Sentences

So far, we have focused on the smallest parts of Sanskrit: its sounds. But rather than count every grain of rice, let's simply savor the meal in front of us. In this lesson, let's consider Sanskrit from a broader point of view and discuss some simple sentences.

Word order

Here is a simple Sanskrit sentence:

  • रामः सीतां पश्यति।
    rāmaḥ sītāṃ paśyati.
    Rama sees Sita.

Rama and Sita are two of the main characters in the Ramayana, one of the ancient Sanskrit poems. For much of the Ramayana, Rama and Sita are far apart, and Rama searches desperately to find her. So it is a happy thing that Rama can see Sita at last.

Notice the word order in this sentence. The main action of the sentence is that one person is seeing another. The person who performs the action (rāmaḥ) is called the subject. The person who is affected by the action (sītām) is called the object. And the word that describes the action (paśyati) is called the verb.

In English, the usual order of these three is subject, then verb, then object. So English is sometimes called a “subject-verb-object” (SVO) language. But Sanskrit does not work this way. Like many Indian languages, it tends to use a ”subject-object-verb” (SOV) order.

Word endings

Rama sees Sita, but perhaps Sita wants to see Rama too. So let's add another sentence:

  • रामः सीतां पश्यति।
    rāmaḥ sītāṃ paśyati.
    Rama sees Sita.

  • सीता रामं पश्यति।
    sītā rāmaṃ paśyati.
    Sita sees Rama.

Here we notice something else. When Rama is the person seeing, we use the word rāmaḥ. But when Rama is the person being seen, we use the word rāmam. (rāmam becomes rāmaṃ due to sandhi.)

Every language expresses meaning in its own way. In Sanskrit, one of the important ways we express different meanings is by changing a word. And usually, we change a word by changing its ending.

Different word endings can show whether someone is the subject of a sentence (rāmaḥ), the object of a sentence (rāmam), or even something else entirely:

  • सीता रामाय पश्यति।
    sītā rāmāya paśyati.
    Sita sees for Rama.

  • सीता रामस्य पितरं पश्यति।
    sītā rāmasya pitaraṃ paśyati.
    Sita sees Rama's father.

English uses different word endings in a limited way. We see one bird but two birds; I run in a field but someone runs in a park. But Sanskrit words use many different kinds of word endings. Some endings are very simple, like the ones above. But other endings are more complex:

  • सीता रामं पश्यति
    sītā rāmaṃ paśyati.
    Sita sees Rama.

  • सीता रामं पश्येत्
    sītā rāmaṃ paśyet.
    Sita might see Rama.

  • सीता रामं पश्यतु
    sītā rāmaṃ paśyatu.
    May Sita see Rama.

Changing the word order

English uses word endings in a limited way, but the meaning of English sentences is still clear. Why? It is because English uses word order to make meaning clear. For example, “Sita sees Rama” and “Rama sees Sita” mean very different things. In English, word order is very important!

But Sanskrit already makes meaning clear through word endings. Does this mean we can change the word order in Sanskrit? Yes, we can. All of the examples below have the same meaning but use different word orders:

  • रामः सीतां पश्यति।
    rāmaḥ sītāṃ paśyati.
    Rama sees Sita.

  • सीतां रामः पश्यति।
    sītāṃ rāmaḥ paśyati.
    Rama sees Sita.

  • सीतां पश्यति रामः।
    sītāṃ paśyati rāmaḥ.
    Rama sees Sita.

  • रामः पश्यति सीताम्।
    rāmaḥ paśyati sītām.
    Rama sees Sita.

  • पश्यति सीतां रामः।
    paśyati sītāṃ rāmaḥ.
    Rama sees Sita.

  • पश्यति रामः सीताम्।
    paśyati rāmaḥ sītām.
    Rama sees Sita.

Sanskrit sentences generally follow the subject-object-verb order we described above. But word order can change dramatically depending on the context. Certain word orderings simply sound nicer than others, and some ideas are easier to understand depending on the order they appear in.

Review

There's much more we can say about the Sanskrit sentence. But for now, let's change focus and learn more about the different kinds of Sanskrit words. In the next three lessons, we will learn about the three main word types that Sanskrit uses.

  1. What order does Sanskrit tend to use for its subjects, verbs, and objects?

  2. Why can we rearrange the words in a Sanskrit sentence?