Why Thai people never say “No” (and how to tell if they’re REALLY saying “No”)

Thais find it terribly hard to say “no”.

This may stem from the culture of avoiding confrontation or the fear of disappointing others.

Therefore, most Thais try to find ways to say “no” without actually saying it.

They do this even in English sometimes and may cause a misunderstanding because “no” actually means “no” to most westerners.

So, here are some tips that will help you catch those hints and enable you to read between the lines…


When Thai people give answers like “ไม่รู้สิ” (mâi rúu sì – I don’t know), or “ขอดูก่อน” (khɔ̌ɔ dūu kɔ̀ɔn – let me see first) without actually giving you the definite time that they’ll decide, it’s probably a “no”.


When they show you enthusiasm but give you detailed reasons why they might not make it, like “อยากไปมากๆเลย แต่ไม่รู้นะว่าจะไปได้รึเปล่า เพราะ…” (yàak pai mâak mâak lə̄əy tɛ̀ɛ mâi rúu ná wâa cà pai dâi rʉ́ plào phrɔ́… – I’d very much like to go, but I’m not sure if I can go because…) that’s probably a “no” right from the start.


“ยังไม่แน่ใจคราวนี้ แต่คราวหน้าน่าจะได้นะ” (yang mâi nɛ̂ɛ jai khrāaw níi tɛ̀ɛ khrāaw nâa nâa cà dâi ná – I’m not sure if it’s possible this time, but next time, definitely).  When Thais try to make up for it for not being able to make it, then that’s a closed deal.  They’re not doing it.

BONUS: When “No” Means “Yes”

Now, on the other hand, sometimes a “no” means “yes”, but Thais are just too “เกรงใจ” (krēeŋcāi – afraid of offending or imposing on others) to say “yes” immediately or directly.  They want to do it or accept the offer, but feel shy to accept the proposition too quickly.  In this situation, you’ll just have to insist a few more times until they finally say “yes”.

So how do you spot this?  It normally comes across as a “no”, “never mind”, or “it’s okay” followed by a weak excuse, often sounding like “ไม่น่าลำบากเลยค่ะ” (mâi nâa lambàak lə̄əy khà – don’t have to trouble yourself because of me) or “เกรงใจจัง” (krēeŋcāi caŋ – I don’t want to trouble you).

Why you only know how to speak Thai like a “farang”…

Have you ever wondered why you still sound like a “farang” after taking months and months of Thai classes?

Have you ever had any problems not being understood by Thai people, or perhaps not understanding a word they say when they talk among themselves?

No, Thai people aren’t speaking too fast.

Just like how you wouldn’t want to speak English to them at 5 words per minute, you shouldn’t expect them to speak Thai to you the same way.

Thai people aren’t using fancy vocabulary or complex grammar either.  Most of them are just speaking naturally like how they would among themselves.

But why aren’t you able to understand them and still speaking like a “farang”?

Check out what we talked about at the Thai Bites – Road To Fluency seminar by Stuart Jay Raj to find out why:

Since there wasn’t enough time to finish our presentation and we had to skip a few slides, here’s what we had to say about Journey (our new textbook) and the art of teaching natural Thai:

Journey will teach you the realistic way that Thai people speak to each other, not Thai for “farangs” that no native speaker actually uses.

For example, Journey will approach the complex system of Thai personal pronouns by teaching you when to use formal pronouns like Phom, Dichan, Khun, and when you can just casually call yourself or others by name.

Journey will not be afraid to take you through the mysterious territory of final particles, words that cannot be directly translated but convey the moods, expectations, and intentions of the speaker.

Screenshot 2014-09-02 17.33.56

“Lâ” for example, is used like a spotlight.  When you put “lâ” at the end of a sentence, you shift the focus of that conversation.  If someone asks you “sābāai dīi máy?”, the topic of the conversation is “you”.  When you answer “sābāai dīi, lɛɛ́o khūn lâ?”, you’ve just changed the topic of the conversation from you to the person who asked you the question.  Just like a spotlight shifting the focus from you to him or her instead.


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