Short and long vowels

In the previous lesson, we learned about five basic vowels:


  • a

  • i



  • u

These five vowels are like different ingredients in a kitchen. By combining ingredients in different ways, we can create all kinds of new flavors. And by combining vowels in different ways, we can create all kinds of new sounds.

In this lesson, we will learn about some of the new sounds we can create by combining the basic vowels above.

Doubling a vowel

Suppose we are drinking tea and want to make our tea sweeter. What is the difference between adding one spoon of sugar and adding two? With one spoonful, our tea will be sweet. With two spoonfuls, our tea will be very sweet!

In the same way, what if we combine a and a together? We get a new sound that has the same basic flavor as a but in a more intense form. We get the vowel ā:


  • ā

ā is pronounced for twice as much time as a. For this reason, ā is called a long vowel, and a is called a short vowel.

We will study many different sound combinations in our guide. So let's use this simple format to describe them:

  • अ + अ → आ
    a + a → ā

To the left of the arrow, you can see the two sounds that we combine (a and a). To the right, you can see our result (ā). You can read this rule as ”a and a combine to make ā.”

Can we combine the other vowels we've seen so far? Yes, we can:

  • इ + इ → ई
    i + i → ī

  • ऋ + ऋ → ॠ
    ṛ + ṛ → ṝ

  • उ + उ → ऊ
    u + u → ū

is very rare in Sanskrit, and it does not have a long version. So in total, these combinations give us four new long vowels:


  • ā

  • ī


  • ū

Combining long vowels

What happens if we try the combinations below? Do we get an “extra long” ā?

  • अ + अ → आ
    a + a → ā

  • अ + आ → ?
    a + ā → ?

  • आ + अ → ?
    ā + a → ?

  • आ + आ → ?
    ā + ā → ?

No, we don't get an “extra long” ā. All of these combinations give us ā again:

  • अ + अ → आ
    a + a → ā

  • अ + आ → आ
    a + ā → ā

  • आ + अ → आ
    ā + a → ā

  • आ + आ → आ
    ā + ā → ā

To save space and make the pattern clear, let's write down all four of these changes like so:

  • (अ, आ) + (अ, आ) → आ
    (a, ā) + (a, ā) → ā

Here, (a, ā) means “a or ā.” So you can read this rule as “a or ā combines with another a or ā to create ā.”

Likewise, here are the rules for the other vowels:

  • (इ, ई) + (इ, ई) → ई
    (i, ī) + (i, ī) → ī

  • (ऋ, ॠ) + (ऋ, ॠ) → ॠ
    (ṛ, ṝ) + (ṛ, ṝ) → ṝ

  • (उ, ऊ) + (उ, ऊ) → ऊ
    (u, ū) + (u, ū) → ū

Review

We have now seen the first nine Sanskrit vowels. Here they are in their traditional order:


  • a

  • ā

  • i

  • ī

  • u

  • ū



In the next lesson, we will continue to combine these vowels in different ways and create new sounds. Now, here are a few review questions:

  1. Which vowels are short? Which vowels are long?

  2. What do we get when we combine ā and ā?

  3. What do we get when we combine i and i?