Sanskrit grammar

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The grammar of the Sanskrit language has a complex verbal system, rich nominal declension, and extensive use of compound nouns. It was studied and codified by Sanskrit grammarians from the later Vedic period (roughly 8th century BC), culminating in the Pāṇinian grammar of the 4th century BC.

Grammatical tradition[edit]

Main article: Vyākaraṇa

The grammatical tradition of Sanskrit (vyākaraṇa, one of the six Vedāṅga disciplines) began in late Vedic India and culminated in the Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini, a work which consists of 3990 sutras or aphorisms. Kātyāyana composed Vārtikas (explanations) on Pāṇini's sũtras. Patañjali, who lived three centuries after Pānini, wrote the Mahābhāṣya, the "Great Commentary" on the Aṣṭādhyāyī and the Vārtikas. Because of these three ancient Sanskrit grammarians this grammar is called Trimuni Vyākarana or 'grammar of three sages'. Jayaditya and Vāmana wrote the commentary named Kāsikā 600 CE, to elucidate the meaning of the sũtras.

Pāṇinian grammar is based on the 14 Shiva sutras. The whole Mātrika (alphabet) is abbreviated here. This abbreviation is called Pratyāhāra.[1] Kaiyaṭa's (12th century AD) commentary on Patañjali's Mahābhāṣya also exerted much influence on the development of grammar, but more influential was the Rupāvatāra of Buddhist scholar Dharmakīrti which popularised simplified versions of Sanskrit grammar.

The most influential work of the Early Modern (Mughal) period was Siddhānta Kaumudi by Bhaṭṭoji Dīkṣita (17th century) and its various derivate versions by Varadarāja. European grammatical scholarship began in the 18th century with Jean François Pons and others, and culminated in the exhaustive expositions by 19th century scholars such as Otto Boehtlingk, William Dwight Whitney, Jacob Wackernagel and others.


Main article: Sanskrit verbs

Classification of verbs[edit]

Sanskrit has ten classes of verbs (plus one used in the Vedas) divided into two broad groups: athematic and thematic. The thematic verbs are so called because an a, called the theme vowel, is inserted between the stem and the ending. This serves to make the thematic verbs generally more regular. Exponents used in verb conjugation include prefixes, suffixes, infixes, and reduplication.

Tense systems[edit]

The verbs tenses (a very inexact application of the word, since more distinctions than simply tense are expressed) are organized into four 'systems' (as well as gerunds and infinitives, and such creatures as intensives/frequentatives, desideratives, causatives, and benedictives derived from more basic forms) based on the different stem forms (derived from verbal roots) used in conjugation. There are four tense systems:

Present system[edit]

The present system includes the present tense and the imperfect (past imperfective),[citation needed] the optative and imperative moods, as well as some of the remnant forms of the old subjunctive. The tense stem of the present system is formed in various ways. The numbers are the native grammarians' numbers for these classes.

Perfect system[edit]

The perfect system includes only the perfect. The stem is formed with reduplication as with the present system.

The perfect system also produces separate "strong" and "weak" forms of the verb—the strong form is used with the singular active, and the weak form with the rest.

Aorist system[edit]

The aorist system includes aorist proper (with past indicative meaning, e.g. abhūḥ "you were") and some of the forms of the ancient injunctive (used almost exclusively with in prohibitions, e.g. mā bhūḥ "don't be"). The principal distinction of the two is presence/absence of an augmenta- prefixed to the stem. The aorist system stem actually has three different formations: the simple aorist, the sibilant aorist, and the reduplicating aorist, which is semantically related to the causative verb.

Future system[edit]

The future system is formed with the suffixation of sya or iṣya and guṇa. Verbs then conjugate as though they were thematic verbs in the present system. The imperfect of the future system is used as a conditional.

Verbs: conjugation[edit]

Each verb has a grammatical voice, whether active, passive or middle. There also is an impersonal voice, which can be described as the passive voice of intransitive verbs. Sanskrit verbs have an indicative, an optative and an imperative mood. Older forms of the language had a subjunctive, though this had fallen out of use by the time of Classical Sanskrit.

Basic conjugational endings[edit]

Conjugational endings in Sanskrit convey person, number, and voice. Different forms of the endings are used depending on what tense stem and mood they are attached to. Verb stems or the endings themselves may be changed or obscured by sandhi.

Active Middle
Person Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Primary 1 mi váḥ máḥ é váhe máhe
2 si tháḥ thá ā́the dhvé
3 ti táḥ ánti, áti ā́te ánte, áte
Secondary 1 am í, á váhi máhi
2 tám thā́ḥ ā́thām dhvám
3 t tā́m án, úḥ ā́tām ánta, áta, rán
Perfect 1 a é váhe máhe
2 tha áthuḥ á ā́the dhvé
3 a átuḥ úḥ é ā́te
Imperative 1 āni āva āma āi āvahāi āmahāi
2 dhí, hí,— tám svá ā́thām dhvám
3 tu tā́m ántu, átu tā́m ā́tām ántām, átām

Primary endings are used with present indicative and future forms. Secondary endings are used with the imperfect, conditional, aorist, and optative. Perfect and imperative endings are used with the perfect and imperative respectively.

Nominal inflection[edit]

Main article: Sanskrit nouns

Sanskrit is a highly inflected language with three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, neuter)(Sanskrit: पुल्लिङ्ग, स्त्रीलिङ्ग, नपुंसकलिङ्ग) and three numbers (singular, dual, plural) (एकवचनम्, द्विवचनम्, बहुवचनम्). It has eight cases: nominative, vocative, accusative, instrumental, dative, ablative, genitive, and locative.

The number of actual declensions is debatable. Pāṇini identifies six kārakas corresponding to the nominative, accusative, dative, instrumental, locative, and ablative cases [1]. Pāṇini defines them as follows (Ashtādhyāyi, I.4.24-54):

  1. Apādāna (lit. 'take off'): "(that which is) firm when departure (takes place)." This is the equivalent of the ablative case, which signifies a stationary object from which movement proceeds.
  2. Sampradāna ('bestowal'): "he whom one aims at with the object". This is equivalent to the dative case, which signifies a recipient in an act of giving or similar acts.
  3. Karaṇa ("instrument") "that which effects most." This is equivalent to the instrumental case.
  4. Adhikaraṇa ('location'): or "substratum." This is equivalent to the locative case.
  5. Karman ('deed'/'object'): "what the agent seeks most to attain". This is equivalent to the accusative case.
  6. Kartā ('agent'): "he/that which is independent in action". This is equivalent to the nominative case. (On the basis of Scharfe, 1977: 94)

Genitive (Sambandha) and vocative are absent in Pāṇini's grammar.

In this article they are divided into five declensions. The declension to which a noun belongs to is determined largely by form.

Basic noun and adjective declension[edit]

The basic scheme of suffixation is given in the table below—valid for almost all nouns and adjectives. However, according to the gender and the ending consonant/vowel of the uninflected word-stem, there are predetermined rules of compulsory sandhi which would then give the final inflected word. The parentheses give the case-terminations for the neuter gender, the rest are for masculine and feminine gender. Both Devanagari script and IAST transliterations are given.

Case name Case number Singular Dual Plural
(कर्ता kartā)
1 -स् -s
(-म् -m)
-औ -au
(-ई -ī)
-अस् -as
(-इ -i)
(कर्म karma)
2 -अम् -am
(-म् -m)
-औ -au
(-ई -ī)
-अस् -as
(-इ -i)
(करण karaṇa)
3 -आ -ā -भ्याम् -bhyām -भिस् -bhis
(सम्प्रदान sampradāna)
4 -ए -e -भ्याम् -bhyām -भ्यस् -bhyas
(अपादान apādāna)
5 -अस् -as -भ्याम् -bhyām -भ्यस् -bhyas
(सम्बन्ध sambandha)
6 -अस् -as -ओस् -os -आम् -ām
(अधिकरण adhikaraṇa)
7 -इ -i -ओस् -os -सु -su
(सम्बोधन sambodhana)
-स् -s
(- -)
-औ -au
(-ई -ī)
-अस् -as
(-इ -i)

The final स्" (s) characters in the above table are theoretical. In Classical Sanskrit, all of them become "ḥ" when the word is at the end of a sentence, and, if the word is followed by another in a sentence, the rules of samdhi for final "-ḥ" are applied.


A-stems (/ə/ or /aː/) comprise the largest class of nouns. As a rule, nouns belonging to this class, with the uninflected stem ending in short-a (/ə/), are either masculine or neuter. Nouns ending in long-A (/aː/) are almost always feminine. A-stem adjectives take the masculine and neuter in short-a (/ə/), and feminine in long-A (/aː/) in their stems. This class is so big because it also comprises the Proto-Indo-European o-stems.

Masculine (rāma-) Neuter (āsya- 'mouth') Feminine (kānta- 'beloved')
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative rāmaḥ rāmau rāmāḥ āsyam āsye āsyāni kāntā kānte kāntāḥ
Accusative rāmam rāmau rāmān āsyàm āsye āsyāni kāntām kānte kāntāḥ
Instrumental rāmena rāmābhyām rāmāiḥ āsyèna āsyā̀bhyām āsyāìḥ kāntayā kāntābhyām kāntābhiḥ
Dative rāmāya rāmābhyām rāmebhyaḥ āsyā̀ya āsyābhyām āsyebhyaḥ kāntāyai kāntābhyām kāntābhyaḥ
Ablative rāmāt rāmābhyām rāmebhyaḥ āsyāt āsyābhyām āsyebhyaḥ kāntāyāḥ kāntābhyām kāntābhyaḥ
Genitive rāmasya rāmayoḥ rāmānām āsyasya āsyayoḥ āsyānām kāntāyāḥ kāntayoḥ kāntānām
Locative rāme rāmayoḥ rāmeṣu āsye āsyayoḥ āsyeṣu kāntāyām kāntayoḥ kāntāsu
Vocative rāma rāmau rāmāḥ āsya āsye āsyā̀ni kānte kānte kāntāḥ

i- and u-stems[edit]

Masc. and Fem. (gáti- 'gait') Neuter (vā́ri- 'water')
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative gátiḥ gátī gátayaḥ vā́ri vā́riṇī vā́rīṇi
Accusative gátim gátī gátīḥ vā́ri vā́riṇī vā́rīṇi
Instrumental gátyā gátibhyām gátibhiḥ vā́riṇā vā́ribhyām vā́ribhiḥ
Dative gátaye, gátyāi gátibhyām gátibhyaḥ vā́riṇe vā́ribhyām vā́ribhyaḥ
Ablative gáteḥ, gátyāḥ gátibhyām gátibhyas vā́riṇaḥ vā́ribhyām vā́ribhyaḥ
Genitive gáteḥ, gátyāḥ gátyoḥ gátīnām vā́riṇaḥ vā́riṇoḥ vā́riṇām
Locative gátāu, gátyām gátyoḥ gátiṣu vā́riṇi vā́riṇoḥ vā́riṣu
Vocative gáte gátī gátayaḥ vā́ri, vā́re vā́riṇī vā́rīṇi
Masc. and Fem. (śátru- 'enemy') Neuter (mádhu- 'honey')
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative śátruḥ śátrū śátravaḥ mádhu mádhunī mádhūni
Accusative śátrum śátrū śátrūn mádhu mádhunī mádhūni
Instrumental śátruṇā śátrubhyām śátrubhiḥ mádhunā mádhubhyām mádhubhiḥ
Dative śátrave śátrubhyām śátrubhyaḥ mádhune mádhubhyām mádhubhyaḥ
Ablative śátroḥ śátrubhyām śátrubhyaḥ mádhunas mádhubhyām mádhubhyaḥ
Genitive śátroḥ śátrvoḥ śátrūṇām mádhunaḥ mádhunoḥ mádhūnām
Locative śátrāu śátrvoḥ śátruṣu mádhuni mádhunoḥ mádhuṣu
Vocative śátro śátrū śátravaḥ mádhu mádhunī mádhūni

Long Vowel-stems[edit]

ā-stems (jā- 'progeny') ī-stems (dhī- 'thought') ū-stems (bhū- 'earth')
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative jā́s jāú jā́s dhī́s dhíyāu dhíyas bhū́s bhúvāu bhúvas
Accusative jā́m jāú jā́s, jás dhíyam dhíyāu dhíyas bhúvam bhúvāu bhúvas
Instrumental jā́ jā́bhyām jā́bhis dhiyā́ dhībhyā́m dhībhís bhuvā́ bhūbhyā́m bhūbhís
Dative jā́bhyām jā́bhyas dhiyé, dhiyāí dhībhyā́m dhībhyás bhuvé, bhuvāí bhūbhyā́m bhūbhyás
Ablative jás jā́bhyām jā́bhyas dhiyás, dhiyā́s dhībhyā́m dhībhyás bhuvás, bhuvā́s bhūbhyā́m bhūbhyás
Genitive jás jós jā́nām, jā́m dhiyás, dhiyā́s dhiyós dhiyā́m, dhīnā́m bhuvás, bhuvā́s bhuvós bhuvā́m, bhūnā́m
Locative jós jā́su dhiyí, dhiyā́m dhiyós dhīṣú bhuví, bhuvā́m bhuvós bhūṣú
Vocative jā́s jāú jā́s dhī́s dhiyāu dhíyas bhū́s bhuvāu bhúvas


ṛ-stems are predominantly agental derivatives like dātṛ 'giver', though also include kinship terms like pitṛ 'father', mātṛ 'mother', and svásṛ 'sister'.

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative pitā́ pitárāu pitáras
Accusative pitáram pitárāu pitṝn
Instrumental pitrā́ pitṛ́bhyām pitṛ́bhis
Dative pitré pitṛ́bhyām pitṛ́bhyas
Ablative pitúr pitṛ́bhyām pitṛ́bhyas
Genitive pitúr pitrós pitṝṇā́m
Locative pitári pitrós pitṛ́ṣu
Vocative pítar pitárāu pitáras


The numbers from one to ten are:

  1. éka
  2. dvā
  3. tríni
  4. catvari
  5. pañca
  6. ṣáṣ
  7. saptá, sápta
  8. aṣṭá, áṣṭa
  9. náva
  10. dáśa

All numbers in Sanskrit can be declined in all the cases. Éka is declined like a pronominal adjective, though the dual form does not occur. Dvá appears only in the dual. Tríni and catvari are declined irregularly and higher numbers are only declined in the plural.

Personal pronouns and determiners[edit]

The first and second person pronouns are declined for the most part alike, having by analogy assimilated themselves with one another.

Note: Where two forms are given, the second is enclitic and an alternative form. Ablatives in singular and plural may be extended by the syllable -tas; thus mat or mattas, asmat or asmattas.

First Person Second Person
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative aham āvām vayam tvam yuvām yūyam
Accusative mām, mā āvām, nau asmān, nas tvām, tvā yuvām, vām yuṣmān, vas
Instrumental mayā āvābhyām asmābhis tvayā yuvābhyām yuṣmābhis
Dative mahyam, me āvābhyām, nau asmabhyam, nas tubhyam, te yuvābhyām, vām yuṣmabhyam, vas
Ablative mat āvābhyām asmat tvat yuvābhyām yuṣmat
Genitive mama, me āvayos, nau asmākam, nas tava, te yuvayos, vām yuṣmākam, vas
Locative mayi āvayos asmāsu tvayi yuvayos yuṣmāsu

The demonstrative ta, declined below, also functions as the third person pronoun.

Masculine Neuter Feminine
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative sás tāú tát tā́ni sā́ tā́s
Accusative tám tāú tā́n tát tā́ni tā́m tā́s
Instrumental téna tā́bhyām tāís téna tā́bhyām tāís táyā tā́bhyām tā́bhis
Dative tásmāi tā́bhyām tébhyas tásmāi tā́bhyām tébhyas tásyāi tā́bhyām tā́bhyas
Ablative tásmāt tā́bhyām tébhyam tásmāt tā́bhyām tébhyam tásyās tā́bhyām tā́bhyas
Genitive tásya táyos téṣām tásya táyos téṣām tásyās táyos tā́sām
Locative tásmin táyos téṣu tásmin táyos téṣu tásyām táyos tā́su

Compounds (samāsa)[edit]

Main article: Sanskrit compounds

One other notable feature of the nominal system is the very common use of nominal compounds, which may be huge (10+ words) as in some modern related languages such as German. Nominal compounds occur with various structures, however morphologically speaking they are essentially the same. Each noun (or adjective) is in its (weak) stem form, with only the final element receiving case inflection. Some examples of nominal compounds include:


A compound consisting of the same word repeated, but with the first occurrence being accented.[2] Amreditas are used to express repetitiveness; for example, from dív (day) we obtain divé-dive (day after day, daily) and from devá (god) we obtain deváṃ-devam or devó-devas (god after god).[3]


The first member of this type of nominal compounds is an indeclinable, to which another word is added so that the new compound also becomes indeclinable (i.e., avaya). Examples : yathā+śakti, upa+kriṣṇam (near kriṣṇa),etc. In avyayibhāva compounds, first member has primacy (pūrva-pada-pradhāna), i.e., the whole compound behaves like an indeclinable due to the nature of the first part which is indeclinable.

Tatpuruṣa (determinative)[edit]

Main article: Tatpuruṣa

Unlike the compounds, in Tatpuruṣa compounds second member has primacy (uttara-pada-pradhāna). There are many tatpuruṣas (one for each of the nominal cases, and a few others besides). In a tatpuruṣa, the first component is in a case relationship with another. For example, a doghouse is a dative compound, a house for a dog. It would be called a caturtitatpuruṣa (caturti refers to the fourth case—that is, the dative). Incidentally, "tatpuruṣa" is a tatpuruṣa ("this man"—meaning someone's agent), while "caturtitatpuruṣa" is a karmadhāraya, being both dative, and a tatpuruṣa.

An easy way to understand it is to look at English examples of tatpuruṣas: "battlefield", where there is a genitive relationship between "field" and "battle", "a field of battle"; other examples include instrumental relationships ("thunder-struck") and locative relationships ("town-dwelling"). All these normal tatpuruṣa compounds are called vyadhikarana tatpuruṣa, because the case ending should depend upon the second member because semantically second member has primacy, but actually the case ending depends upon the first member. Literally, vyadhikarana means opposite or different case ending. But when the case ending of both members of a Tatpuruṣa compound are similar then it is called a karmadhāraya tatpuruṣa compound, or simply a karmadhāraya compound.

Karmadhāraya (descriptive)[edit]

It is a variety of Tatpuruṣa as shown above, but treated separately. The relation of the first member to the last is appositional, attributive or adverbial, e. g. uluka-yatu (owl+demon) is a demon in the shape of an owl.


In a karmadhāraya compound one part behaves like an adjective for the other. :If the part behaving like an adjective is a number, it is called dvigu. Dvigu itself is a compound : dvau+gāvau. In a dvigu compounds, later part is principal, like a tatpuruṣa compound.


Example : na + brāhamaṇa = abrāhamaṇa, in which 'n' vanishes and only the 'a' of 'na' remains. But with words beginning with vowel this 'a' becomes 'an' : na+aśva > (na > a > an) anaśva.

Dvandva (co-ordinative)[edit]

Main article: Dvandva

These consist of two or more noun stems, connected in sense with 'and'. There are mainly two kinds of dvandva constructions in Sanskrit. The first is called itaretara dvandva, an enumerative compound word, the meaning of which refers to all its constituent members. The resultant compound word is in the dual or plural number and takes the gender of the final member in the compound construction. e.g. rāma-lakşmaņau – Rama and Lakshmana, or rāma-lakşmaņa-bharata-śatrughnāh – Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrughna. The second kind is called samāhāra dvandva, a collective compound word, the meaning of which refers to the collection of its constituent members. The resultant compound word is in the singular number and is always neuter in gender. e.g. pāņipādam – limbs, literally hands and feet, from pāņi = hand and pāda = foot. According to some grammarians, there is a third kind of dvandva, called ekaśeşa dvandva or residual compound, which takes the dual (or plural) form of only its final constituent member, e.g. pitarau for mātā + pitā, mother + father, i.e. parents. According to other grammarians, however, the ekaśeşa is not properly a compound at all.

Bahuvrīhi (possessive)[edit]

Main article: Bahuvrīhi

Bahuvrīhi, or "much-rice", denotes a rich person—one who has much rice. Bahuvrīhi compounds refer (by example) to a compound noun with no head—a compound noun that refers to a thing which is itself not part of the compound. For example, "low-life" and "block-head" are bahuvrihi compounds, since a low-life is not a kind of life, and a block-head is not a kind of head. (And a much-rice is not a kind of rice.) Compare with more common, headed, compound nouns like "fly-ball" (a kind of ball) or "alley cat" (a kind of cat). Bahurvrīhis can often be translated by "possessing..." or "-ed"; for example, "possessing much rice", or "much riced".


It is that variety of Karmadhāraya tatpuruṣa compound in which the middle part vanishes. E.g., devapūjakaḥ+brāhamaṇaḥ = devabrāhamaṇaḥ; Śrīyukta+Rāmaḥ = Śrīrāmaḥ


It is a variety of tatpuruṣa compound in which nouns make unions with verbs, like Kumbham+karoti = kumbhakāraḥ.


Case endings of the first constituent word do not vanish, e.g., ātmane+ padam = ātmanepadam,Parasmaipada,vanechar,yudhishira,sarasija In each of these compound words the first constituent has retained its case termination.


Because of Sanskrit's complex declension system the word order is pretty much free (with tendency toward SOV). There are some normative syntax conventions to decrease ambiguity, though.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kāśināth V. Abhyankar, A dictionary of Sanskrit Grammar, Gāekwād's Oriental Series, No. 134, Oriental Institute, Barodā, 1986


Topics in Sanskrit morphology and syntax

External links[edit]