VIDEO: Different Tones, Different Meanings

Spectrogram of tones in Thai

Sawatdee ka,

As many of you know already that Thai language is a tonal language. When the tone change, the meaning of the word will be changed. There are many groups of words that have exactly the same phonemic sounds, and yet because of different tones express very different meanings. So, today I would like to show you common words that you can see or hear everyday.

5 Tones (Introduction)

Practice More


เสื่อ sua (low tone) = mat

เสื้อ sua (falling) = shirt

เสือ sua (rising tone) = tiger

Try this! เสือใส่เสื้อนั่งอยู่บนเสื่อ [sŭa sài sûa nâng yùu bon sùa] A tiger wearing a shirt is sitting on a mat.


คาว kaao (middle tone) = fishy

ข่าว kaao (low tone) = news

ข้าว kaao (falling tone) = rice

ขาว kaao (rising tone) = white

Try this! เขากินข้าวขาวแล้วก็ดูข่าว [kăo gin kâao kăao léaw-gâw duu kàao] = he eats white rice and watches news.


เข่า kao (low tone) = knees

เข้า kao (falling tone) = to enter

เค้า kao (high tone) = he/she, him/her (spoken language)

เขา kao (rising tone) = mountain or he/she, him/her (written language)

Try this! เค้าขึ้นเขาแล้วเข่าแตกก็เลยเข้าคลินิก [káo kûen kăo léaw kào dtàek gâw-loei kâo clinic] = he climbed up the mountain and broke his knees, so (he) entered the clinic.

* in Thai spoken language, to be admitted to the hospital or clinic, we use the verb ‘to enter’

So, how are you gettin on with it?  Hope you had fun:)


Let's keep in touch!

Sign up for my newsletter to stay tuned with the latest news and information. You will also receive my free eBook with 190 Words You Already Know. Just enter your name and e-mail address below to sign up. ☺

, , , ,

21 Responses to VIDEO: Different Tones, Different Meanings

  1. Kristina 13/04/2018 at 00:42 #

    Anyone know this one? “Kao chob kee maa`” he likes to ride a horse but if you change the tone slightly on the last word it changes the sentence completely to something much more rude.. does anyone know what this is????

    • Mod 22/04/2018 at 22:09 #

      ขี่ /kii pronounced with “low tone”/ = to ride, ขี้ /kii pronounced with “falling tone” = shit
      ม้า /maa kii pronounced with “high tone”/ = horse, หมา /maa pronounced with “rising tone”/ = dog

      So it could be เขาชอบขี้หมา = He likes dog’s shit.

  2. Cecilia 10/07/2017 at 09:09 #

    Thank YOU Mod,
    I love your videos and the way you teach ;))
    Very grateful, I need to speak thai :))

    • Mod 10/07/2017 at 09:59 #

      Thank you for your kind comment. I am happy to hear that you found our lessons useful in your Thai learning. Keep practicing!

  3. Waymon 29/03/2015 at 05:02 #

    Sawatdee krap! Mod, I am slightly confused. You never explained what dtaek gaw-loei mean or maybe I just can’t figure it out. I have married a beautiful Thai female and I am learning to have better communication with her. Your lessons are a tremendous help for me. Thank you so much!!!


    • Mod 08/04/2015 at 22:38 #

      Sawatdee ka Waymon,

      Apologies for my late reply.

      เข่าแตก kào dtàek –> เข่า kào (knee) แตก dtàek (break, broken)
      ก็เลย gâw-loei = therefore

      เค้าขึ้นเขา káo kûen kăo = he goes up the mountain
      แล้วเข่าแตก láew kào dtàek = then got his knee broken
      ก็เลยเข้าคลินิก gâw-loei kâo clinic = so he goes to a clinic

      Hope this helps. 🙂

  4. Zilan 10/09/2014 at 10:01 #

    Hi dear Mod,
    Thanks so much for your nice video, i love all of them, and more easy learn Thai from you.
    PS: You look great!

  5. Vincent 17/10/2013 at 14:18 #

    This reminds me of the time I started speaking Thai with the wrong tones… I kept referring to my seniors as Pee (ghosts)…

  6. Brian 25/07/2012 at 06:00 #

    Very helpful! Thank you!

  7. Marni 21/11/2011 at 02:53 #

    omg!! this is the hardest part to say and to remember :O

  8. rio 27/09/2011 at 21:21 #

    i really like your outlook in this video cheers! 🙂

    • Mod 13/10/2011 at 14:54 #

      Kop Kun ja Rio:)

  9. Snap 27/09/2011 at 14:20 #

    Hi Mod and thanks for the video about tones…it really does help.

    • Mod 27/09/2011 at 15:13 #

      mai bpen rai ka, yin dee ka:)

  10. Lucas 21/09/2011 at 01:09 #

    Yes, we love this site! End-of-term test is next week, for our Thai language class, and we appreciate any help we can get with pronunciation. 😉

    Thanks so much for posting videos that are so clear and intuitive for learners. 😉

    • Mod 21/09/2011 at 09:48 #

      Sawatdee ka Lucas,

      It is my pleasure. Good luck with your test. Choke-dee na ka:)

  11. Mauro 19/09/2011 at 07:29 #

    I have learned Thai is a monotone language and it does not have stress words;
    Said that I mean tones are the key and the more you emphasize your mood the more you rise or lower your voice sound without changing the tones of the words.
    The most difficult thing I find in my opinion is to understand the sequel logic of all the consecutive words in a phrase.

  12. Snap 17/09/2011 at 17:26 #

    I’d love to hear the pronunciation 🙂 I was totally devistated, after being in Thailand for 7 months, when I had been mispronunciating the low and high tones! I’d always thought they were flat tones, no rising or decending. I must admit I have an incredibly hard time hearing the tones and always have to check the transliteration to make sure I’ve understood the tone correctly.

    • Mod 19/09/2011 at 11:36 #

      Sawatdee ka,
      I am going to make a video showing the pronunciation soon. My computer is at the repair shop, so I can’t edit the video. I’ll get my machine back today.Please stay tune:)

Leave a Reply