For beginners

Sanskrit is an ancient Indian language that is still spoken and written today. And grammar is the name for a language's rules. When we study Sanskrit grammar, we study the rules that make Sanskrit beautiful and unique.

Our guide to Sanskrit grammar uses clear and simple language, and it doesn't expect any special background knowledge. So our guide is perfect for ordinary people with busy lives. At the same time, our guide is as complete and comprehensive as any textbook on the market today.

Before you start using our guide, here's what we want you to know:

  • what this guide can and can't do for you

  • how this guide is structured

  • where to go for help

  • what to use if you don't like our guide

Acquiring and studying

Generally, there are two ways we can develop skill in a language: we can acquire it or we can study it.

When we acquire Sanskrit, we build fluency: fast, accurate, and easy understanding of Sanskrit content. Fluency comes from engaging with content that we enjoy and understand. A fluent Sanskrit reader can read Sanskrit as easily as you're reading this sentence right now.

When we study Sanskrit, we build scholarship: deep knowledge of Sanskrit's words and rules. Scholarship comes from studying and practicing grammar rules. A Sanskrit scholar can explain every detail of a word or sentence, down to the letter.

Our guide focuses on studying Sanskrit and not acquiring it. So if you want to acquire Sanskrit, we strongly recommend the resources below:

  • Amarahāsa: free online stories written especially for acquiring Sanskrit.

  • Samskrita Bharati (India, US): Conversational Sanskrit. Includes workshops, classes, correspondence courses, and in-person events.

  • Vyoma-Saṃskṛta-Pāṭhaśālā: Online Sanskrit lectures in a classroom format.

Why we created this guide

There are countless resources for learning Sanskrit grammar. What would an ideal resource be like? We thought about this question for a long time. In our opinion, the ideal resource should be:

  • clear and simple

  • complete and useful

  • easy to search

  • delightful to the eye and ear

  • freely available

And most importantly, we believe that a guide should do one thing well rather than two things acceptably. Acquiring and studying Sanskrit require radically different approaches, and we do not think they should be combined in one resource.

Many resources have some of these qualities, but we could not find one that had all of them. So we created this guide as our humble attempt.

What our guide cannot do

Think of our guide as a map of Sanskrit. A map gives you a basic sense of the world around you. A map is useful if you don't know where you are. But even the best map cannot replace the real world.

Our grammar guide can give you a basic sense of Sanskrit, and it can help you understand the words and sentences you see. But it cannot convey what real Sanskrit is like, because no grammar resource can. At some point, you have to engage with real Sanskrit content. And that means acquiring Sanskrit rather than just studying it.

If you have any interest in reading Sanskrit (as opposed to slowly translating it), we urge you to pair this guide with a resource that focuses on acquisition. Just as a map is secondary to the real world, let our guide be secondary to the content you experience.

How we structure this guide

Imagine that you're walking through the forest when you suddenly see the trunk of an ancient tree. As your eyes move up, you see the trunk split into many different branches. And these branches split into all kinds of fruits and delicate flowers. A single tree trunk has become something profound.

Sanskrit itself is like this tree. Its trunk is a small set of core principles that it follows. Its branches are the rules that make it unique. And its fruits and flowers are its words and sentences.

Our guide, too, has a tree structure. Its trunk is a set of core lessons that conveys Sanskrit's core principles. Its branches are different topics and lessons that describe Sanskrit's systems in detail. And its fruits and flowers are the thousands of examples it uses to show how Sanskrit works.

This tree structure is deliberate. Once you finish the core lessons, you are free to read the rest of the guide's topics in whatever order you wish. You decide what to study based on your own interests and needs.

How we structure our lessons

Each lesson in our guide covers one concept or a small set of related concepts. And these lessons contain many examples to make each concept clear. Finally, each lesson ends with some review questions about the lesson's main concepts.

Our focus is on teaching concepts, not on busywork. This means:

  • no translation exercises

  • no vocabulary lists

  • no word drills

  • no memorization tasks

It may be a shock to you that our guide avoids these devices. Many Sanskrit resources love and rely on them. And we used to love and rely on them too.

But although these devices are well-intentioned, our experience and the research on second language acquisition show that they are not as effective as you might think. It is far more effective and far more enjoyable to engage with meaningful content that focuses on acquisition.

How we write our lessons

Many resources use complicated technical language to describe Sanskrit. Technical language is sometimes necessary. But as much as possible, we use simple and clear language that ordinary people can understand. And for each concept we discuss, we include plenty of examples.

If we use simple language, does that mean that our guide is simplified or ”dumbed down”? No. Our guide is as thorough and complete as any textbook.

In case it is useful to you, lessons after the core lessons will also include the standard English and Sanskrit terms for each concept. We include these terms in case you know them already, or in case you want to do more research on your own.

How to use our guide

First, read the core lessons and answer all of the review questions they contain. These core lessons are the foundation for the rest of the guide, so it is important to study them well. A tree with a weak trunk will wither and crumble, but a tree with a strong trunk will endure and thrive.

Once you have understood the core lessons, read whatever topic you like. Feel free to jump from topic to topic, and go wherever your needs and interests take you. But within each topic, you should read the lessons in order, because each lesson in a topic builds on the previous ones.

Getting help

Learning Sanskrit is easier and more fun when you have friends to help you. So please write to us with questions, comments, or anything else you want to talk about. We love receiving email, and we will send you a reply as soon as we can.

What to use if you don't like our guide

No resource is perfect for everybody. If you have decided that our guide isn't right for your needs, we recommend the resources below. Please also let us know what you wish our guide could offer you.

If you want to acquire Sanskrit, we recommend the resources we mentioned above:

  • Amarahāsa: free online stories written especially for acquiring Sanskrit.

  • Samskrita Bharati (India, US): Conversational Sanskrit. Includes workshops, classes, correspondence courses, and in-person events.

  • Vyoma-Saṃskṛta-Pāṭhaśālā: Online Sanskrit lectures in a classroom format.

If you feel most comfortable with the textbook format, here is what we recommend:

  • Introduction to Sanskrit Volumes I and II by Thomas Egenes. This simple and gentle series explains Sanskrit grammar bit by bit. Students who finish both volumes will be well-equipped to read a text like the Bhagavad Gita.

  • The Cambridge Introduction to Sanskrit by Antonia Ruppel. This beautiful work is friendly, methodical, and clear, and it is an excellent follow-up to the Egenes set above. Ambitious learners can jump into it directly.

About the author

Sanskrit is like a massive and beautiful forest. Many of the people who enter this forest get tangled in a jungle of complicated explanations. And a few unlucky travelers are eaten by the tigers of anxiety, boredom, doubt, and frustration.

I created this guide to give ordinary people a clear and enjoyable path through that forest, so that everyone can explore and savor it as they please.

I used to believe that grammar was the only way to learn Sanskrit. I now believe that most Sanskrit learners should focus on acquiring Sanskrit rather than studying it. But there will always be those who love and appreciate grammar, just as I do. And there is certainly a need for a resource that explains Sanskrit clearly, simply, and completely (and with some good humor).

I dedicate this guide to my grandparents: B. Raghavachari, Mohana Raghavachari, the late S. Rangaswamy, and the late Malathi Rangaswamy.

24 September 2021


This guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. Simply, this means that you can use this guide however you like, as long as you credit Please read the full license for details.

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