Uninflected words

Sanskrit sentences use three basic types of words: verbs like paśyati, nominals like rāmaḥ, and a third category that we can call uninflected words.

In Sanskrit, we can change a word to express different kinds of meanings, usually by changing its ending. The technical name for these kinds of word changes is inflection. Since Sanskrit uses so many different word endings, it is called a highly inflected language.

But not all Sanskrit words are inflected. Many Sanskrit words are uninflected. Uninflected words can still go through sandhi changes, but otherwise, they always stay the same.

For example, consider the examples below. In each sentence, the nominal and verb change. But the uninflected word na stays the same:

  • गजो गच्छति।
    gajo na gacchati.
    The elephant does not go.

  • गजौ गमिष्यतः।
    gajau na gamiṣyataḥ.
    The two elephants will not go.

  • गजा गच्छेयुः।
    gajā na gaccheyuḥ.
    The elephants might not go.

Uninflected words are simple. So in this lesson, we will simply learn about a few different kinds of uninflected words.

ca and

ca is a common uninflected word that means “and.” Notice how ca is used in the examples below:

  • रामः सीता गच्छतः।
    rāmaḥ sītā ca gacchataḥ.
    Rama and Sita go.

  • रामः सीता गजश् गच्छन्ति।
    rāmaḥ sītā gajaś ca gacchanti.
    Rama, Sita, and the elephant go.

In English, we use the word “and” just before the last item in our list: Rama, Sita, and the elephant. But in Sanskrit, ca comes at the end of the list of items: rāmaḥ sītā gajaś ca.

We can use , which means “or,” in the same way:

  • रामः सीता वा गच्छति।
    rāmaḥ sītā gacchati.
    Rama or Sita goes.

  • रामः सीता गजो वा गच्छति।
    rāmaḥ sītā gajo gacchati.
    Rama, Sita, or the elephant goes.

We can also repeat ca to say “Both ... and ...” and to say “Either ... or ...” Here are some examples:

  • रामश् सीता गच्छतः।
    rāmaś ca sītā ca gacchataḥ.
    Both Rama and Sita go.

  • रामो वा सीता वा गच्छति।
    rāmo sītā gacchati.
    Either Rama or Sita goes.

In an earlier lesson, we learned that Sanskrit word order is very flexible. But it is not completely flexible. Specifically, ca and cannot appear at the start of a sentence. This means that the example sentence below is not correct Sanskrit:

  • * रामः सीता गच्छतः।
    * ca rāmaḥ sītā gacchataḥ.

saha and vinā

We can also use uninflected words to modify the basic sense of another word. For example, there is a nominal case that usually means “by means of”:

  • रामो गजेन नगरं गच्छति।
    rāmo gajena nagaraṃ gacchati.
    Rama goes to the city by means of an elephant.

If we use the uninflected words saha or vinā, we can refine the sense of this nominal case:

  • रामो गजेन सह नगरं गच्छति।
    rāmo gajena saha nagaraṃ gacchati.
    Rama goes to the city with an elephant.

  • रामो गजेन विना नगरं गच्छति।
    rāmo gajena vinā nagaraṃ gacchati.
    Rama goes to the city without an elephant.

saha and vinā usually follow the word they modify.

-tvā

As a final example, we can add the suffix -tvā to a verb root. If the root means “X,” the result means “having done X” or “after doing X.” Here are some examples:

  • नी + त्वा → नीत्वा
    nī + tvā → nītvā
    lead → having led

  • कृ + त्वा → कृत्वा
    kṛ + tvā → kṛtvā
    do, make → having done or made

These new words are used like verbs. In the examples below, the first two sentences are simple, and the third one uses the -tvā ending to create a more complex sentence:

  • रामो नगरं गच्छति।
    rāmo nagaraṃ gacchati.
    Rama goes to the city.

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

  • रामो नगरं गत्वा सीताम् पश्यति।
    rāmo nagaraṃ gatvā sītām paśyati.
    Rama, after going to the city, sees Sita.

Review

There are many different kinds of uninflected words, but they are all used in a simple way. Once we create them, we don't have to make any changes for gender, case, number, person, tense-mood, prayoga, or anything else.

  1. Sanskrit word order is freer than English word order. Is Sanskrit word order completely free? Can we use whatever word order we like?