Tag Archives: Inflection

“The Boy Ignorantly Derides the City’s Heroes”

“The boy ignorantly derides the city’s heroes.”

OK, how do we say that in Sanskrit? I’ll figure it out. If I make errors I’ll correct them at the end.

First let’s assemble the basic vocabulary we need.

  • Boy = bāla
  • Derision / insult = ninda
  • City = nagara
  • Hero = vīra
  • Ignorance. There’s a few ways we might say this. We could use a prefix to negate a word meaning “knowledge” – but why don’t we stick with the vocabulary we’ve been learning in this series. We know the word moh means “confusion” and “bewilderment,” so that will do. Just make it a noun by adding the -a suffix: moha.

Now we need to figure out how to organize and inflect the basic vocabulary words.

I think the real question here is, How do we say “ignorantly derides”? As translators to and from any language will be familiar with, we have to… you know, like they say in math, “set two dissimilar fractions to a common denominator.” Similarly in translation, we often have to revert the original language into a structure that is more similar to the structure of the language we are translating into. So, “ignorantly derides” is fairly complex and sophisticated English. Revert it to a more basic form. The -ly suffix can be removed and the meaning of that suffix can be more clearly stated. Thus: “derides with ignorance.” Or, “derides as a result of ignorance.”

Now we can more easily see that its a question of choosing the right noun case for the word moha. What are our options? “with, for, from, of, and in” are the options (cases 3-7 respectively). So, I think, the “with” or “from” cases translate the concept effectively. But the “with” case is “instrumental” – in other words the noun in that case is the instrument of an action. That’s not entirely wrong for our translation, but I think the “from” case is better. In other words, I think it’s better to translate it as “As a result of (from) ignorance, the boy derides” instead of “The body derides with ignorance.”

That settles it then. The case will be Case 3, “with” – in which the ending is -ena. So moha will be used as mohena.

The next compound phrase to figure out is “city’s heroes.” It’s much easier than “ignorantly derides” because its obviously the “of” case, Case 6 (ending in -sya). So nagara will be used as nagarasya.

Thats the end of the tough stuff. The rest is simple. The subject is the boy, the object is the city. Here we go, first try at the basic assembly of the sentence (no sandhi, first):

mohena balaḥ nagarasya vīram nindati

With sandhi:

mohena balo nagarasya vīraṁ nindati
मोहेन बलो नगरस्यवीरं निन्दति


OK, now lets check it for errors…

This is what the teacher suggests as a good translation:

बालो संमोहेन नगराणां वीरान् निन्दति
bālo saṁmohena nagarāṇāṁ vīran nindati

The first thing I notice is that I forgot that the heroes were plural. I translated, “The boy ignorantly derides the city’s hero.” But I ws supposed to translate, “The boy ignorantly derides the city’s heroes.” I did it singular. I inflected vīra as vīram (singular object), when it should have been vīrān (plural object)

So, the same mistake affects the word for city (nagara). I inflected it in Case 6 Singular (-sya), but I should have done it in Case 6 plural (-anām). So the word should have been nagarāṇām.

You might ask why City’s should be in plural, after all theres nothing specifying that the heroes come from more than one city. Maybe all the heroes being insulted by the boy come from the same city. That’s ok, its still plural, because its an adjective of hero, so it has to attach itself to hero by sharing the same grammatical foundation. Since the noun “heroes” is plural, the adjective of this noun “city’s” has to be plural too.

The teacher used the prefix sam- on the word moha. This makes it more clear that the boy is not just insulting them by mistake, out of confusion, but really out of more significant bewilderment and delusion.

The teacher wrote it as bālaḥ saṁmohena, whereas my word order is saṁmohena balaḥ. I think this is just a question of taste. Word order is not very important in Sanskrit.


Rooting out the Meaning

Noun = Prefix(es) Root Suffix(es)
lābha labh a
Profit to gain
 māna man a
 Regard to think
 saṁtāra sam tar a
 Inclusively Surpassing to surpass
 nindana nind ana
 Defamy, censure to insult
 bhaga bhag a
 Opulence, Fortune to divide / share
 vartana vart ana
Motion to move
 bodhana bodh ana
 Comprehension to comprehend
 sthāna stha ana
 Place  to stand
 darśana dṛś ana
 Audience / Meeting to see
 ādarśa ā dṛś a
 Illustration / Display to see

English to Sanskrit

Let’s figure out how to say, “With his eye, the man sees the bliss of the village.

“Eye” can be akṣa or nayana or netra. Let’s use netra. We have to conjugate it in the “with” case. That’s case 3, and the ending is -ena, e replacing the a. So, netreṇa means “with his eye.”

The man is the subject: naraḥ.

The man sees: paśyati.

Bliss is ānanada. Village is grāma. We need village to be in the “of” case,  Case 6, where the ending is -sya. So, grāmasya. Now the two words form a pair, we’ll put the thing that possesses the other thing first. Villiage possesses bliss, so village first, followed by bliss: grāmasya+ānanda = grāmasyānanda. We have to make sure this is understood to be the object of the seeing, so the compound should get the inflection of an object, -m. So, grāmasyānandam

Put the words together: naraḥ netreṇa grāmasyānandam paśyati. Make considerations for Sandhi: naro netreṇa grāmasyānandaṁ paśyati. 

नरो नेत्रेण ग्रामस्यानन्दं पश्यति

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”


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.”


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.


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.

Sanskrit Translation Practice

The Boy Strikes the Lion with his Hand

Boy = bāla

Strike = tuda

Lion = siṁha

Hand = hasta

Boy is the subject, Lion is the object, Hand has to be in the right case to communicate “with” – that’s Case 3 (see the Noun Inflections in the Reference menu at the top of the page, below the header graphic).

bālaḥ hastena siṁham tudati

With sandhi: bālo hastena siṁhaṁ tudati  – बलो हस्तेन सिंहं तुदति

In the city, the man strikes the elephants with his foot

City = nagara

Man = nara

Elephant = gaja

Foot = pāda

Strike = tuda

The man is the subject, his foot is the instrument (case 3, “with”), the action is striking, the elephant is the object of the action. City has to be in Case 7 (“in”).

nagare naraḥ pādena gajān tudati

With sandhi: nagare naro pādena gajāms tudati – नगरे नरो पादेन गजाम्स्तुदति

You smile with your mouth

“You” is not really required, if we want to include it for special effect, the corrrect pronoun is singular subject, second person: tvam.

Smile = hasa

Mouth = mukha

tvaṁ mukhena hasasi   त्वं मुखेन हससि

The two of us are born in the villiage

Two of us = dual, first person pronoun as the subject: āvām

Born = jāya

Villiage = grāma (in case 7, “in”)

āvāṁ grāme jāyāvahe  आवां ग्रामे जायावहे

The hero thinks with his belly

Hero = vīra

Thinks = manya

belly = udara (case 3, “with”)

vīra udareṇa manyate  वीर ऊदरेण मन्यते

Vīraḥ became vīra because the next word starts with a vowel. The “n” at the end of udareṇa became “ṇ” because there was an “r” in the word not blocked by a consonnant. It’s manyate  instead of manyati because thinking is self-serving.

The sun goes from the village to the white sky

Sun = sūrya

Goes = gaccha

Village = grāma

White = śveta

Sky = gagana

Sun is the subject, so sūryaḥ. The action is performed by the sun, a singular third person entity, so gacchati. It is from the village, so use Case 5, so grāmāt. White is an adjective of sky, which is the object of the sentence, so śvetaṁ gaganaṁ

sūryaḥ śvetaṁ gaganaṁ grāmād gacchati. सूर्यः श्वेतं गगनं ग्रामाद्गच्छति

The moon crosses the black sky

Moon = candra

Cross = tara

Black = kṛṣṇa

Sky = gagana

candraḥ kṛṣṇaṁ gaganaṁ tarati  चन्द्रः कृष्णं गगनं तरति

Wolves walk from the goose to the rabbits

Wolves = vṛka (subject)

Walk = cara

Goose = haṁsa (case 5)

Rabbit = śaśa (object)

vṛkā haṁsāc śaśaṁś caranti  वृका हंसाच्शशंश्चरन्ति

Krishna sees the black horse

kṛṣṇaḥ kṛṣṇam aśvaṁ paśyati कृष्णः कृष्णमश्वं पश्यति

Arjuna asks Krishna

arjunaḥ kṛṣṇaṁ pṛcchati अर्जुनः कृष्णं पृच्छति

All Noun Cases

As you’ll recall, the way a noun is inflected reveals the way it is used in the sentence. There are eight ways of inflecting a noun – so there are “eight cases.” These are the eight, with their main meaning/use.

Case 1: Subject

Case 2: Object

Case 3: With

Case 4: For

Case 5: From

Case 6: Of

Case 7: In

Case 8: Address

Here’s an example. The word gaja means elephant, and the word gaccha means go.

गजो गच्छति (gajo gacchati) means “the elephant goes.” Gaja is in Case 1, and gaccha is in 3rd person singular.

गजं गच्छति (gajaṁ gacchati) means “he goes to the elephant.” Gaja is in Case 2, and gaccha in 3p singular.

गजेन गच्छामि (gajena gacchāmi) means “I go with the elephant” – The ending “-ena” on gaja reveals that it’s in case 3. And the ending “-ami” on gaccha reveals that it’s first person singular.

गजाय ग्च्छति (gajāya gacchati) means “he goes for the elephant” (on behalf of the elephant, for the sake of the elephant). Case 4 noun.

गजाद् गच्छति (gajād gacchati) means “he goes from the elephant.” The noun, gaja is in case 5.

गजस्य गच्छति (gajasya gacchati) means “The elephant’s going” (like, the movements of the elephant). case 6 noun.

गजे गच्छति (gaje gacchati) means “he goes into the elephant”. Case 7 noun.

गज गच्छति (gaja gacchati) means “hey elephant! he goes!” Case 8.

Inflection Table

So as to avoid information overload, let’s only look at the singular versions of all 8 cases (we can keep the duals and plurals for the cases we already learned). And of course, let’s just look at masculine nouns for now.

CASE 1 (subject / “by”) -ḥ -u -aḥ
CASE 2 (object / “to”)
CASE 3 (“with”) -(a)ena
CASE 4 (“for”) -aya
CASE 5 (“from”) -at
CASE 6 (“of”) -sya -yoḥ -anām
CASE 7 (“in”) -(a)e
CASE 8 (address)  – -u -aḥ

Pronouncing / Spelling “n” in the Middle of Sanskrit Words

N will frequently show up as “Ṇ” when you don’t expect it, and it’ll seem like a misspelling.

Sanskrit sounds (probably all languages too, with a few exceptions) are made in five places in the vocal structure of your mouth and throat: (1) in the throat, (2) back of the mouth, (3) top of the mouth, (4) on the teeth, (5) on the lips.

“k” is the sound made with the tongue muscles that are in the throat. “c” is the sound made with the tongue muscles at the back of the mouth. “ṭ” is made with the tongue on the roof/top of the mouth. “t” is made with the tongue on the teeth, and “p” is made with the lips.

Those are the sounds without voice or air. If you add voice and air you get a whole bunch of other letters, as described in Pronunciation of Consonants, and Sanskrit Letters.

The sounds made with the tongue on the roof of the mouth are the characteristic sounds people make to imitate the Indian accent. The technical term for it is “retroflex” (which just means “curling back”, referring to the tongue). It takes a bit more effort to curl the tongue back and stick it on the top of the mouth, compared to the effort it takes to get the tongue into other positions for pronouncing the other types of letters, sooooo there’s a special rule about these letters:

Once you get your tongue into a retroflex position, it can stay there until some other consonant forces it into a different position. This means that once you have a retroflex letter, the rest of the letters in the word will become retroflex too, unless a non-retroflex consonant comes along before the word ends.

Vowels are produced by the shape of the mouth, not the tongue, so they don’t interfere with this. So, once your tongue goes into retroflex, it can stay there through the rest of the vowels in the word, and any other consonnant that’s not in some other position.

Well, just about every other consonnant is in some other position, so basically we’re just talking about the nasal letters (produced mainly in the nose). In other words, we are talking about “n”.

Let’s look at some examples:

Aruna अरुन = Aruṇa अरुण

The word starts with a vowel, a, followed by the semivowel, “r.” Say the “r” sound out loud. Notice that your tongue gets retroflex? R is a retroflex sound. So now, at the second letter of the word, our tongue got into a retroflex position.

The third letter is a vowel, “u” so our tongue doesn’t have to change position. The fourth letter is “n”. N is a nasal, and nasal sounds can be made with the tongue in any of the five positions. Since our tongue is in retroflex, we keep it there, so the “n” becomes “ṇ” (big hint: just about any letter with a dot under it is retroflex). The word finishes with a vowel, “a” which is important. To complicated to explain why.

Arjuna अर्जुन (no change)

The r is retroflex, but it’s followed by a “j”, which is a consonant that forces the tongue to the back of the mouth, out of the retroflex position – so  by the time we get to the “n” in “Arjuna” our tongue is free to pronounce it as its originally supposed to be “n” (tongue on teeth).

Rāmāyana रामायन = Rāmāyaṇa रामायण

The first letter, “r” puts the tongue in retroflex. Then there’s a vowel – so no change to the tongue position. Then a nasal, “m” – again no change to the tongue. Then there’s another vowel. Then there’s “y” which is a semi-vowel and doesn’t change the tongue position. Then another vowel, again no change. So by the time we get to the “n” our tongue is still in retroflex, so the “n” becomes a retroflex n, “ṇ” to make pronunciation easier and more natural.

Kurvanti कुर्वन्ति (no change)

The third letter, “r” puts us in retroflex. “v” is a semi-vowel, followed by a vowel, so when we get to “n” we think we should make it “ṇ” but it’s not a real, full “n” because it has no vowel. It’s joined to “ti” to make a single letter “nti” न्ति. So it’s really a “t” which changes the tongue position to the teeth, therefore the “n” stays a dental nasal, and doesn’t become reflexive.

Brahman ब्रह्मन् (no change)

Again, the “r” sets up the retroflex, and “ahma” don’t change it (h is just air, and m is all lips), so again we expect to change the “n” to retroflex – but again, like in kurvanti, it’s not a full/real “n” because it has no vowel, it’s just the end of the previous syllable, not a syllable on its own. So it doesn’t get changed.

Brahmana ब्रह्मन = Brahmaṇa ब्रह्मण

This is the same as above, but in this word, the n is a real n, a syllable unto itself, because it has a vowel following it. So in this case the n does retroflex to ṇ.

When to worry about it

Usually word stems are already defined with this rule in mind, so generally you only have to worry about it when you’re adding the inflection (ending) to the word.

For example, take the word nara (man). If you want to use this word in Case 6, plural (“men’s”) you are supposed to add the inflection –anām. So go ahead, and you get narānām. But now notice that the “r” gets you into retroflex and there’s no vowel to get you out of retroflex before the “n” comes, so the real spelling/pronunciation is narāṇām.

Similarly if you want to use a neuter noun with a plural inflection, the ending should be –ani. For example (“leaves” – pattra), pattrāni. But the “r” in the root word retroflexes the “n” in the inflection, so the correct version is pattrāṇi.

So, really, you only have to worry about it in the inflections. And even then only in the inflections that have “n” in them, followed immediately by a vowel. So that means only the two cases shown above (as far as the cases we’ve already learned)

“Of” (Case 6 for Nouns, “Genitive”)

If we want to say “The teacher’s son goes to the forest” we need to inflect the noun “son” in a way that lets the hearer know that the son belongs to the teacher. We need an inflection will say “teacher’s” not just “teacher”.

This is accomplished by using “Case 6” inflections for the noun.

Here they are (for masculine nouns):

Case 6 (“of”) -sya -yoḥ -anām

The teacher’s son goes to the forest

So, to say “The teacher’s son goes to the forest” – take the word for teacher, ācārya, and give it the singular case 6 inflection -sya, so you wind up with ācāryasya.

The word for son is putra. He is the subject of the sentence, so the inflection is case 1 singualr: putraḥ. 

The word for forest is vana. It’s the object of the sentence and singular, so the inflection is -m: vanam. 

The word for “goes” is gaccha. And it should be inflected to match the subject, which means 3rd person singular, -ti: gacchati.

So you get the sentence: ācāryasya putraḥ vanam gacchati,   which blends together to become: आचार्यस्य पुत्रो वनं गच्छति ācāryasya putro vanaṁ gacchati.

The son of the heroes stands

  • son = putra
  • hero = vīra
  • stand = tiṣṭha

Son is the subject, so it’s putraḥ. Hero needs to be plural and needs to be in the “of” case, case 6 (heroes’ / of the heroes). Plural case 6 influection is –anām, so: vīrānām. The verb is third person singular to match the subject, so tiṣṭhati. With sandhi you get:

पुत्र वीरानां तिष्ठति
putro vīrānaṁ tiṣṭhati

They go to the elephants’ forest

You don’t need to explicitly state the pronoun “they” – the inflection of the verb “go” will include it. Forest is the object, they is the unspoken subject.

  • they go = gacchanti
  • elephants’ = gajānām
  • forest = vanam

गगानां वनं गच्छन्ति
gajānāṁ vanaṁ gacchanti

The hero has a black horse

The way you say it in Sanskrit is simply “The hero’s black horse.”

वीरस्य कृष्णो ऽश्वः
vīrasya kṛṣṇo ‘śvaḥ

Case 6 Pronouns

Case 6 (“of:)
First Person (M) तस्य



Second Person तव



First Person मम