Most people know “ได้ [dâai]” as meaning “can.” While the most common uses of the word “ได้ [dâai]” are 1.) to express one’s ability to do something and 2.) to give permission, this extremely useful word also has other uses.

In the two cases mentioned above, “ได้ [dâai]” is almost always translated as “can.” But in the (slightly) less common use of the word, it can be a little tricky to translate it. Maybe because it can’t really be translated or it doesn’t have an exact translation. And that might be the reason why it’s hardly talked about. In this article, instead of giving a definition to it, we will do our best to explain the concept and the functions of the word to you.

You may have seen or heard the word “ได้ [dâai]” used in sentences in the past tense and may wonder if it’s required to form one. You may be asking yourself if that’s how Thais form a sentence in past tense and if not, how they do so. It’s not something textbooks teach you but you’ll find answers and explanations here as you read on.

There’s no conjugation of verbs in Thai like in some Western languages such as French or German. We also don’t add a suffix like “-ed” to the end of a verb like in English or change it in anyway to make a past tense form or a past participle. In Thai, there is only one form of each verb.

So what do we do in order to express past tense? We don’t do anything with the verb. Generally, we use adverbs of time like “yesterday” or “last week” to imply that a certain action took place in the past. A preverb or a modal verb is not required to express past tense. For example,

1. เมื่อวานคุณทำอะไรบ้าง
[mêua waan khun tam arai bâang]
What did you do yesterday?

2. คืนก่อนคุณไปไหนมา
[keun gàwn khun pai nǎi maa]
Where did you go last night?

To say that you did not do something in the past, simply add the word “ได้” [dâai] after the negative particle “ไม่” [mâi]. Here are examples of how you can respond to the questions in the examples above:

1. ไม่ได้ทำอะไรเลย เล่นเน็ตอย่างเดียว
[mâi dâi tam arai loei lên net yàang diao]
I didn’t do anything. I was just surfing the internet.

2. ผมอยู่บ้าน ไม่ได้ไปไหน
[pǒm yùu bâan mâi dâi pai nǎi]
I only stayed home. I didn’t go anywhere.

In fact, the actual function of the word “ได้” [dâai], or rather “ไม่ได้” [mâi dâi] here, is to deny that something happened or to say that something isn’t true. It is not really used to express past tense. Thai people hardly think about the concept of tenses. However, if you were to translate the sentences above to English, you would know to express them in the past tense from the context.

You can see “ได้” [dâai] used in the present tense to imply that something isn’t true as well. So while in some cases, it translates to “did not,” in others it simply translates to “not” as in these following examples:

1. A: เธอป่วยเหรอ
[ter pùai rǎw]
Are you sick?

B: เปล่า ไม่ได้ป่วย ง่วงเฉยๆ
[plàao mâi dâi pùai ngûang chǒei chǒei]
No, I’m not. I’m just tired.

2. A: ไปเอากรรไกรของเพื่อนมาได้ไง เขากำลังใช้อยู่
[pai ao gangrai kǎwng pêuan maa dâi ngai, káo gamlang chái yùu]
How could you take the scissors from your friend? She’s using them.

C: อ๋อ ไม่ได้ใช้อยู่ค่ะ เอาไปได้
[ǎw mâi dâi chái yùu kâ, ao pai dâai]
Oh, I’m not. She can have them.

3. A: ทำไมทำหน้าแบบนี้ อยากไปไม่ใช่เหรอ
[tammai tam nâa bàep níi, yàak pai mâi châi rǎw]
Why are you making a face like that? I thought you wanted to go.

B: ไม่ได้อยาก แต่จำเป็นต้องไป
[mâi dâi yàak, tàe jampen tâwng pai]
It’s not that I want to. I just have to.

4. A: เธอเป็นคนบอกให้เขาทำไม่ใช่เหรอ
[ter pen kon bàwk hâi káo tam mâi châi rǎw]
Aren’t you the one telling him to do it?

B: เปล่า ฉันไม่ได้เป็นคนบอก เขาทำเอง
[plàao chán mâi dâi pen kon bàwk káo tam eeng]
No, I’m not. He himself wanted to do it.

Thais also use “ได้” [dâai] when they want to emphasize that some action “did” take place.  It means something along the lines of “to get to do something” in English. While it’s often used in sentences expressing past tense, it can be used in the future tense as well. In that case, it’s used to emphasize that something “will” take place. In some cases, it may have the sense of “having an opportunity to do something” and often has the sense of excitement expressed in the tone of voice. For example,

1. เขากับฉันได้เจอกันเมื่อปีก่อน
[káo gàp chán dâi jer gan mêua pii gàwn]
He and I met last year.

2. เราได้ตกลงกันแล้วว่าจะไม่มีทางผิดสัญญากัน
[rao dâi tòk long gan léaw wâa ja mâi mii taang pìt sǎnyaa gan]
We made a commitment that we will never break our promises to each other.

3. พรุ่งนี้ ผมจะได้ไปดูหนังเรื่องกัปตันอเมริกา
[prûng níi pǒm jà dâai pai duu nǎng rêuang Captain America]
Tomorrow, I’m going to (get to) watch Captain America!

4. ปีหน้า ฉันจะได้ไปเรียนทำอาหารที่ฝรั่งเศส
[pii nâa, chán ja dâai pai rian tam aahǎan tîi fáràngsèet]
Next year, I’m going to (get to) pursue my culinary education in France.

Oftentimes, it’s unnecessary to say “ได้” [dâai] as it barely changes or adds any meaning to the sentence. It just emphasizes a little bit more the fact that the action took place or will take place. For example, “ได้” [dâai] in the second sentence below only emphasizes that the subject got to do the action, that’s all.

1. เมื่อวานผมไปดูหนังเรื่องกัปตันอเมริกามา
[mêua waan pǒm pai duu nǎng rêuang Captain America maa]
Yesterday, I went to see Captain America.

2. เมื่อวานผมได้ไปดูหนังเรื่องกัปตันอเมริกามา
[mêua waan pǒm dâi pai duu nǎng rêuang Captain America maa]
Yesterday, I got to see Captain America.

However, there is a situation where it’s necessary to say “ได้” [dâai], and if omitted, the nuance will be lost and the message may not get across to the listener. That’s when it’s used in a question form to ask whether a certain action or activity took place, especially when it’s expected to. Note that in this case, the questions are usually asked in the past tense.

1. A: อาทิตย์ก่อนได้ไปหาหมอฟันไหม
[aathít gàwn dâi pai hǎa mǎw fan mái]
Did you get to see the dentist last week?

B: ได้ [dâai]
Yes, I did.

2. A: เมื่อเช้านี้ได้ไปประชุมไหม
[mêua cháao níi dâi pai prachum mái]
Did you get to attend the meeting this morning?

B: ไม่ ไปไม่ทัน [mâi, pai mâi tan]
No, I couldn’t make it in time.

3. A: สรุปได้ไปซื้อชาไทยไหม
[sarùp dâi pai séu chaa Thai mái]
Did you get to buy Thai tea after all?

B: ไม่ได้ไป ขี้เกียจออกจากบ้าน
[mâi dâi pai, kîi gìat àwk jàak bâan]
No, I got too lazy to leave home.

All of the three example sentences above will not sound natural and may not even be understood if “ได้” [dâai] is omitted.

Some Thai learners believe the word “แล้ว” [léaw] is used to express past tense. In fact, the word “แล้ว” [léaw] (meaning “already”) is used to indicate the “completion” of an action. It does not express past tense as a lot of people understand. “แล้ว” [léaw] in this sentence: “ผมดูหนังแล้ว [pǒm duu nǎng léaw]” is used to imply that the action is completed. You use it not to tell someone what you did but rather that you “have done” it already.

A: ไปดูกัปตันอเมริกากันไหม
[pai duu Captain America gan mái]
Let’s go watch Captain America!

B: ไม่เอา ดูแล้ว [mâi ao duu léaw]
No, thanks. I’ve already watched it.
(implying that he has already watched it so he’d rather watch something else.)

If the answer was just “I watched a movie,” the question would be something like “What did you do yesterday?” In this case, you won’t see the word “แล้ว” [léaw] used as it’s irrelevant.

A: เมื่อคืนคุณทำอะไร
[mêua keun khun tam arai]
What did you do last night?

B: ดูหนัง [duu nǎng]
I watched a movie.
(you’re just stating what happened without emphasizing that it has already taken place.)

You can even see it used in sentences in the future tense. Below are examples of how to use the word “แล้ว” [léaw] in different tenses.

1. อาบน้ำแล้วรึยัง
[àap náam léaw réu yang]
Have you taken a shower yet?

2. ไปแล้วนะ
[bpai léaw ná]
I’m out of here. (I’m leaving already.)

3. พรุ่งนี้เพื่อนฉันจะมาหาฉันที่แอลเอแล้ว
[prûng níi pêuan chán ja maa hǎa chán tîi LA léaw]
Tomorrow my friend will (finally) be here in LA to visit me.

4. ทำการบ้านเสร็จแล้วค่อยเล่นเกมนะ
[tam gaan bâan sèt léaw kôi lên game ná]
You can play games after you’ve done your homework.

5. พรุ่งนี้ สอบเสร็จแล้วไปเที่ยวกัน
[prûng níi sàwp sèp léaw bpai tîao gan]
Tomorrow, after (we’re done with) the exams, let’s go hang out.

Now compare these 3 sentences below and see the explanations on the nuances in the parentheses.

1. เมื่อวาน ผมดูหนังเรื่องนี้
[mêua waan pǒm duu nǎng rêuang níi]
Last night, I watched this movie.
(An adverb of time is used to indicate that the action took place in the past.)

2. เมื่อวาน ผมได้ดูหนังเรื่องนี้
[mêua waan pǒm dâi duu nǎng rêuang níi]
Last night, I got to watch this movie.
(An adverb of time is used to indicate that the action took place in the past and “ได้” [dâai] is used to emphasize that the action happened.)

3. ผมดูหนังเรื่องนี้แล้ว
[pǒm duu nǎng rêuang níi léaw]
I’ve already watched this movie.
(แล้ว [léaw] is used to indicate that the action has taken place or is complete.)

To say that something hasn’t happened, we add “ไม่ได้” [mâi dâi] after the word “ยัง” [yang]. In other words, we use the structure “ยังไม่ได้” [yang mâi dâi] + verb” to say “not..(done)..yet.” And the sentence often ends with “เลย” [loei], which is used to emphasize the fact that the action has not taken place. For example,

1. ฉันยังไม่ได้แปรงฟันเลย
[chán yang mâi dâi praeng fan loei]
I haven’t brushed my teeth yet.

2. เขายังไม่ได้ส่งใบสมัครเลย
[káo yang mâi dâi sòng bai samàk loei]
He hasn’t sent his application yet.

3. ประเทศนี้ยังไม่ได้เข้าร่วมองค์กรเลย
[prathêet níi yang mâi dâi kâo rûam ong gawn loei]
This country has not joined the organization yet.

Note that as a stand alone word, ได้ [dâai] is pronounced with a long vowel. But when used in a sentence, depending on the case scenario and the function of the word, it may have a short or long vowel. For example, ได้ [dâi] in the word ไม่ได้ [mâi dâi] used in front of a verb (to express that something isn’t true) is pronounced with a short vowel while ได้ [dâai] in the word ไม่ได้ [mâi dâai] when used after a verb (to express one’s lack of ability or permission to do something) is pronounced with a long vowel.

1. ฉันไม่ได้เป็นแบบที่คนอื่นคิด
[chán mâi dâi pen bàep tîi kon èun kít]
I’m not what people think I am.

2. ผมแก้สมการข้อนี้ไม่ได้สักที
[pǒm gâe samagaan kâw níi mâi dâai sák tii]
I could never solve this equation.

3. พ่อเขาไม่ได้เป็นตำรวจสักหน่อย
[pâw káo mâi dâi pen tamrùat sák nòi]
Her father is not a policeman.

4. คุณทำกับฉันแบบนี้ไม่ได้นะ
[khun tam gàp chán bàep níi mâi dâai ná]
You can’t do this to me!

Now, scroll back up and read the transliteration if you’ve been reading the Thai script and pay attention to when ได้ [dâai] is pronounced with a long vowel and when a short vowel.

If you’re interested in learning more about the use of ได้ [dâai] to express one’s ability or permission, which is not discussed in this article, take a look at our video lesson below:

And here’s another video lesson covering “Tenses in Thai.”

Subscribe to our Youtube channel if you haven’t, for more useful videos like these.

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