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Relative Clauses | Learn Sanskrit Online

Relative Clauses

Introduction

Up until this point, we have studied very basic Sanskrit sentences. I don't mean that they are basic just because of our limited vocabulary or our lack of fancy verbs; I mean that they are basic because they are not powerful. We can describe the action of one subject, and we can chain several actions together with words like ca and ; but ultimately, we're still just considering one subject and one action at a time. We have no good way to relate two ideas to each other.

There are simple sentences that we simply cannot say:

How do we express ideas like these in Sanskrit? The answer is this: we split each sentence into two parts and use some new words to relate them. We usually call one part the relative clause because it is only important relative to the other part; here, the word clause means about the same thing as the word "sentence." We also call the other part the correlative clause because even though it can stand on its own, it must correlate with the relative clause.

We can write the first three sentences above in Sanskrit by using some new uninflected words. The last sentence requires a new pronoun.

With Uninflected Words

yadi and tadā

Here we'll handle the sentence "I go if you go." We can split this sentence into two distinct parts: "You go" and "I go." We want to say "if you go, then I go."

To do so, we use two new uninflected words: yadi, which means something like "if," and tadā, which means something like "then." Each word appears in front of the clause that it describes.

yadā and tadā

yadā means "when." It is used the same way as yadi. tadā still means "then."

yatra and tatra

As before, we can split the sentence into two parts. First, we have "you remember." Second, we have "I go." We want to say "where you remember, there I go."

To do so, we use these two words: yatra, which means "where," and tatra, which means "there." Each word appears in front of the clause that it describes.

Patterns

Do you notice any patterns in these words? The relative word starts with ya and the correlative part starts with ta. All of these clauses follow this pattern. We just have to add the right suffix to create new words:

Suffix
Meaning
tra
place ("where","there")
time ("when","then")
taḥ
source ("whence/since", "thence/therefore")
thā
means ("in whatever way; just as …", "in such a way; so too …")

Note that each of these suffixes loosely corresponds to a noun case: tra is like case 7, is roughly like case 7, taḥ is like case 5, and thā is roughly like case 3. tra and taḥ, especially, are very commonly used with this case meaning in mind. Thus the Gita has words like this:

There are several other suffixes used, but these are the most common. yadi is an exception of sorts.

With A Pronoun

By now you should have a good idea of how these "relative-correlative pairs" work with uninflected words. They work the same way with pronouns. However, it can be much trickier to use these pronouns, so we'll spend some more time on them.

yad and tad

For the correlative pronoun, we use tad, which is the same tad that we've been studying so far. For the relative pronoun, we use yad, which uses the same endings as the pronoun tad. But, the masculine case 1 singular (yaḥ) doesn't follow the rules of saḥ sandhi.

Let us first consider the sentence: You see the man who goes. As before, we have two separate situations. First, we have "The man goes." Second, we have "You see him."

How do we link these? We can construct the first separately: naro gacchati. We can construct the second separately: taṃ paśyati. What we do now is use yad as an adjective to the relative clause's noun, which is naraḥ. So, we get the following:

The yad part is almost like an adjective to the rest of the sentence; if it is removed, then the sentence still makes sense:

Examples

The use of relative pronouns is quite tricky, so let's study some more examples.

We have two situations here. First, we have "The man conquers the two horses." Second, we have "You go with him."

We can construct these two parts separately. The first: naro 'śvau jayati. The second: tena gacchasi. What we do now is use yad as an adjective to the relative clause's noun, which is naraḥ. So, we get the following:

Here you can see the power of this construction: yad and tad don't have to be in the same case! (But, they still must have the same number and gender!) The freedom from identical cases allows us to create compact and highly structured expressions.

Let's consider one last example:

We have two situations here. First, we have "The hero's son sings." Second, we have "They go with him."

We can construct these two parts separately. The first: vīrasya putro gāyati. The second: tena gacchanti. What we do now is use yad as an adjective to vīrasya. So, we get the following.

Again: yad and tad don't have to be in the same case. However, they must have the same number and gender, since they still refer to the same noun.

Where to put the noun that yad describes

The noun that yad describes can appear on either side of the expression. In the examples above, I tend to put the noun in the relative part of the sentence; but, it is no harder to put it on the other side. In the examples below, I've taken the noun and put it on the tad side instead of the yad side.

Using These Pairs

The relative word (ya…) and the correlative word (ta…) are almost always used together. But, the ta word is occasionally left out. The ya… part almost always appears first, but that's not a firm rule, and you should not be surprised to see it appear second instead of first.

Review

In this lesson, we learned a set of words that can be used to define relative and correlative clauses. Sentences that have these clauses usually have this form:

Incidentally, we learned that we can add suffixes to these two syllables to make more interesting words. Here are some of the suffixes we learned:

Suffix
Meaning
tra
place ("where","there")
time ("when","then")
taḥ
source ("whence/since", "thence/therefore")
thā
means ("in whatever way; just as …", "in such a way; so too …")

There are also several other suffixes, which denote other qualities like extent (how far), frequency (how often), manner (in what way), and so on. We'll learn these suffixes later on. Interestingly, many other sorts of nouns use them as well.