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Gerunds | Learn Sanskrit Online

Gerunds

Also known as: ktvānta ("ending in tvā")

Now that we've talked about the traditional root system, let's study a verb form that better demonstrates its virtues.

Introduction

Although our understanding of Sanskrit verbs is now a little stronger, there are still many basic sentences we cannot say. For example, suppose that some person named arjuna, after walking to the forest, sees an elephant. How would we say this in Sanskrit?

We could try to say this with ca:

But this doesn't work. We need to show that one event follows another. Here, that idea does not come across; we have no idea how Arjuna walks to the forest and He sees the elephant relate to each other. How can we show that "walking to the forest" leads to "sees the elephant"? We can do so with a new verb form:

Other Sanskrit books usually call this verb the gerund. I can't think of a better term for it, so I will use the term "gerund" throughout this guide.

The gerund is handy because almost all roots follow the same rules when they form it. For that reason, we are now free to study verbs from any verb class.

Using The Gerund

The gerund is an uninflected verb. Like regular verbs, it can have an object. In fact, it can interact with any other noun, just like a regular verb. It almost always has the same subject as the main verb in the sentence.

Among the old Indo-European languages, only Sanskrit has a verb form like the gerund. However, the Dravidian and Munda languages families feature the same sort of uninflected verbs, and they're used in the same way. For that reason, it's possible that the gerund was borrowed from those languages.

Formation

It is easy to understand the gerund's purpose, but it is difficult to create the gerund itself. To form the gerund, we follow a two-step process:

  1. Weaken the root. In the traditional root system, this is already done for us — for the most part, anyway. In our old root system, we have to weaken the root, and each root weakens differently.
  2. Attach a suffix. Gerunds use two different suffixes: ya and tvā. The difficulty of adding these suffixes is that they require a good knowledge of the rules of sandhi.

In the discussion below, I'll give the process for the traditional roots and for the roots from our old system. Examples will use the traditional roots.

Gerunds with the -ya suffix

The ya suffix is used if the verb root has a prefix attached to it.

Gerunds with the tvā suffix

The tvā suffix is more difficult to learn because its usage varies almost from root to root; the t of tvā interacts with the last letter of the root in many ways, and some roots will undergo irregular vowel changes when the suffix is added. Some roots even use itvā instead. itvā is usually used to make the gerund easier to pronounce, but that's not a strict rule.

Mostly, the gerund is difficult because of its many sandhi rules. Let's study just two of them now. First, there is this rule about .

almost never appears in Sanskrit. In almost every situation, it becomes īr. But after a sound from pavarga, it almost always becomes ūr instead.

As always, we should stop for a moment and consider why this rule exists. Roots like tṝ and pṝ probably once produced gerunds like *tṝtvā and *pṝtvā. Over time, however, the vowel changed into a simpler sound. The vowel is quite rare in Sanskrit; the result is a more common vowel. The new vowel is long because is long, and the vowel is followed by r almost as if to remind us of where the vowel came from. The i/ī vowel is used as a substitution vowel in many parts of Sanskrit, and the u/ū vowel is commonly used alongside it for consonants from pavarga.

Now, let's look at the second rule. This rule is an internal sandhi rule about aspirated letters:

If the root ends in a voiced aspirated letter (gh, jh, ḍh, dh, bh), then the t- of the suffix becomes dh and the last letter of the root loses its aspiration. In other words, a voiced and aspirated consonant shifts its voice and aspiration forward.

The language of this rule is complicated, but the rule itself is not. As always, try speaking these changes out loud.

What about our old system?

Some of you may be wondering: if we were going to switch over to the traditional system all along, why did we bother with the system we've used so far? The answer to this question is in the next lesson.