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.

Basic meaning

The present tense describes actions that are happening right now:

  • नयति
    nayati
    (Someone) leads or is leading.

  • चरति
    carati
    (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 or are just about to occur:

  • त्वम् कदा ग्रामम् आगच्छसि
    tvam kadā grāmam āgacchasi.
    When have you come to the village?

  • 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”:

  • गच्छामः।
    gacchāmaḥ.
    Let's (all) go.

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.

Endings

Here are the endings we use in the present tense as used with the stem naya:

 SingularDualPlural
3rdनयति
nayati
नयतः
nayataḥ
नयन्ति
nayanti
2ndनयसि
nayasi
नयथः
nayathaḥ
नयथ
nayatha
1stनयामि
nayāmi
नयावः
nayāvaḥ
नयामः
nayāmaḥ

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.