The eight cases

Sanskrit has eight different cases. These cases can each express many different meanings, but each has a basic meaning that is easy to remember. And if we need to, we can modify this basic meaning by using extra uninflected words.

Case 1

Also known as: the nominative case, prathamā vibhaktiḥ (“first division”)

Case 1 can be thought of as the default case. Usually, it refers to the subject of the action:

  • सिंहः खादति।
    siṃhaḥ khādati.
    The lion eats.

But this depends on the prayoga of the verb. In the two sentences below, note the difference in meaning, even though both sentences use case 1:

  • सिंहः खादति।
    siṃhaḥ khādati.
    The lion eats.
    (The lion is the subject of the sentence.)

  • सिंहः खाद्यते।
    siṃhaḥ khādyate.
    The lion is eaten.
    (The lion is the object of the sentence.)

Case 1 also has special uses in verbless sentences. For details, see the lesson on verbless sentences:

  • अश्वः कृष्णः।
    aśvaḥ kṛṣṇaḥ.
    The horse is black.

  • अश्वो रामस्य।
    aśvo rāmasya.
    The horse is Rama's.

Case 2

Also known as: the accusative case, dvitīyā vibhaktiḥ (“second division”)

Case 2 is generally the object of the action:

  • सिंहो ग्रामं पश्यति।
    siṃho grāmaṃ paśyati.
    The lion sees a village.

It is also used for destinations:

  • सिंहो ग्रामं गच्छति।
    siṃho grāmaṃ gacchati.
    The lion goes to the village.

Or for time and distance:

  • मासम् अधीते
    sa māsam adhīte
    He studied for a month.

  • योजनं चरति।
    sa yojanaṃ carati.
    He walked a yojana.
    (A yojana is around 15 kilometers.)

Case 2 is also used with specific uninflected words like antarā, antareṇa, ṛte, and prati:

  • अन्तरा गृहंवृक्षं च गजः।
    antarā gṛhaṃ ca vṛkṣaṃ ca gajaḥ.
    There is an elephant between the house and the tree.

  • अन्तरेण विद्यां, किं शक्यम्?
    antareṇa vidyāṃ, kiṃ śakyam?
    Without knowledge, what is possible?

  • ऋते ऽपि त्वां ते सुखिनो भविष्यन्ति।
    ṛte 'pi tvāṃ te sukhino bhaviṣyanti.
    Even without you, they will be happy.

  • गृहं प्रति भाषामहे।
    gṛhaṃ prati bhāṣāmahe.
    Let's talk about the house.

Case 3

Also known as: the instrumental case, tṛtīyā vibhaktiḥ (“third division”)

Case 3 generally means “with” or “by means of”:

  • सिंहो मार्गेण ग्रामं गच्छति।
    siṃho mārgeṇa grāmaṃ gacchati.
    The lion goes to the village by means of the road.

  • अहं धनुषा मृगं हन्मि।
    ahaṃ dhanuṣā mṛgaṃ hanmi.
    I kill the deer with (my) bow.

For verbs in karmaṇi or bhāve prayoga, case 3 defines the agent of the action:

  • रामेण रावणो हन्यते
    rāmeṇa rāvaṇo hanyate
    Ravana is killed by Rama.
    (karmaṇi prayoga)

  • मया सुप्यते।
    mayā supyate.
    I sleep. (“By me, there is sleeping.”)
    (bhāve prayoga)

We can also use this case with words like saha (“with”) or vinā (“without”) to show a sense of accompaniment:

  • रामः सीतया सह वनं गच्छति।
    rāmaḥ sītayā saha vanaṃ gacchati.
    Rama goes to the forest with Sita.

  • रामो दशरथेन विना वनं गच्छति।
    rāmo daśarathena vinā vanaṃ gacchati.
    Rama goes to the forest without Dasharatha.

Case 4

Also known as: the dative case, caturthī vibhaktiḥ (“fourth division”)

Case 4 generally means “for” or “for the sake of”:

  • सिंहो मांसाय ग्रामं गच्छति।
    siṃho māṃsāya grāmaṃ gacchati.
    The lion goes to the village for meat.

  • सिंहः खादनाय ग्रामं गच्छति।
    siṃhaḥ khādanāya grāmaṃ gacchati.
    The lion goes to the village for eating (“to eat”).

For verbs that express anger, jealousy, or blame, case 4 defines the target of the emotion:

  • रामो रावणाय क्रुध्यति।
    rāmo rāvaṇāya krudhyati.
    Rama is angry at Ravana.

  • कैकेयी कौसल्याया ईर्ष्यति।
    kaikeyī kausalyāyā īrṣyati.
    Kaikeyi is jealous of Kausalya.
    (kausalyāyai becomes kausalyāyā due to sandhi)

Case 5

Also known as: the ablative case, pañcamī vibhaktiḥ (“fifth division”)

Case 5 generally means “from” or “because of”:

  • नरः वनाद् ग्रामं गच्छति।
    naraḥ vanād grāmaṃ gacchati.
    A man goes from the forest to the village.

  • नरः भयाद् गृहं गच्छति।
    naraḥ bhayād gṛhaṃ gacchati.
    The man goes home from (because of) fear.

For verbs that express fear or protection, case 5 defines the cause of fear:

  • अहम् रावणाद् भीतः
    aham rāvaṇād bhītaḥ
    I am scared of Ravana.

  • अहम् बालं सिंहाद् रक्षामि।
    aham bālaṃ siṃhād rakṣāmi.
    I protect the boy from the lion.

If someone is being born, case 5 defines the father:

  • कृष्णो वसुदेवाद् देवक्यां जज्ञे
    kṛṣṇo vasudevād devakyāṃ jajñe
    Krishna was born from Vasudeva in Devaki.

In a comparison, case 5 has the sense of “than” or “compared to”:

  • सिंहो नराद् बलवत्तरः।
    siṃho narād balavattaraḥ.
    The lion is stronger than the man.

Case 5 can also be used with words like ā and apa:

  • वनात्
    ā vanāt
    up to the forest

  • अप वनात्
    apa vanāt
    away from the forest

Case 6

Also known as: the genitive case, ṣaṣṭhī vibhaktiḥ (“sixth division”)

Case 6 generally means “of.” Generally, it expresses some connection between two nominals:

  • सिंहो नरस्य गृहं गच्छति।
    siṃho narasya gṛhaṃ gacchati.
    The lion goes to the house of the man (or, the man's house).

  • सिंहो नरस्य मांसं खादति।
    siṃho narasya māṃsaṃ khādati.
    The lion eats the meat of the man.

Generally, case 6 is a “catch-all” case that we use if no other case applies. In the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, it often expresses the same meanings as case 4:

  • रामं देहि तस्य
    rāmaṃ dehi tasya.
    Give Rama to him.

Case 7

Also known as: the locative case, saptamī vibhaktiḥ (“seventh division”)

Case 7 generally means “in” or “on”:

  • नरो सिंहे ऽस्ति।
    naro siṃhe 'sti.
    The man is in the lion.

  • सिंहो ग्रामे चरति।
    siṃho grāme carati.
    The lion walks in the village.

If someone is being born, case 7 defines the mother:

  • कृष्णो वसुदेवाद् देवक्यां जज्ञे
    kṛṣṇo vasudevād devakyāṃ jajñe
    Krishna was born from Vasudeva in Devaki.

More abstractly, case 7 describes the context of something:

  • रामे गते दशरथो दुःखितो बभूव
    rāme gate daśaratho duḥkhito babhūva
    When Rama had gone (in Rama's having gone), Dasharatha became unhappy.

  • अस्मिन् विषये को समर्थः
    asmin viṣaye ko samarthaḥ
    In this matter, who is capable?

Case 8

Also known as: the vocative case, sambodhana (“address”)

Case 8 addresses the person being spoken to:

  • हे नर त्वं खादितः।
    he nara tvaṃ khāditaḥ.
    Hey man! You have been eaten.

  • हे सिंह वनं गच्छ।
    he siṃha vanaṃ gaccha.
    Hey lion! Go to the forest.


The eight cases have several other minor uses. But this lesson summarizes the major patterns you will see and hear.