Verbs

In the previous lesson, we learned that there are three main types of Sanskrit words: verbs like paśyati, nominal words like rāmaḥ, and a third type that we'll study in the next lesson.

Verbs are the core of a Sanskrit sentence. In fact, we can make a complete sentence with just a single verb:

  • पश्यन्ति।
    paśyanti.
    They see.

Roots, stems and endings

Let's start our discussion with some simple verbs:

  • नयन्ति
    nayanti
    They lead.

  • नयसि
    nayasi
    You lead.

  • नयामि
    nayāmi
    I lead.

Like nominals, verbs have two parts: a stem that carries the basic meaning of the verb and an ending that modifies this basic meaning. In the examples above, naya is the stem, and it has the basic sense of ”leading.” By combining naya with endings like -ti, -nti, and -āmi, we create different kinds of verbs.

But we can go deeper than this. Consider the verbs below:

  • नय + न्ति → नयन्ति
    naya + nti → nayanti
    They lead.

  • नेष्य + न्ति → नेष्यन्ति
    neṣya + nti → neṣyanti
    They will lead.

  • नायय + न्ति → नाययन्ति
    nāyaya + nti → nāyayanti
    They make (someone) lead.

If we remove the -nti ending, we see three different stems: naya, neṣya, and nāyaya. All of them have slightly different meanings. But all of them have to do with “leading” something, and all of them start with similar sounds.

Thousands of years ago, the people who studied Sanskrit grammar thought about words like nayanti, neṣyanti, and nāyayati and considered them deeply. They decided that all of these words share a common element, , from which all of these stems arise.

is called a verb root. Just as flower stems grow from a shared root, verb stems grow from a verb root. The verb root is short, compact, and contains the basic meaning of the stems and verbs that grow from it:

  • नी → नय → नयन्ति
    → naya → nayanti
    lead → lead → They lead.

  • नी → नेष्य → नेष्यन्ति
    → neṣya → neṣyanti
    lead → will lead → They will lead.

  • नी → नायि → नाययन्ति
    → nāyi → nāyayanti
    lead → make lead → They make (someone) lead.

Not all verbs have a clear and obvious root. But most verbs do.

Creating new verb roots

Traditional grammar defines a list of around 2000 verb roots. But Sanskrit also provides a few ways to create new verb roots from existing ones. These derived roots modify the root's basic meaning in some way.

For example, if we add i to a verb root that means “X,” we create a new verb root that “make (someone) do X.” You can see some examples of this below.

  • नी → नायि → नाययन्ति
    nī → nāyi → nāyayanti
    lead → make lead → They make (someone) lead.

  • चर् → चारि → चारयन्ति
    car → cāri → cārayanti
    walk → make walk → They make (someone) walk.

Note that i causes the sounds in the root to change. These kinds of changes are common when we add sounds to verb roots.

We can even create roots by using different nominal words:

  • मूत्र → मूत्रयति
    mūtra → mūtrayati
    urine, pee → He pees.

We will learn more about all of these derived roots in a later lesson. But for now, let's focus on verb endings and the information they contain.

Person

Generally, verb endings express five kinds of basic information. The first is the verb's person. “I go” and “He goes” express the same idea, but each has a different perspective. This perspective is the person of the verb.

Like English, Sanskrit has three persons. In the traditional Sanskrit order, we have the third person:

  • नयति
    nayati
    (Someone) leads.

the second person:

  • नयसि
    nayasi
    You lead.

and the first person:

  • नयामि
    nayāmi
    I lead.

Number

The second kind of information is the verb's number, which is the same idea as a nominal's number. As before, we have the singular:

  • नयति
    nayati
    (Someone) leads.

the dual:

  • नयतः
    nayataḥ
    The two of them lead.

and the plural:

  • नयन्ति
    nayanti
    They all lead.

Tense-mood

The third kind of information is the verb's tense-mood. A verb's tense is just the time period a verb refers to:

  • नयति
    nayati
    someone leads

  • नेष्यति
    neṣyati
    someone will lead

  • नेता
    netā
    someone will (eventually) lead

  • अनयत्
    anayat
    someone led

  • अनैषीत्
    anaiṣīt
    someone (recently) led

  • निनाय
    nināya
    someone led (long ago)

And a verb's mood is the way the verb expresses that information:

  • नयेत्
    nayet
    someone might lead

  • नयतु
    nayatu
    (we command that) someone may lead

  • नीयात्
    nīyāt
    (we hope that) someone may lead

  • अनेष्यत्
    aneṣyat
    someone would lead or would have led

In Sanskrit, these two categories are usually combined, which is why we call them tense-moods. Sanskrit has ten different tense-moods combinations, and you can see all ten of them in the examples above.

prayoga

The fourth kind of information is the verb's prayoga. prayoga is similar to what we call “active voice” and “passive voice” in English. In Sanskrit, we have kartari prayoga (“agent usage”), which is like the English active voice:

  • नरः कर्म करोति।
    naraḥ karma karoti.
    The man does work.

  • नरः स्वपिति।
    naraḥ svapiti.
    The man sleeps.

karmaṇi prayoga (“object usage”), which is like the English passive voice:

  • नरेण कर्म क्रियते
    nareṇa karma kriyate.
    Work is being done by the man.

and bhāve prayoga (“stative usage”), which we use instead of karmaṇi prayoga if the verb doesn't use an object. bhāve prayoga looks almost identical to karmaṇi prayoga:

  • नरेण सुप्यते
    nareṇa supyate.
    There is sleeping by the man. (The man sleeps.)

pada

The fifth kind of information is the verb's pada. Simply, some verb endings are called parasmaipada:

  • रामश् चरति
    rāmaś carati
    Rama walks.

And some are called ātmanepada:

  • रामो मन्यते
    rāmo manyate
    Rama thinks.

For some roots, parasmaipada and ātmanepada endings sometimes imply different meanings:

  • नरः पचति
    naraḥ pacati
    The man cooks (for others).

  • नरः पचते
    naraḥ pacate
    The man cooks (for himself).

But often, they don't have any major difference in meaning. We will revisit pada in a future lesson.

Review

  1. What are the three basic parts of a Sanskrit verb?

  2. What are the three persons?

  3. What are the three numbers?

  4. What are the three prayogas?

  5. What are the two padas?