A Look at Burmese Grammar

Lian Slayford By Lian Slayford, 3rd Jun 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

This article gives a basic outline of Burmese grammar.

A Look at Burmese Grammar

A Look at Burmese Grammar

Asian languages can be notoriously hard for Westerns to learn – some Asian languages like Mandarin do not have an alphabet so to speak and many other Asian languages have a number of different tones to learn (Mandarin has four, Cantonese seven for example). For most Westerners, Chinese and Japanese are the main Asian languages that are learn, whether for business or pleasure.

The Burmese language is not one that many Westerns learn, unless they have lived or travelled through Burma (Myanmar) for a period of time. However, for a number of years now, both scholars and the general public are taking an interest in the Burmese language.

The Burmese language is made up of 29 consonants, nine vowels, and four tones. The consonants are /k, kh, g, n, hn, s, sh, z, s, c, ch, j, t, th, d, n, hn, p, ph, b, m, hm, 1, hl, 0, y, w, h, ?/. The vowels are /a, i, u, ei, ou, e, o, ai, au/. Each syllable consists of a consonant or a cluster plus a vowel, spoken on one of the four tones or atomically. Of the vowels, /a, i, u, ei, ou, ai, au/ occur also with a nasal final. There are four tones. For details see sections 25-30. Tone I is signified by an sharp accent /'/, tone II by a circumflex /A/, tone III by a grave /'/, and tone IV is written with a final ?. There are unvoiced hush sibilants in Burmese grammar. For example, sei 'former times'.

Burmese grammar is much easier to understand and therefore easier to speak than other Asian languages, especially Southeast Asian languages, but the grammar is very different to that of western non-tonal languages.

There are four tones – “Tone I: low, level, and shorter than before space. Tone II: high, not so long as before space, and rising. Tone III: high, short, and without glottal closure. Tone IV: high, and extremely short; the glottal closure is replaced by a plain unvoiced stop of the same position as the initial sound of the following syllable”.

Nasal tones are perhaps the most difficult to understand at first, but are easier once you learn the basics. Nasal finals of tones I, II, and III are “replaced by nasals of the same position as the initial sound of the following syllable. For example, in Tone I, laba 'come'; pimbande '(he) is tired'.

The major sentences of Burmese fall into three types. These will are narrative, imperative, and equational. All three types have particular negative forms. Narrative and equational sentences, both affirmative and negative, have particular interrogative forms.

This is the basics of Burmese grammar. It may look as confusing as Chinese or Japanese, but in reality the grammar is much simpler than other Asian languages.


Coryn, William (1944) Outline of Burmese Grammar, Language, Linguistic Society of America.


Burma, Burmese, Grammar, Grammar Correct, Grammar English, Grammar Help, Grammar Proper, Grammar Tips

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author avatar Lian Slayford
Lian is a Research Archaeologist, specialising in Religious Archaeology.

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