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Noun Attributes: Adding a little quality

Adding Attributes to a noun 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

Dati
pl
male

sāriputta
(the) very wise
(the) doctrine
(he) teaches
(to) the monks
Sāriputta, the very wise, teaches the doctrine to the monks

Pali Noun Attributes 

[or when two or more nouns are in Nominative or Accusative cases]

Several nouns occurring in either the nominative or accusative cases are probably attributes. A noun attribute is either an adjective, an apposition or a state of being (also known as a subject complement).
  • (adjective) The wise Sāriputta
  • (apposition) Sāriputta, the wise
  • (complement) Sāriputta, (who) is wise
These are all different ways of describing or qualifying a noun. They specify a characteristic or quality. In Pali, any attribute of a noun is in the same case, number & usually follows the noun to which it belongs. However, adjectives are in  the same case, number, gender & usually precede the nouns they qualify. This is one way to distinguish them.

Pali Attributes in Apposition

In the two noun nominative phrase ‘sāriputto mahāpañño’ we can guess from the word order that mahāpañño is not an adjective but an attribute. Apposition is where an attribute semantically ‘runs alongside’ the subject noun while both referring to the same thing and is often expressed in English by parenthesis. For instance: 
John, our butcher,..."
"The shed, behind the house,… 
So ‘sāriputto mahāpañño’ can be rendered ‘Sāriputta, the very wise,..’

Another example of apposition:
buddhaṃ
saraṇaṃ
gacchāmi
Acc
sgl
male

Nom or Acc
sgl
neut

Pres, Act.
Sgl

1st pers.

(the) Buddha
(a) protection
(I) go
To the Buddha, a protection, I go
Here we can discern that the verb gaccha + āmi is 1st pers. sgl. and so we can insert an 'I'. Next we can attempt to identify the subject. 'saraṇaṃ' is either nominative or accusative. It could be taken as the nominative subject of the verb but, as the verb is in 1st person, it does not agree and would not make sense. So we can conclude that the subject is the implied 'I' and saraṇaṃ is in accusative. 'Buddhaṃ' being in accusative is the object of the verb and is also the destination of the motion ‘to go’. 'saraṇaṃ' being in accusative too then becomes an attribute of Buddhaṃ and so can be rendered: 
to the buddha, a protection, I go"
"to the buddha (who is) a protection, I go 
Note: that if the author meant: ‘I go to the buddha (for) protection’, i.e. in order to receive protection then saraṇa would be in the dative case. Some authors translate this ‘I go to the buddha (as) protection’, which is a compromise.

Linking verbs & Equational Sentences

Similar to apposition is the equational sentence. Linking verbs unlike normal verbs, equate a subject to a state of being, rather than describing an action. Technically, they do not take objects, but predicates (also called complements). For instance:
He is a monk'"  He = a monk  (predicate nominal)
"They are attractive".  They = attractive (predicate adjective)
Linking verbs includes copulas such as the English verb ‘to be’ and its derivatives ‘am, is, are, was, were’ etc.  as well as verbs of perception such as look, sound, or taste.
Now not all Pali sentences contain a verb! Sometimes the linking/copula verb is not written.

So in some situations two adjacent nouns in the same case and number may be equated where the linking ‘is’ has been dropped. In this case, the first noun usually is the subject and the second a pronoun or complement. This can also happen within a larger sentence. Thus:
 sāriputto mahāpañño" could also be rendered "Sāriputta, (who) is very wise,..

Verb-less Sentences in Pali

So an equational sentence is one where a linking verb connects a predicate noun or adjective to a subject in order to describe the state of being of the subject. If the linking verb is omitted these are sometimes termed nominal sentences. So, as another example, consider the following sentence where there is no verb and every noun is in nominative case!
iti
kho
ānanda
kammaṃ
khettaṃ
viññāṇaṃ
bījaṃ
taṇhā
sneho.
thus
indeed
ānanda
(an) action
(a) field
awareness
(a) seed
thirst
liquid/milk
Thus indeed Ananda, action (is) the field, awareness (is) the seed, thirst (is) the moisture

It’s important to note that the objects of linking/copula verbs in Pali do not take, as one would expect being objects, the accusative case but that of their subject, even when the verb is expressed.

Also, there are two verbs in Pali meaning ‘to be’:
  • √hū = √bhū => hoti / bhavati which is generally used in a copulative sense,  'is'
  • while √as => atthi, is used in an existential sense to assert the existence of something or someone. 'There is'
So as another example:
bhikkhu
kāme
avīta+rāgo
hoti
Nom
sgl
male

Loc
sgl
male

Nom
sgl
male

Pres, Acti.
Sgl
3rd pers.

A monk
in wanting
not free of infatuation
is
A monk in wanting, is not free of infatuation
Here the subject is bhikkhu. The verb hoti agrees in number & person and links the subject to a complement, also in nominative! The locative identifies the place or situation where this linking takes place.
imassa
jayo
bhavissati
gen/dat
sgl
m,n

Nom
sgl
male

fut, act
pl

3rd pers

his, of him
victory
will be
Victory will be his

atthi
kho,
bho,
eso
attā
pres, act
sgl

3rd pers

indec
indec
nom
sgl
male

nom
sgl
male

There is
indeed
friend
this
self
Indeed friend, there is this self

A sentence beginning with the main verb is usually done for emphasis. This is hard to express in written English and some authors resort to italics.

The verb ‘atthi’ meaning ‘to be’ often can be rendered ‘there is’ as forms of √as tend to assert the existence of something and, as far as I know, are never used in a copulative/equational sense (A is B).

Aside: 'to have'

Also if a verb of the root √hū or √as  is accompanied by a noun in genitive case this can often be rendered ' to have' or 'has/had'. For instance:
brāhmaṇassa ajā honti"
Literally: "of the brahmin there are goats."
Or the"brahmin has goats
likewise:
tassa etad ahosi, or tassa evaṃ ahosi"
Literally: "Of him this was", "Of him thus was
These are idioms meaning 'He had this (thought)'.  Note, Pronouns will be dealt with in a future post.

Now returning to our theme;  Equational sentences can be tricky to parse. They can be distinguished by the main verb being a form of hoti / bhavati,  or there being no verb at all in the sentence. In either situation the nouns being linked will be in nominative case.

Double Accusatives

The accusative case is used usually to denote a direct object of a transitive verb or motion towards. However there are special cases where a double accusative is sometimes found:
  • with verbs, meaning to ‘call, tell, ask’, which can take two objects:
    • what was said and 
    • to whom it was said.
    •  e.g.    'The monks, asked the blessed one, their questions

taṃ
ahaṃ
brūmi
brāhmaṇaṃ
acc
sgl
m,n,f

nom
sgl
m,n,f

pres, act.
sgl

1st pers

acc
sgl
male

He / this
I
(I) say
(a) Brahmin
Him, I call a Brahmin
  • and with causative verbs which may also take two accusatives - 
    • one expressing the person or thing caused to act, and 
    • the object of the action itself. 
    • For instance,  'The king had the nurse bathe the child.'. 
dārakaṃ
bhagavantaṃ
vandāpesi
acc
sgl
Male

acc
sgl
Male,nt

Causative, past
sgl

3rd Pers

(the) boy
The blessed one
(He)  paid homage
He (had) the boy pay homage (to) the blessed one


We'll take a closer look at Pali Language adjectives in the next post...

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