The distant past tense

Also known as: the perfect, parokṣe bhūta (“remote past”), liṭ

The distant past tense usually describes historical or legendary events:

  • नी → निनाय
    nī → nināya
    lead → led (long ago)

Certain types of Sanskrit literature use the distant past tense often. For example, the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata both use the distant past tense extensively.

The distant past tense uses many irregular forms. So in this lesson, we will focus just on its most common patterns.

Strong and weak stems

The distant past tense has two stems: a strong stem and a weak stem. We use the strong stem with singular parasmaipada endings:

  • निनी + अ → निनाय
    ninī + a → nināya
    someone led (long ago, parasmaipada)

And the weak stem with all other endings:

  • निनी + उः → निन्युः
    ninī + uḥ → ninyuḥ
    they led (long ago, parasmaipada)

  • निनी + इरे → निन्यिरे
    ninī + ire → ninyire
    they led (long ago, ātmanepada)

Rules of doubling

Also known as: dvitva

Generally, we make the stem of this tense-mood by doubling the root. Then we apply some basic rules to simplify the first copy of the root.

Although each of these rules is basic, there are quite a few of them. As usual, we recommend that you don't waste time memorizing these rules. Instead, simply get a feel for the kinds of changes that occur. As you read more Sanskrit, you will naturally start to assimilate and internalize them.

When doubling, long vowels become short:

  • दा दा → ददा
    dā dā → dadā
    give

  • नी नी → निनी
    nī nī → ninī
    lead

Aspirated sounds become unaspirated:

  • धा धा → दधा
    dhā dhā → dadhā
    place

All consonants after the double's vowel are removed:

  • बुध् बुध् → बुबुध्
    budh budh → bubudh
    awaken

  • अस् अस् → आस्
    as as → ās
    be, exist

And if a root starts in multiple consonants, only one of them is kept. We usually keep the second consonant:

  • स्तु स्तु → तुष्टु
    stu stu → tuṣṭu
    praise

  • स्था स्था → तस्था
    sthā sthā → tasthā
    stand

But if the second consonant is nasal, we keep the first:

  • स्मृ स्मृ → सस्मृ
    smṛ smṛ → sasmṛ
    remember

Sounds pronounced at the soft palate (ka) shift to the hard palate (ca):

  • गा गा → जगा
    gā gā → jagā
    sing

, , and become a:

  • कृ कृ → चकृ
    kṛ kṛ → cakṛ
    do

  • तॄ तॄ → ततॄ
    tṝ tṝ → tatṝ
    cross

  • कॢप् → चकॢप्
    kḷp → cakḷp
    be fit for

Roots that allow samprasāraṇa will use it:

  • वच् वच् → उवच्
    vac vac → uvac
    speak

  • यज् यज् → इयज्
    yaj yaj → iyaj
    sacrifice

  • वद् वद् → उवद्
    vad vad → uvad
    say

Finally, here is a common exception:

  • भू → भू
    bhū → babhū
    become

There are various other small rules. But these are the basic patterns. Rather than memorize these changes, read over the examples above and get a basic feeling for what kinds of sound changes occur.

Making the stem

Roots with one vowel generally use the doubling procedure we described above:

  • कृ → चकृ
    kṛ → cakṛ
    do

For the weak stem, some roots lose their vowel completely. Here are some common examples:

  • जजन् + ए → जज्ञे
    jajan + e → jajñe
    was born

  • जगम् + उः → जग्मुः
    jagam + uḥ → jagmuḥ
    they went

Roots that allow samprasāraṇa will use it again:

  • उवच् → उ + उच् → ऊचुः
    uvac → u + uc → ūcuḥ
    the spoke

  • इयज् → इ + इज् → ईजुः
    iyaj → i + ij → ījuḥ
    they sacrificed

  • उवद् → उ + उद् → ऊदुः
    uvad → u + ud → ūduḥ
    they said

Under very specific conditions, we may also get this weak stem:

  • शक् → शेकुः
    śak → śekuḥ
    they were able

  • मन् → मेनिरे
    man → menire
    they thought

The specific conditions are:

  1. The root vowel is a.

  2. a has exactly one consonant on either side of it.

  3. The doubled root starts with the same sound as the original root.

To make these conditions clear, here are roots that violate these conditions. Since they violate these conditions, they use the normal weak stem we described above:

  • शुच् → शुशुचुः
    śuc → śuśucuḥ
    They grieved.
    (violates condition 1 because the root vowel is not a.)

  • नन्द् → ननन्दुः
    nand → nananduḥ
    They delighted.
    (violates condition 2 because a is followed by two consonants)

  • गण् → जगणुः
    gaṇ → jagaṇuḥ
    They counted.
    (violates condition 3 because the double does not start with g.)

A special form for derived roots

For derived roots and roots in the cur class, we use a simple procedure. First, we add -ām to the root:

  • बोधि → बोधयाम्
    bodhi → bodhayām
    wake someone up

Then, we use this result with the roots kṛ, bhū, or as:

  • बोधयां चकार
    bodhayāṃ cakāra
    woke (someone) up

  • बोधयां बभूव
    bodhayāṃ babhūva
    woke (someone) up

  • बोधयाम् आस
    bodhayām āsa
    woke (someone) up

You might also see these results written as a single word:

  • बोधयाञ्चकार
    bodhayāñcakāra
    woke (someone) up

  • बोधयाम्बभूव
    bodhayāmbabhūva
    woke (someone) up

  • बोधयामास
    bodhayāmāsa
    woke (someone) up

Adding parasmaipada endings

The distant past tense uses special parasmaipada endings:

 SingularDualPlural
3rd
a
अतुस्
atus
उस्
us
2nd
tha
अथुस्
athus

a
1st
a

va

ma

If the parasmaipada ending is singular, we use the strong stem. Otherwise, we use the weak stem.

The -a endings in the singular cause an unusual change. Roots that end in vowels usually strengthen to the strongest level:

  • नी → निनाय
    nī → nināya
    lead → led

  • कृ → चकार
    kṛ → cakāra
    do → did

And roots whose second to last sound is a vowel strengthen that vowel to e, o, or ā:

  • विश् → विवेश
    viś → viveśa
    enter → entered

  • शुच् → शुशोच
    śuc → śuśoca
    grieve → grieved

  • हस् → जहास
    has → jahāsa
    laugh → laughed

The first-person singular a has an optional form that uses a medium level of strengthening:

  • कृ → चकार, चकर
    kṛ → cakāra, cakara
    do → I did (long ago)

To make these endings clear, here are the forms of the root kṛ:

 SingularDualPlural
3rdचकार
cakāra
चक्रतुस्
cakratus
चक्रुस्
cakrus
2ndचकर्थ
cakartha
चक्रथुस्
cakrathus
चक्र
cakra
1stचकार, चकर
cakāra, cakara
चकृव
cakṛva
चकृम
cakṛma

But if the root ends in , we use the ending -au in the singular instead of -a. To make this clear, here are the forms of the root sthā. Note that sthā also has an optional version in the second-person singular:

 SingularDualPlural
3rdतस्थौ
tasthau
तस्थतुः
tasthatuḥ
तस्थुः
tasthuḥ
2ndतस्थाथ, तस्थिथ
tasthātha, tasthitha
तस्थथुः
tasthathuḥ
तस्थ
tastha
1stतस्थौ
tasthau
तस्थिव
tasthiva
तस्थिम
tasthima

Adding ātmanepada endings

We generally use the standard ātmanepada endings of the present tense. The exceptions are the new endings e and ire in the third person:

 SingularDualPlural
3rd
e
आते
āte
इरे
ire
2ndसे
se
आथे
āthe
ध्वे
dhve
1st
e
वहे
vahe
महे
mahe

Again, here are the forms of the root kṛ:

 SingularDualPlural
3rdचक्रे
cakre
चक्राते
cakrāte
चक्रिरे
cakrire
2ndचकृषे
cakṛṣe
चक्राथे
cakrāthe
चकृढ्वे
cakṛḍhve
1stचक्रे
cakre
चकृवहे
cakṛvahe
चकृमहे
cakṛmahe

Note the change from dhve to ḍhve, which is common in the distant past tense.

Review

The distant past tense has many complicated patterns. The best way to get used to it, as usual, is to read a lot of Sanskrit.

But if you are feeling overwhelmed by the number of details here, here are the simple essentials you can remember and use:

  1. You can usually recognize this tense by its doubled sound. You don't need to remember the details of how the stem is formed or how the doubling is done, as long as you can recognize that something has been doubled.

  2. This tense is almost always used in the third person, and its singular and plural forms are by far the most common. You can ignore the other endings for now.

  3. The context of the sentence will help make the meaning of the verb clear.