20 Sanskrit and Pali Prefixes in Thai to give you Thai Language Superpowers - คำอุปสรรค 'kʰam upasak'

20 Sanskrit and Pali Prefixes in Thai to give you Thai Language Superpowers - คำอุปสรรค 'kʰam upasak'

While the Thai language did not derive from Sanskrit (which is an Indo-european language akin to Latin and Greek), because of its cultural and religious history, there are an enormous amount of Sanskrit based words and influences used in everyday Thai.

Take a look at these words in English and think about what they have in common structure-wise: independant, uncommon, disintegrate, interdependant, misspell, epicentre, epidermis.

All of these words - or let's say 'meanings' have been created by adding a prefix to a root meaning.  'In-' in 'independant' means 'not', 'un-' in 'uncommon' also means not.  Even if you hadn't heard of the word 'disintegrate' before, if you knew what the word 'integrate' meant, then the addition of 'dis-' would mean the 'opposite'.  Actually 'integrate' itself is constructed by adding the prefix 'in-' to 'tangere' which means 'to touch', so something that is 'in-tact' is 'whole' which is the meaning of 'integer'. Integrate is to 'make' whole, so DISintegrate is to do the opposite of making whole.

As native speakers of English, we will often process these new prefixes that come in from Latin, Greek and other languages subconsciously which not only allows us to flow through and grasp new words that we meet with ease, but also gives us a set of tools to be able to create new meanings if we need to.

Pro Tip Type:
Into Google to get an etymology tree of any given word.

In my Cracking Thai Fundamentals book I have an entire section about 'Thinking In Meanings', where you learn to master 11 core predominantly 'Tai meaning building blocks' (yes - Tai with no 'h') that allow you to then make quite accurate 'guestimates' as to what the meanings of new words and phrases that you encounter might be.  You also learn to make your own meanings, and you soon find out that after you begin to master these meaning building blocks, very often Thais wouldn't bat an eyelid if you made up a brand new term and used it in a conversation.  It would just make sense.

With so many words from Sanskrit (often by way of Pali) used in Thai, any learner can develop language super-powers by mastering a handful of commonly used prefixes that appear in Thai. As you go through the list that I've included below, you will notice that by applying a bit of fuzzy logic, you can actually draw parallels with many Latin and Greek counterpart affixes.  E.g. 'epi-' from Greek 'on' as in 'epicentre', 'epidermis' etc. has a very similar function as อภิ 'aphi-' in Thai which comes from the Sanskrit affix अभि 'abhi-'.  Sometimes we even get one-to-one words between Greek derived words in English and Sanskrit derived words in Thai.


Television - โทรทัศน์ tʰoratʰat = दूरदर्शन duradarshan
Tele (distant) = โทร 'tʰora' = दूर= 'dura'
Vision = ทัศนะ 'tʰatsana' = दर्शन = darshana'
Both Television and Thoratat (Duradarshan) mean 'distant vision'.

This is a list of 20 common prefixes derived from Sanskrit that are used in the Thai language. The word 'Prefix' used in Thai is a Sanskrit derived word 'คำอุปสรรค' kʰam (word) upasak. The explanations given will give you some general ideas of what the prefixes mean when you meet them in a word. The explanations are not exhaustive.

When you see these prefixes in Thai, some of the letters might change slightly to account for Sandhi – the rules that govern how sounds change when they arelinked together. You can read more about Sandhi here.

If you want to make this exercise a little more fun, ask a few Thai friends to write their names in Thai for you - most Thai given names will be either partially or entirely derived from Sanskrit (or Pali which is derived from Sanskrit).

No. Prefix Meaning Example
1 อติ great, exceed อดิศร one who is great อดิเรกgreater than one
2 อนุ minor, less, small, secondary, background อนุชนthose who follow, who come after อนุจรfollower
3 อป separate, parted from อัปยศ shame/disgrace อัปลักษณ์ ugly, low, devilish
4 อภิ grand, large, especially, particular อภิญญา with great knowledge อภิปรายto present in specific detail
5 อธิ grand, over, large, on top of (Sometimes similar to ‘epi-‘ prefix in English) อธิปัญญา one with great intellect อธิษฐาน with great intent and focus (pray)
6 อว descend, diminish, decrease (sometimes similar to ‘de-‘prefix in English) อวกาศwith decreased air/atmosphere (space) อวชาตบุตร a son who is inferior to his father
7 อา entire, major, grand, opposite, enter, approach, near, secure อาคม approaching/come towards อาเทส changing
8 อุ rise, increase, outside of อุบัติto arise/happen อุโฆษ promote/give name to
9 อุป enter, approach, near, secure อุปราช advisor to king อุปจาร almost/close to
10 ทุ (ทุร ทร) bad, difficult ทรชน bad person ทรพร no energy
11 นิ enter, descend/decrease/diminish to นิปริยายdirectly
12 entire, in front of, before, sometimes similar to ‘pre- ‘prefix in English ประวัติ that which has happened ปัญญา overall knowledge / wisdom
13 ปฏิ particular, response, relay, inverse ปฏิบัติapply/put into practice ปฏิทิน‘particular’ day – calendar
14 ปริ cyclic, a cycle, region, all over ปริวัตรtranspose บริสุทธิ์the ‘n’th’ point/utmost = virgin/holy/innocent
15 วิ extraordinary, special, different, stand out วิจารณ์contemplate/research วิวรรณ beautiful complexion
16 ปรา opposite (often similar to ‘contra-‘ or ‘anti-‘ prefixes in English) ปราชัยlose
17 นิ Without, outside of, sometimes similar to ‘ex-‘prefix in English. นิรนามhave no name นิรมลwithout blemish/beautiful
18 สํ along with, with, good (sometimes similar to ‘con-‘, ‘corr-‘ and ‘bene-‘ prefixes in English) สมาคมto come together สังคม to go together – society สนธิto connect
19 สุ good, beautiful, easy, sometimes similar to ‘bene-‘ or ‘facil-‘ prefixes in English สุชาดาof good birth สุเทพa good god/heavenly being สุพจน์ a good word
20 อปิ close to, above (rare – often found in Pali texts)

Originallist adapted from the book ภาษาไทยปริทัศน์ – คู่มือภาษาไทยสำหรับนักเรียนนักศึกษา และผู้สนใจ(Chapter 7)

If you would like to get the list of Tai Meaning Building Blocks, you can learn them interactively online via my Cracking Thai Fundamentals (CTF) online programme, or in the Cracking Thai Fundamentals Book.

These are only a handful of prefixes.  Let me know what other ones you learn in the comments section.

Make sure you check out my other post on 48 Pali Sanskrit Root words to boost your Thai.  This will give you even more Thai Language Super Powers.



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Written by

Stuart Jay Raj