The verb system
Verbs (kriyāḥ, “actions”) are highly expressive words that convey many different types of information. Verbs are one of the most complex parts of Sanskrit.
On this page, we provide a complete overview of the Sanskrit verb system. Don't focus on remembering every detail; just focus on the larger picture.
Let's make our discussion concrete and focus on just a single verb root: the root kṛ. By seeing how this root can change and grow, we can get a better sense of how Sanskrit verbs work.
Basic and derived roots
There is a standard list of around 2,000 verb roots (dhātu, “element”). All of these roots are quite short. Most have just one vowel sound:
In addition to this list of basic roots, we can also create derived roots. We can create derived roots from existing roots:
कृ → कारि
kṛ → kāri
do, make → cause (someone) to do or make
कृ → चिकीर्ष
kṛ → cikīrṣa
do, make → want to do or make
And we can also create derived roots from nominal stems:
पुत्र → पुत्रीय
putra → putrīya
son → want a son
Once we have decided on our verb root, we can combine it with various suffixes to express different kinds of information. More specifically, we can express the following information:
person and number
tense and mood
prayoga and pada
Person and number
First, a verb can express person (puruṣaḥ, “man, person”) or number (vacana, “utterance”). We learned about both of these during the core lessons.
As a reminder, Sanskrit verbs use three persons. In the traditional order, these are the third person (prathama-puruṣaḥ, “first person”):
the second person (madhyama-puruṣaḥ, “middle person”):
and the first person (uttama-puruṣaḥ, “last person”):
Sanskrit verbs also use three numbers: the singular (eka-vacana) for one item:
the dual (dvi-vacana) for exactly two items:
The two of them do.
The two of them lead.
and the plural (bahu-vacana) for more than two items:
Tense and mood
Second, a verb can express tense (kāla, “time”) and mood (artha, “purpose”).
Sanskrit has ten common tense-mood combinations. Six of them refer to time periods. We will call these six the present:
the ordinary past:
the recent past:
(Someone) recently did.
the distant past:
(Someone) did long ago.
the near future:
(Someone) will do.
and the distant future:
(Someone) will eventually do.
The other four tense-mood combinations have more subtle meanings. We will call these the command mood:
the potential mood:
(Someone) might or could do.
the blessing mood:
May (someone) do.
and the conditional mood:
(Someone) would have done.
In our guide, we describe these ten tense-moods with simple terms that are easy to understand. Outside our guide, you might see the following terms used:
|Our name||English name||Sanskrit name|
|present||present indicative||vartamānaḥ |
|ordinary past||imperfect||anadyatana-bhūta |
|recent past||aorist||bhūta |
|distant past||perfect||parokṣa-bhūta |
|near future||simple future||bhaviṣyat |
|distant future||periphrastic future||anadyatana-bhaviṣyat |
prayoga and pada
Finally, a verb can express prayoga and something called pada.
prayoga is similar to what we call “active voice” and “passive voice” in English. In Sanskrit, we have three prayogas. They are kartari prayoga (“agent usage”), which is like the English active voice:
नरः कर्म करोति।
naraḥ karma karoti.
The man does work.
The man sleeps.
karmaṇi prayoga (“object usage”), which is like the English passive voice:
नरेण कर्म क्रियते।
nareṇa karma kriyate.
Work is done by the man.
and bhāve prayoga (“stative usage”), which is used by verbs that don't use an object:
There is sleeping.
There is sleeping by the man. (The man sleeps.)
pada is hard to describe in a simple way. Sanskrit verb endings are of two different kinds, called parasmaipada (“word for another”) and ātmanepada (“word for oneself”). In older Sanskrit, different padas tend to show whether an action is self-interested or mutual in some way:
स कर्म करोति।
sa karma karoti.
He does work (for someone else).
स कर्म कुरुते।
sa karma kurute.
He does work (for himself).
May we not quarrel (with others).
May we not quarrel (with each other).
But in later Sanskrit, pada is not very meaningful:
In kartari prayoga, some roots use parasmaipada and some roots use ātmanepada. There is usually no deeper meaning being conveyed. It is like a noun's gender: some nouns use one gender, and some use another, even if that gender doesn't have a clear relationship to what the noun means.
In karmaṇi prayoga and bhāve prayoga, all verbs use ātmanepada endings.
The Sanskrit verb system is complex, and it has a lot of subtle qualities. The following lessons will examine the verb system slowly and make these subtle qualities clear.
For now, here are some basic questions to review:
What are the three persons and numbers?
How many tense-mood combinations are there? Give an example of a tense-mood.
What are the three prayogas? What do they each mean?