Verbless sentences

Also known as: nominal sentences, ???, ???


In Sanskrit, it is possible to make sentences that don't have any verbs at all. Let's call these sentences verbless sentences. Verbless sentences directly equate one noun with another. That is, they take two nouns A and B and say "A is B."


Each noun is in case 1. A verb that means "be" or "exist" is optionally added, but it is not usually used.

visarga sandhi

In the previous lesson, I mentioned that most sandhi rules are quite simple. That's true; they really are quite simple! However, there are some rules that seem to make little sense. These rules include visarga sandhi, which we'll start studying now.

To the beginner, visarga sandhi seems to have dozens of separate and unrelated rules. This misapprehension makes the entire set of visarga changes seem too complex to understand. (It certainly doesn't help that the vowel in frontt of the visarga can change the way the rules are applied.) But apart from a single odd change, the rules of visarga sandhi are almost as easy as the vowel sandhi rules we studied in the previous lesson.

Before we start studying these rules, consider the two principles below. These two principles account for all of the changes we'll study here:

Below, you will find the rules of -aḥ sandhi. After we study these rules, we'll take a look at the rules of -āḥ sandhi, which are only slightly different.

Loss of

In front of any vowel except a, the -ḥ is dropped. No other change occurs, and the two remaining vowels do not combine.

The visarga, which is an unvoiced puff of air, comes between two voiced vowels. The tiny visarga is a less powerful sound, so it's dropped.

Notice that the syllable ic starts with a vowel. This is one of the rare circumstances in which a syllable can start with a vowel. More importantly, note the exception for a. Why is this here? For the answer, we'll have to look to the next rule.

Change to o

This is the one and only odd part of visarga sandhi. If you master this, you'll have no trouble with the rest of the rules.

In front of a voiced consonant, -aḥ becomes o. The same change occurs in front of the vowel a, except that the a disappears.

Before we get to the examples, let's get to the rule itself. Why does the visarga, which is an unvoiced "h" sound, become the voiced vowel o? I don't know, and I don't think anybody knows for sure. Take a moment to memorize it, take a deep breath, and keep reading.

The change to o is odd enough; but why does a disappear, and why does a behave differently from every other vowel? The answer is subtle. a is an extremely simple vowel that takes almost no effort to produce. Remember, a is so fundamental that it is often considered to be the "basis of speech." So, when the complicated visarga appears, the puny a is squished away to nothing! But since a is still a voiced sound, the visarga reacts as if the consonant that follows the a is voiced.

In the third example, you can see a new Devanagari symbol: , which is represented as ' in IAST. This symbol is called the avagraha ("separator"), and it is used to show that the letter a is lost due to sandhi. The actual use of the avagraha varies from text to text, but this particular sandhi rule almost always uses it.

Change to an "s"-sound

Now we're left with all of the unvoiced consonants. How does the visarga react when it's in front of an unvoiced sound? The principle here is very simple: the visarga will blend as much as possible with the sound that follows it. The visarga remains unvoiced, and it keeps its "hissing" quality. For example, if the visarga is followed by a sound like t, it will become the closest "hissing" sound we have: the letter s. We can sum up this change as follows:

When -aḥ is in front of an unvoiced consonant, the visarga will change to the "s"-sound that matches it the most, if that "s"-sound exists. This "matching" is based on the point of pronunciation. In most texts, the change is not written if the unvoiced consonant is itself an "s"-sound.

In Vedic Sanskrit, "s"-sounds actually do exist for kavarga and pavarga. The kavarga sound, called jihvāmūlīya, is a more violent visarga, and it's similar to some of the "ch" sounds in German. The pavarga sound, called upadhmānīya, is similar to the English "f." Some people use these sounds when pronouncing the Classical Sanskrit that we're studying here.


You can see the changes below. The dash () means that the original letter remains. The apostrophe ('), which was mentioned above, is the IAST version of the avagraha, and it shows that the vowel a is removed due to sandhi.

Second Letter
o '
other vowel
a —
voiced consonant
o —
c, ch
aś —
ṭ, ṭh
aṣ —
t, th
as —
other consonant
aḥ —

-āḥ sandhi

The rules of -āḥ sandhi are simpler than the rules above:

Second Letter
any vowel
ā —
voiced consonant
ā —
c, ch
āś —
ṭ, ṭh
āṣ —
t, th
ās —
other consonant
āḥ —

These rules are similar to the ones above, except that a is replaced by ā. Note that the first two rules — "a" and "other vowel" — have both combined into a more general "any vowel" rule. This is because ā, which is a more powerful vowel sound than a, is strong enough to resist being changed to o.