Category Archives: Suffixes

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


Words like Kaurava, Tattva, Ānandamaya, and Ācārya (Special Suffixes)

Now we are learning about special suffixes that can’t be added to the end of verbs, they only fit on the end of nouns.

Here are some important suffixes that only work on the ends of nouns: -a, -aka, -tva, -maya, -ya

-अ -a from X
-अक -aka a little (cute, adorable) thing from X
-त्व -tva X-ness
-मय -maya composed of X
-य -ya from X

Clearly -a, -aka, and -ya are similar, with only subtle differences.

-अ -a

This suffix is misleading, it doesn’t work like a suffix, it actually works by strengthening the first vowel in the word.

Putra is a word that means child. If you add the so-called “-a”, the word doesn’t become putrā, it becomes pautra. The first vowel in putra, the u, becomes stronger, it becomes au. Pautra means “from a child.” Its often used as a word for grandchild.

One way to explain this weirdness – that the suffix doesn’t seem to make a difference at all – is the following grammatical rule:

“If the suffix starts with or a, and the root ends with a, the root drops its final vowel when accepting the suffix.”

So, the blow-by-blow of whats going on is

  1. The root word putra
  2. Gets a suffix that does start with or a, the suffix a.
  3. So the root loses its final vowel, and becomes putr
  4. Then add the suffix, a, and get back to putra

Most of the time you wouldn’t even know if the suffix exists or not, since the result of adding the suffix is the same as the root, there has to be some other effect of the suffix. That effect is to strengthen the first vowel in the root. So, that’s how we know that putra doesn’t have the -a suffix, and pautra does.

This drop of the final vowel, appropriately, only affects nouns that end in a. Let’s say we have a word that ends in u, like kuru. It’s the name of the dynasty that Krishna and the Pāṇḍavas belong to. How would we add the -a suffix? We don’t drop the final u. So is it kurua? 

No, the final (pretty much following normal sandhi rules) becomes av. So, is it kurava?

Close, but no. The -a suffix still strengthens the first vowel of the root, even if the root doesn’t end in a. So, applying the -a suffix to kuru results in the word kaurava {which means, from the kurus, as in a member of the kuru dynasty}.

-अक -aka

This suffix, like all of them that start with a or y, cause the root to lose its final vowel, but this one has more to it than just a vowel, so there is no need for it to modify the root. You will easily recognize this suffix when you see it.

Although this suffix shows that something is made of the substance named in the root, the primary meaning is to show an affectionate, cute smallness.

Putra means child. Putraka means “little child” in the sense of a cute and darling little child.

Aśva means horse. Aśvaka means “little horse,” a colt.

-त्व -tva

This is exactly like the English suffix -ness. Softness, for example, means the quality of being soft. Kṛṣṇa means black. So, kṛṣṇatva means blackness.

Notice that this suffix doesn’t start with or a, so there is no change to the final vowel of the root.

One of the coolest words with this suffix is tattva. It’s the pronoun tat with the suffix tva. So it means “that-ness” and is used to refer to reality or truth, substantiality.

-मय -maya

Again, no change to the root because the suffix doesn’t start with or a. It means, “composed of X.” A very cool word with this suffix is ānanadamaya. The root is nanda (happiness). The prefix is ā- (impelling) so together ānanda means compelling happiness, aka bliss. And then add the suffix -maya and you get a word to define an entity that is composed of bliss.

This word is used in the Veda to describe spiritual substance.

-य -ya

This will cause the final a to drop.

This is a subtle, sophisticate suffix that means different things in different contexts. In general it means “from X” but mostly in the sense of “as a result of X.”

A very important word with this suffix is ācārya. Let’s break this word down.

The root is cār which means movement. You would use an -a to make it a noun, cāra.

The prefix is ā- (ācāra). The prefix means impelling, so the word ācāra means “impelling movement.” What impels movement? Well, motivations to, and rules also impel movement (“no stopping here, no standing, no parking, left turn only, etc). So ācāra means a combination of motivation and rule. So, motivating rules (rules that motivate). Thus its often used for the concept of “practice.”

Add the suffix -ya. It will make the final a disappear, so the result will be ācāra + ya = ācārya. What does it mean? The -ya suffix means “from, as a result of X.” X in this case is “practice” or “motivational rules.” So the word ācārya literally means as a result of practice. Or, as a result of motive and behavior. 

The word is used for teachers and gurus because the idea is that teachers teach by example more than by words alone. As a result of one’s own practice, one becomes capable to guide and teach others in the same manner.


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).

Sanskrit Suffixes

Besides prefixes, we can also use suffixes to fine tune the meaning of words, and create new words. We’ll look at three very common verb suffixes now.

-अ -a

This is so common you probably don’t even think of it as a suffix. Most Sanskrit roots are a single syllable, ending in a consonant. But we tend to think of them all as having a final a. The final a is actually a suffix.

The meaning is also very transparent, subtle and slight. It is a lot like the -us suffix we’re pretty used to in English. What’s the difference between analogy and analogous? Not too much, right? It’s quite subtle. What’s the difference between victory and victorious? The -us suffix makes the word a bit more abstract, that’s all. And that’s extremely similar to what the -a suffix does in Sanskrit.

There are some sandhi rules for adding suffixes. An odd rule for the -a suffix is that if it comes after a consonant from the group that are pronounced with the tongue tension at the back of the mouth (“ca-varga: c, ch, j, jh, ñ, y, or ś), that pronunciation will change  to the same type of sound but from the throat (it will change to “the corresponding ka-varga” – but the ka varga versions of y and s have dropped from classical Sanskrit, so in classical Sanskrit the rule doesn’t apply to y or ś).

सर्ग (sarga) for example is really the root सर्ज् (sarj). When you add the a at the end, the j changes to a g, because j is the voiced sound from the back of the mouth, so it must change to the voiced sound from the throat, g. (see sanskrit sounds if you’re lost).

Sarj means “sending forth.” Adding the -a suffix to get sarga makes it mean “the abstract condition of sending forth,” more simply expressed as “creation.”

Now add the prefix vi- (apart, distinct) to sarga and you get visarga, which means “separating the creation” – in other words the act of taking the elementary materials of the creation, and dividing them into structures and forms.

Incidentally Viṣṇu performs sarga once in the entire duration of a universe, while Brahma performs visarga each and every time he wakes up every morning. (his timescale)

Another example is the word जय (jaya) – we think of it as a root, probably, but really the root is जय् (jay). Jay means victory. Jaya means victorious.

You might notice that the y in jay didn’t change. It’s because in classical Sanskrit there no longer is a thorat-equivalent sound for y, so there’s nothing to change it to.

Another example is the word नय् (nay). Add an a to the end and the word becomes नाय (nāya). Notice something weird? The first ‘a’ changed to ‘ā’. That’s a quirk that adding the -a suffix sometimes does (you’ll notice it didn’t happen for jaya).

-अन -ana

This is simpler, because there’s no change to the root word ever.

This suffix means the act of doing something, and the vehicle for doing it. It’s for an action or object that facilitates the action specified by the verb it suffixes.

For example, the root दर्श् (darś) means “see”. Add the suffix to get दर्शन (the act of seeing, “audience”). Darśana, then, more literally means “the action that facilitates seeing.” When you go to a temple and come before the deity, or when you go to meet a saintly person – this is called darśana.

Another example: the root नय् (nay) {“lead”} takes the suffix -ana and becomes नयन (nayana), which means an act that facilitates leading. More commonly it refers to the eyes! Because the eyes are the object that facilitates leading. We are lead around by our eyes.

-त्र -tra

This is very similar in meaning to -ana. But it’s more directly focused on the object / instrument that facilitates an action, whereas -ana is primarily about the actions that facilitate the basic action.

For example, we said that नयन (nayana) can refer to eyes (the instrument that leads us). But it is more common to refer to eyes as नेत्र (netra). The word netra is from the same root as nayana: नय् (nay). When you add -tra the semivowel dissapears and the vowel changes to e.

The next session will be exercises to work more with suffixes.