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Basic Burmese Rules

Notes:
1) Burmese casual conversation often leave out subject and object. In this book, please notice that s.o. (someone), any pronoun, or s.t. (something), put in parenthesis are being used just as an illustration. Always mind the conversation context to know who or what exactly are the subject or object.
So when you hear စားမယ် /sà meh/ translated here as "(Someone) is going to eat"; that 'someone' can be anyone, depend on the context.
   (a) It might be the speaker is telling you that he is going to eat --> then the missing subject = I (the speaker), OR
   (b) the speaker is 'inviting' you to eat together --> the missing subject = we, OR
   (c) the speaker is answering your question of "Is he going to eat?" with "Yes, he is going to eat" --> the missing subject = he, as well as other possibilities.
2) A word or a suffix might have various meanings other than the ones written here, so does a sentence.
3) There are a lot of variations to create a sentence; there are also special cases. Always consult with your tutor or local Burmese friends.
4) Go over the basic rules below, no need to understand everything at once. Continue with your study and come back here later.

1. Word Order & Basic Grammar
2. Aspect in Burmese
3. Tenses
4. Voicing (Okell’s term)
5. Weakening (Okell’s term)
6. Suffixes
7. Burmese Numerical Classifiers / Counter Words / Measure words & Round Number Rule (Okell's term)
8. Stacked Pairs of Consonants

1. Word Order & Basic Grammar

Instead of subject-verb in English, conversation in Burmese often object-verb (leave out the subject).
So you might often hear: ထမင်းစားမယ် /t’ămìn sà meh/ (literally rice-eat-‘future tense suffix’), which can mean "Let's eat", or "I am going to eat", or "You/he/she is going to eat".

Please refer to John Okell books for more details. I simplify basic grammar by using explanation in Okell Burmese by Ear (BBE) 2009: 144-161:
“A typical Burmese sentence consists of one or more “noun phrases” followed by a “verb phrase”. In this context “noun phrase” is used as a wide-cover term to include “adverbs” and other elements.
● ကျမ [noun phrase 1] အမျိုးသား[noun phrase 2] ဗမာစကား နဲနဲ[noun phrase 3] နားလည်ပါတယ်[verb phrase]။
[my] [husband] [Burmese language a little] [understand]
“My husband understands a little Burmese.””

Pay attention to the type of suffix as explained in Burmese by Ear, whether the suffix is attached to sentence, phrase, verb, noun, or as suffix subordinates one sentence to another!

Okell BBE 2009: 146:
“Although we have to translate ပူတယ် /pu-deh/, အေးတယ် /è-deh/ and similar words with the English adjectives: “hot”, “cold”, and so on, in terms of Burmese grammar they must be classified as verbs: “to be hot”, “to be cold”, etc.”

2. Aspect in Burmese

Comparing it with English, Burmese has Aspect rather than Tense (such as past, present, future tense).

Romeo 2008: 1:
“Aspect is the verbal category that most typically describes the ways “... of viewing the internal temporal constituency of a situation” (Comrie 1976: 3).
Aspect differs considerably from tense, “... which relates the time of the situation referred to to some other time, usually to the moment of speaking” (Comrie 1976: 1-2).
In other words, aspect indicates the temporal structure of an event, while tense indicates the temporal location of an event (Bhat 1999:43).”

Romeo 2008: 67-68:
● တယ် “‘REALIS’ obligatorily occurs at the end of clauses to mark
1) the reality of the event, i.e. its past or present existence in the real world of events in esse, as well as
2) the declarative quality of the utterance that describes the event itself.”
မိုးရွာနေတယ် /mò-ywa ne deh/ (It is/was raining.) [Okell and Allott 2001: 94]

● မယ် “‘IRREALIS’ marks the non-reality of the event, i.e. its description as existing not in the real world of events in esse, but only in the non-real, possible, or projected world of events in posse.”
သွားပါအုံမယ် /thwà ba oun meh/ (“I’ll be going.”) [Okell and Allott 2001: 161]

Source: Romeo, Nicoletta. 2008. Aspect in Burmese : meaning and function. John Benjamins Publishing.

3. Tenses

To find similarity with English tenses: Burmese has 3 main suffixes:
● ‘REALIS’; present & past = -တယ် /-teh/. sà-deh ~ eat or ate.
● ‘IRREALIS’; future = -မယ် /-meh/. sà-meh ~ going to eat.
● finished / completed = -ပြီ /-pi/. sà-pi-bi ~ finished eating.

4. Voicing (Okell’s term)

Voicing rule is blocked when the syllable end with glottal stop (-q).
Voicing rule applied: စား တယ် (sa + teh), teh will be voiced to deh, so we will pronounce it sa-deh (means to eat).
Voicing rule blocked: စပ် တယ် (saq + teh), teh is NOT voiced to deh, so we will pronounce it saq-teh (means to be spicy).
Note: print out Cheat Sheet so you can easily check how to pronounce the script.

 these k- c- t- s- p- th-
 and these k'- c'- t'- s'- p'-
 voiced to g- j- d- z- b- dh-
 
Voicing rule is blocked when the syllable end with glottal stop (-q).
● မှာ တယ် (hma + teh): teh will be voiced to deh, so we will pronounce it hma-deh.
● သောက် တယ် (thauq + teh): teh is NOT voiced to deh, so we will pronounce it thauq-teh.
● ပြောတတ်တယ် (pyàw + taq + teh): taq will be voiced to daq, teh is NOT voiced to deh, so we will pronouce it pyàw-daq-teh.

5. Weakening (Okell’s term)

When a syllable is weakened, its rhyme is replaced by the vowel -ă. Some examples:

End with -q:
● တစ်ဆယ် tiq + s'eh = tăs'eh.
● နှစ်ရာ hniq + ya = hnă-ya.

Combination with particle:
● စပ်သလား။ (စပ် + တယ် +​ လား) saq-teh + là = /saq-thălà/.
● ဘာစားမလဲ။ (ဘာ +​ စား + မယ် + လဲ) ba + sa-meh + lèh = /ba sa-mălèh/.

Unpredictably:
● ငါးကင် ngà + gin = ngăgin (grilled fish).

6. Suffixes

Okell BBE 2009: 146-161:
“A suffix is an element that is attached to the end of a word, like the English -ing in words like learning, thinking, etc. Most of the grammatical information in a Burmese sentence is carried by suffixes. Most suffixes are used with just one part of speech.”
Suffixes can be attached to sentences, phrases, verbs, nouns, and as subordinates one sentence to another.
Changes on suffix change the meaning.
စာအုပ် (noun) = book. ပေး (verb) = to give.
ကျွန်တော် = I (male speaker). ခင်ဗျား = You (male speaker.)

● စာအုပ်ပေး။ /sa-ouq pè/ = Give (me) (the) book!
● စာအုပ်ပေးပါ။ /sa-ouq pè ba/ = Please give (me) (the) book.
● ကျွန်တော်ကစာအုပ်ပေးတယ်။ /cănaw-gá sa-ouq deh/ = I [as the subject] gave (someone) (the) book.
● ကျွန်တော်ကိုစာအုပ်ပေးတယ်။ /cănaw-go sa-ouq deh/ = (someone) gave me [as the object] (the) book.

Find more basic suffixes here.

7. Classifiers / Counter Words / Measure Words & Round Number Rule (Okell's term)

Similar to Chinese and Indonesian (and some other languages), Burmese use counter words.
English: One book.
Burmese: စာအုပ်တစ်အုပ် /sa-ouq tă-ouq/ [book-1-counter word].
Indonesia: Satu buah buku [1-counter word-book].

We sometimes use counter word in English:
English: Three cups of coffee.
Burmese: ကော်ဖီ(သုံး)ခွက် /kaw-p'i tòun-gweq/ [coffee-3-counter word].
Indonesia: 3 cangkir kopi [3-counter word-coffee].
Note: Burmese normally puts number in brackets.


Additionally, Burmese has Round Number Rule (Okell's term). When the # ends in 0, the sequence of # and counter words (c.w.) are different:

1) For round number (number ends with 0, EXCEPTION 10):
   [N] + (အ)c.w. + # + [V]
   ဟော့ဒေါ့အခုနှစ်ဆယ်ပေးပါ။ /háw-dáw ăgu hnăs'eh pè ba/ = Twenty hotdog, please. [object + c.w. + #]

2) For 10 and when the number does not end with 0:
   [N] + # + c.w. + [V]
   ဟော့ဒေါ့တစ်ခုပေးပါ။ /háw-dáw tăk'u pè ba/ = 1 hotdog, please. [object + # + c.w.]
    ဟော့ဒေါ့(၅)ခုပေးပါ။ /háw-dáw ngà-gu pè ba/ = 5 hotdog, please. [object + # + c.w.]
   ဟော့ဒေါ့ဆယ်ခုပေးပါ။ /háw-dáw s'eh-gu pè ba/ = 10 hotdog, please. (notice when we say 10: it is s'eh, not tăs'eh)


Below are some counter words:
ကောင် animals
ပါး sacred persons (such as Buddhist monks and nuns)
ယောက် persons (general classifier)
ဦး people, monks and nuns
ခု items (general classifier)
ချောင်း thin, long items: pencils, sticks, …
ချပ် flat items: tables, …
စီး vehicles and transport
ဆောင် buildings: houses, monasteries and royal buildings, …
ပွဲ dishes; offertories
ပုလင်း container made of glass: wine, beer, …
လုံး round, long, globular things, fruit, furniture, electronic appliance: phone, TV, aircon, …
ခွက် cups
ထည် articles of clothing
ထုပ် packages, paper binded, food packages: take away food package, coffee mix plastic sachet, …
ဘူး paper/plastic container: water bottle, …
Find more in Wikipedia.


8. Stacked Pairs of Consonants

ဒုက္ခ = ဒုက်ခ /douq-k'á/ trouble, hardship
Step 1 = move the top consonsant to the left and add killer sign   ်
step 2 = move the bottom consonant to the right and read it as a one syllable

More examples
● တက္ကသိုလ် /teq-kătho/ university
● စက္ကူ /seq-ku/ paper
● ကိစ္စ /keiq-sá/ matter
● တိရိစ္ဆာန် /tăreiq-s'an/ animal
● မန္တလေး /Màn-dălè/ Mandalay

Notes
1) mostly, killed-consonant other than the final consonants mentioned in Okell's Basic Scripts Cheatsheet can be ignored, such as လ် in တက္ကသိုလ် /teq-kătho/.
2) stacked consonant missed the 'tone'; you will need to ask your tutor / local friends for the correct tones.
အင်္ဂလန် /in-gălan အင်ဂလန်/ low tone in
အင်္ဂ လိပ် /ìn-găleiq အင်းဂလိပ်/ high tone in

Find more details in Burmese by Ear page 141.

Click here for how to write the stacked consonants on your computer.