The Hmong Alphabet

a Hmong woman reading

Table of Contents

Introduction

This page is intended to be an exhaustive resource for learning to read the Hmong ‘Thoob Teb’ alphabet. The Hmong ‘Thoob Teb’ alphabet is by far the most popular Romanized alphabet representing the sounds and words of the Hmong language. It is not difficult to learn. Below you will find English and Thai equivalent sounds if they are available. There is also audio pronunciation of the sounds of the letter followed by a simple word that uses that letter. This is a mnemonic device or memory aide used to help native speakers learn more quickly because they are already familiar with that word, so they can connect it to the letter. It is similar to saying ‘A- Apple’ ‘B- Bear’ ‘C-Cat’ for every letter of the English language alphabet.

Letters are often taught to native speakers by saying the letter (in this case t) followed by a word that uses that letter (in this case ‘twm’ which means water buffalo). This is a memory aide.

Every single written syllable in Hmong is made up of at least one part, a vowel, and at most, three parts which are a consonant, a vowel, and then a tone. Below is an example of the word ‘white’ in Hmong with the 3 parts labeled:

The Hmong word for 'white' with the consonant, the double vowel, and the tone labeled.

There are single and double vowels. This means that there are vowels that are written with one letter like, ‘a’ or written with two letters like, ‘oo.’ In either case, both single and double vowels produce one single syllable.

In the same way, consonants can be written with one, two, three, or even four letters. Despite this, even a consonant with four letters like ‘ntsh’ is still just considered one consonant and when combined with a vowel simply produces one single syllable or one sound. So for example, when you combine the consonant ‘ntsh’ with the vowel, ‘ua’ you get the word, ‘ntshua’ which is pronounced below:

ntshua

The Hmong language also has 8 tones. They are written at the end of each word by using one of the following English consonants: b, j, s, v, m, g, d and finally, when there is no tone marker written, this is considered ‘no tone’ and pronounced without any tonal inflection. You can learn more about tones in the tones section.

This visual chart gives a general idea how where each tone sound falls relative to the other. You can learn more about the tones in the tones section.

Many of the words in the Hmong language are single syllable words meaning that just one syllable has its own meaning and is its own word. For example, the word ‘miv’ means cat and it is just one syllable. There are some words, however, that perhaps over time were so often pronounced together that they gained their own individual meanings as a double syllable word. Whatever the true origin, many double syllable words are often written without a space between them. For example the word ‘ntiaj teb,’ which means world or earth, is most commonly written together as, ‘ntiajteb.’ Unfortunately, this is not universal. Some people write it together, some write it apart.

Vowels // สระ

Vowels are the only letters in Hmong that can be pronounced alone. They do not need either a tone or a consonant to be pronounced. The following are all of the vowels in Hmong. Vowels that are only used in Green Hmong are marked in green.


(me) ab – a baby

A – pronounced like ‘apple’ – สระอา

a ab

aub – a dog

AU – pronounced like ‘out’ – สระเอา

au aub

qaib – a chicken

AI – pronounced like ‘high‘ – สระไอ

ai qaib

iab – bitter

IA – pronounced like ‘chia pet’ – สระเอีย

ia iab

ib – number one

I – pronounced like ‘tree‘ – สระอี

i ib

dub – the color black

U – pronounced like ‘you‘ – สระอู

u dub

huab – clouds

UA – pronounced like ‘you uhh…’ – สระอัว

ua huab

ev – to carry on the back

E – pronounced like ‘say‘ – สระเอ

e ev

eeb – a horse’s saddle

EE – pronounced like ‘sang‘ – สระเอง

ee eeb

ob – the number two

O – pronounced like ‘lawn’ – สระอ

o ob

koob – a needle

OO – pronounced like ‘song‘ – สระอง

oo koob

tawg – to explode

AW – no exact equivalent – สระ อา+อื

aw tawg

w – to scatter with the hand

W – no exact equivalent – สระอื

w w

AA – no exact equivalent – สระอาง

aa

The Tones

What is a Tone? What is a Tone Marker?

For speakers of a non-tonal language, tones can be a difficult concept to grasp and can be very intimidating. But don’t worry! It is not as hard as it seems. Below are some resources to help you grasp the concept. Really, explanation will help some. But the best path to understanding is hearing. So pay close attention to the audio examples.

Hmong call the tones ‘cim’ which means a marker or sign. In the Hmong language, that ‘marker’ or ‘cim’ is followed by a word in Hmong that uses that tone to help as a memory aide to remember which tone we are talking about. So, for example, the high tone in Hmong is called ‘cim siab,’ cim meaning ‘marker,’ and ‘siab’ meaning ‘heart’ but also being a word that ends in that high ‘b’ tone.

This is a visual chart to help you see how tones are pronounced relative to each other.
This is a set of mnemonic flash cards to help you remember the tones and how they are pronounced if you are just getting started. Click on the image to open a pdf you can print.

B – cim siab – เสียง อ๊

The B tone or ‘cim siab’ is a tone that starts and stays high. –

cim siab

M – cim niam – เสียง อ่ะ เสียงมันตำ่เหมือน cim mus แต่มันสั้นกว่า

The M tone or ‘cim niam’ is short, low, and clipped. It is the tone of voice that your mother used to (or still does) yell at you in. –

cim niam

J – cim ntuj – เสียง อ้

The J tone or ‘cim ntuj’ starts high and falls. –

cim ntuj

V – cim kuv – เสียง อ๋

The V tone or ‘cim kuv’ is a rising tone, like one would ask a question –

cim kuv

no tone letter – cim ua – เสียง อ

The ‘no tone’ is any word that ends in a vowel. It is monotone, as in, ‘no tone.’ –

cim ua

S – cim mus – เสียง อ่

The S tone or ‘cim mus’ starts and stays low and is drug out a bit. –

cim mus

G – cim neeg – เสียง อ่ะ เสียงต่ำที่สุด หายใจออกมาเหมือนเสียงกระซิบ 

The G tone or ‘cim neeg’ is a low, breathy tone, like getting the wind knocked out of you a little. –

cim neeg

D – cim tod –  เสียง D หรือ ‘cim tod’ ออกเสียงเหมือนกับเสียง ‘v’ เพียงแค่ยืดออกไปให้ยาวขึ้นเท่านั้น

The D tone or ‘cim tod’ is pronounced exactly like the ‘v’ tone, it is just stretched out longer. –

cim tod

The Single Consonants


twm – the water buffalo

T – pronounced like t in stake – ต

to twm

kos – a tripod cooking stand for placing over the campfire

K – pronounced like the g in ‘go’ – ก

ko kos

paj – a flower

P – pronounced like the p in ‘spin’ – บ

po paj

xauv – a necklace

X – pronounced like ‘sin’ – ซ

xo xauv

suab – fern

S – pronounced like ‘shoe’ – ไม่เหมือนพยัญชนะตัวใดๆ

so suab

liab – a monkey

L – pronounced like ‘life’ – ล

lo liab

noog – a bird

N – pronounced like ‘nap’ – น

no noog

haus – to drink

H – pronounced like ‘happy’ – ห

ho haus

miv – a cat

M – pronounced like ‘map’ – ม

mo miv

dev – a dog

D – pronounced like ‘do’ – ด

do dev

vas – a net

V – pronounced like ‘vice’ – ไม่เหมือนพยัญชนะตัวใดๆ

vo vas

qav – a frog

Q – no exact equivalent – คล้ายกับ ข

qo qav

riam – a knife

R – no equivalent – ไม่เหมือนพยัญชนะตัวใดๆ

ro riam

zeb – a rock

Z – no exact equivalent – ไม่เหมือนพยัญชนะตัวใดๆ

zo zeb
yeeb – opium

Y – pronounced like ‘year’ – ย

yo yeeb

cos – a rice grinding mill

C – no exact equivalent – ไม่เหมือนพยัญชนะตัวใดๆ

co cos

fwj – a bottle ( Green Hmong)

F – as in ‘five’ – ฟ

fo fwj

The Double Consonants

What do the words “pre-aspirated” and ‘post-aspirated mean?

What does ‘pre-aspirated’ mean?

In the following cases, pre-aspirated means you pronounce it exactly the same, except you first blow a puff of air out of your nose. So for ‘hml’, you would blow a puff of air out of your nose followed by making the ‘ml’ sound. When you see consonants that start with an H, you can think of that H as simply an indicator that you need to blow a puff of air out of your nose. So, really, HML is actually ML with a puff of air out of your nose, HNY is actually NY with a puff of air out of your nose, etc.

What does ‘post-aspirated’ mean?

In the following cases, post-aspirated means you pronounce the letter exactly the same, except that you force a puff of air out of your mouth simultaneously. You can think of an H that comes after consonants as simply an indication that you need to also blow a puff of air out of your mouth. So for example, NKH is really pronounced exactly the same as NK, you simply force a puff of air out of your mouth. Sarah has a great video that helps you to visualize this concept. You can view the lesson here.


phom – a gun

PH – Post-aspirated ‘p’ – พ

pho phom

tsov – a tiger

TS – no equivalent. Similar to the j in ‘June’ but a little harder – จ

tso tsov

nyuj – cow

NY – no equivalent. Similar to ‘canyon’ or ‘onion’ – น + ย

nyo nyuj

kua txob – Thai pepper

TX – no equivalent. Similar to ‘beds,’ but a little harder – ต + ซ

txo kua txob

ntaiv – stairs, a ladder

NT – no equivalent. Similar to ‘endanger’ – น + ต

nto ntaiv

thoob – a bucket

TH – Post-aspirated ‘t’ – ท

tho thoob

nruas – a gong, a drum

NR – Like “can draw.” ‘N’ into ‘r’ – น+r

nro nruas

ncas – mouth-harp

NC – Like ‘nky’ – น+ฉ

nco ncas

hnub – the sun; day

HN – Pre-aspirated ‘n’ – ห+น

hno hnub

hmuv – a spear

HM – Pre-aspirated ‘m’ – ห+ม

hmo hmuv

hlua – a rope

HL – Pre-aspirated ‘l’ – ห+ล

hlo hluas

khau – a shoe

KH – Post-aspirated ‘k’ – ค

kho khau

nkoj- a boat

NK – Like finger – น+ก

nko nkoj

plas – the owl

PL – Like blame. ‘P’ into ‘l’ – ปล

plo plas

nquab – a pigeon

NQ – More nasalized ‘q’ – น+q

nqo nquab

xyoob – bamboo

XY – Like crash your car. Should sound like a cat hissing if you do it right. – ซ+ย

xyo xyoob

npua – a pig

NP – English ‘m’ bleeding into a ‘b’ – น+ป

npo npua

qhov rooj – a door

QH – Post-aspirated ‘q’ – q+ห

qho qhov rooj

choj – a bridge

CH – Post-aspirated ‘c’ – ฉ+ห

cho choj

dhia hlua – to jump rope

DH – Post-aspirated ‘d’ – ด+ห

dho dhia hlua

mloog – to listen

ML – Similar to hamlet – ท

mlo mloog

rho – to extract
rho rho nroj

RH – Post-aspirated ‘r’ – r+ห


3 and 4 Consonants

What do the words “pre-aspirated” and ‘post-aspirated mean?

What does ‘pre-aspirated’ mean?

In the following cases, pre-aspirated means you pronounce it exactly the same, except you first blow a puff of air out of your nose. So for ‘hml’, you would blow a puff of air out of your nose followed by making the ‘ml’ sound. When you see consonants that start with an H, you can think of that H as simply an indicator that you need to blow a puff of air out of your nose. So, really, HML is actually ML with a puff of air out of your nose, HNY is actually NY with a puff of air out of your nose, etc.

What does ‘post-aspirated’ mean?

In the following cases, post-aspirated means you pronounce the letter exactly the same, except that you force a puff of air out of your mouth simultaneously. You can think of an H that comes after consonants as simply an indication that you need to also blow a puff of air out of your mouth. So for example, NKH is really pronounced exactly the same as NK, you simply force a puff of air out of your mouth. Sarah has a great video that helps you to visualize this concept. You can view the lesson here.

Below is also an illustration to help you visualize the general idea.


tsheb – a vehicle

TSH, tsh – Post-aspirated ‘ts’ – จ+ห (ลมต้องออกจากปากตอนสุดท้าย)

tsho tsheb

txhaum – a file

TXH, txh – Post-aspirated ‘tx’ – ต+ซ+ห (ลมต้องออกจากปากตอนสุดท้าย)

txho txhaum

ntsaum – an ant

NTS, nts – Like unjust – น+จ

ntso ntsaum

ntxuam – a fan

NTX, ntx – Like ‘and Xerox’ – น+ต+ซ

ntxo ntxuam

nplooj – a leaf

NPL, npl – English ‘m’ blend into ‘bl’ – น+ปล

nplo nplooj

nphoo ntsev – to sprinkle salt

NPH, nph – Post-aspirated ‘np’ – น+พ+ห (ลมต้องออกจากปากตอนสุดท้าย)

npho nphoo ntsev

nthuav – to unfold

NTH, nth – Post-aspirated ‘nt’ – น+ต+ห (ลมต้องออกจากปากตอนสุดท้าย)

ntho nthuav

plhaub qe – an egg shell

PLH, plh – Post-aspirated ‘pl’ – ปล+ห (ลมต้องออกจากปากตอนสุดท้าย)

plho plhaub qe

NRH, nrh – Post-aspirated ‘nr’ – น+r+ห (ลมต้องออกจากปากตอนสุดท้าย)

nrhoob – leggings
nrho nrhoob

ncho pa – to send out smoke

’NCH, nch – Post-aspirated ‘ch’ – น+ฉ+ห (ลมต้องออกจากปากตอนสุดท้าย)

ncho ncho pa

nkhib ntoo – the fork of a tree branch

NKH, nkh – Post-aspirated ‘nk’ – น+ก+ห (ลมต้องออกจากปากตอนสุดท้าย)

nkho nkhib ntoo

nqhis dej – to be thirsty

NQH, nqh – Post-aspirated ‘nq’ – น+q+ห (ลมต้องออกจากปากตอนสุดท้าย)

nqho nqhis dej

hnyav- to be heavy

HNY, hny – Pre-aspirated ‘ny’ – ห+น+ย (แต่ลมจาก ห ต้องออกจากจมูก, ไม่ใช่ปาก)

hnyo hnyav

HML, hml- Pre-aspirated ‘ml’ – ห+ม+ล (แต่ลมจาก ห ต้องออกจากจมูก, ไม่ใช่ปาก)

hmlos – to be dented
hmlo hmlos

ntshua xov – a bundle of thread

NTSH, ntsh – Post-aspirated ‘nts’ – น+จ+ห (ลมต้องออกจากปากตอนสุดท้าย)

ntsho ntshua xov

ntxhw – an elephant

NTXH, ntxh – Post-aspirated ‘ntx’ – น+ต+ซ+ห (ลมต้องออกจากปากตอนสุดท้าย)

ntxho ntxhw

nplhaib – a ring

NPLH, nplh – Post-aspirated ‘npl’ – น+ปล+ห (ลมต้องออกจากปากตอนสุดท้าย)

nplho nplhaib

One Comment on “The Hmong Alphabet”

  1. This is EPIC. Thanks for all this hard work. This is for sure the best teaching tool for the alphabet I have seen for Hmong. Much better broken down like this compared to the combined video on YouTube I learned on 🤣🤣

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