Linguistic Features of Sanskrit

Linguistic Features of Sanskrit

For this blog having the title सरलं संस्कृतम् it has always been on mind that, learning Sanskrit, even if I called it as Simple Sanskrit, should certainly acquaint one with some essential features and constructs.

My list of “.. the essential features and constructs ..” for Simple Sanskrit would be –

  1. शब्द-s are basically लिङ्ग-विभक्ति-वचन-रूपाणि Here there are patterns depending upon the ending sound of the base form of a शब्द, which is called as प्रातिपदिक (This term is mentioned just for basic information. –

    1. The ending sounds are

      1. either vowels, hence called as अजन्त (also called as स्वरान्त)

      2. orconsonants hence called as हलन्त (or व्यञ्जनान्त)

    2. शब्द-s are

      1. nouns नामानि

        1. Nouns have a gender. नामलिङ्गानुशासनम् There is an अनुशासन between नाम and its लिङ्ग

        2. Some nouns, very few, have two genders. For example,

          1. ब्रह्मन् as God ब्रह्मा is masculine, but

          2. as ब्रह्मतत्त्व it is neuter.

      2. pronouns सर्वनामानि

        1. have शब्द-s in all three genders.

        2. But शब्द-s from first person (I, we) pronouns and from second person pronouns (You) are same in all three genders.

        3. There is no address case (संबोधन-प्रथमा विभक्ति) for pronouns.

      3. adjectives विशेषणानि

        1. have शब्द-s in all three genders.

        2. They also have शब्द-s by degrees of comparison तर-तम-भाव

        3. संख्याशब्दाः are basically adjectival

          1. संख्याशब्दाः are cardinal मूल्यवाचक and also ordinal क्रमवाचक

          2. One uses संख्याशब्दाः also when speaking of time कालगणना or measurements वस्तुमान-भारमापनादयः

    3. Typical अजन्त and हलन्त शब्द-s, i.e. नामानि, सर्वनामानि, and विशेषणानि which should be learnt specifically and also for learning the patterns are listed in  Annex A.

  1. Words which are verbs क्रियापदानि in sentences are formed from verbal bases धातु-s. In Sanskrit क्रियापदानि are धातुरूपाणि.

    1. In any language one uses verbs in

      1. different tenses (Past भूतकाल, Present वर्तमानकाल, Future भविष्यत्काल) and

      2. moods (Imperative आज्ञार्थ, Potential विध्यर्थ, Benedictive आशिर्वादार्थ).

      3. There are also sub-types. Sanskrit has its own concept of catering to the sub-types. In Sanskrit, the various tenses and moods have also been given cryptic names all starting with ल. They are hence called as लकार-s. There are ten of them. However for Simple Sanskrit I think, one can make do by learning धातुरूपाणि in 5 लकार-s.

        1. Present tense वर्तमानकाल i.e. लट्-लकार

        2. Past tense भूतकाल of अनद्यतन i.e. लङ्-लकार

        3. Future tense भविष्यत्काल i.e. लृट्-लकार

        4. Imperative mood आज्ञार्थ i.e. लोट्-लकार

        5. Potential विध्यर्थ i.e. विधिलिङ्-लकार

    2. In Sanskrit धातुरूपाणि are derived by following specified patterns. The considerations governing the patterns are

      1. whether a धातु is परस्मैपदी or आत्मनेपदी. If a धातु is उभयपदी, there will be धातुरूपाणि in both परस्मैपदी and आत्मनेपदी patterns.

      2. whether the subject is of first person उत्तमपुरुष second person मध्यमपुरुष or third प्रथमपुरुष person. Note, Third person in English is प्रथमपुरुष in Sanskrit.

      3. whether the subject is singular एकवचन dual द्विवचन or plural बहुवचन

      4. So there will be 9 धातुरूपाणि for each धातु in each लकार. In 5 लकार-s for Simple Sanskrit from each धातु one has 45 धातुरूपाणि (90 धातुरूपाणि if the धातु is उभयपदी.)

    3. In all languages one has Active and Passive voice constructs.

      1. In English Passive voice (in turn, change of voice) is feasible only for transitive verbs सकर्मक धातु-s. In Sanskrit one has passive voice कर्मणि-प्रयोगः for सकर्मक धातु-s

      2. In Sanskrit one has also भावेप्रयोगः with intransitive verbs अकर्मक धातु-s.

      3. In English change of voice requires use of forms of verb ‘to be’. In Sanskrit there will be धातुरूपाणि, e.g He does work सः कर्म करोति Work is done by him तेन कर्म क्रियते

      4. Change of voice will be in different लकार-s.

    4. In all languages one has causative प्रयोजक constructs.

      1. In English causative constructs also require use of auxiliary verbs. In Sanskrit प्रयोजक-constructs are again by धातुरूपाणि, e.g. He gets work done सः कर्म कारयति

        1. Causative constructs will be in different लकार-s.

        2. there will be धातुरूपाणि for all these.

      2. There can be change of voice of also the causative. e.g. Work is obtained done by him तेन कर्म कार्यते Note ‘is obtained done’ is simply कार्यते only one word.

        1. change of voice of causative constructs will be in different लकार-s.

        2. there will be धातुरूपाणि for all these.

    5. Learning patterns of धातुरूपाणि becomes the essence of having proper verbs क्रियापदानि in sentences.

    6. Since so many धातुरूपाणि are obtainable from each धातु, and each धातुरूप becomes a stand-alone word, one cannot expect any dictionary to detail so many words.

      1. Study of धातु-s hence becomes an important aspect for, rather, before using dictionary to learn Simple Sanskrit.

    7. But one should use dictionary when learning Sanskrit. Most धातु-s have many shades of meanings and even extended meanings. For example the धातु for ‘to stand’ is स्था. But स्था does not mean just ‘to stand’. It has many shades of meaning, such as स्था = stop, halt, wait, stay put, keep mum. Isn’t that interesting ? Dictionary by V.S.Apte gives the shades of meaning even with examples from Sanskrit literature !

    8. In his treatise of aphorisms of Sanskrit grammar पाणिनि added to अष्टाध्यायी an annex धातुपाठ, which lists 2115 धातु-s. One may not use and need all so many धातु-s at the stage of Simple Sanskrit. One can build up one’s own list as one proceeds with the study. In first two lessons there were 25धातु-s.

  2. For some constructs one uses verbal derivatives कृदन्त-s or धातुसाधितानि. For example, (1) I am ready to go गन्तुं सिद्धोऽस्मि. Here, for the infinitive ‘to go’ the verbal derivative is गन्तुं. (2) I am going गच्छन्नस्मि Here for the gerund ‘going’ the verbal derivative is गच्छन्. In Sanskrit there are many, many verbal derivatives. For Simple Sanskrit, I think, one can make do by learning  the following

    1. Indeclinables from verbs कृदव्ययानि obtained by using suffixes प्रत्यय-s (1) तुमुन् (2) क्त्वा and its option ल्यप्.

    2. Adjectives विशेषणानि derived from verbs by using suffixes प्रत्यय-s (1) क्त (2) क्तवतु (3) शतृ and its option शानच् (4) ण्यत् (5) तव्यत् (6) अनीयर्

  3. There is mention of indeclinables अव्यय-s at 3 (a) above. In English there are very few instances when a word declines, e.g. go, going, goes, went, gone. But in Sanskrit there are so many धातुरूपाणि obtainable from each धातु. So, it is important to understand what an indeclinable अव्यय is.

    1. an indeclinable अव्यय is such word which does not change in relation to another word in the sentence. It is important to understand the continuing phrase “in relation to another word in the sentence”.

    2. As has been detailed above, धातुरूपाणि are obtained from a धातु. That means there is a change. And the change happens by use of suffix प्रत्यय. But in Sanskrit we have indeclinables even when there is a suffix, as mentioned at 3 (a).

      1. In the example, I am ready to go गन्तुं सिद्धोऽस्मि the phrase ‘to go’ गन्तुं  is indeclinable, because its form ‘to go’ गन्तुं will not decline even if the other words change, say, They are ready to go गन्तुं सिद्धाः सन्ति.

    3. There are also other indeclinables, which have no suffix, e.g. no, not = न, and = च, or = वा, etc.

    4. Indeclinables are used as

      1. auxiliaries e.g. no, not = न,

      2. conjunctions e.g.

        1. and = च, or = वा,

        2. if, then = यदि तर्हि, यतः ततः

      3. exclamatory e.g. oh = ओह्

      4. in address mode e.g. eh = हे, भोः

      5. as adverbs e.g. horse runs fast अश्वः वेगेन धावति Go quickly शीघ्रं गच्छ

        1. Note, वेगेन is obtained from base noun वेग (= speed), which has masculine gender, वेगेन is third case तृतीया विभक्ति and is singular एकवचन. But in the sentence अश्वः वेगेन धावति, it is adverbial and indeclinable, because it will not decline even if the sentence becomes Horses run fast अश्वाः वेगेन धावन्ति

  4. Coalescences सन्धयः – Study of संधि-s is essential because there are specified conditions when coalescence is compulsory. Basically coalescence संधि is natural. It is natural that if सूर्य and अस्त are to be pronounced in one go, the resultant pronunciation will naturally be सूर्यास्त. The rule of compulsory coalescence संधि or संहिता is संहितैकपदे नित्या नित्या धातूपसर्गयोः | नित्या समासे वाक्ये तु सा विवक्षामपेक्षते ||

    1. संहितैकपदे नित्या = संहिता एकपदे नित्या = coalescence is compulsory, if the resultant is a single word. e.g. in कश्चित् seemingly there are two components, कः and चित्. But चित् is only a suffix. On affixing to कः , the resultant is only a single word. So, coalescence is compulsory and the resultant of कः and चित् becomes कश्चित्.

    2. नित्या धातूपसर्गयोः = coalescence is compulsory between a prefix उपसर्ग and धातु (or word derived from a धातु). For example study = अभ्यासः Here अभि is the prefix and आसः is derived from धातु अस्. One needs to write or speak the word only with coalescence. The two components cannot be written or uttered separately.

    3. नित्या समासे = coalescence is compulsory between component words in a compound word. For example in the compound word सूर्योदय the component words are सूर्य and उदय. The compound word has to be सूर्योदय.

    4. वाक्ये तु सा विवक्षामपेक्षते = In a sentence coalescence is optional or is a matter of विवक्षा i.e. discretion. For example, this sentence वाक्ये तु सा विवक्षामपेक्षते can as well be written and said वाक्ये तु सा विवक्षां अपेक्षते

    5. संधि-s are of three categories – स्वरसन्धि, व्यञ्जनसन्धि, विसर्गसन्धि. Since there are instances as above that संधि-s are compulsory, even for Simple Sanskrit, all rules of संधि need to be learnt.

  5. समासाः = compound words. This is some speciality of Sanskrit. Any study of Sanskrit, even of Simple Sanskrit will be incomplete and inadequate without the study of Sanskrit. For sort of a definition, a compound word has two or more component words are put together. The resultant compound word can be a noun or an adjective or an indeclinable. For example

    1. सूर्योदयः = sunrise is a compound word. Even the English word sunrise is a compound word in English. The word सूर्योदयः has two component words सूर्य and उदय. There is an implicit relationship between the component words ‘sun’s rise or ‘rise of sun’ Narration of the implicit meaning by a phrase such as सूर्यस्य उदयः इति सूर्योदयः is called as विग्रहवाक्य.

    2. The word एकपदे (from संहितैकपदे) is a compound word having the component words एक and पद.

      1. Before detailing the विग्रहवाक्य, the compound word needs to be brought to its nominal form.

      2. The nominal form of एकपदे is एकपदम् The implicit relationship can now be detailed as एकं पदम् इति एकपदम्.

      3. Another option is to consider that एकपदम् is referring to a word, which is a single-component word. By that एकपदम् becomes an adjective of a hidden word शब्दः Then the nominal form should be एकपदः (शब्दः) meaning a single-component word एकं पदं यस्मिन् सः.

      4. एकपदे is seventh case singular for both the possible nominal forms एकपदम् or एकपदः The meanings will be somewhat different.

        1. By the विग्रहवाक्य – एकं पदम् इति एकपदम् the meaning of एकपदे becomes “in (the instance of) single component”

        2. By the विग्रहवाक्य – एकं पदं यस्मिन् सः एकपदः (शब्दः) the meaning of एकपदे becomes “in (a word, which has) a single component”.

      5. It is not uncommon for compound words getting deciphered differently, hence with different विग्रहवाक्य-s.

      6. In a way that adds charm to enjoying Sanskrit literature.

  6. There are some special constructs typical to Sanskrit. Two such constructs merit mention and study even for Simple Sanskrit – सति-सप्तमीप्रयोगः, सत्-षष्ठी-प्रयोगः Although it is difficult to explain the two constructs in an “outline” such as this, two examples come to mind, where these constructs are used.

    1. सति-सप्तमीप्रयोगः – इत्थं विचारयति कोषगते द्विरेफे हा हन्त हन्त नलिनीं गज उज्जहार |

      1. meaning – just as the honeybee, having entered into the bosom of (the lotus) was so thinking … alas ! the elephant uprooted the lotus !!

      2. In such construct there are two words which are in सप्तमी the seventh case. One is the subject doing the action, here द्विरेफे from base word द्विरेफ and the other word, which has सप्तमी is विचारयति. It is सप्तमी of विचारयत्, which is  verbal derivative धातुसाधित or कृदन्त from धातु विचार्.  This धातुसाधित has शतृ-

    2. सत्-षष्ठी-प्रयोगः – गाङ्गमम्बु सितमम्बु यामुनं | कज्जलं उभयत्र मज्जतः | राजहंस तव सैव शुभ्रता | चीयते न च न चापचीयते ||

      1. Meaning – Water of Ganges is clean and clear, that of Yamuna is brackish. But, eh Swan, your whiteness is same, even when (you) dive in both waters. It neither increases nor diminishes.

      2. In सत्-षष्ठी-construct there are two words which are in षष्ठी the sixth case. One is the subject doing the action, here तव from base word युष्मद् and the other word having षष्ठी is मज्जतः, being षष्ठी of मज्जत्, शतृ-धातुसाधित, from धातु मस्ज्

  7. One objective of learning Simple Sanskrit should be to get some insight into the wisdom and charm of Sanskrit literature – संस्कृत-वाङ्मयपरिचयः Such insight into wisdom and charm can be enjoyed by learning

    1. सुभाषितानि – good sayings, two examples are just quoted above, one of the honeybee and he other of the swan

    2. प्रार्थनाः स्तोत्राणि – prayers and eulogies of deities

    3. हितोपदेश-पञ्चतन्त्रादिभ्यः लघुकथाः – short stories with great morals, as in हितोपदेश, पञ्चतन्त्र great for children of all ages.

    4. सम्भाषणानि, लोकोक्तयः – Idioms, phrases that can become good adornments for any speech

    5. काव्यनाटकेभ्यः अंशाः – excerpts from dramas, poetry, novels etc.

Topics 1 to 7 are grammatical. They are not many, just seven. For quick recapitulation the topics are –

Topic 1 – लिङ्ग-विभक्ति-वचन-रूपाणि of शब्द-s i.e. of nouns, pronouns, adjectives

Topic 2 – क्रियापदानि i.e. verbs obtained as लकार-पुरुष-वचन-रूपाणि of धातु-s

Topic 3 – Verbal derivatives धातुसाधितानि which are either indeclinables or adjectives

Topic 4 – Indeclinables अव्ययानि

Topic 5 – Coalescence of sounds सन्धयः

Topic 6 – Compound words समासाः

Topic 7 – Special constructs such as सति-सप्तमीप्रयोगः, सत्-षष्ठी-प्रयोगः, use of स्म

Even among these, topic 7 is more for getting acquainted with, because one would come across such usages. It is a topic distinctly mentioned just for such purpose of being acquainted with.

Also in Topic 5 of indeclinables, there is not much to be learnt, because the words are ‘indeclinables’

That makes number of topics to be learnt as only five !

Of these, study of Topics 1, 2 and 3 will keep building up, rather endlessly, according as one’s diction of शब्द-s and धातु-s keeps increasing. But शब्द-s in particular fall into patterns, which are listed in Annex 1.

Also, it is not that the topics have to be covered, one distinct and separate from the other. In first two lessons, I did cover together the pronouns and verb-forms in present tense.

It had also been on my mind that topics of grammar should be unwittingly covered with the help of suitable and ‘graded’ texts, preferably from those listed in Part 8. That is how I proceeded in संस्कृताध्ययनम्

Annex 1

Specimen Nouns, Pronouns and Adjectives to learn word-formations by affixing suffixes according to  gender लिङ्ग case विभक्ति and number वचन.

Ending Syllable





सर्व (सर्वनाम)

संख्याविशेषणानि – पञ्च, सप्त, अष्ट, नव, दश



संख्याविशेषणानि – पञ्च, सप्त, अष्ट, नव, दश

संख्याविशेषणानि – पञ्च, सप्त, अष्ट, नव, दश



सर्वा (स्त्री.)


सखि  (अपवादात्मक)

संख्याविशेषणानि – द्वि, त्रि, विंशति, षष्टि सप्तति अशीति नवति


संख्याविशेषणानि – द्वि, त्रि, विंशति, षष्टि सप्तति अशीति नवति


संख्याविशेषणानि – द्वि, त्रि, विंशति, षष्टि सप्तति अशीति नवति

सुधी (विशे.)



गुरु (विशे.)


गुरु (विशे.)


गुरु (विशे.)

पुरू (विशे.) स्वयंभू (विशे.)

पुरू (विशे.) स्वयंभू (विशे.)

वधू, चमू

पुरू (विशे.) स्वयंभू (विशे.)


कर्तृ (विशे.)

कर्तृ (विशे.)


कर्तृ (विशे.)




Ending Syllable









राज्, भिषज्


षट् (संख्याविशे.)

षट् (संख्याविशे.)

षट् (संख्याविशे.)



महत् (विशे.)

भवत् (विशे.)

भवत् (सर्वनाम)

संख्याविशेषणानि – त्रिंशत् चत्वारिंशत्, पञ्चाशत्


महत् (विशे.)

भवत् (विशे.)

भवत् (सर्वनाम)

संख्याविशेषणानि – त्रिंशत् चत्वारिंशत्, पञ्चाशत्

महत् (विशे.)

भवत् (विशे.)

भवत् (सर्वनाम)

संख्याविशेषणानि – त्रिंशत् चत्वारिंशत्, पञ्चाशत्


सर्वनामानि – यद्, तद्, एतद्

अस्मद् (त्रिषु लिङ्गेषु समानम्)

सर्वनामानि – यद्, तद्, एतद्

युष्मद् (त्रिषु लिङ्गेषु समानम्)

सर्वनामानि – यद्, तद्, एतद्




राजन्, श्वन् युवन् मघवन् आत्मन्, ब्रह्मन्

विशेषणानि यथा – पथिन् ध्वंसिन्

कर्मन्, नामन्, ब्रह्मन्, अहन्

विशेषणानि यथा – पथिन् ध्वंसिन्

विशेषणानि यथा – पथिन् ध्वंसिन्






सर्वनामनी – किम् इदम्

सर्वनामनी – किम् इदम्

सर्वनामनी – किम् इदम्


चतुर् (विशे.)

चतुर् (विशे.)

चतुर् (विशे.)


तादृश् (विशे.)

तादृश् (विशे.)


तादृश् (विशे.)


द्विष् (विशे.)

द्विष् (विशे.)

द्विष् (विशे.)


पुंस्, चंद्रमस्

विशेषणानि यथा – श्रेयस् विद्वस्

अदस् (सर्वनाम)


विशेषणानि यथा – श्रेयस् विद्वस्

अदस् (सर्वनाम)


विशेषणानि यथा – श्रेयस् विद्वस् (विशे.)

अदस् (सर्वनाम)



कामदुह् उपानह्

Suggestions for furthering one’s study

1. One should keep building up a compilation of study of धातु-s and their कृदन्त-s  as and when one keeps coming across them.

2. Whatever is learnt should be committed to memory. Your knowledge is your knowledge, only if it is with you anytime. Note, पुस्तके स्थातु या विद्या परहस्तगतं धनं | कार्यकाले समुत्पन्ने न सा विद्या न तद्धनम् || Meaning – That knowledge that resides in books and that money that is in the hands of someone else, is not the knowledge, is not the money, what can be useful when there is need for them.

3. It would be good to –

  • translate 8/10 Sanskrit-sentences every day into language of your choice.

  • Next, translate them back into Sanskrit.

  • Check how good your translation into Sanskrit, matches with the original Sanskrit text.

4. Learn and commit to memory at least one new सुभाषितम् every week. Or one may take up learning by heart some text – स्तोत्रम्, गीता etc. For learning सुभाषितानि you may like my blog संस्कृताध्ययनम्

शुभं भवतु |