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 Learning Sanskrit - Verbs (1)

Verbs - Introduction

 Introduction: The map

All right. Take it easy!, because we are facing a hard-to-scale mountain now: "Sanskrit Verbs". This subject may become a real headache if you do not approach it in a suitable manner.

Most books dealing with Sanskrit grammar simply give list after list of verbal conjugations with a brief explanation which makes you even more confused. The problem lies in the approach. First of all, you need a "map" of the terrain. Without a map you risk falling down while climbing the mountain, because maybe you choose to ascend, in a certain stage, through a dangerous path.

So, first step: To get a map. And I already have one for you. Here you are the map. Study it attentively:

Map: Part 1
PRIMITIVES These are roots which originally exist in Sanskrit They are divided into ten gaṇa-s (houses or classes). In turn, there are two groups within this division: a) 1st, 4th, 6th and 10th houses or classes; b) 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 8th and 9th houses or classes -- Since they are weak, you will have to strengthen them somehow. Guṇa substitution is a good means, indeed.
DERIVATIVES These are the verbs which are derived from original roots or nouns They may be derived from "any" root belonging to "any" gaṇa (house or class). In short, they belong to the class to which the original root belongs Causals or Ṇijanta-s They convey the notion of "cause". Ex. from "budh" (to know) is derived the Causal "bodhayati" (He/She/It causes to know).
Desideratives or Sannanta-s They convey the notion of "desire". Ex. from "budh" (to know) is derived the Desiderative "bubhutsati" (He/She/It wishes to know).
Frequentatives (Intensives) or Yananta-s They convey the notion of "repetition" or "intensity". Ex. from "budh" (to know) is derived the Frequentative "bobudhīti" (He/She/It frequently or intensely knows. He/She/It knows over and over again).
Denominatives (Nominal) or Nāmadhātu-s They are formed from nouns and convey the notion of performing, using, becoming, wishing, treating, etc. in respect of the respective noun. Ex. from "putra" (son) is derived the Denominative "putrīyati" (He/She/It treats -someone- as a son).
Map: Part 2
ACTIVE VOICE (Kartariprayoga) It is by far the most used Voice. Ex. "Devadatta eats barley" (Devadatto yavaṁ bhakṣati). -- --
PASSIVE VOICE It is also often used. It is divided into two classes, although the Impersonal Voice is also considered to be a third class of Passive. Passive properly so called (Karmaṇiprayoga) Ex. "Barley is eaten by Devadatta" (Devadattena yavo bhakṣyate)
Reflexive (Karmakartariprayoga) Ex. "Barley is cooked" (Yavaḥ pacyate)
IMPERSONAL VOICE (Bhāveprayoga) Even though it is a Voice apart, is often considered to be a third class of Passive. Ex. "It is gone" (Gamyate). -- --
Map: Part 3
PARASMAIPADA (lit. "Word for another") When the verb is conjugated by using the terminations pertaining to this pada, so the action denoted by it is "theoretically" done "for the sake of another". The word "parasmai" means "for another". Hence its name.
ĀTMANEPADA (lit. "Word for self") When the verb is conjugated by using the terminations pertaining to this pada, so the action denoted by it is "theoretically" done "for the sake of oneself". The word "ātmane" means "for self". Hence its name.
Some verbs take only the Parasmaipada, while others take Ātmanepada. There are verbs that take both of pada-s. The original meaning of these two sets of terminations, that is, "for the sake of another" and "for the sake of oneself", is somewhat lost now. However, if you have to use a verb that takes both Parasmaipada and Ātmanepada, so you must use the first pada when the action denoted by the verb is "for the sake of another", and the second pada when is "for the sake of oneself".
Map: Part 4
PRESENT (Vartamāna) Apart from the usual Present, sometimes it may come to indicate an "immediate future" or even a past "He goes to the woods" -Sa vanaṁ gacchati- ["(Sa)... gacchati" = (He) goes]
IMPERFECT (Anadyatanabhūta) It is the first kind of past in Sanskrit. It indicates a "definite recent past". "He went to the woods (recently)" -Sa vanamagacchat- ["(Sa)... agacchat" = (He) went -recently-]
PERFECT (Parokṣabhūta) It is the second kind of past in Sanskrit. It indicates a "remote past". "He went to the woods (long ago)" -Sa vanaṁ jagāma- ["(Sa)... jagāma" = (He) went -long ago-]
AORIST (Bhūta) It is the third kind of past in Sanskrit. It indicates an "indefinite past". "He went to the woods (but you cannot say exactly when)" -Sa vanamagamat- ["(Sa)... agamat" = (He) went -but you cannot say exactly when-]
--1st future-- (Anadyatanabhaviṣyan)
It is the first kind of future in Sanskrit. It indicates a "definite future but not a near one". "He will give food (two possibilities here: -you know exactly when he will do so- and -you know that he will not do that soon-)" -So'nnaṁ dātā- ["(So)... dātā" = (He) will give -1st future-]
--2nd future-- (Bhaviṣyan)
It is the second kind of future in Sanskrit. It indicates an "indefinite future and a near one too". "He will give food (two possibilities here: -you do not know exactly when he will so- and -you know that he will do that soon-)" -So'nnaṁ dāsyati- ["(So)... dāsyati" = (He) will give -2nd future-]
IMPERATIVE (Ājñā) It indicates predominantly "command". However, it may also point out "entreaty, gentle inquiry, etc." "Give me food" -Annaṁ me dehi- ("dehi" = Give -a command in this case-)
POTENTIAL (Vidhi) It indicates predominantly "command" and "invitation". However, it may also point out "giving permission, asking a question, etc.". "The Yogī should mutter the mantra" -Yogī mantraṁ japet- ("japet" = Should mutter -an invitation in this case-) or also "Go to the woods" -Tvaṁ vanaṁ gaccheḥ- ("gaccheḥ" = Go -a courteous command now-)
CONDITIONAL (Saṅketa) It indicates predominantly "condition". However, it may also be used "to indicate a past or future action, etc.". "If there would be plenty of food then I would be happy" -Subhikṣamcedabhaviṣyattadā sukhyahamabhaviṣyam- ["(ced) abhaviṣyat" = (If) there would be -an anteceding condition- and "(aham) abhaviṣyam" = (I) would be -the possible consequence to the previous condition-]
BENEDICTIVE (Āśis) It indicates predominantly "blessing". However, it may also be used "to express the speaker's wish". "May she be successful!" -Sā kṛtārthā bhūyāt- ["(Sā)... bhūyāt" = May (she) be! -a good wish-]
Since the SUBJUNCTIVE (Saṁśaya) is used only in the Veda-s, it will not be studied here
Submap: Part 1
Singular, Dual and Plural Three persons using the three numbers each: 1st) I, both of us, we; 2nd) you, both of you, you; 3rd) he/she/it, both of them, they
Submap: Part 2
The Present, the Imperfect, the Imperative and the Potential. They are so called because the roots are "mostly" transformed into a special base before adding the endings to them. The rest of Tenses and Moods. They are so called because the endings are combined directly with the root itself without any transformation of it into a special base.

All right, this is a good map. However, it is not complete yet. As you learn more and more, I will give you other specific maps to be used in well defined zones of the mountain. Do not worry because I am leading the way.


 Technical names for Tenses and Moods

Instead of the long names, the grammarians use technical names (which are mostly shorter than the former) to designate the Tenses and Moods. Since they are very useful, you should strive to learn them. They are tools you will need to climb up the huge mountain of the Verbs. Here you are a simple table wherein you will find the original names as well as the technical ones.

Submap: Part 3
PRESENT वर्तमान - Vartamāna लट् - Laṭ
IMPERFECT अनद्यतनभूत - Anadyatanabhūta लङ् - Laṅ
PERFECT परोक्षभूत - Parokṣabhūta लिट् - Liṭ
AORIST भूत - Bhūta लुङ् - Luṅ
--1st future--
अनद्यतनभविष्यन् - Anadyatanabhaviṣyan लुट् - Luṭ
--2nd future--
भविष्यन् - Bhaviṣyan ऌट् - Ḷṭ
IMPERATIVE आज्ञा - Ājñā लोट् - Loṭ
POTENTIAL विधि - Vidhi विधिलिङ् - Vidhiliṅ
CONDITIONAL सङ्केत - Saṅketa ऌङ् - Ḷṅ
BENEDICTIVE आशिस् - Āśis आशिर्लिङ् - Āśirliṅ
SUBJUNCTIVE संशय - Saṁśaya लेट् - Leṭ

Good. And now, you will learn a few things about Dhātu (root) and Aṅga (base).


 Dhātu and Aṅga

Dhātu means "verbal root" and Aṅga means "verbal base" in our following study. It is indispensable to fully understand this topic if you want to advance fast in Sanskrit learning. Some people attempt to overlook this point and as a result they face trouble later. Within the "Primitive Verbs" category, there are ten "houses or classes" (gaṇa-s). The "Derivative Verbs" belong to the class to which the original roots belong. These houses or classes "generally" do not use the verbal root (dhātu) directly in the conjugation. It is as if the verbal root is too young or underdeveloped and it must be turned into a kind of developed entity to be conjugated. So, before using any verbal root, you will have to "strengthen" it in some way because it is too weak and underdeveloped yet. Each house or class (gaṇa) is simply a way to transform the original root into a base. The only tenses and moods that are affected by the gaṇa-s or classes are Present (Vartamāna or Laṭ --technical name--), Imperfect (Anadyatanabhūta or Laṅ --technical name--), Imperative (Ājñā or Loṭ --technical name--) and Potential (Vidhi or Vidhiliṅ --technical name--). It is very important that you understand this "framework" before going on. The rest of Tenses and Moods is not affected by the gaṇa-s (houses or classes). Therefore, with the study of every class or gaṇa, we will be studying Present, Imperfect, Imperative and Potential. Of course, I will start with simple Present tense, do not worry. We are still in the valley and planning how to climb up that high mountain known as "Sanskrit Verbs".


 Understanding the conjugations of verbs

As I said previously, a verbal root is too weak so as to be used in a real conjugation. It must be strengthened in some way. The most common form to do that is through Guṇa substitution. However, Vṛddhi substitution is also used. You may wonder: "Substitution of what?" Substitution of the vowel contained in the primitive verbal root. All dhātu-s or roots have a vowel. This vowel may be either the entire root (e.g. "i" --to go--) or just a part of it (e.g. "man" --to think--). Guṇa and Vṛddhi substitutions will be applied to the vowel in the root according to definite rules. And now a simple chart since maybe you do not remember Guṇa and Vṛddhi:

Gradations of Vowel Alternation
Type Vowels
WEAKENED GRADATION (simple vowels) a i-ī u-ū ṛ-ṝ
PROTRACTED GRADATION (Vṛddhi) ā ai au ār āl

That is, if the root contains "a" you will have probably to turn it into "ā" (Vṛddhi) when conjugating certain kinds of verbs. In turn, if the root contains "i" you will have probably to turn it into "e" (Guṇa) when conjugating other kinds of verbs. The mechanics is quite simple when you grasp the core of it.

The ten houses or classes (gaṇa-s) may be divided into two groups: (1) 1st, 4th, 6th, 10th and (2) 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th. In the first group "a" vowel is added to the base or Aṅga, which remains unchanged throughout; while in the second "a" is not added to it and the base is changeable. Note that as far as first group's roots are concerned some authors call "base" the final result of "base + a". For example: the base of "budh" (to know) is "bodh". Then you will have to add "a" to it because that root belongs to the 1st house or class. So, the final result is "bodha". Some grammarians say that this "bodha" is the real base and not "bodh", which is a kind of "pre-base" according to them. Beyond this difference in concepts, the procedure to conjugate a verb remains the same. Nevertheless, in our study of the verbs I will call "bodh" a base and "bodha" a kind of "compound" base (base + "a").

A couple examples of those two groups by using the roots or dhātu-s "nī" (to lead) and "dhā" (to place). Note that these are "instructive" examples in which I use many rules that I have not still taught you. These both examples are merely informative ones:

The verbal root "nī" (to lead) belongs to the 1st house or class (first group). According to a rule of the 1st house or class, you must substitute "e" (Guṇa substitution for "ī", See the above table) for "ī" in "nī". Thus, the primitive root has been transformed into "ne" now. Well, another rule of the 1st class states that you must add "a" to "ne". So, you have now "nea". However, according to the first primary rule of Vowel Sandhi (combinations of vowels, See Rules of Sandhi): Two Sanskrit vowels cannot be placed together (one following the other). Therefore, you use the 6th primary rule of Vowel Sandhi: "e", "o", "ai" and "au", when followed by a vowel "within one word", are changed to "ay", "av", "āy" and "āv" respectively... As a result you have now "naya" (a compound base) to which you will add the respective terminations (e.g. "ti": "nayati" --he/she/it leads--). Each of the tenses (Present and Imperfect) and moods (Imperative and Potencial) has an exclusive set of terminations. That is, Present tense has its own set of endings; likewise Imperfect tense and Imperative, Potential moods have their own set of terminations. In turn, there are certain sets of terminations that are applied to roots of the first subgroup and not to the second one, and vice versa. Do not worry, I will teach all that to you in due course.

The base "ne" which was turned into "nay" when "a" was added to it remains the same no matter what termination, tense (Present and Imperfect) or mood (Imperative and Potential) you use. That is to say, the base is unchangeable. The process is succinctly shown below:

Processing the root "nī"
(1) nī (dhātu or verbal root) (2) ne (aṅga or base) (3) nea ("a" is added) (4) naya ("e" is changed into "ay". This would be the verbal base or aṅga according to some grammarians. I call it a "compound base") (5) A termination is finally added to "naya" (e.g. "ti"). So, the final result would be "nayati" (he/she/it leads)

The second root is "dhā" (to place). It belongs to the 3rd house or class (second group). Therefore, the base is changeable and no "a" is added to it. Let us see how to form the base. According to the rules of this gaṇa, the base is formed by reduplication of the root. To reduplicate the root does not mean merely to write twice the same root. Not at all. To reduplicate "generally" means to add the first vowel (sometimes in its Guṇa form, sometimes in its short form) of a root along with the initial consonant (if there is any) to the root itself. If the consonant is aspirate (kha, gha, tha, dha, etc.), the aspiration ("h") is omitted. This is an extremely general rule because there are some other rules to be followed and the reduplication is not always so easy. Consequently, the matter is not so simple, but for the time being is enough for you to know this. I will explain how to conjugate verbs belonging to 3rd house or class to you later on. Obviously, the example root ("dhā") contains a vowel and an initial consonant. To reduplicate it, you will have to add the vowel "ā" but in its short form ("a") together with "dh" but without its aspiration ("h") to the root itself. That is, you will have to add "da" to the original root or dhātu to form a base.

Thus, you have now the base "dadhā" (no additional "a" is to be added to it). The last step is to add a termination to it in order to form the proper conjugation in either the Present/Imperfect tenses or Imperative/Potential moods. However, this base does not remain unchanged all the time. For example, you write "dadhāsi" (you place) in the 2nd person singular of the Present tense, but in the Imperative mood, you have to write "dhehi" (place!) and not "dadhāhi". Note how the original base "dadhā" was transformed into "dhe". In short, the base is changeable and no additional "a" is added to it. The process is succinctly shown below:

Processing the root "dhā"
(1) dhā (dhātu or verbal root) (2) dadhā (aṅga or base) (3) A termination is finally added to "dadhā" (e.g. "ti"). So, the final result would be "dadhāti" (he/she/it places)

Enough. You have now some elements to begin your ascent. But, be careful. Do not try to go up too fast or you will go down quickly, haha! Let us see the strategy to follow in order not to fall down into the abyss in the future. Pay full attention to my instructions if you want to get to the summit.


 Strategy to be followed to climb up the mountain

Most people fail to climb up this mountain known as "Sanskrit Verbs" because they do not know how to approach it. There are three kinds of approach:

(1) "I do not need to do any effort because the Lord Himself will give the Sanskrit knowledge to me spontaneously. I do not need to strive to learn all those difficult rules to conjugate Sanskrit verbs. God will open my mind and the knowledge of Sanskrit language will flow into it by itself".

(2) "My intellect is really powerful and I will not face any trouble to learn this language. I can learn by heart all those rules. I have learnt others languages and it was not difficult at all. The power of my intellect is the only thing I need".

(3) "I know that my intellect is powerful but I also know that Sanskrit language is an ocean difficult to cross. So many people have gotten lost in it. However, the grace of the Lord along with the force of my intellect will allow me to cross it anyway. Of course, there will be some problems on my way, but I will get to the other side in the end".

There have been some people with an enormous devotion. Through that devotion they could do whatever they wanted. It is said that the Lord Himself was their slave. Nevertheless, if one ponders over the present state of consciousness of the average person, the conclusion is the following: "The probability of finding that state of devotion in someone is really low". As a matter of fact, most people are merely waiting for the grace of God out of sheer laziness. And consequently, most people will just keep waiting for the Sanskrit knowledge to flow into their minds. Of course, that knowledge will not come near them even in a millennium. So, the first attitude is "generally" an inadequate one. Laziness of intellect is a bad habit in lots of people.

There are people with a tremendous intellectual power. However they "might" lose sight of the immensity of the ocean right in front of them. Consider this: There are ten houses or gaṇa-s. A particular verb may belong to one, two or more gaṇa-s. You will have to learn and remember the gaṇa-s to which that verb belongs to conjugate it, and since there are many verbs, your problem is really a big one. Then, there is a set of endings for Present tense, another one for Imperfect tense, and so on. Besides, in Sanskrit there is the dual number (apart from singular and plural). So, you have 3 terminations for the singular, 3 for the dual and 3 for the plural. Moreover, a verb may be conjugated in Middle Voice (apart from Active and Passive Voices). The Middle Voice has its own set of terminations, of course. And to make things worse, a particular verb may admit conjugation in both Active Voice and Middle Voice or in just one of them. Therefore, you will have to know all this if you want to conjugate a verb properly. And be sure that this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many, many additional rules. Obviously, no matter how powerful an intellect may be, the ocean of Sanskrit Verbs is a real nightmare. Since many people with strong intellects have failed to cross it, it is really probable that you will fail to do it too if you only rely on the intellect. The second attitude should be given up or you will drown in that ocean, haha!

I think that the third attitude is the right one, because you use both the devotion and the intellect. You develop a devotional attitude to Sanskrit. You think of it as the sound embodiment of God Himself and not as a mere language to be learnt. If you are not able to feel devotion to Sanskrit, the ascent will be "almost" impossible. So, you must study Sanskrit verbs and the rest with love in your heart. If you do not love Sanskrit, you will not understand it. Remember that Sanskrit language is the base of a great and ancient culture. So many sages have used it to write their experiences and pass on their wisdom to us. The powerful Mantra-s themselves are based on Sanskrit language and its rules of pronunciation. Simultaneously, you strive to learn Sanskrit verbs and the rest. You leave your laziness behind and use your intellect to understand how to conjugate verbs. Thus, two Cakra-s (centers of power) are working together in you: (Anāhatacakra --emotional center-- and Ājñācakra --intellectual center--). Use these two wings to cross that unfathomable ocean and the goal will be yours in the end.

As you see, I have used the analogy of an ocean now. Whether it is an ocean or a mountain or whatever, think of Sanskrit verbs as something really huge that will demand all your love and intellectual strength if you want to conquer it. Thus, Sanskrit learning is quite a spiritual path in itself. When you learn Sanskrit language, you are practicing Jñānayoga (Yoga of Knowledge), Bhaktiyoga (Yoga of devotion), Karmayoga (Yoga of action), etc. In the next document about Sanskrit Verbs, I will give you more teachings about the correct approaching to it. Good luck!


 Concluding remarks

This document is finished. Study it over and over again to understand the crucial concepts thoroughly. Next document, I will teach you how to conjugate verbs belonging to the first group formed from 1st, 4th, 6th and 10th houses or classes. The verbal base in these gaṇa-s is unchangeable and you need to add "a" to the verbal root in order to form the base. Since there are lots of verbs "living" in those houses, if you learn how to conjugate them according to their rules, the probabilities for a successful learning of Sanskrit Verbs will increase. See you!


 Further Information

Gabriel Pradīpaka

This document was conceived by Gabriel Pradīpaka, one of the two founders of this site, and spiritual guru conversant with Sanskrit language and Trika philosophy.

For further information about Sanskrit, Yoga and Indian Philosophy; or if you simply want to comment, ask a question or correct a mistake, feel free to contact us: This is our e-mail address.