Punjabi is an Indo-Aryan language native to the region of Punjab of Pakistan and India and spoken by the Punjabi people. This page discusses the grammar of Modern Standard Punjabi as defined by the relevant sources below (see #Bibliography).
In matters of script, Punjabi uses Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi. On this grammar page Punjabi is written in "standard orientalist" transcription as outlined in Masica (1991:xv). Being "primarily a system of transliteration from the Indian scripts, [and] based in turn upon Sanskrit" (cf. IAST), these are its salient features: subscript dots for retroflex consonants; macrons for etymologically, contrastively long vowels; h denoting aspirated plosives. Tildes denote nasalized vowels, while grave and acute accents denote low and high tones respectively.
Vowels and consonants are outlined in the tables below. The vowels table shows the character used in the article (ex. ī) followed by its IPA value in forward slashes (ex. /iː/). See Punjabi phonology for further clarification.
|Close||ī /iː/||ū /u/|
|Near-close||i /ɪ/||u /ʊ/|
|Close-mid||ē /eː/||a /ə/||ō /oː/|
|Open-mid||e /ɛː/||o /ɔː/|
|b /b/||t /t̪/
|d /d̪/||ṭ /ʈ/
|ḍ /ɖ/||k /k/
|Nasal||m /m/||n /n/||ṇ /ɳ/||ñ /ɲ/||ṅ /ŋ/|
|Fricative||f /f/||s /s/||z /z/||ś /ʃ/||x /x/||ġ /ɣ/||h /h/|
|Tap or Flap||r /ɾ/||ṛ /ɽ/|
|Approximant||v /ʋ/||y /j/|
|l /l/||ḷ /ɭ/|
Punjabi distinguishes two genders, two numbers, and five cases of direct, oblique, vocative, ablative, and locative/instrumental. The latter two cases are essentially now vestigial: the ablative occurs only in the singular, in free variation with oblique case plus ablative postposition, and the locative/instrumental is confined to set adverbial expressions. Nouns may be further divided into extended and unextended declensional subtypes, with the former characteristically consisting of masculines ending in unaccented -ā and feminines in -ī.
The below tables displays the suffix paradigms, as outlined in Shackle (2003:600–601). Regarding the masculine, "the [extended] case-morphemes, very similar to those of the unextended declension, are added to the obl. base -e-, which is shortened to -i- (phonetically [e̯]) before back vowels and is lost before front vowels." The division between feminine unextendeds and extendeds ending in -ī looks to be now merely an etymological consideration, as there is neither a distinct oblique base nor any morphophonemic considerations.
The next table of noun declensions shows the above suffix paradigms in action. Words, from Shackle (2003:600–601): kṑṛā "stallion", sakhī "girlfriend", kàr "house", gall "thing, matter (being talked about)".
Adjectives may be divided into declinable and indeclinable categories. Declinables are marked, through termination, for the gender, number, case of the nouns they qualify. The set of declinable adjective terminations is similar but greatly simplified in comparison to that of noun terminations —
Indeclinable adjectives are completely invariable, and can end in either consonants or vowels (including ā and ī ). Dir. masc. sg. (-ā) is the citation form. As a rule, adjectives ending in consonants are always indeclinable.
All adjectives can be used either attributively, predicatively, or substantively. Those used substantively are declined as nouns rather than adjectives. Finally, additional inflections are often marked in colloquial speech, e.g. fem. sg. voc. nī sóṇīē kuṛīē! "hey pretty girl!".
The aforementioned inflectional case system only goes so far on its own, and rather serves as that upon which is built a system of particles known as postpositions, which parallel English's prepositions. It is their use with a noun or verb that is what necessitates the noun or verb taking the oblique case, and it is with them that the locus of grammatical function or "case-marking" then lies. Such core postpositions include:
- dā – genitive marker;
- declines like an adjective.
- Example: "X dā/dī/etc. Y" means "X's Y", with dā/dī/etc. agreeing with Y.
- nū̃ – marks the indirect object (dative marker), or, if definite, the direct object (accusative marker).
- nē – ergative case marker; applicable to subjects of transitive perfective verbs.
- tȭ - ablative marker, "from"
- vicc - inessive marker, "in." Often contracted to 'c
- nāḷ - comitative marker, "with"
- uttē - superessive marker, "on" or "at." Often contracted to 'tē
- vall - orientative marker; "towards"
- kōḷ - possessive marker; "with" (as in possession) ex. kuṛī (dē) kōḷ, "in the girl's possession."
- vikhē - locative marker, "at (a specific location)," e.g. Hōshiārpur vikhē, "at Hoshiarpur" (a city). Often colloquially replaced with 'tē.
- takk - terminative marker, "until, up to"
- laī, vāstē - benefactive marker; "for"
- bārē - "about"
- vargā, vāng, vāngū̃, vāngar - comparative marker; "like"
- duāḷē - "around, surrounding" ex. manjē (de) duāḷē, "around the bed."
- binā̃, bā́jȭ - abessive marker; "without"
- nēṛē - "near"
- lāgē - apudessive marker; "adjacent/next to"
- vickār, gabbē - intrative marker, "between, middle of"
Other postpositions are adverbs, following their obliqued targets either directly or with the inflected genitive linker dē; e.g. kàr (dē) vicc "in the house", kṑṛe (dē) nāḷ "with the stallion". Many such adverbs (the ones locative in nature) also possess corresponding ablative forms by forming a contraction with the ablative postposition tȭ; for example:
- vicc "in" → viccȭ "from in, among," for instance, jantē (dē) viccȭ or jantē 'cȭ, "from among the people" and
- nāḷ "with"→ nāḷȭ "compared to," for instance, kṑṛē (dē) nāḷȭ, "compared to the stallion."
Punjabi has personal pronouns for the first and second persons, while for the third person demonstratives are used, which can be categorized deictically as near and remote. Pronouns do not distinguish gender.
The language has a T-V distinction in tū̃ and tusī̃. This latter "polite" form is also grammatically plural.
koṇ and jō are colloquially replaced by kḗṛā "which?" jḗṛā "which". Indefinites include kōī (obl. kisē) "some(one)" and kúj "some(thing)". The reflexive pronoun is āp, with a genitive of āpṇā. The pronominal obl. -nā̃ also occurs in ik, iknā̃ "some", hōr, hōrnā̃ "others", sáb, sábnā̃ "all".
Based on table in Shackle (2003:604). Indefinites are extended forms of the interrogative set; e.g. kitē "somewhere", kadē "sometimes". The multiple versions under "time," "place", and "manner" are dialectal variations; the second row of "place" forms are the ablative forms of the first, and the fourth row of "place" forms are the ablative forms of the third.
|Quality||kío jíā||jíā||éo jíā||óo jíā|
The Punjabi verbal system is largely structured around a combination of aspect and tense/mood. Like the nominal system, the Punjabi verb takes a single inflectional suffix, and is often followed by successive layers of elements like auxiliary verbs and postpositions to the right of the lexical base.
Punjabi has two aspects in the perfective and the habitual, and possibly a third in the continuous, with each having overt morphological correlates. These are participle forms, inflecting for gender and number by way of vowel termination, like adjectives. The perfective, displaying a number of irregularities and morphophonemic adjustments, is formally the verb stem, followed by -i-, capped off by the agreement vowel. The habitual forms from the imperfective participle; verb stem, plus -d-, then vowel. The continuous forms periphrastically through compounding with the perfective of ráíṇā, "to stay," or of paiṇā, "to lie upon" or "to fall upon."
Derived from hoṇā "to be" are five copula forms: present, past, subjunctive, presumptive, contrafactual (also known as "past conditional"). Used both in basic predicative/existential sentences and as verbal auxiliaries to aspectual forms, these constitute the basis of tense and mood.
Non-aspectual forms include the infinitive, the imperative, and the conjunctive. Mentioned morphological conditions such as the subjunctive, "presumptive", etc. are applicable to both copula roots for auxiliary usage with aspectual forms and to non-copula roots directly for often unspecified (non-aspectual) finite forms.
Finite verbal agreement is with the nominative subject, except in the transitive perfective, where it can be with the direct object, with the erstwhile subject taking the ergative construction -ne (see postpositions above). The perfective aspect thus displays split ergativity.
Tabled below on the left are the paradigms for the major Gender and Number termination (GN), along the line of that introduced in the adjectives section. To the right are the paradigms for the Person and Number termination (PN), used by the subjunctive (which has 1st pl. -īe) and future (which has 1st pl. -ā̃).
In Punjabi, there are two copulas: he for present tense and sī for past tense. In the standard language, all inflected forms of these copulas (present copula (h-), past tense copula (s-) and subjunctive copula (ho-)) are gender-neutral.
Number Singular Plural Person 1st 2nd 3rd 1st 2nd 3rd Pronoun mẽ tū̃ ṓ asī̃ tusī̃ ṓ Present-tense copula
(with colloquial forms)
Past-tense copula Subjunctive copula hōvā̃ hōvē̃ hōvē hōvā̃ hōvō hōvaṇ/hōṇ
- Two infrequent inflected forms of the present-tense copula he are haō (plural second person), distinguishing the standard hō for T-V distinction usage, and heṇ (plural third person). In addition, two past tense copulas, hesī and hesaṇ are used respectively with singular and plural forms of third persons. These forms, like the uninflected forms he and sī, can be used with both the genders.
- In the spoken language, the past tense copula sī can remain completely uninflected, and remain applicable for all three persons and both numbers. Some less frequently used forms of sī are saō, sāō, and sau, used as 2nd-person plural copulas, distinguishing the standard sō for T-V distinction usage.
Some non-standard major dialects decline the past-tense and present-tense copulas more along number and gender than for number and person:
Gender Masculine Feminine Number Singular Plural Singular Plural Person 1st all 1st all 1st all Present-tense copula Past-tense copula
The sample verb is intransitive naccṇā "to dance", and the sample inflection is 3rd. masc. sg. (PN = e, GN = ā) where applicable.
- Gill, Harjeet Singh and Gleason Jr, Henry A. (1969). A Reference Grammar of Panjabi. Patiala: Department of Linguistics, Punjabi University
- Shackle (2003:599)
- Shackle (2003:600)
- Shackle (2003:601)
- Shackle (2003:602)
- Shackle (2003:603)
- Shackle (2003:604)
- Masica (1991:257)
- "Let's Learn Punjabi: Research Centre for Punjabi Language Technology, Punjabi University, Patiala". learnpunjabi.org. Punjabi University, Patiala. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
- Shackle (2003:607–608)
- Bhatia, Tej K. (1993). Punjabi: A Cognitive-Descriptive Grammar. London: Routledge.