Category Archives: Prefixes

Super Basic Positive and Negative Prefixes

This next part of Sanskrit grammar survives almost perfectly intact in all modern languages based on Greek, Latin and Old English, the negative prefix.

Negative Prefix

Using “a” at the beginning of a word negates the word. If the word starts with a vowel, use “an” instead of “a”.

For example, in modern English: an-archy (absence of order) and a-political. With a slight change in sound its also there in the in-/im-/un- prefixes.

For a sanskrit example:

शोकः (śokaḥ) means “sorrow.”
अशोकः (aśokaḥ) means “sorrowless.”

Now, just a heads up, but you put a strong a (“ā”) at the beginning of a word it does just the opposite of negating the word – it makes it even more emphatic. For example,

अाशोकः (āśokaḥ) means something like “grieving.”

Positive Prefix

Using “sa” at the beginning of a word indicates that the word is present, and involved in whatever is being described in the rest of the sentence. For example

गजः (gajaḥ) means “elephant.”
सगजः (sagajaḥ) means something like “with an elephant.”

अश्वः (aśvaḥ) means “horse.”
साश्वः (sāśvaḥ) means something like “with a horse.”

It may seem redundant to have this prefix when we already have the Case 3 inflection for nouns, which causes them to mean “with ____.” But it’s essential for indicating positive presence when the “with” Case 3 inflection is inappropriate or undesired. Here’s an example:

नरः सगजं बालं गच्छति (naraḥ sagajaṁ bālaṁ gacchati) – “The person went to the boy with the elephant.” The Sanskrit here is perfectly clear that the boy is the one with the elephant, not the man.

Whereas if we used Case 3 inflection on gaja [नरो गजेन बालं गच्छति – nato gajena bālaṁ gacchati] it would seem to mean that the man rode an elephant to get to the boy.

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The lionlike hero is dispassionate

Thats a pretty cool sentence, don’t you think? To me, it means that a truly brave hero is one that is not too ferocious. In other words, barking and growling isn’t the real mark of a valiant hero. Another thing this sentence means to me is that real valor is to conquer ones own passions.

How to say it in Sanskrit?

OK, hero is obviously the subject of the sentence. The word for hero is vīra. There’s only one of them, singular. The ending for singular subjects is -ḥ – so the right word to use in this sentence is vīraḥ.

Now, lionlike… to say that in Sanskrit start with the word for “lion” – siṁha. Now, apply a suffix that will gave the sense of “from, of,” – its a little messy to explain this from English to Sanskrit, but the suffix we’re looking for is -a. When we add -a to siṁha (you may have to review this) it becomes saiṁha (the first vowel in the root “strengthened”). So this means “of a lion” aka “leonine” aka “lionlike.”

Now, to use this word as an adjective we just make sure it has the same ending type as the word its supposed to describe. “lionlike” is an adjective describing the hero, so we configure the ending of saiṁha to match the ending of the word “hero” in this sentence (vīraḥ) – so we should use saiṁhaḥ.

Now we need a word for dispassionate. The word will start from the root, passion: raja. We can make this mean dispassionate by adding a prefix, like the English prefix “dis-“. That prefix in Sanskrit is vi- (meaning “separate/ distinct from”). So the word for dispassionate is viraja. Now, we are using this word like a verb –  is dispassionate. So we just need to configure it like a verb, to match the subject – in other words to be in 3rd person singular, that’s -ti. So the word is virajati.

With these three words we can form our sentence, “The lionlike hero is dispassionate.” saiṁhaḥ vīraḥ virajati. 

One last thing left to do is make it flow easy when spoken (sandhi rules), so it becomes saiṁho vīro virajati – सैंहो वीरो विरजति

Get to the Root of the Word!

Its very important to be able to guess the root of a word (in any language). If you can do this, you can figure out the meaning of words you don’t already know, without having to memorize the dictionary. You just have to memorize the root words.

One way that words come from roots is where the root is a verb, but the fruit on the branch from that root (the word) is a noun! Here are some examples.

Jīva – The Living Being

जीव् (jīv) is a verb, meaning “live.” The typical (3rd person singular) way you use it is जीवति (jīvati), “he lives.” But if you add the primary suffix -a to the end of the root, it becomes a noun: जीव (jīva) “the living being.”

भव् (bhav) is another verb-root. It means “be / become.” The typical use as a verb is भवति (bhavati), “he is / he becomes.” But, add the -a suffix and you get a noun: भाव (bhāva) – “reality” (lit. “a thing with being).

Bhāva – Existence

In bhāva you might have noticed that the vowel of the root verb “strengthened” from to ā. That happens sometimes when you add the suffix -a.  Don’t worry, just pretend it makes sense, for now.

Now you can also attach prefixes to the noun you made, भाव (bhāva). For example, you can add the sam- prefix (meaning “con-“, “toghether, with, complete”) and you get the word संभव् (saṁbhav). Prefixes work with verbs or nouns. Right now, this is a verb, saṁbhav, and you can inflect and use it like a verb. For example, the typical, संभवति (saṁbhavati) “he comes to being.” Or you can add the handy, simple -a suffix and make the root a noun: संभव (saṁbhava). It’s not easy to translate this noun into Enlgish. It refers to “coming into being” as a noun-entity, rather than as an action. So, “birth” or “origination” would be viable translations.

Śoka – Lamentation

शोव् (śoc) is a verb root – “lament” – which you often see inflected as शोवति (śocati) {“he laments”}. But you can add the -a suffix to make the “lament” verb a “lament” noun {“lamentation”}. The noun is: शोक (śoka). Why isn’t it शोच (śoca)? Remember the rule, when -a is added as a suffix, if the consonant it’s joining with is “ca-varga” (pronounced in the back of the mouth – most commonly c, ch, j, jh), it will change to the corresponding consonant from the “ka-varga” (pronounced in the throat). See the previous post if you need a refresher on this.

Jaya – Victory / Success

The root is जय् (jay). If you use it as a verb – जयति (jayati) – it means “he conquers.” If you use it as a noun (by adding the -a suffix) – जय (jaya) – it means, “victory.”

You can add prefixes, of course. What if we add the vi- prefix and get विजयति । विजय (vijayati (verb) / vijaya (noun)). vi- means distinct. So it just intensifies the meaning, “distinct victory.” It’s a very special victory that sets it apart from more common victories.

You can add a different prefix, sam – (completely, fully, together). The root jay then becomes संजयति । संजय (saṁjayati / saṁjaya ) a verb and noun meaning “complete victory” or even “mutual victory.”

Moha – Confusion

From the root मोह् (moh) {“confuse”} we can nouns like:

  • मोह (moha) {“confusion”)
  • संमोह (saṁmoha) {“complete confusion”}

And verbs like

  • मुह्यति (muhyati) {“he gets confused”} 
  • संमुह्यति (saṁmuhyati) {“he get’s completely confused”}

Yes, the vowel of the root “strengthened” in the verb. Let’s ignore it for now.

Krodha – Anger

Root: krodh (anger as a verb, an action), for example as Krudhyati (he expresses anger). Note the same vowel change as in moh.

Noun (by adding -a): krodha (anger as a noun, a feeling)

Ānanda – Joy

Root: nand (joy as a verb, an action, like “rejoice”), like nandati {“he rejoiced.”}

Noun (-a): nanda (joy as a noun, a feeling).

If we add the prefix ā-. What will happen to the meaning of the nouns and verbs formed from this root, nand? Well, the prefix itself means “expanding up to.” So using the prefix ā- and forming a noun like ānanda we get a word meaning “expanding joy” or “bringing to joy” – commonly translated as “bliss.”

You can use the prefix with verb form of the root too, of course. So ānandati means “he makes blissful.”

Kāṅkṣa – Desire

Root: kāṅkṣ. Its a verb meaning “desire” (as an action), for example kāṅkṣate {“he desires for himself”}. Add the -a prefix to the root kāṅkṣ and get kānkṣa – a noun meaning “desire” (as a feeling).

How to Make Sanskrit Words (viz BG 1.2)

One of the most wonderful things about Sanskrit is how we can combine root words together and with prefixes and suffixes to make very specific, expressive, detailed words. Learning how to do this is one of the most important steps towards learning Sanskrit.

Here’s an example:

mar is a simple Sanskrit root meaning “die.” Suffixes and prefixes can make this root mean “immortality”!

 मर् मृत अमृत अमृतत्व
 mar mṛta amṛta amṛtatva
 die death without-death without-death-ness

With prefixes and suffixes, one root, mar, can refer to a death thing, mṛta, a thing without death – an immoral, like a god or like the soul, or like the divine elixir that cheats death, or even to the abstract nature of immortality, amṛtatva.

Another example:

भज् भग भगवत् भागवत
bhaj bhaga bhagavat bhāgavata
love happiness the beloved, happy one – God pertaining to God – the devotee

There are four ways to make words:

  1. Turn a verb into a new verb with prefixes and suffixes
  2. Turn a verb into a noun
  3. Turn a noun into a new noun with prefixes and suffixes
  4. Combine two nouns into a new noun

Verb Prefixes

There are about 20 verb prefixes in Sanskrit. Here are five of the more common and important:

Together / Apart

Sam- and vi- are opposite prefixes. Sam- indicates togetherness, and vi- indicates separateness and distinction.

सम्- (sam-) 

This is like the English prefix con-. It means “with, together, fully, completely.”

वि- (vi-)

This is like the the English prefix di- (as in divide and distance)It means “separation, distinction”

Nearness

ā- and upa- both indicate nearness. ā- is nearness coming toward but not surpassing a thing. upa- is nearness coming up from below a thing, humbly.

आ- (ā-)

This means “towards, up to.”

उप- (upa-)

This is like the English prefixe sub- and a bit like  hypo-. It means “near, towards, under, below.”

Opposite

अ- (a-)

The same prefix is used in English, sometimes as an- (as in atheist or anaerobic). Be careful to distinguish it from the ā- prefix, which is quite different in meaning.

Prefix Sandhi

You use normal sandhi rules for spelling and pronunciation when you add prefixes (or suffixes) to roots.

Examples

Here are examples using the root गम् (gam) {“movement”}.  We’ll use this root in third person singular, so it is inflected as गच्छति (gacchati) {“he moves”}.

Add the prefix आ- (ā-) {“towards”} and you get आगच्छति (āgacchati) {“towards-movement”, in other words, “he comes”}

Add instead the prefix उप- (upa-) {“near” humbly, from below} and you get उपगच्छति (upagacchati) {“humble, near-movement”, in other words, “he humbly approaches”}. 

Add instead the prefix सम् (sam-) {“with, together”} and you get संगच्छन्ति (saṁgacchanti) [changing the inflection a little to make it plural so it makes sense] {“together-movement” in other words, “they come together” or “they assemble.”}

We can see that prefixes are extremely useful for making very specific and expressive words from simple, basic roots. The same is true in any language, of course, but in Sanskrit the rules for it are uncommonly clear,  systematic and thorough.

Multiple Prefixes

We’re not limited to using just one prefix per root. We can use as many as we need or like. Here’s an example: उपसंगच्छन्ति (upasaṁgacchanti). The root is gacchanti {“they move”} but the movement is qualified with the prefixes sam- and upa-. The prefix some changes the root to mean “together-movement” (assembly, coming together in a group). And upa- changes it further to mean “humbly from below, towards something” So the one word upasaṁgacchanti means “humbly approaching for assembly as a group.”

When there are multiple prefixes, the one closest to the root is most prominent in forming the meaning. So, if we put the same two prefixes, upa- and sam- , in different order, we get a different word: समुपगच्छन्ति (samupagacchanti) which means, “they assemble to humbly approach (someone or something).”

Prefixes in Bhagavad-Gītā 1.2

दृष्ट्वा तु पाण्धवानीकं वि-ऊढं दुर्योधनस्तदा

dṛṣṭvā tu pāṇḍavānīkaṁ vi-ūḍhaṁ duryodhanas tadā

(But having seen the Pāṇḍava’s army arrayed, Duryodhana then…)

आ-चार्यम् उप-सं-गम्य राजा वचनमब्रवीत्

ā-cāryam upa-saṁ-gamya rājā vacanam abravīt

(… assembled to humbly approach his teacher, and the King spoke)

“But then, when King Duryodhana saw the array of the Pāṇḍava army, he gathered himself to humbly approach his teacher and speak some words.”

The first prefix used here is vi-, added to the word ūḍham. Because of the rules of sandhi, the combination of the two becomes vyūḍham. The root ūḍha means something like “a push, a movement, a demonstration.” The root vi- indicates separation, so the combination, vyūḍham indicates a separating movement that pushes and displays some demonstration. The word is used to describe the separation of an army into a specific formation or array.

The next prefix used here is ā-. It’s added to the root cārya which means “exemplar” (cār means behavior. cārya is means example). The prefix ā- means “towards, up to”. The whole word ācārya means someone who points towards, moves up to, demonstrates exemplary behavior. Aka, “teacher.”

Two prefixes are then used together, upa- and sam- are added to the root gam {“movement”}. We discussed this combination already.