In this video, we will answer the question “What’s the Difference Between “ไทย (tai),” “เมืองไทย (meuang tai)” & “ประเทศไทย (pbràtêet tai)”?

You may have heard Thai people use all the three terms to refer to “Thailand” but may not know when to use each. This video lesson will explain their meanings and usage in detail. After watching it, you will understand the nuances between the three words and have the confidence to use them in the appropriate contexts.


Q: “What’s the Difference Between “ไทย (tai),” “เมืองไทย (meuang tai)” & “ประเทศไทย (pbràtêet tai)”?

A: You’ve probably heard all the 3 terms used to refer to “Thailand,” “ไทย [tai],” “เมืองไทย [meuang tai]” and “ประเทศไทย [pbràtêet tai].” But can they be used interchangeably? The short answer is yes. Either one of these terms can be used. But it can be useful to understand the nuances, so you know the most appropriate word to use for each context.

The word “country” in Thai is “ประเทศ [pbràtêet],” so the official and formal translation of Thailand is “ประเทศไทย [pbràtêet tai].” You can put “ประเทศ [pbràtêet]” in front of any country’s name, for example, “ประเทศอิตาลี [pbràtêet Italy]” for (the country of) Italy or “ประเทศออสเตรเลีย [pbràtêet Australia]” for (the country of) Australia. But we generally use it in a formal context.

With that said, “ประเทศไทย [pbràtêet tai]” is not the most or the only official name of “Thailand.” Although not very often used, there’s also a term “ราชอาณาจักรไทย [râat cha aa naa jàk tai]” which translates to “The kingdom of Thailand.” “ราชา [raachaa]” means “king,” and “อาณาจักร [aa naa jàk]” means “territory,” so “ราชอาณาจักร [râat cha aa naa jàk]” means “kingdom.” Guess what we call the UK or the “United Kingdom”? The answer is “สหราชอาณาจักร [sa hà râat cha aa naa jàk].”  “สห- [sa hà]” is a Thai prefix, meaning “together” or “joint,” similar to the prefix “co-” in English. In this context, “สห- [sa hà]” translates to “United.” You can also see this prefix in the Thai word referring to “United States of America,” which is “สหรัฐอเมริกา [sa hà rát America].” “สห- [sa hà]” is “United,” and “รัฐ [rát]” is “state.” It’s also used in the word “สหประชาชาติ [sa hà bprà chaa châat]” which refers to “United Nations.” But remember, these are all formal and official terms. We usually just say “ยูเค [UK]” instead of “สหราชอาณาจักร [sa hà râat chá aa naa jàk],” “อเมริกา [America]” instead of “สหรัฐอเมริกา [sa hà rát America]” and “ยูเอ็น [UN]” instead of “สหประชาชาติ [sa hà bprà chaa châat].”

Now back to “Thailand,” there’s a more colloquial term that Thai people use to refer to the country, and that is “เมืองไทย [meuang tai].” The word “เมือง [meuang]” usually means “city.” When we say “เมือง [meuang],” we usually think of cities, such as London, New York, or Paris. Instead of “เมือง [meuang],” Thai people use a different word to refer to Thai cities, or rather, Thai provinces, and that word is “จังหวัด [jang wàt].” For example, we say “จังหวัดเชียงใหม่ [jang wàt Chiang Mai]” for “the city/province of Chiang Mai” and “จังหวัดภูเก็ต [jang wàt Phuket]” for “the city/province of Phuket.” Interestingly, “เมือง [meuang]” is often used to name the most populated or most important district or area of each Thai province. District in Thai is “อำเภอ [am pəə]” so “Meuang district” in Thai is “อำเภอเมือง [am pəə meuang].” Almost every province in Thailand has a “Meuang” district, and it’s usually the heart of the city, pretty much like the “สยาม [Siam]” Siam area in Bangkok, where all the major shopping malls are located.

If “เมือง [meuang tai]” refers to a city, you may wonder why it’s used to refer to the country of Thailand. Well, this is a very rare exception. We don’t use “เมือง [meuang]” to refer to a country, except for Thailand and China. Most of the time, when we talk, Thai people refer to Thailand as “เมืองไทย [meuang tai],” and China as “เมืองจีน [meuang jiin].” We don’t use “เมือง [meuang]” with any other countries in this world. The word “เมือง [meuang]” in this context has a positive connotation and is associated with comfort and a sense of belonging, pretty much like the word “home” in English. You may think it makes sense for Thailand but what about China? Unless you’ve been in Thailand for a long time, you may not know that a large number of Thai people (around 10 million or nearly 15% of the whole population) are Chinese descendants, so in a sense, China is home to a lot of us.

Another common way to refer to Thailand when you speak is “ไทย [tai].” The word “ไทย [tai]” can be shortened from either “ประเทศไทย [pbràtêet tai]” (the country of Thailand) or “ภาษาไทย [paa sǎa tai]” (the Thai language), so it can refer to either and it’s usually understood from the context. For example, “ฉันพูดไทยได้ [chán pûut tai dâi]” means “I can speak Thai.” because “ไทย [tai]” is the object of the verb “พูด [pûut]” to speak, whereas “ฉันจะกลับไทยพรุ่งนี้ [chán jà glàp tai prûng níi]” means “I’m going back to Thailand tomorrow,” because ไทย [tai] follows the verb “กลับ [glàp]” which means to return. Note that while you can use “ไทย [tai]” instead of “ประเทศไทย [pbràtêet]” or “ภาษาไทย [paa sǎa tai],” to refer to the country and the language, in general, you cannot use it to refer to Thai people. If you want to say “Thai people” or “Thai person,” always use “คนไทย [kon tai]” not just “ไทย [tai]” by itself. In some commercial names, such as in many Thai political party names, or travel campaigns, you may see the word “ไทย [tai]” used to refer to Thai people, for example, “เพื่อไทย [pêua tai]” or “ไทยเที่ยวไทย [tai tîao tai].” But it’s not common in spoken language.

In general, when speaking in everyday life, it’s best to avoid using “ประเทศไทย [pbràtêet tai]” to refer to Thailand as it can sound too formal, use “ไทย [tai]” or “เมืองไทย [meuang tai]” instead. Not just for when you talk about Thailand, but also about any other countries. Say “อังกฤษ [ang grìt]” instead of “ประเทศอังกฤษ [pbràtêet ang grìt]” when speaking of England, or “เกาหลี [gao lǐi]” instead of “ประเทศเกาหลี [pbràtêet gao lǐi]” when referring to Korea.

However, as with “ไทย [tai],” a lot of country names are also the names of the language spoken in that country. For example, “อังกฤษ [ang grìt]” can refer to either “England” or “English,” “สเปน [Spain]” to “Spain” or “Spanish,” “รัสเซีย [rátsia]” to “Russia” or “Russian” and “เกาหลี [gao lǐi]” to “Korea” or “Korean.” Again, most of the time, we will understand what’s being referred to from the context.

But when it may be ambiguous or confusing, it’s not wrong to say “ประเทศ [pbràtêet]” followed by the name of the country you want to refer to, to clarify that you’re talking about the country not the language, and “ภาษา [paa sǎa]” followed by the name of the language you want to refer to, to make it clear you’re speaking about the language, not the country. For example, “เรียนญี่ปุ่นต้องใช้เงินปีละเท่าไหร่ [rian yîi bpùn dtâwng chái ngern bpii lá tâo rài]” can mean “How much does it cost per year to study Japanese?” or “How much does it cost per year to study in Japan?.” In this case, the ambiguity can be avoided if you say “เรียนภาษาญี่ปุ่นต้องใช้เงินปีละเท่าไหร่ [rian paa sǎa yîi bpùn dtâwng chái ngern bpii lá tâo rài]” for “How much does it cost per year to study Japanese?” or “เรียนประเทศญี่ปุ่นต้องใช้เงินปีละเท่าไหร่ [rian pbràtêet yîi bpùn dtâwng chái ngern bpii lá tâo rài]” for “How much does it cost per year to study in Japan?” You can also use the preposition “ที่ [tîi]” between “เรียน [rian]” and “ญี่ปุ่น [yîi bpùn]” to imply you’re talking about Japan and not Japanese, as “ที่ [tîi]” is generally used before places. “เรียนที่ญี่ปุ่นต้องใช้เงินปีละเท่าไหร่ [rian tîi yîi bpùn dtâwng chái ngern bpii lá tâo rài].”

Another example, if someone asks you “คุณชอบไทยไหม [kun châwp tai mǎi],” although it sounds perfectly natural in spoken language, it can be ambiguous as the sentence can mean “Do you like the Thai language?” or “Do you like Thailand”? In this case, the person can phrase the question in a different way to make it clearer. They can say “คุณชอบภาษาไทยไหม [kun châwp paa sǎa tai mǎi]” for “Do you like the Thai language?” or they can even use a verb that can only be used with a language such as “พูด” to speak, and ask “คุณชอบพูดไทยไหม [kun châwp pûut tai mǎi]” “Do you like to speak Thai?,” although the meaning is slightly different.

And they want to ask whether or not you like the country, they can use “เมืองไทย” or “ประเทศไทย [pbràtêet tai]” instead of just “ไทย [tai].” So they can ask “คุณชอบเมืองไทยไหม [kun châwp meuang tai mǎi]” or “คุณชอบประเทศไทยไหม [pbràtêet tai]” for “Do you like Thailand?.” Again, they may also use a verb that can only be used with a place such as “อยู่ [yùu],” “to be (somewhere), “to stay” or “to live.” So they can ask “คุณชอบอยู่ไทยไหม [kun châwp yùu tai mǎi]” “Do you like to be/stay/live in Thailand?

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