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.

Let's start by learning about prefixes. Prefixes are small groups of sounds that we add to the beginning of something else:

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

Most prefixes are uninflected words. By adding prefixes to a word, we can change its basic meaning.

Verb prefixes

Verb prefixes are prefixes that we add to a verb root. These prefixes usually change a root's basic meaning in one of three different ways. Often, the prefix changes the root's meaning in a straightforward way:

  • + गच्छन्ति → गच्छन्ति
    ā + gacchanti → āgacchanti
    here/toward + they go → they come (“go here”)

Sometimes, the prefix creates a more idiomatic change:

  • अव + गच्छन्ति → अवगच्छन्ति
    ava + gacchanti → avagacchanti
    down + they go → they understand

And sometimes, the prefix intensifies the word's basic meaning or produces essentially no change.

Let's learn about two prefixes here. First is the prefix ā-. (We add ”-” 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

Nominal prefixes are prefixes that we add to a nominal stem. These prefixes usually modify the stem's meaning in a straightforward way:

  • शोक → शोक
    śoka → aśoka
    grief, sorrow → without grief or sorrow

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”:

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

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

If the stem starts with a vowel, we use an- instead:

  • इष्ट → अनिष्ट (अन्-इष्ट)
    iṣṭa → aniṣṭa (an-iṣṭa)
    wanted → unwanted

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.