2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Languages

हिन्दी, हिंदी
Spoken in: India 
Region: Indian Subcontinent
Total speakers: ca. 330 million native, 630 million total 
Ranking: 2 or 3
Language family: Indo-European
    Central zone
     Western Hindi
Writing system: Devanagari script 
Official status
Official language of: India
Regulated by: Central Hindi Directorate
Language codes
ISO 639-1: hi
ISO 639-2: hin
ISO/FDIS 639-3: hin 
Indic script
This page contains Indic text. Without rendering support you may see irregular vowel positioning and a lack of conjuncts. More...

Hindi ( Devanagari: हिन्दी or हिंदी; IPA: [hɪnd̪iː]), an Indo-European language spoken mainly in northern and central India, is the official language of the Union government of India . It is part of a dialect continuum of the Indic family, bounded on the northwest and west by Punjabi, Sindhi, Urdu, and Gujarati; on the south by Marathi; on the southeast by Oriya; on the east by Bengali; and on the north by Nepali. Hindi also refers to a standardized register of Hindustani termed khariboli, that emerged as the standard dialect of Hindi. The grammatical description in this article concerns this standard Hindi.


Hindi is classified as a language belonging to the Indo-European family of languages. It comes under the Indo-Aryan division of the Indo-Iranian branch of this family of languages.


Of Persian origin, the word Hindī (ہندی) is comprised of Hind, meaning "India", and ī, meaning "of". Hence Hindi translates as "Indian".



Hindi text in Devnagari script (a prayer to a Hindu deity)
Hindi text in Devnagari script (a prayer to a Hindu deity)

Hindi is the predominant language in the states and union territories of Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttaranchal, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh. Linguistic scholars refer to this area as Hindi belt. Outside these areas, Hindi is widely spoken in cities like Mumbai, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, and Hyderabad, all of which have their own native languages but harbour large communities of people from various parts of India.

Local variations of Hindi are counted as minority languages in several countries, including Fiji, Mauritius, Guyana, Suriname, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK among various other countries around the world.

Number of speakers

Hindi is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, due to the large population of India. According to the 1991 census of India (which encompasses all the dialects of Hindi, including those that might be considered separate languages by some linguists—e.g., Bhojpuri), Hindi is the mother tongue of about 337 million Indians, or about 40% of India's population that year. According to SIL International's Ethnologue, about 180 million people in India regard standard (Khari Boli) Hindi as their mother tongue, and another 300 million use it as a second language. Outside India, Hindi speakers number around 8 million in Nepal, 890,000 in South Africa, 685,000 in Mauritius, 317,000 in the U.S., 233,000 in Yemen, 147,000 in Uganda, 30,000 in Germany, 20,000 in New Zealand and 5,000 in Singapore, while the UK and UAE also have notable populations of Hindi speakers. Hence, according to the SIL ethnologue (1999 data), Hindi/Urdu is the fifth most spoken language in the world. According to Comrie (1998 data), Hindi is the second most spoken language in the world, with 333 million native speakers.

Because of Hindi's extreme similarity to Urdu, speakers of the two languages can usually understand one another, if both sides refrain from using specialized vocabulary. Indeed, linguists sometimes count them as being part of the same language diasystem. However, Hindi and Urdu are socio-politically different, and people who self-describe as being speakers of Urdu would question their being counted as native speakers of Hindi, and vice-versa.

Official and social status

Official status

The Constitution of India, adopted in 1950, declares Hindi in the Devanagari script as the "official language (rājabhāṣā) of the Union" (Article 343(1)). Hindi is also enumerated as one of the twenty-two languages of the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India, which entitles it to representation on the Official Language Commission. It was envisioned that Hindi would become the sole working language of the central government by 1965, with state governments being free to function in languages of their own choice. This has not, however, happened and English is also used along with Hindi for the official purposes. There was widespread resistance to the imposition of Hindi on non-native speakers, in some states, especially the Anti-Hindi agitations in the state of Tamil Nadu, which resulted in the passage of the Official Languages Act (1963). This act provided for the continued use of English, indefinitely, for all official purposes, by the Union government. However, the constitutional directive to the central government to champion the spread of Hindi was retained and has strongly influenced the policies of the Union government.

At the state level, Hindi is the official language of the following states: Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttaranchal, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, and Delhi. Each of these states may also designate a "co-official language"; in Uttar Pradesh for instance, depending on the political formation in power, sometimes this language is Urdu. Similarly, Hindi is accorded the status of co-official language in several states.

Social status

While the Union government has sedulously promoted the spread of Hindi, its official status is not reflected in social importance. As with other south Asian language groups, even native speakers of Hindi, if elite, are usually fluent in English. Education in English is a prerequisite for social status—hence the existence of several English medium "public" (actually private) and Christian missionary schools in India. English remains the sole language of higher education in many of the fields of learning such as Engineering, Medicine and Science. There were numerous pro-Hindi agitations in the so-called Hindi belt as a reaction to the anti-Hindi agitations in Tamil Nadu during the 1960's, but the movement de facto called for an expurgation of English (being a foreign language, sic) rather than actual promotion of Hindi.

Since the elite can use English, Hindi has been particularly weak on the Internet. As a barometer, the Devanagari fonts and keyboards used on computers today were not standardized within India - earlier government standards such as the 8-bit ISCII (Indian Script Code for Information Interchange) or the GIST keyboard were never widely adopted. The present system was finally standardized only during Unicode deliberations. Indeed, Hindi unicode standards were finalised based on inputs from scholars hailing from Fiji and other countries. It is only when Unicode became the dominant standard that a number of changes were sought by the Indian government.

At the informal level (as between friends, colleagues and co-workers, and in entertainment, films, etc.), the use of Hindi has been growing, even among non-native speakers. Hindi is often used if the speakers in question hail from different linguistic provinces, especially if they belong to a social stratum that has not accessed a very good English education, and often even otherwise. Hindi movies have been playing a substantial role in popularizing the language all over the country. Popular Hindi TV serials do the same today. Seeing the popularity of Hindi, BBC World Service started News in Hindi in 1940.


Hindi evolved from Sanskrit, by way of the Middle Indo-Aryan Prakrit languages and Apabhramsha of the Middle Ages. There is no consensus for a specific time where the modern north Indian languages such as Hindi emerged, but c. 1000 AD is commonly accepted. In the span of nearly a thousand years of Muslim influence, such as when Muslim rulers controlled much of northern India during the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire, many Persian and Arabic words were borrowed into Hindi. All Arabic words were loaned into Hindi via Persian, and hence do not preserve the original phonology of Arabic (Tiwari [1955] 2004).

Hindi is often contrasted with Urdu, another standardised form of Hindustani that is the official language of Pakistan and also an official language in some parts of India. The primary differences between the two are that Standard Hindi is written in Devanagari and draws its vocabulary with words from Sanskrit, while Urdu is written in Nastaliq script, a variant of the Perso-Arabic script, and draws heavily on Persian and Arabic vocabulary. The term "Urdu" also includes dialects of Hindustani other than the standardized languages. Other than these, linguists consider Hindi and Urdu to be the same language.

Standard Hindi

After independence, the Government of India worked on standardizing Hindi, instituting the following changes:

  • standardization of Hindi grammar: In 1954, the Government of India set up a committee to prepare a grammar of Hindi; The committee's report was released in 1958 as "A Basic Grammar of Modern Hindi"
  • standardization of Hindi spelling
  • standardization of the Devanāgarī script by the Central Hindi Directorate of the Ministry of Education and Culture to bring about uniformity in writing and to improve the shape of some Devanagari characters.
  • scientific mode of transcribing the Devanagari alphabet
  • incorporation of diacritics to express sounds from other languages.


Standard Hindi derives much of its formal and technical vocabulary from Sanskrit. Standard or shuddha ("pure") Hindi is used only in public addresses and radio or TV news, while the everyday spoken language in most areas is one of several varieties of Hindustani, whose vocabulary contains words drawn from Persian and Arabic. In addition, spoken Hindi includes words from English and other languages as well.

Vernacular Urdu and Hindi are practically indistinguishable. However, the literary registers differ substantially; in highly formal situations, the languages are barely intelligible to speakers of the other. It bears mention that in centuries past both Sanskrit and Persian have been regarded as the languages of the elite, even by those of differing ethnic and religious backgrounds.

There are three principal categories of words in Standard Hindi:

  • Tatsam (तत्सम्) words: These are the words which have been directly lifted from Sanskrit to enrich the formal and technical vocabulary of Hindi. Such words (almost exclusively nouns) have been taken without any phonetic or spelling change. Among nouns, the tatsam word could be the Sanskrit uninflected word-stem, or it could be the nominative singular form in the Sanskrit nominal declension.
  • Tadbhav (तद्भव) words: These are the words that might have been derived from Sanskrit or the Prakrits, but have undergone minor or major phonetic and spelling changes as they appear in modern Hindi.
  • Deshaj (देशज) words: These are words of local origin.

Similarly, Urdu treats its own vocabulary, borrowed directly from Persian and Arabic, as a separate category for morphological purposes.

Hindi from which most of the Persian, Arabic and English words have been ousted and replaced by tatsam words is called Shuddha Hindi (pure Hindi). Chiefly, the proponents of the so-called Hindutva ("Hindu-ness") are vociferous supporters of Shuddha Hindi.

Excessive use of tatsam words sometimes creates problems for most native speakers. Strictly speaking, the tatsam words are words of Sanskrit and not of Hindi—thus they have complicated consonantal clusters which are not linguistically valid in Hindi. The educated middle class population of India can pronounce these words with ease, but people of rural backgrounds have much difficulty in pronouncing them. Similarly, vocabulary borrowed from Persian and Arabic also brings in its own consonantal clusters and "foreign" sounds, which may again cause difficulty in speaking them.

Sociolinguistics of Hindi


Sociolinguists have traditionally given what they call as four major variants or styles (शैली) of Hindi, viz.,

  • High Hindi, the standardized Hindi (based on the Khariboli dialect), written in Devanagari script, which contains numerous Sanskrit loanwords, including those introduced more recently to enrich the technical and poetical vocabulary or to replace words of Perseo-Arabic origin. Traditionally, this is the register spoken by the urban Hindu population of north India and is the form of Hindi taught in Indian schools and used in television news and newspapers. Today, High Hindi with many Persian, Arabic and English loanwords is the spoken form of this language in much of the north India, and is used in Hindi films, drama and television serials.
  • Dakhini, spoken in the Deccan plateau region in and around Hyderabad, similar to Urdu but with fewer words derived from Perso-Arabic in its vocabulary.
  • Rekhta, a form of Urdu used in poetry.
  • Urdu, a variant of Hindi (and also based on the Khariboli dialect), written in Perso-Arabic script. It utilizes a more extensive Persian and Arabic vocabulary and fewer Sanskrit loanwords, especially in its formal register. Before the Partition of India, Urdu's linguistic area was similar to that of High Hindi, but it was more commonly spoken as a mother tongue by Muslims and was identified as a cultural expression of Islam in north India.

Additionally, Hindustani is generally coined for the neutral style that is in-between High Hindi and Urdu and used in common speech.

Dialects ("Mother Tongues")

Hindi in the broad sense (formerly referred to as "Hindustani"; now often referred to as "Hindi-Urdu") is a dialect continuum without clear boundaries. For example, both Nepali and Panjabi are sometimes considered to be Hindi (based on the high level of mutual intelligibility for Panjabi and Hindi especially), though they are more often considered to be separate languages. Hindi is often divided into Western Hindi and Eastern Hindi, and these are further divided. Following is a list of principal Hindi dialects; many linguists regard only the dialects under Western and Eastern Hindi as proper Hindi dialects, and the rest as separate languages or sub-languages. The following listing is taken from Tiwari ([1966] 2004); even he notes that the classification of the dialects under various branches and their classification as a dialect of Hindi or as an independent language depends upon the perception of the linguist.

Hindi region of the Indian subcontinent

This region includes the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttaranchal and Jharkhand. Some people, such as the Government of India (while taking census) regards all the languages spoken in these states to be dialects of Hindi (barring tribal languages). Tiwari ([1966] 2004) lists them under five groups:

  1. Western Hindi (the dialects developed from Sauraseni):
    • Khari boli (खड़ी बोली) or Sarhindi or Kauravi, originally spoken in western Uttar Pradesh (the districts of Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Ghaziabad, Bijnor, Rampur and Moradabad, and district of Dehradun in Uttaranchal) and the Delhi region; the dialect that forms the basis of modern Standard Hindi. It is understood and/or spoken throughout the Indian subcontinent, from Afghanistan, the borders of Iran, to the borders of Burma, and in the south, it is understood in Sri Lanka. It is the almost the lingua franca of the Indian subcontinent, irrespective of political boundaries or official policies. This is not a great difference between the dialects of Khari-boli and Hindustani.
    • Braj Bhasha (ब्रज भाषा), spoken in south-central Uttar Pradesh, in the districts of Mathura, Agra, Aligarh, Dhaulpur, Mainpuri, Etah, Badaun and Bareilly. It has a rich poetic and literal tradition, especially linked with the Hindu divinity Krishna.
    • Hariyanvi (हरियाणी), spoken in the state of Haryana.
    • Bundeli (बुन्देली), the dialect of the districts of Jhansi, Jalaun and Hamirpur in Uttar Pradesh and Gwalior, Bhopal, Sagar, Narsinghpur, Seoni, Hoshangabad, etc. in Madhya Pradesh.
    • Kannauji (कन्नौजी), the dialect of the districts of Etawah, Farrukhabad, Shahjahanpur, Kanpur, Hardoi and Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh.
  2. Eastern Hindi (the dialects developed from Ardhamagadhi)
    • Awadhi (अवधी), spoken in central and parts of eastern Uttar Pradesh, in the districts of Allahabad, Fatehpur, Mirzapur, Unnao, Raebareli, Sitapur, Faizabad, Gonda, Basti, Bahraich, Sultanpur, Pratapgarh and Barabanki. The famous Hindu scripture Ramcharitmanas was written by Tulsidas in this dialect.
    • Bagheli (बघेली), spoken in the districts of Rewa, Nagod, Shahdol, Satna, Maihar, etc. in Madhya Pradesh.
    • Chattisgarhi (छत्तिसगढ़ी), spoken mostly in the recently created state of Chhattisgarh
  3. Rajasthani, mostly spoken in the state of Rajasthan, and also comprised of several notable (sub)dialects:
    • Western Rajasthani or Marwari (मारवाड़ी)
    • Eastern Rajasthani or Jaipuri (जयपुरी)
    • Northern Rajasthani or Mewati (मेवाती)
    • Southern Rajasthani or Mewari (मेवाड़ी)
    • Malwi (मालवी) spoken in Western-southern Madhya Pradesh.
  4. Pahari (पहाड़ी), the dialects of the Himalayan mountains
    • Eastern Pahari, which includes Nepali, now considered a separate language
    • Central Pahari, which includes Garhwali and Kumauni sub-dialects of the newly created state of Uttaranchal.
    • Western Pahari, which includes the several sub-dialects spoken in Himachal Pradesh state.
  5. Bihari (traditionally thought to be dialects of Hindi, contra linguistic evidence)
    • Bhojpuri (भोजपुरी), which is spoken in eastern Uttar Pradesh (districts of Gorakhpur, Deoria, Mirzapur, Varanasi, Jaunpur, Ghazipur, Ballia), western Bihar (districts of Chhapra, Siwan, Gopalganj and Bhojpur) and a small part of Jharkhand (districts Palamu and Ranchi). Some linguists like Dr. Chatterji consider it so different from the other two Bihari dialects that they prefer keeping it outside the Bihari group.
    • Maithili (मैथिली), spoken in the East Champaran, Muzaffarpur, Munger, Bhagalpur, Darbhanga, Purnia and North Santhal Pargana districts of Bihar and Tarai of Nepal. It was included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian constitution in January 2004 and is officially considered an independent language.
    • Magahi/Magadhi (मगही / मगधी), spoken in the districts of Gaya, Patna, Munger and Bhagalpur in Bihar state and Palamu, Hazaribagh and Ranchi in Jharkhand state.

Depending upon perceptions, people also include various other dialects under Hindi, such as Nimari, Baiswari, Vajjika, Angika, etc.

Non-Hindi regions in the Indian subcontinent

  • Bambaiya Hindi, the dialect of the city of Bombay (Mumbai); it is based on Khariboli dialect, but heavily influenced by Marathi and Gujarati. Technically it is a pidgin, i.e., neither is it a mother language of any people nor is it used in formal settings by the educated and upper social strata. However, it is often used in the movies of Hindi cinema ( Urdu) (Bollywood), where it often gives a comical effect on the movie characters.
  • Dakhini, as discussed above.
  • Kalkatiya Hindi, another Khariboli-based pidgin spoken in the city of Calcutta (Kolkata), Shillong, etc., heavily influenced by Bhojpuri and Bengali.

Outside the Indian subcontinent

  • Tadj-Uzbeki, a term coined by Tiwari ([1966] 2004), for the dialect spoken by Indian immigrants from 13th century onwards in the border region of Tadjikistan and Uzbekistan (towns of Hisar, Shehr-e-nau, Regar, Surchi, etc). It seems to be based on the Braj, Hariyani and Rajasthani dialects, and is of course highly influenced by Uzbek, Tadjik and Russian languages.
  • Mauritian Hindi, spoken in Mauritius, based on Bhojpuri and influenced by French.
  • Sarnami, a form of Bhojpuri with Awadhi influence spoken by Surinamers of Indian descent.
  • Fiji Hindi, a form of Awadhi spoken by Fijians of Indian descent.
  • Trinidad Hindi, based on Bhojpuri, and spoken in Trinidad and Tobago by people of Indian descent.
  • South African Hindi, based on Bhojpuri, and spoken in South Africa by people of Indian descent.

Hindi and Urdu

The term Urdu arose in 1645. Until then, and even after 1645, the term Hindi or Hindvi was used in a general sense for the dialects of central and northern India.

There are two fundamental distinctions between Standard Urdu and Standard Hindi that lead to their being recognised as distinct languages:

  • the source of borrowed vocabulary (Persian/Arabic for Urdu and Sanskrit for Hindi); and
  • the script used to write them in (for Urdu, an adaptation of the Perso-Arabic alphabet written in Nasta'liq style; for Hindi, an adaptation of the Devanagari script).

Colloquially and linguistically, the distinction between the Urdu and Hindi is nearly meaningless. This is true over much of the northern half of the Indian subcontinent, wherever neither learned vocabulary nor writing is used. Outside the Delhi dialect area, the term "Hindi" may be used in reference to the local dialect, which may be very different from both Hindi and Urdu.

The word Hindi has many different uses; confusion of these is one of the primary causes of debate about the identity of Urdu. These uses include:

  1. standardized Hindi as taught in schools throughout India,
  2. formal or official Hindi advocated by Purushottam Das Tandon and as instituted by the post-independence Indian government, heavily influenced by Sanskrit,
  3. the vernacular nonstandard dialects of Hindustani/Hindi-Urdu as spoken throughout much of India and Pakistan, as discussed above,
  4. the neutralized form of the language used in popular television and films, or
  5. the more formal neutralized form of the language used in broadcast and print news reports.

The rubric "Hindi" is often used as a catch-all for those idioms in the North Indian dialect continuum that are not recognized as languages separate from the language of the Delhi region. Panjabi, Bihari, and Chhatisgarhi, while sometimes recognised as being distinct languages, are often considered dialects of Hindi. Many other local idioms, such as the Bhili languages, which do not have a distinct identity defined by an established literary tradition, are almost always considered dialects of Hindi. In other words, the boundaries of "Hindi" have little to do with mutual intelligibility, and instead depend on social perceptions of what constitutes a language.

The other use of the word "Hindi" is in reference to Standard Hindi, the Khari boli register of the Delhi dialect of Hindi (generally called Hindustani) with its direct loanwords from Sanskrit. Standard Urdu is also a standardized form of Hindustani. Such a state of affairs, with two standardized forms of what is essentially one language, is known as a diasystem.

Urdu was earlier called Zabān-e-Urdū-e-Mu’allah (زبانِ اردوِ معلہ, ज़बान-ऐ उर्दू), lit., the "Exalted Language of the Camp". Earlier, terms Hindi and Urdu were used interchangeably even by Urdu poets like Mir and Mirza Ghalib of the early 19th century (rather, the terms Hindvi/Hindi was used more often). By 1850, Hindi and Urdu were no longer used for the same language. Other linguists such as Sir G. A. Grierson (1903) have also claimed that Urdu is simply a dialect or style of Western Hindi. Before the Partition of India, Delhi, Lucknow, Aligarh and Hyderabad used to be the four literary centers of Urdu — none of which lie in present Pakistan.

The colloquial language spoken by the people of Delhi is indistinguishable by ear, whether it is called Hindi or Urdu by its speakers. The only important distinction at this level is in the script: if written in the Perso-Arabic script, the language is generally considered to be Urdu, and if written in devanagari it is generally considered to be Hindi. However, since independence the formal registers used in education and the media have become increasingly divergent in their vocabulary. Where there is no colloquial word for a concept, Standard Urdu uses Perso-Arabic vocabulary, while Standard Hindi uses Sanskrit vocabulary. This results in the official languages being heavily Sanskritized or Persianized, and nearly unintelligible to speakers educated in the other standard (as far as the formal vocabulary is concerned).

These two standardized registers of Hindustani have become so entrenched as separate languages that many extreme-nationalists, both Hindu and Muslim, claim that Hindi and Urdu have always been separate languages. The tensions reached a peak in the Hindi-Urdu controversy in 1867 in the then United Provinces during the British Raj. However, there were and are unifying forces as well. For example, it is said that Indian Bollywood films are made in "Hindi", but the language used in most of them is the same as that of Urdu speakers in Pakistan. The dialogue is frequently developed in English and later translated to an intentionally neutral Hindustani which can be easily understood by speakers of most North Indian languages, both in India itself and in Pakistan.


There are approximately 11 vowels and 35 consonants in Standard Hindī. They are shown below:


The vowels of Hindi with their word-initial devanagari symbol, diacritical mark with the consonant प (p), pronunciation (of the vowel alone and the vowel following /p/) in IPA, equivalent in IAST and (approximate) equivalents in British English are listed below:

The vowel phonemes of Hindi
Alphabet Diacritical mark with “प” Pronunciation Pronunciation with /p/ IAST equiv. English equivalent
/ə/ /pə/ a short or long Schwa: as the a in above or ago
पा /ɑː/ /pɑː/ ā long Open back unrounded vowel: as the a in father
पि /i/ /pi/ i short close front unrounded vowel: as i in bit
पी /iː/ /piː/ ī long close front unrounded vowel: as i in machine
पु /u/ /pu/ u short close back rounded vowel: as u in put
पू /uː/ /puː/ ū long close back rounded vowel: as oo in school
पे /eː/ /peː/ e long close-mid front unrounded vowel: as a in game (not a diphthong)
पै /ɛː/ /pɛː/ ai long open-mid front unrounded vowel: as e in bed, but longer
पो /οː/ /pοː/ o long close-mid back rounded vowel: as o in tone (not a diphthong)
पौ /ɔː/ /pɔː/ au long open-mid back rounded vowel: as au in caught


Hindi has a large consonant system, with about 38 distinct consonant phonemes. An exact number cannot be given, since the regional varieties of Hindi differ in the details of their consonant repertoire. To what extent certain sounds that appear only in foreign words should be considered part of Standard Hindi is also a matter of debate. The traditional core of the consonant system, inherited from Sanskrit, consists of a matrix of 20 plosives, 5 nasals, and 8 sonorants and fricatives. The system is filled out by 7 sounds that originated in Persian, but are now considered Hindi sounds. The table below shows the phonology of the Hindi consonants. Note that all nasals, trills, flaps, approximants and lateral approximants in Hindi are regarded as voiced consonants, and that many linguists also call the aspirated voiced plosives as breathy voice or murmur stops.

Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Retroflex Post-alveolar/
Velar Uvular Glottal
Plosives ( unaspirated)
Plosives ( aspirated)


Affricates ʧ or
ʧʰ or cɕʰ
ʤ or ɟʝ
ʤʱ or ɟʝʱ
Nasals m n ɳ (ɲ) (ŋ)
Fricatives f x ɣ (χ) (ʁ) (h) ɦ
Sibilants s z ʃ
Trills r
Flaps ɽ
Approximants ʋ j

The 25 stop consonants occur in five groups, with each group sharing the same position of articulation. These positions in their traditional order are: velar, retroflex, palatal, dental, and bilabial. In each position, there are five varieties of consonant, with four oral stops and one nasal stop. An oral stop may be voiced, aspirated, both, or neither. This four-way opposition is the hardest aspect of Hindi pronunciation for a speaker of English. The table below shows the traditional listing of the Hindi consonants (in the Devanagari script) with the (nearest) equivalents in English/Spanish. Each consonant shown below is deemed to be followed by the neutral vowel schwa (/ə/), and is named in the table as such. The Roman script equivalent that is normally used to transcribe Hindi in casual transliteration is also given in the second line.

Velar /kə/
k; English: scald
kh; English called
g; English: game
gh; Aspirated/murmured /g/
n; English: ring
Palatal /cɕə / or / tʃə/
ch; English butcher
/cɕʰə / or /tʃʰə/
chh; English: chat
/ɟʝə / or / dʒə/
j; English: jam
/ɟʝʱə / or / dʒʱə/
jh; Aspirated/murmured /ɟʝ/
n; English: hinge
Retroflex /ʈə/
t; like "t" but with the tongue tip curled back
th; Aspirated /ʈ/
d; like "d" but with the tongue tip curled back
dh; Aspirated/murmured /ɖ/
n; like "n" but with the tongue tip curled back
Apico- Dental /t̪ə/
t; Spanish: tomate
th; Aspirated /t̪/
d; Spanish: donde
dh; Aspirated/murmured /d̪/
n; English: name
Labial /pə/
p; English: spin
ph; English pin
b; English: bone
bh; Aspirated/murmured /b/
m; English: mine
Palatal Retroflex Dental/
Approximant /jə/
y; English: you
r; Scottish English: trip
l; English: love
v; between English "w" and "v"
sh; English: ship
sh; Retroflex /ʃ/
s; English: same
/ɦə / or / hə/
h; English: behind

At the end of the traditional table of alphabets, three consonantal clusters are also added: क्ष /kʃə/ (in Hindi), त्र /t̪rə/ and ज्ञ /gjə/ (pronunciation given for Hindi). Other than these, sounds borrowed from the other languages like Persian and Arabic are written with a dot (bindu or nukta) beneath the nearest approximate alphabet. They are not included in the traditional listing. Many native Hindi speakers do not pronounce these sounds (except /ɽ / and / ɽʱ/) and replace them instead with the nearest equivalents, as shown in column 4 in the table below. These are:

Extra sounds
Symbol IPA Pronunciation and name Equivalent in other languages Often replaced with:
क़ /qə/ voiceless uvular plosive Arabic: Qur'an /k/
फ़ /fə/ voiceless labiodental fricative English: fun /pʰ/
ख़ /xə/ voiceless velar fricative German: doch /kʰ/
ग़ /ɣə/ voiced velar fricative Persian: Mughal /g/
ज़ /zə/ voiced alveolar fricative English: zoo /ɟ / or / dʒ/
ड़ /ɽə/ unaspirated retroflex flap <none>
ढ़ /ɽʱə/ aspirated retroflex flap <none>

ड़ /ɽə/ and ढ़ /ɽʱə/ are not of Persian/Arabic origin, but they are allophonic variants of simple voiced retroflex stops of Sanskrit.

Supra-segmental features

Hindi has a stress accent, but it is not so important as in English. Usually in a multisyllabic Hindi word, the stress falls on the last syllable if all the syllables are equally heavy or equally light. (A light syllable is closed by a short vowel a, i, u, while a medium syllable is closed by a long vowel or diphthong ā, e, ī, o, ū, au, ai or by two consonants, and a heavy syllable is closed by both a long vowel/diphthong and two consonants.) If the word contains a mixture or heavy and light syllables, the stress falls automatically on the penultimate heaviest syllable. (Cf. McGregor, pp. xx-xxi.) Strictly speaking, Hindi, like most other Indian languages, is rather a syllable timed language. The schwa /ə/ has a strong tendency to vanish into nothing (syncopated) if its syllable is unaccented. Also note that in written Hindi, many words end in short /u/ or short /i/, but in speech they are often converted to ending in long /uː/ or long /iː/, respectively. The intonation of speaking is very important in Hindi (although Hindi is not a tonal language like Chinese) to express the sentiments of respect, politeness, question, etc.

Writing system

Hindi is written in the standardized Devanagari script, which is written from left to right. The Devanagari script represents the sounds of spoken Hindi very closely, so that a person who knows the Devanagari letters can sound out a written Hindi text comprehensibly, even without knowing what the words mean. The entire alphabet has been discussed in the preceding section on phonology.

Transliteration Conventions

The standard transliteration of Hindi into the Roman (English) alphabet) is usually the IAST scheme, whereby the retroflex consonants (retroflex t, d, their aspirates, n, vowel-like r) and the breath h are shown with a dot beneath; the long vowels are shown with a macron or a bar (as ā above; aspiration of a plosive is shown with a following h, and ś is used for sh; and c is used for ch. Other alphabet characters are pronounced as in normal English. Another transliteration ( ITRANS) uses capital letters of English to transcribe the long vowels and retroflex consonants. However, since English is a lingua franca of the educated Indians, and since computer keyboards do not have features for typing the IAST characters, Indians today use a casual transliteration into English for Hindi words; in such a casual transliteration, used especially in online chatting, the retroflex and dental consonants are not differentiated, and neither the short and the long vowels (except that sometimes people double the alphabet to indicate a long vowel).


Despite Hindi and English both being Indo-European languages, Hindi grammar can be very complex and is different in many ways from what English speakers are used to. In fact it has more similarity to Japanese grammar. Most notably, Hindi is a subject-object-verb language, meaning that verbs usually fall at the end of the sentence rather than before the object (as in English). Hindi also shows mixed ergativity so that, in some cases, verbs agree with the object of a sentence rather than the subject. Unlike English, Hindi has no definite article (the). The numeral ek might be used as the indefinite singular article (a/an) if this needs to be stressed.

In addition, Hindi uses postpositions (so called because they are placed after nouns) where English uses prepositions. Other differences include gender, honorifics, interrogatives, use of cases, and different tenses. While being complicated, Hindi grammar is fairly regular, with irregularities being relatively limited. Despite differences in vocabulary and writing, Hindi grammar is nearly identical with Urdū. The concept of punctuation having been entirely unknown before the advent of the Europeans, Hindi punctuation uses western conventions for commas, exclamation points, and question marks. Periods are sometimes used to end a sentence, though the traditional "full stop" (a vertical line) is more generally used.


In Hindi, there are only two genders for nouns. All male human beings and male animals (or those animals and plants which are perceived to be "masculine") are masculine. All female human beings and female animals (or those animals and plants which are perceived to be "feminine") are feminine. Things, inanimate articles and abstract nouns are also either masculine or feminine according to convention, which must be memorised by non-Hindi speakers if they wish to learn correct Hindi. While this is the same as Urdū and similar to many other Indo-European languages such as French and Spanish, it is a challenge for those who are used to only the English language, which although an Indo-European language, has dropped nearly all of its gender inflection.

The ending of a word, if a vowel, usually helps in this gender classification. Among tatsam words, the masculine words of Sanskrit remain masculine in Hindi, and same is the case for the feminine. Sanskrit neuter nouns usually become masculine in Hindi. Among the tadbhav words, if a word end in long /αː/, it is normally masculine. If a word ends in /iː/ or /in/, it is normally feminine. The gender of words borrowed from Arabic and Persian is determined either by phonology (usually the last vowel in the word) or by the gender of the nearest Hindi equivalent. The gender assignment of Hindi words directly borrowed from English (which are numerous) is also usually determined by the gender of the nearest Hindi "synonym" or by the ending. Most adjectives ending in a vowel are inflected to agree with the gender of the noun: /meriː beʈiː/ 'my daughter' vs. /merαː beʈαː/ 'my son'.


Besides the standard interrogative terms of who (कौन kaun), what (क्या kyaa), why (कयों kyõ), when (कब kab), where (कहाँ kahã), how and what type (कैसा kaisaa), how many (कितना kitnaa), etc, the Hindi word kyaa (क्या) can be used as a generic interrogative often placed at the beginning of a sentence to turn a statement into a Yes/No question. This makes it clear when a question is being asked. Questions can also be formed simply by modifying intonation, exactly as some questions are in English.


Hindi has pronouns in the first, second and third person for one gender only. Thus, unlike English, there is no difference between he or she. More strictly speaking, the third person of the pronoun is actually the same as the demonstrative pronoun (this / that). The verb, upon conjugation, usually indicates the difference in the gender. The pronouns have additional cases of accusative and genitive, but no vocative. There may also be binary ways of inflecting the pronoun in the accusative case. Note that for the second person of the pronoun (you), Hindi has three levels of honorifics:

  • आप (/ɑːp/): Formal and respectable form for you. Has no difference between the singular and the plural. Used in all formal settings and speaking to persons who are senior in job or age. Plural could be stressed by saying आप लोग (/ɑːp log/ you people) or आप सब (/ɑːp səb/ you all).
  • तुम (/t̪um/): Informal form of you. Has no difference between the singular and the plural. Used in all informal settings and speaking to persons who are junior in job or age. Plural could be stressed by saying तुम लोग (/t̪um log/ you people) or तुम सब (/t̪um səb/ you all).
  • तू (/t̪uː/): Extremely informal form of you, as thou. Strictly singular, its plural form being /t̪um/. Except for very close friends or poetic language involving God, it could be perceived as offensive in India.

Imperatives (requests and commands) correspond in form to the level of honorific being used, and the verb inflects to show the level of respect and politeness desired. Because imperatives can already include politeness, the word "kripayā", which can be translated as "please", is much less common than in spoken English; it is generally only used in writing or announcements, and its use in common speech is usually intended as mockery.

Word order

The standard word order in Hindi is, in general, Subject Object Verb, but where different emphasis or more complex structure is needed, this rule is very easily set aside (provided that the nouns/pronouns are always followed by their postpositions or case markers). More specifically, the standard order is 1. Subject 2. Adverbs (in their standard order) 3. Indirect object and any of its adjectives 4. Direct object and any of its adjectives 5. Negation term or interrogative, if any, and finally the 6. Verb and any auxiliary verbs. (Snell, p93) The standard order can be modified in various ways to impart emphasis on particular parts of the sentence. Negation is formed by adding the word नहीं (nahī̃, "no"), in the appropriate place in the sentence, or by utilizing न (na) or मत (mat) in some cases. Note that in Hindi, the adjectives precede the nouns they qualify. The auxiliaries always follow the main verb. Also, Hindi speakers or writers enjoy considerable freedom in placing words to achieve stylistic and other socio-psychological effects, though not as much freedom as in heavily inflected languages.

Tense and aspect of Hindi verbs

Hindi verbal structure is focused on aspect with distinctions based on tense usually shown through use of the verb honā (to be) as an auxiliary. There are three aspects: habitual (imperfect), progressive (also known as continuous) and perfective. Verbs in each aspect are marked for tense in almost all cases with the proper inflected form of honā. Hindi has four simple tenses, present, past, future (presumptive), and subjunctive (referred to as a mood by many linguists). Verbs are conjugated not only to show the number and person (1st, 2nd, 3rd) of their subject, but also its gender. Additionally, Hindi has imperative and conditional moods. The verbs must agree with the person, number and gender of the subject if and only if the subject is not followed by any postposition. If this condition is not met, the verb must agree with the number and gender of the object (provided the object does not have any postposition). If this condition is also not met, the verb agrees with neither. It is this kind of phenomenon that is called mixed ergativity.


Hindi is a weakly inflected language for case; the relationship of a noun in a sentence is usually shown by postpositions (i.e., prepositions that follow the noun). Hindi has three cases for nouns. The Direct case is used for nouns not followed by any postpositions, typically for the subject case. The Oblique case is used for any nouns that is followed by a postposition. Adjectives modifying nouns in the oblique case will inflect that same way. Some nouns have a separate Vocative case. Hindi has two numbers: singular and plural—but they may not be shown distinctly in all declinations.

Common difficulties faced in learning Hindi

  • the phonetic mechanism of some sounds peculiar to Hindi (eg. rda, dha etc) The distinction between aspirated and unaspirated consonants will be difficult for English speakers. In addition, the distinction between dental and alveoloar (or retroflex) consonants will also pose problems. English speakers will find that they need to carefully distinguish between four different d-sounds and four different t-sounds.
  • pronunciation of vowels: In English, unstressed vowels tend to have a " schwa" quality. The pronunciation of such vowels in English is changed to an "uh" sound; this is called reducing a vowel sound. The second syllable of "unify" is pronounced /ə/, not "ee." The same for the unstressed second syllable of "person" which is also pronounced /ə/ rather than "oh." In Hindi, English-speakers must constantly be careful not to reduce these vowels.
    • In this respect, probably the most important mistake would be for English speakers to reduce final "ah" sounds to "uh." This can be especially important because an English pronunciation will lead to misunderstandings about grammar and gender. In Hindi, "vo bolta hai" is "he talks" whereas "vo bolti hai" is "she talks." A typical English pronunciation in the first sentence would be "vo boltuh hai," which will be understood as "she talks" by most Hindi-native speakers.
  • The 'a' ending of many Sanskrit and Sanskrit borrowed gender-masculine words, due to Romanization, is highly confused by non-native speakers, because the short 'a' is dropped in Hindi. There are exceptions, of course, if the devanagari script itself dictates the additional diacritical mark for the vowel "long ā" at the end of certain masculine words, like Brahmā (ब्रह्मा).
  • the Verbal concordance; Hindi exhibits split ergativity; see Ergative-absolutive language for an example.
  • Relative-correlative constructions. In English interrogative and relative pronouns are the same word. In "Who are you?" the word "who" is an interrogative, or question, pronoun. In "My friend who lives in Sydney can speak Hindi," the word "who" is not an interrogative, or question-pronoun. It is a relative, or linking-pronoun. In Hindi, there are different words for each. The interrogative pronoun tends to start with the "k" sound:" kab = when?, kahaaN = where?, kitna = how much? The relative pronouns are usually very similar but start with "j" sounds: jab = when, jahaaN = where, jitna = how much.


Hindi literature draws upon the heritage of Sanskrit literature, and has a long history. Tulasidas's Ramacharitamanasa was an early work in recognizable Hindi that attained wide popularity. Modern Hindi litterateurs include :

Main Poetry (Kavya) writers

  • Sushil Kumar Srivastava
  • Ramdhari Singh 'Dinkar'
  • Jaishankar Prasad
  • Sumitranandan Pant
  • Maithili Sharan Gupta
  • Suryakant Tripathi 'Nirala'
  • Mahadevi Verma
  • Sachchidananda Hirananda Vatsyayana 'Ajneya'
  • Harivansh Rai Bachchan
  • Nagarjun
  • Dharmveer Bharti
  • Ayodhya Singh Upadhyay 'Hariaudh'
  • Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh
  • Dushyant Kumar
  • Gopal Das 'Neeraj'
  • Ashok Vajpayee
  • Sarveswar Dayal Saxena
  • Dr. Jagdish Gupt

Main Prose (Gadya) writers

  • Bharatendu Harishchandra
  • Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan
  • Acharya Ram Chandra Shukla
  • Mahadevi Verma
  • Munshi Premchand
  • Phanishwar Nath Renu
  • Harishankar Parsai
  • Agyeya
  • Jainendra
  • Raja Radhika Raman Prasad Singh
  • Ramvriksh Venipuri
  • Prabhakar Machve
  • Chakradhar Sharma Guleri
  • Vishnu Prabhakar
  • Amrit Lal Naagar
  • Bheeshm Sahni
  • Usha Priyamvada
  • Krishna Sobti
  • Rangeya Raghav
  • Nirmal Verma
  • Jitendra Sahay
  • Kamaleshwar
  • Mithileshwar
  • Babu Gulabrai
  • Suryakant Nirala
  • Manohar Lal


Entertainment and showbiz

Hindi films play an important role in popular culture. The dialogues and songs of Hindi films use Khariboli and Hindi-Urdu in general, but the intermittent use of various dialects such as Awadhi, Rajasthani, Bhojpuri, Punjabi and quite often Bambaiya Hindi, as also of many English words, is common.

Alam Ara (1931), which ushered in the era of "talkie" films in India, was a Hindi film. This film had seven songs in it. Music soon became an integral part of Hindi cinema. It is a very important part of popular culture and now comprises an entire genre of popular music. So popular is film music that songs filmed even 50-60 years ago are a staple of radio/TV and are generally very familiar to a layman. Most of these songs are written in Urdū shaayari style.

Hindi movies and songs are popular in many parts of India, such as Punjab, Gujarat and Maharashtra, that do not speak Hindi as a native language. Indeed, the Hindi film industry is largely based at Mumbai (Bombay), in the Marathi-speaking state of Maharashtra. Hindi films are also popular abroad, especially in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Iran.

The role of radio and television in propagating Hindi beyond its native audience cannot be overstated. Television in India was controlled by the central government until the proliferation of satellite TV rendered regulation redundant. During the era of control, Hindi predominated on both radio and TV, enjoying more air-time than local languages. After the advent of satellite TV, several private channels emerged to compete with the government's official TV channel. Today, a large number of satellite channels provide viewers with much variety in entertainment. These include soap operas, detective serials, horror shows, dramas, cartoons, comedies, host shows for Hindi songs, Hindu mythology, Persio-Arabic mythology and documentaries.

Common Phrases

English Hindi
Hindi Hindi
English Angrezi
Yes Haan
You1 Aap (assigned to Elders/Respected Person)
You2 Tum (assigned to Kids/Person smaller in age)
No Naheen
Hi/Hello Namaste
Goodbye Alvidaa or Namaste
How are you? Aap Kaise Hain?
See you Phir Milenge
Thank you Dhanyavaad
I'm Sorry Kshamaa Keejiye, (also Maaf Keejiye)
Why? Kyon?
Who? Kaun?
What? Kyaa?
When? Kab?
Where? Kahaan?
How? Kaise?
How much? Kitne?
I do not understand Samajh naheen aati hai, (also Main samjha nahin)
Help me (please)
Help me!
Mujhe maddath deejiye / Sahaayetaa keejie!
Do you speak English? Kyaa aap angrezi bolte hain?
Time please?
Time please?
Samay kya hua ? / kitne baje?
I do not know Mujhe nahin pata


"Hinglish" is the use of Hindi and English, combining both, in one sentence. This is more commonly seen in urban and semi-urban centers of population, but is slowly spreading its root into rural and remote areas via television and word of mouth, slowly achieving vernacular status. Many speakers do not realize that they are incorporating English words into Hindi sentences or Hindi words into English sentences.

This highly popular mixing of both the languages in most parts of northern and central India has grown from the fact that English is a popular language of choice amongst the urban youth who find themselves comfortable in its lexicon. It is already the medium for imparting education in many schools across the nation. The advent of cable television and its pervasive growth has seen the masses exposed to a wide variety of programming from across the world.

Another factor contributing to the spread of Hinglish is the popularity of Bollywood films.


  • "Dad, time kya hua hai?" (Dad, what is the time right now?).
  • "I have hazaar things on my mind right now." (I have thousands of things on my mind right now.)
  • "Mom, mujhe mall se jeans lene hai." (Mom, I want to buy jeans from the mall).

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