Vowels are perhaps the most confusing aspect of written Thai. Vowels can appear before, above, after, or below a consonant. Even more confusing is that vowels can also appear in combination using any of those four locations! The vowel “iiao”, for example, is located to the left, above, and two places to the right of the consonant; all as one vowel! Recognizing the vowels surely takes practice, and I definitely recommend you get a good head start on recognizing the Thai Consonants to help you figure out where the vowels start and end.
Vowels are organized into two groups – short vowels and long vowels. The following charts show you the vowels in their respective groups, the romanization I use for them on this site (the Paiboon+ romanization system), what they look like in Thai, and what they sound like. A few of the vowels are hard to describe using English words, so I used the best approximation I could think of. At some point I will get my wife Su to create some audio files for you to listen to and practice along with.
In the charts below, the dashes indicate where a consonant should be placed in relation to the vowel. The dotted circles also indicate the position of a consonant, and in those cases you can see that some vowels or vowel parts are placed above the consonant.
The following vowels, although classified as “short” vowels, are considered to have live endings when detmining tone. This only applies to syllables that have no final consonant.
|ai||ไ- ไ– ใ- -ัย ไ-ย|
For now I suggest you start to learn the vowels in pairs – you will notice that most of the vowels have both short and long versions. Learning them in pairs will cut down the amount of time it takes you to learn them all.
As an interesting side note, the vowel ไ is called สระไอไม้มลาย (sara ai mái-má-laai), and ใ is called สระไอไม้ม้วน (sara ai mái-múan). This is important when you need to explain to someone which “ai” vowel a certain word is spelled with.