Present Tense Verbs

Also known as: the present indicative, vartamāna ("proceeding"), laṭ

This is the first real "grammar" lesson in this guide; from now on, we'll start studying the details of Sanskrit sentences. But before we get started, let me explain how these grammar lessons are structured.

Each lesson is typically about a specific grammatical feature. These features often have many names in both English and Sanskrit. To speed up the learning process, we'll use terms that are as simple and straightforward as possible. But even though we will use simple terms, we will not study some reduced or simplified version of Sanskrit. We will study the real language itself.

Since some of you might be curious about what these topics are called in English or Sanskrit linguistics, some "alternate terms" are listed at the top of the page. These alternate terms will never be used. You can see these terms in the upper-right: the first is the normal English term, the second is the Sanskrit term with its translation, and the third term is Panini's term. This is the order I will use throughout the guide.

Most lessons come with vocabulary and some exercises but these things are featured on a separate page that immediately follows the lesson. To see which lessons have exercises, go to the table of contents and look for items that are followed by (+e). Click the "(+e)" to go to the vocabulary and exercises.

Definition

Now we will study the most basic verb form of all. First, let's see some examples of it in English.

Here, we see that the verbs all state things that are happening right now. In linguistics, the time at which some action occurs is called the tense of the verb. (This word is related to English words like "time" and "temporal.") So, we would say that the verbs above are in the present tense. There are more technical terms for these sorts of verbs, but I'll just call them "present tense verbs" or "verbs in the present tense."

Let's look at some present tense verbs in Sanskrit and use the same sentences as before:

Present tense verbs have a broader meaning in Sanskrit than in English. For instance, tiṣṭhāmaḥ, meaning We stand, could also mean We are standing or Let's stand.

Formation

Let's look at all of the endings of present tense verbs. For our verb stem, let's use gaccha.

gaccha (present tense)
गच्छ Singular Dual Plural
Third Person गच्छति
gacchati
गच्छन्ति
gacchanti
Second Person गच्छसि
gacchasi
First Person गच्छामि
gacchāmi
गच्छावः
gacchāvaḥ
गच्छामः
gacchāmaḥ

What you see above is a partial description of gaccha's behavior in the present tense. The different numbers are across the top, and the different persons are along the side.

It may surprise you that the persons start with the third person and move down to the first. This is the traditional Sanskrit order, and it has the nice advantage of emphasizing the third-person singular form, which is gacchati in the chart above. As we will see later on, this form of the verb is particularly useful.

It may also surprise you that three endings are missing from this table. These endings are not hard or complicated. However, they are rare, and we can learn more useful material if we avoid rare features like these. Later in the guide, we will study these endings. For now, it's more efficient to just use the six above.

We will use the present tense verbs many times over the next few lessons, so >you don't need to memorize these endings now. In fact, the general principle of the guide is that you should avoid studying as much as possible. Instead of painfully trying to remember different endings, tsf ;jsfphpractice with the sample sentences featured in the exercises. By doing so, you will be able to remember more material for longer periods of time and with less effort.

But if you're determined to memorize these endings right now, here's one small tip for you: in the present tense, all of the first-person endings use a long ā sound. So, we have gacchati in the third person, but we have gacchāmi in the first person.

Devanagari: An Introduction

At the beginning of Sounds, I mentioned that two scripts are commonly used to write Sanskrit. The first is IAST. The second is Devanagari, which is more correctly written as devanāgarī. I mentioned that we would slowly learn Devanagari and start using it regularly. With that in mind, each lesson in the chapter will have some new letters for you to learn and practice. By the time you finish the chapter, you will be able to read Devanagari quite well. For now, let's learn a symbol you probably already know:

देवनागरी
IAST
om, aum

To practice writing Devanagari, you can use this excellent page from IIT Madras.

Review

This was our first lesson on Sanskrit grammar. But with this lesson alone, you know enough to read dozens of words in the Bhagavad Gita. An example: