Bengali grammar

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Bengali grammar (Bengali: বাংলা ব্যাকরণ Bangla Byakôrôn) is the study of the morphology and syntax of Bengali, an Indo-European language spoken in the Indian subcontinent. Although Bengali uses a separate alphabet (see Bengali script), a Romanization scheme is used here to suggest the pronunciation.

Pronouns[edit]

Bengali pronouns are somewhat similar to English pronouns, having different words for first, second, and third person, and also for singular and plural (unlike for verbs, below). Bengali pronouns, unlike their English counterparts, do not differentiate for gender; that is, the same pronoun may be used for "he" or "she". However, Bengali has different third-person pronouns for proximity. The first are used for someone who is nearby, and the second are for those who are a little further away. The third are usually for those who are not present. In addition, each of the second- and third-person pronouns have different forms for the familiar and polite forms; the second person also has a "very familiar" form (sometimes called "despective"). It may be noted that the "very familiar" form is used when addressing particularly close friends or family as well as for addressing subordinates, or in abusive language. In the following tables, the abbreviations used are as follows: VF=very familiar, F=familiar, and P=polite (honor); H=here, T=there, and E=elsewhere (proximity).

The nominative case is used for pronouns that are the subject of the sentence, such as "I already did that" or "Will you please stop making that noise?"

Personal pronouns (nominative case)
Subject Proximity Honor Singular Plural
1 ami (I) amra (we)
2 VF tui (you) tora (you)
F tumi (you) tomra (you)
P apni (you) apnara (you)
3 H F e (he/she/it) era (they)
P ini (he/she/it) ẽra (they)
T F o (he/she/it) ora (they)
P uni (he/she/it) õra (they)
E F she (he/she/it) tara (they)
P tini (he/she/it) tãra (they)

The objective case is used for pronouns serving as the direct or indirect objects, such as "I told him to wash the dishes" or "The teacher gave me the homework assignment."

Personal pronouns (objective case)
Subject Proximity Honor Singular Plural
1 amake (me) amader (us)
2 VF toke (you) toder (you)
F tomake (you) tomader (you)
P apnake (you) apnader (you)
3 H F eke (him/her/it) eder (them)
P ẽke (him/her/it) ẽder (them)
T F oke (him/her/it) oder (them)
P õke (him/her/it) õder (them)
E F take (him/her/it) tader (them)
P tãke (him/her/it) tãder (them)

The possessive case is used to show possession, such as "Where is your coat?" or "Let's go to our house." Note that the plural forms are identical to those for the objective case.

Personal pronouns (possessive case)
Subject Proximity Honor Singular Plural
1 amar (my) amader (our)
2 VF tor (your) toder (your)
F tomar (your) tomader (your)
P apnar (your) apnader (your)
3 H F er (his/her/its) eder (their)
P ẽr (his/her/its) ẽder (their)
T F or (his/her/its) oder (their)
P õr (his/her/its) õder (their)
E F tar (his/her/its) tader (their)
P tãr (his/her/its) tãder (their)

Nouns[edit]

Case[edit]

Nouns are also inflected for case, including nominative, objective, genitive (possessive), and locative. The case marking pattern for each noun being inflected depends on the noun's degree of animacy.

Singular Noun Inflection
Animate Inanimate
Nominative ছাত্র-ţa

the student

জুতা-ţa

the shoe

Objective ছাত্র-ţa-ke

the student

জুতা-ţa

the shoe

Genitive ছাত্র-ţa-r

the student's

জুতা-ţa-r

the shoe's

Locative - জুতা-ţa-(t)e

on/in the shoe

When a definite article such as -ţa (singular) or -gula (plural) is added, as in the table above, nouns are also inflected for number. Plural versions of the previous table can be found below:

Plural Noun Inflection
Animate Inanimate
Nominative ছাত্র-ra

the students

জুতা-gula

the shoes

Objective ছাত্র-der(ke)

the students

জুতা-gula

the shoes

Genitive ছাত্র-der

the students'

জুতা-gula-r

the shoes'

Locative - জুতা-gula-te

on/in the shoes

Measure words[edit]

When counted, nouns must also be accompanied by the appropriate measure word. As in many Asian languages (e.g. Chinese, Japanese, Thai, etc.), nouns in Bengali cannot be counted directly by adding the numeral directly adjacent to the noun. The noun's measure word (MW) must be used in between the numeral and the noun. Most nouns take the generic measure word ţa, although there are many more specific measure words, such as jon, which is only used to count humans.

Measure Words
Bengali Literal translation
Nôe-ţa ghoŗi Nine-MW clock Nine clocks
Kôe-ţa balish How many-MW pillow How many pillows
Ônek-jon lok Many-MW person Many people
Char-pañch-jon shikkhôk Four-five-MW teacher Four or five teachers

Measuring nouns in Bengali without their corresponding measure words (e.g. aţ biŗal instead of aţ-ţa biŗal "eight cats") would typically be considered ungrammatical. However, omitting the noun and preserving the measure word is grammatical and not uncommon to hear. For example, Shudhu êk-jon thakbe. (lit. "Only one-MW will remain.") would be understood to mean "Only one person will remain.", since jon can only be used to count humans. The word lok "person" is implied.

Verbs[edit]

Bengali verbs are highly inflected and are regular with only few exceptions. They consist of a stem and an ending; they are traditionally listed in Bengali dictionaries in their "verbal noun" form, which is usually formed by adding -a to the stem (for instance, rakha = "to put or place"). The stem can end in either a vowel or a consonant. Verbs are conjugated for tense and person by changing the endings, which are largely the same for all verbs. However, the stem vowel can often change as part of the phenomenon known as "vowel harmony", whereby one vowel can be influenced by other vowels in the word to sound more harmonious. An example would be the verb "to write", with stem lekh-: লেখো lekho (you all write) but লিখি likhi (we write). In general, the following transformations take place: ôo, ou, êe, ei, and ae, where the verbal noun features the first vowel but certain conjugations use the second. In addition, the verbs dêoa (to give) and nêoa (to take) switch between e, i, a, and ê. If verbs are classified by stem vowel and if the stem ends in a consonant or vowel, there are nine basic classes in which most verbs can be placed; all verbs in a class will follow the same pattern. A prototype verb from each of these classes will be used to demonstrate conjugation for that class; bold will be used to indicate mutation of the stem vowel.

Non-finite forms[edit]

The Bengali verb can occur in six non-finite forms: by definition, they do not offer any information on tense (whether the event is in the present, past, or future) or number (whether the event involves one or more subject). They do, however, indicate other information - these are shown below using the verbal root jan- "know":

Person[edit]

Verbs are inflected for person and honour, but not for number. There are five forms: first person, second person (very familiar), second person (familiar), third person (familiar), and second/third person (polite). The same sample subject pronouns will be used for all the example conjugation paradigms: ami (Bengali: আমি), tui (তুই), tumi (তুমি), she (সে) and apni (আপনি). These have the following plurals respectively amra (আমরা), tora (তোরা), tomra (তোমরা), tara (তারা) and apnara (আপনারা).

Mood[edit]

There are two moods for Bengali verbs: the indicative and the imperative. The imperative mood is used to give commands. The indicative mood is used for statements of fact; its various tenses are given below.

Aspect[edit]

There are three aspects for Bengali verbs: simple aspect, the progressive/continuous aspect, and the perfect. These are combined with the different tenses described below to form the various verbal conjugations possible.

  • আঁকা ãka - verbal noun ("act of drawing")
  • আঁকতে ãkte - verbal infinitive ("to draw")
  • আঁকতে-আঁকতে ãkte-ãkte - progressive participle ("while drawing")
  • আঁকলে ãkle - conditional participle ("if X draws")
  • এঁকে ẽke - perfect participle ("having drawn")
  • এঁকে-এঁকে ẽke-ẽke - iterative participle ("having drawn many times")

Tense[edit]

Bengali has four simple tenses: the present tense, the past tense, the conditional or habitual past tense, and the future tense. These combine with mood and aspect to form more complex conjugations, such as the past progressive, or the present perfect.

Simple present tense[edit]

The present tense in Bengali is similar to that of English: I eat, you run, he reads. The endings are -i, -(i)sh, -o, -e, and -(e)n.

Verb 1 2 (VF) 2 (F) 3 (F) 2/3 (P)
bôla ami boli tui bolish tumi bôlo she bôle apni bôlen
বলা আমি বলি তুই বলিস তুমি বলো সে বলে আপনি বলেন
khola ami khuli tui khulish tumi kholo she khole apni kholen
খোলা আমি খুলি তুই খুলিস তুমি খোলো সে খোলে আপনি খোলেন
khêla ami kheli tui khelish tumi khêlo she khêle apni khêlen
খেলা আমি খেলি তুই খেলিস তুমি খেলো সে খেলে আপনি খেলেন
chena ami chini tui chinish tumi cheno she chene apni chenen
চেনা আমি চিনি তুই চিনিস তুমি চেনো সে চেনে আপনি চেনেন
jana ami jani tui janish tumi jano she jane apni janen
জানা আমি জানি তুই জানিস তুমি জানো সে জানে আপনি জানেন
hôoa ami hoi tui hosh tumi hôo she hôe apni hôn
হওয়া আমি হই তুই হোস তুমি হও সে হয় আপনি হন
dhoa ami dhui tui dhush tumi dhoo she dhoe apni dhon
ধোয়া আমি ধুই তুই ধুস তুমি ধোও সে ধোয় আপনি ধোন
khaoa ami khai tui khash tumi khao she khae apni khan
খাওয়া আমি খাই তুই খাস তুমি খাও সে খায় আপনি খান
deoa ami dii tui dish tumi dao she dêe apni dên
দেওয়া আমি তরে দিই তুই তারে দিস তুমি দাও সে দেয় আপনি দেন

Simple past tense[edit]

The (simple) past tense differs from its use in English in that it is usually reserved for events that have occurred recently; for instance, less than a day ago. It would be translated into the English simple past tense: I ate, you ran, he read. The endings are -lam, -li, -le, -lo, -len (notice that the vowels for the second and third [familiar] persons are the reverse of those in the present tense). For example: ami dekhlam, tui dekhli, tumi dekhle, se dekhlo, apni dekhlen. In less standard varieties of Bengali, "a" is substituted for "e" in second-person familiar forms; thus "tumi bolla, khulla, khella," etc.

Verb 1 2 (VF) 2 (F) 3 (F) 2/3 (P)
bôla ami bollam tui bolli tumi bolle she bollo apni bollen
বলা আমি বললাম তুই বললি তুমি বললে সে বললো আপনি বললেন
khola ami khullam tui khulli tumi khulle she khullo apni khullen
খোলা আমি খুললাম তুই খুললি তুমি খুললে সে খুললো আপনি খুললেন
khêla ami khellam tui khelli tumi khelle she khello apni khellen
খেলে আমি খেললাম তুই খেললি তুমি খেললে সে খেললো আপনি খেললেন
chena ami chinlam tui chinli tumi chinle she chinlo apni chinlen
চেনা আমি চিনলাম তুই চিনলি তুমি চিনলে সে চিনলো আপনি চিনলেন
jana ami janlam tui janli tumi janle she janlo apni janlen
জানা আমি জানলাম তুই জানলি তুমি জানলে সে জানলে আপনি জানলেন
hôoa ami holam tui holi tumi hole she holo apni holen
হওয়া আমি হলাম তুই হলি তুমি হলে সে হল আপনি হলেন
dhoa ami dhulam tui dhuli tumi dhule she dhulo apni dhulen
ধোওয়া আমি ধুলাম তুই ধুলি তুমি ধুলে সে ধুলো আপনি ধুলেন
khaoa ami khelam tui kheli tumi khele she khelo apni khelen
খাওয়া আমি খেলাম তুই খেলি তুমি খেলে সে খেলো আপনি খেলেন
dêoa ami dilam tui dili tumi dile she dilo apni dilen
দেওয়া আমি দিলাম তুই দিলি তুমি দিলে সে দিলো আপনি দিলেন

Habitual past tense[edit]

The habitual past tense has a few different uses. It is used for events that happened regularly, such as "I used to eat out every day" or "He wrote poems when he was young", the equivalent of an imperfect. It may also be used as a sort of conditional, such as the following: "If you asked I would come" or "If you had asked I would have come". It is easy to form the habitual past tense: simply start with the simple past tense and change the l to t (except in the tui [2 VF] form). The endings are -tam, -tish, -te, -to, -ten. For example: ami dekhtam, tui dekhtish, tumi dekhte, she dekhto, apni dekhten. In less standard varieties of Bengali, "a" is substituted for "e" in second-person familiar forms; thus "tumi bolta, khulta, khelta," etc.

Verb 1 2 (VF) 2 (F) 3 (F) 2/3 (P)
বলা আমি boltam তুই boltish তুমি bolte সে bolto apni bolten
khola আমি khultam তুই khultish তুমি khulte সে khulto apni khulten
khêla আমি kheltam তুই kheltish তুমি khelte সে khelto apni khelten
chena আমি chintam তুই chintish তুমি chinte সে chinto apni chinten
jana আমি jantam তুই jantish তুমি jante সে janto apni janten
hôoa আমি hotam তুই hotish তুমি hote সে hoto apni hoten
dhoa আমি dhutam তুই dhutish তুমি dhute সে dhuto apni dhuten
khaoa আমি khetam তুই khetish তুমি khete সে kheto apni kheten
dêoa আমি ditam তুই ditish তুমি dite সে dito apni diten

Future tense[edit]

In less standard varieties of Bengali, "a" is substituted for "e" in second-person familiar forms; thus "tumi bolba, khulba, khelba," etc.

Verb 1 2 (VF) 2 (F) 3 (F) 2/3 (P)
bôla আমি bolbo tui bolbi tumi bolbe she bolbe apni bolben
khola আমি khulbo tui khulbi tumi khulbe she khulbe apni khulben
khêla আমি khelbo tui khelbi tumi khelbe she khelbe apni khelben
chena আমি chinbo tui chinbi tumi chinbe she chinbe apni chinben
jana আমি janbo tui janbi tumi janbe she janbe apni janben
hôoa আমি hôbo tui hobi tumi hôbe she hôbe apni hôben
dhoa আমি dhubo tui dhubi tumi dhube she dhube apni dhuben
khaoa আমি khabo tui khabi tumi khabe she khabe apni khaben
dêoa আমি debo tui dibi tumi debe she debe apni deben

Postpositions[edit]

Whereas English features prepositions, Bengali typically uses postpositions. That is, while these modifying words occur before their object in English (beside him, inside the house), they typically occur after their object in Bengali (or pashe, baŗir bhitore). Some postpositions require their object noun to take the possessive case, while others require the objective case (which is unmarked for inanimate nouns); this distinction must be memorized. Most postpositions are formed by taking nouns referring to a location and inflecting them for locative case.

Postpositions that require genitive (possessive) case[edit]

  • age 'before': shôkal-er age 'before the morning'
  • pôre 'after': shondha-r pôre 'after the evening'
  • upore 'on top of', 'above': bichhana-r upore 'on top of the bed'
  • niche 'below', 'under': boi-er niche 'under the book'
  • pichhone 'behind': almari-r pichhone 'behind the cupboard'
  • shamne 'in front of': gaŗi-r shamne 'in front of the car'
  • oi pare 'across': nodi-r oi pare 'across the river'
  • kachhe 'near': janala-r kachhe 'near the window'
  • pashe 'beside': chula-r pashe 'beside the stove'
  • jonno 'for': shikkhôk-er jonno 'for the teacher'
  • koch theke 'from' (people): baba-r theke 'from father'
  • dike 'towards': basha-r dike 'towards the house'
  • baire 'outside': desh-er baire 'outside the country'
  • bhitore 'inside': dokan-er bhitore 'inside the store'
  • moddhe 'in the middle of': shomudr-er moddhe 'in the middle of the ocean'
  • bhitor die 'through': shôhorer bhitor die 'through the city'
  • môto 'like': tom-ar môto 'like you'
  • shôngge 'with': am-ar shôngge 'with me'
  • kôtha 'about': sheţa-r kôtha 'about that'
  • shômmondhe 'about': itihash-er shômmondhe 'about history'
  • shathe 'with': ma-er shathe 'with mother'

Postpositions that require accusative (object) case[edit]

  • kore 'by means of': ţêksi kore 'by taxi'
  • chhaŗa 'without', 'aside from': ama-ke chhaŗa 'aside from me'
  • theke 'from' (places): Bangladesh theke 'from Bangladesh'
  • die 'by': ta-ke die 'by him'
  • dhore 'for' (time): dudin dhore 'for two days'
  • nie 'including', 'with': toma-ke nie 'including you'
  • porjonto 'until': dôshţa porjonto 'until ten o' clock'
  • shôho 'with', 'including': ţaka shôho 'along with the money'
  • hoe 'via': Kolkata hoe 'via Kolkata'
  • te 'to': mathete 'to the temple'

Prepositions that require locative case[edit]

  • bina 'without': bina onumoti-te 'without permission'

References[edit]

  • Chatterji, Suniti Kumar. Bengali Self-Taught. Calcutta: Rupa & Co., 1991.
  • Radice, William. Teach Yourself Bengali. Chicago: NTC Publishing Group, 1994.
  • Bonazzi, Eros. Grammatica Bengali. Bologna (Italy): Libreria Bonomo Editrice, 2008. ISBN 978-88-6071-017-8