The suffix system

Suffixes are meaningful groups of sounds that we add to something else. Sanskrit uses many different suffixes, and these suffixes can cause many different sound changes. So it is important to understand what suffixes mean and what sound changes they cause.

We have already seen several kinds of suffixes. We have seen nominal endings:

  • नर + स्य → नरस्य
    nara + sya → narasya
    of the man

verb endings:

  • गच्छ + ति → गच्छति
    gaccha + ti → gacchati
    (someone) goes

and various other suffixes that we use with verbs:

  • नी + → नायि → नाययति
    nī + i → nāyi → nāyayati
    lead → make lead → makes lead

But in this topic, we'll focus on all of the other suffixes that Sanskrit has. These suffixes usually make new nominal words:

  • मन् + त्र → मन्त्र
    man + tra → mantra
    think + (means) → “means of thinking,” mantra, counsel

Root and nominal suffixes

We can sort these suffixes into two big groups. First are root suffixes, which we add to a verb root:

  • मन् + त्र → मन्त्र
    man + tra → mantra
    think + (means) → “means of thinking,” mantra, counsel

  • नी + त्र → नेत्र
    nī + tra → netra
    lead + (means) → “means of leading,” an eye

Next are nominal suffixes, which we usually add to a nominal stem:

  • मन्त्र + इन् → मन्त्रिन्
    mantra + in → mantrin
    mantra + (characterized by) → minister, counselor

  • अमर + त्व → अमरत्व
    amara + tva → amaratva
    immortal + (state of being) → immortality

  • कुरु + अ → कौरव
    kuru + a → kaurava
    Kuru + (descendant of) → “descendant of Kuru,” a Kaurava
    (one of the main factions described in the Mahabharata)

What sound changes do suffixes cause?

As you can see in the examples above, suffixes can cause many different changes to the roots and stems they attach to.

The most common change is to strengthen the last vowel by making it a compound vowel. We saw an example of this with netra above:

  • नी + त्र → नेत्र
    nī + tra → netra
    lead + (means) → “means of leading,” an eye

But suffixes can also cause other kinds of sound changes. For example, some suffixes don't cause a vowel change at all:

  • नी + त → नीत
    nī + ta → nīta
    lead + (past suffix) → (has been) led

And others cause the letters c and j to shift to k and g:

  • शुच् + अ → शोक
    śuc + a → śoka
    grieve + (state) → grief, sorrow

  • त्यज् + अ → त्याग
    tyaj + a → tyāga
    abandon + (state) → abandoning, relinquishment

iṭ

When we add a suffix to a root, sometimes we add an extra i sound between the root and the suffix:

  • नी + त → नीत
    nī + ta → nīta
    lead → led

  • वन्द् + + त → वन्दित
    vand + i + ta → vandita
    venerate → venerated

Traditionally, this i sound is called iṭ. Some roots use iṭ, some roots don't use iṭ, and some roots use iṭ optionally.

Review

  1. In this topic, we will study two groups of suffixes. What are these groups called? What makes one group different from the other?