Three-Stem Nouns


We have just studied two sorts of consonant nouns: those that have one stem and those that have two. Here, we will study the one type of noun that has three different stems: the -an nouns.

The -an nouns behave almost identically to the two-stem consonant nouns. The only difference is that it occasionally uses a middle stem. Compare the -an stem to the stems we've studied already:

EndingsStrong StemMiddle StemWeak StemSpecial Stem
-at, -mat, -vat-ant, -mant, -vant-at, -mat, -vat???, -mān, -vān
-in, -min, -vin-in, -min, -vin-i, -mi, -vi-ī, -mī, -vī
-an, -man, -van-ān, -mān, -vān-an, -man, -van-a, -ma, -va-ā, -mā, -vā

-an, -man, -van

The three suffixes -an, -man, and van are all primary suffixes, and they don't generally have any strong meaning or pattern. -man, however, tends to form neuter nouns that express abstract principles of existence (like karman, which gives us the English karma), and the others tend to be masculine and concrete.

These suffixes sometimes cause some minor changes in the root. -man tends to strengthen the root vowel to the medium level. -van becomes -tvan after roots that end in short vowels other than -a.

Using the stems

The strong stem is used normally. The middle stem is used in front of vowel endings, and the weak stem is used in front of consonant endings.

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Note that the neuter gender has two different forms in the dual number. One is a contraction of the other, and both are common.

The "special stem"

Again, notice the special stem here. It is used as described for the -mat and -vat nouns: in the masculine case 1 singular and nowhere else.


The -an, -man, and -van suffixes sometimes undergo a sort of contraction in their middle stem. Because of this contraction, the ending of the middle stem changes from an to n. But if the letter before the uncontracted suffix is a nasal or semivowel, no contraction occurs; contraction occurs to make things easier to say, and it should not occur if it makes pronunciation more difficult.

Note that these two small sandhi changes will occur:

cn becomes . jn becomes .

What about feminine nouns?

For all of these multiple-stem suffixes, feminine nouns are made by adding ī to the weakest stem that still ends in a consonant.

Feminine Version
-at, -mat, -vat
-atī, -matī, -vatī
-in, -min, -vin
-inī, -minī, -vinī
-an, -man, -van
-anī, -manī, -vanī

The result behaves just like vāpī, and it uses only one stem. Note, however, that the an group rarely forms feminine nouns. The feminine versions of the an suffixes are sometimes unpredictable, and occasionally they may be exactly the same as the masculine versions.