Thai Language Blog

To Be or Not to Be Posted by on Jul 28, 2011 in Beginner

Today I’m going to talk about a very fundamental word in the Thai language, เป็น bpen1, which means ‘to be’. The English equivalents would be ‘is’, ‘am’, ‘was’, ‘are’, ‘be’, ‘been’, ‘become’. Below I have written plenty of usage examples in various useful situations. If you can’t yet read Thai, or if you aren’t sure of the pronunciation, just copy/paste the words into your favorite website translator. I only used basic intro-level vocabulary – no need to panic!



I am Thai.



I am American. (เมกา is slang for American/America)



He is a soldier.



He is gay.



I have a fever. (I am sick; the word ไข้ has a falling tone)



I am an egg. (be careful how you pronounce ‘fever’ or you’ll be an egg, of which has a low tone)



What is wrong with it? What is up with that?



It is the middle way/path.



You are really Thai?


เป็นค่ะ / เป็นครับ

I am.



It is true.



etc. (you can put this at the end of a list)



It was really horrible.



I am depressed.



He is very crazy.



…for many many years.



I have food poisoning. (I ate poisoned food)



He has cancer. (no, he isn’t actually a cancer lol)



John is my friend.


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  1. Bernard:

    I’m a bit surprise by your post…

    I learned in schools in Thailand that Thai language use the verb “be” in a very limited situations, mostly for occupation ou sickness for example (occupation and sickness are nouns : ผนเป็นหมอ – I’m doctor (in medicine) or ผมเป็นไข้ – I got fever), but never in conjunction with “state verbs” (something quite similar to you call adjectives in Europe). I learned to say ผมกินอาหารพิษ and not ผมกินอาหารเป็นพิษ. Sometime you may use เป็น with words that are more like adjective but you must put the classifier between like in เขาเป็นคนไทย.

    Well it was what I believed until I read your post, and I don’t know what to think about anymore…
    What do you think ?

  2. John (the author):

    A google search for “กินอาหารเป็นพิษ” (with quotes) yielded 316,000 results. In this case, พิษ is used as a noun (poison, toxin). I agree with you it sounds really weird, but it’s definitely correct.

    When I first learned the phrase, I also asked Thais if this was correct: ผมกินอาหารพิษ and they said it’s not.

  3. Snap:

    I’m glad you asked that question Bernard, because I was totally confused. I’d never seen เป็น used like that…but I’m only a newbie.

    By the way, I did the reverse and asked a shopkeeper if I could have two fevers!

  4. Snap:

    Sorry, forgot to click subscribe to follow ups…click!

  5. Bernard:

    Thank you for your answer, John.
    And I agree that พิษ is a noun, and not an adjective.

    But I don’t still understand why you use เป็น in some other sentences written above, but I will not argue with you John.
    I have not your experience, I’am still a learner.

    Nevertheless I’am a lot confused for now and, for the first time, I don’t feel comfortable reading this blog post.
    I will print it and speak about it with my Thai friends, some of them teachers of Thai language at university, to clear out things, and try to understand deeply the use of the verb เป็น.

    Anyway thank you for this blog, on which I usually discover interesting informations for my studies.
    I will comeback, sure.

  6. John (the author):

    Bernard, I encourage you to copy/paste my examples into Google (with quotes) to verify them.

  7. Snap:

    John, I am way behind Bernard in learning Thai, so I’m surely not questioning your post. I do however question Google Translate’s sanity some days. ผมกินอาหารเป็นพิษ today translates to ‘I am eating food poisoning’. Which to a new learner (me), would leave one wondering if they are using correct words. I have a Thai friend correcting my Thai and just ran one of his examples (หนังสืออะไรครับ) through GT. The question is clearly ‘What book (is that)?’ but GT translates it to ‘My book’ 🙁

    I don’t think I’ll live to see the day someone comes up with a totally accurate translator, but I guess its better than nothing.

  8. John (the author):

    Snap, the correct literal translation of ผมกินอาหารเป็นพิษ is as Google translate says, “I am eating food poisoning.” The issue is that we wouldn’t said that in English, instead saying something like “I had food poisoning.” This would require Google’s algorithm to literally understand the sentence at the human level, then rephrase it . . . something no AI today can do . . . yet . . .

    Google Translate is fairly bad, but it’s definitely better than nothing if you need help translating.

  9. Bernard:

    Hi John, so I asked some friends (thai) about some sentences you gave in this post and that made me thinking too much 🙂
    They did confirm that all sentences are correct.
    Two of them just told me that it is possible to say “เขาเป็นบ้ามาก” or “เขานบ้ามาก”.
    But that I should say “ผมเป็นทุกข์” and not “ผมทุกข์”.
    I took these two examples as it seems to me that “บ้า” and “ทุกข์” were adjectives. They said yes, but sometime you can use เป็น before adjectives, even if usually not.
    How do you know, I asked, with which one you can use เป็น ? They said, you cannot have a rule, it is like exceptions in French language (I’m French), you just have to know automatic, like an idiomatic sentence. Best regards. Thanks agin for your blog.

  10. palmisano:

    Bernard, ummmm did you delete your last post? I saw the email, but it’s not listed here . . .

  11. Bernard:

    Which last post ? My last one was, well is, just… before your question, John. I’am on the page and I can read it.

  12. palmisano:

    Odd, it was a browser issue with Chrome. No matter how many times I visited the page, it still didn’t update the comments. I click ‘refresh’, and the new comments appear.

    Now to your question . . . the word ทุกข์ is actually a noun, not an adjective, so เป็นทุกข์ makes sense. But บ้า is an adjective, so I’m not sure why for that word it can be either. Perhaps เขาเป็นบ้า is short for เขาเป็นคนบ้า, where in the latter คนบ้า is a noun. But this is just a guess.

  13. Eric:

    I think when you say เป็นบ้า , crazy is considered a sickness, like เป็นหวัด and เป็นไข้
    So when you see some guy on the street acting a bit stupid you’d say เขาบ้า
    But when you’re in a mental institution you’d probably say เขาเป็นบ้า 😉