Verb Bits

Before we start studying the remaining noun cases, it's worth the time to take a short detour into Sanskrit verbs. The material here is short and straightforward, but it will be quite handy as you read more Sanskrit.


Some of the features of the Sanskrit verb system are rare or uncommon, and they do not appear in most texts. Yet even though these features may be rare, certain parts of them appear quite commonly. We can greatly increase our ability to read Sanskrit if we learn just a little bit about how these forms behave. Later on, we can fill in the rest of the picture.

Giving Commands

Like most languages, Sanskrit gives its speakers a way to tell somebody to do something.

Such words are called commands. Sanskrit has commands in all three persons and all three genders, for both parasmaipada and ātmanepada verbs. Of the parasmaipada forms, only three are common:

bhū (a+, P, command)
भू Singular Dual Plural
Third Person भवतु
Second Person भव

The most forceful of these is the second-person singular. Appropriately, it has no verb ending and uses the bare stem, as if the speaker is in a hurry to give an order. The other two forms are like those from the present tense, except that the final vowel has changed to u. The third-person forms are weaker and can also express a wish or desire.

For the ātmanepada verbs, the 2nd-person singular is quite similar:

With these three forms, you are now able to read about 90% of all of the commands in later Sanskrit texts.


One particularly common verb root is as, which means "be." Its most common forms are asti ("it is"), asi ("you are," in the singular), and asmi ("I am"). Unlike bhū, which means both "be" and "become," as just means "be."

The Distant Past Tense

Recall that verbs in the present tense are used to talk about things that are happening right now. Well, verbs in the past tense are used to talk about things that have already happened. Sanskrit has three different past tenses: a common one for ordinary events, a rare one for recent events, and another rare one for distant events. The last one, which I'll call the distant past tense, was once used very often. In later texts, though, these four words are the most common: uvāca ("he said," "I said"), veda ("he knows," "I know"), āha ("he said"), and āhuḥ ("they said").

Note that veda has a "present" meaning even though it is a "past" form.