The potential mood

Also known as: the optative, vidhiḥ (“injunction”), vidhiliṅ

The potential mood is the last of the four special tense-moods.

Basic meaning

The potential mood usually describes what might, could, or should happen:

  • रामः वनम् गच्छेत्
    rāmaḥ vanam gacchet.
    Rama might go to the forest.

The potential mood can express many different meanings based on the context. For example, it can show what someone is capable of doing:

  • अहम् इदम् वनं सर्वं दहेयम्
    aham idam vanaṃ sarvaṃ daheyam.
    I could burn all of this forest.

It can be a soft command:

  • त्वम् इदं खादेः
    tvam idaṃ khādeḥ.
    You should eat this.

And there are other subtle uses as well.

Endings

The endings we use with the potential mood are almost identical to the endings of the ordinary past tense. There are two main differences. The first difference is that we add an extra sound before every ending:

 SingularDualPlural
3rdईत्
īt
ईताम्
ītām
ईयुः
īyuḥ
2ndईः
īḥ
ईतम्
ītam
ईत
īta
1stईयम्
īyam
ईव
īva
ईम
īma

And the second is that the third-person plural ending is -uḥ instead of -an:

  • अनयन्।
    anayan.
    They led.

  • नयेयुः।
    nayeyuḥ.
    They might lead.

Here is how these endings appear when used with a stem like naya:

 SingularDualPlural
3rdनयेत्
nayet
नयेताम्
nayetām
नयेयुः
nayeyuḥ
2ndनयेः
nayeḥ
नयेतम्
nayetam
नयेत
nayeta
1stनयेयम्
nayeyam
नयेव
nayeva
नयेम
nayema

Note the sandhi between the stem and the ending here:

  • नय + ईत् → नयेत्
    naya + īt → nayet
    (someone) might, could, or should lead