consonants • vowels • tone chartreading sentences

Spelling in Lao differs from western languages in that vowel letters can be put after, below, before, or above the letter that is the first consonant of the word (or syllable). For example, in the word ma the a is a letter following the letter for m as in English, but in mee the letter for ee is placed above the m, in moo the letter for oo (or "u") is placed below the m and in mae the symbol for ae is placed before the m.

Every letter in Lao has an exact sound associated with it - there are no irregular spellings as in English. Words may end in a vowel sound or there may be another consonant which is the final sound of the word. Words with final vowel sounds are usually spelled with only two letters while words with final consonant sounds are usually spelled with three.

There are also vowel combinations (dipthongs and tripthongs) where two or three vowel sounds are combined into a single smooth sound. Examples are ao, ia, uay, and euay. The vowel combinations are spelled by combining two or three vowel symbols except with number 44 below which is a separate symbol used for ia. Two consonants are also used in the spellings of vowel combinations - nyaw nyoong and waw wee. The chart here follows the alphabetical order for vowels of a modern Lao dictionary so the vowel combinations are mixed in with the single vowel sounds.

Vowels are called sa-la in Lao and individual vowel letters are named sa-la followed by the sound of the letter. The sound includes the vowel length, so for example, the vowel sa-la ee can refer to two different letters, number 7 on the chart when ee is pronounced short with a glottal stop and number 9 when it's pronounced long without a glottal stop.

In the chart an "x" is used to show where the consonant is placed in the spelling. The spelling in Lao is followed by an example with the meaning in English. Once you learn to recognize the letters and their placement it's quite easy to read the language.

SOUND
SPELLING & EXAMPLE
1. ah (short)
2. ah/uh (short)
3. ah (long)
4. same with final consonant
5. ai (long)
6. ao (long)
7. ee/i (short)
8. same with final consonant
9. ee (long)
10. same with final consonant
11. iu (short)
12. eu (short)
13. eu (long)
14. same with final consonant
15. oo (short)
16. same with final consonant
17. ui (short)
18. oo (long)
19. same with final consonant
20. eh/ay (short)
21. ay (short)
22. ay (long)
23. same with final consonant
24. ae (short)
25. ae (long)
26. same with final consonant
27. aeo
28. oh (short) with final consonant
29. oh (short) without final consonant
30. oh (long)
31. same with final consonant
32.oy (oh + ee)
33. aw (short)
34. aw (long) no final consonant
35. aw (long) with final consonant
36. oi (aw + ee)
37. euh (short)
38. same with final consonant
39. euh (long)
40. same with final consonant
41. euy (euh + ee)
42. ia (short)
43. ia (long)
44. ia (long) with final consonant
45. io (long)
46. eua (long)
47. same with final consonant
48. euay (long)
49. ua (short)
50. ua (long)
51. ua (long) with final consonant
52. uay (long)
53. ai (long/short)
54. ai (long/short)
55. ao (short)
56. am (long/short)

 

AW-O FOR WORDS THAT BEGIN WITH VOWEL SOUNDS

When a word begins with a vowel sound the vowel letter is "held" by the letter aw o and the word follows the tone rules for aw o. Following are some examples:

The vowel letter ee (long) is placed above aw-o. The final consonant is maw-ma.
The vowel letter oo (long) is below aw-o. There is no final consonant.
The vowel letter ay is before aw-o. The final consonant is ngaw-ngua.
The vowel letter ah (long) is placed after aw-o. The final consonant is ngaw-ngua.

 

the Lao alphabet: consonants
• the Lao alphabet: vowels
tone chart
reading sentences