Sanskrit grammar

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This article is about the grammar of Classical Sanskrit. For the earlier language, see Vedic Sanskrit grammar.

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 BCE), culminating in the Pāṇinian grammar of the 6th century BCE.

Grammatical tradition[edit]

Main article: Vyākaraṇa

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 (explanations) on the 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. Jayaditya and Vāmana wrote a commentary named Kāśikā in 600 CE. 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-Kaumudī 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.


Main article: Sanskrit verbs

Classification of verbs[edit]

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. 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.

Tense systems[edit]

The verb 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:

Present system[edit]

The present system includes the present tense and the imperfect (past imperfective),[citation needed] 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.

Perfect system[edit]

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.

Aorist system[edit]

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 in prohibitions, e.g. mā bhūḥ "don't be"). The principal distinction of the two is presence/absence of an augmenta- 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.

Future system[edit]

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.

Verbs: conjugation[edit]

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[edit]

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.

Active Middle
Person Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Primary 1 mi váḥ máḥ é váhe máhe
2 si tháḥ thá ā́the dhvé
3 ti táḥ ánti, áti ā́te ánte, áte
Secondary 1 am í, á váhi máhi
2 tám thā́ḥ ā́thām dhvám
3 t tā́m án, úḥ ā́tām ánta, áta, rán
Perfect 1 a é váhe máhe
2 tha áthuḥ á ā́the dhvé
3 a átuḥ úḥ é ā́te
Imperative 1 āni āva āma āi āvahāi āmahāi
2 dhí, hí,— tám svá ā́thām dhvám
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.


Main article: Sanskrit nouns

Sanskrit is a highly inflected language with three grammatical genders: masculine (पुल्लिङ्ग pulliṅga), feminine (स्त्रीलिङ्ग strīliṅga), and neuter (नपुंसकलिङ्ग napuṃsakaliṅga); and three numbers: singular (एकवचनम् ekavacanam), dual (द्विवचनम् dvivacanam), and plural (बहुवचनम् bahuvacanam). 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.[1] Pāṇini defines them as follows (Ashtadhyayi, I.4.24 – 54):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Karaṇa ("instrument") "that which effects most." This is equivalent to the instrumental case.
  4. Adhikaraṇa ('location'): or "substratum." This is equivalent to the locative case.
  5. Karman ('deed'/'object'): "what the agent seeks most to attain". This is equivalent to the accusative case.
  6. Kartā ('agent'): "he/that which is independent in action". This is equivalent to the nominative case. (On the basis of Scharfe, 1977: 94)

The genitive (Sambandha) and vocative cases are not equivalent to any kāraka 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[edit]

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
(कर्ता kartā)
1 -स् -s
(-म् -m)
-औ -au
(-ई -ī)
-अस्} -as
(-इ -i)
(कर्म karma)
2 -अम् -am
(-म् -m)
-औ -au
(-ई -ī)
-अस् -as
(-इ -i)
(करण karaṇa)
3 -आ -भ्याम् -bhyām -भिस् -bhis
(सम्प्रदान sampradāna)
4 -ए -e -भ्याम् -bhyām -भ्यस् -bhyas
(अपादान apādāna)
5 -अस् -as -भ्याम् -bhyām -भ्यस् -bhyas
(सम्बन्ध sambandha)
6 -अस् -as -ओस् -os -आम् -ām
(अधिकरण adhikaraṇa)
7 -इ -i -ओस् -os -सु -su
(सम्बोधन sambodhana)
-स् -s
(- -)
-औ -au
(-ई -ī)
-अस् -as
(-इ -i)

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 sandhi 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')
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative rāmaḥ rāmau rāmāḥ āsyam āsye āsyāni kāntā kānte kāntāḥ
Accusative rāmam rāmau rāmān āsyàm āsye āsyāni kāntām kānte kāntāḥ
Instrumental rāmena rāmābhyām rāmāiḥ āsyèna āsyā̀bhyām āsyāìḥ kāntayā kāntābhyām kāntābhiḥ
Dative rāmāya rāmābhyām rāmebhyaḥ āsyā̀ya āsyābhyām āsyebhyaḥ kāntāyai kāntābhyām kāntābhyaḥ
Ablative rāmāt rāmābhyām rāmebhyaḥ āsyāt āsyābhyām āsyebhyaḥ kāntāyāḥ kāntābhyām kāntābhyaḥ
Genitive rāmasya rāmayoḥ rāmānām āsyasya āsyayoḥ āsyānām kāntāyāḥ kāntayoḥ kāntānām
Locative rāme rāmayoḥ rāmeṣu āsye āsyayoḥ āsyeṣu kāntāyām kāntayoḥ kāntāsu
Vocative rāma rāmau rāmāḥ āsya āsye āsyā̀ni kānte kānte kāntāḥ

i- and u-stems[edit]

Masc. and Fem. (gáti- 'gait') Neuter (vā́ri- 'water')
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative gátiḥ gátī gátayaḥ vā́ri vā́riṇī vā́rīṇi
Accusative gátim gátī gátīḥ vā́ri vā́riṇī vā́rīṇi
Instrumental gátyā gátibhyām gátibhiḥ vā́riṇā vā́ribhyām vā́ribhiḥ
Dative gátaye, gátyāi gátibhyām gátibhyaḥ vā́riṇe vā́ribhyām vā́ribhyaḥ
Ablative gáteḥ, gátyāḥ gátibhyām gátibhyas vā́riṇaḥ vā́ribhyām vā́ribhyaḥ
Genitive gáteḥ, gátyāḥ gátyoḥ gátīnām vā́riṇaḥ vā́riṇoḥ vā́riṇām
Locative gátāu, gátyām gátyoḥ gátiṣu vā́riṇi vā́riṇoḥ vā́riṣu
Vocative gáte gátī gátayaḥ vā́ri, vā́re vā́riṇī vā́rīṇi
Masc. and Fem. (śátru- 'enemy') Neuter (mádhu- 'honey')
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative śátruḥ śátrū śátravaḥ mádhu mádhunī mádhūni
Accusative śátrum śátrū śátrūn mádhu mádhunī mádhūni
Instrumental śátruṇā śátrubhyām śátrubhiḥ mádhunā mádhubhyām mádhubhiḥ
Dative śátrave śátrubhyām śátrubhyaḥ mádhune mádhubhyām mádhubhyaḥ
Ablative śátroḥ śátrubhyām śátrubhyaḥ mádhunaḥ mádhubhyām mádhubhyaḥ
Genitive śátroḥ śátrvoḥ śátrūṇām mádhunaḥ mádhunoḥ mádhūnām
Locative śátrāu śátrvoḥ śátruṣu mádhuni mádhunoḥ mádhuṣu
Vocative śátro śátrū śátravaḥ mádhu mádhunī mádhūni

Long Vowel-stems[edit]

ā-stems (jā- 'progeny') ī-stems (dhī- 'thought') ū-stems (bhū- 'earth')
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative jā́s jāú jā́s dhī́s dhíyāu dhíyas bhū́s bhúvāu bhúvas
Accusative jā́m jāú jā́s, jás dhíyam dhíyāu dhíyas bhúvam bhúvāu bhúvas
Instrumental jā́ jā́bhyām jā́bhis dhiyā́ dhībhyā́m dhībhís bhuvā́ bhūbhyā́m bhūbhís
Dative 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 jós jā́su dhiyí, dhiyā́m dhiyós dhīṣú bhuví, bhuvā́m bhuvós bhūṣú
Vocative jā́s jāú jā́s dhī́s dhiyāu dhíyas bhū́s bhuvāu bhúvas


ṛ-stems are predominantly agental derivatives like dātṛ 'giver', though also include kinship terms like pitṛ 'father', mātṛ 'mother', and svásṛ 'sister'.

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative pitā́ pitárāu pitáras
Accusative pitáram pitárāu pitṝn
Instrumental pitrā́ pitṛ́bhyām pitṛ́bhis
Dative pitré pitṛ́bhyām pitṛ́bhyas
Ablative pitúr pitṛ́bhyām pitṛ́bhyas
Genitive pitúr pitrós pitṝṇā́m
Locative pitári pitrós pitṛ́ṣu
Vocative pítar pitárāu pitáras


The numbers from one to ten are:

  1. éka-
  2. dvá-
  3. trí-
  4. catúr-
  5. páñca-
  6. ṣáṣ-
  7. saptá-, sápta-
  8. aṣṭá-, áṣṭa-
  9. náva-
  10. dáśa-

All numbers in Sanskrit can be declined in all the cases. Numbers above four are only declined in the plural. 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:[citation needed]

Three Four
Masculine Neuter Feminine Masculine Neuter Feminine
Nominative tráyas trī́ṇi tisrás catvā́ras catvā́ri cátasras
Accusative trīn trī́ṇi tisrás catúras catvā́ri cátasras
Instrumental tribhís tisṛ́bhis catúrbhis catasṛ́bhis
Dative tribhyás tisṛ́bhyas catúrbhyas catasṛ́bhyas
Ablative tribhyás tisṛ́bhyas catúrbhyas catasṛ́bhyas
Genitive triyāṇā́m tisṛṇā́m caturṇā́m catasṛṇā́m
Locative triṣú tisṛ́ṣu catúrṣu catasṛ́ṣu

Personal pronouns and determiners[edit]

Sanskrit pronouns are declined for case, number, and gender. 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. 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 fulfil 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)


Main article: Sanskrit compounds

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:[2]

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.
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").
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 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.


Further information: Śikṣā

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

An alternate traditional ordering is that of the Shiva Sutra of Pāṇini.


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
[ə] a
पा [ɑ] ā
पि [i] i
पी [iː] ī
पु [u] u
पू [uː] ū
पृ [r̩] (traditional) or [ri] (modern, North-Central India) syllabic alveolar trill: closest to er in butter in rhotic accents
पॄ [r̩ː] (traditional) or [ri:] (modern, North-Central India) syllabic alveolar trill: closest to ir in bird in rhotic accents
पॢ [l̩] (traditional) or [lri], [li] (modern, North-Central India) syllabic dental lateral approximant: le in turtle
पॣ [l̩ː] (traditional) or [lri:], [li:] (modern, North-Central India) syllabic dental lateral approximant: longer le
पे [e] e long close-mid front unrounded vowel: a in bane (some speakers)
पै [əj]/[ɑj] ai a diphthong: i in ice, i in kite (US, Canadian, and Scottish English)
पो [o] o close-mid back rounded vowel: o in bone (Scottish English)
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.

Additional points:

  • There are some additional signs traditionally listed in tables of the Devanagari script:
    • The diacritic called anusvāra, (IAST: ). It is a pure voiced nasal sound having no oral or oro-nasal articulation.[3]
    • The diacritic called visarga, represents /x/ (IAST: ); 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.[4]
  • The ancient Sanskrit grammarians classified the vowel system as velars, retroflexes, palatals and plosives rather than as back, central and front vowels. Hence and 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 vowels [r̩] and [r̩ː] were syllabic rhotics.[citation needed] much the same as in English "butter" and the Hindi "patr", meaning letter.[citation needed] 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" -, "ru" in the West - where the same god is commonly referred to as "krushna" -, and "ra" in the East. 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 (in accordance with Hindi phonology), which replaced prakrit and apabramsha "patta", the natural derivative of the Sanskrit, it was not recognised by modern speakers that this corresponded to the vocalic r of ancient Sanskrit.


IAST and Devanagari notations are given, with approximate IPA values in square brackets.[5]

p [p] b [b] t [t̪] d [d̪] [ʈ ] [ɖ ] c [t͡ɕ] j [d͡ʑ] k [k] g [ɡ]
ph [pʰ] bh [bʱ] th [t̪ʰ] dh [d̪ʱ] ṭh [ʈʰ] ḍh [ɖʱ] ch [t͡ɕʰ] jh [d͡ʑʱ] kh [kʰ] gh [ɡʱ]
m [m] n [n̪] [ɳ ] (ñ [ ɲ]) [ŋ]
v [ʋ] y [j]
l [l̪] r [ɽ]
s [s̪] [ʂ] ś [ɕ] [x] h [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.

alpaprāṇa śvāsa
mahāprāna śvāsa
alpaprāṇa nāda
mahāprāna nāda
anunāsika nāda

/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
/ʋə/; Danish v

/ɕə/; similar to English: ship

/ʂə/; Retroflex form of /ʃ/

/s̪ə/; English: same
/ɦə/; English ahead

The pronunciation of व causes much confusion. The ancient Indian literature of phonetics (see the Wikipedia article "Shiksha"} classifies this sound as the labio-dental approximant - a sound which the English language generally lacks. The modern Hindi pronunciation of that phoneme is also generally pronounced as a labio-dental semi-vowel (approximant). To an English ear this is interpreted as the labio-dental fricative, the English "v". However, when the व phoneme is at the beginning of a word, or follows a sibilant (e.g. swa..), the English ear hears this as the equivalent of "w" (the labio-velar approximant). The effect is that, to the English speaker, the व corresponds to what are, in English, two totally separate phonemes: "v" and "w". Actually, in Hindi the phoneme has a considerable range depending on the usage and speaker, from the labio-dental fricative "v", to the labio-dental semi-vowel, to a bilabial fricative (a variant of "w" to the English ear). The Sanskrit व must have had much the same range; Panini condemned the bi-labial pronunciation as vulgar (according to Allen), so it obviously must have been fairly common as the extreme of the range. For the reader who needs guidance in pronouncing Sanskrit: Hindi speakers can simply pronounce Sanskrit words with व as in Hindi; for English speakers, "v" comes close in general, with "w" for words where the व follows a sibilant (s or sh).


Main article: Vedic accent

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[edit]

The Sanskrit vowels are as discussed in the section above. The long syllabic l () is not attested, and is only discussed by grammarians for systematic reasons. Its short counterpart occurs in a single root only, kḷp "to order, array". Long syllabic r () is also quite marginal, occurring in the genitive plural of r-stems (e.g. mātṛ "mother" and pitṛ "father" have 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 is an allophone of r and s, and anusvara , 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[6] 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).


Because of Sanskrit's complex declension system the word order is free.[7] 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.[8]

Peculiar characteristics[edit]

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.'[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Karaka Theory of The Indian Grammarians". Franson D Manjali. Retrieved 2012-04-05. 
  2. ^ Warnemyr, Lennart. An analytical cross referenced Sanskrit Grammar. 
  4. ^ Maurer, Walter (2001). The sanskrit language : an introductory grammar and reader. Surrey, England: Curzon. ISBN 0-7007-1382-4. 
  5. ^ Stiehl, Ulrich (2011). Sanskrit-Kompendium : ein Lehr-, Übungs- und Nachschlagewerk; Devanagari-Ausgabe (PDF) (in German). Heidelberg: Forkel. ISBN 978-3-7719-0086-1. 
  6. ^ 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: |date= (help)
  7. ^ J.F. Staal (31 January 1967). Word Order in Sanskrit and Universal Grammar. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 978-90-277-0549-5. 
  8. ^ Gillon, B.S (25 March 1996), "Word order in Classical Sanskrit", Indian linguistics 57 (1 – 4): 1, ISSN 0378-0759 
  9. ^ Vidyākara (1965). An anthology of Sanskrit court poetry; Vidyākara's. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. pp. 5–8. ISBN 978-0-674-03950-6. 


Topics in Sanskrit morphology and syntax

External links[edit]