Lesson 4: Different ways to say You and I — Pronouns in Myanmar Language
Pronouns are called
နာမ်စား | nun2-za3,
where za3 is the soft spoken form of စား | sa3, which itself is the abbreviation of အစား | 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 နာမ် | 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 သင် | thin2 or အသင် | 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.
ပုဂ္ဂလနာမ်စား | poat-ga1-la1 nun2-za3
— personal pronoun
is the part of speech that is used in place of a person. It is a coined word of အစား | a-sa3 meaning "in place of" and ပုဂ္ဂိုလ် | 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.
အညွှန်းနာမ်စား | a-hnyoon3 nun2-za3
— referential pronoun
points to something or someone such as, "this","that", and "above-mentioned". အညွှန်း | a-hnyoon3 means reference.
အမေးနာမ်စား | a-may3 nun2-za3
— 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.
သင်္ချာနာမ်စား | thin2-cha2 nun2-za3
— quantitative pronoun
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.
သင်္ချာ | thin2-cha2 in direct translation refers to "math".
This category is further grouped into two types:
အရေအတွက်ပြ သင်္ချာနာမ်စား | 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.
ပမာဏပြ သင်္ချာနာမ်စား | 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.
- အရေအတွက်ပြ သင်္ချာနာမ်စား | 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:
ရှင့် | shin1 — is used by female speakers.
ဗျာ | 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
ဗျာ | bya2.
ဟုတ်တယ်ဗျာ | 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:
ဟုတ်ကဲ့ရှင့် | hote-keare1 shin1
which is equivalent to saying "Yes Sir!" or "Yes, Ma'm!"
A reply by a male speaker:
ဟုတ်ကဲ့ခင်ဗျာ | hote-keare1 kha1-mya1
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:
ဗျာ | bya2 (or)
ခင်ဗျာ | kha1-mya2
Note the 2nd tone ending mya2.
A female speaker would answer:
ရှင် | shin2 — Yes, I am here.
A Shocking Surprise
A single word:
ရှင် | shin2 (female) and
ဗျာ | bya2 (male) or
ခင်ဗျာ | kha1-mya2 (male)
could also be 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."
ဗျာ | bya2
followed by a long silent.
A step-mother in the poor village to her pretty step-daughter:
သမီး | 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."
ရှင် | shin2
Pardon me! Excuse me, can say that again?
ရှင် | shin2 — Can you say that again?
ဗျာ | bya2 — What did you say?
ခင်ဗျာ | kha1-mya2 — Did I hear it right?
Yes, you have heard it right! There are so many different uses for simple words like
ရှင် | shin2 (female),
ဗျာ | bya2 (male), and
ခင်ဗျာ | kha1-mya2 (male).
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 ကွ | 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:
လာပြီ ၊ လာပြီ
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.
ကျွန်တော် | kja1-nau2
means "I" and is used by male speakers. It is spelled "kjoon2 tau2". 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 ကျွန်တော် | kja1-nau2 in Yangon.
First Person Female term: "kja1-ma1"
The word ကျွန်မ is spelled "kjoon2 ma1", but read 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
ကိုယ် | ko2
as a self-descriptive first person pronoun "I". The reason could be that it sounds like the prefix ကို | 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 | အိမ့်ချစ် | 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 ကိုယ် | 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 အိမ့်ချစ် | 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
သမီး | tha1-mi3
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".
ဟိုက် ... | hite!
Burmese Exclamation! (English equivalent: "Gosh! She called me Uncle. Am I that old already?")
I once witnessed an odd situation between a young man and woman in their early 20's. She addressed to him as
အစ်ကို | a-ko2 — elder brother (used as a pronoun)
and he to her as
အစ်မ | a-ma1 — elder sister.
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 စန္ဒာ | 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
အဘိုးကြီး | a-pfo3-ji3 — old man and
အဘွားကြီး | 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 အဘိုးကြီး | a-pfo3-ji3 (old man) and အဘွားကြီး | 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
ကလေး | 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
အဘ | 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 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 (ကလေး | 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 (အဘ | 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 | Waiလျှံ) [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
သူ | thu2.
The most common terms that she will address to her boyfriend or husband in public will be
အစ်ကို | a-ko2
which means "big brother", or the word
ကို | ko2
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 + go along with + negative ending)
The gender-neutral use of
ကျုပ် | kjoat
as "I" was said to be first popularized by Burmese leader and politician Dr. Ba Maw (pronounced ဘမော် | Ba1 Mau2) during World War II because he didn't want to use
ကျွန်တော် | Kja1-nau2
"I" , 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 ဗိုလ်ရန်နိုင် | Bo Yan Naing, a member of famous ရဲဘော်သုံးကျိပ် | Thirty Comrades with General Aung San as the leader. It was odd to hear them speak ကျုပ် | Kjoat to each other, but I didn't know why they used the word at that time.
ကျွန်တော် | kja1-nau2
has evolved so much with time that today it has no association with the meaning "slave", whatsoever. However, when I hear someone says
ကျုပ် | kjoat
it gives me the impression of someone tough, straight-forward, and a bit unfriendly.
Burmese equivalent of "Mister"
kha1-mya3 can be used by both male and female speaker to address to a male person. the plural form is
ခင်ဗျားတို့ | kha1-mya3 doh1
which is closer in feeling tone to "you people" than "you gentlemen".
Burmese Gentlemen and noble friends
Why should I trust "you", stranger?
ရှင် | Shin2
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" ရှင် | 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 ကိုဇော်ဝမ်း | Ko2 Zau2-Wun3 ?” to a person named ဇော်ဝမ်း | Zaw One.
ကို | ko2 is the title to address a male of the same age or older.
မောင် | moun2 is the title to address a younger male.
ဦး | u3 is the title to address an elder male.
မ | ma1 is the title to address a female who is younger or of the same age.
ဒေါ် | 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
ညည်း | nyi3
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 မောင်ရင် | moun2-yin2
မောင်ရင် | 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
သား | tha3
meaning "son" mentioned above.
ချာတိတ်မလေး | cha2-tate ma1 lay3
means a girl. If the girl is a little older from the teenage upwards to the 20's, the word
ကောင်မလေး | koun2-ma1 lay3
young woman is used. The male term is
ကောင်လေး | koun lay3,
meaning young man.
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"?
နင် | nin2
is also used among friends. In Mandarin Chinese, 您 "nin" in Pinyin second tone is a polite term to say "you". In Burmese it is not polite to say
to someone older than you are.
Note the use of ကြ | ja1 for plural of people. Please review lesson 2 for the use of ja1.
ငါတို့ | nga2 doh1
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
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:
ကျွန်တော် | kja1-nau2 — I (male)
ကျွန်တော့ | kja1-nau1 — my (male)
သူ | thu2 — "he" or "she"
သူ့ | 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,
ကိုင်း ကိုင်း ကိုင်း | kine3, kine3, kine3...
OK, OK, enough, enough, enough...
ကျွန်တော် | kja1-nau2 — I
ဒီမှာ | de2-hma2 — here
ရပ်မယ် | yut meare2 — stop + going to