A Student’s Guide to Khmer Grammar
A study for the SBBIC Khmer Grammar Checker – A Work in Progress

Nathan Wells
With the current lack of a comprehensive Khmer Grammar in English we have begun the task to create such a work so that students desiring to understand the Khmer language better can have easy access to better understanding of the inner-workings of Khmer.  This grammar is also designed to coincide with our Khmer Grammar Checker, with rules currently inputted in parenthesis. Any corrections or additions are welcome, just leave them in the comments.

  1. Nominal Syntax
    1. Number
    2. Gender
    3. Definiteness
    4. Pronouns
      1. Possessive Pronoun Position (rule)
        In order for a pronoun to be used as a possessive pronoun, it must be placed after the object it possesses (ex. ឡាន​ខ្ញុំ). To be perfectly clear regarding possession, the preposition “របស់” or “នៃ” (often translated as “of”) can be used between the object and the pronoun to indicate possession (ex. ឡាន​របស់​​ខ្ញុំ).
    5. Numerals
    6. Adjectives
      1. Normal Adjective/Noun Order (rule)
        For an adjective to modify a noun, it normally follows the noun (ex. ឡាន​ក្រហម). An exception (rule) to this rule are gender nouns (such as ប្រុស and ស្រី).
      2. Specific Uses of Adjectives
        1. នឹង as an adjective (rule)
          Means “still, study, fixed” and when tied with ថ្កល់ it keeps the same meaning, but at times can look abnormal because it can be linked by the conjunction “ហើយ” (ex. ទឹក​ដែល​​​ស្អាត ហើយ​នឹង​ថ្កល់), but this form is correct.
      3. Comparative Adjectives
        1. Adj + ជាង
          Often used in comparing two different people, places, objects, or actions (ex. ផ្សារ​ថ្មី​ល្អ​ជាង​ផ្សារ​ចាស់។). An adjective is placed before ជាង to establish what type of comparison is being used (ex. “better than” «ល្អ​ជាង» “prettier than” «ស្អាត​ជាង»).

          1. Possible Uses of Adj + ជាង
            The word ជាង is also a noun meaning “skilled worker” but based on the words used in the context it is used as a comparative adjective. Here are all known possibilities of ជាង used as an adjective.
            Neg. Part. + Verb + Adj. + ជាង + Verb (ex. មិន​ទៅ​ល្អ​ជាង​ទៅ។).
            Verb + Adj. + ជាង + Neg. Part. + Verb (ex. ទៅ​ល្អ​ជាង​មិន​ទៅ។).
            Proper Noun|Pronoun + Adj. + ជាង + Proper Noun|Pronoun (ex. កុសល​សង្ហា​ជាង​ចន្ទ។).
            Noun + Dem. P. + Adj. + ជាង + Noun + Dem. P. (ex. ឡាន​នេះ​ល្អ​ជាង​ឡាន​ នោះ។).
      4. Superlative Adjectives
        Words like «ប្រសើរ​ជាង​គេ» «ល្អ​ជាង​គេ» take comparison between nouns to the highest degree and are very closely related to comparative adjectives in form.

        1. Possible Uses of Superlative Adjectives
          1. Adj. + ជាង + គេ (ex. សៀវភៅ​នេះ​​ល្អ​ជាង​គេ។).
    7. Nominal Clusters
    8. Classifiers
      1. មនុស្ស (rulegroup id=”Classifier_PEOPLE”)
        When stating the number of persons, it is proper to use a classifier after the number of people (ex. មនុស្ស​​ពីរ​នាក់។). The classifiers that can be used with មនុស្ស are: នាក់ – ក្រុម – ពួក – គូ
      2. Other Classifiers
        កញ្ចប់, កាន, កេះ, កែវ, ក្បាល, ក្រុម, កំប៉ុង, ខ្នង, គីឡូ, គូ, គ្រាប់, គ្រឿង, ឃ្លា, ចង្កាក់, ចង្កោម, ចាន, ច្បាប់, ជន្លៀស, ជួរ, ឈុត, ដង, ដប, ដុំ, ដើម, តួ, តៅ, ត្រណោត, ធុង, នាក់, នាឡិ, នឹម, ប៉ោត, បាច់, ប្រអប់, ផែន, ផ្តិល, ផ្លូន, ផ្លែ, ពួក, ពែង, ម៉ាត់, មុខ, ម្ខាង, រូប, លីត្រ, វង់, វែក, សន្កឹក, សន្លឹក, សម្រាប់, សរសៃ, ស្ទង, ស្និត, ស្លាបព្រា, ស្លឹក, ហ្វូង, ឡូ, អង្គ
    9. Word Order
  1. Verbal Syntax
    1. Verbal Types
    2. Verbal Stacking for Attribution
    3. Pre-verbal Attribution
    4. Tense/Aspect Auxiliaries
    5. Modal Auxiliaries
    6. Compound Verbs
    7. Attributive Motion Verbs
    8. Specific Verb Usage
      1. Usage of ចង់
        When ចង់ is used with a noun (rule), the correct form is ចង់បាន + Noun (ex. ខ្ញុំ​​ចង់បាន​ឡាន​នោះ។)
        When ចង់ is used with a verb (rule), it should be used by itself (ex. ខ្ញុំ​​ចង់​ទៅ។)
      2. Usage of គឺ​ជា and ជា to modify a Noun, Proper Noun, or Pronoun
        When គឺជា or ជា is used with a Noun, Proper Noun, or Pronoun, it gives additional information about that Noun, Proper Noun, or Pronoun, such as what they do for a job (ex. គាត់​គឺជា​ពេទ្យ។). It is incorrect, in this usage, to use គឺ by itself – the form must be គឺ​ជា or ជា.
  2. Adverbial Syntax
    1. Adverbial Markers (ជា – ដោយ – យ៉ាង – ដ៏)
      1. យ៉ាង (rule name=”យ៉ាង as Adverb Marker”)
        The most common adverbial marker (ex. នាង​បាន​ប្រលែង​នឹង​ប្អូន​យ៉ាង​ទន់ភ្លន់)
      2. ដោយ and ដ៏
        While it is possible to useដោយ as an adverbial marker it is not as common as យ៉ាង (ex. នាង​បាន ប្រលែង​ដោយ​ទន់ភ្លន់​ជា​មួយ​នឹង​ប្អូន). ដ៏ is even less common, though perhaps in poetry it might appear (ex. នាង​បាន ប្រលែង​ដ៏​ទន់ភ្លន់​ជា​មួយ​នឹង​ប្អូន)
      3. ជា
        Used only in certain cases, normally having to do with frequency, quantity, quality or degree (ex. មាន​ភ្ញៀវ​មក​ជា​ច្រើន). It often functions as an adverbial phrase (almost as if we said in English “It is urgent that you come” “សូម​អ្នក​មក​ជា​បន្ទាន់”. Here is a list of some adverbial combinations using ជា:
        ជាបន្ទាន់ – ជាស្រេច – ជាកំហិត – ជា​និច្ចកាល – ជា​ដរាប – ជាញឹកញាប់ – ជារឿយៗ – ជាការពិតណាស់ – ជាធម្មតា – ជារៀងរហូត
      4. ឲ្យ
        Used literally as “do this so as to make it…” (ex. សូម​អាន​ឲ្យ​ច្បាស់ and គេ​ធ្វើ​ឲ្យ​ឆាប់).
    2. Ordinary Adverbs
    3. Compound Adverbs
  3. Particle Syntax
    1. Negative Particles
      1. Normal Negative Particle Position
        Negative particles (មិន – អត់) are normally placed before (rule) verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs (ex. ឡាន​នោះ​មិន​ខៀវ​ទេ។).
    2. Verb Related Particles
    3. Noun Related Particles
    4. Response Particles
    5. Medial Particles (ក៏ – នូវ)
    6. Final Particles
  4. Clausal Syntax
    1. Nominal Clauses
    2. Clauses Joined by Conjunctions
      1. និង and ហើយនិង (rule id=”ហើយ​និង”)
        Often និង and នឹង are confused, but they are actually different. និង (or ហើយ​និង depending on writing style) is a coordinating conjunction (often translated as “and”) while នឹង is a particle that has many uses, one of which is to cause a verb to be future in aspect (ex. គាត់​នឹង​ទៅ).

        1. និង Between Two Nouns (rule)
          Most of the time it is more proper to only use និង when it links two nouns together (ex. ខ្ញុំ​ទិញ​ផ្ទះ​និង​ឡាន។)
        2. ហើយ​និង or ហើយ Between Two Verbs (rule)
          When linking two verbs, it is often more proper to use​ ហើយនិង or ហើយ but not និង by itself (ex. ខ្ញុំ​ទៅ​សាលា​ហើយ​និង​ទៅ​ផ្សារ។)

        3. This conjunction is often translated as “or”. When it joins two phrases it is often proper to have a space on either side (ex. ឈឺ​ចាប់ ឬ​ រងទុក្ខ​លំបាក).
    3. Clauses Joined by Clause Relators
    4. Clauses Joined by Prepositions
  5. Various Spelling Issues
    In Khmer there are multiple spellings for many words, but while that inherently is not a problem, it can cause inconsistencies in published works (especially with more than one author, or translator) which is undesirable. This section seeks to list words with multiple spellings and give the more popular spelling as determined by a Google search, as well as give a list of known homophones (words that sound the same but have different meanings).

    1. Words with Multiple Spellings
      There are many words in Khmer that can be spelled multiple ways. This is a list of those words with the most popular spelling in Google search results shown by an asterisk (*)

      1. ឲ្យ * = ឱ្យ = អោយ
      2. កម្ពស់* = កំពស់
      3. កម្នាញ់ = កំណាញ់*
      4. កម្លាំង* = កំលាំង
      5. មកុដ = មង្កុដ = ម្កុដ*
      6. ចៃដន់ = ចៃដន្យ*
      7. ឋិតិ = ស្ថិតិ*
      8. តម្លៃ = តំលៃ*
      9. ពុទ្ធសាស្នា​ = ពុទ្ធសាសនា*
      10. ទំលាប់ =​​ ទម្លាប់*
      11. ជំពូក* = ចំពូក
      12. ស្ថានសួគ៌ = ឋានសួគ៌*
      13. តំរង់ = តម្រង់*
      14. សម្លាប់* = សំលាប់
      15. សំលេង = សំឡេង* = សម្លេង
      16. ស្រឡាញ់* = ស្រលាញ់
      17. ចម្លើយ*​ = ចំលើយ
    2. Homophones
      These are words that sound the same, but have different meanings (or are misspellings).

      1. ហើយនឹង should be ហើយនិង (rule id=”ហើយ​និង”)
      2. ប្រឈម​មុខ​និង should be ប្រឈមមុខនឹង
      3. កាល់​ពី​មុន should be កាល​ពី​មុន
      4. ចាប ចាប់ ឆាប ឆាប់
      5. លើង​ទៅ should be ឡើង​ទៅ (rule id=”លើង​ទៅ”)
      6. ជា​មួយ​និង should be ជា​មួយ​នឹង (rule id=”ជា​មួយ​និង”)
      7. ពីរអ្នក should be ពីរនាក់ (unless preceeded by មក – និង – រស់ – rule)
      8. មកពីរអ្នក should be មកពីរនាក់ (rule id=”មកពីរអ្នក”)
      9. ចំពួក vs. ជំពូក if NUM + ជំពូក or ជំពូក + NUM or ទី

17 comments. Leave new

[…] You can view the grammar here: SBBIC Khmer Grammar […]

សុង វណ្ណា
May 10, 2011 7:01 am

That’s nice, but how about our rules for spelling?

Hello សុង វណ្ណា,
I’m not sure if I totally understand – do you mean why Khmer words are spelled the way they are (their origin?)? If so, that is a little outside the scope of this study. If you are referring to the issue of multiple spellings (like សំរាប់ vs. សម្រាប់) we are currently working on creating a list based on Chuon Nath’s dictionary of what spelling should be used (not which spelling is right, but which spelling to use for consistency in a publication). If you would like to be involved, please let us know – sungkhum at gmail.

សុង វណ្ណា
May 11, 2011 6:58 am

Yes, consistency, when to use what letters, etc. You know spelling and grammar go hand-in-hand.

សុង វណ្ណា
May 11, 2011 7:04 am

Rules like ណ VS. ន, ល VS. ឡ, when vowels like ៀ should be used, when clusters should be used, the list goes on and on.

Currently we have had some difficulty finding sources for rules like that – if you are interested we would love to get a list with a short explanation of each rule from you to include, and perhaps it will even help with future work on the Khmer Grammar checker. Thanks!

សុង វណ្ណា
May 16, 2011 12:48 am

I’ve ben having some difficuty finding that myself. If I come acrposs something. I’ll let you guys know.

សុង វណ្ណា
July 1, 2011 1:15 am

This is not as organized and accessible, or as intelligible as your guys, but perhaps you can add to your grammar guide from this. http://www.seasite.niu.edu/khmer/grammar_note/grammar_set.htm

Thanks សុង វណ្ណា – We hadn’t seen that page before, it is always good to find more resources! Thanks again!

សុង វណ្ណា
July 15, 2011 4:45 pm

Oh no problem.

Hello all,
I would like to suggest that the spellings be based on the spellings in Chuon Nath-based dictionary and to make sure not to just follow the myth of spellings. Let me raise some points in Khmer as follow:
សូមសរសេរ “សំឡេង” មិនមែន សំលេង ឬ សម្លេង ទេ ហើយ “ជំងឺ” មិនមែន ជម្ងឺ ទេ។ ខ្ញុំលើកបញ្ហានេះឡើងដោយហេតុថា មានបងប្អូនមួយចំនួនអះអាងទាំងខុសថាខ្លួនកំពុងសរសេរ ព្យាង្គតម្រួតតាម លក្ខណៈនៃការសរសេររបស់វចនានុក្រមសម្ដេចសង្ឃជូន ណាត តាមពិតមិនមែនទេ គឺគាត់យល់ខុសទេ។ មិនមែនឲ្យតែតាមការរសរសេររបស់វចនានុក្រមសម្ដេចសង្ឃជូនណាត សុទ្ធតែព្យាង្គតម្រួតទាំងអស់នោះទេ គឺវាមានមូលហេតុរបស់វា។ សូមពិនិត្យមើលក្បួនបង្កើតពាក្យឡើងវិញ (ផ្នត់)។ តាមក្បួន បើពាក្យដើមជាព្យាង្គតម្រួត ទើបពេលក្លាយទៅជាពាក្យថ្មី ត្រូវសរសេរព្យាង្គតម្រួតដែរ
ឧ. កម្ពស់ មកពី ខ្ពស់ ដំណើរ មកពី ដើរ ជំងឺ មកពី ឈឺ ។ ដំណើរ ក្លាយមកពី ដើរ + ផ្នត់ជែក [ អមន ]។

ចំណែការបកប្រែពាក្យបច្ចេកទេស គួតែកុំព្យាយាមបកពាក្យណាដែលមិនគួរបក ដូចពាក្យ Website មិនគួរបកទៅជាអ្វីផ្សេងនោះទេ គួរតែសរសេរតាមសំឡេងដោយ ផ្អែកតាម English IPA ដែលមានន័យថាគួរសរសេរ វ៉ិបសៃថ៍ /ˈweb.saɪt/ (e=អិ) មិនមែន វែបសាយ វ៉ែបសៃ ឬ អ្វីផ្សេងឡើយ។ ការសរសេរខុសៗគ្នាមកពីមនុស្សម្នាក់ៗមានការបញ្ចេញសំឡេងផ្សេងៗគ្នា ដូចនេះមានតែយក IPA ជាគោលទើបបាន។ នេះគ្រាន់តែជាមតិផ្ទាល់ខ្លួនខ្ញុំប៉ុណ្ណោះ។

Sorry if any of you here cannot read Khmer but I just target those Khmer intellectuals to consider this critical.

Thank you for your input Piseth. As of right now the grammar checker does follow Chuon Nath as closely as possible. There are some instances where Chuon Nath was not clear, and so we had to make the decision based on other sources. You raise an interesting idea regarding new terms, such as វ៉ិបសៃថ៍ vs. វែបសាយ etc. – we have not yet implemented any coherency checking with new words but this would be a great feature for the future.
The more input we have the better the grammar checker will be – so please don’t hesitate to give your input!
Thank you,
Nathan Wells
for sbbic.org

ចុះករណីពាក្យខ្លះមានពាក្យក្លាយ ចាប់ពី២ឡើងទៅ យ៉ាងម៉េចដែរ? ដូចជាពាក្យ “ដើរ” តាមខ្ញុំធ្លាប់ដឹងមានពាក្យក្លាយថា ដំណើរ បណ្ដើរ ថ្មើរ…
“កើត” មានពាក្យក្លាយថា បង្កើត កំណើត ខ្នើត
“ចុះ” ចំណុះ បញ្ចុះ
ហើយចុះ ពាក្យក្លាយរបស់ពាក្យ “ស្នើរ, ឈរ, ទាប,… ” គឺជាអ្វីដែរ? តើមានក្បួនចំណាំយ៉ាងណា?

I just want to say that many khmer word in this page are missed spell and it’s hard to understand. Imagine that I am khmer find it hard to read, how about the other nation who want to improve their khmer?

Hello Laila,
Thank you for your interest in helping. Would you be kind enough to point out which words you believe to be misspelled?

Thank you,
Nathan Wells
for sbbic.org

@Piseth. I would have to disagree about using the IPA spelling as a basis for spelling technical words in Khmer. The reasons are that 1) each words does not have one and only one IPA spelling. International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) spellings are derived from the pronunciation of words by actual speakers. For example, the word “car” would have at least two different IPA pronunciations and spellings: British English and American English. 2) Khmer spellings equivalent to English sounds is not very good. The reverse is true for English. In many cases, អិ does not equal the IPA “e”, e.g. អិន. This would be roughly equivalent to “in”, but in Khmer it is pronounced “un”. So, what is the solution? I think the better solution would be to integrate true Khmer words to signify these technical terms. I have a document that lists many computer terms that have done exactly this. I love it. Khmer is a rich language and can carry its own words. I know that still doesn’t solve the problems of every technical word :-). However, with all that, we can’t make the standards. It takes much time and consensus.

this is for you..

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