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မြန်မာစာ (written Burmese)
မြန်မာစကား (spoken Burmese)
Pronunciation [mjã̀mmàzà]
Spoken in Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore
Total speakers First language: 32 million
Second language: 10 million
Ranking 34
Language family Sino-Tibetan
Writing system Burmese abugida
Official status
Official language in Burma
Regulated by Myanmar Language Commission
Language codes
ISO 639-1 my
ISO 639-2 bur (B)  mya (T)
ISO 639-3 mya
Indic script
This page contains Indic text. Without rendering support you may see irregular vowel positioning and a lack of conjuncts. More...

The Burmese language (Burmese: မြန်မာဘာသာ; IPA: [mjã̀mmà bàθà]; MLCTS: myanma bhasa) is the official language of Burma. Although the constitution officially recognizes it as the Myanmar language, most continue to refer to the language as Burmese. It is the native language of the Bamar and other related sub-ethnic groups of the Bamar. It is spoken by 32 million as a first language, and as a second language by ethnic minorities in Burma.

Burmese is a member of the Tibeto-Burman language family, which is a subfamily of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. Burmese is a tonal and analytic language. The language uses the Burmese script, derived from the Mon script and ultimately from the Brāhmī script.


Literary language and spoken language

This article contains Burmese script. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Burmese characters.

Burmese language, literary and spoken, is called မြန်မာဘာသာ ([mjã̀mmà bàθà]), with ဘာသာ from Pali bhasa, which means language. The language is classified into two categories. One is formal, used in literary works, official publications, radio broadcasts, and formal speeches. The other is colloquial, used in daily conversation. This is reflected in Burmese words for "language": စာ ca [sà] refers to written, literary language, and စကား ca.ka: [zəɡá] refers to spoken language. Burmese therefore can mean either မြန်မာစာ mranma ca (written Burmese), or မြန်မာစကား mranma ca.ka: (spoken Burmese). The မြန်မာ mranma portion of these names may be pronounced [mjàmmà] or, more colloquially, ဗမာ ([bəmà]).



Diglossia occurs to a large extent in Burmese. The discrepancy is quite large, and many linguists consider formal Burmese to be a separate language from colloquial Burmese. The written and prestige form of Burmese has undergone only a few changes and tends not to accommodate the colloquial phonology of standard Burmese today. The Burmese saying "the pronunciation is merely the sound, whilst the orthography is correct" (ဖတ်တော့အသံ၊ ရေးတော့အမှန် [pʰaʔ dɔ̰ ʔəθã̀ jé dɔ̰ ʔəm̥ã̀]) reflects upon the differences between spoken and written Burmese, as spelling is often not an accurate reflection of pronunciation.

In addition, different particles (to modify nouns and verbs) are used in the prestige form from those used in the spoken form. Literate Burmese speakers are able to intuitively interpret ancient Burmese despite inscriptions that date many centuries due to innate pronunciation rules. For example, (hnai.), which serves as a postposition after nouns is only used in formal Burmese, and is မှာ (hma) in colloquial Burmese.

A newer system of orthography for Burmese (one based on phonology) has been proposed to accommodate such differences, but an obstacle in reforming Burmese orthography lies in the existence of conservative Burmese dialects that retain older pronunciations more similar to formal Burmese, which primarily come from coastal areas like Rakhine State. In addition, some Burmese linguists have proposed shifting away from formal Burmese, as seen in television broadcasts, which use the vernacular. However, formal Burmese remains well-established in Burmese society. Furthermore, since the mid-1960s, there has been a reform movement by some Burmese writers (in particular, leftist writers, who believe laymen's language ought to be used) to abandon the formal style in favour of the vernacular style in writing, but the formal style remains the preferred form of Burmese writing, because "the spoken style lacks gravity, authority, dignity".[1][2] The formal written style remains used throughout Burmese literature, in radio news bulletins, formal letters, novels, journalism and books on serious or educational matters.[1]

A sample sentence below reveals that much of the differences between formal and colloquial Burmese occurs in the particles:

Formal ရှစ်လေးလုံးအရေးအခင်း ဖြစ် သောအခါက လူ ဦးရေ သုံးထောင် မျှ သေဆုံး ကြ ခဲ့ သည်။
Colloquial ရှစ်လေးလုံးအရေးအခင်း ဖြစ် တုံးက လူ အယောက် သုံးထောင် လောက် သေ ခဲ့ တယ်။
Gloss noun verb part. noun part. adj. part. verb part. part. part.
(8888 Uprising) (happen) (when it occurred) (people) (counter word) 3,000 (approx.) (die) (plural marker) (past tense) (sentence final)
Translation When the 8888 Uprising occurred, approximately 3,000 died.

Colloquial Burmese has various politeness levels. The actual first and second person pronouns of the language ငါ (nga [ŋà]; "I; me") and နင် ([nĩ̀]; "you") are used with only the closest people of the same or younger age. The use of nga and nin with the elders and strangers is considered extremely rude or vulgar. To address elders, teachers and strangers, polite speech employs feudal-era third person pronouns in lieu of first and second person pronouns. One must refer to oneself in third person: ကျွန်တော် (kya. nau [tʃənɔ̀]) for males, and ကျွန်မ (kya. ma. [tʃəma̰]) for females, both meaning "your servant") and refer to the addressee as မင်း (min [mĩ́]; "your highness") , ခင်ဗျား (khin bya: [kəmjá]; "master lord")[3] or ရှင် (shin [ʃĩ̀]; "ruler/master"). So ingrained are these terms in the daily polite speech that people use them as the first and second person pronouns without giving a second thought to the root meaning of these pronouns.

When speaking to a person of the same status or of younger age, nga and nin may be used. Still, most choose to use third person pronouns to be safe. For example, an older person may use daw-lay (aunt) or u-lay (uncle) to refer to oneself, and address the younger person as either tha (son) or thami (daughter). When speaking to a monk, a person must refer to the monk as poun-poun and to himself as daga (ဒဂါ (da. ga [dəɡà]), or dabyidaw/dabyidawma. (Burmese monks may speak to fellow monks using Pāli, and it is expected of faithful Burmese Buddhists to have a basic knowledge of Pāli.)

Despite the large differences, Burmese speakers rarely distinguish formal and colloquial Burmese as separate languages, but rather as two registers of the same language.

Dialects and accents

Despite its Upper Burmese origins, the standard dialect of Burmese today comes from Yangon, because of the largest city's media influence. It used to be that the speech from Mandalay represented standard Burmese. Still most differences between Yangon (Lower Burma) and Mandalay (Upper Burma) are not in the accent or pronunciation but in the vocabulary usage. For example, the most noticeable feature of the Mandalay dialect is its use of the pronoun ကျွန်တော် (kya. nau [tʃənɔ̀]) for both males and females, whereas in Yangon, ကျွန်မ (kya. ma. [tʃəma̰]) refers to females. Moreover, Upper Burmese speech still differentiates maternal and paternal sides of relatives whereas Lower Burmese speech no longer does.

For example:

Term Lower Burmese Upper Burmese
  • maternal aunt (older)
  • maternal aunt (younger)
  • daw-gyi (or kyikyi)
  • daw-lay
  • daw-gyi (or kyikyi)
  • daw-lay
  • paternal aunt (older)
  • paternal aunt (younger)
  • daw-gyi (or kyikyi)
  • daw-lay
  • ah-yi-gyi or yi-gyi
  • ah-yi-lay or yi-lay
  • maternal uncle (older)
  • maternal uncle (younger)
  • ba-gyi
  • u-lay
  • u-gyi
  • u-lay
  • paternal uncle (older)
  • paternal uncle (younger)
  • ba-gyi
  • u-lay
  • ba-gyi
  • ba-lay

In a testament to the power of media, the Yangon-based speech is gaining currency even in Upper Burma. Upper Burmese-specific usage, while historically and technically accurate, is increasingly viewed as countrified speech, or at best regional speech.

More distinctive accent and word usage differences emerge as one moves farther away from the Ayeyarwady valley towards peripheral areas of the country. Dialects include Merguese, Yaw, Palaw, Beik (Myeik), and Dawei (Tavoyan). The Rakhine dialect (Arakanese) is most reminiscent of archaic Burmese, especially in its usage of the [r] sound, which has become a [j] sound in standard Burmese. Dialects in Tanintharyi Division (such as Beik) often reduce the intensity of the glottal stop. The Dawei dialect has preserved the [-l-] medial, which is only found in Old Burmese inscriptions. Despite vocabulary and pronunciation differences, there is mutual intelligibility among the dialects.


The majority of Burmese vocabulary is monosyllabic and is of Tibeto-Burman stock, although many words, especially those loaned from other languages, are polysyllabic. Burmese has been influenced greatly by Pali, English, and Mon, and to a lesser extent, by Chinese, Sanskrit and Hindi.

  • Pali loan words are often related to religion, government, arts, and science.
  • English loan words are often related to technology, measurements and modern institutions.
  • Mon has heavily influenced Burmese, and many loan words have become so well incorporated in the Burmese language that they are not distinguished as loan words. Mon loans are often related to flora, fauna, administration, textiles, foods, boats, crafts, architecture, and music.[1]
  • Sanskrit (religion), Chinese (games and food), and Hindi (food, administration, and shipping) loan words are also found (albeit to a much lesser degree) in Burmese.[1]
  • Various other languages have also contributed vocabulary

Here is a sample of loan words found in Burmese:

  • suffering: ဒုက္ခ ([doʔkʰa̰]), from Pāli dukkha
  • radio: ရေဒီယို ([rèdìjò]), from English "radio"
  • method: စနစ် ([səniʔ]), from Mon
  • eggroll: ကော်ပြန့် ([kɔ̀pjã̰]), from Hokkien 潤餅 (jūn-piáⁿ)
  • wife: ဇနီး ([zəní]), from Hindi jani
  • noodle: ခေါက်ဆွဲ ([kʰaʊʔ sʰwé]), from Shan ၶဝ်ႈသဵၼ်ႈ ([kʰāw sʰēn])
  • foot (unit of measurement): ပေ ([pè]), from Portuguese
  • flag: အလံ ([əlã̀]), from Arabic language علم ʕalam
  • storeroom: ([ɡodãʊ̃]), from Malay gudang

Burmese tends to have many synonyms of the same word, each having certain usages, such as formal, literary, colloquial, and poetic. One example is the word "moon", which can be (la̰; Tibeto-Burman), စန္ဒာ/စန်း ([sàndà]/[sã́]); Pali derivatives of chanda), or သော်တာ ([θɔ̀ dà] (Sanskrit).[4]

Burmese also has a tendency to 'double-loan' from Pali, where it adopts two different terms based on the same Pali root.[5] An example is Pali mana, which in Burmese has two derivatives, မာန (màna̰), or 'arrogance' and မာန် ([mã̀]), or 'pride').

Furthermore, Burmese loan words, especially from Pali, often attach Burmese words to Pali roots. An example is "airplane" လေယာဉ်ပျံ ([lèi jĩ̀ bjã̀], literally "air machine fly"), which includes လေ (native Burmese word, "air"), ယာဉ် (Pali loan derived from yana, "vehicle") and ပျံ (native Burmese word, "fly").[5] A similar trend is seen in English, where native Burmese words are attached to English loans, such as in the verb "to sign" ဆိုင်းထိုး ([sʰã́ĩ tʰó] "sign inscribe"), with ဆိုင်း (English loan "sign") and ထိုး (native Burmese word "inscribe").[5] In the case of Mon loans, they are indistinguishable in most cases because they were more often borrowed from speech rather than writing, because for several centuries, Burmese and Mon were interchangeably used in modern-day Burma.[5]

At times, the Burmese government has attempted to limit usage of Western loans, especially from English. For example, in Burma, publications containing the word တယ်လီဗီးရှင် (directly transliterated from English 'television') must be replaced with a Burmese substitute ရုပ်မြင်သံကြား, literally 'see picture, hear sound.' Another common English word loan that has fallen out of usage is ယူနီဗာစတီ ([jùnìbàsətì]), which has been replaced with a recent Pali loan တက္ကသိုလ် ([teʔkəðò]), created by the Burmese government and named after an ancient university town in modern-day Pakistan called Taxila.


Sampling of various Burmese script styles

The Burmese language is generally divided into: Old Burmese, Middle Burmese and modern Burmese. Old Burmese dates from 11th to 16th century (Pagan (Bagan) and Ava (Innwa) dynasties); Middle Burmese from 16th to 18th century (Taungoo to Konbaung dynasties); modern Burmese from the mid-18th century (Konbaung dynasty) to the present.[1] These period divisions are largely because of orthography changes (which followed shifts in phonology, such as the merging of the [-l-] and [-r-] medials) rather than transformations in Burmese grammatical structure and phonology, which has not changed much from Old Burmese to modern Burmese.[1]

Written Burmese dates to the reign of King Kyanzittha (r. 1084-1113). The Mon script, which descended from the Brāhmī script, was adapted with many changes to suit the phonology of Burmese for transcribing spoken Burmese. The earliest evidence of written Burmese is the Myazedi stone inscription (written in 1113), which was a story about King Kyanzittha as told by his son Prince Yazakumar in four scripts: Pyu, Mon, Pali, and Burmese. During the Pagan era, the medial [-l-] (္လ) was transcribed in writing, which has been replaced by medials [-j-] () and [-r-] () in modern Burmese (e.g. "school" in old Burmese က္လောင် ([klɔŋ]) compared to modern Burmese ကျောင်း ([tʃã́ũ]).[6]

The Burmese script is characterized by its circular letters and diacritics. It is an abugida, with all letters having an inherent vowel (a. [a̰] or [ə]). Tone markings are in the form of diacritics placed to the left, right, top, and bottom of letters, but are not always indicative of the proper tone. Likewise, written Burmese has preserved all nasalized finals ([-n, m, -ŋ]), which have merged to [-n] in spoken Burmese. The exception is [-ɲ], which, in spoken Burmese, can be one of many open vowels ([i, e, ɛ]). Likewise, other consonantal finals ([-s, -p, -t, -k]) have been reduced to [-ʔ]. Similar mergers are seen in other Sino-Tibetan languages like Shanghainese, and to a lesser extent, Cantonese.

Much of the orthography in written Burmese today can be traced back to Middle Burmese, which had a wider range of finals. Standardized tone marking was not achieved until the 1700s. From the 1800s onward, orthographers created spellers to reform Burmese spelling, because of confusions and ambiguities arose over spelling sounds that had been merged.[1] During colonial rule under the British, spelling was standardized through dictionaries and spellers. The latest spelling authority, named the Myanma Salonpaung Thatpon Kyan မြန်မာစာလုံးပေါင်းသတ်ပုံကျမ်း)), was compiled in 1978 at the request of the Burmese government.[1]


The transcriptions in this section use the International Phonetic Alphabet.


The consonants of Burmese are as follows:

Bilabial Dental Alveolar Postalveolar
and palatal
Velar and
Glottal Placeless
Plosive and Affricate p b t d tʃʰ k ɡ ʔ  
Nasal m n ɲ̥ ɲ ŋ̊ ŋ   N
Fricative   θ (ð) s z ʃ   h  
Approximant   (ɹ) j (w̥) w  
Lateral   l  

The approximant /ɹ/ is rare, and is only used in place names that have preserved Sanskrit or Pali pronunciations (e.g. Amarapura, which is pronounced [àməɹa̰pùɹa̰]) and in English-derived words. Historically, /ɹ/ became /j/ in Burmese, and is usually replaced by /j/ in Pāli loanwords, e.g. ရဟန္တာ (ra.hanta) /jəhàNdà/ "monk", ရာဇ (raja.) /jàza̰/ "king". Occasionally it is replaced with /l/, as in the case of the Pali-derived word for "animal" တိရစ္ဆာန် (ti.rac hcan), which can be pronounced [təɹeiʔ sʰàn] or [təleiʔ sʰàn]. Likewise, /hw/ is rare, having disappeared from modern Burmese, except in transcriptions of foreign names. [ð] is uncommon, except as a voiced allophone of /θ/.

The phones /pʰ, p/ are often pronounced /b/, /kʰ, k/ as /ɡ/, /tʃʰ, tʃ/ as /dʒ/, and /sʰ, s/ as /z/ in compound words. /dʒ/, when following a nasalized final can become a /j/ sound. For example, "blouse" (အင်္ကျီ ang kyi) can be pronounced /èiNdʒí/ or /èiNjí/. However, this effect only occurs in compound words. Burmese has a tendency to pronounce words with /p, pʰ, b, t, tʰ, d/ as /m/ when those phones are spelled in compound words. Examples include တိုင်ပင် ("to consult" [tã̀ĩm pĩ̀], commonly pronounced [tã̀ĩm mĩ̀]), တောင်းပန် ("to apologize" [tã́ʊ̃m bã̀], commonly pronounced [tã́ʊ̃m mã̀]), လေယာဉ်ပျံ ("airplane" [lèi jĩ̀m pjã̀], commonly pronounced [lèi mjã̀]).

The placeless nasal /N/ is realized as nasalization of the preceding vowel or as a nasal homorganic to the following consonant; thus /mòuNdáiN/ "storm" is pronounced [mõ̀ũndã́ĩ].

In many Burmese words, aspirated consonant indicate active voice or a transitive verb, while unaspirated consonants indicate passive voice or an intransitive verb. Examples include the verb "cook," where the aspirated version ချက် ([tʃʰɛʔ]) means "cook", while the unaspirated ကျက်([tʃɛʔ]) means "to be cooked". Another example is "lessen", where the aspirated version ဖြေ ([pʰjè]) means "lessen" (transitive) while the unaspirated version ပြေ ([pjè]) means "lessen" (intransitive).


The vowels of Burmese are:

Monophthongs Diphthongs
Front Back Front offglide Back offglide
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Mid ə
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a

The monophthongs /e/, /o/, /ə/, and /ɔ/ occur only in open syllables (those without a syllable coda); the diphthongs /ei/, /ou/, /ai/, and /au/ occur only in closed syllables (those with a syllable coda).


Burmese is a tonal language, which means phonemic contrasts can be made on the basis of the tone of a vowel. In Burmese, these contrasts involve not only pitch, but also phonation, intensity (loudness), duration, and vowel quality. There are four contrastive tones in Burmese. In the following table the tones are shown marked on the vowel /a/ as an example; the phonetic descriptions are from Wheatley (1987).

Tone name Symbol
(shown on a)
Low (နိမ့်သံ) à Normal phonation, medium duration, low intensity, low (often slightly rising) pitch
High (တက်သံ) á Sometimes slightly breathy, relatively long, high intensity, high pitch; often with a fall before a pause
Creaky (သက်သံ) tense or creaky phonation (sometimes with lax glottal stop), medium duration, high intensity, high (often slightly falling) pitch
Checked (တိုင်သံ) Centralized vowel quality, final glottal stop, short duration, high pitch (in citation; can vary in context)

For example, the following words are distinguished from each other only on the basis of tone:

  • Low /kʰà/ "shake"
  • High /kʰá/ "be bitter"
  • Creaky /kʰa̰/ "fee"
  • Checked /kʰaʔ/ "draw off"

In syllables ending with /N/, the Checked tone is excluded:

  • Low /kʰàN/ "undergo"
  • High /kʰáN/ "dry up"
  • Creaky /kʰa̰N/ "appoint"

However, in present-day spoken Burmese, some linguists classify two real tones (there are four nominal tones transcribed in written Burmese), "high" (applied to words that terminate with a stop or check, high-rising pitch) and "ordinary" (unchecked and non-glottal words, with falling or lower pitch), with those tones encompassing a variety of pitches.[7] The "ordinary" tone consists of a range of pitches. Linguist L. F. Taylor has concluded that "conversational rhythm and euphonic intonation possess importance" not found in related tonal languages and that "its tonal system is now in an advanced state of decay."[7][8]

Syllable structure

The syllable structure of Burmese is C(G)V((V)C), which is to say the onset consists of a consonant optionally followed by a glide, and the rime consists of a monophthong alone, a monophthong with a consonant, or a diphthong with a consonant. The only consonants that can stand in the coda are /ʔ/ and /N/. Some representative words are:

  • CV /mè/ 'girl'
  • CVC /mɛʔ/ 'crave'
  • CGV /mjè/ 'earth'
  • CGVC /mjɛʔ/ 'eye'
  • CVVC /màuN/ (term of address for young men)
  • CGVVC /mjáuN/ 'ditch'

A minor syllable has some restrictions:

  • It contains /ə/ as its only vowel
  • It must be an open syllable (no coda consonant)
  • It cannot bear tone
  • It has only a simple (C) onset (no glide after the consonant)
  • It must not be the final syllable of the word

Some examples of words containing minor syllables:

  • /kʰə.louʔ/ 'knob'
  • /pə.lwè/ 'flute'
  • /θə.jɔ̀/ 'mock'
  • /kə.lɛʔ/ 'be wanton'
  • /tʰə.mə.jè/ 'rice-water'


The word order of the Burmese language is subject-object-verb. Pronouns in Burmese vary according to the gender and status of the audience. Burmese is monosyllabic, that is, every word is a root to which a particle but not another word may be prefixed (Ko, 1924, p viii). Sentence structure determines syntactical relations, and verbs are not conjugated but have particles suffixed to them. For example, the verb 'to eat' is စား (ca: [sà]), and remains the same.


Burmese does not have adjectives per se. Rather, it has verbs that carry the meaning "to be X", where X is an English adjective. These verbs can modify a noun by means of a relative clause (e.g. ချောတဲ့လူ hkyau: tai. lu [tʃʰɔ́ dɛ̰ lù] "be beautiful" + relative marker + "person", i.e. "a person who is beautiful" / "a beautiful person") or may form a compound with the noun (e.g. လူချော lu hkyau: [lù tʃʰɔ́] "person" + "be beautiful"). Superlatives are usually indicated with the prefix (a. [ʔə]) + adj. + ဆုံး (hcum: [zṍũ]). Numerals follow the noun.


The roots of Burmese verbs are almost always suffixed with at least one particle which conveys such information as tense, intention, politeness, mood etc. In fact, the only time in which no particle is attached to a verb is in commands. However Burmese verbs are not conjugated in the same way as most European languages; the root of the Burmese verb always remains unchanged, and does not have to agree with the subject in person, number or gender.

The most commonly used verb particles and their usage are shown below with the verb root စား (ca: [sá]) which means "eat".

  • စားတယ် (ca: tai [sá dɛ̀]) - I eat

The suffix တယ် tai [dɛ̀] can be viewed as a particle marking the present tense and/or a factual statement.

  • စားခဲ့တယ် (ca: hkai. tai [sá ɡɛ̰ dɛ̀]) - I ate

The suffix ခဲ့ (hkai. [ɡɛ̰]) denotes that the action took place in the past. However, this particle is not always necessary to indicate the past tense such that it can convey the same information without it. But to emphasize that the action happened before another event that is also currently being discussed, the particle becomes imperative. Note that the suffix တယ် (tai [dɛ̀]) in this case denotes a factual statement rather than the present tense.

  • စားနေတယ် (ca: ne tai [sá nè dɛ̀]) - I am eating

နေ (ne [nè]) is a particle used to denote that the action is in progression, and is equivalent to the English '-ing'.

  • (စ)စားပြီ ((ca.) ca: pri [(sə) sá bjì]) - I am eating (now)

This particle or tense has no equivalent in English. It is used when an action which had been expected to be performed by the subject is now finally being performed. So in the above example, if someone had been expecting you to eat and you have finally started eating, the particle ပြီ (pri [bjì]) is used.

  • စားမယ် (ca: mai [sá mɛ̀]) - I will eat

This particle is used to indicate the future tense or an action which is yet to be performed.

  • စားတော့မယ် (ca: tau. mai [sá dɔ̰ mɛ̀]) - I will eat (straight-away)

The particle တော့ (tau. [dɔ̰]) is used when the action is about to be performed immediately. Therefore it could be termed as the "immediate future tense particle". The particle မယ် (mai mɛ̀]) is still imperative in this case.


Nouns in Burmese are pluralized by the addition of the suffix တွေ (twe [dè] or [tè] if the word ends in a glottal stop). The suffix များ mya [mjà] (or , which means "few") is also used, which by itself means "many". The suffix day, which also pluralizes nouns, is only used colloquially and mya is used literally and formally.

  • နွား (nwa: [nwà]) - cow
  • နွားများ (nwa: mya: [nwà mjà]) - cows
  • မြစ် (mrac [mjiʔ]) - river
  • မြစ်များ (mrac mya: [mjiʔ mjà]) - rivers

The plural suffix however is not used when the noun is quantified by being counted.

  • ခလေး၅ယောက် (hka.le: nga: yauk [kʰəlé ŋà jauʔ]) is in the order ခလေး "child" + "five" + ယောက် (classifier), which is equivalent to "five children".

Numerical classifiers

Like its neighboring languages such as Thai, Bengali, and Chinese, Burmese uses nominal classifiers when nouns are counted or quantified. This approximately equates to English expressions such as "two slices of bread" or "a cup of coffee". In the above example, yauk is the classifier used when referring to people. Classifiers are imperative when counting nouns, so ခလေး၅ (hka.le: nga: [kʰəlé ŋà] literally "children five") is ungrammatical. The only exceptions are measurements of time, such as "hour," (နာရီ) "day," (ရက်) or "month," () where classifiers are not required. Below are some of the most commonly used classifiers in Burmese.

Burmese MLC transcription Phonetic transcription Usage Remarks
ပါး pa: [bá] for people Used exclusively for monks and nuns of the Buddhist order
ကောင် kaung [kã̀ũ] for animals
ခု hku. [kʰṵ] general classifier Used with almost all nouns except for animate objects
လုံး lum: [lṍũ] for round objects
ပြား pra: [pjá] for flat objects
စု cu. [sṵ] or [zṵ] for groups
ဦး u: [ʔú] for people Used in formal context and also used for monks and nuns
ယောက် yauk [jauʔ] for people Used in informal context

In most cases, the classifier follows the number. But for the numbers divisible by 10 (except for the number 10 itself), the classifier precedes the noun being quantified:

လူအယောက် ၅၀၀ (person + numerical classifier + number) instead of လူ ၅၀၀ ယောက် (person + number + numerical classifier)


The Burmese language makes prominent usage of particles, which are untranslatable words that are suffixed or prefixed to words to indicate level of respect, grammatical tense, or mood. According to the Myanmar-English Dictionary (1993), there are 449 particles in the Burmese language. For example, စမ်း (sán) is a grammatical particle used to indicate the imperative mood. While လုပ်ပါ ("work" + particle indicating politeness) does not indicate the imperative, လုပ်စမ်းပါ ("work" + particle indicating imperative mood + particle indicating politeness) does. Some particles modify the word's part of speech. The particle ([ə]) is prefixed to verbs and adjectives to form nouns or adverbs.


Subject pronouns begin sentences. In the imperative forms and in conversation, the subject is generally omitted. Grammatically speaking, subject marker particles (က ([ɡa̰] in colloquial, သည် [θì] in formal) must be attached to the subject pronoun, although they are generally omitted in conversation. Object pronouns must have a object marker particle (ကို [ɡò] in colloquial, အား [á] in formal) attached immediately after the pronoun. Proper nouns are often substituted for pronouns. One's status in relation to the audience determines the pronouns used. There are certain pronouns used for different audiences. The basic pronouns are:

Burmese MLC transcription Phonetic transcription English Remarks
ငါ nga [ŋà] I/me Informal, used with younger family members and friends of same age or younger
ငါတို့ nga tui. [ŋà do̰] or [ŋà to̰] we Informal
kywan tau
kywan ma.
I/me Formal, used by males
Formal, used by females
da. ga
da. ga ma.
I/me Formal, used while speaking to a monk or nun (lit. "donor") exclusively
ta. pany. tau
ta. pany. tau ma.
I/me Formal, used while speaking to a monk or nun (lit. "disciple") exclusively
နင် nang [nẽ̀ĩ] or [nĩ̀] you Informal; used with younger family members, friends
နင်တို့ nang tui. [nĩ̀ndo̰] you all Informal
မင်း mang: [mĩ́] you Informal, used among close friends
အရှင် a hrang [ʔəʃĩ̀] you Formal, used by females
ခင်ဗျား hkang bya: [kʰəmjá] or [kʰĩ̀mmjá] you Formal
သူ su [θù] he/she Informal
သူတို့ su tui. [θùdo̰] they Informal
အဲ(ဒါ)ဟာ ai: (da) ha [ʔɛ́ (dà) hà] it/that Informal, used rudely to refer to animate objects

In colloquial Burmese, possessive pronouns are contracted when the root pronoun itself is low toned. However, this only occurs in colloquial Burmese, which uses ရဲ့ ([jḛ]) as postpositional marker for possessive case, whereas literary Burmese uses ၏ ([ḭ]). Examples include the following:

  • ငါ ([ŋà] "I") + ရဲ့ (postpositional marker for possessive case) = ငါ့ ([ŋa̰] "my")
  • နင် ([nĩ̀] "you") + ရဲ့ (postpositional marker for possessive case) = နင့် ([nḭ̃] "your")
  • သူ ([θù] "he, she") + ရဲ့ (postpositional marker for possessive case) = သူ့ ([θṵ] "his, her")


Reduplication is prevalent in Burmese and is used to intensify or weaken adjectives' meanings. For example, ချော (hkyau: [tʃʰɔ́]), which means "beautiful" is reduplicated, the intensity of the adjective's meaning increases. Many Burmese words, especially adjectives which consist of two syllables, such as လှပ (beautiful [l̥a̰pa̰]), when reduplicated (လှပလှလှပပ [l̥a̰l̥a̰ pa̰pa̰]) become adverbs. This is also true of many Burmese verbs, which become adverbs when reduplicated.

Romanization and transcription

There is no official romanization system for Burmese. There have been attempts to make one, but none have been successful. Replicating Burmese sounds in the Latin script is complicated. There is a Pāli-based transcription system in existence, which was devised by the Myanmar Language Commission (MLC). However, it only transcribes sounds in formal Burmese and is based on the orthography rather than the phonology. Several colloquial transcription systems have been proposed, but none is overwhelmingly preferred over others.

Transcription of Burmese is not standardized, as seen in the varying English transcriptions of Burmese place names.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Herbert, Patricia; Anthony Milner and Southeast Asia Library Group (1989). South-East Asia. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 5–21. ISBN 9780824812676. 
  2. ^ U Thaung (Aung Bala) (1981). "Contemporary Burmese Literature". Contributions to Asian Studies 16: 81–99. 
  3. ^ from thakin paya
  4. ^ Myanmar-English Dictionary. Myanmar Language Commission. 1993. ISBN 1-881265-47-1. 
  5. ^ a b c d Wheatley, Julian; San San Hnin Tun (1999). "Languages in contact: The Case of English and Burmese". The Journal of Burma Studies 4: 61–99. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  6. ^ Maung Khin Min (1987). "Old Usage Styles of Myanmar Script". Myanmar Unicode & NLP Research Center. Retrieved 2008-07-29. 
  7. ^ a b Taylor, L.F. (1920). "On the Tones of Certain Languages of Burma". Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies (Cambridge UP) 1 (4): 91–106. Retrieved 2008-08-09. 
  8. ^ Benedict, Paul K. (Oct-Dec 1948). "Tonal Systems in Southeast Asia". Journal of the American Oriental Society (American Oriental Society) 68 (4): 184–191. doi:10.2307/595942. Retrieved 2008-08-09. 


  • Becker, Alton L. (1984). "Biography of a sentence: A Burmese proverb.". in In E. M. Bruner (ed.). Text, play, and story: The construction and reconstruction of self and society. Washington, D.C.: American Ethnological Society. pp. 135–55. 
  • Bernot, Denise (1980) (in French). Le prédicat en birman parlé. Paris: SELAF. ISBN 2-85297-072-4. 
  • Cornyn, William Stewart; D. Haigh Roop (1944). Outline of Burmese grammar. Baltimore: Linguistic Society of America. 
  • Cornyn, William Stewart; D. Haigh Roop (1968). Beginning Burmese. New Haven: Yale University Press. 
  • Green, Antony D. (2005). "Word, foot, and syllable structure in Burmese.". in In J. Watkins (ed.). Studies in Burmese linguistics. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 1–25. ISBN 0-85883-559-2. 
  • Okell, John (1969). A reference grammar of colloquial Burmese. London: Oxford University Press. 
  • Roop, D. Haigh (1972). An introduction to the Burmese writing system. New Haven: Yale University Press. 
  • Taw Sein Ko (1924). Elementary handbook of the Burmese language. Rangoon: American Baptist Mission Press. 
  • Watkins, Justin W. (2001). "Illustrations of the IPA: Burmese". Journal of the International Phonetic Association 31 (2): 291–95. doi:10.1017/S0025100301002122. 
  • Wheatley, Julian K. (1987). "Burmese.". in In B. Comrie (ed.). Handbook of the world's major languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 834–54. ISBN 0-19-520521-9. 
  • Patricia M Herbert, Anthony Milner, ed (1989). South East Asia Languages and Literatures: Languages and Literatures: A Select Guide. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1267-0. 

External links

Burmese language edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Simple English

Burmese (in Burmese ba-ma-sa, pronounced /baa-MAA-saa/) is a language spoken in Myanmar. Burmese is a Sino-Tibetan language, meaning that is close to Chinese and Tibetan.

Burmese has three tones(high, medium,low: plus two,'stops or abbreviated additional, qualifying 'tones), no gender{have natural gender eg.saya(male teacher),sayama(female teacher)}, and no tense. Burmese has many English and Indian words(loan words) though is a very distinct and full language itself with a long history and substantial numbers of proudly articulated dialects.


Here are some examples of words and sentences in Burmese.

Hello = min-ga-la-ba

How are you? = Nei kaun la?

I am (name) = Cha-naw yè nan-bè ga _______

(Kya-naw is replaced with kya-ma for females.)

What is your name? = Ka-mya ba kaw da lè?

Are you Burmese? = Nae ba-ma pyi ga la da la?

(Note: To ask if someone is from other countries, just replace ba-ma pyi with any of the countries below.

America = A-mè-ree-ka

France = Pyin-thit

Britain = In-ga-lan

Germany = Ja-ma-nee

Russia = Ra-sha

Thailand = Yoe-da-ya

Japan = Ja-pan

Chinese = Ta-yote

Indian = in-di-yah


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