-a stems

In the previous lesson, we learned about the basic endings that nominal stems use. Different stem families will change these endings in small ways.

Of all of the stem families, the one that changes them the most is the family of -a stems (akārantāni, “ending in -a”). Most of Sanskrit's nominal stems end in the vowel -a, so it's important to know this family well.

Stems in this family are either masculine or neuter. For each gender, we have 3 numbers × 8 cases = 24 endings we can use.

Masculine endings

First, let's study the 24 masculine endings for the -a stem. The stem we will use is gaja, a masculine noun stem that means “elephant”:

 SingularDualPlural
Case 1गजः
gajaḥ
गजौ
gajau
गजाः
gajāḥ
Case 2गजम्
gajam
गजौ
gajau
गजान्
gajān
Case 3गजेन
gajena
गजाभ्याम्
gajābhyām
गजैः
gajaiḥ
Case 4गजाय
gajāya
गजाभ्याम्
gajābhyām
गजेभ्यः
gajebhyaḥ
Case 5गजात्
gajāt
गजाभ्याम्
gajābhyām
गजेभ्यः
gajebhyaḥ
Case 6गजस्य
gajasya
गजयोः
gajayoḥ
गजानाम्
gajānām
Case 7गजे
gaje
गजयोः
gajayoḥ
गजेषु
gajeṣu
Case 8गज
gaja
गजौ
gajau
गजाः
gajāḥ

Notice that the words in the singular use endings that are very different from the basic nominal endings. Thankfully, the endings in the dual and plural are mostly similar to the basic endings we saw earlier.

Neuter endings

We learned in the previous lesson that neuter endings are usually very similar to the masculine endings. For the -a stems, the endings differ only in cases 1, 2, and 8.

Here is the neuter noun phala in cases 1, 2, and 8. In all other cases, phala uses the same endings as gaja:

 SingularDualPlural
Case 1फलम्
phalam
फले
phale
फलानि
phalāni
Case 2फलम्
phalam
फले
phale
फलानि
phalāni
Case 8फल
phala
फले
phale
फलानि
phalāni

These words follow the basic pattern we learned about in the previous lesson. Specifically, notice that the dual forms follow normal sandhi rules:

  • फल + ई → फले
    phala + ī → phale

And that the word phalāni lengthens its vowel and uses an extra nasal sound, just as we saw with manāṃsi:

  • मनस् + इ → मनांसि
    manas + i → manāṃsi

  • फल + इ → फलानि
    phala + i → phalāni

However, one small change is that the singular of cases 1 and 2 use the ending -m:

  • फल + म् → फलम्
    phala + m → phalam

Sandhi changes

Some of the noun endings above use the consonant sound n. If n is not at the end of a word, it might change due to a complex sandhi rule:

  • ग्रामेन → ग्रामेण
    grāmena → grāmeṇa
    with the village

  • विषेन → विषेण
    viṣena → viṣeṇa
    with poison

Roughly, the rule is that the letters r and causes n to change to . This change can occur even if the two sounds are separated by vowels, “lip” consonants like p and m, and a few others.

Review

a is the most common vowel in Sanskrit, and the -a stems are the most common kind of nominal stem. In the next few lessons, we'll learn about the other stem families.

  1. Many of the endings used by the -a stem have multiple meanings. Give an example of one of these endings. What meanings can it express?

  2. In the -a stem family, masculine and neuter nouns are often identical. Which five cases are identical for both genders?