The Recent Past Tense

Also known as: the aorist, (adyatana) bhūta ("past action (of today)"), luṅ


In theory, the recent past tense discusses actions that happened within a day or two of the speaker.

At least, that is the distinction in theory. In practice, the difference between this tense and the ordinary past tense is not clear. Even Panini says that the barrier between them changes from community to community. And as for later Sanskrit, M. R. Kale has this to say:

In Sanskrit, there are three tenses denoting a past action, viz. the Imperfect [ordinary past tense], the Perfect [distant past tense], and the Aorist [recent past tense]. Originally each of these three tenses had a signification of its own and was used in its proper sense in ancient writings. After Sanskrit ceased to be a spoken language the exact senses of these tenses were lost sight of and writers began to use them promiscuously, so that now any of these may be used to denote past time with certain limitations. A Higher Sanskrit Grammar, paragraph 925 (emphasis added

Because of the "nearness" of the verb, the recent past tense often has the sense of an action just completed. Thus "I have heard" is an equally valid translation of the example above.

Forming the stem of the recent past tense

The recent past tense uses a special and irregular stem. This stem is formed by one of seven patterns. It is difficult to predict which pattern a verb root will follow. Some example stems are below.

TypeVowel changeExample
rootnonebhū → bhū
vowelnonegam → gama
doublednonenaś → nīnaśa
sastrongśru → śrauṣ
siṣhā → hāsiṣ
ṣīstrongbhī → bhaiṣī

These stems are used as if they were in the ordinary past tense; that is, they use both the ordinary past tense endings and the a- prefix of the ordinary past tense.

Past tense verbs without the a- prefix

When the a- prefix is removed, verbs in the ordinary and recent past tenses can express wishes, hopes, or hypothetical situations. This verb form most often appears in the Vedas, so we will not study much of it; but, it is often used to give strong commands. In this usage, the verb is usually used after the words mā sma, which translate roughly to "do not ever."