Suffixes

In the previous lesson, we learned that prefixes are small groups of sounds that we add to the beginning of something. A group of sounds added to the end of something, however, is called a suffix.

Sanskrit has many different kinds of suffixes. Verb and nominal endings are all suffixes. So are the suffixes that turn verb roots into verb stems:

  • नी + अ → नय
    nī + a → naya
    lead → lead

  • नी + ष्य → नेष्य
    nī + ṣya → neṣya
    lead → will lead

  • नी + इ → नायि
    nī + i → nāyi
    lead → make lead

Sound changes

Sanskrit suffixes can cause many different sound changes. Most commonly, a suffix will make the root's vowel change. Usually, the root's vowel will become a compound vowel, and that vowel might change due to sandhi rules.

In English, we usually call these kinds of changes vowel strengthening. The idea is that a compound vowel is “stronger” than the simple vowel it comes from. You can see some examples of vowel strengthening in the examples above, which we repeat here for convenience:

  • नी + अ → नय
    nī + a → naya
    lead → lead

  • नी + ष्य → नेष्य
    nī + ṣya → neṣya
    lead → will lead

  • नी + इ → नायि
    nī + i → nāyi
    lead → make lead

Since we know Sanskrit sounds well, we can see a connection between ī, e, ai, ay, and āy: ī is the root vowel, e and ai are its compound vowels, and ay and āy appear due to sandhi. This is why it is so important to understand Sanskrit's sounds and sandhi rules.

Root suffixes

Root suffixes are added directly to a verb root. Usually, they create nouns and adjectives. There are too many suffixes to list here, but let's consider two examples.

First is the suffix -a. (We add the “-” sign at the beginning to emphasize that this is a suffix.) -a has many functions, but it commonly creates abstract nouns:

  • विद् → वेद
    vid → veda
    know → knowledge; one of the four Vedas

  • जि → जय
    ji → jaya
    conquer → conquest, victory

  • युज् → योग
    yuj → yoga
    yoke, join, unite → yoking, junction, union; yoga

In the last example above, note that j becomes g. The sounds c and j often become k and g when certain suffixes follow them.

Next is the suffix -ta. -ta does not strengthen the root's vowel. When added to a root that means “to X,” this suffix usually means “(has been) X-ed.”

  • जि → जित
    ji → jita
    conquer → (has been) conquered

  • युज् → युक्त
    yuj → yukta
    yoke, join, unite → (has been) yoked, joined, or united

  • कृ + त → कृत
    kṛ + ta → kṛta
    do, make → (has been) done, (has been) made

Naturally, we can use prefixes and suffixes together. For example, let's use the prefix sam- that we used in the previous lesson. In addition to meaning ”with” or “together,” this prefix can also mean “completely” or “fully”:

  • संजि → संजय
    saṃji → saṃjaya
    completely conquer → complete victory; Sanjay

Let's try combining sam with the root kṛ above. By a specific grammar rule, this combination becomes saṃskṛ with an extra s. Does saṃskṛ look familiar to you?

  • संस्कृ + त → संस्कृत
    saṃskṛ + ta → saṃskṛta
    completely or fully make; refine, perfect → perfected, refined; Sanskrit

Nominal suffixes

As you might guess, nominal suffixes are added to nominals. As before, there are too many to list here. But as before, let's consider two examples.

First is the suffix -in. When added to a word that means “X,” it creates a word that means “characterized by X”:

  • योग + इन् → योगिन्
    yoga + in → yogin
    yoga → characterized by yoga; a yogi

Next is the suffix -tva. When added to a word that means “X,” it creates a word that means “X-ness”:

  • योग + त्व → योगत्व
    yoga + tva → yogatva
    yoga → “yoga-ness”; the state of yoga

Review

Sanskrit has a large number of different root and nominal suffixes. We can use these suffixes to quickly and simply create a variety of complex and expressive words.

  1. What does “vowel strengthening” mean?

  2. What is the difference between a root suffix and a nominal suffix?