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 sample 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:

  • नयन्ति
    nayanti
    They lead.

  • नेष्यन्ति
    neṣyanti
    They will lead.

  • नाययन्ति
    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, 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 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, 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 work with 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.

Person, number, tense-mood, prayoga, and pada

By combining a verb root with various endings, we create a complete verb. This verb expresses five kinds of basic information.

The first is the verb's person. “I go” and “He goes” express the same idea, but from a different perspective. This perspective is the person of the verb. Like English, Sanskrit has three persons. To use the English terms, we have:

  • a first person (“I”, “we”) for the person acting

  • a second person (“you,” “you all”) for the person being spoken to

  • a third person (“he,” “she,” “it,” “they (singular)”) for everyone else

In traditional Sanskrit grammar, the third person is usually listed first, like so:

  • नयति
    nayati
    (Someone) leads.
    (third person)

  • नयसि
    nayasi
    You lead.
    (second person)

  • नयामि
    nayāmi
    I lead.
    (first person)

The second is the verb's number, which is the same idea as a nominal's number:

  • नयति
    nayati
    (Someone) leads.
    (singular)

  • नयतः
    nayataḥ
    The two of them lead.
    (dual)

  • नयन्ति
    nayanti
    They all lead.
    (plural)

The third is the verb's tense-mood. A verb's tense is just the time period a verb refers to (for example, compare “I go” and “I will go”), and a verb's mood is the way that information is expressed (for example, compare “I go” and “I may go”). In Sanskrit, these two categories are usually combined, which is why we call them tense-moods.

Sanskrit has ten different tense-moods. Here are a few examples:

  • नयसि
    nayasi
    You lead.

  • नयेः
    nayeḥ
    You might lead.

  • नेष्यसि
    neṣyasi
    You will lead.

  • नय
    naya
    Lead!

The fourth is the verb's prayoga. prayoga is similar to what we call ”active voice” and “passive voice” in English. In Sanskrit, we have three prayogas. They are 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 is used by verbs that don't use an object:

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

The fifth is the verb's pada. pada is hard to explain and hard to understand. Simply, some verb endings are called parasmaipada:

  • रामश् चरति
    rāmaś carati
    Rama walks.

And some are called ātmanepada:

  • रामो मन्यते
    rāmo manyate
    Rama thinks.

parasmaipada and ātmanepada endings sometimes imply different meanings. 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?