Malayalam grammar

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Malayalam is one of the Dravidian languages and as such has an agglutinative grammar. The word order is generally subject–object–verb, although other orders are often employed for reasons such as emphasis. Nouns are inflected for case and number, whilst verbs are conjugated for tense, mood and causativity (and also in archaic language for person, gender, number and polarity). Being the linguistic successor of the macaronic Manipravalam, Malayalam grammar is based on Sanskrit too.


The declensional paradigms for some common nouns and pronouns are given below. As Malayalam is an agglutinative language, it is difficult to delineate the cases strictly and determine how many there are, although seven or eight is the generally accepted number. Alveolar plosives and nasals (although the modern Malayalam script does not distinguish the latter from the dental nasal) are marked with a macron below, following the convention of the National Library at Kolkata romanization.

Personal pronouns[edit]

Vocative forms are given in parentheses after the nominative, as the only pronominal vocatives that are used are the third person ones, which only occur in compounds.

Singular Plural


First person Second person Third person (masculine) Third person (feminine) First person (exclusive) First person (inclusive) Second person Third person


ñjāṉ nī, ningal avaṉ (voc. avaṉē) avaḷ (voc. avaḷē) ñjaṅgaḷ nām/ nammaḷ niṅgaḷ avar (voc. avarē)


eṉṉe niṉṉe avaṉe avaḷe ñaṅgaḷe nammale niṅgaḷe avaru


eṉṯe (also eṉ, eṉṉuṭe) niṉṯe (also niṉ, niṉṉuṭe) avaṉṯe (also avaṉuṭe) avaḷuṭe ñaṅgaḷuṭe (also ñaṅguṭe) nammuṭe niṅgaḷuṭe avaruṭe


eṉikku niṉakku avaṉu avaḷkku ñammaḷkku namukku niṅgaḷkku avarkku


eṉṉāl niṉṉāl avaṉāl avaḷāl ñaṅgaḷāl (also ñaṅṅāl) nammāl niṅgaḷāl (also niṅṅāl) avarāl


eṉṉil (also eṅkal) niṉṉil (also niṅkal) avaṉil (also avaṅkal) avaḷil (also avaḷkal) ñaṅgaḷil nammil niṅgaḷil avaril (also avaṟkal)


eṉṉōṭu niṉṉōṭu avaṉōṭu avaḷōṭu ñaṅgaḷōṭu nammōṭu niṅgaḷōṭu avarōṭu

The mnemonic 'നിപ്രസം ഉപ്രസം ആ' created by combining the first sounds of the case names is used.

Other nouns[edit]

The following are examples of some of the most common declensional patterns.

Word tree elephant human dog
Case Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative maram marangaḷ āaṉa āaṉakaḷ maṉuṣyaṉ maṉuṣyar paṭṭi paṭṭikaḷ
Vocative maramē marangaḷē āaṉē āaṉakaḷē maṉuṣyā maṉuṣyarē paṭṭī paṭṭikaḷē
Accusative marattiṉe maraṅṅaḷe āaṉaye āaṉakaḷe maṉuṣyaṉe maṉuṣyare paṭṭiye paṭṭikaḷe
Genitive marathiṉṯe maraṅgalude āaṉayude āaṉakaḷude maṉuṣyaṉṯe maṉuṣyarude paṭṭiyude paṭṭikaḷude
Dative marathinu maraṅgaḷkku āaṉaykku āaṉakaḷkku maṉuṣyaṉu maṉuṣyarkku paṭṭiykku paṭṭikaḷkku
Instrumental marathāl maraṅgaḷāl āaṉayāl āaṉakaḷāl maṉuṣyaṉāl maṉuṣyarāl paṭṭiyāl paṭṭikaḷāl
Locative marathil maraṅgaḷil āaṉayil āaṉakaḷil maṉuṣyaṉil maṉuṣyaril paṭṭiyil paṭṭikaḷil
Sociative marathōdu maraṅgaḷōdu āaṉayōdu āaṉakaḷōdu maṉuṣyaṉōdu maṉuṣyarōdu paṭṭiyōdu paṭṭikaḷōdu

Sandhi (സന്ധി)[edit]

There are basically two genres of Sandhi used in Malayalam - one group unique to Malayalam, and other one common with Sanskrit. Thus, we have the "Malayala Sandhi" and "Samskrita Sandhi".

Sandhi unique to Malayalam[edit]

There are basically four Sandhi types unique to Malayalam - the "lōpa sandhi", "dvitva sandhi", "āgama sandhi" and "ādēśa sandhi".

Lōpa sandhi or "Elision"[edit]

The Lopa sandhi occurs when the varna at the end of a word is lost when it merges with another word. In most cases, the varna is the "samvr̥tōkāram". (the "closed u sound")

Example : atŭ + illa = atilla. കണ്ടു+ഇല്ല = കണ്ടില്ല,അത്‌+ആയതു= അതായത്

Dvitva Sandhi or "Rule of doubling"[edit]

In Malayalam, germination is more in tense consonants and less in lax consonants. When two words combine in which the first is the qualifier and the qualified, the tense consonants initial to the second word germinates.

Example : pōyi + paraññu = pōyipparaññu പോയി + പറഞ്ഞു = പോയിപ്പറഞ്ഞു mara +komb =marakkomb മര + കൊമ്പ് = മരക്കൊമ്പ്

Āgama sandhi or "Rule of arrival"[edit]

When two vowels undergo Sandhi, a consonant ("y" or "v") arrives extra to avoid the pronunciation difficulty.

Example : vazhi + ampalam = vazhiyampalam. വഴി + അമ്പലം = വഴിയമ്പലം

Ādēśa Sandhi or "Rule of substitution"[edit]

In this Sandhi, one letter is substituted by another during concatenation.

Example : viṇ + talam = viṇṭalam വിൺ + തലം = വിണ്ടലം (t replaced by ṭ)

This sandhi is also includes Sanskrit Sandhi forms like vi + samam = viamam.

Sandhi common with Sanskrit[edit]

These Sandhi rules are basically inherited from Sanskrit, and are used in concatenation of Sanskrit vocabulary which form more than 80% of Malayalam. The rules like savarṇadīrgha sandhi, yaṇ sandhi, guṇa sandhi, vr̥ddhi sandhi and visarga sandhis are used without changes.

Samāsam (സമാസം)[edit]

All the Sanskrit samāsa rules are adapted to Malayalam compounds. In Malayalam, the tatpurusha compounds are classified according to the vibhakti they are based on, during compounding. The "alaṅkāraṁ" is also used to classify tatpurusha compounds.There are 4 type of samasam-1)aavyayi bhavan 2) thathpurusha 3) dvandan 4) bahuvrihi

Vr̥ttaṁ (വൃത്തം)[edit]

The vr̥ttaṁ consists of metres of Malayalam prosody. Like Sandhi, there are specific vr̥ttaṁs unique to Malayalam apart from the metres common with Sanskrit. As in case of Sandhi, the Malayalam vrittams are also named in Sanskrit.

Alaṅkāram (അലങ്കാരം)[edit]

Alaṅkāraṁ or "ornamentation" is also based on Sanskritic grammarian classification. It consists of the different figures of speech used in Malayalam poetry. Being successor to Sanskrit and Manipravalam, most of Sanskrit alankaras are used in Malayalam. Thus, the common figures of speech in poems are rūpakaṁ, utprēkṣā, upamā etc.

Words adopted from Sanskrit[edit]

When words are adopted from Sanskrit, their endings are usually changed to conform to Malayalam norms:


1. Masculine Sanskrit nouns with a Word stem ending in a short "a" take the ending "an" in the nominative singular. For example, Kr̥ṣṇa -> Kr̥ṣṇan. The final "n" is dropped before masculine surnames, honorifics, or titles ending in "an" and beginning with a consonant other than "n" – e.g. Krishna Menon, Krishna Kaniyaan etc., but Krishnan Ezhutthachan. Surnames ending with "ar" or "aḷ" (where these are plural forms of "an" denoting respect) are treated similarly – Krishna Pothuval, Krishna Chakyar, but Krishnan Nair, Krishnan Nambiar, as are Sanskrit surnames such "Varma(n)", "Sharma(n)", or "Gupta(n)" (rare) – e.g. Krishna Varma, Krishna Sharman.[citation needed] If a name is a compound, only the last element undergoes this transformation – e.g. Kr̥ṣṇa + dēva = Kr̥ṣṇadēvan, not Kr̥ṣṇandēvan.

2. Feminine words ending in a long "ā" or "ī" are changed so that they now end in a short "a" or "i", for example Sītā -> Sīta and Lakṣmī -> Lakṣmi. However, the long vowel still appears in compound words, such as Sītādēvi orLakṣmīdēvi. The long ī is generally reserved for the vocative forms of these names, although in Sanskrit the vocative actually takes a short "i". There are also a small number of nominative "ī" endings that have not been shortened – a prominent example being the word "strī" "woman".

3. Nouns that have a stem in -an and which end with a long "ā" in the masculine nominative singular have a "vŭ" added to them, for exampleBrahmā (stem Brahman) -> Brahmāvŭ. When the same nouns are declined in the neuter and take a short "a" ending in Sanskrit, Malayalam adds an additional "m", e.g. Brahma (neuter nominative singular of Brahman) becomes Brahmam. This is again omitted when forming compounds.[citation needed]

4. Words whose roots end in -an but whose nominative singular ending is -a – for example, the Sanskrit root of "Karma" is actually "Karman" –are also changed. The original root is ignored and "Karma" (the form in Malayalam being "Karmam" because it ends in a short "a") is taken as the basic form of the noun when declining.[1] However, this does not apply to all consonant stems, as "unchangeable" stems such as "manasa" ("mind") and "suhr̥ta (friend)" are identical to the Malayalam nominative singular forms (although the regularly derived "manam" sometimes occurs as an alternative to "manasa").

5. Sanskrit words describing things or animals rather than people with a stem in short "a" end with an "m" Malayalam. For example, Rāmāyaṇa -> Rāmāyaṇam. In most cases, this is actually the as the Sanskrit ending, which is also "m" (or allophonically anusvara due to Sandhi) in the neuter nominative. However, "things and animals" and "people" are not always differentiated based on whether or not they are sentient beings – for example Narasimha becomes Narasiṃham and not Narasiṃhan, whereas Ananta becomes Anantan even though both are sentient.

6. Nouns with short vowel stems other than "a", such as "Viṣṇu", "Prajāpati" etc. are declined with the Sanskrit stem acting as the Malayalam nominative singular (the Sanskrit nominative singular is formed by adding a visarga, e.g. Viṣṇuḥ)[citation needed]

7. The original Sanskrit vocative is often used in formal or poetic Malayalam, e.g. "Harē" (for Hari) or "Prabhō" (for "Prabhu" – "lord"). This is restricted to certain contexts – mainly when addressing deities or other exalted individuals, so a normal man named Hari would usually be addressed using a Malayalam vocative such as "Harī". The Sanskrit genitive is also occasionally found in Malayalam poetry, especially the personal pronouns "mama" (my/ mine) and "tava" (thy/ thine). Other cases are less common and generally restricted to the realm of Maṇipravāḷam.

8. Along with these tatsama borrowings, there are also many tadbhava words in common use. These were borrowed into Malayalam before it became distinct from Tamil. As the language did not then accommodate Sanskrit phonology as it now does, words were changed to conform to the Old Tamil phonological system. For example: Kr̥ṣṇa -> Kaṇṇan.[2]


  1. ^ Varma, A.R. Rajaraja (2005). Keralapanineeyam. Kottayam: D C Books. p. 303. ISBN 81-7130-672-1.
  2. ^ Varma, A.R. Rajaraja (2005). Keralapanineeyam. Kottayam: D C Books. pp. 301–302. ISBN 81-7130-672-1.

3. Ravi Sankar S Nair 2012 A Grammar of Malayalam[dead link]