Thailand Numbers and numerals

In the vast majority of Thailand Arabic numerals are widely used due to the extensive westernisation in many areas of the world including Thailand and can be found in everyday usage within all areas of Thailand.

The origins of Thai traditional numerals originates predominantly from Chinese, where 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 are from “Middle Chinese”. These numbers resemble those spoken by Chinese living in the South Eastern Asia area. There are however, also strong similarities between the written numerals with Lao and Khmer (Cambodia), this is obviously due to the geographic proximity of the three countries and the cultural similarities which go back thousands of years. The number 5 comes from “Old Chinese”. Although the use of the numeral is closely linked between the three area, there are subtle differences in shape of the numeral which has a natural etymology evolution over hundreds of years.

Below are the Thai numerals above with their Arabic equivalent below.

Numeral Thai Script Thai Word Pronounciation
0 ศูนย์ sǔun
1 หนึ่ง nùeng
2 สอง sǎawng
3 สาม sǎam
4 สี่ sìi
5 ห้า hâa
6 หก hòk
7 เจ็ด jèt
8 แปด bpàaet
9 เก้า gâo

The number 0 in Arabic is written as a small circle in Traditional Thai numerals and also means centre in other linguistic content. The shape originates from the Indi Sanskrit period.

The use of Thai numerals is still widely used on property address plates at the front of homes and on street/soi numbers. It’s also used within various official documentation, especially land documents, legal documents etc. However, for everyday use the Arabic numbers are commonly seen. Within Thai media TV, Newspapers, Magazines, it is still commonplace to see Thai numerals being used as a method when reporting day to day stories.

The Thai grammatical use of numbers is also linked to South Eastern Chinese in so far as each number is followed by a “qualifier”. For example, in many languages we would say 6 oranges, but in Thai the grammar would read and be said as “Oranges 5 items” or “Som Ha Bai”. These qualifiers are applicable to any count noun, however, there are a multitude of qualifiers which Westerners tend to struggle with when learning the Thai language. There seems to be no hierarchy of qualifiers also, with each item being grouped within a certain specific qualifier. There are also items which can command more than a single qualifier which tends to confuse further.

Another nuance within the use of numbers is the Sanskrit “lakh” which gives the place value in the series of “tens”. In Arabic we would say Twenty, Thirty, Forty, but in Thai numeracy the place value of the ten is positioned before the power, for example, Sarm Sip (30). As can be seen the power value is placed before the value of the ten.

As a foreigner either living or doing business in Thailand it is worthwhile learning these numerical characters as to avoid confusion when engaging in commercial ventures buying/leasing land/property or even just to locate a specific address, especially in rural Thailand.

Does Thailand use Western numbers?

Yes and no. Thailand commonly uses Western written numbers, however it also has it's own system of numerals in Thai script.

Does Thailand use Arabic numbers?

Yes and no. Thailand commonly uses Arabic written numbers, however it also has it's own system of numerals in Thai script.