Just as we can combine sugar and salt to make new flavors, we can combine vowels that use different points of pronunciation to make new sounds.

If the first vowel is not a or ā, then it becomes a special shortened form. For example, i or ī might change like this:

  • (इ, ई) + अ → य
    (i, ī) + a → ya

  • (इ, ई) + आ → या
    (i, ī) + ā → yā

And likewise for yu, , yṛ, yṝ, and yḷ. We can make similar combinations with the other vowels:

  • (इ, ई) + अ → य
    (i, ī) + a → ya

  • (ऋ, ॠ) + अ → र
    (ṛ, ṝ) + a → ra

  • ऌ + अ → ल
    ḷ + a → la

  • (उ, ऊ) + अ → व
    (u, ū) + a → va

And likewise if the second vowel is not a.

Together, these combinations give us four new sounds:

  • ya

  • ra

  • la

  • va

Why do we add a to all of these sounds? We add a so that we can pronounce these sounds more easily. At the same time, adding a lets us create convenient names for these sounds. For example, we can talk about the sound ya, the sound ra, and so on.

These new sounds are similar to vowels, but they behave a little differently from the vowels we've seen. So, they are called semivowels. Each semivowel uses a different point of pronunciation:

  • ya is pronounced at the same point as i and ī.

  • ra is pronounced at the same point as and .

  • la is pronounced at the same point as .

  • va is pronounced at the same point as u and ū.


In the next lesson, we will complete our study of the Sanskrit vowels. For review, see if you can combine the sounds below correctly:

  • ई + उ → ?
    ī + u → ?

  • ॠ + ई → ?
    ṝ + ī → ?

  • ऌ + ए → ?
    ḷ + e → ?

  • उ + आ → ?
    u + ā → ?