Tag Archives: Noun

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.



Addressing People Directly (हे राधे)

As we’ve been learning, Sanskrit nouns are inflected in various “cases” befitting various uses. We learned how to inflect a noun to be used as the subject of a sentence (case 1). We learned how to inflect a noun to be used as the object of a sentence (case 2). Now we are going to skip the next five cases and go to the last one, case 8 – because it’s a very easy and commonly used case. This is the case for using a noun as a way to call somone. Like “hey Joe!” Joe in that example is being used in case 8.

पुत्र त्वं नरः

putra tvaṁ naraḥ

“Son, you are a man.”

In that sentence, putra (son), is used in the 8th case (“vocative”) – because it is directly addressing a person.

Here’s a slightly more confusing example:

नर गच्छति

nara gacchati

“My dear man, he goes”

Here we are talking to “my dear man” and saying “he (some other person) goes (somewhere).” It’s a little confusing because it really looks like we are saying “the man goes.” But if that were the case the word nara would have to be inflected as a subject – it would have to be naraḥ, which would blend with gacchati to be naro gacchati. That’s not exactly what is in the sentence, so it’s not saying “the man goes” is saying “My dear man, he goes.”

That counfusion could become a real problem, though, if you were talking too or about men (plural) and instead of wanting to say “he goes” you wanted to say “they go.” For example, if you wanted to say, “My dear men, they go” you would have an ambiguous Sanskrit sentence (to be fair, it’s pretty ambiguous in English, too): narā gacchanti.

The reason you can’t disambiguate this is because the inflection for addressing plural people is the same as the inflection for addressing plural subjects. It’s also true for the dual case, it’s the same. So, if your unspoken subject is also the same plurality as the persons you are addressing, you’ll get an ambiguous sentence.

It’s easy to avoid the ambiguity by simply naming the subject and not leaving it unspoken. So usually ambiguity is used intentionally – for multiple meanings, artistic appeal, or just for fun.

Here are the case 8 endings listed with case 1 and case 2:

CASE 1 (Subject)
CASE 2 (object)
CASE 8 (address)

(The singular form of address makes no change to the noun root)

Here’s another example:

पुतरेचछसि कृष्णम्

putrecchasi kṛṣṇam

What does it mean?

First undo the blending so you can see the words more clearly. Putreccasi is a blending of two words, putra and icchasi.

Putra means “son” – it’s not inflected at all, it’s the root noun, so it must be case 8 – so the sentence must be talking directly to the son “O my son…”

Icchasi is the root iccha {“desire”} with the inflection “-si” – singular 2nd person inflection: “you desire.”

Kṛṣṇam is the root kṛṣṇa used as a noun, and inflected with “-m” which is the object case, singular. So the desire of the son is directed towards Krishna.

The sentence means: O my son, you want Kṛṣṇa.

Pronouns in Case 8

There are no pronouns in case 8. A pronoun is by nature an indirect address. Obviously you can’t directly address someone indirectly.


Similar to case 8 nouns, and often used with them, are several short words that are simply exclamations like “hey” or “oh!”. Common ones are

  • he हे
  • aho अहो
  • bho भो

Here is an example: हे राधे he rādhe!  {“O Rādhā!” said in the sense of calling to her, case 8} Or हे कृष्ण he kṛṣṇa! {“O Krishna!” again in the sense of calling to him}

Exclamation words are always pronounced as they are – because they are exclamations – they don’t blend with the next word. They are stronger than the next word, so there is no blending. So there’s no worry about sandhi rules when you deal with these little exclamation words.

Sanskrit Adjectives – “The horse sees that beloved, beautiful Krishna.”

Adjectives are words that describe nouns.

Adjectives are inflected just like the noun they modify.

सुन्दरा (sundara) {“beautiful”} is an adjective. Here are some examples how to use it:

सुन्दरो नरो ऽश्वं गच्छति
sundaro naro ‘śvaṁ gacchati
“The beautiful man goes to the horse”

सुन्दरं नरो ऽश्वं गच्छति
sundaraṁ naro ‘śvaṁ gacchati
“The man goes to the beautiful horse.”

There are four words in these sentences:

  1. sundara {“beautiful”}
  2. nara {“man/human”}
  3. aśva {“horse”}
  4. gaccha {“goes”}

The words are inflected, of course, so they have specific endings. All the words except sundara have the same inflection in both sentences, so let’s look at those words first:

  1. naraḥ {singular – “a / the man” – as the subject of the sentence}
  2. aśvam {singular – “a/the horse” – as the object of the sentence}
  3. gacchati {third person singular verb – “he goes”}

[The above three words blend together by the rules of sandhi to become “naro ‘śvaṁ gacchati.”]

So we know that the sentence is talking about a man going to/towards a horse. Now we’ve got to consider the fourth word, sundara. In the first sentence it’s inflected as sundaraḥ (which becomes sundaro by blending/sandhi). It is inflected with the ending you give to nouns that are subjects (see, it matches naraḥ, the subject of the sentence?). So this is the key to knowing which one is “beautiful,” the man or the horse. In this case, since the inflection of the word “beautiful” (sundaraḥ) matches the inflection of the word “man” (naraḥ) we know that the man, not the horse, is being described as beautiful. So the first sentence means, “The beautiful man goes to the horse.”

In the second sentence the word order is exactly the same, but notice that the ending of the adjective “beautiful” (sundara) is different. This time it’s not sundaraḥ, it’s sundaram. Here it’s not inflected like a subject-noun, it’s inflected like an object noun. Thus it matches the inflection of the object-noun in the sentence (aśvam – “to the horse”). So in this sentence, the meaning is, “The man goes to the beautiful horse.”

Here are a few more details about Sanskrit adjectives:

  • You can use multiple adjectives to define one noun, like in English, “the beautiful, graceful, shy lady.”
  • You can even simply state an adjective without specifying a noun! In English too, like “Beautiful!” But in saskrit the inflection of the stand alone adjective gives a strong hint as to what “beautiful!” is directed towards.
  • Pronouns can be used like adjectives, and they then come to mean “this” or “that” – referencing back towards some previously spoken or unspoken instance of conversation.
  • If there’s a sentence where there’s confusion about which noun an adjective modifies, it should usually be the noun closest to the adjective by word order in the sentence.

Here’s an example of a relatively elaborate Sanskrit sentence (relative to our current level):

कृष्णं स प्रियो ऽश्वं पश्यति सुन्दरम्
kṛṣṇaṁ sa priyo ‘śvaṁ paśyati sundaram

The subject of the sentence is “beloved” (priyaḥ, which became priyo due to blending with the next word). How do I know? Because the -ḥ ending on a noun indicates a singular subject. 

What “beloved”? saḥ priyaḥ (“sa priyo” when the words blend together). Sa is the pronoun “he”, but here it’s used as an adjective for priya. So it’s like “him, my beloved.” Or “this beloved man.”

What is the object doing? For this, you must find the verb. The verb in this sentence is paśya (inflected as paśyati to match the third person singular noun, priyaḥ) – “see.” So, “This beloved man sees…”

Sees what? For that, you must find the object of the sentence. In this sentence the object could be either Kṛṣṇa {“The All-Attractive”} or Aśva {“the horse”} since both of them are nouns and both are inflected with “-m” indicating that they are the object of the sentence. Unfortunately for those of us who are kind of addicted to hearing about Krishna, the All-Attractive, he is not the object of this sentence. We know this because the word kṛṣṇa can be a noun, but most often is an adjective. The meaning of the word is “black.” Black is the color that attracts all light, so this adjective is used as a noun to give a proper name to the All-Attractive Supreme Being, Krishna. “Horse” on the other hand, is a noun, and can’t very well be used as an adjective. It’s just a noun. So the sentence will only be sensible if “horse” (aśva) is the object and “black” (kṛṣṇa) is the adjective.

So, “That beloved man sees the horse.” What kind of horse? A “black horse.”

There’s one more word in the sentence, it’s sundara, “beautiful.” So, who is beautiful, the beloved or the horse? Well the inflection of sundara here is sundaram which matches kṛṣṇam and aśvam. We’ve already determined that aśvam {“horse”} is the noun, and kṛṣṇam {“black”} is the adjective. Now we have a second adjective describing the horse, sundaram. So:

That beloved man sees the beautiful, black horse.

Since we are so let down by the failure of this sentence to live up to it’s potential, let’s try to fix it to be what we wanted.

What we want to say is “The horse sees that beautiful, beloved Krishna.”

So we will start by inflecting aśva as the subjectaśvaḥ.

The verb can stay like it was before, paśyati since the new subject, aśvaḥ is still third person and singular.

Now we need to change the previous subject, priyaḥ into an object-adjective, priyam. And we need to move the pronoun-adjective saḥ so that it modifies our object, Krishna.


saḥ kṛṣṇam priyam aśvaḥ paśyati sundaram

And when we blend the words together:

स कृष्णं प्रियो ऽश्वं पश्यति सुन्दरम्
sa kṛṣṇaṁ priyaṁ aśvaḥ paśyati sundaram

“The horse sees that beloved, beautiful Krishna.”

Nouns As Objects

We looked at how nouns are inflected when used as the subject of a sentence. Now we’ll learn how they are inflected when used as the object of a sentence.

Let’s remind ourselves of the inflections for “case 1” nouns (subjects) and also show the new inflections for “case 2” nouns (objects). Both are limited to masculine words ending in a – for example गज (gaja) {“elephant”}

गज Singular Dual Plural
Case 1 (subject) गजः



Case 2 (object) गजम्



  • You’ll notice that gaja is inflected the same way for use as a subject or object, if there are two elephants (dual).
  • The telltale sign of plurality is the stronger vowel at the end, “ā”. If it’s “-ā” then its a plural subject. If it’s “-ān” it’s a plural object.
  • The telltale sign of the subject case is “ḥ”. If it’s “-āḥ” it’s plural subject. If it’s “aḥ” it’s singular subject.
  • The telltale sign of the object case is the nasal sound “m/n.” You can keep the same rule as above: If there’s a long vowel (“-ām”) before the nasal, it’s a plural object. If there’s a short vowel (“-an”) it’s singular object.

Here are two examples (w/out sandhi)

बालः नरान् तुदति

bālaḥ narān tudati

We know that bāla means child, and it’s masculine, so it means boy. And we know that nara means adult, human, and since it’s masculine, man. And we also know that tuda means “hit/attack.”

So, what does the sentence mean? Boy man attack? Boy attacks man? Man attacks boy? Boys attack men? Etc.

Well, we see tuda is expressed as tudanti, and we know that the -ti ending is 3rd person, singular. Tuda (“hit/attack”) is the action in the sentence, the verb. So whoever is doing the attacking is one person, singular.

Bālaḥ has the “ḥ” at the end, a telltale sign of being a subject. Narān has the nasal sound (“n” in this case) at the end, the telltale sign of being the object. Now we’ve sorted it out! Bālaḥ is the subject, doing tudati to the object: narān. Tudati is singular, so if it applies to bālaḥ, bālaḥ has to be singular too. Sure enough it is. The tell tale sign is the at the “a” before the “ḥ” is not “ā” – that’s how we know it’s singular. Similarly we know narān is plural because the “a” at the end is “ā”.

So: “The boy attacks the men.”

कृष्णः वीरम् पृच्छति

kṛṣṇaḥ vīram pṛcchati

Kṛṣṇa is the person named “Krishna.” We know that he’s the subject of the sentence because of the “ḥ” at the end of kṛṣṇaḥ. And we know there’s just one kṛṣṇa involved (singular) because the vowel before the “ḥ” is short (“a”), not long (“ā”). Vīram means “hero.” It ends in a nasal sound so we know it’s the object of the sentence. The vowel before the final nasal is short, so it’s singular. The verb is pṛcchati (inquire), which (being “-ti”) is third person singular.

So: “Krishna asks the hero.”

What’s an “object” anyway? It’s an entity to which / on which action is performed. “Krishna asks the hero.” The hero is the “object” because he’s the entity to which the action of asking is directed. “The boy attacks the men.” The men are the “object” because they are the entity to which the action of attacking is directed. So consider this example:

अर्जुनः अश्वम् गच्छति

arjunaḥ aśvam gacchati

The “-ḥ” gives away the subject, Arjuna. The nasal (‘-m’) gives away the object, a horse (aśvam, singular because the final vowel is short). The verb is also singular and third person, gacchati – “he goes.” So the object, being the entity to which action is directed, indicates the destination of movement, in this sentence:

“Arjuna goes to the horse.”