For beginners

Sanskrit is an ancient Indian language that is still spoken and written today, and grammar is the name for a language's rules. Our guide to Sanskrit grammar uses clear and simple language, and it does not expect any special background knowledge. At the same time, our guide is as complete and comprehensive as any textbook on the market today.

Acquiring and studying

First, we want to tell you something very important about language learning:

Someone who has acquired Sanskrit can understand Sanskrit as quickly and easily as you can understand this sentence. We acquire Sanskrit by engaging with Sanskrit content (such as stories and conversations) that we enjoy and understand.

Someone who has studied Sanskrit can deeply explain how Sanskrit words and sentences work and what rules they follow. We study Sanskrit by learning and practicing grammar rules.

Our guide focuses on studying Sanskrit and not on acquiring it. So if you want to acquire Sanskrit, we strongly recommend that you use the resources below:

  • Amarahāsa: free online stories written especially for acquiring Sanskrit.

  • Samskrita Bharati (India, US): Conversational Sanskrit. Includes workshops, classes, correspondence courses, and in-person events.

  • Vyoma-Saṃskṛta-Pāṭhaśālā: Online Sanskrit lectures in a classroom format.

You can find more resources on our site's Resources page.

What our guide can and cannot do for you

There are countless resources for learning Sanskrit grammar. Why create another? We created our guide because we could not find a resource that was:

  • clear and simple

  • complete and useful

  • easy to search

  • delightful to the eye and ear

  • freely available

Most importantly, we believe that a guide should do one thing well rather than two things acceptably. Acquiring and studying Sanskrit need radically different approaches, and we do not think they should be mixed in one resource.

Think of our guide as a map of Sanskrit. A map gives you a basic sense of the world around you. A map is useful if you don't know where you are. But even the best map cannot replace the real world.

Our guide can give you a basic sense of Sanskrit, and it can help you understand the words and sentences you see. But it cannot convey what real Sanskrit is like, because no grammar resource can. At some point, you must engage with real Sanskrit content. And that means acquiring Sanskrit rather than just studying it.

If you have any interest in reading Sanskrit (as opposed to slowly translating it), we urge you to pair our guide with a resource that focuses on acquisition. Just as a map is secondary to the real world, let our guide be secondary to the content you experience.

How our guide is structured

Our guide has a tree structure. Its trunk is a list of core lessons that conveys Sanskrit's core principles, and its branches are the different topics we use to describe Sanskrit's systems in detail. Once you finish our core lessons, you can read the rest of the guide's topics in whatever order you like. You decide what you want to study.

Each lesson in our guide covers one concept or a small set of related concepts. We make each concept clear and concrete by including multiple examples. Finally, we end the lesson with a short review about the lesson's main ideas.

We focus on concepts, not on busywork. This means our guide has:

  • no translation exercises

  • no vocabulary lists

  • no word drills

  • no memorization tasks

It may be a shock to you that our guide avoids these devices. Many Sanskrit resources love and rely on them, and we used to love and rely on them too. But ultimately, it is far more effective and far more enjoyable to engage with meaningful content that focuses on acquisition.

Many resources also use complicated technical language to describe Sanskrit. Technical language is sometimes necessary. But as much as possible, we use simple and clear language that ordinary people can understand. And for each concept we discuss, we include plenty of examples to make the discussion clear and concrete.

In case it is useful to you, lessons after the core lessons will also include the standard English and Sanskrit terms for each concept. These terms will help you more easily use other resources outside of our guide.

How to use our guide

First, read the core lessons and answer all of the review questions they contain. These core lessons are the foundation for the rest of the guide, so it is important to study them well. A tree with a weak trunk will wither and crumble, but a tree with a strong trunk will endure and thrive.

Once you understand the core lessons, read whatever topic you like. Feel free to jump from topic to topic, and go wherever your needs and interests take you. But within each topic, you should read the lessons in order. This is because each lesson in a topic builds on the previous ones.

Learning Sanskrit is easier and more fun when you have friends to help you. So please write to us with questions, comments, or anything else you want us to know. We love receiving email, and we will send you a reply as soon as we can.

What to use if you don't like our guide

No resource is perfect for everybody. If you have decided that our guide is not right for your needs, we have other resources we can recommend. Please also let us know what you wish our guide could offer you.

If you want to acquire Sanskrit, we recommend the resources we mentioned above. Or if you ultimately feel most comfortable with the textbook format, here are the English-language textbooks we recommend for beginners:

  • Introduction to Sanskrit Volumes I and II by Thomas Egenes. This simple and gentle series explains Sanskrit grammar bit by bit.

  • The Cambridge Introduction to Sanskrit by Antonia Ruppel. This beautiful work is friendly, methodical, and clear, and it is an excellent follow-up to the Egenes set above.

You can find more resources on our site's Resources page.

About the author

Sanskrit is like a massive and beautiful forest. Many of the people who enter this forest get tangled in a jungle of complicated explanations. And a few unlucky travelers are eaten by the tigers of anxiety, boredom, doubt, and frustration. I created this guide to give ordinary people a clear and enjoyable path through that forest.

I used to believe that grammar was the only way to learn Sanskrit. I now believe that most Sanskrit learners should focus on acquiring Sanskrit rather than studying it. But there will always be people who love and appreciate grammar, just as I do. And there is certainly a need for a resource that explains Sanskrit clearly, simply, and completely.

I dedicate this guide to my grandparents: B. Raghavachari, Mohana Raghavachari, the late S. Rangaswamy, and the late Malathi Rangaswamy. I also decidate it to you, and to all those who love and learn Sanskrit.

24 September 2021

Copyright

This guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. This means that you can use this guide however you like, as long as you credit learnsanskrit.org. But please read the full license for details.

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