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Ātmanepada

Also known as: the middle voice

Introduction

All of the verbs we've learned so far are usually called parasmaipada. The word literally means "word for another," and it usually describes two kinds of verbs: verbs of activity (go, walk, wander, ask, stand, steal, find) and verbs used with an object (steal, push, emit). The traditional definition is that the result of the action does not go to the one who acts. So, they are "other-serving" verbs, or verbs for another.

I mention the word parasmaipada as a handy term for the verbs we've studied. In this lesson, we'll study verbs of a different kind. These verbs are called ātmanepada, meaning "word for the self." The traditional definition is that the "fruit of action," meaning the result, goes to the one who acts. Hence, they are "self-serving" verbs, or verbs "for the self."

We can think of the ātmanepada verbs as reflexive verbs since the result of the action, whatever it is, goes back to whatever acted in the first place. For illustration, consider the verb pac, meaning "cook," in the examples below.

Since these new terms are all quite long, I tend to abbreviate them: parasmaipada will be P and ātmanepada will be A. There are some verbs that are both P and A verbs; such verbs mean the same thing regardless of which is used.

Up above, I wrote that these verbs are called ātmanepada because the "fruit of action," meaning the result, goes to the one who acts. But the late Sanskrit scholar Michael Coulson disputes that this is actually the case. Except in a few instances, he writes, the underlying implication is so blurred that it is not worth pursuing. It must rather be taken as a fact of the language that some verbs are found only in the parasmaipada, a few only in the ātmanepada Even if this is the case, it is certainly true that the verbs in ātmanepada are less likely to require an object.

The present tense

P and A verbs differ only in their endings. Both P verbs and A verbs are sorted into the ten verb classes, and both P verbs and A verbs form their stems according to the rules we've already seen. Again, the only difference between P and A verbs is in the endings that are used.

The ātmanepada endings are very similar to the parasmaipada endings. You can see this in the behavior of the verb labh, an a+ verb that means "obtain."

labh (a+, A, present tense)
लभ् Singular Dual Plural
Third Person लभते
labhate
लभेते
labhete
लभन्ते
labhante
Second Person लभसे
labhase
लभेथे
labhethe
लभध्वे
labhadhve
First Person लभे
labhe
लभावहे
labhāvahe
लभामहे
labhāmahe

For comparison, here are the endings we've already studied:

gam (a+, P, present tense)
गम् Singular Dual Plural
Third Person गच्छति
gacchati
गच्छन्ति
gacchanti
Second Person गच्छसि
gacchasi
First Person गच्छामि
gacchāmi
गच्छावः
gacchāvaḥ
गच्छामः
gacchāmaḥ

Apart from the change in the 1st person singular, these changes are regular and easy to remember.

Devanagari: Vowel Marking

Recall that Devanagari consonants are automatically followed by the a vowel sound. One such consonant is (ta). This is true for all of the consonants in Devanagari. But how do we write ti or tu? How do we just say t? We do so by adding marks to the original . These marks indicate the type of vowel sound that follows the consonant. All consonants use the same set of marks.

देवनागरी
IAST
ta
ता
ति
ti
ती
तु
tu
तू
तृ
tṛ
तॄ
tṝ
ते
te
तै
tai
तो
to
तौ
tau
तं
taṃ
तः
taḥ
त्
t
र्त
rta

Note that the consonant r can be used like a vowel mark. It is always used this way when it appears in front of consonants.

The single stroke that makes ta become t is called the virāma. The other symbols do not have names, but we could just call them vowel marks for convenience. In Devanagari, vowels appear both as proper letters (like ) and as vowel marks (like ). But the vowel mark is used wherever possible. Even though each vowel has its own Devanagari letter, these letters are only used when a vowel starts a syllable. As you can imagine, this fact makes these letters quite rare.

Devanagari is one of many scripts that use consonants with a "default" vowel sound. Such a script is called an abugida. The word "abugida" comes from from Ge'ez, a Semitic language once spoken in Ethiopia.