Two-Stem Nouns

Introduction

All consonant nouns use the same endings. This makes them quite easy to use. However, there is still one complication to consider: some consonant nouns use multiple stems instead of just one.

What does this mean? It means that some forms use one stem and some forms use another. Sometimes, a particular stem is used just to make things easier to pronounce. Often, though, the changes are part of the history of Sanskrit, and they should just be accepted as they are.

How do we know what these stems are? The stems are easy to remember because they only have small differences between them. Most of these nouns have a strong stem, and the vowel of this stem is shortened to produce a weak stem.

These terms are conventional and useful, but we should be careful to keep them separate from the notion of vowel strength. The two are unrelated.

With that said, let's go through some examples of the two-stem consonant nouns. For quick reference, here is a list of the sorts of nouns we'll study in this lesson. This list may look intimidating, but the similarities among all of these sorts are so great that you won't have much trouble learning them. But, do note what's special about the "special" stems below: the suffixes are lengthened versions of the strong stems, and they have all lost their last consonant.

EndingsStrong 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
-tṛ-tār-tṛ-tā

-at, -mat, -vat

The -mat and -vat endings are secondary suffixes. When applied to some noun "X," they give the sense of "possessing X" or "having X." The -at ending, however, is more complex; we will study it in more detail in the next chapter.

What is the difference between -mat and -vat? It's simple: there is no difference. Both suffixes mean the same thing. However, the last vowel of the original noun determines which suffix is used. When the base noun ends in -a or , we use -vat. Otherwise, we use -mat.

Now, let's take a look at how this noun behaves. Strong stems are used in cases 1, 2, and 8 only. But, the plural of case 2 does not use the strong stem.

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The "special stem"

Did you notice the "special stem" above? For all multiple-stem nouns, the special stem is used in the masculine case 1 singular and nowhere else. All of the special stems are formed from the strong stem by this two step process:

  1. The vowel in the suffix of the strong stem is lengthened.
  2. The last consonant of the strong stem is removed.

It's that simple!

-in, -min, -vin

The three suffixes -in, -min, and -vin are all secondary suffixes. When applied to some noun "X," they give the sense of "characterized by X." So, they are quite similar to the -mat and -vat suffixes that we have just studied. But unlike those suffixes, there is no rule that requires one over the other; any noun can use any of the three suffixes. -in, however, is most common after nouns that end with the vowel -a. In fact, the -in ending is the most common generally; but, -min and -vin still appear every now and then.

For the -in, min, and -vin nouns, the use of the strong and weak stems is unusual. The weak stem is used in front of consonants, and the strong stem is used everywhere else. For that reason, the strong stems are not indicated in the tables below.

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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.

tṛ

tṛ is a primary suffix that defines the doer of some action. It is related to the "-er" suffix in English, as in "hunter," "overseer," and "maker." We will study the details of this suffix later on; for now, just observe how it behaves.

As you have probably noticed by now, the tṛ suffix ends in a vowel. This primary suffix was originally tar, and for that reason it behaves partially like a consonant noun. We will study this suffix more thoroughly in the next unit. But for now, let's just observe a few of its more regular forms:

-tṛ (neuter)
कर्तृ Singular Dual Plural
Case 1 (subject) कर्ता
kartā
कर्तारौ
kartārau
कर्तारः
kartāraḥ
Case 2 (object) कर्तारम्
kartāram
कर्तारौ
kartārau
???
Case 8 (address) कर्तर्
kartar
कर्तारौ
kartārau
कर्तारः
kartāraḥ

Note that the case 8 singular ends in -r. Words that end in -r follow the same sandhi rules as words like naraiḥ or gajayoḥ.