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).


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 underlined for clarity, 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
Case First person Second person Third person (masculine) Third person (feminine) First person (exclusive) First person (inclusive) Second person Third Person
Nominative ñān nī,ningal avan (voc. avanē) avaḷ (voc. avaḷē) ñaṅṅaḷ nām/ nammaḷ niṅṅaḷ avar (voc. avarē)
Accusative enne ninne avane avaḷe ñaṅṅaḷe namme niṅṅaḷe avare
Genitive ente (also en, ennuṭe) ninte (also nin, ninnuṭe) avante (also avanuṭe) avaḷuṭe ñaṅṅaḷuṭe (also ñaṅṅuṭe) nammuṭe niṅṅaḷuṭe avaruṭe
Dative enikku ninakku avanu avaḷkku ñaṅṅaḷkku namukku niṅṅaḷkku avarkku
Instrumental ennāl ninnāl avanāl avaḷāl ñaṅṅaḷāl (also ñaṅṅāl) nammāl niṅṅaḷāl (also niṅṅāl) avarāl
Locative ennil (also eṅkal) ninnil (also niṅkal) avanil (also avaṅkal) avaḷil (also avaḷkal) ñaṅṅaḷil nammil niṅṅaḷil avaril (also avarkal)
Sociative ennōṭu ninnōṭu avanōṭu avaḷōṭu ñaṅṅaḷōṭu nammōṭu niṅṅaḷōṭu avarōṭu

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 maraṅṅaḷ āna ānakaḷ manuṣyan manuṣyar paṭṭi paṭṭikaḷ
Vocative maramē maraṅṅaḷē ānē ānakaḷē manuṣyā manuṣyarē paṭṭī paṭṭikaḷē
Accusative maratte maraṅṅaḷe ānaye ānakaḷe manuṣyane manuṣyare paṭṭiye paṭṭikaḷe
Genitive marattinte maraṅṅaḷuṭe ānayuṭe ānakaḷuṭe manuṣyante manuṣyaruṭe paṭṭiyuṭe paṭṭikaḷuṭe
Dative marattinu maraṅṅaḷkku ānaykku ānakaḷkku manuṣyanu manuṣyarkku paṭṭiykku paṭṭikaḷkku
Instrumental marattāl maraṅṅaḷāl ānayāl ānakaḷāl manuṣyanāl manuṣyarāl paṭṭiyāl paṭṭikaḷāl
Locative marattil maraṅṅaḷil ānayil ānakaḷil manuṣyanil manuṣyaril paṭṭiyil paṭṭikaḷil
Sociative marattōṭu maraṅṅaḷōṭu ānayōṭu ānakaḷōṭu manuṣyanōṭu manuṣyarōṭu paṭṭiyōṭu paṭṭikaḷōṭu

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 andLakṣmī -> 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 same 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. This does not strictly correspond to the Sanskrit neuter gender, as both "Narasiṃha" and "Ananta" are masculine nouns in the original Sanskrit.

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