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Vedic Sanskrit grammar

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Vedic Sanskrit is the name given by modern scholarship to the oldest attested descendant of the Proto-Indo-Aryan language. This is the language that was used in the religious hymns known as the four Vedas, in particular, the Rigveda, the oldest of them, dated to have been composed roughly over the period from 1500 to 1000 BCE. Before its standardization as Sanskrit, the Vedic language was a purely spoken language during that period used before the introduction of writing in the language.[1][2][3]

The Vedic language has inherited from its ultimate-parent (the Proto-Indo-European language) an elaborate system of morphology, more of which has been preserved in Sanskrit as a whole than in other kindred languages such as Ancient Greek or Latin.[4][5] Its grammar differs greatly from the later Classical Sanskrit in many regards, one being that this complex inherited morphology simplified over time.



The language descended from Proto-Indo-Aryan language, which entered the Indian subcontinent with the arrival of the Proto-Indo-Aryans dated to be around 1800–1500 BCE.[6][7] The Vedic hymns are estimated to have been composed between 1500 and 1000 BCE, with the language of each hymn fixed at the time of its oral composition,[8] establishing a religious canon around a literary tradition.

As the popular speech unavoidably evolved over the centuries the Vedic hymns began to be increasingly inaccessible. In order to "arrest" language change, there arose a rigorous linguistic tradition aimed at preserving the literary language, culminating in the work of Pāṇini's Aṣṭādhyayī, dated around 600–400 BCE, which marks the beginning of 'Sanskrit', referred to in contradistinction to the Vedic language as 'Classical. [verification needed]

Despite these efforts, by the time of Pāṇini's final definition, the language had undergone some changes, especially in grammar. The following sections will focus on these differences between the Vedic and Classical Sanskrit. Those features that were incorporated into the 'official definition' by Panini can be seen in Classical Sanskrit and related pages.[9][10][a]

Differences between Vedic and Classical Sanskrit


Over time, the language that would become Classical Sanskrit reduced and regularized much of the complex morphology that it had originally inherited from Proto-Indo-European:[9][11]

  • Vedic used the older athematic approach to inflection far more than the classical language, which tended to replace them using thematic forms in their place.
  • The subjunctive mood of Vedic was also lost in Classical Sanskrit.
  • The three synthetic past tenses[12] (imperfect, perfect and aorist) were still clearly distinguished semantically in Vedic.
  • A fifth mood, the injunctive, also existed.
  • There were more than 12 ways of forming infinitives in Vedic, of which Classical Sanskrit retained only one form.
  • ī-stems differentiate the devī́ and vrkī́s feminines, a difference lost in Classical Sanskrit.





Declension of a noun in Sanskrit involves the interplay of two 'dimensions': 3 numbers and 8 cases, yielding a combination of 24 possible forms, although owing to syncretism of some forms, the practical number can be lower.[13] [b]

In addition, adjectives behave much the same way morphologically as nouns do, and can conveniently be considered together. While the same noun cannot be seen to be of more than one gender, adjectives change gender on the basis of the noun they are being applied to, along with case and number, thus giving the following variables:[15][16]

1 3 numbers singular, dual, plural
2 3 genders masculine, feminine, neuter
3 8 cases nominative, accusative, instrumental,

dative, ablative, genitive, locative, vocative

Building blocks




The oldest system of declension was to affix the endings directly to the nominal root. This was an ancient feature already in decline in later Proto-Indo-European. Of the daughter languages, this system has been best preserved by Vedic Sanskrit.[17]

Ancient noun roots in kindred languages
Sanskrit Latin PIE Glossary
pā́d- pē(d)s, ped- *póds foot
vā́c- vōx, vōc- *wṓkʷs speech
rā́j- rēx, rēg- *h₃rḗǵs king, ruler



In Proto-Indo-European, a new system developed wherein an intermediary called the thematic vowel is inserted to the root before the final endings are appended: *-o- which in Sanskrit becomes -a-, producing the thematic stem.

Declension of a thematic stem is less complicated owing to the fact that a host of Sandhi rules apply no more, and the later stages of the Sanskrit language see an increase in the profusion of thematic nouns. Thus in classical Sanskrit, the thematic pā́da-s is more likely to be found than its athematic predecessor.[18][19]



Sanskrit nouns are declined for eight cases:



The basic scheme of suffixation is given in the table below and applies to many nouns and adjectives.

However, according to the gender and the final consonant or vowel of the uninflected word-stem, there are internal sandhi rules dictating the form of the inflected word. Furthermore, these are standalone forms, which when used in actual phrases are subject to external sandhi.[c][21][22]

Singular Dual Plural
Masc./Fem Neu. Masc./Fem Neu. Masc./Fem Neu.
Nominative -s -au -as -i
Accusative -am
Instrumental -bhyām -bhis
Dative -e -bhyas
Ablative -as
Genitive -os -ām
Locative -i -su

Root Declension


This is the old athematic method of Proto-Indo-European declension still in active use in Vedic.[23][24][d]

Consonant-stem singular
Case Std Ending pád- vā́c- rā́j- path-[A][e] mā́s- [B] víś-[C]
Nominative, Vocative -s pā́t vā́k rā́ṭ pat mā́s víṭ
Accusative -am pā́d·am vā́c·am rā́j·am path·ám mā́s·am víś·am
Instrumental pad·ā́ vāc·ā́ ráj·ā path·ā́ mā́s·ā viś·ā́
Dative -e pad·é vāc·é rā́j·e path·é mā́s·e viś·é
Ablative, Genitive -as pad·ás vāc·ás rā́j·as path·ás mā́s·as viś·ás
Locative -i pad·í vāc·í rā́j·i path·í mā́s·i viś·í
Consonant-stem dual
Case Std Ending pád- vā́c- rā́j- mā́s- vís-
-au pā́d·au vā́c·au rā́j·au mā́s·ā viś·ā
-bhyām pad·bhyā́m vāg·bhyā́m rā́g·bhyām mā́d·bhyām viḍ·bhyā́m
-os pad·ós vāc·ós rā́j·os mā́s·os viś·ós
Consonant-stem plural
Case Std Ending pád- vā́c- rā́j- mā́s- víś-
Nominative, Vocative -as pā́d·as vā́c·as rā́j·as mā́s·as víś·as
Accusative -as pad·ás vāc·ás rā́j·as mās·ás víś·as
Instrumental -bhis pad·bhís vāg·bhís rā́g·bhis mād·bhís viḍ·bhís
-bhyas pad·bhyás vāg·bhyás rā́g·bhyas mād·bhyás viḍ·bhyás
Genitive -ām pad·ā́m vāc·ā́m rā́j·ām mās·ā́m viś·ā́m
Locative -su pat·sú vāk·ṣú rā́k·ṣu mās·su vik·ṣú

Root ī-stem, vṛkī́s and devī́- feminines


A group of 80 polysyllabic ī-stems, most of which are feminine, are accented on the final vowel. Known as vṛkī́s feminines,[25] these exhibit different behavior during declension compared to the later language, such as the nominative singular retaining the -s ending, and in the accent staying on the -i-.

Further, a number of largely feminine ī-stems, known as the devī́-feminines, also exhibit some differences compared to the later language.

These, along with root stems in -ī,[f] can be seen below:[26][27]

Consonant-stem singular
Case Std Ending Treatment Ending dhī́-[D] rathī́-[E] devī́-[F]
Nominative, Vocative -s -s dhī́·s rathī́·s devī́
Accusative -am short(i) + y + -am -iyam dhíy·am rathí·am devī́·m
Instrumental short(i) + y + ā -iyā dhiy·ā́ rathí·ā devy·ā́
Dative -e (y) -ye dhiy·é rathí·e devy·aí
Ablative, Genitive -as (y) -yas dhiy·ás rathí·ás devy·ā́s
Locative -i devy·ā́m
Consonant-stem dual
Case Std Ending Treatment Ending dhī- rathī́- devī́-
-au -au dhi·yā́ rathí·ā devī́
-bhyām -bhyām dhī·bhyā́m rathī́·bhyām deví·bhyām
-os -os dhiy·ós rathí·os devy·ós
Consonant-stem plural
Case Std Ending Treatment Ending dhī- rathī́- devī́-
Nominative, Vocative -as (y) -as dhíy·as rathí·as devī́·s
Accusative -as (y) -s dhíy·as rathí·s devī́·s
Instrumental -bhis -bhis dhī·bhís rathī́·bhs devī́·bhis
-bhyas -bhyas rathī́·bhyas devī́·bhyas
Genitive -ām (n) -nām dhī·nā́m rathī́·nā́m devī́·nām
Locative -su -su dhī·sú rathī́·ṣu devī́·ṣu



Vedic Sanskrit inherits from the Proto-Indo-European period the ability to combine two or more words into a single one treated as a simple word with regard to accent, inflexion and construction.

The Vedic language, both in the frequency and the length of the compounds is very similar to the Greek of Homer. In the Ṛg-veda and the Atharvaveda, no compounds of more than 3 independent members are found, and even compounds of 3 members are rare: pūrva·kāma·kṛ́tvan, "fulfilling former wishes."[28] In the later language, both the frequency and the number of words used to form compounds greatly increases.[29]

The main types of compound-forming were the co-ordinative [α], determinative [β], possessive [γ] and the adverbial [δ].[30]



See Sanskrit Numerals





Verb conjugation in Sanskrit involves the interplay of number[ε], person[ζ], voice[η], mood[θ] and tense[ι], with the following variables:[31][32]

1 3 numbers singular[κ], dual[λ], plural[μ]
2 3 persons first[g][ν], second[ξ], third[ο]
3 3 voices active[π], middle[ρ], passive[σ]
4 5 moods indicative, optative, imperative, subjunctive,[h] injunctive[h]
5 5 tenses present, imperfect, perfect, aorist, future

Further, participles are considered part of the verbal systems although they are not verbs themselves, and as with other Sanskrit nouns, they can be declined across seven or eight cases, for three genders and three numbers.[33]

As many as a dozen types of infinitives can be found in Vedic, although only a couple of types are frequent.

Building blocks


Stem formation


The starting point for conjugation is the root. As a first step, the root may be subject to treatment to form a stem, to which personal endings are suffixed. The types of possible treatment are:[34][35]

  • Suffixion: the theme vowel -a- may be appended, or one of several other suffixes -ya-, -ó- / -nó-, -nā-, and -aya-.[36]
  • Infixion: A nasal infix (n, ñ, , ) may be inserted within the root, which when accented is -ná-.[37]
  • The root may undergo reduplication.[38]
  • In some tenses or moods, the augment á- may be prefixed.[39]
  • In many cases, the accent may vary between the root and the ending, accompanied by corresponding changes in the gradation of the root vowel.[40]

If V is the vowel of the zero grade, the guṇa-grade vowel is traditionally thought of as a + V, and the vṛddhi-grade vowel as ā + V.

Vowel (zero) grade a, – i, ī u, ū ,
Short diphthong (Guṇa) grade a, ai ai au ar al
Long diphthong (Vṛddhi) grade ā, āi āi āu ār āl

Personal endings


Conjugational endings in Vedic convey person, number, and voice. Different forms of the endings are used depending on what tense stem and mood they are attached to. Verb stems or the endings themselves may be changed or obscured by sandhi.

The primary, secondary, perfect and imperative endings are essentially the same as seen in Classic Sanskrit. The subjunctive endings can be seen below:[41]

Person Active Middle
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Subjunctive 1. -ā, -āni -vá -má -āi -váhāi -máhāi, -máhai
2. -si, -s -thás -thá -sāi, -sái -ā́ithai -dhvā́i
3. -ti, -t -tás -(á)n -tāi, -tái -ā́itai -ántai, -ánta

Primary endings are used with present indicative and future forms. Secondary endings are used with the imperfect, conditional, aorist, and optative. Perfect, imperative and subjunctive endings are used with the perfect, imperative and subjunctive respectively.



Present system


The present system includes the present tense, the imperfect, and the optative, imperative and subjunctive moods, and well as rare occurrences of injunctive [42]

Perfect system


The perfect is used mainly in the indicative. The stem is formed with reduplication as with the present system.

The perfect system also produces separate "strong" and "weak" forms of the verb — the strong form is used with the singular active, and the weak form with the rest.

The perfect in the Sanskrit can be in form of the simple perfect and the periphrastic perfect.

The Simple Perfect can form an augmented Pluperfect, and beyond the indicative mood it can also form Perfect Subjunctives, Optatives, and Imperatives. All of these are lost in Classical Sanskrit, when it forms only indicatives.

The simple perfect is the most common form and can be made from most of the roots. The simple perfect stem is made by reduplication and if necessary by stem lengthening. The conjugated form takes special perfect endings. The periphrastic perfect is used with causative, desiderative, denominative and roots with prosodic long anlauted vowel (except a/ā). Only few roots can form both the simple and the periphrastic perfect. These are bhṛ 'carry', uṣ 'burn', vid 'know', bhi 'to be afraid', hu 'sacrifice'.

Aorist system


The aorist system includes aorist proper (with past indicative meaning, e.g. abhūs 'you were') and some of the forms of the ancient injunctive (used almost exclusively with in prohibitions, e.g. mā bhūs 'don't be'). The principal distinction of the two is presence/absence of an augment – a- prefixed to the stem.

The aorist system stem actually has three different formations: the simple aorist, the reduplicating aorist (semantically related to the causative verb), and the sibilant aorist. The simple aorist is taken directly from the root stem (e.g. bhū-: a-bhū-t 'he was'). The reduplicating aorist involves reduplication as well as vowel reduction of the stem. The sibilant aorist is formed with the suffixation of s to the stem. The sibilant aorist by itself has four formations:

  • athematic s-aorist
  • athematic iṣ-aorist
  • athematic siṣ-aorist
  • thematic s-aorist

Future system


The future system is formed with the suffixion of -syá- or -iṣyá- and guṇa.

Examples of conjugation


Comprehensive conjugation tables can be found in the Classical Sanskrit page linked above. Some notes on elements specific to Vedic Sanskrit below:

bhū – 'to be'

The optative takes secondary endings. -ya- is added to the stem both in the active and the middle. In some forms the cluster ya is dropped out.

Person Active Middle
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
1. bhávaiyām bhávai(yā)va bhávai(yā)ma bhávaiya(m) bhávai(yā)vahi bhávai(yā)mahi
2. bhávai(ya)s bhávai(ya)tam bhávai(ya)ta bhávai(ya)thās bhávaiyāthām bhávai(ya)dhvam
3. bhávai(yā)t bhávai(ya)tām bhávaiyus bhávai(ya)ta bhávaiyātām bhávairan

The subjunctive takes subjunctive endings.

Person Active Middle
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
1. bhávā(ni) bhávāva bhávāma bháv(ām)āi bhávāvahāi bhávāmahāi
2. bhávas(i) bhávāthas bhávātha bhávāsāi bhávāithai bhávadhvāi
3. bhávat(i) bhávātas bhávān bhávātāi bhávāitai bhávanta(i)

The following stems can take all endings.

Other stems
Passive Causative Desiderative Intensive
bhūya- bhāvaya- bubhūṣa- baubhavī-
as – 'to be'
Present, Indicative
Person Active
Singular Dual Plural
1. ásmi svás smás
2. ási sthás sthá
3. ásti stás sánti
Imperfect, Indicative
Person Active
Singular Dual Plural
1. ā́sam ā́sva ā́sma
2. ā́sīs ā́stam ā́sta
3. ā́sīt ā́stām ā́san



The most notable difference between Vedic and Classical Sanskrit is in the area of the infinitive. Against the single type of infinitive in the later language, there exist, in Vedic, several forms, all of them being old cases of verbal nouns.[43][44]

The following main types of infinitive can be identified in Vedic, noted in descending order of frequency:

  • Dative
  • Accusative
  • Ablative-genitive
  • Locative

Dative infinitive


The ending used to form this adjective is -e.[i] The ending may be directly added to the root, whether of a simple or compounded verb, or additional elements (-as-, -i, -ti, -tu, -tavā, -tyā, -dhyā, -man, -van) may be interspersed in different cases of roots.[44]

  • Plain
  • √bhū- bhuv·é, -bhv·e [j][G]
  • √hi-, pra·hy·è [H]
  • drś·é [I]
  • bhuj·é [J]
  • -grábh·e [K]
  • -vā́c·e [L]
  • pṛ́ch·e [M]
  • -as- forms
  • cákṣ·as·e [N]
  • car·ás·e [O]
  • bhīy·ás·e [P]
  • puṣy·ás·e [Q]
  • śriy·ás·e [R]
  • -i- forms
  • dṛś·áy·e
  • yudh·áy·e [S]
  • gṛh·ay·e [T]
  • cit·áy·e [U]
  • -ti- forms
  • iṣ·ṭáy·e [V]
  • pī·táy·e [W]
  • -tu- forms
  • át·tav·e [X]
  • é·tav·e [Y]
  • kár·tav·e [Z]
  • gán·tav·e [AA]
  • pā́·tav·e [AB]
  • bhár·tav·e [AC]
  • vák·tav·e [AD]
  • jīv·ā́·tav·e [AE]
  • -tu- forms[k]
  • gán·tavaí
  • pā́·tavaí
  • mán·tavaí [AF]
  • -man- forms
  • dā́·man·e [l]
  • vid·mań·e [AG][m]
  • -van- forms
  • dā·ván·e
  • dhū́r·vaṇ·e [AH]

Accusative infinitive


The ending used here is either -am affixed to the weak form of a root, or -tum just as in the Latin supine.[44] The latter form is the only one that survives in Classical Sanskrit.[43]

  • -am forms
  • sam·pṛ́ch·am [AI]
  • ā·rábh·am [AJ]
  • śúbh·am [AK]
  • √tṝ – pra·tír·am [AL]
  • prati·dhā́·m [AM]
  • -tum forms
  • dā́·tum [AN]
  • práṣ·ṭum [AO]
  • prá·bhar·tum [AP]
  • át·tum [AQ]
  • dráṣ·ṭum [AR]

Ablative-genitive infinitive


This functions more as a verbal noun than a genuine infinitive. There are again two ways of forming this: -as or -tos.[44]

  • -as forms
  • ā·tṛ́d·as [AS]
  • ava·pád·as [AT]
  • abhi·śríṣ·as [AU]
  • ati·skád·as [AV]
  • -tos forms
  • gán·tos [AW]
  • ján·i·tos [AX]
  • ní·dhā·tos [AY]
  • śár·ī·tos [AZ]

Locative infinitive


This is very rare, even in the oldest language. Between the root and the locative ending -i, -tar- or -san- may be inserted.[44]



Because of Vedic's complex declension system the word order is free (with tendency toward SOV).



Sample Vedic Sanskrit text with accentuation etc.:

See also



  1. ^ Sanskrit nouns, Sanskrit verbs
  2. ^ Though in PIE, formal gender differentiation was low, with masculine/feminine nouns showing identical inflections, and the neuter class differing from them only with regard to the nominative and accusative,[14] in Sanskrit, nouns are classified as belonging to any one of three genders.
  3. ^ such as, the mutation of -s to -ḥ or -r etc.
  4. ^ Note how the vowel in pád- is elongated when accented.
  5. ^ only attested in the singular
  6. ^ the change of -ī to -iy- applies only to these
  7. ^ not found in the imperative
  8. ^ a b Vedic-only
  9. ^ which when following a root ending in -ā results in -ai
  10. ^ compound form
  11. ^ note the double accent
  12. ^ cf Greek: δό·μεν·αι
  13. ^ cf Greek: ἴδ·μεν·αι


  1. ^ path m.
  2. ^ month m.
  3. ^ settlement, -wich f.
  4. ^ thought, f
  5. ^ charioteer, m.f.
  6. ^ goddess, f
  7. ^ to be
  8. ^ to send
  9. ^ to see
  10. ^ to enjoy
  11. ^ to grab
  12. ^ to speak
  13. ^ to ask
  14. ^ to see
  15. ^ to fare
  16. ^ to fear
  17. ^ to strive
  18. ^ to be resplendent
  19. ^ to fight
  20. ^ to grab
  21. ^ to understand
  22. ^ to refresh
  23. ^ to drink
  24. ^ to eat
  25. ^ to go
  26. ^ to make
  27. ^ to go
  28. ^ to drink
  29. ^ to bear
  30. ^ to speak
  31. ^ to live
  32. ^ to think
  33. ^ to know
  34. ^ to injure
  35. ^ to ask
  36. ^ to reach
  37. ^ to shine
  38. ^ to prolong
  39. ^ to place upon
  40. ^ to give
  41. ^ to ask
  42. ^ to present
  43. ^ to eat
  44. ^ to see
  45. ^ being pierced
  46. ^ to falling down
  47. ^ binding
  48. ^ leaping across
  49. ^ going
  50. ^ being born
  51. ^ putting down
  52. ^ shattered
  53. ^ on beholding
  54. ^ on seeing
  55. ^ at the waking
  56. ^ to support
  57. ^ to lead
  58. ^ to pass
  59. ^ storm-gods
  60. ^ the sea-god
  61. ^ the fire-god
  62. ^ the divine twins
  63. ^ presses/extracts the soma juice

Traditional glossary and notes

  1. ^ dvandva
  2. ^ tatpuruṣa
  3. ^ bahuvrīhi
  4. ^ avyayībhava
  5. ^ vacana
  6. ^ puruṣa
  7. ^ prayoga
  8. ^ artha
  9. ^ kāla
  10. ^ eka·vacana
  11. ^ dvi·vacana
  12. ^ bahu·vacana
  13. ^ prathama·puruṣa
  14. ^ dvitīya·puruṣa
  15. ^ tṛtīya·puruṣa
  16. ^ kartari·prayoga
  17. ^ karmaṇi·prayoga
  18. ^ bhāve·prayoga


  1. ^ Fortson, §10.20–10.28.
  2. ^ Macdonnell, §1.2.
  3. ^ Reich, p. 122.
  4. ^ Fortson, §10.41.
  5. ^ Whitney p. 100 ch. 8.
  6. ^ Fortson, §10.20.
  7. ^ Reich, ch. 6.
  8. ^ Jamison & Brereton, pp.14ff.
  9. ^ a b Burrow, §2.1.
  10. ^ Whitney, p. xi–xv.
  11. ^ Coulson, p. xv–xvi.
  12. ^ Macdonell, §122
  13. ^ Bucknell, p. 11.
  14. ^ Andrew L. Sihler, New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin, Oxford University Press1995 p.244.
  15. ^ Bucknell, p. 12-16.
  16. ^ Whitney, §261–266.
  17. ^ Burrow, §4.2
  18. ^ Fortson, §6.43.
  19. ^ Burrow, §4.3
  20. ^ Fortson, §6.
  21. ^ MacDonell, III.71, p. 33.
  22. ^ Whitney, §164–179.
  23. ^ Whitney, §383–399.
  24. ^ Macdonnell (1910) §6.
  25. ^ Beekes, §13.2.5.
  26. ^ Macdonnell (1910), §375–376.
  27. ^ Macdonnell, §100.
  28. ^ Macdonnell, §185
  29. ^ Coulson p xxi
  30. ^ Whitney, §480.
  31. ^ Bucknell, p. 34.
  32. ^ Macdonnell, §121–122.
  33. ^ Burrow, p. 367
  34. ^ Burrow, §7.3.
  35. ^ Whitney, ch 8.
  36. ^ Burrow, §7.8
  37. ^ Whitney, §683
  38. ^ Whitney, §588–590.
  39. ^ Burrow, §7.5.
  40. ^ Burrow, §7.5
  41. ^ Macdonnell, §131.
  42. ^ Macdonnell, §316
  43. ^ a b Burrow, §7.17.
  44. ^ a b c d e Macdonnell, §167.
  45. ^ Whitney, p. 518.
  46. ^ Brereton & Jamison, p. 1603.


  • Ernst Wilhelm Oskar Windisch, Berthold Delbrück, Die altindische Wortfolge aus dem Catagathabrahmana [1]
  • Arthur Anthony Macdonell, Vedic Grammar (1910)
  • Arthur Anthony MacDonell, A Vedic Grammar for Students. Bombay, Oxford University Press. (1916/1975)
  • Bruno Lindner, 'Altindische Nominalbildung: Nach den S̆amhitas dargestellt (1878) [2]
  • Michael Witzel, Tracing the Vedic dialects in Dialectes dans les litteratures Indo-Aryennes ed. Caillat, Paris, 1989, 97–265.
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