Sanskrit verbs are conjugated in three persons (as in English): first, second, and third person.
Verbs also have three numeric forms: singular, dual, and plural. Any verb that refers to only two objects must be in the dual form.
Participles are considered part of the verbal systems although they are not verbs themselves, and as with other Sanskrit nouns, they can be declined across seven or eight cases, for three genders and three numeric forms.
Sanskrit: धातु dhātu There are two broad ways of classifying Sanskrit verbal roots. They are: Parasmaipadi (परस्मैपदी) and Atmanepadi (आत्मनेपदी). But some roots are Ubhayapadi (उभयपदी) i.e. they are conjugated as Parasmaipadi as well as Atmanepadi roots.
Based on how the present stem is generated from the verb root, Sanskrit has ten gaṇas (गण) or classes of verbs divided into two broad groups: athematic and thematic. The thematic verbs are so called because an अ a, called the theme vowel, is inserted between the stem and the ending. This serves to make the thematic verbs generally more regular. Exponents used in verb conjugation include prefixes, suffixes, infixes, and reduplication. Every root has (not necessarily all distinct) zero, guṇa (गुण), and vṛddhi (वृद्धि) grades. If V is the vowel of the zero grade, the guṇa-grade vowel is traditionally thought of as a + V, and the vṛddhi-grade vowel as ā + V.
The ten classes were as follows:
|1||भरति bharati, "bears"||Thematic presents, accent on the root|
|2||अस्ति asti, "is"||Athematic root presents|
|3||ददाति dadāti, "gives"||Reduplicated athematic presents|
|4||नश्यति naśyati, "perishes"||Thematic presents in -ya-|
|5||सुनोति sunóti, "presses"||Athematic presents in -nó-|
|6||तुदति tudati, "beats"||Thematic presents, accent on the ending|
|7||रुणद्धि ruṇáddhi, "blocks"||Athematic presents with nasal infix -ná-|
|8||तनोति tanóti, "stretches"||Athematic presents in -ó- (originally -nó- added to the zero grade of roots ending in -n)|
|9||क्रीणाति krīṇāti, "buys"||Athematic presents in -ṇā́- (nasal infix presents of seṭ roots)|
|10||चोरयति coráyati, "steals"||Thematic presents in -áya-|
Seṭ and aniṭ roots
Sanskrit roots may also be classified, independent of their gaṇa, into three groups, depending on whether they take the vowel i (इ) before certain tense markers. Since the term used for this vowel by Sanskrit grammarians is iṭ (इट्), these two groups are called seṭ (सेट्, with iṭ), veṭ (वेट्, optional iṭ), and aniṭ (अनिट्, without iṭ) respectively.
The verbs tenses (a very inexact application of the word, since more distinctions than simply tense are expressed) are organized into four 'systems' (as well as gerunds and infinitives, and such creatures as intensives/frequentatives, desideratives, causatives, and benedictives derived from more basic forms) based on the different stem forms (derived from verbal roots) used in conjugation. There are four tense systems:
It is difficult to generalize how many principal parts a Sanskrit verb possesses, since different verb form categories are used with different degrees of regularity. For the vast majority of verbs, conjugation can be made sufficiently clear with the following forms supplied:
- the present
- the infinitive in -tum, which shows the root in guṇa grade, as well as whether the root uses the connective i. As a result the future tenses are almost always directly formed on this stem.
- the perfect
- the aorist, which for some verbs may include additional distinct middle and passive forms
- the perfect participle in -tas or -nas, which also shows the root in zero grade. On its base are usually formed the gerund and the passive stem.
The gerundive is also irregular, but its use is rather limited and not a basis for any other verb form.
Many verbs are regular enough that only the present and root/infinitive form are needed to derive the entire conjugation. For example, for the aniṭ verb to press, सु su, present सुनोति sunoti, are regularly derived with simple rules:
- the present weak stem sunu-
- the future stem soṣya-
- the perfect stems, from strong to weak suṣāv-, suṣo- and suṣu(v)-
- the aorist stems active asauṣ- and middle asoṣ-
- the perfect participle sutas and the gerund sutvā
- the passive sūya-
The present system includes the present tense, the imperfect, and the optative and imperative moods, as well as some of the remnant forms of the old subjunctive. The tense stem of the present system is formed in various ways. The numbers are the native grammarians' numbers for these classes.
For athematic verbs, the present tense stem may be formed through:
- 2) No modification at all, for example अद् (ad) from अद् (ad) 'eat'.
- 3) Reduplication prefixed to the root, for example जुहु (juhu) from हु (hu) 'sacrifice'.
- 7) Infixion of na or n before the final root consonant (with appropriate sandhi changes), for example rundh or ruṇadh from rudh 'obstruct'.
- 5) Suffixation of nu (guṇa form no), for example sunu from su 'press out'.
- 8) Suffixation of u (guṇa form o), for example tanu from tan 'stretch'. For modern linguistic purposes it is better treated as a subclass of the 5th. tanu derives from tnnu, which is zero-grade for *tannu, because in the Proto-Indo-European language [m] and [n] could be vowels, which in Sanskrit (and Greek) change to [a]. Most members of the 8th class arose this way; कर् (kar) = "make", "do" was 5th class in Vedic (krnoti = "he makes"), but shifted to the 8th class in Classical Sanskrit (karoti = "he makes")
- 9) Suffixation of nā [zero-grade नी (nī) or न् (n)], for example krīṇa or krīṇī from krī 'buy'.
For thematic verbs, the present tense stem may be formed through:
- 1) Suffixation of the thematic vowel अ (a) with guṇa strengthening, for example, bháva from bhū 'be'.
- 6) Suffixation of the thematic vowel अ (a) with a shift of accent to this vowel, for example tudá from tud 'thrust'.
- 4) Suffixation of य (ya), for example दीव्य (dī́vya) from दिव् (div) 'play'.
The tenth class described by native grammarians refers to a process which is derivational in nature, and thus not a true tense-stem formation. It is formed by suffixation of ya with guṇa strengthening and lengthening of the root's last vowel, for example bhāvaya from bhū 'be'.
All thematic classes have invariant stems and share the same inflectional endings.
The present indicative takes primary endings.
The imperfect takes the augment and secondary endings.
The present optative takes the suffix -e and athematic secondary endings.
The imperative has its own set of special endings. Some of these forms are relics from an original subjunctive.
The present indicative used the strong stem in the singular and the weak elsewhere. For kṛ- used as example here, the weak stem final u is sometimes omitted before endings in v- and m-.
The alternate forms for class 3 (reduplicating class) are shown with hu- 'sacrifice'.
The imperfect uses the two stems in the same way as the present.
The optative takes the suffix -yā in the active, and ī in the middle; the stem in front of them is alway the weak one. Here the final u of the kuru- stem is again irregularly dropped.
The imperative uses the strong stem in all of the 1st person forms, as well as the 3rd person singular active.
The 2nd person active may have no ending (class 5, class 8), -dhi (most of class 3,7, as well as class 1 ending in consonants), or -hi (class 9, class 3 in ā, and class 1 in vowels; these classes usually ended in laryngeals in Proto-Indo-European)
The perfect system includes only the perfect. The stem is formed with reduplication; the reduplicated vowel is usually a, but u or i for verbs containing them.
This system also produces separate "strong" and "weak" forms of the verb — the strong guṇa form is used with the singular active, and the weak zero-grade form with the rest. In some verbs, the 3rd and optionally 1st person are further strengthened until the root syllable becomes heavy.
Most verbs ending in consonants behave as seṭ in the perfect tense in front of consonant endings. kṛ- shown here is one of the exceptions.
The aorist system includes aorist proper (with past indicative meaning, e.g. अभूः (abhūḥ) "you were") and some of the forms of the ancient injunctive (used almost exclusively with mā in prohibitions, e.g. मा भूः (mā bhūḥ) "don't be"). The principle distinction of the two is the presence/absence of an augment – a- prefixed to the stem.
The aorist system stem actually has three different formations: the simple aorist, the reduplicating aorist (semantically related to the causative verb), and the sibilant aorist. The simple aorist is taken directly from the root stem (e.g. भू- (bhū-): अभूत् (a-bhū-t) "he was"). The reduplicating aorist involves reduplication as well as vowel reduction of the stem. The sibilant aorist is formed with various suffixes containing s to the stem.
This aorist is formed by directly adding the athematic secondary endings to the root. Originally this type also had different strong and weak stems for the singular and plural, but verbs that both allow this distinction and utilize this type of aorist are exceptionally rare.
From gam- 'go' and dā- 'give' ; the latter takes -us in the 3rd person plural.
Known instances of weak stems from the Veda include avṛjan from vṛj- in the plural active, adhithās from dhā- in the singular middle, and various forms from kṛ- . Middle voice forms of this class are almost nonexistent in the classical period, being suppleted by those of the sibilant classes.
This class is formed with a thematized zero-grade root, and takes regular thematic endings.
From sic- 'pour':
This is the most productive aorist class for regular aniṭ verbs, made by suffixing s to the root. All active voice forms use the vṛddhi grade, and middle forms use the weakest grade that produces a heavy root syllable; kṛ- and some verbs in ā may irregularly uses zero grade in place of the latter.
From jī- 'win':
From tud- 'strike':
This aorist form contains the suffix -iṣ and is the productive form of regular seṭ verbs. The strong active stem is usually strengthened until the root syllable is heavy, and the weak middle stem usually assumes the guṇa grade. Some verbs in a followed by a single consonant, such as grah- , do not take additional strengthening in the active.
From pū- 'cleanse':
This small class is characterized by a reduplicated -siṣ suffix, and is only used in the active voice; the s-aorist is usually used in the middle by verbs that take this formation.
From yā- 'go':
This formation is used with a small number of verbs ending in consonants which can form the cluster kṣ when an s is added. It takes a mixture of thematic and athematic endings.
From diś- 'show':
The future stem is formed with the suffix sya or iṣya and the guṇa grade of the root.
From kṛ- :
There is also a conditional, formed from the future stem as the imperfect is formed from a thematic present stem. Rarely used in Classical Sanskrit, the conditional refers to hypothetical actions.
Sanskrit also makes extensive use of participles.
Past participles are formed directly from verbal roots for most verbs (except for verbs of the tenth gaṇa, which form them from the present stem). They have a perfective sense, in that they refer to actions that are completed. They can freely substitute for finite verbs conjugated in the past sense.
Past passive participles
The past passive participle in Sanskrit is formed by adding "-tá" (Kta in Pāṇinian terms), and in some cases "na", to a root in its weakest grade when weakening is applicable (e.g. samprasāraṇa). As expected, the augment "i" is added to the root before the suffix. The resulting form is an adjective and modifies a noun either expressed or implied. The past passive participle can usually be translated by the corresponding English past passive participle: likhitaḥ śabdaḥ "the written word"; kṛtaṃ kāryam "a done deed." See below for more detail and exceptions.
Examples: bhūta from √bhū; kṛta from √kṛ; sthita from sthā (with weakening); ukta from vac (with samprasāraṇa); udita from √vad (with both samprasāraṇa and the i augment); pūrṇa from pṝ (-na in place of -ta and "irregular" root modification).
Depending on the transitivity of the root, the suffix "-tá" has two basic applications: 1. Transitive (sakarmaka) roots: when the suffix -tá is added to a transitive root such as √kṛ "to do," the resulting participle expresses the direct object (karman) of the verbal root. The agent (kartṛ) of the same action must then occur in the instrumental case (tṛtīyā vibhakti) when the speaker wishes to express it.
Example: √han (2P) (to kill)
राक्षसो हतो रामेण (rākṣaso hato rāmeṇa) = "The demon was killed by Rāma."
Note that rakṣasa is the direct object (karman) of the verbal action expressed in √han "to kill" and the agent (kartṛ) of the same action, Rāma, occurs in the instrumental case.
2. Intransitive (akarmaka) roots: forms adjectives/participles that indicate that the nouns modified are the subjects (kartṛ) for the action of the root (dhātu). This action is frequently in the past. In other words, the participle serves as a nominalization for a simple past tense in the kartari prayoga.
Example: √sthā(1P) (to stand)
रामो वने स्थितः (Rāmo vane sthitaḥ) --> Rāma stood in the forest.
Past active participles
These are regularly formed by suffixing -vant to the past passive participles. They modify the subject of the verb from which they are formed.
Unlike the past participles, the present participle is formed from the present stem of the verb, and is formed differently depending on whether the verb is parasmaipada or ātmanepada. The present participle can never substitute for a finite verb. It is also inherently imperfective, indicating an action that is still in process at the time of the main verb.
Formed from the future stem just as the present participle is formed from the present stem, the future participle describes an action that has not yet happened, but that may in the future.
The gerundive is a future passive prescriptive participle, indicating that the word modified should or ought to be the object of the action of the participle.
The perfect participle is a past active participle, but is very rarely used in classical Sanskrit.
The aorist participle used in Vedic was lost in Classical Sanskrit.
The following table is a partial listing of the major verbal forms that can be generated from a single root. Not all roots can take all forms; some roots are often confined to particular stems. The verbal forms listed here are all in the third person singular, and they can all be conjugated in three persons and three numbers.
Root: bhū-, a class I thematic verb root.
Intensive: bobho ~ bobhū-
When there are two forms in one cell of this table, the first one is active, the second one middle.
|Present stem||Present||भवति (bhavati) |
|भावयति (bhāvayati) |
|बुभूषति (bubhūṣati)||बोभोति (bobhoti) / बोभवीति (bobhavīti)|
|Imperfect||अभवत् (abhavat) |
|अभावयत् (abhāvayat) |
|अबुभूषत् (abubhūṣat)||अबोभोत् (abobhot)|
|Imperative||भवतु (bhavatu) |
|भावयतु (bhāvayatu) |
|बुभूषतु (bubhūṣatu)||बोभोतु (bobhotu) / बोभवीतुु (bobhavītu)|
|Optative||भवेत् (bhavet) |
|भावयेत् (bhāvayet) |
|बुभूषेत् (bubhūṣet)||बोभव्यात् (bobhavyāt)|
|Present participle||भवन्त् (bhavant) |
|भावयन्त् (bhāvayant) |
|बुभूषन्त् (bubhūṣant)||बोभवन्त् (bobhavant)|
|Passive||Present||भूयते (bhūyate)||भाव्यते (bhāvyate)||बुभूष्यते (bubhūṣyate)|
|Imperfect||अभूयत (abhūyata)||अभाव्यत (abhāvyata)||अबुभूष्यत (abubhūṣyata)|
|Imperative||भूयताम् (bhūyatām)||भाव्यताम् (bhāvyatām)||बुभूष्यताम् (bubhūṣyatām)|
|Optative||भूयेत (bhūyeta)||भाव्येत (bhāvyeta)||बुभूष्येत (bubhūṣyeta)|
|Passive participle||भूयमान (bhūyamāna)||भाव्यमान (bhāvyamāna)||बुभूष्यमान (bubhūṣyamāna)|
|Future stem||Future||भविष्यति (bhaviṣyati)||भावयिष्यति (bhāvayiṣyati) |
|Conditional||अभविष्यत् (abhaviṣyat)||अभावयिष्यत् (abhāvayiṣyat)||अबुभूषिष्यत् (abubhūṣiṣyat)|
|Future participle||भविष्यन्त् (bhaviṣyant)||भावयिष्यन्त् (bhāvayiṣyant) |
|Periphrastic future||भविता (bhavitā)||भावयिता (bhāvayitā)||बुभूषिता (bubhūṣitā)|
|Perfect||बभूव (babhūva)||भावयामास (bhāvayāmāsa)||बुभूषामास (bubhūṣāmāsa)|
|Benedictive / precative||भूयात् (bhūyāt)|
|Injunctive||(मा) भूत् ((mā) bhūt)|
|Past participle||भूत (bhūta) |
|भावित (bhāvita) |
|बुभूषित (bubhūṣita) |
|Gerundive||भव्य (bhavya) |
Taking into account the fact that the participial forms each decline in seven cases in three numbers across three genders, and the fact that the verbs each conjugate in three persons in three numbers, the primary, causative, and desiderative stems for this root when counted together have over a thousand forms.
- "SAMSKRUTAM Studies. Grammar Tutorial: reference: verb forms". Sanskrit & Indology Foundation. Retrieved 27 December 2014.
- "Learn Sanskrit Online: Verb basics". Retrieved 27 December 2014.
- Benjamin W. Fortson (2004). Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction. Blackwell Publishing. p. 123. ISBN 1-4051-0316-7.
- Devavāṇīpraveśikā: An Introduction to the Sanskrit Language – Robert P. Goldman – ISBN 0-944613-40-3
- A Sanskrit Grammar for Students – A. A. Macdonell – ISBN 81-246-0094-5
- Sanskrit Grammar - William Dwight Whitney - ISBN 978-81-208-0621-4
- Sanskrit Grammar for Beginners - Müller F. Max - ISBN 978-12-365-2895-7
- An online conjugation and declension engine made by INRIA - http://sanskrit.inria.fr/DICO/grammar.html#roots
More tools are available at http://sanskrit.inria.fr