Prefixes

So far, our core lessons have covered two major areas:

  • First, we studied the Sanskrit sounds: how they are pronounced, what they are like, and how they interact with each other through sandhi.

  • Next, we studied the basics of Sanskrit sentences: what they're like, what kinds of words they use, and how these words behave.

As we come to the end of our core lessons, we will study the third and final major area of Sanskrit grammar: how to make new Sanskrit words.

We'll start simply by learning about prefixes. Prefixes are small groups of sounds that we add to the beginning of something else. Prefixes are an easy way to change the basic meaning of a word.

Verb prefixes

Prefixes can change a verb's basic meaning in a few different ways:

  • Often, the change is clear and easy to understand. For example, if you know what “use” means, then you can probably guess what “overuse” and “underuse” mean.

  • Sometimes, the change is more idiomatic or cultural. For example, if we understand something, we don't literally stand under something.

  • And sometimes, the change is subtle or hard to determine. For example, “flammable” and “inflammable” mean essentially the same thing.

Let's learn about two prefixes here. First is the prefix ā-. (We add the ”-” sign at the end to emphasize that this is a prefix.) ā- has the basic sense of “here” or “toward.” Notice how it affects the basic meaning of the verbs in the examples below:

  • गच्छन्ति → गच्छन्ति
    gacchanti → āgacchanti
    They go. → They come (“go here”).

  • नयन्ति → नयन्ति
    nayanti → ānayanti
    They lead. → They bring (“lead here”).

Next is the prefix sam-. sam- has the basic sense of “with” or ”together.” Again, notice how it affects the basic meaning of the verbs below:

  • गच्छन्ति → संगच्छन्ति
    gacchanti → saṃgacchanti
    They go. → They meet (“go together”).

  • नयन्ति → संनयन्ति
    nayanti → saṃnayanti
    They lead. → They unite (“lead (others) together”).

Prefixes can also be combined. Up above, we learned what āgacchanti and saṃgacchanti mean. So what do you think samāgacchanti means?

  • गच्छन्ति → समागच्छन्ति
    gacchanti → samāgacchanti
    They go. → They come together; they convene (“go together here”).

  • नयन्ति → समानयन्ति
    nayanti → samānayanti
    They lead. → They gather (“lead together here”).

Nominal prefixes

Prefixes often change a verb's meaning, but they can also change a nominal's basic meaning.

Again, let's learn about two prefixes here. First is the prefix a-. a- has different meanings in different contexts. But when attached to a nominal, a- has the basic meaning of “not.” Or if the nominal starts with a vowel, we use an- instead.

  • हिंसा → हिंसा
    hiṃsā → ahiṃsā
    violence → non-violence

  • बल → बल
    bala → abala
    strength → without strength; powerless

This prefix is related to the prefixes in words like “in-credible” “a-moral,” and “un-able.”

Next is the prefix sa-. Like sam-, sa- has the basic sense of ”with” or “together”:

  • बल → बल
    bala → sabala
    strength → with strength; strong, powerful

Review

Prefixes are quite simple. There are a few small subtleties to them, but we can discuss those in a later lesson.