Sanskrit verbs

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Sanskrit verbs have a very complex inflection system for different combinations of tense, aspect, mood, number, and person. Participial forms are also extensively used.


Sanskrit verbs are conjugated in three persons (as in English): first, second, and third person.[1]

Verbs also have three numeric forms: singular, dual, and plural. Any verb that refers to only two objects must be in the dual from.[2]

Participles are considered part of the verbal systems although they are not verbs themselves, and as with other Sanskrit nouns, they can be declined across seven or eight cases, for three genders and three numeric forms.


There are two broad ways of classifying Sanskrit verbal roots. They are: Parasmaipadi (परस्मैपदी) and Atmanepadi (आत्मनेपदी). But some roots are Ubhayapadi (उभयपदी) i.e. they are conjugated as Parasmaipadi as well as Atmanepadi roots.

Ten gaṇas[edit]

Based on how the present stem is generated from the verb root, Sanskrit has ten gaṇas (गणाः) or classes of verbs divided into two broad groups: athematic and thematic. The thematic verbs are so called because an अ 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 (गुण), and vṛddhi (वृद्धि) 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.

The ten classes were as follows:[3]

Class Example verb Description
1 भरति bharati, "bears" Thematic presents, accent on the root
2 अस्ति asti, "is" Athematic root presents
3 ददाति dadāti, "gives" Reduplicated athematic presents
4 नश्यति naśyati, "perishes" Thematic presents in -ya-
5 सुनोति sunóti, "presses" Athematic presents in -nó-
6 तुदति tudati, "beats" Thematic presents, accent on the ending
7 रुणद्धि ruṇáddhi, "blocks" Athematic presents with nasal infix -ná-
8 तनोति tanóti, "stretches" Athematic presents in -ó- (originally -nó- added to the zero grade of roots ending in -n)
9 क्रीणाति krīṇāti, "buys" Athematic presents in -ṇā́- (nasal infix presents of seṭ roots)
10 चोरयति coráyati, "steals" Thematic presents in -áya-

Seṭ and aniṭ roots[edit]

Sanskrit roots may also be classified, independent of their gaṇa, into three groups, depending on whether they take the vowel i () before certain tense markers. Since the term used for this vowel by Sanskrit grammarians is iṭ (इट्), these two groups are called seṭ (सेट्, with iṭ), veṭ (वेट्, optional iṭ), and aniṭ (अनिट्, without iṭ) respectively.

Tense systems[edit]

The verbs 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, the imperfect, and 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.

For athematic verbs, the present tense stem may be formed through:

  • 2) No modification at all, for example अद् (ad) from अद् (ad) 'eat'.
  • 3) Reduplication prefixed to the root, for example जुहु (juhu) from हु (hu) 'sacrifice'.
  • 7) Infixion of na or n before the final root consonant (with appropriate sandhi changes), for example rundh or ruṇadh from rudh 'obstruct'.
  • 5) Suffixation of nu (guṇa form no), for example sunu from su 'press out'.
  • 8) Suffixation of u (guṇa form o), for example tanu from tan 'stretch'. For modern linguistic purposes it is better treated as a subclass of the 5th. tanu derives from tnnu, which is zero-grade for *tannu, because in the Proto-Indo-European language [m] and [n] could be vowels, which in Sanskrit (and Greek) change to [a]. Most members of the 8th class arose this way; कर् (kar) = "make", "do" was 5th class in Vedic (krnoti = "he makes"), but shifted to the 8th class in Classical Sanskrit (karoti = "he makes")
  • 9) Suffixation of [zero-grade नी (nī) or न् (n)], for example krīṇa or krīṇī from krī 'buy'.

For thematic verbs, the present tense stem may be formed through:

  • 1) Suffixation of the thematic vowel अ (a) with guṇa strengthening, for example, bháva from bhū 'be'.
  • 6) Suffixation of the thematic vowel अ (a) with a shift of accent to this vowel, for example tudá from tud 'thrust'.
  • 4) Suffixation of य (ya), for example दीव्य (dī́vya) from दिव् (div) 'play'.

The tenth class described by native grammarians refers to a process which is derivational in nature, and thus not a true tense-stem formation. It is formed by suffixation of ya with guṇa strengthening and lengthening of the root's last vowel, for example bhāvaya from bhū 'be'.

Perfect system[edit]

The perfect system includes only the perfect. The stem is formed with reduplication.

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. अभूः (abhūḥ) "you were") and some of the forms of the ancient injunctive (used almost exclusively with in prohibitions, e.g. मा भूः (mā bhūḥ) "don't be"). The principal distinction of the two is presence/absence of an augment – a- prefixed to the stem.

The aorist system stem actually has three different formations: the simple aorist, the reduplicating aorist (semantically related to the causative verb), and the sibilant aorist. The simple aorist is taken directly from the root stem (e.g. भू- (bhū-): अभूत् (a-bhū-t) "he was"). The reduplicating aorist involves reduplication as well as vowel reduction of the stem. The sibilant aorist is formed with the suffixation of s to the stem.

Future system[edit]

The future system is formed with the suffixation of sya or iṣya and guṇa. It includes a conditional, formed from the future stem as the imperfect is formed from a thematic present stem. Rarely used in Classical Sanskrit, the conditional refers to hypothetical actions.


Sanskrit also makes extensive use of participles.

Past participles[edit]

Past participles are formed directly from verbal roots for most verbs (except for verbs of the tenth gaṇa, which form them from the present stem). They have a perfective sense, in that they refer to actions that are completed. They can freely substitute for finite verbs conjugated in the past sense.

Past passive participles[edit]

The past passive participle in Sanskrit is formed by adding "-tá" (Kta in Pāṇinian terms), and in some cases "na", to a root in its weakest grade when weakening is applicable (e.g. samprasāraṇa). As expected, the augment "i" is added to the root before the suffix. The resulting form is an adjective and modifies a noun either expressed or implied. The past passive participle can usually be translated by the corresponding English past passive participle: likhitaḥ śabdaḥ "the written word"; kṛtaṃ kāryam "a done deed." See below for more detail and exceptions.

Examples: bhūta from √bhū; kṛta from √kṛ; sthita from sthā (with weakening); ukta from vac (with samprasāraṇa); udita from √vad (with both samprasāraṇa and the i augment); pūrṇa from pṝ (-na in place of -ta and "irregular" root modification).

Depending on the transitivity of the root, the suffix "-tá" has two basic applications: 1. Transitive (sakarmaka) roots: when the suffix -tá is added to a transitive root such as √kṛ "to do," the resulting participle expresses the direct object (karman) of the verbal root. The agent (kartṛ) of the same action must then occur in the instrumental case (tṛtīyā vibhakti) when the speaker wishes to express it.

Example: √han (2P) (to kill)

              राक्षसो हतो रामेण (rākṣaso hato rāmeṇa) = "The demon was killed by Rāma."

Note that rakṣasa is the direct object (karman) of the verbal action expressed in √han "to kill" and the agent (kartṛ) of the same action, Rāma, occurs in the instrumental case.

2. Intransitive (akarmaka) roots: forms adjectives/participles that indicate that the nouns modified are the subjects (kartṛ) for the action of the root (dhātu). This action is frequently in the past. In other words, the participle serves as a nominalization for a simple past tense in the kartari prayoga.

Example: √sthā(1P) (to stand)

             रामो वने स्थितः (Rāmo vane sthitaḥ)  --> Rāma stood in the forest.

Past active participles[edit]

These are regularly formed by suffixing -vant to the past passive participles. They modify the subject of the verb from which they are formed.

Present participle[edit]

Unlike the past participles, the present participle is formed from the present stem of the verb, and is formed differently depending on whether the verb is parasmaipada or ãtmanepada. The present participle can never substitute for a finite verb. It is also inherently imperfective, indicating an action that is still in process at the time of the main verb.

Future participles[edit]

Future participle[edit]

Formed from the future stem just as the present participle is formed from the present stem, the future participle describes an action that has not yet happened, but that may in the future.


The gerundive is a future passive prescriptive participle, indicating that the word modified should or ought to be the object of the action of the participle.

Perfect participle[edit]

The perfect participle is a past active participle, but is very rarely used in classical Sanskrit.

Aorist participle[edit]

The aorist participle used in Vedic was lost in Classical Sanskrit.

Comprehensive Example[edit]

The following table is a partial listing of the major verbal forms that can be generated from a single root. Not all roots can take all forms; some roots are often confined to particular stems. The verbal forms listed here are all in the third person singular, and they can all be conjugated in three persons and three numbers.

Root: bhū-, a class I thematic verb root.
Present stem: bhava-
Passive stem: bhūya-
Future stem: bhaviṣya-

Primary Causative Desiderative Intensive
Present stem Present bhavati
bubhūṣati bobhoti / bobhavīti
Imperfect abhavat
abubhūṣat abobhot
Imperative bhavatu
bubhūṣatu bobhotu / bobhavītu
Optative bhavet
bubhūṣet bobhavyāt
Present participle bhavant
bubhūṣant bobhavant
Passive Present bhūyate bhāvyate bubhūṣyate
Imperfect abhũyata abhāvyata abubhūṣyata
Imperative bhũyatām bhāvyatām bubhūṣyatām
Optative bhũyeta bhāvyeta bubhūṣyeta
Passive participle bhūyamāna bhāvyamāna bubhūṣyamāṇa
Future stem Future bhaviṣyati bhāvayiṣyati
Conditional abhaviṣyat abhāvayiṣyat abubhūṣiṣyat
Future participle bhaviṣyant bhāvayiṣyant
Periphrastic future bhavitā bhāvayitā bubhūṣitā
Perfect babhūva bhāvayām āsa bubhūṣām āsa
Aorist Aorist abhūt
Benedictive / precative bhūyāt
Injunctive (mā) bhūt
Causative bhāvayati
Desiderative bubhūṣati bibhāvayiṣati
Intensive bobhavīti
Past participle bhūta
Gerundive bhavya,

Taking into account the fact that the participial forms each decline in seven cases in three numbers across three genders, and the fact that the verbs each conjugate in three persons in three numbers, the primary, causative, and desiderative stems for this root when counted together have over a thousand forms.


  1. ^ "SAMSKRUTAM Studies. Grammar Tutorial: reference: verb forms". Sanskrit & Indology Foundation.  External link in |website= (help);
  2. ^ "Learn Sanskrit Online: Verb basics".  External link in |website= (help);
  3. ^ Benjamin W. Fortson (2004). Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction. Blackwell Publishing. p. 123. ISBN 1-4051-0316-7. 


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