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Showing posts from 2018


This post is a bit of an aside to my normal investigation of Pali language. It is a partial overview of the term grammar which will hopefully shed some light on the difference between grammatical subject and thematic agent. What is this Grammar thing anyway? Not that long ago, "grammar" meant the study of Latin, the language of choice for educated people. In fact, "grammar" came to referred to any kind of learning. This is reflected in the English term "Grammar School" and as such the word grammar can have many meanings and uses. More specifically grammar is used to describe an attempt to understand the make up of a language - the ways that words can be put together in order to make sentences. Even in linguistics, there are  several types of grammar. What follows is a rough and ready summary of what can fall under the umbrella of grammar.

Derivation of Participles

Participles are a kind of adjective formed from a verbal base. Like verbs, they divide into Present, Past and Future; and each group can again be divided into Active and Passive (voice). Being in the nature of adjectives most decline in the three genders - agreeing with their nouns (subjects), in number, gender and case. . So in Pali, we have seen there are roughly six kinds of participles: Past Passive Participles, Past Active Participles, Present Passive Participles, Present Active participles, Future Passive Participles / Gerundive & Indeclinable Participles, In this post we are going to look at how the declinable participles are formed (that's the first 5 above). There's going to be a lot of tables of endings and I apologise now for this. But it's an area where the tools (DPR & Pali Lookup) often fail. All the participles are composed of three components: verb root/stem + participle suffix + nominal (case) ending. In the previous post we saw

A Theory of Pali tense

This post is mainly to elaborate on terminology describing verb conjugation in Pali grammars. One of the main problems facing the novice student learning Pali is understanding the many terms and technical phrases littering the grammar guides. So this is my attempt to clear up what's going on. The theory of Pali verbs as described in the mainly Victorian Pali grammar guides employs Latin grammatical terms to describe the system detailed by early grammarians who themselves are usually following Paninian Sanskrit. No wonder then that the modern reader can often feel overwhelmed. So here's my explanation of the Tense system as described in certain grammar guides.

'Secondary' verb derivations - Verb Conjugation - Part 4

The Pali verb tenses/moods discussed so far are termed primary derivations. What is known as a secondary   stem can be developed from a primary stem by the addition of a new 'secondary infix or by the replacement of an existing suffix. Counter-intuitively, a secondary inflection usually precedes the primary inflection! There are 5 secondary verb derivations: Passive :  is used to turn a transitive verb into the passive voice Causative :  is used with instructions. It is extensively used in Paḷi. Desiderative :  is used to indicate a wish or the desire. The desiderative is not extensively used in Paḷi. Intensive : The intensive (also called “frequentive”) is used to indicate the frequent repetition or the intensification of the action expressed. The intensive is not extensively used in Paḷi. Denominative : are nouns that have been converted into verbs. They are rare except in poetry.

Aorist tense - Verb Conjugation - Part 3

The term aorist  derives from the grammar of ancient Greek. In Pali, it can be regarded as a simple past tense. Note however, the use of the aorist tense in Pali covers both the simple past, the present perfect and occasionally also the imperfect aspect . For example, agami can mean:  he/she went" (simple past), "he/she has gone" (present perfect), and occasionally (imperfect) "he/she was going. It should also be noted that the past tense has largely been subsumed by the past participle. Checkout this video tutorial on Tense and aspect in Pali. Tense vs Aspect & Participles in Pali Following on from the previous tutorial on tenses of the English Language, this tutorial looks at Tense & Aspect in the Pali language. You will see the difference between inflection and auxiliary verb... Formation of the Aorist The formation of past tense in Pali can be confusing as it has its origins in Sanskrit which has multiple forms of past tense , m

Moods - Verb Conjugation - Part 2

Tense and Moody? Must be a Verb... Pāḷi has three moods  in the present tense, which are used to express the speaker’s attitude toward the action. These are: Indicative : used to express statement of fact. Optative : used to express wishes or hopes Imperative : used to express commands and invitations The conditional too is often classified as a mood rather than a tense. All of these moods exist only in the present tense (though the conditional is often placed with the future tense). Each of the other tenses has only one mood. We saw the indicative mood in the last post.

Simple Present tense - Verb Conjugation - Part 1

The inflection of verbs is known as “ conjugation ”. It consists of changes in form to show differences in person, number, tense, mood, and voice. In this post we will start our look at the present tense in Pali. By now you may have realised that the available tools (DPR & Pali Lookup) are good but not infallible when it comes to detecting the inflections of Pali verbs. Nouns tend to be straightforward, there are many groups but the ending are fairly regular. However, verbs and their derivatives can be very irregular and multitudinous and not all the variations are caught by the automated parser - nor the dictionary. This then can cause the amateur translator hours of frustration in their attempts to search for that one illusive word not in the dictionary.

Delving into Noun Declension

So having covered syntax, I'm going to look more closely at inflection - noun declension in this post and verb conjugation following on. Formally, declension is the variation in the endings of nouns, pronouns, & adjectives, by which grammatical case, number, and gender are identified. This subject is dealt with in many grammar guides and summary tables, so I'll be brief. For an overview of Pali cases see my previous post. Nouns can be classified in various ways: There are 3 genders (masculine, feminine & neuter). The stems of nouns in Pali (how they are listed in the dictionary) mainly end in vowels a, ā, i, ī u, ū  (there's 'go' a cow, in -o but that's the only one). So we take these as the main declension classes. There are some vestigial stems that end in consonants but these are mainly secondary derivations i.e. agent nouns , participles , possessives etc.

Guide to Noun Cases

The inflection (altering of form) of nouns is called  declension . The classes of declensions are called  cases , and together they form the  Noun case system . In Pali, nouns, pronouns, adjectives and participles are declined in eight cases: nominative, vocative, accusative, instrumental, ablative, genitive, dative and locative. This post summaries the various Pali noun cases that we have discussed so far (and some we haven't). English has largely lost its case system although personal pronouns still have three cases, which are simplified forms of the nominative, accusative and genitive cases. In Pali, a noun is placed in one or other case as is required by its grammatical function in the sentence. With the exception of the nominative, vocative and some instances of the accusative case, the oblique cases as they are termed can be rendered in English by  prepositional phrases .

Deciphering Compound Words

Two or more words combined together to form a single composite term is called a compound – e.g.  blackboard, blackbird, homemade etc.  In older parts of the canon, Pali compounds are simple and seldom contain more than two or three elements, but they become more complicated in later language. Compounds have occurred in some examples used in previous posts where I have generally separated the terms with a ‘+’ and glossed over their compound nature. Sometimes it is just a sequence of words which often appear together and over time have become joined. These are called syntactic compounds. Other compounds however are of specific types. As a general rule, all members of a composite term are in their stem forms (no inflection of case, person or gender) except the final term which is inflected according to its gender, casting the whole composite to that inflection. The separate stems are merged using the rules of sandhi (joining) making compounds tricky sometime to tease apart. T

A Quick Reference Guide to help Dissect Clauses

We’ve covered a lot of Pali syntax already and this post is a recap and summary. I’ve put together a quick reference guide to Subject-Verb Agreement to aid students (and myself ) when attempting to translate. This helps to determine which word belongs where... I’ll paraphrase Duroiselle & Bomhard here:  Clauses in Pali have at least two elements: The “subject” — the person, place, or thing which the sentence is about – always in nominative case or implied. The “predicate” — that which happens to the subject. The predicate may contain: A main finite verb, in which case it must agree with the subject in number and person. A past passive participle used as a finite verb., in which case it must agree with the subject in gender and number. (Present participles never appear as finite verbs) A noun with an implied hoti ‘to be’ understood after it, in the same case and usually number, but no concord of gender or number need take place! An adjective with an implied hoti ‘to be’

Clauses & Conjunctions - Part 2

Following on from an earlier post detailing relative clauses in Pali , we will continue to examine clause structures. If you remember, a clause consists of a subject (noun phrase) and a verb phrase or to use different lingo, a subject and a predicate . In its simplest form a sentence is just a single clause . Now let’s continue with our analysis. Conjunctions – ca, vā & pi Clauses can be joined to form compound sentences by use of conjunctions . In Pali, these  include:  sace (if), evaṁ (thus), ceva, ca (also, too), iva (like), puna (again), pana (however), ve, have (indeed), vinā (without), aññatra (except), eva (only, just), saha, saddhiṁ (with), vā (or, else), idha (here), huraṁ (there).

Non-Finite verbs [Verbals]: Infinitives & Absolutives

In the last couple of posts I’ve been looking at verb participles . They are a verb form that although called past & present actually have little to do with tense/time and are mainly associated with verb aspect  – the extent to which an action is completed. When they are not playing in the role of main ( finite ) verb of a sentence they are called non-finite or infinite verbs as they aren't 'limited' by tense. In other words, a non-finite verb is any verb that is not the main (finite) verb of the sentence. As such they tend to act or function as verbal adjectives  and are thus often called 'Verbals'. Verbal adjectives act like verbs - in that they form a verb phrase, possibly taking objects and other dependents and modifiers of verbs - however that verb phrase then plays the role of an attributive adjective  in the larger sentence. In Pali they can be divided into two groups: declinable  & non- or indeclinable .  Participles form the declinable g

Participles [active] & Absolute clauses - Part 2

The last post looked at participle acting in passive sentences . In this post we'll continues with participles in active  Pali sentences. Just as a reminder, now that we are with active sentences, the main verb will agree with the agent /subject, which will be in nominative and an active participle formed from a transitive  verb may take an object  in accusative. e.g. bhattaṃ bhuñjanto" "~ eating rice. Present Participles (Active) Present participles in English end with ‘–ing’. When acting as non-finite verbs in Pali they specify actions that occur at the same time as the action of the main verb. Note  the  ‘ present ’ in present participle does not mean present tense but refers to their simultaneous action with the main verb.

Participles [passive] & Gerundives- Part 1

In the last post we looked at passive sentence construction . Now we can move on to take a look at participles  in Pali. This post will focus mainly on their passive  uses. Whereas English has only past & present participle forms, participles in Pali have distinct past, present & also future/potential forms. And unlike English, these forms can change depending on their use in active or passive voice. Also though the past, present & future correspond roughly to the English tenses there are some differences in usage. A feature of participle in Pali is that, although verbs, they tend to behave like adjectives  and thus all forms of participle decline like nouns in case, gender & number. They can be employed in several ways as verbs, adjectives or occasionally nouns. In Pali there are six kinds of participles: Past Active Participles, Past Passive Participles, Present Active participles, Present Passive Participles, Absolutive / Indeclinable Participles, Future

What is a Passive Voice Sentence?

The topic of passive sentences naturally leads onto participles . As such the next two post form a unit and should be read together. Now so far on this blog, we have dealt only with active sentences – where subject performs an action on some target object. With passive  sentences (sometimes called the passive voice) the subject   of the sentence gets something done to them! Compare: (active) (passive) Semantic : agent patient patient agent Grammatic: subject transitive object subject intransitive The vet shot the horse The horse was shot by the vet Notice the pairs of terms:   subject - object and agent – patient . In active sentences the meanings of subject - object and agent - patient are aligned and indeed many grammar guides use them interchangeably. However, it is only with passive sentences th

Clauses & Relative Pronouns - Part 1

First let’s look at what a clause is and explain some terminology. Learning this terminology helps when reading grammar guides like Warder . Clauses - an overview Previously I said that sentence consisted in a noun phrase + a verb phrase. Strictly this is the description of a clause . A sentence can involve of one or more clauses joined by conjunctions . clause conj clause noun verb pronoun verb John shouted and everybody waved

Pronouns substitute for other nouns

Pronouns are words which substitute for other nouns and refer back to someone or something (technically the antecedent). They come in various flavours: Personal pronouns, ‘me’, ‘you’, ‘they’ Possessive pronouns, 'mine', 'yours', 'theirs' Demonstrative pronouns, 'this, 'that', 'it' Reflexive pronouns, 'himself', 'oneself' Indefinite pronouns, 'anyone’, ‘anything’, ‘someone’ Interrogative pronouns, 'who?', 'what?', 'which?' - introducing a question and relative pronouns, 'he who', 'which', 'that' - introducing a relative clause Like English, pronouns in Pali alter their form based on gender, number and person and also case. The declension  of pronouns is very irregular. Most grammar guides include full tables of their various forms, so I won't list them here. However I do find that dictionaries often do not list all the declensions so I have created a list whic

Adjectives, Comparatives & Superlatives

Following on from the last post discussing Noun Attributes in Pali , we can now look at adjectives specifically, as well as Comparatives & Superlatives. Adjectives as Attributes An adjective is a word that describes, or qualifies a noun and describes a quality or characteristic. They are often termed 'describing' words:  red, quiet, obedient, cold, new etc. Well actually, in the phrase 'the large cat' technically both 'large' & 'cat' are each nouns, but 'large' is being used as an attributive adjective because it is qualifying another noun, while 'cat' is termed a substantive noun because it represents an actual thing. This is important because in Pali many nouns can function either as substantives or adjectives. In Pali, adjectives take the same  case, gender and number as the substantive nouns they qualify and are usually placed before their substantive. If they come after, this is often for emphasis or there is an

Noun Attributes: Adding a little quality

Usually in Pali, words referring to the same thing are in the same case & number . This is especially true of nominative  & accusative  cases. In order to analyse these constructions we must be aware of some principles. Returning to our previous example. sāriputto mahāpañño dhammaṃ deseti bhikkhunaṃ Nom sgl male Nom sgl male Acc sgl male Pres, Act. sgl 3rdperson

Identifying the Subject of a Pali sentence

When translating Pali, it is useful to begin by identifying the subject of the sentence , the verb corresponding to that subject, and then any objects of the verb. In order to do this, the first task is to determine the stems, case, gender and number of each word in the sentence. I gave brief details of my methods for parsing stem endings in the previous post. So let’s look at an example, consider: Sāriputto mahāpañño dhammaṃ deseti bhikkhunaṃ ( SN 8.6 ) If we use DPR or Pali lookup we can fill out the table below sāriputto mahāpañño dhammaṃ deseti bhikkhunaṃ Case: Number: Gender: Nom sgl male Nom sgl male Acc sgl male Pres,

Pali Noun Cases & Declension - what are they?

What is noun declension? How are noun cases used?  Well, the inflection of nouns is called declension . Inflection is where a word changes form (spelling) to indicate its grammatical role. The individual declensions are grouped into cases, and together they form a case system. If you are at a loss, then this series of posts is for you. Lets start with some terminology. Sentence Structure -  subject  and predicate First to understand Pali we must understand how sentences are constructed. A sentence can be broken down into structural parts called phrases and each phrase plays a different role in the meaning of the sentence. A phrase is just one or more linked words that play a specific role.

Basic Pali Grammar Video Tutorials

Learn Pali Language on YouTube There seems to be a lack of quality video tutorials for learning Pali grammar. I'm no expert, but to rectify this, I'm putting together a series of brief video lessons to help the absolute beginner with the Pali language. So check out 'Learn Pali Language' YouTube channel If you subscribe to my channel you can keep up-to-date with the latest tutorial releases. And don't forget to hit the bell icon or you won't get all the updates! The videos begin with some English grammar basics and work up to the Pali noun case system. This is definitely an ongoing project!... For those wishing to learn vocabulary there are some courses on memrise: The next post will work through the basics of the Pali case system ...

Pali Alphabet & using the PED Dictionary

How is the alphabet arranged? How do you use a Pali dictionary? Well the Pali alphabet runs as follows. a, ā, i, ī, u, ū, e, o (ṃ*) k, kh, g, gh, (ṅ) c, ch, j, jh, ñ ṭ, ṭh, ḍ, (ḍh), (ṇ) t, th, d, dh, n p, ph, b, bh, m y, r, l, (ḷ), (ḷh), v, s, h Vowels first, then consonants. [Note the letters in brackets have no entries in the dictionary.] Pali is a phonetic  language so each entry above represents a single sound. Every letter always has the same pronunciation regardless of its context, no letter has more than one pronunciation, and no sounds are represented by more than one letter. For pronunciations see this video: The Pali Alphabet & Pronunciation Guide | Learn Pāli Basics A tutorial on how to pronounce the Pali alphabet [in Roman script], its phonetics, and why the niggahīta turns into a nasal - featuring how Pali characters are pronounced - with animations of where... or visit this   YouTube playlist of Pali pronunciation .

Entering Pali Diacritics & the Niggahīta/Anusvara (ṃ)

Diacritics , or diacritical marks, are those curious glyphs added to a letter. The term derives from Ancient Greek. ā ī ū ṅ  ñ ṇ ṭ ṭh ḍ ḍh ṇ ḷ ṃ ṁ ŋ Pali is a phonetic language and has no written alphabet of its own. Ever since the 1st century, scholars have relied on their own native alphabets to write Pali ! European scholars have thus transliterated Pali into the Roman alphabet and this required its augmentation with additional characters represented by letter-pairs and diacritics. This was fine whilst Pali literature was mainly printed, but with the introduction of computers, the problem arose of how to represent these characters within a standard ASCII font. Many differing methods have been adopted over the years meaning unfortunately that there is no standard way of representing Pali's diacritic characters via the then  limited character sets available on PCs. As a result the student will encounter a variety of legacy approaches some of which include:

Navigating the Sutta Pitaka, A Simple guide to the Numbering Schemes

The Pali canon or Tipiṭaka, meaning “Three Baskets”, is made up from: Vinaya Piṭaka (Basket of Monastic Law) Sutta Piṭaka (Basket of Discourses) Abhidhamma Piṭaka (Basket of Systematic Treatises) Of these, the Sutta Piṭaka or "Basket of Discourses" is further split into the nikāyas or "discourses": Dīgha Nikāya (Long Discourses) Majjhima Nikāya (Middle Discourses) Saṁyutta Nikāya (Linked Discourses) Aṅguttara Nikāya (Numbered Discourses) Khuddaka Nikāya (Minor Discourses) Usually navigating around the Sutta Pitaka is no great issue. For those wishing an overview of the Pali Canon there is: Russel Webb's 'Analysis of the Pali Canon' and  Professor Lo Kay 'Guide to Tipitaka' This post is a comparison of the various reference or numbering systems that you might encounter and a guide to finding your way around. But first it's worth pointing out that there are several editions (sometimes referred to as renditions) of the Pa