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Pronouns substitute for other nouns

Pronouns & antecedentsPronouns 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 which cam be searched. As it's rather long I've placed it in a spreadsheet - Pali Prounouns.
Pronouns generally can be used either as:
  • a substantive i.e. representing a thing or person' 'she kicked him'; in which case they follow the rules of nouns
  • or as an adjective, specifying a thing or person, 'his trousers', 'those monks'; in which case they follow the rules of adjectives

English Personal Pronouns

SINGULAR
PLURAL
Case:
nominative
accusative
genitive
nominative
accusative
genitive
subjective
objective
possessive
subjective
objective
possessive
st pers.
I
me
mine (my)
we
us
ours (our)
nd pers.
You (thou)
You (thou)
yours (your)
you
you
yours (your)  
rd pers. male
he
him
his
they
them
theirs (their)  
rd pers. female
she
her
hers (her)
they
them
theirs (their)  
rd pers. generic
it
it
its
they
them
theirs (their)  

Pali Personal Pronouns

In Pali, the 1st person derives from ahaṃ; the second from tuvaṃ; Like English, the 1st & 2nd person are gender neutral ie. they have no gender. The above table can be used for English equivalents with regard to case.

There are too many declensions to list here, they are detailed in the grammar guides. However, in addition to many of the guide-book tables and often missing from dictionaries are the enclitic forms:
first person:
'me'
instrumental, dative, and genitive singular
first person:
'no'
nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive plural
second person:
'te'
instrumental, dative, and genitive singular
second person:
'vo'
nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive plural

In Pali, personal pronouns in the third person overlap in form with demonstrative pronouns of 'ta'.

Some 3rd person forms:
Singular
Plural
Masculine
Feminine
Neuter
Masculine
Feminine
Neuter
Nom.
so
‘he’

‘she’
taṃ or tad
‘it’
te
‘they’

‘they’
tāni
‘they’
Acc.
taṃ
‘him’
taṃ
‘her’
taṃ or tad
‘it’
te
‘them’

‘them’
tāni
‘them’

 Pronouns & Implied Subjects 

It is important to note that Pali does not always have to use a pronoun where English would include one! Because in Pali verbs are inflected to indicate 1st, 2nd or 3rd person, this means the personal pronouns (I, we, he/she, it) as separate words can be dropped! For instance in the example below:

'passati' = ‘s/he sees’

because the pronoun ‘(he/she)’ is already implied by the 3rd person verb ending '-ti'.

Verb endings, present, active
Singular
Plural
3rd person
-ti
-nti
2nd person
-si
-tha
1st person
-mi
-ma

It's worth noting that this only happens when the pronoun is the subject i.e. in nominative. All other pronouns must be explicit in the sentence.

An example of use:
dhammaṃ
passati,
so
maṃ
passati
acc
sgl
male

pres, active
sgl

3rd pers

nom
sgl
male
3rd pers
pron.

acc
Sgl
male
1st pers
pron.

pres, active
sgl

3rd pers

the dhamma
(he) sees
he
me
sees
(He) sees the dhamma
He* sees me

So, when translating, the person of the verb sometimes points to and agrees with a subject noun explicit in the sentence and sometimes the subject is missing and is implied so then an agent (he/she/it etc.) may be added. We can see both cases in the example above.

To complete the famous formula:
yo
maṃ
passati
so
dhammaṃ
passati
nom
sgl
male
rel pronn

acc
sgl
male
1st pers pron

pres, act.
sgl

3rd pers

nom
sgl
male
3rd pers pron

acc
sgl
male


pres, act.
sgl

3rd pers

who
me
(he) sees
he
(the) dhamma
sees
(He) who sees me
He* sees the dhamma
Where personal pronouns are used as subjects, this is done for emphasis. Often, the 3rd person pronoun ‘so’, if used, links back to the subject in the previous sentence. 
Thus, in the example above: the 'he' indicated by the pronoun 'so' (marked with *) links to the 'he' of the previous sentence adding the meaning: 
the person who sees me, that same person also sees the dhamma"
"the person who sees the dhamma, that same person also sees me
The various forms of pronouns ya & ta are frequently used together in this way, forming the so-called correlative clause construction. Eg.
Yo gilānam upatthāti so mam upatthāti,"
"(he) who serves the sick, he serves me.
Here's a video intro to Personal pronouns in Pali

Learn Pali Grammar: Personal Pronouns

In this Pali grammar tutorial we take a look at Personal pronouns both in English and Pali. These are pronouns like 'he, she, it' and the video also introduces the term 'antecedent'.

Pali Possessive pronouns

Possession is generally indicated through the Genitive case.

Singular
Plural
1st pers
m. f. n.
mama(m), mayham
my
amh(ak)am
our
2nd pers
m. f. n.
tava(m), tuyham
your
tumh(ak)am
your
3rd pers
m. n.
tassa
his
tes(an)am
their
f.
tassa(ya), tissa(ya)
her
tas(an)am

Although not pronouns strictly speaking, there are some possessive pronominals like:
madīya ‘mine; my; my own’
māmaka, mamaka ‘mine; my; my own’
amhadīya ‘ours; our own’
tadīya (sg.) ‘yours; your; your own’
tāvaka (sg.) ‘yours; your; your own’

All of which decline to match their noun - though I think only nominatives are found in the texts.

A few other pronominals:
 mādī, mādisa, mārisa ‘like me; such as I’
tādi, tādisa, tādisaka ‘like him; like that; such as him’
amhādisa ‘like us’
tumhādisa ‘like you’
īdī, īdisa, īrisa, īdisaka ‘like this; such as this’
edī, edisa, erisa ‘like this; such as this’
etādisa, etārisa ‘such as this or that; such’

For more detail, here's a video intro to Possessive pronouns in Pali

Learn Pali Grammar: Possessive Pronouns

In this Pali tutorial we take a look at the grammar of Possessive Pronouns both in English and the Pali language. A pronoun is a substitute word for another substantive noun; and possessive pronouns ...

Pali Demonstrative pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns are pronouns that indicate ‘this’, ‘that’, ‘these’, ‘those’ etc. They can refer to both things and people. In Pali, several stems are used as demonstrative pronouns 'ta', 'na', 'amu', 'asu', 'eta', 'ena', 'ida'; 'ima'; each with a multitude of irregular declensions.

Pronoun base
Proximity
English
ta/na
not present
that
eta/ena
close by
this
ima/ida
close at hand
this here
amu/asu
far away
yonder

The various forms of the pronouns ‘ta’, 'na', 'amu', 'asu' often refer to something or someone that is slightly removed, or unspecific - similar in English to ‘that’, 'those'.
Whereas, the various forms of the pronouns eso, esā, etaṁ, as well as asu and ayaṁ,. denote something more specific, present, or close at hand – similar in English to ‘this’, 'these', ‘this here’.

Like English, the distinction between this & that is not exact and overlaps.
te
brāhmaṇā
maṃ
etad
avocuṃ
nom/acc
pl
male
demon pron

nom
pl
male

acc
sgl
male
1st pers pron

nom/acc
sgl
male
demon pron

past, act.
pl

3rd per.

those
brahmins
me
this
(they) said
those Brahmins said this (to) me
The first thing to note in this example is that the verb is the aorist or past tense of 'vac' - to speak. Its number agrees with its subject, thus we can decide ‘those Brahmins’ are the ones who spoke. Here 'te' - those - is acting as an adjective and so agrees in case, number, and gender with the noun it specifies, brāhmaṇā. Then there is a double accusative, as is often the situation with verbs of speech, representing what was said and to whom. Pali tends to use 'etad' only in this way; the neuter form etaṃ being much more frequent.

It should be held in mind that the pronouns 'so', 'sā', 'taṁ' etc. can used as the third person personal pronoun, as a demonstrative, or as a definite article!

Another thing which often catches me out is neuter forms of pronouns ending in ‘-ṃ’ (the niggahīta), yaṃ, taṃ, etaṃ etc. when compounded with a word starting with a vowel, the ṃ often changes to ‘d’ eg. 
yaṃ + idaṃ = yadidaṃ,
taṃ + eva = tadeva,
etaṃ+avoca = etadavoca. 

Do Articles exist in Pali?

English frequently employs articles ‘a’, & ‘the’ to specify nouns. Many Pali guides will tell you that there are no articles in Pali. This is not strictly true. 'eka, ekacco' meaning ‘one’, are sometimes used in an indefinite sense, implying: ‘a, a certain, as’, etc. or if plural ‘some’. 
Also, sometimes in Pali the demonstrative pronoun 'so', 'sā', 'taṁ' (he, she, it) are used where a definite article would be used in English. This is not the norm though, and more often than not, articles have to be inserted by the translator. This can result in meaning being skewed by ones choice of definite (the) or indefinite (a) article. 

Here's a video intro to Demonstrative pronouns in Pali

Learn Pali Grammar: Demonstrative Pronouns

In this Pali grammar tutorial we take a look at Demonstrative Pronouns both in English and the Pali language. Demonstratives are pronouns which point to specific things: 'this, that, these, and those'...

Pali Interrogative pronouns

Interrogative pronouns 'who?', 'what?', 'which?' introduce a question. In Pali, interrogative pronouns are formed from the pronoun stem 'ka'.
The interrogative forms of ka may be used by itself or with a noun or other pronoun, as in: 
ko tvaṁ? ‘who you?’ = ‘who are you?’;
ke ete? ‘who these?’ = ‘who are these?’
kā dārikā ‘which girl?’ = ‘which girl?’

The instrumental kena is used with attho ‘need, want, desire’ and the dative of the person to form expressions such as: 
"kena te attho? "
"what you (dat.) want?" = "what do you want?"

The instrumental kena, ablative kasmā, and genitive kissa can also be used adverbially with the meaning ‘why?’, ‘wherefore?’   Finally, kiṁ is quite often used with the instrumental to express ‘what is the use of...'

As well as interrogative forms of the pronoun stem 'ka' (ko; kiṁ kā, kāyo etc.), a sentence beginning with api (or ap’-), api nu, also implies a question..

The pronominal adjectives katara ‘which one?’ and katama ‘which?, which one?’ formed by adding the suffixes -tara and -tama to the interrogative stems, do not differ much in meaning from the regular interrogative.

Here's a video intro to Interrogative pronouns in Pali:

Learn Pali Grammar: Interrogative Pronouns & How to form questions

In this Pali studies tutorial we take a look at the grammar of Interrogative sentences & Interrogative Pronouns both in English and the Pali language. We use interrogative pronouns to ask questions. ...

Pali Indefinite pronouns

Indefinite pronouns include words such as ‘anyone’, ‘anything’, ‘someone’ or ‘something’. In the negative they mean ‘no-one’, ‘nothing’, etc.
They are easily formed adding -ci (occasionally -cid) after the interrogative pronoun ka forms.
  • koci; kiñci kāci, kañci; etc.
Also less frequent -api, and -cana are added to the declined forms of the interrogative pronoun 'ka' (according to Bomhard's grammar but I've not found one in the Nikayas)

Here's a video intro to Indefinite pronouns in Pali

Learn Pali Grammar: Indefinite Pronouns

In this Pali studies tutorial we take a look at the grammar of indefinite pronouns both in English and the Pali language. Indefinite pronouns to refer to people or things without saying exactly who o...

Pali Reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns 'himself', 'oneself', etc. don't really existing in Pali. However, a reflexive meaning can be expressed by some words:

   attā self; (and archaic ātuma, tuma) can be used in two ways:
  • as a noun (nom, acc) in which case it usually refers to the Brahminical sense of permanent entity;
  • or a reflexive pronoun usually used to express' himself', 'oneself', 'myself'. In instrumental: a simple himself, as himself or by himself; in genitive: his own, one’s own etc.
Other words acting reflexively include:
  • saka 'own', acting like an adjective saka agrees with the thing that is possessed - and not with the possessor!
  • sayam 'oneself, by oneself' and
  • sāmam 'self / myself',
  • sa- as a prefix sometimes expresses 'one’s own'.
Here's a video intro to Reflexive pronouns in Pali:

Learn Pali Grammar - Reflexive Pronouns

In this Pali grammar tutorial we take a look at Reflexive pronouns both in English and Pali. Pronoun is a substitute term for another substantive noun; and a reflexive pronouns is used when the subj...

Pali Relative pronouns 

Relative pronouns are words such as ‘who’, ‘which’, ‘whose’, etc. but act differently from interrogative ‘wh-’ words which introduce questions. For example, 
John is the man who bought Jennie a dog."
"The boy whose bike was broken sat crying.
Though English uses the same 'wh-' forms, relative pronouns in Pali are based on the stem 'ya' and are thus quite distinct from interrogative pronouns.

Relative pronouns will be covered in more detail in the next post: Relative clauses.

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