไปไหม (pai mai?) – Go?
ไม่ไป (mai pai) – No, let’s not go.
ไป (pai) – Let’s go.

Or, if you want to sound really Thai say ป่ะ (bpa)

Another way to ask yes/no questions is to make a statement then add ใช่ไหม (chai mai?) to the end. To answer you would say ใช่ (chai) for yes, ไม่ใช่ (mai chai) for no. There’s also อาจจะ (aht ja) for maybe and ไม่รู้ (mai rue) for I don’t know.

And of course, like any Thai sentence you can throw Khrap (if you’re male) or Ka (if you’re female) at the end to make it sound more polite. When I’m walking through any touristy area where I’m getting asked by Tuk Tuk drivers if I’d like a ride, I usually use the phrase ไม่เอาครับ (mai ow khrap) and give a smile to let them know, in a polite manner, that I’m not interested.

This definitely isn’t the only way to ask a question in Thai but very handy to know. Here are a few others:

…or not yet? – หรือยัง – reu yang

Example:

กินข้าวหรือยัง (gin khao reu yang) – Have you eaten yet?
ยังไม่ได้กิน (yang mai dai gin) – I haven’t eaten yet
กินแล้ว (gin laaeo) – I ate already

…or nothing? (…or not?) หรือเปล่า – reu bplao

…or… – หรือ – reu…

Really? จริงหรือ – jing reu

(Or จริงหรอ – jing raw)

This is a phrase I hear/use often in Thai. Usually is sounds more like “jing aw” than “jing reu/raw”

To respond affirmatively you could say จริงๆ (jing jing – really!) or to respond negatively you say ไม่จริง (mai jing – not true)

A pronunciation tip is that the จ sound here isn’t exactly the same as ‘j’ in English, it’s somewhere between ‘j’ and ‘ch’. If you’re familiar with J.J. market and were curious why J.J. was the abbreviation for Chatuchak, it’s because sometimes ‘j’ is used to transliterate ‘จ’ and sometimes ‘ch’ is used.

Thai also has the 5 W’s (and 1 H). All very useful for constructing questions (or for understanding that you’re being asked a question).

ใคร (krai) – Who?

ใครคือเพื่อนของคุณ
krai keu peuan kong koon
Who is your friend?

อะไร (arai) – What?

อยากกินอะไร
yak gin arai?
What do you want to eat?

ทำไม (tam mai) – Why?

ทำไมแท็กซี่ไม่หยุด
tam mai tak see mai yud
Why didn’t the taxi stop?

ที่ไหน (tee nai) – Where?

ห้องน้ำอยู่ที่ไหน
horng nahm yoo tee nai?
Where is the bathroom?

เมื่อไร (meua rai) – When?

ร้านอาหารเปิดเมื่อไร
rahn aahaan berd meua rai
When does the restaurant open?

อย่างไร (yang rai) – How?

คุณเป็นอย่างไรบ้าง
koon bpen yang rai bang?
How have you been?

You might also hear ยังไง (yang ngai) for “How?” since it’s a bit easier to say than อย่างไร

รู้ได้ยังไง
rue dai yang ngai?
How do you know?

It’s also useful to be able to ask about quantities:

เท่าไร (tao rai) – How much?

อันนี่เท่าไร
an nee tao rai
How much is this one? (can use to ask about the price of an item at a shop)

กี่ (gee) – How Many?

คุณมีลูกกี่คน?
koon mee luk gee kon?
How many kids do you have?

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