The present tense
Also known as: the present indicative, vartamānaḥ (“occurring”), laṭ
The first tense-mood we will study is the present tense. Traditionally, this is the first tense-mood that Sanskrit students learn.
The present tense has different meanings in different contexts. Most commonly, it what is happening right now:
(Someone) leads or is leading.
(Someone) walks or is walking.
Notice that the English translation of nayati is either “leads” or “is leading.” In Sanskrit, we describe both of these with the same verb form. Context makes the specific sense clear.
In general, the present tense is seen as a “default” tense. So we can also use it to describe actions that regularly occur:
अहं प्रतिदिनं पचामि।
ahaṃ pratidinaṃ pacāmi.
I cook every day.
संजयः प्रतिवर्षं नगरं गच्छति।
saṃjayaḥ prativarṣaṃ nagaraṃ gacchati.
Sanjaya goes to the city every year.
The present tense also expresses actions that have just finished:
त्वम् कदा ग्रामम् आगच्छसि।
tvam kadā grāmam āgacchasi.
When did you come to the village?
(It is implied that the person has come very recently.)
or are just about to occur:
अहं वनम् गच्छामि।
ahaṃ vanam gacchāmi.
I (am just about to) go to the forest.
In the first person, it can also have the sense of “let's”:
Let's (all) go.
Let's (both) ask the king.
We can modify the basic sense of the present tense with various uninflected words. One common example is that we can use sma to express past action:
सिंहो गुहायां निवसति स्म।
siṃho guhāyāṃ nivasati sma.
The lion lived (or, was living) in the cave.
Here are the endings we use in the present tense. The examples below use the stem naya:
The table above has three rows and three columns. Each row corresponds to a different person, and you can see these persons labeled on the left-hand side. Each column corresponds to a different number, and you can see these numbers labeled on the top. For example, we can use this table to learn that the “3rd person singular” form is nayati.
Why do we put these words in a table? It's not so that we can sit down and memorize these forms. In our view, that's a waste of time. Mainly, a table lets us see certain patterns clearly.
Here are some patterns that stand out to us:
All of the first-person forms have a long ā sound in their ending.
All of the singular forms end in -i.
The sound tha is used only in the second person.
The present tense is simple and straightforward. In the next lesson, we will learn about the command mood, which uses similar endings to the present tense.