The tatpuruṣa

Also known as: the determinative compound


We've studied three different ways to make new words:

Now we will study a fourth. By this fourth method, we combine two nouns combine to create a new noun. This combination is called the compound, and Sanskrit is quite famous for it. In English, a typical compound involves two or three words; "wallpaper," for instance, is just "wall" and "paper." Sanskrit compounds were once about the same length, but over time, Sanskrit poets and writers tended to make their compounds longer and longer. In some literary styles, compounds can be made of as many as 30 different words! Wow!

Sanskrit has an extremely rich system of compounds. Partly for that reason, compounds are a vital part of Sanskrit grammar. Compounds were analyzed extensively by the ancient Indian grammarians, most of whom worked about 2500 years ago; as a carry-over from that tradition, I'll use Sanskrit terms to describe the compounds we'll study.

But what's so special about a compounds? The answer is that all of the words in the compound are taken as a single unit. A compound is unique because it's a series of words that are just chained together. But even though many words may be in a compound, only the last one is inflected. All other words appear as ordinary stems, with the rare exception. Between words in the compound, external sandhi applies.

For an example of a compound with well over 60 words, click here.

Our first compound

Now we will study the most common and flexible of the Sanskrit compounds. Its name is an example of it:

Yes, this is the famous tatpuruṣa. The tatpurusha appears in almost every verse of the Bhagavad Gita, and it is almost impossible to find a Sanskrit work that does not contain it.

Below, we will consider two types of tatpurusha compounds. We will also study some English examples, so don't be afraid if you don't quite understand the compound's structure yet!

Case 6 tatpurusha

Tatpurusha compounds are often described by the case that the first noun was "originally" in before the compound was formed. By this system, the word tatpuruṣa itself is a case 6 tatpurusha; that is, the first word (tad) is in case 6 before the compound is formed. Some English examples of this sort of compound include the following:

Just as in Sanskrit, the first word loses its inflection; note that "cabbages" becomes "cabbage." Note too that the first noun exists only to describe the second one. This is how the tatpurusha is structured. But unlike the English version of this compound, the Sanskrit version is written as a single unit. The words in a compound are never written separately.

Case 1 tatpurusha

Also known as: appositional compound, karmadhāraya ("bearing the object");
endocentric compound, viśeṣaṇa-pūrvapada-karmadhāraya ("karmadhāraya with initial adjective")

The case 1 tatpurusha is a little more difficult to understand. An English example of it is "singer-songwriter," a person who is both a singer and a songwriter. Most often, it is used to pair a noun with an adjective. Now for some Sanskrit examples: