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The [real] way to say Hello in Thai Posted by on Mar 19, 2011 in Beginner, Culture

I remember being on the plane on my very first trip to Thailand. The airline unfortunately ‘messed up’ my connecting flight. To correct for the problem they put me on a Thai Airways flight at no extra charge – for those who don’t know, Thai Airways is an expensive classy airline to fly on.

 

Let me back track my story a bit first. Before my trip I started studying a little Thai, learning all the basics so I can be a more informed tourist. At the time my Thai vocabulary consisted of a few phrases and a hundred or so words, such as ‘sawatdee krap’ meant ‘hello’, etc.

Anyway I’m on the Thai Airways flight and I see in front of me a magazine titled ‘Sawasdee’. Did ‘sawasdee’ have anything to do with ‘sawatdee’? What’s up with that ‘s’? A typo, maybe?

Many many months later, when I started learning how to read Thai, it became clear to me that it was a transliteration mistake. In the Thai spelling it is ‘sawasdee’ สวัสดี, but whenever an ‘s’ ส is at the end of a syllable, it makes a ‘t’ sound. The person who transliterated the word probably didn’t realize this rule doesn’t hold true in English (or Englit, as they say).

So as a beginner you’ve probably learned that ‘sawatdee’ meant hello ages ago. But it’s not that simple. Sawatdee is fairly polite, and can come off weird if you say it to your close friends or relatives. But never fear! I’m here to give you more options . . . or to overcomplicate it for you – depending on your fluency level . . .

The simplest way to say hello is . . . wait for it . . . ‘hello’! Yes, Thai stole the word directly from English, and is most commonly used when answering the phone. It is spelled ฮัลโล, but it isn’t pronounced as it is spelled. The correct pronunciation is haa1-low5. Just listen to Thais answer the phone to get the correct pronunciation.

To change the politeness/formalness of ‘sawatdee’, you simply add or remove syllables. I’ve listed each way by order of politeness, with 1 being the most polite and 6 the least polite. Note that the last two are rarely used, given their informality and the possibility of confusing the meaning with the word for ‘good’. Also, women should replace the word ‘krap4’ for ‘ka3’.

 

1 – สวัสดีครับ  sawatdee krap

2 – สวัสดี  sawatdee

3 – หวัสดีครับ  watdee krap  (notice the ห in front of the word)

4 – หวัสดี  watdee

5 – ดีครับ  dee krap

6 – ดี  dee

 

Even this however is a bit of a simplification to all the possible ways you can say Hello in Thai. There are plenty more!

 

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Comments:

  1. Pitipol:

    สวัสดีครับ

    I love that you know Thai very well.For “Sawasdee” I think Thai airway they know how to translate “สวัสดี” correctly but they chose
    “s” because they want “Sawasdee” to be they
    signature.

  2. Jim:

    At the end of the Its a Small World ride at Disney World, they have a bunch of signs saying Good Bye in many different languages. Several years back, they had one that said, if I remember correctly, “sa wat dee krap”. I believe it now says Sawatdee. I went often with my disabled son, and every time we went on the ride, I thought someone was playing a joke, because in English, it looked like a slang spelling of “Say what the crap”. Maybe others thought so too, which might account for why the sign was changed?

  3. Just a casual kiwi, that's all you need to know:

    Okay, I know it’s been approximately 7 years after this was posted, but hey, what can I say? Anyway to the point…
    I’m desperately in need of help… This is frustrating because it’s like apparently the easiest thing to figure out but… Is it Sawasdee ka or Sawatdee ka? I need help because we got a new student in our class who just came from Thailand, can only speak Thai, (we speak English), and I’m trying to write him a welcome letter. I don’t want to come across offensive or disrespectful/rude for having the incorrect greeting. Please help.
    Thank you,
    From:
    Just a casual kiwi, that’s all you need to know

  4. Just a casual kiwi, that's all you need to know:

    Please help! There’s a new student who only speaks Thai (we are English) in my class who just arrived. I’m writing him a welcome letter (don’t judge bruh) but I don’t want to come across disrespectful or rude because of a incorrect greeting. So, is it Sawatdee Ka or Sawasdee Ka?
    I am fuming because apparently it’s like one of the easiest thing to learn in thai. Please help!
    Thank you
    From:
    Just a casual kiwi, that’s all you need to know

  5. Andrew Shingange:

    Lovely story this…
    I had never even considered going to Thailand but this changes some things… that image you put on top is particularly attractive. I wonder what they live like…