Tag Archives: Suffix

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.



“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.

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.