Sanskrit grammar

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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 BC), culminating in the Pāṇinian grammar of the 4th century BC.

 Grammatical tradition

The grammatical tradition of Sanskrit (vyākaraṇa, one of the six Vedanga disciplines) began in late Vedic India and culminated in the Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini, a work which consists of 3990 sutras or aphorisms. Kātyāyana composed Vārtikas (explanations) on Pāṇini's sũtras. Patañjali, who lived three centuries after Pānini, wrote the Mahābhāṣya, the "Great Commentary" on the Aṣṭādhyāyī and Vārtikas. Because of these three ancient Sanskrit grammarians this grammar is called Trimuni Vyākarana or "grammar of three sages". To elucidate the meaning of the sũtras, Jayaditya and Vāmana wrote the commentary named Kāsikā 600 CE.

Pāṇinian grammar is based on 14 Shiva sutras. Here whole Mātrika (alphabet) is abbreviated. This abbreviation is called Pratyāhāra.[1]. 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 Kaumudi by Bhaṭṭoji Dīkṣita (17th century) and its various derivate versions by Varadarāja. European grammatical scholarship begins in the 18th century with Jean François Pons and others, culminating in the exhaustive expositions by 19th century scholars such as Otto Boehtlingk, William Dwight Whitney, Jacob Wackernagel and others.


 Classification of verbs

Sanskrit has ten classes of verbs (plus one used in the Vedas : the Laṭa लाति lakār[2], for "take", "receive" or "give") 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.

 Tense systems

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 (Present, Imperfect, Imperative, Optative)
  • Perfect
  • Aorist
  • Future (Future, Conditional)

 Present system

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

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

The aorist system includes aorist proper (with past indicative meaning, e.g. abhū "you were") and some of the forms of the ancient injunctive (used almost exclusively with in prohibitions, e.g. mā bhū "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 sibilant aorist, and the reduplicating aorist, which is semantically related to the causative verb.

 Future system

The future system is formed with the suffixation of sya or iya and gua. 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

Each verb has a grammatical voice, whether active, passive or middle. There is also 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

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.

3titásánti, átiā́teánte, áte
Secondary1amí, áváhimáhi
3ttā́mán, úsā́tāmánta, áta, rán
2dhí, hí,—támsváā́thāmdhvám
3tutā́mántu, átutā́mā́tāmántām, 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.

 Nominal inflection

Sanskrit is a highly inflected language with three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, neuter)(Sanskrit: पुल्लिंग, स्त्रीलिंग, नपुंसकलिंग) and three numbers (singular, plural, dual) (एकवचनं, द्वीवचनम्, बहुवचनं). 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 (Ashtādhyāyi, 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)

Genitive (Sambandha) and vocative are absent 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

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.

-स् -s
(-म् -m)
-औ -au
(-ई -ī)
-अस् -as
(-इ -i)
-अम् -am
(-म् -m)
-औ -au
(-ई -ī)
-अस् -as
(-इ -i)
-आ -ā-भ्याम् -bhyām-भिस् -bhis
-ए -e-भ्याम् -bhyām-भ्यस् -bhyas
-अस् -as-भ्याम् -bhyām-भ्यस् -bhyas
-अस् -as-ओस् -os-आम् -ām
-इ -i-ओस् -os-सु -su
Vocative-स् -s
(- -)
-औ -au
(-ई -ī)
-अस् -as
(-इ -i)


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')

 i- and u-stems

Masc. and Fem. (gáti- 'gait')Neuter (vā́ri- 'water')
Dativegátaye, gátyāigátibhyāmgátibhyasvā́rievā́ribhyāmvā́ribhyas
Ablativegátes, gátyāsgátibhyāmgátibhyasvā́riasvā́ribhyāmvā́ribhyas
Genitivegátes, gátyāsgátyosgátīnāmvā́riasvā́riosvā́riām
Locativegátāu, gátyāmgátyosgátiuvā́riivā́riosvā́riu
Vocativegátegátīgátayasvā́ri, vā́revā́riīvā́rīi
Masc. and Fem. (śátru- 'enemy')Neuter (mádhu- 'honey')

 Long Vowel-stems

ā-stems (jā- 'progeny')ī-stems (dhī- 'thought')ū-stems (bhū- 'earth')
Accusativejā́mjāújā́s, jásdhíyamdhíyāudhíyasbhúvambhúvāubhúvas
Dativejā́bhyāmjā́bhyasdhiyé, dhiyāídhībhyā́mdhībhyásbhuvé, bhuvāíbhūbhyā́mbhūbhyás
Ablativejásjā́bhyāmjā́bhyasdhiyás, dhiyā́sdhībhyā́mdhībhyásbhuvás, bhuvā́sbhūbhyā́mbhūbhyás
Genitivejásjósjā́nām, jā́mdhiyás, dhiyā́sdhiyósdhiyā́m, dhīnā́mbhuvás, bhuvā́sbhuvósbhuvā́m, bhūnā́m
Locativejósjā́sudhiyí, dhiyā́mdhiyósdhīṣúbhuví, bhuvā́mbhuvósbhūṣú


-stems are predominantly agental derivatives like dāt 'giver', though also include kinship terms like pit́ 'father', māt́ 'mother', and svás 'sister'.



The numbers from one to ten are:

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

The numbers one through four are declined. 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.

 Personal Pronouns and Determiners

The first and second person pronouns are declined for the most part alike, having by analogy assimilated themselves with one another.

Note: Where two forms are given, the second is enclitic and an alternative form. Ablatives in singular and plural may be extended by the syllable -tas; thus mat or mattas, asmat or asmattas.

First PersonSecond Person
Accusativemām, māāvām, nauasmān, nastvām, tvāyuvām, vāmyuṣmān, vas
Dativemahyam, meāvābhyām, nauasmabhyam, nastubhyam, teyuvābhyām, vāmyuṣmabhyam, vas
Genitivemama, meāvayos, nauasmākam, nastava, teyuvayos, vāmyuṣmākam, vas

The demonstrative ta, declined below, also functions as the third person pronoun.


 Compounds (samāsa)

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. 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. Some examples of nominal compounds include:


A compound consisting of the same word repeated twice, but with the first occurrence being accented.[2] Amreditas are used to express repetitiveness; for example, from dív (day) we obtain divé-dive (day after day, daily) and from devá (god) we obtain deváṃ-devam or devó-devas (god after god).[3]


The first member of this type of nominal compounds is an indeclinable, to which another word is added so that the new compound also becomes indeclinable (i.e., avaya). Examples : yathā+śakti, upa+kriṣṇam (near kriṣṇa),etc. In avyayibhāva compounds, first member has primacy (pūrva-pada-pradhāna), i.e., the whole compound behaves like an indeclinable due to the nature of the first part which is indeclinable.

 Tatpuruṣa (determinative)

Unlike the avyayibhāva compounds, in Tatpuruṣa compounds second member has primacy (uttara-pada-pradhāna). There are many tatpuruas (one for each of the nominal cases, and a few others besides). In a tatpurua, the first component is in a case relationship with another. For example, a doghouse is a dative compound, a house for a dog. It would be called a "caturtitatpurua" (caturti refers to the fourth case—that is, the dative). Incidentally, "tatpurua" is a tatpurua ("this man"—meaning someone's agent), while "caturtitatpurua" is a Karmadhāraya, being both dative, and a tatpurua. An easy way to understand it is to look at English examples of tatpuruas: "battlefield", where there is a genitive relationship between "field" and "battle", "a field of battle"; other examples include instrumental relationships ("thunderstruck") and locative relationships ("towndwelling"). All these normal Tatpuruṣa compounds are called vyadhikarana Tatpuruṣa, because the case ending should depend upon the second member because semantically second member has primacy, but actually the case ending depends upon the first member. Literally, vyadhikarana means opposite or different case ending. But when the case ending of both members of a Tatpuruṣa compound are similar then it is called a Karmadhāraya Tatpuruṣa compound, or simply a Karmadhāraya compound.

 Karmadhāraya (descriptive)

It is a variety of Tatpuruṣa as shown above, but treated separately. 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.


In a karmadhāraya compound one part behaves like an adjective for the other. :If the part behaving like an adjective is a number, it is called dvigu. Dvigu itself is a compound : dvau+gāvau. In a dvigu compounds, later part is principal, like a Tatpuruṣa compound.


Example : na + brāhamaṇa = abrāhamaṇa, in which 'n' vanishes and only the 'a' of 'na' remains. But with words beginning with vowel this 'a' becomes 'an' : na+aśva > (na > a > an) anaśva.

 Dvandva (co-ordinative)

These consist of two or more noun stems, connected in sense with 'and'. There are mainly two kinds of dvandva constructions in Sanskrit. The first is called itaretara dvandva, an enumerative compound word, the meaning of which refers to all its constituent members. The resultant compound word is in the dual or plural number and takes the gender of the final member in the compound construction. e.g. rāma-lakşmaņau – Rama and Lakshmana, or rāma-lakşmaņa-bharata-śatrughnāh – Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrughna. The second kind is called samāhāra dvandva, a collective compound word, the meaning of which refers to the collection of its constituent members. The resultant compound word is in the singular number and is always neuter in gender. e.g. pāņipādam – limbs, literally hands and feet, from pāņi = hand and pāda = foot. According to some grammarians, there is a third kind of dvandva, called ekaśeşa dvandva or residual compound, which takes the dual (or plural) form of only its final constituent member, e.g. pitarau for mātā + pitā, mother + father, i.e. parents. According to other grammarians, however, the ekaśeşa is not properly a compound at all.

 Bahuvrīhi (possessive)

Bahuvrīhi, or "much-rice", denotes a rich person—one who has much rice. Bahuvrīhi compounds refer (by example) to a compound noun with no head—a compound noun that refers to a thing which is itself not part of the compound. For example, "low-life" and "block-head" are bahuvrihi compounds, since a low-life is not a kind of life, and a block-head is not a kind of head. (And a much-rice is not a kind of rice.) Compare with more common, headed, compound nouns like "fly-ball" (a kind of ball) or "alley cat" (a kind of cat). Bahurvrīhis can often be translated by "possessing..." or "-ed"; for example, "possessing much rice", or "much riced".


It is that variety of Karmadhāraya Tatpuruṣa compound in which the middle part vanishes. E.g., devapūjakaḥ+brāhamaṇaḥ = devabrāhamaṇaḥ; Śrīyukta+Rāmaḥ = Śrīrāmaḥ


It is a variety of Tatpuruṣa compound in which nouns make unions with verbs, like Kumbham+karoti = kumbhakāraḥ.


Case endings do not vanish, e.g., ātmane+ padam = ātmanepadam.


Because of Sanskrit's complex declension system the word order is pretty much free (with tendency toward SOV). There are some normative syntax conventions to decrease ambiguity, though.


  1. Sanskrit
  2. International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration
  3. Sanskrit literature
  4. International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration
  5. Wikipedia:IPA for Sanskrit
  6. SanskritOCR
  7. Vedas
  8. Sanskrit
  9. Termination of spoken Sanskrit
  10. Sanskrit in the West
  11. Sanskrit revival
  12. Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit
  13. Visarga
  14. Sanskrit compounds
  15. Sanskrit drama
  16. Sanskrit grammar
  17. Sanskrit verbs
  18. Sanskrit nouns
  19. Kameshwar Singh Darbhanga Sanskrit University
  20. Rajasthan Sanskrit University
  21. List of educational institutions which have Sanskrit phrases as their mottos
  22. Vedic Sanskrit grammar
  23. Tatsama
  24. Sanskrit prosody


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