In addition to the standard personal pronouns, it’s very common when speaking Thai to also use family terms such as “brother”, “sister”, “aunt”, “uncle”, “mother” and “father” as personal pronouns. This applies even to strangers that you have no blood relation to at all.
Brothers and Sisters
The Thai language has no direct translation for “brother” or “sister”; instead the term used depends on your relative ages.
Older brother or sister
พี่ชาย pêe chaai
พี่สาว pêe săao
Younger brother or sister
น้องชาย nóng chaai
น้องสาว nóng săao
Of these, the general forms pêe and nóng are used as personal pronouns and are also used as titles before someone’s name, though the way they are used is somewhat different.
pêe is by far the more common, and is used with people who are (very roughly) up to 15-20 years older than you. It’s considered to be a term that shows respect, and so people will often use it even if they’re not sure if the person they’re talking to is really older than them or not.
When speaking to, or referring to, older males, both men and women commonly use pêe as a title. So for instance, a man called ต้น ( dtôn , usually written as “Ton”) would often be called ่ต้น ( pêe dtôn , which would usually written as “P’ Ton”) by younger friends, junior office colleagues, a (younger) girlfriend or wife etc.
If the context made clear who was being talked about, this could be shortened to just pêe . Similarly, he may choose to refer to himself as pêe instead of using a standard personal pronoun. The same rules apply when talking or referring to older women too, although it’s a bit less common.
nóng can be used in a similar way, although it should be used somewhat with caution. As pêe implies respect, the opposite nóng could potentially imply inexperience or lack of status, and so be a condescending form of address to someone who views themselves of equal status.
Because of this, it tends to be used when there’s a very clear age difference (5+ years) or when the relationship between the parties is clearly defined, which ensures there’s little danger of a misunderstanding. If used correctly, it’s viewed as a friendly and polite form of address and not uncommonly used a boss and his/her younger employees, or a older man to a younger girlfriend/wife. One of its other most common other uses is when calling to an obviously younger waiter/waitress in a restaurant.
Thais speaking English may translate pêe and nóng as “brother” or “sister” regardless of the actual relationship, so be aware that someone introduced as a “brother” for instance may in reality not be a genuine brother, but perhaps a cousin, a friend or even boyfriend or husband.
Aunts and Uncles
| ป้า bpâa
“Aunt” and “Uncle” also don’t have direct translations in Thai. The closest are lung , which refers to an elder brother of either your mother or father, and bpâa which refers to an elder sister. aa refers to either a younger brother or younger sister of your mother, and so can be either “Uncle” or “Aunt”.
náa is the equivalent on the father’s side. Both lung and bpâa are commonly used as personal pronouns in much the same way as pêe , except for talking to someone much older than you.
The general rule is that if you feel they’re in the same generation as you, use pêe or if you think they’re in your parents generation use lung or bpâa instead.
Parents and Children
พ่อแม่ pôr mâe
ลูกชาย lôok chaai
ลูกสาว lôok săao
pôr and mâe are both very commonly used as personal pronouns when parents speak to their children. This is to such an extent that a married couple with children may start to refer to each other as pôr and mâe , even when their children aren’t about.
Parents will tend to refer to their child as lôok rather than using any of the second-person pronouns, and the child will refer to themselves as nŏo . nŏo (literally meaning “mouse”) is used by both young boys and girls, although boys stop doing so before they’re teenagers and start saying pŏm instead.
Women on the other hand may refer to themselves as nŏo when speaking to their parents or someone much older for pretty much as long they want to.
If being introduced to a friend or partner’s parents, it’s quite normal and polite to refer to them as คุณพ่อ kun pôr and คุณแม่ kun mâe , as if they were your own parents.
Any of the above terms for grandparents can also be used as personal pronouns where appropriate. In addition, they can be used when talking or referring to unrelated people who appear to be of a similar age to your grandparents, a usage in the same vein as pêe , lung or bpâa as described above. Clearly, unrelated people are not going to have any paternal or maternal connection, so either option can be used in that situation.
In-Laws & Step-family
|พ่อตา pôr dtaa
กเขย lôok kŏie
พี่เขย pêe kŏie
น้องเขย nóng kŏie
พ่อเลี้ยง pôr líang
|แม่ยาย mâe yaai
ลูกสะใภ้ lôok sà-pái
พี่สะใภ้ pêe sà-pái
แม่เลี้ยง mâe líang
All of these are pretty much only used as nouns as in English. Step-brothers and sisters will most commonly refer to each other as pêe and nóng , just like full brothers and sisters.