In this video, we will answer the question “Do Thais really say สวัสดี [sawàtdii] and สบายดีไหม [sabaaidiimai]?” You will learn the correct times to use the expression “สวัสดี [sawàtdii],” as well as a more informal expression that Thai people commonly use but which you may have never heard — หวัดดี [wàtdii].” You will also learn the difference between the use of the Thai expression “สบายดีไหม [sabaaidiimai]” and that of the English expression “How are you?.” We also discuss two other colloquial expressions “เป็นไงบ้าง [bpen ngai bâang]” and “ไปไหนมา [pai nǎi maa],” which Thais say to each other all the time, but are not taught in textbooks. After watching this video, you’ll be able to greet more naturally like native speakers.


Q: Do Thais really say “สวัสดี [sawàtdii]” and “สบายดีไหม [sabaai dii mái]”?

A: “สวัสดี [Sawàtdii]” and “สบายดีไหม [sabaai dii mái]?” are probably two of the first Thai words you’ve ever learned. But as you start talking to Thai people, you may hear some totally different expressions and may wonder if Thai people really use “สวัสดี [sawàtdii]” and “สบายดีไหม [sabaai dii mái]?” at all.

“สวัสดี [sawàtdii]” means “hello,” “good morning,” “good afternoon,” “good evening,” and “good night.” You can say it all day to greet people. It can also be used to say “bye.” It’s normal to say “สวัสดี [sawàtdii]” to a doctor, a teacher, a customer or someone older at the end of the conversation before you part with them, but in an informal setting, such as when talking to friends, family members or someone younger, Thai people tend to use the English word “bye bye” rather than “สวัสดี [sawàtdii].”

While we do say “สวัสดี [sawàtdii]” to greet each other, we sometimes shorten it to “หวัดดี [wàtdii].” So it’s not like that we forget to pronounce the first syllable, we actually drop it to make a new word, which is more informal. You’re much more likely to hear “หวัดดี [wàtdii]” than “สวัสดี [sawàtdii]” in daily life, especially when you hear Thai people talk to their friends or family members. It’s not considered impolite, just less formal. So it’s acceptable to use with people you want to give respect to, such as people who are older, or customers, as long as you add the polite particle “ครับ [kráp]” (for male) or “ค่ะ [kâ]” (for female).

Thai people do say “สบายดีไหม [sabaai dii mái]” to ask how someone is doing. But we don’t use it as often as you may expect to hear or as often as you say “How are you?” in English. “สบายดีไหม [sabaai dii mái]” is a much more genuine question than “How are you”? It’s a little more than just a greeting expression. In other words, when you ask “สบายดีไหม [sabaai dii mái],” you genuinely want to find out how the person is doing (to some extent). After asking this question, we usually wait to hear the answer, and not just keep on talking after that.

“สบายดี [sabaai dii]” means “To be well” and “ไหม [mái]” is a question word. So the literal meaning is “Are you well?” We have another expression that really translates to “How are you?” which is “เป็นไงบ้าง [bpen ngai bâang].” In real life, we use this expression much more than “สบายดีไหม [sabaai dii mái].” But still, we only use both expressions with people we don’t see very often. In other words, we pretty much use it to ask “How have you been?” So, you can use either expression to ask how someone is doing if you haven’t seen them in a while and it won’t sound awkward. But don’t use it with someone you see every day. They wouldn’t expect you to ask them this question every time you see them. And we also don’t use these expressions with someone we meet for the first time either.

There’s one expression Thais often say to each other but probably never to a foreigner. We sometimes say “ไปไหนมา [pai nǎi maa]” which translates to “where have you been?” when we meet someone. And no, it doesn’t imply you’ve looked everywhere for that person and couldn’t find them. It really is just a way we greet each other. But again, you don’t ask someone this every time you see them or when you see them for the first time.

Now you may ask what you should say to people you see every day like a co-worker or a classmate, or someone you meet for the first time. The answer is nothing really. In Thai culture, we just don’t say “how are you?” when we see each other all that much. Just greet them with “สวัสดี [sawàtdii]” or “หวัดดี [wàtdii]” and start the real conversation or move on to do another thing.

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