January 23, 2008

How the Thais remember months

After reading the post by thomas of Babelhut on how the Japanese remember which months have how many days, it seemed like a good idea to write a similar explanation for Thai. In Thai it's extremely simple: the number of days is encoded directly into the names of the months.

It seems like few learners realize this, or at least it takes them long time to notice. It did for me. I've never seen this mentioned in any books for learners of Thai, so please tell me if you know one that does.

One of my very first posts was about the meanings of the Thai month names. To refresh your memory, the Thai months (ordered January-December) are:

มกราคม /
กุมภาพันธ์ /kum
มีนาคม /miːnaː
เมษายน /meːsaː
พฤษภาคม /p
มิถุนายน /mit
กรกฎาคม /karakadaː
สิงหาคม /singhaː
กันยายน /kanyaː
ตุลาคม /tulaː
พฤศจิกายน /p
ธันวาคม /t

Now notice the last syllables and you'll see the key:

Months that end in คม /k
ʰom/ have 31 days.
Months that end in ยน /yon/ have 30 days.
The month that ends in พันธ์ /p
ʰan/ has 28 days.

I figure that this must be by design, but I have no information on when these month names came into use at the moment. The Indic words อาคม and อายน forming the end of the month names are synonyms meaning 'arrival', referring to the arrival of a certain zodiac sign (e.g. มีนาคม is from มีน 'fish' + อาคม 'arrival', meaning 'arrival of pisces'). The word พันธ์ as seen in the word for February means 'bind', but I'm not sure of the zodiacal significance of that word choice.

Pretty slick, though, huh?


  1. Fascinating! The Thais really made it easy to remember. Do you find that when you need to know whether there are 30 or 31 days in a month that you think about the answer in Thai?

    Btw, Thanks for the link :)

  2. I can remember the number of days in the months in English, so it's mostly been handy for me when I still used to mix up the Thai month names. But then again just last week during a conversation in Thai I found myself confused briefly over whether April or May had 31 days, and I used this trick to set myself straight.

  3. Aw, God! I totally forgot about the months! Man, you so beat me to the punch on posting this one! This is one of the most genius things I've encountered in the Thai language.

    Thomas, you would think that just sitting down with flash cards and drilling the number of days in each month would be easier. Remembering arbitrary syllables of a foreign language seems harder than remembering between 30 and 31 (everybody knows February is 28). Certainly with man-made information storage systems (i.e. computers, pen and paper, etc.), that is the case. But my experience was the opposite. Even today I do it by going from English to Thai to the number. The human brain is wired to remember words and phrases much better than numerals.

  4. Hi Rikker: Wonderful blog. Those monthly suffixes were among the first things I learned. That is all explained in Benjawan Poomsan Becker's Thai for Beginners, (p. 113.)

    Keep up all your fine work.


  5. Mangkorn, that's great. As you can see, I've betrayed how little time I've spent with books about Thai, having usually opted for immersion plus reading. Thai for Beginners was the first book about Thai I bought. Obviously I never finished it. And thanks for your kind words.

  6. First time here, interesting blog. I will be back for sure.

  7. Great blog Rikker. Keep posting!
    I think some of Gordon Allison's Teach yourself Thai books from the 1970s also mentioned the KOM/YON 30/31 thing as well.

  8. @Thai QA: Thanks for reading, hope you'll come by often.

    @Anonymous: Thank you, I'm glad to hear this is taught. There was one book that I used more than others that isn't commercially sold, and I'm pretty sure it didn't teach that. Maybe I'm just unlucky (or unobservant)!