The word “that,” in both forms, (ว่า and ที่), relate to the use of verbs. There are two types of verbs where we’ll use the word for “that” in this installment of Grammar Wars: verbs of utterance or perception, and verbs of emotion. This should be a quickie, so let’s dive right in.

Verbs of Utterance, Mental Activity (ว่า)

When using verbs like “say,” “think,” “feel,” etc… you want to use the word ว่า /wâa/. “Mental activity” is the term David Smyth uses, and kudos to him for thinking of the right phrase to describe it. Here are a few examples:

ผมคิดว่าเมืองไทยร้อนมากเลย
/pǒm kít wâa mʉang-tai rɔ́ɔn mâak ləəi/
(I [male speaker] “to think” that Thailand hot much extra)
I think that Thailand is very hot!

เขาบอกว่าผมน่าเกลียด
/kǎo bɔ̀ɔk wâa pǒm nâa-glìat/
(She “to say” that I ugly)
She said that I am ugly

Any self-respecting psychologist would probably tell me that the scars from high school still run deep. I will just say that the simpler the sentence, the easier it is to understand the important point.

(She wasn’t really my type, anyway.)

Verbs of Emotion (ที่)

We want to use ที่ /tîi/ when using a verb of emotion; verbs such as “angry,” “excited,” and “sorry.” For example:

เขาโกรธที่ขับรถช้าเกินไป
/kǎo gròot tîi kàp-rót cháa gəən-bpai/
(He “to be angry” that “to drive a car” slow extreme)
He is angry that I drive too slowly

Safety first, I always say, unless you live on the East Coast of the United States, where a green light means “go,” a red light means “stop,” and a yellow light means “go faster!”

Let’s do one more:

ผมไม่เสียใจที่เชลซีแพ้การแข่งขัน
/pǒm mâi sǐa-jai tîi cheen-sii pɛ́ɛ gaan-kɛ̀ng-kǎn/
(I [male speaker] not “to be sorry” that Chelsea “to lose” tournament/match)
I am not sorry that Chelsea lost the match

And any self-respecting fan of The Beautiful Game should feel the same way, too!

As you can see, the difference is pretty simple and it should not be very hard to differentiate when to use one over the other. There are two small notes I want to pass along, courtesy again of David Smyth and James Higbee (from their books):

  • In some sentences, ว่า can be thought of as the word “if.” Such as, “Do you know if” or “They didn’t tell me if”
  • The use of ที่ in a sentence should be compulsory, unlike in English

As I said, a quickie discussion this time, but also an important one. The more of these connector word concepts you (and me) can work into our understanding, the better we will all speak Thai.