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Difference Between Chan Rak Khun And Chan Rak Ter (Ther)

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In a recent article I read, a distinction was made between the saying by a female Thai to a Male expressing the emotion of love. The two sayings are

Chan Rak Khun

Chan Rak Ter (Ther)

In the case of the article the girl was talking to a foreign male but I think it applies to both foreign and Thai males equally.

Both expressions mean I love you and I believe the first expression is the more formal expression.

I would like to know the difference between the sayings and when it would be appropriate for a Thai girl to use each. For instance is there a difference if the male is older or younger than her, if she loves him more or less will she use a different expression and so on.

I think the difference is a small one but possibly very important. For instance would you want your girlfriend to express love to you if in a committed long term relationship in a formal way - a bit like saying 'I love you Sir' in English rather than 'I love you darling' maybe

Any help appreciated

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Thai pronouns are incredibly complex, rich and laden with relational meaning. Pronoun use in Thai is equivalent in its power, I would say, to the use of verb tense in

English. You can speak English without tenses (albeit not correctly). But the language's power to describe the sequence of actions, differing points of view, differing states of knowledge of events at a particular point in time, etc., which is massive, would be thereby lost. Similarly, you can speak Thai without varying pronoun use to take into account what the relationship between yourself and your hearer(s) is, but you thereby lose a very important dimension of the language.

That having been said, I struggle with pronoun usage mightily, even after speaking Thai for many years. It is an endlessly complex aspect of the Thai language that is almost entirely missing from modern English (there are potentially dozens of I-you pronoun pairs available if family relationships are included. Thais love to expand their already broad choice of pronouns and happily adopt family pronouns from Chinese (several dialects), English and, I don't know for a fact, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn, even Korean might have made its way into some subgroups of with it young people. Struggling with pronoun choices has given me greatly increased empathy for Thai speakers who know English verb tenses but never feel completely comfortable with them.

To (finally) get to your specific question, the answer is, it depends. Khun is certainly more formal than theu. For couples of even remotely similar age and station in life, it would be quite unusual for a Thai person to use this pronoun to express something as intimate as "I love you". A far more typical pronoun choice would be P' (for a woman addressing a man and Nong for a man addressing a woman). If the people involved are equal in age, theu would not be unusual for either party or both to use. However, my significant other, who is significantly younger than I does use khun as her pronoun of choice in talking to me, even when saying "I love you" (Nuu rak khun). This reflects our unusually large age difference more than anything else. I'm just too much older than her for P' to make any sense.

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  • 7 years later...

Mikenyork has described it very well. It's nearly impossible for us foreigners to completely understand the pronouns in Thai. 


But I think you kind understood it right. Chan (which by the way can be used by make speakers) rak khun is best translated as I love you sir.


Chan rak tur is much more intimate and natural. It shows affection while kun is used when you want to show respect.


Edited by Borat
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There used to be a long piece on Stickman's site "Why I never married a Thai woman"

The author stated very clearly that "chan rak khun" has nothing to do with love. There is only one way to say it: "chan rak theu".


My ex used to get angry whenever I used phom/khun with her.  It is an expression of distance and using it when speaking to the gf is very unfriendly.

Khun means you are not intimate,  not familiar. 

Yes, it is polite and respectful - but first of all it means social distance, the opposite of love.

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On 7/23/2011 at 7:55 AM, slipperx said:

Chan Rak Khun

Chan Rak Ter (Ther)

CHK is a lie told to a foreigner.

CRT is probably more real.

But if the girl is from the North or NorthWest, she would be saying 'bun hat too-were' if she really meant it.

Edited by BritManToo
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Thais will use both, or use about a dozen other pronouns, their names, or they don’t use pronouns at all.

It really depends on the individual couple what pronouns they prefer to use with each other. 


The only thing you can say for certain is that “chan rak khun” sounds a bit more formal and is used by women only, and “chan rak ter” is a bit less formal and can be used by both men and women.

(Just don’t say “pom rak ther” if you’re a guy. That will usually be interpreted as “I love her” 😄 )


There is no way to tell if a girl is insincere, less intimate or even lies just from her saying “chan rak khun”. She could very well be the love of your life.

On the other hand, I’ve heard from several girls that they don’t like to use the pronoun “ter” with friends, because for them it makes the other person feel more distant and less familiar...different strokes for different folks I guess...

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On 5/27/2019 at 12:04 AM, Yinn said:

ไม่ต้องบอก “ฉัน”นะค่ะ

บอก “รักคุณ\เธอนะ” จะดีกว่าค่ะ

This is my experience of normal spoken Thai also (rak khun na) 

Edited by mlkik
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