Learn to speak Thai
Learn to speak Thai

Chapter 3: Asking and Answering Questions

Hi! How are you – Pen yang-ngai bang? Do you still keep practicing?

In Chapter 1 and 2, you’ve learned about constructing simple sentences and introducing yourself using the verb to be – Pen, Yu, Kue, but that is not enough if you want to be a proactive Thai speaker. To make a real conversation, you need to be a good conversationalist – meaning you have to play both inquirer and responder. Imagine the job interview without interviewer or your interviewer just keep his/her mouth shut letting you to babble about yourself… that would be ridiculous, right? And that’s why the “Wh- questions” are brought into focus here.

Something you need to know about making questions in Thai is that the word order in Thai question is very much different from that in English. Instead of beginning the question with a Wh- word, Thais usually begin the sentence with a noun or a verb and close it with a question word. So, to ask “What is this?” in Thai, you would have to say “Nee kue a-rai”, which can be directly translated to this is what, not what is this, in English. And “Who are you?” would be “Khun pen krai” not “Krai pen khun”, in Thai.

However, this is not exactly the rule. Sometimes the word order can be changed. For example, “What would you do this evening?” could be “Khun ja tam a-rai yen nee” or “Yen nee khun ja tam a-rai” and “Who are you coming with?” could be “Khun ja ma kab krai” or “Krai ja ma kab khun”. No matter how you say it, the meaning is still the same.

But like they said Rome wasn’t built in a day, so does studying a language. As the beginner, I would like you to stick to this simple rule – the question word at the end. This rule can be applied to all Wh- questions including “Who”, “What”, “When”, “Where”, “Why” and “How” and is correct in most circumstances. But before we go further to the art of asking and answering questions, let’s get to know these vocabulary word by word.

Chapter 3: Vocabulary

Kham tham (n.): “Kham tham” is a noun meaning question.

Kham tob (n.): Always comes with “Kham tham” like Ying-Yang is “Kham tob”. It means answer.

Krai (pron.): “Krai” means “Who”. Normally, it can be placed either at the beginning or the end of the question. “Who are you coming with?” can be either “Khun ja ma kab krai” or “Krai ja ma kab khun” in Thai.

A-rai (adv.):A-rai” means “What”. When used as an interrogative, it usually comes last in the sentence. So, “What color is this?” will be this-is-color-what or “Nee kue see a-rai” in Thai. 

Muea-rai (adv.): Muea-rai” means “When”. To ask “When did you arrive?”, you can say “Khun ma tueng muea-rai”.

Tee-nai, Nai (adv.): Tee-nai” or “Nai” means “Where”. When placed in a question, it is usually the last word. To ask “Where is your house?”, you can say “Baan khong khun yu tee-nai”.

Tam-mai (adv.): This word is a bit tricky. “Tam-mai” or “Why” can be found either at the beginning or the end of the question. “Why are you happy today?” can be translated to “Tam-mai wan-nee khun a-rom dee” but “Why did you go there?” can be either “Tam-mai khun pai tee-nan” or “Khun pai tee-nan tam-mai”. When being asked with the Why question, you need to give an explanation using the word “Proh”, meaning because.

Yang-rai (adv.): Yang-rai” or “How” can be used the same way. To ask “How can I say xxxx in Thai”, you can say “xxxx phud pen pa-sa-thai yang-rai”. To speak more naturally like a Thai, you should pronounce this word “Yang-ngai”.

It is important that you have to remember these words and their meanings. No one cares if you put the words in the wrong order as long as you choose the right words for your purposes. However, to be a good conversation partner, you need to response as much as to ask. Here are some frequently asked questions and the ways to answer them:

1. Question: Khun pen krai (Who are you?)

Answer:

Phom / chan pen phee-chai khong Somkid (I am Somkid’s brother.)

Phom / chan pen pa-nak-ngarn mai (I am new employee.)

Phom / chan pen tam-ruaj (I am policeman.)

2. Question: Khun tong-karn phood kab krai (Who do you want to talk to?)

Answer:

Phom / chan tong-karn phood kab Lek (I want to talk to Lek.)

3. Question: Khun chue a-rai (What is your name?)

Answer:

Phom / chan chue… (My name is…)

4. Question: Khun tam-ngarn a-rai? (What do you do?)

Answer:

Phom / chan pen khru (I am a teacher.)

Phom / chan pen nak-tu-ra-kij (I am a businessman.)

Phom / chan pen programmer (I am a programmer.)

5. Question: Khun ma tueng muea-rai (When did you arrive?)

Answer:

Phom / Chan ma tueng muea-wan-nee (I arrived yesterday.)

Phom / Chan ma tueng muea-chao-nee (I arrived this morning.)

Phom / Chan ma tueng sab-da tee-laeo (I arrived last week.)

6. Question: Khun ja pai muea-rai (When will you leave?)

Answer:

Phom / Chan ja pai prung-nee (I will leave tomorrow.)

Phom / Chan ja pai ma-ruen-nee (I will leave the day after tomorrow.)

Phom / Chan ja pai sab-da nah (I will leave next week.)

7. Question: Khun ma jak nai (Where are you from?)

Answer:

Phom / Chan ma jak America (I am from America.)

Phom / Chan ma jak India (I am from India.)

8. Question: Khun yu tee-nai (Where do you live?)

Answer:

Phom / Chan yu tee Krungthep (I live in Bangkok.)

Phom / Chan yu tee tanon Sukhumvit (I live on Sukhumvit Road.)

Phom / Chan yu glai the Emporium (I live near Emporium.

9. Question: Tam-mai wan-nee khun ar-rom sia (Why are you moody today?)

Answer:

Phom / Chan ar-rom sia proh… (I am moody because…)

10. Question: Phom / chan ja pai tee-nan dai yang-ngai (How can I get there?)

Answer:

Nang taxi pai (By taxi.)

Nang krueng-bin pai (By airplane.)

Doen pai (By foot.)

Many a good conversation begins with questions and those are some examples you can use to get to know someone. Knowing how to ask and answer will enable you to carry the conversation forward. It can also turn a total strangers into a friend, allowing you to expand your circle of friends and have more enjoyable experience of interacting with the local people.

Next, let’s delve deeper into each example and learn how to construct the answer by yourself:

1. Khun pen krai (Who are you?)

In real life, people don’t blurt out this question into your face just to find out who you are. To avoid being blunt, they might say something like “Excuse me, I’ve seen you coming in with Somkid. Are you his sister?” or something similar. But if someone really shoot you with this direct question, you can give him a direct answer using this pattern: Subj. + Pen + N. such as “Chan pen pee-sao khong Somkid” (I am Somkid’s sister) or “Chan mai-chai / mai-dai-pen pee-sao khong Somkid” (I am not Somkid’s sister).

2. Khun tong-karn phood kab krai (Who do you want to talk to?)

You can answer this question by repeating its pattern and replacing “Khun” and “Krai” with “Phom/ Chan” and the third person’s name, for example, “Phomtong-karn phood kabSupoj”. Also, you can answer the question “Kraima tueng kon” which means who arrived first by saying “Frankma tueng korn” which means Frank arrived first.

3. Khun chue a-rai (What is your name?)

This is probably the most frequently-asked question in every language. To answer it, you can do the same by replacing “Khun” and “A-rai” with “Phom/ Chan” and your own name. But if you’re talking about someone else, you can replace “Khun” with the third person pronoun and “A-rai” with his/her name, for example, “Tuer chue Meena” or “Khao chue Ton”.

4. Khun tam-ngarn a-rai (What do you do?)

The word “Tam-ngarn” means work. When being asked with this question, you’re supposed to tell the inquirer your career. You can use the same pattern as in no.1 – that is Subj. + Pen + N. But instead of telling your relation with someone or an organization, you have to replace it with your career, for example, “Phom pen nak-tu-ra-kij” (I am a businessman) or “Puak-khao pen nak don-tree” (They are musicians).

Here are some career vocabulary to help you create various sentences. For more vocabulary, please consult you English-Thai dictionary.

English Thai English Thai
Actor/Actress Nak Sa-daeng Machanic Chang-kon
Adman Nak Kod-sa-na Merchant Phor-ka
Architect Sa-ta-pa-nik Model Nang-baeb
Aviator Nak bin Musician Nak don-tree
Businessman Nak tu-ra-kij Nurse Pa-ya-ban
Carpenter Chang-mai Pharmacist Pe-sad-cha-korn
Dentist Mor-fun Photographer Chang-phab
Doctor Mor Police Tam-ruaj
Farmer Chao-na / Chao-rai Preist Phra
Engineer Wid-sa-wa-korn Salesman Pa-nak-ngarn khai
Interpreter Larm Singer Nak-rong
Journalist Nak khao Teacher Krue

5. Khun ma tueng muea-rai (When did you arrive?)

Similar to its predecessors, you can answer this question by repeating its pattern and replacing the When with time. However, as Thai doesn’t have verb conjugation, we don’t exactly have tenses like in English. Plus, to teach you how to tell time in Thai would be too complicated and time-consumed. So, instead of turning the whole chapter into time-telling lesson, I’ll give you some useful vocabulary. Thais use these words to tell a rough time frame of an event including the past and the future:

Adverbs of Time

Future Past
Thai English Thai English
Ja Will Leao Have been + V.3
Wan-nee Today Wan-nee Today
Prung-nee Tomorrow Muer-wan-nee Yesterday
Ma-ruen-nee The day after tomorrow Muer-wan-suen The day before yesterday
Sub-da-nee This week Sub-da-nee This week
Sub-da-nah Next week Sub-da-gorn Last week
Duean-nee This month Duean-nee This month
Duean-nah Next month Duean-gorn Last month
Pee-nee This year Pee-nee This year
Pee-nah Next year Pee-gorn Last year


When seeing some words, you’ll know immediately if the referred event has occurred in the past or will occur in the future. For example, “Prung-nee” and “Ma-ruen-nee” are definitely the future; but other words like “Wan-nee”, “Sab-da-nee”, “Duean-nee”, “Pee-nee”, you wouldn’t know for sure. However, you can tell a rough time frame from the context. Whenever you see “Ja”, you’ll know that the speaker is talking about the future whereas “Leao” is used to indicate something already done or occurred in the past. For example, “Khao ja pai phuket wan-nee” means he will go to Phuket today, but “Khao pai phuket leao wan-nee” means he just left for Phuket today.

6. Khun ja pai muea-rai (When will you leave?)

Similar to the above question, when being asked with When, you need to give an answer with a specific time. Thinking about speaking English – if you’re asked with past tense, answer back with past tense but if you’re asked with future tense, answer back with future tense – so does the Thai language. Here again you just repeat the question, changing pronoun and the question word, then you’ll get the answer. In this case, your answer might be “Phom ja pai prung-nee” (I will leave tomorrow) or “Phom ja pai sab-da nah” (I will leave next week).

7. Khun ma jak nai (Where are you from?)

If you are a serious backpacker, you might’ve been bored by answering this question. “Ma” means come, “Jak” means from. To answer this question, you can say “Phom ma jak America” (I am from America) or “Phom ma jak Australia” (I am from Australia), etc. Just replace the last word with the place you just left.

8. Khun yu tee-nai (Where do you live?)

After “Khun ma jak nai”, there is a high chance that you’ll be asked with this question. “Yu” is a verb to be meaning to be located at. “Tee-nai” or “Nai” means where. To answer this question, you need to give a specific location such as “in Chiangmai”, “on Sukhumvit Road”, “near the BTS” and so on. Regarding telling the exact location in Thai, please go back to Chapter 2 for Preposition review.

9. Tam-mai wan-nee khun ar-rom sia (Why are you moody today?)

To answer the Why question, you need to know the word “Proh” (because, because of) which indicate that the following is the reason. Unlike “because” and “because of” in English that must be followed by a clause and a noun phrase/ verb-ing respectively, “Proh” can be followed by a clause, a phrase or even an adjective. For instance, if a colleague asks “Why didn’t you come to the party last night?”, you can say “Mai pai prohna-buea” (I didn’t go there because it’s boring) or “Mai pai proh luk mai sa-bai” (I didn’t go there because my kid was sick). “Na-buea” in the first sentence is adjective but “Luk mai sa-bai” in the second sentence is clause.

10. Phom / chan ja pai tee-nan dai yang-ngai (How can I get there?)

This is probably the most useful question when you’re straying in a foreign place, helping you to survive in many situations. When answering this question, we normally omit unnecessary parts (mostly the subject and the verb) saying only “Nang taxi pai” (by taxi), “Nang krueng-bin pai” (by airplane) or “Doen pai” (by foot), etc. For more elaborate answers, you’ll need to learn more about getting directions which is not included in this chapter.

I hope that these examples will be useful to you, helping you to improve your language skills as well as putting you at ease when socializing with the local people. In the initial stage, practicing a foreign language might not be so enjoyable. But to encourage you to move on, I’ll share my own embarrassing experience of speaking English…

Many years ago while I was a literature student. I came across a pair of farang (foreign) tourists. They spoke to me in English asking for direction to somewhere but my listening skill was so bad that I didn’t understand a word. My first instinct was to run away as far as I can. So, instead of asking them to say again, I spoke to them “I can’t speak English.”

…The tourists looked confused. They decided to walk away but not too far to hear them saying “She just spoke!”.

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