Every time someone asks me how to say something in Thai, I freeze for a couple of seconds before giving them a translation that is technically correct but probably sounds unnatural.
This is because there's usually little time to go through all the intricacies of navigating one's social standing, mood, gender identity, etc, to come up with the perfect words for the situation.
To illustrate this conundrum, let's look at the myriad of ways to say "I" in Thai.
Note (1): This is hardly academic so I'm skipping the pronouns for when you're talking to a member of the royal family, which requires absolute preciseness. For those pronouns, I suggest you consult the Office of the Royal Society.
Note (2): Some pronouns are easier explained in relation to others. The reference numbers are there so the table is a bit easier to navigate. The numbers by no means indicate any sense of social standing.
Note (3): This list is by no means exhaustive. I don't know a lot about regional dialects. Besides, I haven't spoken Thai on a regular basis for almost a decade so please cut me some slack.
Protip: Use Google Translate to listen to the pronunciation.
How to say "I" in Thai
|1||กระผม||You identify as male. You're probably trying to show utmost respect to whomever you're talking to, borderline implying that you have a lower social standing.|
|2||ผม||You identify as male. You're trying to sound polite. Maybe you're talking to a stranger or someone older.|
|3||ดิฉัน||You identify as female. You're trying to sound polite to the same level as (1) or (2).|
|4||ข้าพเจ้า||Gender neutral. You're trying to sound ceremonial or ceremonious. Or maybe you're writing a very formal official letter?|
|5||เดี๊ยน||A slurred derivative of (3). You identify as female. You're trying to sound polite but also a bit casual.|
|6||อิชั้น, อะฮั้น||A humourous derivative of (3). You identify as female. Your tone is absolutely casual but you're trying to get that air of politeness.|
|7||ยาย / ย่า||Literally "grandmother" ("ยาย" for maternal and "ย่า" for paternal). You identify as female. You're old enough to be a grandmother of whomever you're talking to.|
|8||ตา / ปู่||Literally "grandfather" ("ตา" for maternal and "ปู่" for paternal). Same context as (7).|
|9||ป้า||Literally "aunt". You're old enough to be an aunt of whomever you're talking to.|
|10||ลุง||Literally "uncle". See previous explanations.|
|11||ครู||Literally "teacher". You teach whomever you're talking to. This one is interesting. I don't think there's anything similar for other professions.|
|12||อาจารย์||Similar to (11) but with an air of officiality.|
|13||อาตมา||You're a monk talking to a layperson.|
|14||ข้า||You identify as male. Rather old-fashioned. You're addressing a peer or someone with a lower social standing.|
|15||กัน||So old-fashioned I don't even know if this is gender neutral or not. Used among peers (according to what I've seen in old books).|
|16||ฉัน||The default translation of "I". Gender neutral. Polite, if not bit old-fashioned. Sounds rather stiff.|
|17||ชั้น||A more casual derivative of (16). Gender neutral. Still polite but kinda indicates that you're either friendly or a peer. A bit old-fashioned still.|
|18||เรา||Gender neutral. Depending on context, this word can mean either "I", "we" or even "you (singular)" for some reason. Probably the same level of politeness as (17) but more colloquial.|
|19||หนู||Gender neutral if not a bit feminine. You're either a child speaking to an adult or you're an adult trying to sound cute.|
|20||อั๊วะ||Gender neutral. You're indicating that you're of Chinese descent.|
|21||เค้า||Gender neutral. You're trying to sound cute.|
|22||<Your own name>||You're either not sure which pronoun to use or you're trying to sound cute.|
|23||กู||Gender neutral. You're either among close friends or you're trying to sound rude to a stranger.|
|24||กรู||Gender neutral. A softer, more playful version of (23). Probably invented to get around profanity filtering in online forums.|
Now ask me again how to say "I love you" in Thai.