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:

  • कृ
    do, make

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”):

  • करोति
    (Someone) does.

  • नयति
    (Someone) leads.

the second person (madhyama-puruṣaḥ, “middle person”):

  • करोषि
    You do.

  • नयसि
    You lead.

and the first person (uttama-puruṣaḥ, “last person”):

  • करोमि
    I do.

  • नयामि
    I lead.

Sanskrit verbs also use three numbers: the singular (eka-vacana) for one item:

  • करोति
    (Someone) does.

  • नयति
    (Someone) leads.

the dual (dvi-vacana) for exactly two items:

  • कुरुतः
    The two of them do.

  • नयतः
    The two of them lead.

and the plural (bahu-vacana) for more than two items:

  • कुर्वन्ति
    They do.

  • नयन्ति
    They lead.

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:

  • करोति
    (Someone) does.

the ordinary past:

  • अकरोत्
    (Someone) did.

the recent past:

  • अकार्षीत्
    (Someone) recently did.

the distant past:

  • चकार
    (Someone) did long ago.

the near future:

  • करिष्यति
    (Someone) will do.

and the distant future:

  • कर्ता
    (Someone) will eventually do.

The other four tense-mood combinations have more subtle meanings. We will call these the command mood:

  • कुरु!

the potential mood:

  • कुर्यात्
    (Someone) might or could do.

the blessing mood:

  • क्रियात्
    May (someone) do.

and the conditional mood:

  • अकरिष्यत्
    (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
(“non-recent past”)
recent past aorist bhūta
distant past perfect parokṣa-bhūta
(“remote past”)
near future simple future bhaviṣyat
distant future periphrastic future anadyatana-bhaviṣyat
(“non-recent future”)
command imperative ājñā
potential optative vidhi
blessing benedictive āśīḥ
(“wish,” “blessing”)
conditional conditional saṃketa

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.

  • नरः स्वपिति।
    naraḥ svapiti.
    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:

  • सुप्यते।
    There is sleeping.

  • नरेण सुप्यते।
    nareṇa supyate.
    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).

  • मा विद्विषाव।
    mā vidviṣāva.
    May we not quarrel (with others).

  • मा विद्विषावहै।
    mā vidviṣāvahai.
    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:

  1. What are the three persons and numbers?

  2. How many tense-mood combinations are there? Give an example of a tense-mood.

  3. What are the three prayogas? What do they each mean?