Parts of Speech

The parts of speech used in this Tai Lue dictionary are based largely on Haas’ analysis of Thai grammar, as reflected in her dictionary (Haas 1964). This is especially true with regard to verbs and other verb-like words (auxiliaries, modals, adverbs). Noss (1964) and Enfield (2007) have also influenced my understanding of the grammar of Tai languages.


Verbs that are the main verb of a clause are marked as either transitive or intransitive. Many verbs have both transitive and intransitive readings. For example: ᦵᦂᦲᧆᧈ kɤɤt² as an intransitive verb is ‘to be born; to happen’; as a transitive verb it means ‘to give birth to’.



Pre-verbs precede the main verb of a clause, but follow the subject. Some have adverbial meanings such as ᦂᦲᧉ kii³ ‘quickly’. The meanings of others are more typical of auxiliaries such as ᦷᦅᧃ kon⁴ ‘should’. Haas calls this class of words 'adverb auxiliaries'.

More than 200 Tai Lue pre-verbs are listed in the dictionary.



Post-verbs follow the main verb of a clause and are typically adverbial in meaning. Many main verbs can function also as post-verbs. ᦀᦸᧅᧈ ʔɔɔk² as a main verb means ‘to go out of; to exit’. As a post-verb it is a directional ‘out’. For example: ᦋᧅ ᦺᦉᧉ ᦀᦸᧅᧈ cak⁵ saj³ ʔɔɔk² ‘pull intestines out’. Haas calls this class of words 'secondary verbs'.

More than 500 Tai Lue post-verbs are listed in the dictionary.


Adjectives and Numerals

Adjectives in Tai Lue follow the noun, whereas numerals precede the noun. A word like ᦜᦻ laaj¹ ‘many’ is classed as a numeral because it precedes the noun.

Adjectives in Tai languages are a sub-class of verbs. Most intransitive verbs can be used as adjectives, but there are often semantic shifts when they are used this way. The meanings are thus recorded individually in the dictionary. The meanings of some words are markedly different when used as verbs and as adjectives.

verb meaning adjective meaning
ᦃᦱᧄᧈ xaam² ‘to agree’ ‘dependable’
ᦺᦊᧈ jaj² ‘to grow’ ‘great’
ᦊᦳᧂᧉ juŋ³ ‘to grimace’ ‘messy, tangled’
ᦺᦞᧉ waj⁶ ‘to put down’ ‘alert, sober’
ᦈᧇ cap² ‘to touch’ ‘correct’
ᦜᦱᧉ laa³ ‘to be late’ ‘last’


Nouns and Classifiers

A classifier in Tai Lue is a kind of noun. Each classifier is associated with a class of main nouns. Sometimes this association is based on shape or some other obvious characteristic of the nouns. For example ᦉᦲᧃᧉ sin³ ‘line’ is the classifier for hair, thread, rope, feathers, noodles, etc. Some classes of nouns are very large and some have only a single member. About 380 classifiers are listed in this dictionary.

Classifiers are associated with definiteness, and must be used when counting, with demonstratives, and in certain other situations. You cannot say ‘three hairs’ without using the classifier: ᦕᦳᧄ ᦉᦱᧄ ᦉᦲᧃᧉ /pʰum¹ saam¹ sin³/ ‘hair three lines’.

The classifier associated with each Tai Lue noun is listed with its entry. In the English index of the dictionary (navigate to Browse > English-TaiLue) the classifiers are grouped together alphabetically under CLASSIFIER.



Prepositional phrases in Tai Lue are a constituent of the clause, or in some very limited circumstances a part of a noun phrase.

Some have suggested that prepositions in Tai languages are not genuine because they are derived from verbs (Luo 2008:335; Udom 1988). In this dictionary ‘preposition’ is used as a grammatical class. Language change is an ongoing process in all language families, and membership in distribution classes should be determined by current usage, not by etymology.

More than 130 Tai Lue prepositions are listed in this dictionary.



There is no one simple set of pronouns in Tai Lue. In many European languages there are two choices for the second person pronoun ‘you’, one more formal than the other. In Tai Lue there several ways to say ‘you’ with differing degrees of formality, and this is true in the first, second and third persons. The parameters of power and solidarity determine the speaker's choice of a pronoun in each situation.

Each pronoun in the dictionary is accompanied by usage notes. Often kin terms can substitute for pronouns, and the usage and restrictions on these are also noted.

Demonstrative pronouns (e.g. ᦠᧃᧉ han³ ‘there’) and interrogative pronouns (e.g. ᦺᦕ pʰaj¹ ‘who’) are also listed.

About 45 Tai Lue pronouns are listed in this dictionary.



Onomatopoeia, or expressives, follow the main verb, and are a sub-class of post-verbs. They express sounds such as those made by animals, rainfall, or body movements.

Most onomatopoetic words have a fairly fixed standard form, but are susceptible to variation in creative situations. There are more than two hundred Tai Lue words in the dictionary identified as onomatopoeia.


Final particles

Final particles in Tai Lue come at the end of a sentence, or sometimes after a fore-fronted noun phrase. Final particles are important to Tai Lue communication, and have a variety of functions.

They can be classed in two main categories: interpersonal and grammatical. Interpersonal particles are used by the speaker to express his/her relationship to the addressee. This includes

  • emotions (anger, distress, suspicion, worry)
  • opinions (correcting or contradicting what the interlocutor has said)
  • self-certainty or self-doubt (surely, I don’t know)
  • imperatives (demanding, asking, pleading)

In English such meanings tend to be expressed by intonation, or by minor clauses. In Tai languages all meaning is lexical, and these meanings are expressed with a morpheme.

Grammatical particles mark questions, topic, aspect and conclusions.

The interpersonal final particles are most typically used in face-to-face conversation, or in reported speech (as in a narrative). Grammatical final particles are used in all forms of communication.

Questions of all kinds end in a particle, with different ones for yes/no questions, and wh- questions. ᦣᦱᧈ haa⁵ is a final particle used with yes/no questions. ᦋᦱ caa⁴ is used with wh- questions. Both of these particles are neutral, in the sense that they do not anticipate the answer, and express no doubt, sarcasm or other beliefs. Look in the index for examples of particles that do express such information.

There are several imperative particles with different degrees of force or politeness. ᦤᦸ dɔ⁴ is an imperative particle commonly used in any situation. ᦶᦡᧈ dææ² is used when one is pleading or desperate for a response.

Several particles are used to express emotion of different kinds. These particles are more commonly used in informal and spoken contexts than in written communication. The particle ᦊᦱᧈ jaa² expresses strong emotion of any kind, or is used in a situation that is emotionally charged. The particle ᦣᦱ haa⁴ is used with rhetorical questions expressing worry, anger, sarcasm or some other strong emotion.

Other particles are used as exclamations, when seeking assent or affirmation, when contradicting somebody, expressing certainty or ignorance, or as euphonious particles in poetry.

The final particles are grouped together in the English-Tai Lue index under FINAL PARTICLE.

There are about 60 Tai Lue final particles in the dictionary.