Classifiers are the words used to count objects. In Thai, you can’t count a noun, e.g. ‘I have five dogs’. Instead you have to use a classifier. The easiest way to describe this is it to compare it to the English concept of countable and non-countable nouns.
Classifier in Thai is “ลักษณนาม” (lák-sà-nà-nāam)
In the Thai language, we use different classifiers depending on the contexts.
The general rule is to place classifiers after the noun they are referring to. This seems counter-intuitive for most, but you get used to it with Thai. However, when you are talking about numbers (how many of a certain object) then the grammatical structure becomes:
[noun + number + classifier]
There are some useful classifiers that you should know, especially the common classifiers, as follows.
- The containers: You need to use them when you are ordering food or drinks mostly.
So, for example:
1.1) “จาน” (jāan) = plate / dish
To specify a quantity of, for example, a plate/ dish containing some food, rice, or fruits. You use the word “จาน” (jāan).
– Can I have 2 plates of rice, please?
ขอข้าว 2 จานครับ/ค่ะ
khɔ̌ɔ khâaw sɔ̌ɔŋ jaan khráp/khà1.2) “ถ้วย” (tuay) = bowl or cup (hot drinks) To specify a quantity of, for example, a bowl containing some soup or a small bowl of sauce or dipping sauce, including a cup of hot coffee or hot tea.
– Can I have a cup of hot tea and a cup of hot coffee, please?
ขอชาร้อน 1 ถ้วย และกาแฟร้อน 1 ถ้วย ครับ/ค่ะ
khɔ̌ɔ chaa rɔ́ɔn nɯ̀ŋ thûay lɛ́ gaa fɛɛ rɔ́ɔn nɯ̀ŋ thûay khráp/khà1.3) “ชาม” (ch̄aam) = bowl (big size) To specify a quantity of, for example, a bowl of noodles (mostly big size).
– Can I have a bowl of pork noodles, please?
ขอก๋วยเตี๋ยวหมู 1 ชาม ครับ/ค่ะ
khɔ̌ɔ gǔay dtiǎw mǔu náam nɯ̀ŋ chaam kháp/khà
- The animals: The classifier for animals is “ตัว” (dtua) = a generic classifier for animals,
I have two cats.
chǎn mii mɛɛw sɔ̌ɔŋ dtuaI have a big dog.
chǎn mii mǎa dtua yài
So, now you can learn how to use some classifiers, there are much more classifiers in Thai language. Although remembering a classifier for every single noun would seem to present a fairly significant difficulty for the learner of Thai, in reality learning 20-30 classifiers is sufficient to quantify the vast majority of nouns. It can take time to memorize all of them, you should to learn them step by step. By the time you will start to use them naturally when you talk Thai and make sentences.