Compound vowels

In the previous lesson, we learned how vowels combine if the first vowel is not a or ā. In those cases, the first vowel becomes a semivowel:

  • इ + अ → य
    i + a → ya

But what does happen if the first vowel is a or ā?

  • (अ, आ) + इ → ?
    (a, ā) + i → ?

In this lesson, we will learn what happens and complete our basic picture of the Sanskrit vowels.

e and o

a and ā combine well with other vowels. So when a or ā is the first vowel, we get these new combinations:

  • (अ, आ) + (इ, ई) → ए
    (a, ā) + (i, ī) → e

  • (अ, आ) + (उ, ऊ) → ओ
    (a, ā) + (u, ū) → o

  • (अ, आ) + (ऋ, ॠ) → अर्
    (a, ā) + (ṛ, ṝ) → ar

  • (अ, आ) + ऌ → अल्
    (a, ā) + ḷ → al

r and l are semivowels, and we have seen them already. But e and o are new sounds:


  • e

  • o

e and o are called compound vowels, since they are combinations of two different vowel sounds. All of the other vowels we've seen are called simple vowels. Compound vowels are always long vowels.

ai and au

Can we combine a with these sounds again? Yes, we can:

  • (अ, आ) + ए → ऐ
    (a, ā) + e → ai

  • (अ, आ) + ओ → औ
    (a, ā) + o → au

  • (अ, आ) + अर् → आर्
    (a, ā) + ar → ār

  • (अ, आ) + अल् → आल्
    (a, ā) + al → āl

ai and au are also compound vowels, and they are also long:


  • ai

  • au

Can we combine a with these sounds again? We can, but the result is the same. There are no more sounds we can create:

  • (अ, आ) + ऐ → ऐ
    (a, ā) + ai → ai

  • (अ, आ) + औ → औ
    (a, ā) + au → au

  • (अ, आ) + आर् → आर्
    (a, ā) + ār → ār

  • (अ, आ) + आल् → आल्
    (a, ā) + āl → āl

Combining compound vowels

We have seen almost all of the different ways that Sanskrit vowels combine with each other. But there is one loose end. What if the first vowel is a compound vowel?

If the first vowel is a compound vowel, then we usually see the following changes:

  • ए + अ → अय् अ
    e + a → ay a

  • ऐ + अ → आय् अ
    ai + a → āy a

  • ओ + अ → अव् अ
    o + a → av a

  • औ + अ → आव् अ
    au + a → āv a

And likewise if the second vowel is not a.

If these changes feel strange to you, it might help to remember where the compound vowels come from. For example, the compound vowel e comes from the vowels a and i. So when e is followed by some other vowel, it's as if the i sound becomes the semivowel y:

  • ए + अ → अ + इ + अ
    e + a → a + i + a

  • अ + इ + अ → अय् अ
    a + i + a → ay a

We can think about ai in the same way:

  • ऐ + अ → अ + अ + इ + अ
    ai + a → a + a + i + a

  • अ + अ + इ + अ → आय् अ
    a + a + i + a → āy a

But if thinking about the vowels this way is too confusing, you can just memorize the four changes above. We repeat them here for convenience:

  • ए + अ → अय् अ
    e + a → ay a

  • ऐ + अ → आय् अ
    ai + a → āy a

  • ओ + अ → अव् अ
    o + a → av a

  • औ + अ → आव् अ
    au + a → āv a

Review

We have now seen all of the fundamental Sanskrit vowels. Here they are in their traditional order:


  • a

  • ā

  • i

  • ī

  • u

  • ū




  • e

  • ai

  • o

  • au

In the next lesson, we will learn about consonants. But before that, here are a few review questions:

  1. Which vowels are short? Which vowels are long?

  2. Which vowels are compound vowels?

  3. What do we get when we combine o and i?

  4. What do we get when we combine au and e?