In my continuing interest in this pair of closely related languages I have noticed each uses an unrleated word for the negative particle meaning "no", "not", etc.

  • Thai: ไม่ (mai)
  • Lao: ບໍ່ (bo)

Does Thai have have a reflex etymologically related to Lao "ບໍ່"? Does Lao have a reflex etymologically related to Thai "ไม่"? Do we know the origin of this difference?

Bonus question: Which words are used in Isan and Zhuang?

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    ບໍ່ seems to cognate with 不, much like ไม่/没. I have also heard of แล้ว/了 pair. Isaan use บ่อ for ບໍ່. Sep 19, 2013 at 11:21
  • @bytebuster It sure sounds like you can submit an answer (-: Sep 19, 2013 at 11:28
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    Let's keep the opportunity open to someone who can provide with some credible links. I will be happy to learn from it as well! :) Sep 19, 2013 at 11:40
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    In the meantime I used your contributions in my requests for etymology on the relevant entries in Wiktionary. Sep 19, 2013 at 11:41

2 Answers 2


Wouldn’t Thai เปล่า be the etymological equivalent of Lao ບໍ່ ? My impression is that เปล่า is mainly used as a question tag and response, as in

เป็นหวัดหรือเปล่า? (Do you have a cold?) เปล่า (No.)

(ไม่ would also be possible here, but sounds more formal.)

But the Longdo dictionary entry also has it in preverbal position:

นักเรียนพูดกับครูว่า ผมเปล่าลอกข้อสอบนะครับ (The student said to the teacher, “I didn’t copy the test, sir.”)

That entry also shows เปล่า being used as a content word “bare, empty, in vain” and gives the expressive pairing เปล่าเปลี่ยว “lonesome”. So clearly there are some differences in usage from Lao.

If we’re looking for Sprachbund-type parallels, Burmese might be of interest.

chánaw thwà deh (I go) chánaw má thwà bù (I don’t go)

Note the negation with má… bù, rather like a ne… pas construction in French. Here’s the Longdo entry for เปล่า: Longdo

  • Hmm I certainly don't recall coming across anything in Lao that's a closer match for เปล่า so you could be right. Oct 22, 2013 at 5:12
  • Then again, the Lao word for "empty" is ເປົ່າ, which does look like the reflex of เปล่า. I can't find any senses for ເປົ່າ which are not content words though. Oct 22, 2013 at 5:20
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    About Zhuang: according to Luo Yongxian in the Routledge Tai-Kadai volume, the most general negative word is bau (mid-tone), and this is “found across the Tai language family.” If that’s the case, maybe it’s not worth speculating about เปล่า as a content word that grammaticalized. Instead, we might focus on Thai ไม่ as an innovation or borrowing. I checked the entry for 沒 in Axel Schuessler’s ‘ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese,’ but no leads there. By the way, Schuessler pays quite a bit of attention to mainland Southeast Asian languages in his etymologies, esp. Austroasiatic.
    – neubau
    Oct 23, 2013 at 3:04
  • As far as I know, the use of เปล่า in ผมเปล่าลอกข้อสอบนะครับ was sub-standard in Thai 30-40 years ago. Even today, it can still be considered informal at best. Dec 29, 2013 at 9:24

บ is used in Thai as a negative particle in poetic contexts, I think. For example, in the บทสวดมนต์ สรภัญญะ  : ตัดมูลเกลสมาร, บ มิหม่นมิหมองมัว "Who have cut the roots of defilements and are not sorrowful, not dark and gloomy." Translation source: http://paultrafford.blogspot.com/2013/03/a-buddha-prayer-song-translated.html?m=1

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    I think you're right. Here's another example, from the Matichon dictionary: เข่นฆ่ามหาอสุรแรง ฤทธิห้าว บ ห่อนเอ “[He] stabbed and killed the powerful asura, and his power was great [not a little]”. This is from the poem Samuttakhote, so maybe as early as the 1680s (King Narai).
    – neubau
    Nov 25, 2013 at 1:32

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