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Asking Questions | Learn Sanskrit Online

Asking Questions

Introduction

So far, we've looked almost exclusively at sentences that state facts. That is, sentences like "we see" or "they went" state things that are true or will be true soon. Languages are no good if they just state facts! Languages are means of communication between people, and this communication involves asking as well as telling. Especially in dialogs, it's important to be able to recognize when people are asking questions. For that reason, we'll study questions below.

api

api is primarily used to ask yes-or-no questions, often when a definite answer is expected. It must appear at the beginning of the sentence.

ka, ki, ku

All of the words that define a relative clause start with ya, as in yatra or yathā. All of the words that define the correlative clause similarly start with ta, as in tatra and tathā. Well, all of the words that start with a question use one of three sounds: ka, ki, and ku. These sounds use the same suffixes as the ya- and ta- words.

Uninflected words

Word
Meaning
kadā
when?
kutra
where?
kutaḥ
from what?
kathā
how?

katham is related to kathā and is much more common. Some examples of these words:

Although they may have similar translations in English, ya- and k- words cannot be interchanged. For example, yatra means "the place where" or "the location where," but kutra means "where?" or "in what location?" ya- is used to mark the relative part of the sentence, but k- is used to ask a question.

Pronoun

To ask questions about specific situations, we can use a new pronoun. This pronoun has the irregular form kim in cases 1 and 2 of the neuter gender. Since pronouns are usually referred to by their neuter forms, thihs pronoun is thus called kim. kim uses the same endings as tad, but there are some exceptions:

This pronoun is used as you would expect:

This pronoun is very powerful. By using it, we can ask precisely about different parts of a situation. For example, consider the sentence below.

By using ka, we can ask about every noun in the sentence.

Pronouns used as adverbs

Just as an adjective like sundara can be turned into the adverb sundaram, so too can the pronouns yad, tad, and kim be turned into the adverbs yad, tad, and kim. Their meanings are as follows:

Pronoun
Meaning
yad
because; since; wherefore
tad
thus; as a result; therefore
kim
why? for what reason?

Some examples of the first two will be featured in the lesson exercises. Here is an example of kim:

When used with case 3, kim means something like "what is the point of?" or "what is the purpose of?" Literally, this usage means something like "why with this?" or "why with that?"

Occasionally, kim is also used like api. However, it is not as demanding as api.

api, cid, and cana

api, cid, and cana are special uninflected words that turn questions into general statements. The examples below will make this fact clearer.

api

Earlier in the lesson, I mentioned that api can be used to ask a yes-or-no question. api can also be used to turn questions into general statements. Notice what api does in the examples below:

In this guide, api has been given four distinct meanings. At the beginning of a sentence, it asks a soft yes/no question. After one of the ka/ki/ku words, it makes the word indefinite. After nouns and pronouns, api usually means "also" or "additionally." After adjectives and verbs, api usually means "although" or "even though." So although api has four distinct meanings, each occurs in a separate context. Thus, there is usually no ambiguity to its meaning.

cid and cana

cid and cana are used after any k- word. cid tends to make the word indefinite, as you can see in the examples below:

cana is much rarer. It has the same meaning as cid, but it is usually used with the word na to emphasize what nobody does.