Punjabi grammar

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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).

Word order[edit]

Punjabi has a canonical word order of SOV (subject–object–verb).[1] It has postpositions rather than prepositions.[2]


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.

Front Central Back
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/
Open ā /aː/
Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Retroflex Post-alv./
Velar Glottal
Plosive p /p/
ph /pʰ/
b /b/ t /t̪/
th /t̪ʰ/
d /d̪/ ṭ /ʈ/
ṭh /ʈʰ/
ḍ /ɖ/ k /k/
kh /kʰ/
g /g/
Affricate c /tʃ/
ch /tʃʰ/
j /dʒ/
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.[3] Nouns may be further divided into extended and unextended declensional subtypes, with the former characteristically consisting of masculines ending in unaccented and feminines in .

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."[4] The division between feminine unextendeds and extendeds ending in looks to be now merely an etymological consideration, as there is neither a distinct oblique base nor any morphophonemic considerations.

Dir. Obl. Voc. Abl. Loc./
unEx. Sg. +ā +ȭ +ē
Pl. +ā̃ +ō +ī̃
Ex. Sg. -ā -ē - - -ē
Pl. -ē -iā̃ - -ī̃
Dir. Obl. Voc. Abl. Loc./
Sg. +ē +ȭ +ē
Pl. +ā̃ +ō +ī̃

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)".

Dir. Obl. Voc. Abl. Loc./
Masc. Sg. kṑṛā kṑṛe kṑṛiā kṑṛiȭ (kṑṛe)
Pl. kṑṛe kṑṛiā̃ kṑṛiō
Fem. Sg. sakhī sakhīē
Pl. sakhīā̃ sakhīō
Dir. Obl. Voc. Abl. Loc./
Masc. Sg. kàr kàrā kàrȭ kàrē
Pl. kàr kàrā̃ kàrō kàrī̃
Fem. Sg. gall (gallē) gallȭ gallē
Pl. gallā̃ gallō gallī̃


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[5]

Sg. Pl.
Declin. Masc. Dir. -ā -ē
Obl. -ē -ē, -iā̃
Fem. -ī -īā̃

Indeclinable adjectives are completely invariable, and can end in either consonants or vowels (including ā and ī ). Dir. masc. sg. () is the citation form. As a rule, adjectives ending in consonants are always indeclinable.

Declinable adjective caṅgā "good" in attributive use
Dir. Obl. Voc. Abl. Loc./
Masc. Sg. caṅgā kṑṛā caṅgē kṑṛē caṅgē kṑṛiā caṅgē kṑṛiȭ (caṅge kṑṛē)
Pl. caṅgē kṑṛē caṅgiā̃ kṑṛiā̃ caṅgiā̃ kṑṛiō
Fem. Sg. caṅgī sakhī caṅgī sakhīē
Pl. caṅgīā̃ sakhīā̃ caṅgīā̃ sakhīō
Dir. Obl. Voc. Abl. Loc./
Masc. Sg. caṅgā kàr caṅgē kàr caṅgē kàrā caṅgē kàrȭ caṅgē kàrē
Pl. caṅge kàr caṅgiā̃ kàrā̃ caṅgiā̃ kàrō caṅgiā̃ kàrī̃
Fem. Sg. caṅgī gall (caṅgī gallē) caṅgī gallȭ caṅgī gallē
Pl. caṅgīā̃ gallā̃ caṅgīā̃ gallō caṅgīā̃ gallī̃
Indeclinable adjective xarāb "bad" in attributive use
Dir. Obl. Voc. Abl. Loc./
Masc. Sg. xarāb kṑṛā xarāb kṑṛē xarāb kṑṛiā xarāb kṑṛiȭ (xarāb kṑṛē)
Pl. xarāb kṑṛē xarāb kṑṛiā̃ xarāb kṑṛiō
Fem. Sg. xarāb sakhī xarāb sakhīē
Pl. xarāb sakhīā̃ xarāb sakhīō
Dir. Obl. Voc. Abl. Loc./
Masc. Sg. xarāb kàr xarāb kàrā xarāb kàrȭ xarāb kàrē
Pl. xarāb kàr xarāb kàrā̃ xarāb kàrō xarāb kàrī̃
Fem. Sg. xarāb gall (xarāb gallē) xarāb gallȭ xarāb gallē
Pl. xarāb gallā̃ xarāb gallō xarāb gallī̃

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!".[5]


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:

  • 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).
  • ergative case marker; applicable to subjects of transitive perfective verbs.
  • - ablative marker, "from"
  • vicc - inessive marker, "in." Often contracted to 'c
  • nāḷ - comitative marker, "with"
  • uttē - superessive marker, "on" or "at." Often contracted to '
  • 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 '.
  • 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 ; 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[6] by forming a contraction with the ablative postposition ; 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.

[7] 1st pn. 2nd pn.
Sg. Pl. Sg. Pl.
Direct mẽ asī̃ tū̃ tusī̃
Ergative asā̃ tẽ tusā̃
Dative menū̃ sānū̃ tenū̃ tuā́nū̃
Ablative methȭ sāthȭ tethȭ tuā́thȭ
Genitive mērā sāḍā tērā tuā́dā
3rd pn. Relative Interrogative
Near Remote
Sg. Pl. Sg. Pl. Sg. Pl. Sg. Pl.
Direct jō, jin koṇ, kin
Oblique ḗ, is ḗnā̃ ṓ, us ṓnā̃ jí, jis jinā̃ kí, kis kinā̃

koṇ and 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".[8]


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.

Interrogative Relative Demonstrative
Near Remote
Time kadȭ jadȭ huṇ ōdȭ
kiddaṇ jiddaṇ uddaṇ
Place kitthē jitthē ēthē ōthē
kitthȭ jitthȭ ēthȭ ōthȭ
kíddar jíddar ḗdar ṓdar
kíddrȭ jíddrȭ ḗdrȭ ṓdrȭ
Manner kiddā̃ jiddā̃ iddā̃ uddā
kivē̃ jivē̃ ivē̃ uvē̃
kínj jínj ínj únj
Quality kío jíā jíā éo jíā óo jíā
Quantity kinnā jinnā innā unnā
Size kiḍḍā jiḍḍā eḍā oḍā



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.[9]

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).

(GN) Sg. Pl.
Masc. -ā -ē
Fem. -ī -īā̃
(PN) 1st. 2nd. 3rd.
Sg. -ā̃ -ē~ -ē
Pl. -ā̃/īē -ō -aṇ


In Punjabi, there are two copulas: he for present tense and for past tense.[10] In the standard language, all inflected forms of these copulas (present copula (h-), past tense copula (s-) and subjunctive copula (ho-)) are gender-neutral.[10]

Number Singular Plural
Person 1st 2nd 3rd 1st 2nd 3rd
Pronoun mẽ tū̃ asī̃ tusī̃
Present-tense copula

(with colloquial forms[10])

hā̃ (h)ẽ he hā̃ han
ā̃ ē̃ ā/e ā̃ ō
Past-tense copula sā̃ sẽ sā̃ san
Subjunctive copula hōvā̃ hōvē̃ hōvē hōvā̃ hōvō hōvaṇ/hōṇ
  • Two infrequent inflected forms of the present-tense copula he are haō (plural second person),[10] distinguishing the standard 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.[10] These forms, like the uninflected forms he and , can be used with both the genders.[10]
  • In the spoken language, the past tense copula can remain completely uninflected, and remain applicable for all three persons and both numbers.[10] Some less frequently used forms of are saō, sāō, and sau, used as 2nd-person plural copulas,[10] distinguishing the standard for T-V distinction usage.

Some non-standard major dialects decline the past-tense and present-tense copulas more along number and gender[10] than for number and person:

Gender Masculine Feminine
Number Singular Plural Singular Plural
Person 1st all 1st all 1st all
Present-tense copula (hegā̃) hegā (hegē ā̃) hegē (ā) (hegī ā̃) hegī hegīā̃
Past-tense copula sigā sigē sigī sigīā̃


The sample verb is intransitive naccṇā "to dance", and the sample inflection is 3rd. masc. sg. (PN = e, GN = ā) where applicable.

Non-aspectual Aspectual
Root * nacc
Dir. Infinitive/
*-ṇ-ā naccṇā
Obl. Infinitive *-(a)ṇ naccaṇ
Abl. Infinitive *-ṇ-ȭ naccṇȭ
Conjunctive *-kē nacckē
*-(a)ṇ-vāḷ-GN naccaṇvāḷā
Perfective *-GN hō-GN nacciā hōiā
Imperfective *-d-GN hō-GN naccdā hōiā
Adverbial. Obl. of adjectival.
Imperfective *-d-ē, -d-iā̃ naccdē, naccdiā̃
Contingent Future *-PN naccē
Definite Future *-PN-g-GN naccēgā
Sg. Pl.
Present nácc náccō
Aorist naccī̃ nacciō
Aspectuals plotted against copulas.
Perfective Habitual Continuous
*-(i)-GN *-d-GN * ráí-GN
Present h-? nacciā he naccdā he nacc ríā he / naccdā piā he
Past s-? nacciā sī naccdā sī nacc ríā sī / naccdā piā sī
Subjunctive ho-v-PN nacciā hōvē naccdā hōvē
Presumptive ho-v-PN-g-GN nacciā hōvēgā naccdā hōvēgā
Contrafactual hun-d-GN nacciā hundā naccdā hundā
Unspecified nacciā naccdā


  1. ^ Gill, Harjeet Singh and Gleason Jr, Henry A. (1969). A Reference Grammar of Panjabi. Patiala: Department of Linguistics, Punjabi University
  2. ^ Wals.info
  3. ^ Shackle (2003:599)
  4. ^ Shackle (2003:600)
  5. ^ a b Shackle (2003:601)
  6. ^ Shackle (2003:602)
  7. ^ Shackle (2003:603)
  8. ^ Shackle (2003:604)
  9. ^ Masica (1991:257)
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Let's Learn Punjabi: Research Centre for Punjabi Language Technology, Punjabi University, Patiala". learnpunjabi.org. Punjabi University, Patiala. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  11. ^ Shackle (2003:607–608)
  • Punjabi.aglsoft.com
  • Bhatia, Tej K. (1993). Punjabi: A Cognitive-Descriptive Grammar. London: Routledge.