Lesson 4: Different ways to say You and I — Pronouns in Myanmar Language
Pronouns are called
where za3 is the soft spoken form of sa3, which itself is the abbreviation of a-sa3. What does a-sa3 mean? It has more than one meaning: division in math, food intake, or substitution.
sa3 in nun2-za3 refers to substitution of nun2 or the noun. In place of the names of persons, objects, and places (which are nouns), "you", "I", "he", "she", "that", "it", "they", "those", etc. are used.
Pay special attention to different ways to say "you" and "I" in Burmese. Wrong choice of "you" or "I" can be impolite and offend people, or make you sound silly if you got your gender wrong.
There are many ways to say "you" and "I" in Burmese. THOU SHALT NOT USE literary form of "you", such as thin2 or a-thin2 in spoken form, unless you are an actor in the dramatic play. This lesson covers all pronouns "you" and "I" usages you will need in colloquial Burmese.
There are four classifications of pronouns in Myanmar language.
— personal pronoun
is the part of speech that is used in place of a person. It is a coined word of a-sa3 meaning "in place of" and poat-go2 meaning "a person".
Examples: "I", "You", "He", "She", "It". Attention must be paid to many ways to say "you" and "I" in Burmese.
— referential pronoun
points to something or someone such as, "this","that", and "above-mentioned". a-hnyoon3 means reference.
— question words
are equivalent to "what", "who", "where" in English.
For example, in the Burmese question: "What does she like?", "what" refers to "the thing that she likes" (noun), and it is considered a question pronoun. By the same logic, "where" in the question: "Where did he go?" refers to "the place that he went" (noun), and it is a question pronoun.
— quantitative pronouns
are words that show quantity, magnitude or amount such as "one person", "three cups", "four items", "some", "few", "all", "half", etc. used in place of names of objects or people.
thin2-cha2 in direct translation refers to "math".
This category is further grouped into two types:
a-yay2 a-twet pya1 thin2-cha2 nun2 za3
E.g., "one person", "three cups", "four items".
a-yay2-a-twet means quantity and pya1 means to show.
pa1-ma2-na1 pya1 thin2-cha2 nun2 za3
— unspecified numbers.
E.g., "some", "few", "all", "half". pa1-ma2-na1 means "size" or "magnitude" and pya1 means to show.
- a-yay2 a-twet pya1 thin2-cha2 nun2 za3 — numerals.
Different words for different gender
As we have seen near the end of lesson 3, male and female Burmese speakers make use of slightly different ending words:
shin1 — is used by female speakers.
bya2 — is used by male speakers.
hote deare2 shin1
"yes, I concur.." (or) "yes, very true!".
A male speaker would say the same "yes, I concur.." (or) "yes, very true!" with the ending
hote deare2 bya2
Note the slight different change in saying "yes" when someone orders something:
A request: Please do this right away!
A reply by a female speaker:
which is equivalent to saying "Yes Sir!" or "Yes, Ma'm!"
A reply by a male speaker:
When shin1 or kha1-mya1 is added at the above conversation, it sounds more polite and professional.
Yes, I am here!
Now, consider this. Someone is looking for you everywhere. He is calling out your name. If you are
a male person, you may answer:
Note the 2nd tone ending mya2.
A female speaker would answer:
shin2 — Yes, I am here.
A Shocking Surprise
A single word:
shin2 by female, and
kha1-mya2 by male
is also used to utter an exclamation — to express a shocking surprise with an open-mouth.
Village head to the young man: "Young man, your parents are dead, and so are your cows. The house is gone, and you have nothing left."
followed by a long silent.
A step-mother in the poor village to her pretty step-daughter:
tha1-mi3 — Daughter...
she says in an afflicted tone. "For the sake of your future, we are selling you to that rich man from across the border. Pack your things now."
Pardon me! Excuse me, can say that again?
shin2 — Can you say that again?
bya2 — What did you say?
kha1-mya2 — Did I hear it right?
Yes, you have heard it right! There are so many different uses for simple words like
bya2 (male), and
Here, the same words could mean "Pardon me! Excuse me, can you say that again?"
Master, Master, wake up!
If you are of an equal or a higher social status, rank, or age than the person who is calling your name, you may answer in a different tone of voice:
ba2 leare3 kwa1
What? ... what's going on?
Note that there is no "male", "female" term. The ending word kwa1, as we have seen in lesson3 is an expression of excitement or delight, and can be used by both sexes.
A Knock on the door
Suppose you are in your hotel room when someone knocks on the door and calls out your name, you can say:
la2 byi2.. la2 byi2 — Coming... coming!
The World without You and I
It is not necessary to be using polite "male" "female" ending words all the time. In fact, it is not even necessary to include "You" and "I" in Burmese sentences.
thwa3 ome3 meare2 nau2
Got to go now! (go + indication of intention + warm feeling)
Note that in the above sentence, "I" is not explicitly stated, but implicitly implied.
First Person Male term: "kja1-nau2"
A male speaker could add "I" (male term) like this:
kja1-nau2 thwa3 ome3 meare2 nau2
Please let me be excused now.
means "I" and is used by male speakers. In upper Myanmar, particularly in Mandalay, this term is also used by female speakers. But, it appears that this trend is catching on in Yangon. I have encountered some female speakers who use the term kja1-nau2 in Yangon.
First Person Female term: "kja1-ma1"
Male term of endearment: "ko2"
A husband or a boyfriend could use the term-of-endearment "I":
ko2 thwa3 ome3 meare2 nau2
Yes, parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say:
thwa3 ome3 meare2 nau2
till the day after tomorrow!
Common female self-descriptive word for "I"
It is unusual for a female speaker to use
as a self-descriptive first person pronoun "I". The reason could be that it sounds like the prefix ko2 with different spelling used in front of the names of the male person.
“The story started on that rainy day when I was enjoying a happy and wet Thingyan Festival filled with pleasing yellow Padauk flowers,” she said.
My heart beat faster when I saw those brown eyes and tender loving smile of his.
“Want to go out together, then?”
That's how I spent the time with him — so, the lyric goes.
This talented young lady's name is Eint Chit | Ain1-Chit. She is the same girl in "Myanmar's happiest time" video clip in lesson 30 — only a little younger.
All the while, she used the word ko2 for the pronoun "I". It's almost as though she is reminiscing the story about herself to herself.
"The story started on that rainy day when I was enjoying a happy and wet Thingyan Festival filled with pleasing yellow Padauk flowers," she said. My heart beats faster when I saw those brown eyes and tender loving smile of his. Going home? No. Want to go out together, then? Yeah. Where to? Just go. That's how I spent the time with him — so, the lyric goes. This talented young lady's name is Ain1-Chit. She is the same girl in "Myanmar's Happiest Time" clip in lesson 26 — only a little younger. All the while, she used the word "KO2" for the pronoun "I". It's almost as though she is reminiscing the story about herself to herself. [40 seconds]Posted by Naing Tinnyuntpu on Thursday, May 19, 2016
A young girl would say something like this:
tha1-mi3 thwa3 ome3 meare2 nau2
means daughter and it is used as a pronoun in place of "I" by a young female to a person older than her. I don't know if it is a new trend or not. It seems the use of tha1-mi3 is not limited to teen-agers. Not long ago, I was taken aback to hear a woman in her 30's describing herself as tha1-mi3 to me. She addressed to me as "Uncle".
hite! — Burmese Exclamation!
(English equivalent: "Gosh! She called me Uncle. Am I that old already?")
The conversation went on with the repeated use of a-ko2 and a-ma1. I was sitting next to them trying hard not to laugh out loud.
It is common for a female speaker to use her name in place of "I". For example, a lady named sun2-da2 would say:
sun2-da2 thwa3 ome3 meare2 nau2
to close friends and elder family members. In fact, either male or female could use his or her name in place of "I" when speaking to elder members of the family because "I" sounds too cold and impersonal.
Younger people to Older Folks
It's impolite in Myanmar culture to call elders "old man" and "old woman" in the face. But, you can bet that behind their back young people use the terms like
a-pfo3-ji3 — old man and
a-pfwa3-ji3 — old woman
to not so young people.
Old man, Old woman
It's impolite in Myanmar culture to call elders "old man" and "old woman" in the face. But, behind their back, young Myanmar people might use the terms like a-pfo3-ji3 (old man) and a-pfwa3-ji3 (old woman) to not so young people. [25 seconds]Posted by Naing Tinnyuntpu on Saturday, May 7, 2016
Girlfriend to boyfriend
Here is something new that I have overheard in the public place. A younger girl described herself as
which is the direct English translation of baby to her much older boyfriend. This word also refers to a child. I, therefore, came to the logical conclusion that her boyfriend must then identify himself as
meaning "father" in private to her, but my suspicion could not be independently verified. It's hard to estimate how widespread is the usage in Myanmar as shown in this clip.
Here is something new that I have overheard in the public place. A younger girl described herself as "kha1-lay3", which is the direct English translation of baby to her much older boyfriend. This word also refers to a child. I, therefore, came to the logical conclusion that her boyfriend must then identify himself as "a-ba1" meaning "father" in private to her, but my suspicion could not be independently verified. It's hard to estimate how widespread is the usage as shown in this clip. Jenny & William [33 seconds]Posted by Naing Tinnyuntpu on Thursday, May 26, 2016
It may sound odd, but it is possible for a girl to use "he" in place of "you" when talking to a newly acquainted male. For example, instead of "What are you doing?" in 2nd person, she might say "What is he doing?" in third person. Burmese word for "he" or "she" is
The most common terms that she will address to her boyfriend or husband in public will be
which means "big brother", or the word
followed by the name of her boyfriend or husband. Those two terms are not so special. Anybody, male or female, could address to a male person about the same age with those words in place of "you".
The closest English translation I can think of is darling or dear, but unlike "darling" or "dear", the Burmese moun2 is reserved for female to male only.
How would a tough guy call himself?
As people get married for a long time, the term-of-endearment "I" could change with time to become something not so endearing.
kjoat thwa3 meare2
"I am about to go off"
says the husband. (I + go + indication of intention)
kjoat ma1-lite bu3
"I am not going with you."
says the wife. (I + not + to go along with + negative ending)
The gender-neutral use of
as "I" was said to be first popularized by Burmese leader and politician Dr. Ba Maw (pronounced Ba1 Mau2) during World War II because he didn't want to use
which in Burmese written words roughly means self-deprecating "loyal slave". In fact, when I was young, I personally knew two grandsons of Dr. Ba Maw. One of them was the son of Bo Yan Naing, a member of famous Thirty Comrades with General Aung San as the leader. It was odd to hear them speak kjoat to each other, but I didn't know why they used the word at that time.
has evolved so much with time that today it has no association with the meaning "slave", whatsoever. However, when I hear someone says
kjoat, it gives me the impression of someone tough, straight-forward, and a bit unfriendly.
Burmese equivalent of "Mister"
Burmese Gentlemen and noble friends
Why should I trust "you", stranger?
is only used by a female speaker to address either male or female person she is speaking to. It sounds cold and unfriendly, unlike the polite "yes" shin2 of the same sound and spelling mentioned earlier under different context.
Friendlier and more trustworthy "you"
When you get to know a person better, you call him or her by the title followed by the name of the person. For example, you say:
“How is it going ko2 zau2-wun3 ?” to a person named Zaw One.
ko2 is the title to address a male of the same age or older.
moun2 is the title to address a younger male.
u3 is the title to address an elder male.
ma1 is the title to address a female who is younger or of the same age.
dau2 is the title to address an older female.
I consider "you" like a close relative
It is common for Burmese people to use the terms "young brother", "elder brother", "young sister", "elder sister", "big uncle", "big aunt", "grandpa", "grandma", etc., in place of "you" and "I" to any stranger, especially if you don't know the name of the person.
"What's up, brother?" — Did I hear an African-American speak?
beare2 leare3 a-ko2
Go where, big brother?
a greeting as you meet someone a bit older than you are. (where + ? + elder brother)
"You" naive girl
Sometimes an elder person would say
a version of "you" to a younger female in a disagreement or in a lecturing tone. In my opinion, it's a bit derogatory and somewhat carries the meaning: "You naive, ignorant small girl."
I am uncle and you are moun2-yin2
is the term spoken by the elder man to the younger man. You can translate it as "young man" or "lad". This word is not often used. The more common usage today is
meaning "son" mentioned earlier.
Younger generation of both sexes use the word "friend" in the conversation, especially to classmates.
tha1-ngeare2-jin3, I wish you well.
What's up "dude"?
Note the use of ja1 for plural of people. Please review lesson 2 for the use of ja1.
You may be wondering how to pronounce nga2. "nga2" sounds just like saying "ng" part at the end of the word "sing" with the back of the tongue raised, momentarily touched the upper back part of the mouth and released. The tongue should be further back compared to saying "ga2".
nga2 ma1-thi1 bu3
I don't know!
(I + not + know + negative ending)
Add "doh1" for plural form of people
means he or she. How would you make it a plural to mean "they", "them"? Easy. Just add
like "you" and "I" above.
thu2 doh1 beare2 hma2 leare3
Where are they? (they + where + location indicator + ?)
nga2 ma1-thi1 bu3
I don't know!
Only slight tone difference between "I" and "my"
Observe the tone difference carefully:
kja1-nau2 — I (male)
kja1-nau1 — my (male)
thu2 — "he" or "she"
thu1 — "his" or "her"
When the tone is changed to the 1st., it becomes possessive. For female, "I" is already in the 1st tone, so there's no need to change it:
I think I have covered all the variations of "You" and "I" that you will ever encounter in the conversation, and also about "him" and "their" comments. So,
kine3, kine3, kine3... — OK, OK, enough, enough, enough...
kja1-nau2 — I
de2 hma2 — here
yut meare2 — stop + going to