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Verb Basics

Our First Sanskrit Word

Here is our first Sanskrit word:

Take the time to pronounce this correctly. The syllable pattern is "heavy, heavy, light." The ch is an aspirated sound, so it should be spoken with an extra puff of air. The ā is a long vowel sound. The i at the end is sometimes pronounced as ī — but you should keep the sound short regardless. This is a light syllable, after all!

Now, what do we notice about this sentence? For one, the English version takes two words, but the Sanskrit needs just one. gacchāmi exists as a single word! This must mean that the idea of "I" is contained somewhere in the word gacchāmi. Remember, this "I" is called the subject of the verb.

Endings and Verb Number

Now, let's compare gacchāmi to another verb:

What has changed, and what has stayed the same?

The most noticeable difference that the verb's ending has changed. Appropriately enough, this ending is called the ending. It is unclear where the ending stops or starts, though, so let us leave our discussion there for now.

We also notice a change in meaning. The idea of "go" is still in the word, but we have changed "I" to "we." This is called a change of the verb's number. We were talking about one thing before; words that refer to one thing are said to have singular number. Now we are talking about many more; words that specify multiple things are said to have plural number. For convenience, we can say that a word is in a certain number. For example, we can say that gacchati is in the singular.

Sanskrit verbs also have a special ending for just two things:

Verbs that specify just two things are said to be in the dual. Whenever we're talking about just two objects, we must use the dual. Whenever we're talking about three or more objects, we must use the plural.

In English, we see this division in the words "one," "both," and "all." If we want to ask somebody to bring us two books, we can't say "Bring all of the books," but we can say "Bring both of the books." And if we want to ask somebody to bring us three books, we can't say "Bring both of the books," but we can say "Bring all of the books."

Stems and Verb Person

Now let's bring in another verb:

What's changed? What's stayed the same?

Here, the verb ending has changed. We talked about this above. But now we see that there is a sort of "core" to the verb. All of the forms we've seen so far are just extensions of the more basic gaccha. This gaccha is called the verb stem. Once you have the verb stem, you can attach endings to it to make a full verb.

For instance, here is a new stem for you: bodha, meaning "awaken." How would you say "you awaken" ?

We also notice a new change in meaning. The idea of "go" is still there, but we've changed "I" to "you." This is called a change of the verb's grammatical person. Before, we were talking about things that included ourselves, with "I see," "the two of us see," and "we see." In English, this is called the first person. Now, we're talking about things that include the person we're talking to, but not us. In English, this is called the second person. As before, we can say that a verb is in some grammatical person.

But there is also one more person, appropriately called the third person. Verbs in the third person talk about neither the speaker nor the person spoken to.

Review

Our verbs are made of stems followed by endings. These endings can have three different persons (I, you, he) and three different numbers (one, two, three or more).

Term
Definition
verb stem
A basic part of the Sanskrit verb. We add endings to it to produce a full and usable verb.
ending
A basic part of the Sanskrit verb. The ending is attached to the end of the verb stem, and it contains information about the verb's number and person.
number
One of a verb's properties. The verb's number tells us how many subjects the sentence has.
singular
Referring to one. A singular verb must refer to exactly one subject, like "the elephant" or "I."
dual
Referring to two. A dual verb must refer to exactly two subjects, like "the two men" or "the two of you."
plural
Referring to three or more. A plural verb must refer to at least three subjects, like "the men" or "the countries." Since English doesn't have a dual number, "they go" could be translated by either a dual verb or a plural verb.
person
One of a verb's properties. The verb's person tells us who does the action, according to the speaker.
first person
Referring to the speaker ("I") and anybody else with the speaker.
second person
Referring to the person spoken to ("you") but not the speaker ("I").
third person
Referring to neither the speakers nor those who are spoken to ("he," "she," "it," "they").

Now we will study some basic Sanskrit verbs. Actually, these verbs are all complete Sanskrit sentences. For more information, you can start with the next lesson, which discusses the easiest verb form of all.