Lesson 9: Descriptive words and phrases — Burmese Adjectives
How would you describe "Nibbana", the ultimate goal of religious life under the traditional Theravada school of Buddhism? It is said to be beyond descriptions because words are inadequate to describe what is to be directly experienced. How would you tell a fish that lives in the water the beauty of the landscape in what is called "dry land"? How would you describe the color "green" to a visually-impaired person who has never seen the light of day in his life?
In the same way, finding an equivalent translation from English to Burmese and vice versa can be challenging sometimes, even for very simple expressions. For example, an English speaker will say, "What a beautiful day!" It is simple enough. In this sentence, "beautiful" is the descriptive term ( adjective) to the word "day" (noun).
If I look up the sky today with open arms and verbalize my appreciation for the beauty of the mother nature with such an utterance in Burmese:
au2... in2-ma1-tan2 hla1 deare1 nay1 ba2 la3
I wonder what will be the reaction of people around me. I have never tried saying that phrase before.
ဪ | au2 — Oh, (interjection)
အင်မတန် | in2-ma1-tan2 — extremely (adverb)
လှ | hla1 — beautiful (adjective)
တဲ့ | deare1 — such a (particle)
နေ့ | nay1 — day (noun)
ပါလား | ba2 la3 — "Oh, so, it is like that.."; ending words used to say out something loud with awe and amazement.
This sentence is perfectly acceptable and grammatically correct Burmese. If you are in the mood to be melodramatic, you can try saying that when you visit Myanmar. However, I have to warn you, this is an experimental phrase that I just came up with. I have never tested the reaction of the audience myself. But I truly think that it is a good original dramatic phrase that can be used in some Burmese movie, TV drama, or commercials.
Perhaps, Myanmar people are taking the good weather for granted, and don't bother to mention about it in an appreciative way. However, most Burmese will welcome the pleasantly cool nights and poetic misty mornings in early February compared to hot sweltering heat in mid afternoon of April.
It is interesting to note that the English expression "What a beautiful day!" has a Mandarin Chinese equivalent in Pinyin:
There is an exception, however. Burmese people living abroad who are used to harsh weather conditions like Canadian winter storms might say to each other:
ဒီနေ့ | de2-nay1 — today (this + day)
ရာသီဥတု | ya2-dthi2 u1-tu1 — weather
သိပ် | thate — very much (adverb)
ကောင်း | koun3 — good (adjective)
တာ | da2 — (particle that modifies adjective to the noun "koun3 da2": something that is good)
ပဲ | beare3 — a claim or confirmation ending words
ဒီနေ့ ရာသီဥတု သိပ်ကောင်းတာပဲ
de2-nay1 ya2-dthi2 u1-tu1 thate koun3 da2 beare3
The weather is very nice today!
which is quite close to the Mandarin Chinese expression above.
Personally, I don't think it's a right approach to think of a phrase in your language and try to translate it into Burmese. It's better to go the other way: Learn common Burmese expressions, and figure out what they mean in your language. On the other hand, you still need the knowledge of basic nouns and adjectives to be used as foundations to build up those expressions. We will go through a list of some useful nouns and adjectives later in this lesson. But, first...
Adjectives in Myanmar Language
Let's review some grammar. In English, adjective is the word class that qualifies nouns. For example, in the sentence: "He is tall", the word "tall" is the adjective that describes the quality or expresses the attribute of the person (noun).
In Myanmar Language, a class of words known as
နာမဝိသေသန | na2-ma1 we1-thay2-tha1-na1
are used in the same way as English adjectives. The word has Pali roots
နာမ | na2-ma1
meaning "name", and
ဝိသေသန | we1-thay2-tha1-na1
The Four types of Burmese Adjectives
gome2-yay2 pya1 na2-ma1 we1-thay2-tha1-na1:
Words that describe the quality of the noun as to how something or someone is.
မွှေး | hmway3 — fragrant.
ပူ | pu2 — hot.
မြန် | myan2 — fast.
သန့် | thun1 — clean.
မြင့် | myin1 — tall.
Such words are just like English adjectives and do not qualify as the three types of verbs used for actions, events, and presence.
However, they can be modified into qualitative verbal phrase gome2-yay2 pya1 ka1-ri1-ya2.
pu2 deare2 — It's hot. (verbal phrase)
Verbal adjectives are modified verbs with particle suffix appended.
ဆာသောခွေး | hsa2 dthau3 khway3 — a hungry dog. (dog that is hungry.) [literary]
ဆာတဲ့ခွေး | hsa2 deare1 khway3 — a hungry dog. (dog that is hungry.) [colloquial]
And then, there are stand-alone adjectives that do not qualify as the three types of verbs used for actions, events, and presence. But, particle suffix is still appended.
ချမ်းသာသောလူ | chan3-dtha2 dthau3 lu2 [literary]
ချမ်းသာတဲ့လူ | chan3-dtha2 deare1 lu2 [colloquial]
rich man (rich + who is/that is + man)
ဝေးသောအရပ် | way3 dthau3 a-yut [literary]
ဝေးတဲ့အရပ် | way3 deare1 a-yut [colloquial]
far away place (far + who is/that is + region)
In direct translation, it will be like: "man who is rich" and "region that is far". In the first example, the adjective clause
ချမ်းသာတဲ့ | chan3-dtha2 deare1 (adjective)
describes what kind of a man (noun) the person is. In the second example, the adjective clause
ဝေးတဲ့ | way3 deare1
describes what kind of place (noun) it is.
Note: Myanmar-English Dictionary (2011) by MLC defines ချမ်းသာ | chan3-dtha2 as a verb, whereas Myanmar-Myanmar Dictionary (2013) by MLC defines it as an adjective. It is debatable. My verdict: Myanmar-Myanmar version published in the later year is correct since the word does not really fit into the three types of verbs for actions, occurence (events), and presence.
On the other hand, both versions agree ဆာ | hsa2 is a verb to describe an event or occurence that happens,
a-hnyoon3 na2-ma1 we1-thay2-tha1-na1:
Words that make reference to something or someone.
ဤလမ်း | e2 lun3 [literary]
ဒီလမ်း | de2 lun3 [colloquial]
this road (this + road)
အခြားနည်းလမ်း | a-cha3 ni3-lun3 [literary]
တခြားနည်းလမ်း | ta1-cha3 ni3-lun3 [colloquial]
other methods (other + method)
thin2-cha2 na2-ma1 we1-thay2-tha1-na1:
words that describe "how many" of something, "what position" in an ordered list, and unspecified numbers are in this category. It is further classified into three types:
a-yay2-a-twet pya1 thin2-cha2 na2-ma1 we1-thay2-tha1-na1 :
words with numbers followed by measure words also known as numerical classifiers.
လူဆယ်ယောက် | lu2 hseare2 yout
10 people (people + 10 + measure word)
To be qualified as an adjective clause, there must be a noun such as lu2 above. If ဆယ်ယောက် | hseare2 yout is used to substitute the noun lu2 without mentioning it, the word is considered a pronoun.
ဆယ်ယောက်လာတယ် | hseare2 yout la2 deare2
ten came. (10 + measure word + come + affirmative)
a-sin2 pya1 thin2-cha2 na2-ma1 we1-thay2-tha1-na1:
words that show position in the ordered list of numbers such as first, second, third.
(၂၁) ကြိမ်မြောက် မွေးနေ့
hna1-hseare1 da1-jain2 myout mway3-nay1
(21 + measure word + particle to show number of times + birthday)
Here's the break-down word by word. Note how the above adjective and noun are formed by combining words. Also note slight change in pronunciations when spoken word by word.
(၂၁) | hna1-hseare1 tit — 21 (noun)
ကြိမ် | kjain2 — measure word (particle)
မြောက် | myout — suffix word to show number of times (particle)
မွေး | mway3 — be born (verb)
နေ့ | nay1 — day (noun)
pa1-ma2-na1 pya1 thin2-cha2 na2-ma1 we1-thay2-tha1-na1 :
words that are used as quantifiers but without numbers.
လူတချို့ | lu2 ta1-cho1
a-may3 na2-ma1 we1-thay2-tha1-na1:
lu2 beare2 hna1-yout la2 leare3
How many people came?
(people + how many + measure word + come)
ယောက် | yout (particle) is the measure word for number of people. It can be considered as part of the adjective clause as shown above.
To qualify as a question of adjective type, the question must have a noun, e.g., lu2 above.
If the noun is omitted, ဘယ်နှယောက် | beare2 hna1-yout will be considered as a question of pronoun type.
beare2 hna1-yout la2 leare3
how many came?
The same rule with the requirement of the noun in the sentence applies for other question words both in colloquial and literary forms:
မည်မျှ | myi2 hmya1 — how many [literary]
ဘယ်လို | beare2 lo2 — how [colloquial]
မည်သည့် | myi2 dthi1 — which [literary]
ဘယ်လောက် | beare2 lout — how much [colloquial
ဘာ | ba2 — what [colloquial]
Two types of Burmese Adjectives by Construction
pin2-go2 na2-ma1 we1-thay2-tha1-na1
မြန် | myan2 — fast.
poun3-sut na2-ma1 we1-thay2-tha1-na1
thun1-shin3-dthau3 — clean. (literary)
It's not necessary to combine two adjectives.
zweare3 koun3 deare1 — persevering. (colloquial)
Three levels of Burmese Adjectives
သာမန်အဆင့် | tha2-mun2 a-hsin1
သာလွန်အဆင့် | tha2-loon2 a-hsin1
အသာလွန်ဆုံးအဆင့် | a-tha2-loon2-zone3 a-hsin1
Please refer to lesson 30 for a long list of adjectives in Comparative and Superlative forms.
Physical Descriptions for People
a-yut myin1 deare2
He/she is a tall person.
(height of a person + tall + confirmation)
a-yut pu1 deare2
He/she is a short person.
(height of a person + short + confirmation)
If you would like to stress that he/she is very tall or very short, say like this:
a-yut a-myin1-ji3 beare3
He/she is very tall.
(height of a person + height + to a high degree, level, or class + exactly)
Mandarin Chinese Equivalent in Pinyin:
a-yut pu1-pu1 lay3 beare3
[He/she implicitly implied] is very short.
(height of a person + short + short + little + exactly)
ရှည် | shay2 means "long" to describe objects and creatures that grow lengthwise such as snakes.
mway2 a-shay2-ji3 beare3 ha1
I just saw a long snake!
(snake + long to a high degree, level, or class + emphasis:"exactly" + exclamation)
It is not a correct Burmese to describe the height of a person as ရှည် | shay2, but you will hear some Myanmar people say that, anyway. However, you can use shay2 if the person has a long hair.
ခပ် | khut (adverb)
is like the English word "somewhat", or "rather" which is less in degree than "very" and "extreme".
za1-bin2 khut shay2-shay2 beare3
His/her hair is a bit long.
(hair + somewhat + long + long + exactly)
za1-bin2 a-shay2-ji3 beare3
He/she is someone with very long hair.
(hair + long + to a high degree, level, or class + exactly)
za1-bin2 toh2-doh2-lay3 beare3
He/she is the one with very short hair.
(hair + short + short + little + exactly)
You can drop "very" from the sentence, but you must use
တယ် | deare2
ပဲ | beare3.
The ending word beare3 is an emphasis word and has more stress to it, whereas deare2 is just a positive statement. It is a postpositional marker that can form verb phrases comparable to "is" and "has" in English.
za1-bin2 toh2 deare2
He/she has a short hair.
(hair + short + affirmation)
a-tha3 meare3 deare2
He/she has a dark complexion.
(skin + black + affirmation)
a-tha3 pfyu2 deare2
He/she has a light complexion.
(skin + white + affirmation)
I used to regularly listen to online Audio Dharma talk by Gil Fronsdal, a Norwegian-born American ex-Buddhist monk who got married, got a kid, got a Stanford post-graduate degree and became a Buddhist teacher.
I couldn't care less if his skin color was black or brown or yellow or painted himself green and red because he's open-minded, intelligent, and beautiful inside.
In that aspect, I am a different breed from many Burmese people who have a general preference for fair skin.
One reason is because those who must toil under the sun everyday — farmers, laborers and general workers doing their hard day's work tend to have tanned skin and they don't accumulate as much wealth as office dwellers living in their comfort zone.
There is an unwritten social stigma and prejudice against those with weathered, rugged, and sun-baked dark skin by the society at large, and this is reflected by the lyrics in this song:
"My skin is a little dark and I am married also. But, I can still have some fun..."
[In a sense, let me give it a try and see how far I can go.]
အသား | a-tha3 — skin
နည်းနည်း | neare3-neare3 — a little
မည်းတယ် | meare3 deare2 — have dark color.
ဝတယ် | wa1 deare2
He/she is a plump person.
(fat + affirmation)
Note that unlike the other Burmese expressions for the height, hair or the skin complexion as in "the height is tall", "the hair is short", "skin is dark" and so on, Burmese people don't say "body is fat". It is understood that wa1 refers to the body of the person in the conversation.
ပိန်တယ် | pain2 deare2
He/she is slim.
(slim + affirmation)
Use the above sentences to describe a person in a situation when someone asks you what the person looks like. Note the omission of "he/she" as it is redundant and implicitly implied.
However, if you are the one to start the conversation, it's better to include the pronoun "he/she", "that man" or "that woman" with different sentence construction:
thu2 thate wa1 da2 beare3
He/she is so fat!
(he/she + very + fat + that is + affirmation)
de2 main3-ma1 thate pain2 da2 beare3
That woman is so slim!
(this + woman + very + slim + that is the case + exactly)
thu2 thate pain2 da2 beare3 nau2
Look at her! She's is so slim!
(he/she + very + slim + that is the case + exactly + statement of awe and wonder)
The speaker is saying the above sentence with နော် | nau2 ending to a close person in a clique as they are looking at someone. Please refer back to lesson 3 for the use of နော် | nau2 ending word.
hla1 lite da2
[You are / She is / It is] so lovely!
(pretty, beautiful + so much!)
yoat-hso3 lite da2
[He / She / It] looks so ugly!
(physical or facial features + bad + so much!)
Myanmar people won't normally say in your face that you are so ugly. However, they are likely to say it behind your back.
Descriptions for psychological behaviors, manners, attitudes and personalities
ဒီကောင်မလေး | de2 koun2-ma1 lay3 — this + girl
အရမ်း | a-yan3 — extremely
တော် | tau2 — bright; capable of doing an excellent job
တာပဲ | da2 beare3 — ending affirmation words (that is + affirmation)
ဒီကောင်မလေး အရမ်း တော်တာပဲ
de2 koun2-ma1 lay3 a-yan3 tau2 da2 beare3 — That girl is extremely bright!
ဒီကောင်လေး | de2 koun2-lay3 — this + boy
သိပ် | thate — very
ညံ့ | nyan1 — lousy; sloppy
တာပဲ | da2 beare3 — ending affirmation words (that is + affirmation)
de2 koun2-lay3 thate nyan1 da2 beare3 — That boy is so sloppy/lousy!
Is the word tau2 a verb or an adjective? Myanmar Language commission (MLC) defines ညံ့ | nyan1 as an adjective and တော် | tau2 as a verb.
Well, many of such words can be used as either verbs or adjectives depending on how the sentence is constructed. Myanmar grammar can be fuzzy with grey areas in the colloquial language.
Maybe that's why Myanmar-English dictionary (2011) by the MLC seems to contradict itself and also inconsistent with its Myanmar to Myanmar Dictionary (2013) for several words.
A simple test is to ask if the stand-alone word belongs to the three types of verbs for action, occurrence (event), and presence by definition. Or, does it describe the quality of something? Again, there can be grey areas where the word may belong to both. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
လူတော် | lu2 dau2 — smart man.
တော်တာ | tau2 da2 is used as an adjective reference to the quality of "the girl".
You can use the same logic to ask "Who is the smart one?" as an adjective
In English, "that boy" sounds more natural than "this boy". It's like you are talking about "that boy" from the distance.
But, in Burmese,
ဒီကောင်လေး | de2 koun2-lay3 (this boy around here)
is more natural than
ဟိုကောင်လေး | ho2 koun2-lay3 (that boy) from far away.
That's why "this" in burmese is translated as "that" in English for the above sentences. Isn't that odd?
ဒီလူ | de2 lu2 — that man (this + man)
သဘော | dtha1-bau3 — attitude
အရမ်း | a-yan3 — extremely
ကောင်း | koun3 — good
တာပဲ | da2 beare3 — ending words used to express a heart-felt opinion.
ဟ | ha1! — exclamation!!
This sentence will still work without this word, but it will sound more lively if you add it in.
ဒီလူ သဘော အရမ်းကောင်းတာပဲဟ
de2 lu2 dtha1-bau3 a-yan3 koun3 da2 beare3 ha1!
That man is very kind!
Note that "attitude" (noun) + "good" (adjective) roughly means kind. In English, "kind" is an adjective. But in Burmese, သဘောကောင်း | dtha1-bau3 koun3 is a verb meaning to be kind and good natured.
However, in the above sentence, "extremely" (adverb) breaks up "kind" into two parts by inserting between "attitude" and "good". Then, I can argue that koun3 refers to the attitude that is "extremely" good.
Yes, Myanmar people will not only speak bad about you behind your back; they will also praise you behind your back — if you are really good, that is.
ဒီမိန်းမ သဘော အရမ်းကောင်းတာပဲ
de2 main3-ma1 tha1-bau3 a-yan3 koun3 da2 beare3
That woman is so kind!
(that + woman + attitude + extremely + good.)
ဒီမိန်းမ | de2 main3-ma1 — that woman
စိတ် | sate — psychological
သဘောထား | dtha1-bau3-hta3 — tendency; attitude
မကောင်းဘူး | ma1-koun3 bu3 — not good
ဒီမိန်းမ စိတ်သဘောထား မကောင်းဘူး
de2 main3-ma1 sate dtha1-bau3-hta3 ma1-koun3 bu3
That woman has a bad attitude
(to the degree of wicked and evil.)
ကောင်းတယ် | koun3 deare2 — positive statement roughly equivalent to "is good" is negated by the negative particle မ | ma1 and negative ending ဘူး | bu3 with the adjective ကောင်း | koun3 in between.
တဲ့ | deare1 in the first tone refers to the woman (မိန်းမ | main3-ma1) who is despicable (ယုတ်မာ | yoat-ma2). It is a particle in Burmese grammar equivalent to the conjunction "that" in English grammar: The woman "that" is or "who" is despicable.
ဒီလူ | de2 lu2 — that man
လူကောင်း | lu2 goun3 — good man (man + good.)
ပါ | ba2 — statement.
de2 lu2 lu2-goun3 ba2
He is a good man!
Note that "good" is usually pronounced koun3, but here, it's more natural to say goun3.
Also note that this sentence does not use တဲ့ | deare1 to describe the noun လူ | lu2.
With that positive note, lesson 9 is ended. Describing things in color adjectives will be continued in lesson 10.