In the previous lesson, we learned about basic Sanskrit sentences. Sanskrit sentences use three main word types: verbs like paśyati, “naming” words like rāmaḥ, and a third type that we'll study in a later lesson.
“Naming” words like rāmaḥ are called nouns. But Sanskrit has many other kinds of words that behave similarly to nouns. These include adjectives, which describe a noun:
कृष्णो गौः खादति।
kṛṣṇo gauḥ khādati.
The black cow eats.
The white one sleeps.
सुखिनो गजाः पिबन्ति।
sukhino gajāḥ pibanti.
The happy elephants drink.
pronouns, which replace a noun:
and numerals, which tell us how many of something we have:
एको गौः खादति
eko gauḥ khādati
One cow eats.
त्रयो गजाः पिबन्ति।
trayo gajāḥ pibanti.
Three elephants drink.
For convenience, let's call all of these words nominals. “Nominal” is a word that means “name-like.” So a nominal is a word that is like a noun.
Stems and endings
Let's start our discussion with some simple nominal words:
Rama (as the subject of the sentence)
Rama (as the object of the sentence)
Each of these words has two parts. First, there is a simple core that expresses the main idea of “Rama”:
Second, we have an ending that modifies this basic idea in some way:
राम + ः → रामः
rāma + ḥ → rāmaḥ
Rama (as the subject of the sentence)
राम + म् → रामम्
rāma + m → rāmam
Rama (as the object)
rāma is called a stem, and ḥ and m are called endings. Just as many flowers might grow from a single plant stem, many words might grow from the same word stem.
As you can see in the examples above, a nominal ending can show whether a word is the subject of the sentence or the object of the sentence. These endings can show other kinds of information too:
स रामाय फलं ददाति।
sa rāmāya phalaṃ dadāti.
He gives a fruit to Rama.
Specifically, a nominal ending shows three basic kinds of information in Sanskrit. Let's learn more about what these three kinds of information are.
The first kind of information we get from a nominal ending is its gender. In the examples below, notice how the nominal ending changes. This change shows a change in the noun's gender:
The (male) elephant sees.
The (female) elephant sees.
Word gender is similar to our real-world concept of male and female genders. Usually, male-gendered beings use a masculine gender and female-gendered beings use a feminine gender. Sanskrit also has a neuter gender that is neither male nor female:
This is a fruit.
Each Sanskrit noun has its own gender. If a noun refers to a person or animal, we can usually guess the noun's gender. But when a noun does not refer to a person or animal, it can be hard to guess what the gender should be. For example, consider the nouns below. None of these genders is obvious:
army leader (masculine)
Fortunately, we can usually guess a noun's gender by examining how its stem ends. We'll explain this more in a later lesson.
The second kind of information we get from a nominal ending is its number. Simply, “number” is the number of items the nominal refers to. It might refer to one item, which is called the singular:
The (one) elephant sees.
To two items, which is called the dual:
The two elephants see.
Or to more than two items, which is called the plural:
The (many) elephants see.
Notice that the verb paśyati changes when the number of the noun changes. Verbs like paśyati have number as well. Usually, the verb's number and the subject's number should match.
The third kind of information we get from a nominal ending is its case. ”Case” is a technical word that is hard to define. Roughly, a word's case is the role that the word plays in the sentence.
Sanskrit uses eight different cases. Case 1 is usually the subject of the action:
The lion sees.
Case 2 is usually the object:
सिंहो ग्रामं पश्यति।
siṃho grāmaṃ paśyati.
The lion sees a village.
Case 3 usually means “by means of”:
सिंहो मार्गेण ग्रामं गच्छति।
siṃho mārgeṇa grāmaṃ gacchati.
The lion goes to the village by means of the road.
Case 4 usually means “for”:
सिंहो मांसाय ग्रामं गच्छति।
siṃho māṃsāya grāmaṃ gacchati.
The lion goes to the village for meat.
Case 5 usually means “from”:
सिंहो वनाद् ग्रामं गच्छति।
siṃho vanād grāmaṃ gacchati.
The lion goes from the forest to the village.
Case 6 usually means “of”:
सिंहो ग्रामस्य नरान् खादति।
siṃho grāmasya narān khādati.
The lion eats the men of the village (or, the village's men).
Case 7 usually means “on” or “in”:
सिंहो ग्रामे चरति।
siṃho grāme carati.
The lion walks in the village.
And case 8 is the person being spoken to:
हे सिंह वनं गच्छ।
he siṃha vanaṃ gaccha.
Hey lion! Go to the forest.
In Sanskrit, we can use adjectives without a noun:
The black one goes.
The handsome ones eat.
If we do use a noun, the adjective must use the same gender, case, and number as the noun it describes:
two black birds
(many) black birds
रामः कृष्णं खगं पश्यति।
rāmaḥ kṛṣṇaṃ khagaṃ paśyati.
Rama sees a black bird.
More technically, we can say that an adjective must agree with the noun it describes.
Nominal words are one of the three main types of Sanskrit words. In the next lesson, we'll learn about the second main type: verbs like paśyati and carati.
Nominal words have two basic parts. What are those two basic parts?
What are the three genders?
What are the three numbers?
Choose one of the eight cases and explain what it means.