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 uncountable nouns.
Classifier in Thai is: ลักษณนาม (lák-sà-nà-nāam)
In the Thai language, we use different classifiers depending on the context.
The general rule is to place classifiers after the noun they are referring to. This seems counterintuitive 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, such as:
- Containers: You need to use them when you are ordering food or drinks mostly.
1.1) จาน (jāan) = plate / dish
This classifier is used to specify the quantity of plates or dishes.
– May I have 2 plates of rice, please?
ขอข้าว 2 จานครับ/ค่ะ
khɔ̌ɔ khâaw sɔ̌ɔŋ jaan khráp/khà
1.2) ถ้วย (tuay) = small bowl or cup (hot drinks)
This classifier is used to specify the quantity of small soup bowls or dipping sauce bowls. It is also used as a classifier for cups of hot coffee or tea.
– May 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/khà
1.3) ชาม (ch̄aam) = bowl (larger size)
This classifier is used to specify the quantity of larger-sized bowls, for example bowls of noodles.
– May I have a bowl of pork noodles, please?
ขอก๋วยเตี๋ยวหมู 1 ชาม ครับ/ค่ะ
khɔ̌ɔ gǔay dtiǎw mǔu náam nɯ̀ŋ chaam kháp/khà
- Animals: The generic classifier for animals is ตัว (dtua)
I have two cats.
chǎn mii mɛɛw sɔ̌ɔŋ dtua
I have a big dog.
chǎn mii mǎa dtua yài
There are many more classifiers in Thai, but now you know how to use them. 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, so you should try to learn them one by one. Soon you will start to use them naturally when speaking Thai!.