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.
- 1 Grammatical tradition
- 2 Verbs
- 3 Nominal inflection
- 4 Personal pronouns and determiners
- 5 Compounds (samāsa)
- 6 Phonology
- 7 Grammar
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 External links
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. 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.
Classification of verbs
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.
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:
The present system includes the present tense and the imperfect (past imperfective), 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.
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.
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 mā in prohibitions, e.g. mā bhūḥ "don't be"). The principal distinction of the two is presence/absence of an augment – a- 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.
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.
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
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.
|3||ti||táḥ||ánti, áti||té||ā́te||ánte, áte|
|3||t||tā́m||án, úḥ||tá||ā́tām||ánta, áta, rán|
|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.
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 . Pāṇini defines them as follows (Ashtādhyāyi, I.4.24-54):
- 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.
- 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.
- Karaṇa ("instrument") "that which effects most." This is equivalent to the instrumental case.
- Adhikaraṇa ('location'): or "substratum." This is equivalent to the locative case.
- Karman ('deed'/'object'): "what the agent seeks most to attain". This is equivalent to the accusative case.
- 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
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|
|3||-आ -ā||-भ्याम् -bhyām||-भिस् -bhis|
|4||-ए -e||-भ्याम् -bhyām||-भ्यस् -bhyas|
|5||-अस् -as||-भ्याम् -bhyām||-भ्यस् -bhyas|
|6||-अस् -as||-ओस् -os||-आम् -ām|
|7||-इ -i||-ओस् -os||-सु -su|
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')|
i- and u-stems
|Masc. and Fem. (gáti- 'gait')||Neuter (vā́ri- 'water')|
|Masc. and Fem. (śátru- 'enemy')||Neuter (mádhu- 'honey')|
|ā-stems (jā- 'progeny')||ī-stems (dhī- 'thought')||ū-stems (bhū- 'earth')|
|Dative||jé||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||jí||jós||jā́su||dhiyí, dhiyā́m||dhiyós||dhīṣú||bhuví, bhuvā́m||bhuvós||bhūṣú|
ṛ-stems are predominantly agental derivatives like dātṛ 'giver', though also include kinship terms like pitṛ 'father', mātṛ 'mother', and svásṛ 'sister'.
The numbers from one to ten are:
- saptá, sápta
- aṣṭá, áṣṭa
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
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|
|Accusative||mām, mā||āvām, nau||asmān, nas||tvām, tvā||yuvām, vām||yuṣmān, vas|
|Dative||mahyam, me||āvābhyām, nau||asmabhyam, nas||tubhyam, te||yuvābhyām, vām||yuṣmabhyam, vas|
|Genitive||mama, me||āvayos, nau||asmākam, nas||tava, te||yuvayos, vām||yuṣmākam, vas|
The demonstrative ta, declined below, also functions as the third person pronoun.
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. 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).
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
Classical Sanskrit distinguishes about 36 phonemes. There is, however, some allophony and the writing systems used for Sanskrit generally indicate this, thus distinguishing 48 sounds. The sounds are traditionally listed in the order vowels (Ac), diphthongs (Hal), anusvara and visarga, plosives (Sparśa) and nasals (starting in the back of the mouth and moving forward), and finally the liquids and fricatives, written in IAST as follows:
- a ā i ī u ū ṛ ṝ ḷ ḹ ; e ai o au
- ṃ ḥ
- k kh g gh ṅ; c ch j jh ñ; ṭ ṭh ḍ ḍh ṇ; t th d dh n; p ph b bh m
- y r l v; ś ṣ s h
The vowels of Classical Sanskrit written in Devanagari, as a syllable-initial letter and as a diacritic mark on the consonant प् (/p/), pronunciation transcribed in IPA, IAST, and approximate equivalent in English:
|Letter||प्||IPA||IAST||English equivalent (GA unless stated otherwise)|
|अ||प||[ə]||a||short near-open central vowel or schwa: u in bunny|
|आ||पा||[ɑ]||ā||open back unrounded vowel: a in father (RP)|
|इ||पि||[i]||i||short close front unrounded vowel: e in England|
|ई||पी||[iː]||ī||long close front unrounded vowel: ee in feet|
|उ||पु||[u]||u||short close back rounded vowel: oo in foot|
|ऊ||पू||[uː]||ū||long close back rounded vowel: oo in cool|
|ऋ||पृ||[ərə] (traditional) or [ri] (modern, North-Central India)||ṛ||syllabic alveolar trill: closest to er in butter in rhotic accents|
|ॠ||पॄ||[ərəː] (traditional) or [ri:] (modern, North-Central India)||ṝ||syllabic alveolar trill: closest to ir in bird in rhotic accents|
|ऌ||पॢ||[ələ] (traditional) or [lri], [li] (modern, North-Central India)||ḷ||syllabic dental lateral approximant: le in turtle|
|ॡ||पॣ||[ələ:] (traditional) or [lri:], [li:] (modern, North-Central India)||ḹ||syllabic dental lateral approximant: longer le|
|ए||पे||[e]||e||long close-mid front unrounded vowel: a in bane (some speakers)|
|ऐ||पै||[əj]/[ɑj]||ai||a diphthong: i in ice, i in kite (US, Canadian, and Scottish English)|
|ओ||पो||[o]||o||close-mid back rounded vowel: o in bone (Scottish English)|
|औ||पौ||[əw]/[ɑw]||au||a diphthong: ou in house (Canadian English)|
The long vowels are pronounced twice as long as their short counterparts. Also, there exists a third, extra-long length for most vowels. This lengthening is called pluti; the lengthened vowels, called pluta, are used in various cases, but particularly in the vocative. The pluti is not accepted by all grammarians. The vowels /e/ and /o/ continue as allophonic variants of Proto-Indo-Iranian /ai/, /au/ and are categorised as diphthongs by Sanskrit grammarians even though they are realised phonetically as simple long vowels.
- There are some additional signs traditionally listed in tables of the Devanagari script:
- The diacritic ं called anusvāra, (IAST: ṃ). It is used both to indicate the nasalisation of the vowel in the syllable [◌̃] and to represent the sound of a syllabic /n/ or /m/; e.g. पं /pəŋ/.
- The diacritic ः called visarga, represents /x/ (IAST: ḥ); e.g. पः /pəh/. While pronounced as a fricative, it's assimilable into a succeeding stop,
- The diacritic ँ called chandrabindu, not traditionally included in Devanagari charts for Sanskrit, is used interchangeably with the anusvāra to indicate nasalisation of the vowel, primarily in Vedic notation; e.g. पँ /pə̃/.
- If a lone consonant needs to be written without any following vowel, it is given a halanta/virāma diacritic below (प्).
- The vowel /aː/ in Sanskrit is realised as being more central and less back than the closest English approximation, which is /ɑː/. But the grammarians have classified it as a back vowel.
- The ancient Sanskrit grammarians classified the vowel system as velars, retroflexes, palatals and plosives rather than as back, central and front vowels. Hence ए and ओ are classified respectively as palato-velar (a+i) and labio-velar (a+u) vowels respectively. But the grammarians have classified them as diphthongs and in prosody, each is given two mātrās. This does not necessarily mean that they are proper diphthongs, but neither excludes the possibility that they could have been proper diphthongs at a very ancient stage. These vowels are pronounced as long /eː/ and /oː/ respectively by learned Sanskrit Brahmans and priests of today. Other than the "four" diphthongs, Sanskrit usually disallows any other diphthong—vowels in succession, where they occur, are converted to semivowels according to sandhi rules.
- The pronunciation of vocalic r is as above: much the same as in English "butter" and the Hindi "patr", meaning letter. This cause a great deal of confusion for those who start from the writing systems of West European and modern Indian languages, which do not recognise the vocalic r as an allophone of the consonant r, and which therefore require that a vowel be included in the syllable - "e" in "butter", "i" in "bird", etc. -. Other languages have writing systems that include vocalic r. In Croatian, for example, "corner" is written "vrj", the "r" doing double duty as a vowel in addition to a consonant. Indian descendant languages of Sanskrit lost the vocalic r, and Indian pandits came to pronounce it as variously "ri" in the North - as in the name of the god known there as "krishn" -, and "ru" in the South - where the same god is commonly referred to as "krushna". When vocalic r reappeared in modern Indian languages due to the loss of final "a" in Sanskrit loan words such as "patra" > "patr" in Hindi, (which replaced prakrit and apabramsha "patta", the natural derivative of the Sanskrit) it was not recognised by modern speakers that this corresponded exactly to the vocalic r of ancient Sanskrit. The pronunciation remains a bone of contention even now amongst those who are unfamiliar with the ancient Indian science of phonetics (discussed above) in which the sound system is perfectly described.
|p प [p]||b ब [b]||t त [t̪]||d द [d̪]||ṭ ट [ʈ ]||ḍ ड [ɖ ]||c च [t͡ɕ]||j ज [d͡ʑ]||k क [k]||g ग [ɡ]|
|ph फ [pʰ]||bh भ [bʱ]||th थ [t̪ʰ]||dh ध [d̪ʱ]||ṭh ठ [ʈʰ]||ḍh ढ [ɖʱ]||ch छ [t͡ɕʰ]||jh झ [d͡ʑʱ]||kh ख [kʰ]||gh घ [ɡʱ]|
|m म [m]||n न [n̪]||ṇ ण [ɳ ]||(ñ ञ [ ɲ])||ṅ ङ [ŋ]|
|v व [v]||y य [j]|
|l ल [l̪]||r र [ɽ]|
|s स [s̪]||ṣ ष [ʂ]||ś श [ɕ]||ḥ ः [x]||h ह [ɦ]|
The table below shows the traditional listing of the Sanskrit consonants with the (nearest) equivalents in English (as pronounced in General American and Received Pronunciation or the Indian English pronunciation if specified), French and Spanish. Each consonant shown below is deemed to be followed by the neutral vowel schwa (/ə/), and is named in the table as such.
/kə/; English: skip
/kʰə/; English: cow
/ɡə/; English: game
/ɡʱə/; no equivalent
/ŋə/; English: ring
/cə/; no equivalent
/cʰə/; no equivalent
/ɟə/; no equivalent
/ɟʱə/; no equivalent
[ ɲə]; French: agneau, Spanish ñ
/ʈə/; English: stop
/ʈʰə/; English: time
/ɖə/; English (Indian): door
/ɖʱə/; no equivalent
/ɳə/; no English equivalent
/t̪ə/; French, Spanish: tomate
/t̪ʰə/; Aspirated /t̪/
/d̪ə/; French: dans, Spanish donde
/d̪ʱə/; Aspirated /d̪/
/n̪ə/; English name
/pə/; English: spin
/pʰə/; English: pork
/bə/; English: bone
/bʱə/; no equivalent
/mə/; English: mine
/jə/; English: you
/ɽə/; no equivalent
/l̪ə/; French, Spanish: la
/wə/; English w
/ɕə/; similar to English: ship
/ʂə/; Retroflex form of /ʃ/
/s̪ə/; English: same
/ɦə/; English ahead
Vedic Sanskrit had pitch accent; some syllables had a high tone, and the following syllable a falling tone, though through ellipsis a falling tone may occur elsewhere.
Phonology and sandhi
The Sanskrit vowels are as discussed in the section above. The long syllabic l (ḹ) is not attested, and is only discussed by grammarians for systematic reasons. Its short counterpart ḷ occurs in a single root only, kḷp "to order, array". Long syllabic r (ṝ) is also quite marginal, occurring in the genitive plural of r-stems (e.g. mātṛ "mother" and pitṛ "father" have gen.pl. mātṝṇām and pitṝṇām). i, u, ṛ, ḷ are vocalic allophones of consonantal y, v, r, l. There are thus only 5 invariably vocalic phonemes:a, ā, ī, ū, ṝ.
Visarga ḥ ः is an allophone of r and s, and anusvara ṃ, Devanagari ं of any nasal, both in pausa (i.e., the nasalised vowel). The exact pronunciation of the three sibilants may vary, but they are distinct phonemes. An aspirated voiced sibilant /zʱ/ was inherited by Indo-Aryan from Proto-Indo-Iranian but lost shortly before the time of the Rigveda (aspirated fricatives are exceedingly rare in any language). The retroflex consonants are somewhat marginal phonemes, often being conditioned by their phonetic environment; they do not continue a PIE series and are often ascribed by some linguists to the substratal influence of Dravidian or other substrate languages. The nasal [ɲ] is a conditioned allophone of /n/ (/n/ and /ɳ/ are distinct phonemes—aṇu 'minute', 'atomic' [nom. sg. neutr. of an adjective] is distinctive from anu 'after', 'along'; phonologically independent /ŋ/ occurs only marginally, e.g. in prāṅ 'directed forwards/towards' [nom. sg. masc. of an adjective]). There are thus 31 consonantal or semi-vocalic phonemes, consisting of four/five kinds of stops realised both with or without aspiration and both voiced and voiceless, three nasals, four semi-vowels or liquids, and four fricatives, written in IAST transliteration as follows: k, kh, g, gh; c, ch, j, jh; ṭ, ṭh, ḍ, ḍh; t, th, d, dh; p, ph, b, bh; m, n, ṇ; y, r, l, v; ś, ṣ, s, h or a total of 36 unique Sanskrit phonemes altogether.
The phonological rules which are applied when combining morphemes to a word, and when combining words to a sentence, are collectively called sandhi "composition". Texts are written phonetically, with sandhi applied (except for the so-called padapāṭha).
Sanskrit grammatical tradition (vyākaraṇa, one of the six Vedanga disciplines) began in late Vedic India and culminated in the Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini, which consists of 3990 sutras (ca. 5th century BCE). About a century after Pāṇini (around 400 BCE) Kātyāyana composed Vārtikas on Pāṇinian sũtras. Patañjali, who lived three centuries after Pāṇini, wrote the Mahābhāṣya, the "Great Commentary" on the Aṣṭādhyāyī and Vārtikas. Because of these three ancient Sanskrit grammarians this grammar is called Trimuni Vyākarana. To understand the meaning of sutras Jayaditya and Vāmana wrote the commentary named Kāsikā 600 CE. Pāṇinian grammar is based on 14 Shiva sutras (aphorisms). Here whole Mātrika (alphabet) is abbreviated. This abbreviation is called Pratyāhara.
Sanskrit has ten classes of verbs 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. Every root has (not necessarily all distinct) zero, guṇa, and vṛddhi grades. If V is the vowel of the zero grade, the guṇa-grade vowel is traditionally thought of as a + V, and the vṛddhi-grade vowel as ā + V.
The verb tenses (a very inexact application of the word, since more distinctions than simply tense are expressed) are organised 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:
Sanskrit is a highly inflected language with three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, neuter) and three numbers (singular, plural, dual). It has eight cases: nominative, vocative, accusative, instrumental, dative, ablative, genitive, and locative. The number of actual declensions is debatable. Pāṇini identifies six karakas corresponding to the nominative, accusative, dative, instrumental, locative, and ablative cases. Pāṇini defines them as follows (Ashtadhyayi, I.4.24 – 54):
- Apadana (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.
- Sampradana ('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.
- Karana ("instrument") "that which effects most." This is equivalent to the instrumental case.
- Adhikarana ('location'): or "substratum." This is equivalent to the locative case.
- Karman ('deed'/'object'): "what the agent seeks most to attain". This is equivalent to the accusative case.
- Karta ('agent'): "he/that which is independent in action". This is equivalent to the nominative case. (On the basis of Scharfe, 1977: 94)
Personal pronouns and determiners
Sanskrit pronouns are declined for case, number, and gender. The pronominal declension applies to a few adjectives as well. Many pronouns have alternative enclitic forms. The first and second person pronouns are declined for the most part alike, having by analogy assimilated themselves with one another. 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. Sanskrit does not have true third person pronouns, but its demonstratives fulfill this function instead by standing independently without a modified substantive.
There are four different demonstratives in Sanskrit: tat, etat, idam, and adas. etat indicates greater proximity than tat. While idam is similar to etat, adas refers to objects that are more remote than tat. eta, is declined almost identically to ta. Its paradigm is obtained by prefixing e- to all the forms of ta. As a result of sandhi, the masculine and feminine singular forms transform into eṣas and eṣã.
The enclitic pronoun ena is found only in a few oblique cases and numbers. Interrogative pronouns all begin with k-, and decline just as tat does, with the initial t- being replaced by k-. The only exception to this are the singular neuter nominative and accusative forms, which are both kim and not the expected *kat. For example, the singular feminine genitive interrogative pronoun, "of whom?", is kasyãḥ. Indefinite pronouns are formed by adding the participles api, cid, or cana after the appropriate interrogative pronouns. All relative pronouns begin with y-, and decline just as tat does. The correlative pronouns are identical to the tat series.
In addition to the pronouns described above, some adjectives follow the pronominal declension. Unless otherwise noted, their declension is identical to tat.
- eka: "one", "a certain". (singular neuter nominative and accusative forms are both ekam)
- anya: "another".
- sarva: "all", "every". (singular neuter nominative and accusative forms are both sarvam)
- para: "the other". (singular neuter nominative and accusative forms are both param)
- sva: "self" (a reflexive adjective). (singular neuter nominative and accusative forms are both svam)
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 languages such as German and Finnish. 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. The four principle categories of nominal compounds are:
- Dvandva (co-ordinative)
- These consist of two or more noun stems, connected in sense with 'and'. Examples are rāma-lakşmaņau—Rama and Lakshmana, rāma-lakşmaņa-bharata-śatrughnāh—Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrughna, and pāņipādam—limbs, literally hands and feet, from pāņi = hand and pāda = foot.
- Tatpuruṣa (determinative)
- There are many tatpuruṣas; 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; other examples include instrumental relationships ("thunderstruck") and locative relationships ("towndwelling").
- Karmadhāraya (descriptive)
- A compound where 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. Karmadhārayas are considered by some to be tatpuruṣas.
- Bahuvrīhi (possessive/exocentric)
- Bahuvrīhi compounds refer to a compound noun that refers to a thing which is itself not part of the compound. For example the word bahuvrīhi itself, from bahu = much and vrīhi = rice, denotes a rich person—one who has much rice.
Because of Sanskrit's complex declension system the word order is free. In usage, there is a strong tendency toward subject – object – verb (SOV), which was the original system in place in Vedic prose. However, there are exceptions when word pairs cannot be transposed.
The numbers from one to ten:
The numbers one through four are declined. Éka is declined like a pronominal adjective, though the dual form does not occur. Dvá appears only in the dual. Trí and catúr are declined irregularly:
Some peculiar characteristics of Sanskrit
In the introduction to his celebrated translation of Vidyakara's 'Subhasitaratnakosa', Daniel H.H. Ingalls describes some peculiar characteristics of the Sanskrit language. He refers to the enormous vocabulary of Sanskrit, and also of the presence of a larger choice of synonyms in Sanskrit than any other language he knew of. Further, he writes, just as there exist a vast number of synonyms for almost any word in Sanskrit, there also exist synonymous constructions. Ingalls writes that in elementary Sanskrit examinations he would ask his students to write in Sanskrit the sentence 'You must fetch the horse' in ten different ways. Actually, Ingalls explains, it is possible to write the sentence in Sanskrit in around fifteen different ways 'by using active or passive constructions, imperative or optative, an auxiliary verb, or any of the three gerundive forms, each of which, by the way, gives a different metrical pattern'. Ingalls emphasizes that while these constructions differ formally, emotionally they are identical and completely interchangeable. He comments that in any natural language this would be impossible. Ingalls uses this and other arguments to show that Sanskrit is not a natural language, but an 'artificial' language. By 'artificial', he explains he means it was learned after some other Indian language had been learned by simple conditioning. Ingalls writes: 'Every Indian, one may suppose, grew up learning naturally the language of his mother and his playmates. Only after this and if he belonged to the priesthood or the nobility or to such a professional caste as that of the clerks, the physicians, or the astrologers would he learn Sanskrit. As a general rule, Sanskrit was not the language of the family. It furnished no subconscious symbols for the impressions which we receive in childhood nor for the emotions which form our character in early adolescence.'
- Kāśināth V. Abhyankar, A dictionary of Sanskrit Grammar, Gāekwād's Oriental Series, No. 134, Oriental Institute, Barodā, 1986
- Maurer, Walter (2001). The sanskrit language : an introductory grammar and reader. Surrey, England: Curzon. ISBN 0-7007-1382-4.
- Stiehl, Ulrich (2011). Sanskrit-Kompendium : ein Lehr-, Übungs- und Nachschlagewerk; Devanagari-Ausgabe (PDF) (in German). Heidelberg: Forkel. ISBN 978-3-7719-0086-1.
- Hamp, Eric P. (Oct–December 1996). "On the Indo-European origins of the retroflexes in Sanskrit". The Journal of the American Oriental Society. Retrieved 8 January 2009. Check date values in:
- Abhyankar, Kashinath (1986). A Dictionary of Sanskrit Grammar (PDF). Baroda: Maharaja Sayajirao University.
- "The Karaka Theory of The Indian Grammarians". Franson D Manjali. Retrieved 2012-04-05.
- Warnemyr, Lennart. An analytical cross referenced Sanskrit Grammar.
- J.F. Staal (31 January 1967). Word Order in Sanskrit and Universal Grammar. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 978-90-277-0549-5.
- Gillon, B.S (25 March 1996), "Word order in Classical Sanskrit", Indian linguistics 57 (1 – 4): 1, ISSN 0378-0759
- Vidyākara (1965). An anthology of Sanskrit court poetry; Vidyākara's. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. pp. 5–8. ISBN 978-0-674-03950-6.
- W. D. Whitney, Sanskrit Grammar: Including both the Classical Language and the Older Dialects
- W. D. Whitney, The Roots, Verb-Forms and Primary Derivatives of the Sanskrit Language (A Supplement to His Sanskrit Grammar)
- Wackernagel, Debrunner, Altindische Grammatik, Göttingen.
- B. Delbrück, Altindische Tempuslehre (1876) 
Topics in Sanskrit morphology and syntax
- Frits Staal, Word order in Sanskrit and Universal Grammar, Foundations of Language, supplementary series 5, Springer (1967), ISBN 978-90-277-0549-5.
- Vedic Society Sandhi Calculator
- Online tool to perform and undo Sanskrit sandhi effects
- Little Red Book
- Sanskrit grammars
- Sanskrit grammar Laghu-Siddanta-Kaumudi (English & Tamil Lectures)
- Sanskrit grammar Video AdiLaghu (English & Tamil)