Speak Khmer, the language in Cambodia!

An important part of traveling – we would maybe suggest the most crucial – is to engage with the local people of the places we are passing by, trying to understand their way of seeing the world, mingling with their lifestyle and breaking cultural barriers. But of course the first one is always communication. So why not making an attempt to learn some words of Khmer language to start experience Cambodia in a more genuine and engaging way?


Khmer Language

Who would not like to exchange some words with these funny children?

So first thing to know is that Cambodians always have a formal and an informal way of saying things. For instance:

Hello, formal – Chomreab sour

Hello, informal – Sous dei

For the majority of situations, including when you are talking with someone on the street or buying something from a shop, the informal version is perfectly fine, but in case you are invited somewhere or talking to older people it will be more polite to use the formal way. Also age is important in terms of social relationships, so normally people address others depending on their age difference. There are endless ways of addressing in Khmer, but as a general rule of thumb you can call younger people by oun, same age or slightly older by bong (like older brother or sister), people with more or less the age to be your parents by ming (if it’s a woman) and poo (if it’s a man), and if older than that you can call them om. Now back to some of the basics:

How are you? – Sok sabai?

Thank you (very much) – Akun (chran)

What’s your name? – Chmuuh ey?

My name is… – Khnhom chmuuh…

I’m from… – Khnhom mau pi…

Please (before asking something) – Som

Sorry – Som toh

No problem – Kmean panhaha té

Happy to meet you – Khnhom sabai ban chub nhék

How old are you? – Ter neak ar yu pun man?

Goodbye, informal – Lee hai

Good bye, formal – Chom reab lea

Have a nice day – Som ouy sok sabbay

Yes – Bat (if it’s a man saying) ­and cha (if it’s a woman saying) ­

No – Auté

How much? – Pun man?

One more please – Som muy tit

The bill please – Som katloi

This/that – Ini/inu

Here/there – Tini/tinu

­Big/small: Tomtom/tiktik

Hot/cold : kdao/tror cheak

Cheap/expensive – thork /thlai ­

Near/far – Juht/Chngaay

Already/not yet – Howie/at tuan té

Beautiful – Sa art ­

Delicious – chhnganh

I – Khnhom ­/ You – Neak (if you want to indicate possession you can add robos before: My or mine – Robos khnhom ; Your or yours – Robos neak)

The general construction of a phrase is Subject + Verb (+ other verbs)+ Object/Complement. Examples:

I love you – Khnhom srolanh neak (srolanh is the verb to love)

I like eating rice –  Khnhom chol chet nham bai (chol chet is to like, nham is to eat and bai is rice. Fun fact: eating rice in Cambodia is so important that even eating as a general concept is many times said nham bai)

For the negative you can build the phrase by Subject + Aut + Verb + Object + té. Example:

Sorry, I don’t understand – Som toh, khnhom aut yul té (yul as the verb to understand)

And for past you can add ban before the verb. Example:

I ate rice – Khnhom ban nham bai

Some verbs you can start using in phrases: chong – want, have – mean, need – trov kar, buy –tinh, drink – phoek, know – doeng/ches/skol, wait – tchamp, ride – chi, go – tow, can – tché.


And some basic numbers: 1 – Muy, 2 – Pi, 3 – Bai, 4 – Boun, 5 – Pram, 6 – Pram muy, 7 – Pram pi, 8 – Pram bai, 9 – Pram boun, 10 – Dop, 100 – Muy roy, 1000 – Muy puan, 10000 – Muy meun.

And of course, the classic:

Cheers – Tchul muy

Hope this small guide had help you starting to learn some Khmer language and inspired you to talk more with the locals, eating street food or taking the local buses while traveling are always great ways to start it!