Contents of Sanskrit Grammar

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By N. Siva Senani

Grammar is the system of rules, implicit in a language, governing the structural and functional relationships of the language including word components, phonology, morphology and syntax.

Pāṇini's Aṣṭādhyāyī is the text meant when one refers to the grammar of Sanskrit without any qualification. This is called Aṣṭādhyāyī because it contains eight chapters; each of these is further divided into four quarters. In total, there are 3,978 sūtras. This text, composed more than 2,400 years ago, remains the most comprehensive grammar of Sanskrit and is still taught and studied in a slightly re-arranged manner in India and elsewhere. It is also one of the most comprehensive grammars of any language in the world. Yet for such a comprehensive grammar, it is remarkably short, it is composed of 1,000 ślokas. To give an idea of how long this is, it would fit into fifty A4 sheets, typed normally. This extreme terseness is mainly due to the nature of the sūtra[1]-type of literature.

In addition to Pāṇini's work, three other works – all related and closely dependent on the Aṣṭādhyāyī – need to be mentioned with respect to grammar. They are the vārtikas by Kātyāyana or Vararuchi, the bhāṣya by Patanjali, and the rearrangement into chapters by Bhattoji Dīkṣita in the form of Siddhāntakaumudī. An edition of the Mahabhāṣya contains the original sūtras, the vārtikas and the bhāṣya; similarly Siddhāntakaumudī contains the original sūtras, many of the vārtikas, and notes by Bhattoji Dīkṣita.


Ground rules

The first chapter of the Siddhāntakaumudī puts together most of the Definitions (sanjñā rules) and the Rules of Interpretation (paribhāṣa) before dealing with the subject proper.


Sandhi is the coalescence of two letters in immediate contact. For instance, cup+board results in cupboard with the conjunct syllable 'pb' being pronounced as 'bb'. Thus, sandhi is something which is common to all languages, not merely Sanskrit. At any rate, to a large extent this is true of Indian languages. We find that the rules of sandhi in Sanskrit are sometimes not followed in Dravidian languages. For instance a + u results in o in Sanskrit, as in sūrya + udayam = sūryodayam. However, bengaLa + ūru = bengaLūru, not bengaLoru, but when it comes to sūryodaya, the Sanskrit rule is followed. Even in Sanskrit, we have exceptions to the general rule. To continue with the ‘a + u’ combination, akṣa + ūhini = akṣauhini (a military unit consisting of 21,870 chariots, 21,870 elephants, 65,610 horses and 1,09,350 foot soldiers), not akṣohini; pra + ūḍha = prauḍha (full grown, mature), not proḍha.

The vowel 'o' is by definition the combination of 'a' and 'u' (hence it has no short form in Sanskrit, unlike in Dravidian languages) and when such a combination results in a diphthong 'au' (a diphthong is a combination of two vowels; 'ai' and 'au' are the diphthongs in Sanskrit, as the term is used in English), or does not result in the combinatorial vowel 'o' (though the two vowels forming this sound are not clearly discernible, 'e' and 'o' are referred to as diphthongs by Sanskrit grammarians).

In the above examples, we see that exceptions to the pure, technical rules are found. These exceptions occur by force of usage. Linguists have observed several tendencies – towards simplification in most cases – which go against strict, narrow technical rules. The rules of Sandhi in grammar deal with both the generic, technical rules and rules which take note of the convention of usage. For those who argue that Paninian grammar is prescriptive and has frozen Sanskrit, this should make it clear that the Paninian grammar was descriptive when it was composed.

The Sandhis are classified as vowel sandhis, non-sandhis (that is rules describing the occasions where sandhi does not occur), visarga sandhi and hal-sandhi (coalescence of final consonants with vowels and consonants). Another useful classification is internal sandhi and external sandhi. Internal sandhi refers to the sandhi amongst case endings, verbal affixes, prefixes and suffixes which results in the formation of a word; external sandhi is what occurs between words, whether they form a compound or not.

External sandhi is more familiar to speakers of other Indian languages. In the earlier example, sūryodaya, we see an external sandhi. In saṁ + krita = saṁskrita (put together, well done, refined), we find an example of both an internal sandhi and a description of usage, rather a prescriptive rule.

As will be seen later, modern English differs from Sanskrit in treatment of compound words. This tendency to spilt compound words is observed in several Indian languages as well. Here it is pertinent to note that sandhi is nitya, that is, sandhi rules ought to be always followed in case of internal sandhi and in case of compound words. External sandhi, not amongst compound words, is up to the speaker in speech or prose, but compulsory in verse.

For a beginner, external sandhi is taught, while rules governing internal sandhi are passed over. Actually the rules governing sandhi apply equally to internal and external sandhis, but certain rules are exclusively or mostly applicable to internal sandhi; these are the rules which are not taught to beginners. Also, the examples given are mainly those of external sandhi.


A noun changes its form depending on the number and case of the noun. For instance book is a singular; books, plural. Case is the English word for vibhakti. We have rules such as the karta, doer or subject, is in prathamā vibhakti; the karta, or object, is in dvitīyā vibhakti; and the karaṇa, instrument is in the tritīyā vibhakti. The first three cases are respectively called nominative, accusative and instrumental cases; the next four are dative, ablative, genitive and locative. The sambodhana prathamā vibhakti is called the vocative.

The various forms of the noun in different cases and numbers are called 'declensions' and a noun (or adjective or pronoun) is said to decline. Such changes are also called inflections. Inflection, technically, has a larger scope since it includes the changes in verbs, called 'conjugation'. Nouns do not decline much in English except for number (singular and plural); another common occurrence is the genitive, formed by the addition of an apostrophe and 's'. Sanskrit nouns (and six other parts of speech, that is, all except verbs) decline profusely, with the addition of a dual number, not common in other familiar languages. While, technically every subanta has 21 (or 24) forms, distinct forms are lesser than that. The dual number has only three forms (nominative and accusative; instrumental, dative and ablative; genitive and locative), while the plural has only six forms (the dative and the ablative are always identical). There are a class of words called avyayas or indeclinables which do not decline. In other words, they have an identical form in all the three numbers and seven cases.

Nominally, a noun form is formed by the addition of a case affix called a 'sup' to the noun stem. They are 21 case affixes, starting with 'su', 'au', 'jas' and ending with 'ṅi', 'os', 'sup'. By combining the first letter of these affixes 'su' with the last letter 'p', we get 'sup' which refers to the set of 21 affixes.

The addition of these affixes is far from simple. They usually change depending upon the gender of the noun stem, prātipadika. Then they are elaborate sandhi rules. At the end of it all, a noun declines as illustrated below:

akārāntaḥ pulliṅgaḥ rāma śabdaḥ

rāmaḥ rāmau rāmāḥ prathamā vibhaktiḥ
rāmam rāmau rāmān dvitīyā vibhaktiḥ
rāmeṇarāmābhyāṁrāmaiḥ tritīyā vibhaktiḥ
rāmāyarāmābhyāṁrāmebhyaḥcaturthī vibhaktiḥ
rāmāt rāmābhyāṁrāmebhyaḥpañcamī vibhaktiḥ
rāmasyarāmayoḥrāmāṇāṁṣaṣṭhī vibhaktiḥ
rāme rāmayoḥrāmeṣu saptamī vibhaktiḥ
he rāmahe rāmau he rāmāḥsambodhanaprathamā vibhaktiḥ

The process of deriving each of the above forms is called rūpasiddhi (literally, attainment of form) which demonstrates one's mastery of grammar. This process is so complicated that vibhakti forms are learnt by heart, independently of grammar. These forms vary depending on the gender of the noun (and the other six parts of speech, henceforth noun in this context shall include the other subantas as well) and the last letter of the noun. A traditional text, śabdamañjarī, lists about 175 of these forms. A Kerala version lists 200.

For a beginner, the rules of grammar relevant to declensions are usually not taught; instead a sub-set of the vibhakti forms are taught, usually masculine and neuter nouns ending in a, i, u, ṛ, t; feminine nouns ending in ā, i, ī, ū, ṛ; and a few pronouns. Even advanced learners tend to learn the rest of the vibhaktis first and attempt rūpasiddhi, if at all, later.

A verse which lists the singular forms of rāma in various cases and also demonstrates the basic syntax of the usage of case is given below. This verse is found in the Ramaraksha Stotra composed by Sage Budha Kausika[1]:

rāmo rājamaṇiḥ sadā vijayate rāmam rameśam bhaje,
rāmeṇābhihatā niśācaracamū rāmāya tasmai namaḥ |
rāmānnāsti parāyaṇam parataram rāmasya dāso'smyaham,
rāme citta laya sadā bhavatu me bho rāma māmuddhara ||


As mentioned earlier, an avyaya or an indeclinable has the same form in all numbers and cases, and also the three genders. Additionally, there are a few nouns called nipātas, which have an identical form everywhere: anyat, astam, om, canas, cāṭu, namas, nāsti, bhūr, bhuvar, vadi, śam, śudi, sudi, saṁvat, svāhā, svadhā, svar and svasti.

The different types of indeclinables are

  • prepositions,
  • adverbs,
  • particles,
  • conjunctions and
  • interjections.

There are about 20 prepositions, called upasargas; about 300 words used adverbially, 9 particles (ad, kā, ku, cana, cit, na, sma, vit and svī), about fifty conjunctions and about forty interjections.

Of these, the upasargas are the most important. They combine with verb stems and multiply the available vocabulary. Then, they combine with other nouns to form compound words called avyayībhāvas, which are themselves indeclinable.

A beginner is usually introduced only to upasargas; the other indeclinables are explained as and when they are encountered, rather than being taught formally as a component of grammar.

Formation of Feminine Bases

In Sanskrit, nouns, adjectives and the subantas are formed from verbal roots by the additions of krit and other affixes. The word so formed is usually masculine. To these masculine words, addition of 'ā', 'ī', 'ū' and 'ti' results in the feminine. This addition is subject to a set of rules collated under the chapter formation of feminine bases. A beginner usually understands the application of the more important of these rules by exposure. A formal study is taking up in advanced stage.

Cases (kārakas)

Kārakaprakaraṇa is the part of grammar that deals with syntax. To be sure, Sanskrit syntax properly extends beyond the kārakas to include concordance (agreement of the adjective with the noun and agreement of the verb with the subject), usage of pronouns and the usage of numerous participles. Many of these are by convention and usage by respected authors. This situation led to the comment amongst western Indologists that if Sanskrit grammar is lacking in any area, it is in syntax. To quote Dr. H. Kern in his introduction to 'Sanskrit Syntax' by Dr. J. S. Speijer (published by E. J. Brill, Leyden, 1886), “Indian grammar, which is virtually the same as saying Pāṇini's grammar, superior as it is in many respects to anything of the kind produced among other civilized nations of antiquity, is profoundly deficient in its treatment of syntax”.

There are six kārakas corresponding to the seven cases, save the genitive.

Karaka Case Usage Example
kartā Nominative (prathamā) Naming or default case; denotes the subject when used with a verb Rama is a jewel among kings.
karma Accusative (dvitīyā) Denotes the object [I] worship Rama.
karaṇa Instrumental (tritīyā) Denotes the agent or instrument of action The army of demons is killed by Rama.
sampradāna Dative (caturthī) Denotes the person to whom something is given or offered; or an object with reference to which an action of offering is made I offer salutations to Rama (this translation is to convey the sense of the dative; the proper translation is 'I bow to Rama'.)
apādāna Ablative (paṅcamī) The primary sense is that of separation and moving away from, real or figurative. There is no higher path than [that of] Rama.
adhikaraṇa Locative (saptamī) Denotes the place where an action takes place, with reference to the subject or object. May my heart always be fixated upon Rama.

All senses not expressed by the kārakas are expressed by the genitive. Technically, the genitive expresses the relation of one noun to another in a sentence. In 'rāmasya dāsaasmi aham' (I am the servant of Rama), the speaker belongs to Rama, in the capacity of a servant and hence Rama is expressed in the genitive case. Additionally, we have the vocative case, treated as a variant of the nominative case which denotes the person being addressed, as in 'bho rāma! mām uddhara' (O Rama! Uplift me).

There are two other cases called the locative absolute and the genitive absolute. It is best to introduce the Absolute case by quoting Alexander Bain from his “Higher English Grammar” (published by Longmans & Co., London, 1879):

When the participle agrees with a Subject different from the Subject of the Verb, the Phrase is said to be in Absolute Construction: 'the sun having risen, we commenced our journey'; 'this said, he sat down'.

Whereas the nominative is used as the absolute in English, the locative absolute is the most popular in Sanskrit, and referred to as 'sati saptamī'. The genitive absolute, used less frequently to show contempt or disregard, is referred to as 'sataḥ ṣaṣṭhī’. It may be noted that both 'sati' and 'sataḥ' are the locative and genitive singulars of the word 'san', to be. The absolute case is used to convey the sense of English particles 'when', 'while', 'since' and 'although'.

A good understanding of the common usage of the various cases is fundamental to make any progress in learning Sanskrit. Though the absolute case is somewhat difficult to initially master, it is used very frequently and the beginner should be at least able to identify the absolute case, if not be actually able to use it properly. The less frequent usages of different cases may be initially omitted.

Here it is pertinent to note a tendency amongst schools to make children learn up to 20 vibhakti patterns by rote, but omitting to properly introduce the kārakas. The declensions, learnt with such difficulty, make sense only when the student knows how to use them and for that a preliminary understanding of the matter treated above is absolutely essential. If the object being learnt has a purpose, it makes the act of learning less of a chore and more interesting. This is recognised by agencies outside the school system, who in the name of 'Spoken Sanskrit' introduce copious sentences in all the cases.

Compound words

When two or more words are joined together, a compound word is formed, called samāsa (saṁ, together + as, be) in Sanskrit. Usually the relation between the words is not mentioned. When required, the compound is resolved, giving the relationship between the words joined. For instance, 'lokanātha' can mean 'the lord of the world' or 'one to whom the world is the lord'. The sentence which resolves a compound is called a vigraha vākya.

The rules of sandhi are observed when the words forming a compound come together. In all respects, the compound word behaves like a word and takes case affixes and can form other compounds. One criticism of later developments in Sanskrit is that the compounds became very long – often running to a full page – doing the duty of full fledged sentences. Compounds are variously classified in four, five or six groups, with further sub-classification. The samāsakusumāvaliḥ gives examples of about a hundred types of samāsas, with examples of compounds along with their resolutions.

A note about writing compound words is in order. English has developed a convention of writing compound words such as 'civil servant' with a space in between. In contrast, German is more insistent that a compound word retain its fundamental character of being a single word. Thus, we have the German Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers Party) shortened to Nazi Party using the first two letters of the two words in the first compound. It may also be noted that the last word, 'workers party' is also a compound. Following the English convention, Indians started writing names as Pāmulaparti Venkaṭa Narasiṁha Rao, whereas the correct way of writing such a name ought to be Pāmulaparti (called the upanāma in Sanskrit) Venkaṭanarasiṁharao. The same convention extends to Shiva Kumar, Nārāyaṇ Dutt and so on. However Indirā Priyadarśinī maybe written as such, as Priyadarśinī can also be an adjective describing Indirā. Having said this, it must be mentioned that conventions develop over time and the general usage becomes the standard usage.

A mastery of kārakas is required to write the vigraha vākyas, resolution of compounds. The beginner need not bother with all the classifications and sub-classifications or with the vigraha vākyas, as long as the sense conveyed by the samāsas is adequately understood. Once the basics are learnt, a working knowledge of compounds ought to be acquired for it is almost impossible to find any fragment of non-vedic Sanskrit without compounds.

Taddhitas or Secondary Derivatives

Vritti is the general term for any complex formation in Sanskrit requiring explanation or resolution. We have just examined one such vritti, the samāsa. The other vrittis are ekaśeṣa vritti (similar to the dvandvasamāsa), kridvritti (formation of words from roots or verb-stems by primary affixes), dhātuvritti (formation of derivative verbs from primary roots) and taddhitavritti (formation of derivative bases from nouns by secondary affixes).

For instance, Rama is referred to as dāśarathi, by virtue of being the son of Daśaratha. Bhārata, kaurava, pāṇḍava, pārtha, gāṅgeya, śāntanu, rāghava, pārvatī, draupadī, yādava, bhārgava, vāsudeva, and bhāradvāja are all examples of names derived from ancestors by addition of secondary affixes. Pitāmaha, mātula etc. are examples of nouns derived from descendants. Taddhithas are not restricted to persons alone. Often books are named as a secondary derivative of the author. Thus, Govindarājīyam is the commentary on Ramayana by Govindarāja and Śāṅkarabhāṣya is the bhāṣya written by Śaṅkara. Another taddhita pratyaya, 'in' conveys the sense of possession: thus, daṇḍin is somebody with a staff, daṇḍa; guṇin, with guṇa; cakrin, with cakra (Viṣnu) and so on.

There are more than 70 taddhita pratyayas, and are most profusely used. Taddhitas seem to be preferred from a stylistic point as well, more so amongst the Southerners. One such excessive use of taddhitas by Kātyāyana led the bhāṣyakāra to comment 'priyataddhitāḥ dākṣiṇātyāḥ' and that lable stuck since then.

Conjugation of Roots

Conjugation refers to the changes that a verb undergoes. For instance, the verb 'boil' changes to 'boils' 'boiled', 'boiling', 'will boil' and so on. In Sanskrit the verb changes its forms in the three numbers – singular, dual and plural – and three persons: Third person, second person and first person. Thus, paṭh (to read) takes various forms depending on who the subject is: sā pāṭhati (she reads), chātrāḥ paṭhanti (students read) or aham paṭhāmi (I read). The various forms of the verb paṭh in present tense are given below:

English Person Sanskrit Person Singular Dual Plural Third Person prathamapuruṣa paṭhati paṭhataḥ paṭhanti Second Person madhyamapuruṣa paṭhasi paṭhatha paṭhathaḥ First Person uttamapuruṣa paṭhāmi paṭhāvah paṭhāmah

The difference in nomenclature between English and Sanskrit is to be noted. The literal translation of prathamapuruṣa ought to be the first person, but it corresponds to the third person in English.

The Six Tenses

The three most familiar tenses or simple tenses are the present, past and future. Sanskrit has three more tenses: two more varieties of past tense and an additional variety of future tense. Additionally, there are four moods. We will examine each of these in turn.

One variety of the past tense is Past Perfect or simply Perfect, called parokṣabhūtaḥ in Sanskrit, meaning something which happened long ago. An example would be: rājā daśaratho nāma babhūva (there was a king called Dasaratha). That was thousands of years ago; Dasaratha is no longer around. This is the perfect past; the Imperfect Past is the opposite of it: bālaḥ phalaṁ akhādat (boy ate fruit). Conceivably, this happened sometime back. The technical rule is that this ought to be used when the event is capable of being witnessed by the speaker. In practice that is often not the case. Then, there is a third kind of past tense, which is supposed to be indefinite about whether the action is complete or not. Based on the Greek word for indefinite, this is called the Aorist. A lot of this terminology came from early studies in Indo-European languages, but the lables can sometimes confuse the beginner. From the above description, a sensible approach would be to use the Aorist heavily and use the Perfect and Imperfect tenses with precision and clarity; that however is not the case. The most commonly used verb form of past tense is the Imperfect and the Sanskrit Imperfect is quite different from the English Imperfect (called the Past Continuous or Past Progressive). In English the Imperfect or Past Continuous requires the action to have started in the past and to continue into the present, as in “I was eating”. That is not the case in Sanskrit, as we saw in the example of “boy ate fruit”. This is not to say that the lable-givers were wrong. In fact, in other Indo-European languages, the Imperfect indeed refers to only past actions; English is more the exception. The older names for these tenses were 1st Preterite (Imperfect), 2nd Preterite (Perfect) and 3rd Preterite (Aorist). Preterite, from the Latin equivalent of bhūta, is the same as past tense.

There are two future tenses, referred to as 1st Future and 2nd Future, or Periphrastic Future and Simple Future, in that order. Periphrastic is another unfamiliar technical word of grammar. ‘Peri’ is the prefix meaning about, around etc; ‘phrastic’ is derived from phrase. Thus, periphrastic means phrase-like. A periphrastic verb is a verb form constructed using an auxiliary verb, as in “he did say...”. This is, it will be observed, different from the simple inflected or conjugated verb form in “he said...”. A periphrastic verb is different from a phrasal verb, which is a verb combined with an adverb and/or a preposition, as “speak up”. The 1st future in Sanskrit refers to an action that would occur at a definite time in future but not this day, whereas the 2nd future refers to an action that would occur at an indefinite time in future including today, and to denote recent and future continuous time.

Thus, in place of three familiar tenses (actually there are more than three tenses in English such as past perfect and present perfect continuous), we have six tenses in Sanskrit.

The Four Moods

In addition to the six tenses, we have four 'moods'. Mood captures the 'attitude' of the speaker. Let us say the principal of the School sends a directive for school children regarding the Republic Day event at school. If the directive says, 'all teachers must attend', it is said to be in imperative mood; if it further states that 'all school buses would run in their normal routes as many children may attend' , the bit about children is said to be in potential mood; if the directive ends with something along the lines of 'may our children strengthen this Republic further', it is in a benedictive mood. The fourth is called the conditional where the action of the verb is conditional upon another event. In English, an example would be “If it rains, he won't go”. There is another closely related mood called Subjunctive, which has a sense of “subject to”. In English and Classical langauges of the West, the subjunctive requires an event contrary to the present state of affairs to take place. If we change the above cited example to “If it were to rain, he would not go”, it would convey the sense that the speaker does not wish 'him' to go and so wants rain, though there is no rain or indication of rain presently. This is the sense conveyed by the Subjunctive. The subjunctive, as used in the Vedic language, is slightly different. It is a composite mood, and may be considered to have six tenses (as per S. C. Vasu): Present, Imperfect, Present Conditional, Imperfect Conditional, Strong Present Conditional and Strong Imperfect Conditional. It conveys (according to the sūtra 3.4.8 of the Aṣṭhādhyāyī) the senses of 'upasaṁvāda (contingent promise or reciprocal agreement as in 'If you do X, I will give you Y') and āśankā (apprehension, guess, estimate).

We have started the introduction saying there are four moods, but listed five: Imperative, Potential, Benedictive, Conditional and Subjunctive. This is so because the Potential and Benedictive are two forms of what is simply referred to as liṅ in Sanskrit. The Potential is called vidhiliṅ and the Benedictive is called āśīrliṅ. Since the Subjunctive is not studied in the laukika grammar, the two liṅs are separately studied.

Alternative Names for Moods

Some books on Sanskrit grammar mention other moods such as the Injunctive, Optative and Precative. These are best understood by first knowing the meaning of these terms. The Injunctive is related to the word used so commonly in courts: 'injunction'. An injunction is an order, a command. The Optative is derived from the same root as 'option' and conveys a sense of choice. In grammar, the mood expressing a preferred choice amongst alternatives, that is a wish, is called the Optative. The precative is related to 'pray', and expresses an entreaty, supplication, a prayer. These terms are used in the grammar of Greek and Latin, and attempts were made to find equivalents in Sanskrit.

The equivalent in Sanskrit for the Injunctive is found in the Aorist. There are seven (according to M. R. Kale) or three varieties (according to Western grammarians of Sanskrit) of the Aorist, and the Injunctive is one of those. The difference between the Imperative and Injunctive is in terms of affixes, augmentation and historical development, rather than in usage. Similarly, the Precative and Optative are, in one interpretation, forms of the Aorist. S. C. Vasu however treats the Potential as the same as the Optative. In dealing with all these lables, the point of view of the author is of much significance. For somebody not interested in comparative studies, these lables are less than helpful. What is important, and which is clear enough in the traditional classification, is to know which form expresses a command, wish, blessing, prayer, possibility and conditionality.

One other lable might be mentioned: the pluperfect, which may be roughly thought of as the complete or supremely perfect; in English it has an easier lable, the past perfect tense. It is usually stated that Sanskrit has no pluperfect. This is true in the sense of comparison with Greek, but Sanskrit is perfectly capable of expressing actions fully completed in the past using the various participles, the locative absolute and such others. In the more advanced books on grammar, usually remarks are made as to how a given particle or tense serves the function of the pluperfect as well. There it is most useful to substitute past perfect for the pluperfect.

Pāṇini's lables are purely nominal, devoid of any meaning, as tabulated below:

S. No. lakāra Descriptive Lable Sense conveyed 3rd Person, Singular form of bhū
1 laṭ Present tense Action taking place at the present time, recently completed or in the immediate future (where are you going?); habitual or repeated action; and others. bhavati
2 liṭ Perfect tense or 2nd Preterite Action done before the current day and not witnessed by the speaker; action which takes place when the speaker was unconscious or distracted babhūva
3 luṭ First future or Periphrastic future tenses Definite futurity, not today (he would donate food on the amāvāsya). bhavitā
4 lṛiṭ Second future or simple future tense Indefinite futurity (he would donate food life-long); including today; and others. bhaviṣyati
5 leṭ Subjunctive mood Wish etc. subject to action contrary to present state taking place (If I were the Prime Minister of India,...); and others. Used only in the Vedas.
6 loṭ Imperative mood Command; entreaty; benediction; courteous enquiry; gentle advice and others. bhavatu, bhavatāt
7 laṅ * Imperfect tense or 1st Preterite Past action not done today, and others. Presently, the most commonly used form of the past tense. abhavat
8 liṅ vidhiliṅ Potential mood Vidhi (duty), nimantraṇa (invitation), āmantraṇa (permission), adhīṣṭa (attend honorary office), sampraśna (courteous enquiry), prārthana (prayer) and others. bhavet
āśīrliṅ Benedictive mood Blessings bhūyāt
9 luṅ Aorist or 3rd Preterite Past action indefinitely, without reference to any particular time; and others abhūt
10 lṛiṅ Conditional mood Action conditional upon something abhaviṣyat
  • laṅ is pronounced like the English 'lung'; similarly others are pronounced as ling, lung, and lring.

There remain two more details of the verb to be noticed: the voice (active, passive, impersonal) and the personal terminations. There are two personal terminations called parasmaipada and Atmanepada that roots take to form verbs. Theoretically, when the fruit of action of a verb accrues to the speaker, Atmanepada is used; when it does not accrue to the speaker, parasmaipada is used. Some verbs are exclusively parasmaipada verbs, others exclusively Atmanepada verbs; some admit both affixes, and are called ubhayapadas. There are a few which change from one category to another, if preceded by certain prefixes. The terminations for the Atmanepada verbs are different from the parasmaipada terminations. To give a feel for the difference between parasmaipada and Atmanepada conjugations, the Atmanepada verb, labh (to gain), is conjugated in the present tense below:

English Person Sanskrit Person Singular Dual Plural Third Person prathamapuruṣa labhate labhete labhante Second Person madhyamapuruṣa labhase labhethe labhadhve First Person uttamapuruṣa labhe labhāvahe labhāmahe

It may be noted that Atmanepada conjugations for the ten tenses and moods are distinct from the parasmaipada conjugations in those ten lakāras.

Verbs which admit an object, or karma, are called sakarmakadhātus, or transitive verbs. These may be expressed in the active voice or passive voice. For instance, ‘Rama reads the book’ (rāmaḥ pustakaṁ pāṭhati) is in active voice; in the passive voice, the sentence is rewritten as: The book is being read by Rama (rāmeṇa pustakaḥ paṭhyate). Read is called a transitive verb. Some verbs do not admit an object, as in, 'I sleep'. Such verbs are called intransitive verbs, or akarmakadhātus. For such verbs, the passive construction is called impersonal passive, or bhāve prayogaḥ. There is a third kind of passive called the reflexive, as in 'rice is cooked' (odanaḥ pacyate). Irrespective of which passive the verb takes, the conjugation of the verb in the passive voice is similar. As it happens, it is identical with the conjugation of verbs of the 4th class Atmanepada verbs.

Thus, we see that verbs can be conjugated in ten tenses and moods, nine forms in each tense or mood, corresponding to the three numbers and the three persons; that is each verb changes itself into ninety forms. Then we need to add the forms in passive voice, which adds another 90 forms. Since the passive forms and Atmanepada forms are identical, for every verb a student needs to learn 180 verb forms. Since this may be quite daunting, during the initial stages only five lakāras are introduced: present, imperfect and simple future tense; imperative and potential moods. This cuts the load in half, but knowing these forms and declension of about twenty of the more important noun and pronoun forms is essential to be able to read anything in Sanskrit.

Derivative Verbs

There are four kinds of derivative verbs, called pratyayāntadhātus: Causals (ṇijantas), Desideratives (sannantas), Frequentatives (yaṅantas) and Denominatives (nāmadhātus).

A causal verb is different from an ordinary verb in that the agent of action, karta, causes another to do the action rather than do it himself. Thus, “Rama makes [the students] read”, rāmaḥ pāṭhayati. These are formed by the addition of the affix 'ṇic' (which is actually a plain 'i' with a head, 'ṇ' and tail 'c', for ease of pronunciation). Words ending in 'ṇic' are ṇijantas (the transformation of the last harsh 'ca' into the softer 'ja' being a feature of sandhi). This is another 'artificial' or nominal non-descriptive lable of Pāṇini. Other teachers refer to this also as prayojakārthakas. The conjugation of these causal verbs is exactly similar to the conjugation of verbs in the tenth class. This somewhat reduces the burden on the student.

The Desiderative verb expresses the desire of the agent of action to perform the action, or to be in the condition, denoted by the root or the desiderative base. pipaṭhiṣati, [he] wishes to study, is derived from the root, paṭh. Nominal and participle derivates of the desiderative verb are fairly common, not only in Sanskrit but in other Indian languages as well. Śuśrūṣā, the desire to listen, has acquired the meaning of 'service' as a student desirous of learning more would serve his guru with obedience and diligence. The rūdhi or established meaning of 'service' is so prominent that we have nursing homes named somewhat inappropriately, if only etymologically speaking, Śuśrūṣā. Another common noun derived from the desiderative is 'mumukṣu', the one desirous of mokṣa, liberation.

The Frequentative or Intensive verb expresses repetition or intensity of the action conveyed by the base verb. From 'dīp', to shine, is derived 'dedīpyate' [it] shines brightly; and dedīpyamāna, shining brightly.

Sanskrit nouns (and others together known as subantas) are formed from verb-roots, but a class of verbs called Denominatives are formed from the nouns. A good modern example in English would be 'googling'. Verbs putrīyati, rājīyati, from putra and rājan, express the desire of the speaker for a son and a king. Some of the denominatives are used to convey the sense of treating like, as in 'he treats his student like a son.' There is a list of 50 roots starting with kaṇḍu, referred to as kaṇḍvādigaṇa, which are both roots and nouns; these also form denominatives similarly.

Kridantas or Krit affixes

The affixes starting with 'krit' are called krit affixes and words formed by the addition of krit affixes are called kridantas, [words] ending in krit. The name krit itself is derived from a sūtra of Aṣṭādhyāyī: 3.1.63 krit-atiṅ, all affixes except tiṅ are krit. Addition of krit affixes results in the formation of declinable and indeclinable participles. Participle, as in the past participle ‘broken’ is well known, with students reciting lists such as ‘break, broke, broken’. At the stage where these lists are taught, the meaning of a participle is not explained in great detail.

A participle gets its name because the word called the participle does the job of an adjective by 'participating' in the action denoted by the verb. For instance, in the sentence, 'The Australian leg spinner carried many cans of baked beans' the word 'baked' describes beans and thus works like an adjective; yet like green, large of fresh, baked is not really an adjective; rather it is closely associated with the verb, 'bake'. Similarly in a 'broken widow pane' and 'a burning train', a word derived from a verb serves as an adjective. Applying the same lable to kridantas in Sanskrit is somewhat amusing, as all the adjectives (and nouns and other parts of speech, together referred to as subantas) are held and shown to be derived from verbal roots; so participles are not really a separate class in Sanskrit. With this quirk of the descriptive lable 'participle' being kept in mind, we will examine the kridantas proper.

The Present Participle is formed by the addition of 'at' (with the addition of a head and tail, it is usually referred to as śatṛ) to the root, as in paṭhat (reading). This is possible only for parasmaipada roots; for Atmanepada roots, another affix 'āna' (śānac) is added, as in vardhamāna (growing). The past participles are formed by adding 'vas' and 'āna' to parasmaipada and Atmanepada verbs. The past passive participle is formed by 'ta' (ktavat) to the verb as in bhūta (become) or snāta (bathed). Potential participles are formed by addition of 'tavya', 'anīya' and 'ya' as in kartavyam or karaṇīyam (that which ought to be done, therefore, duty). These and the other participles of the future tense and past active are all adjectives and decline as subantas do.

The gerund formed by the addition of 'ktvā' (to simple words) or 'ya' (lyap, in case of words with a prefix) are indeclinable. Thus, we have jṅātva (having known) from the root jṅā (to know); if we add a prefix, say 'vi', the gerund is formed differently: vijṅāya (having known well). The gerund or the indeclinable past participle is formed by addition of other affixes as well. Another important indeclinable participle is the infinitive, formed by the addition of 'tum' (tumun), as in kartuṁ (in order to do) or paṭhituṁ (in order to study). The krit affixes are quite numerous. In addition to those briefly mentioned above, another 60 are listed in M. R. Kale's 'A Higher Sanskrit Grammar'.

The krit affixes are the key behind the huge vocabulary of Sanskrit and its potential to coin new words to keep pace with technological developments. This potential, in fact, is realised through other Indian languages like Hindi, with new words being coined to describe modern developments. To give one example of how important the krit affixes are in usage, given below is a list of 31 words formed by addition of krit affixes to the root 'bhū' listed in the 'brihaddhāturatnākaraḥ' of Harekānta Miśra: bhavitavyam, bhavanīyam, bhavyam, bhāvyam, bhūtaḥ, bhūtavān, bhavan, bhavantī, bhaviṣyan, bhaviṣyatī, bhaviṣyantī, bhavituṁ, bhūtvā, sambhūya, bhavitā, bhavitrī, bhūṣṇūḥ, bhaviṣṇuḥ, bhāvukaḥ, vibhuḥ, prabhuḥ, bhūti, bhāva, prabhavaḥ, bhavaḥ, bhavanaṁ, bhuvanaṁ, bhūmiḥ, adbhutaḥ.

Uṇādi Sutras

The best way to introduce and describe these sūtras would be to quote Srisa Chandra Vasu, in the introductory passage to uṇādi sūtras, in his translation of the Siddhāntakaumudī: “The Uṇādi suffixes, though as necessary as the Kridanta ones, and as important as the taddhita suffixes added to the nouns of the gana-pāṭha are seldom treated of in ordinary treatises of grammar as an essential subject of grammatical instruction. Pāṇini himself, though diffuse in other respects, stops short when treating Uṇādi by saying “Unādyo bahulaṁ”, (they are too many). Moreover the formation of Uṇādi words are so very arbitrary and complicated on account of the insertion, transposition, substitution and transmission of the letters by the indeterminate laws of prosthesis, epenthesis, metathesis, paragoge, synalepha, synesis, synacresis, synecphonesis and others, that it can hardly be brought under the definite rules of permutation by sandhi, or reduced under the strictest forms of grammar for the adhesion of these suffixes. The primary significance of the root is utterly lost in the derivative word formed from it.”

There are 751 Uṇādi sūtras in addition to the nearly 4,000 sūtras of the Aṣṭādhyāyī. The Uṇādi affixes themselves number 325.

Vedic Grammar and Rules Governing Accents

The rules pertaining to the Vedic usage have been collated and given in eight chapters under the heading vaidikī prakriyā towards the end of the Siddhāntakaumudī. The rules in each chapter correspond to the rules found in that particular adhyāya of the Aṣṭādhyāyī. Along with the various vedic diversities, this section also deals with 'leṭ', the Vedic Subjunctive, which turns out to be a composite mood, with six tenses: Present, Imperfect, Present Conditional, Imperfect Conditional, Strong Present Conditional, and Strong Imperfect Conditional – with each of them having two alternate forms in the third person and middle person.

The vaidika prakaraṇa is followed by the svara prakaraṇa, or the section on accents. It is curious that these rules have not been clubbed with rest of the Vedic Grammar. Here the accents of words, verb-stems or roots and affixes are given, but not the accents of nominal bases. The accents of nominal bases are listed separately under the heading 'Phiṭ Sutras', 'phiṭ' being the technical name for nominal bases.


Liṅgānuśāsanam lists 189 sūtras to determine the gender of words. This is different from the nāmaliṅgānuśāsanam of Amar Singh, or amarasiṁha, which is more commonly referred to as amarakośaṁ. The amarakośaṁ is like a thesaurus listing groups of words with similar meanings. Along with the words, the gender is also clarified, where required. The pāṇinīyaliṅgānuśāsanam on the other hand gives rules governing the gender of words. The liṅgānuśāsanam is the first appendix to Siddhāntakaumudī. Some, mainly Western Indologists, opine that this work is not composed by Pāṇini, but the traditional grammarians of India, including Bhattoji Dīkṣita, attribute this work to Pāṇini.

Notes & References

  1. A sūtra, usually translated as aphorism, is extremely terse – often being unintelligible – and indicates the key aspects or essence of the subject matter.

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