Thai Language Blog

What is a Thai Unit Word? Posted by on Dec 24, 2010 in Beginner

A flock of birds, two bushels of hay, a swarm of bees, seven piles of clothes, a divided stack of cards – these are all examples of ‘unit words’ in English. Unit words aren’t used very much in English, I’d estimate maybe 10% of the time.

However, in Thai, unit words are used closer to 90% of the time. This means that you not only need to memorize all the nouns in Thai, but also the unique unit words for each noun. The Thai word for ‘unit word’, which translates closer to ‘noun classifier’, is ลักษณนาม (lak sa nanaam).

The general rule is you say your sentence, followed by the noun, then the quantity, and finally the unit word.

I want -> pencil -> three -> [unit word here]

There are hundreds of unit words. As this is more of a beginner level blog, I’ll stick to the unit words that’ll get you correct most of time. Let’s start . . .

อัน an 1

Use this word for small random items, especially when different things are mixed. You can use them for pens, erasers, stickers, packs of post-it notes, etc. Each of these nouns have their own unit words, but using อัน will still be correct usage and make things easier for you. If you are clueless as to what unit word to use for something, and none of the below unit words fit, you’ll at least be understood if you use อัน.

ผมเอาปักกาห้าอัน I want five pens.

ตัว dtua 1

Use this word for animals, clothing, and furniture.

มีโต๊ะกี่ตัว? How many tables are there?

มีโต๊ะห้าตัว There are five tables.

You can also just answer with ห้าตัว, leaving out the noun.

คน kon 1

Probably the easiest of all unit words, คน not only means ‘people’, it’s the unit word for people as well. Typically, when the unit word is the same as the actual word, the noun is left out. For example:

มีกี่คน? How many people are there?

มีห้าคน There are five people.

คัน kan 1

This is the unit word for cars/vehicles, and for some odd reason umbrellas.

รวยแล้วอยากได้รถหลายคัน When I’m rich, I want to have many cars.

ลูก look 3

Use this unit word for small round objects, such as eggs, steamed buns, and all types of fruit (including bananas). Also, for mountains – again, the odd ball out . . .

ขอซาลาเปาสามลูกครับ May I have three steamed buns, please?

ที่ tee 3

Use this unit word for places. Note that ที่ also means place/location.

ผมชอบหลายที่อยู่เมืองไทย I like many places in Thailand.

There are, of course, many more!

Now, for the ‘Thai unit word’ song . . . it’s a bit advanced, so you’ll probably need to pause it often to read each example.

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