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संस्कृतम् saṃskṛtam
Spoken in: India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, and some other areas of South and Southeast Asia; many Buddhist scholars in the countries of East Asia such as China, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam are also able to communicate in Sanskrit.
Total speakers: 49,736 fluent speakers (as of 1991)
194,433 second-language speakers (as of 1961).
Language family: Indo-European
Writing system: Devanāgarī script 
Official status
Official language of: India (one of the scheduled languages)
Regulated by: no official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1: sa
ISO 639-2: san
ISO/FDIS 639-3: san 
Indic script
This page contains Indic text. Without rendering support you may see irregular vowel positioning and a lack of conjuncts. More...

The Sanskrit language (संस्कृतम् saṃskṛtam, संस्कृता वाक् saṃskṛtā vāk) is a classical language of India, a liturgical language of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, and one of the 22 official languages of India.

It has a position in the cultures of South and Southeast Asia similar to that of Latin and Greek in Europe, and is a central part of Hindu tradition and Philosophy. It appears in pre-Classical form as Vedic Sanskrit (appearing in the Vedas) with the language of the Rigveda being the oldest and most archaic stage preserved. This fact and comparative studies in historical linguistics show that it is from one of the earliest attested members of the Indo-European language family and descends from the same.

Today, Sanskrit is used as a ceremonial language in Hindu religious rituals in the forms of hymns and mantras. The vast literary tradition of Sanskrit in the form of the Hindu scriptures and the philosophical writings are also studied. The corpus of Sanskrit literature encompasses a rich tradition of poetry and literature, as well as scientific, technical, philosophical and religious texts.

The scope of this article is the Classical Sanskrit language as laid out in the grammar of Panini, around 500 BC.

Sir William Jones, speaking to the Asiatic Society in Calcutta, February 2, 1786 said:

The Sanskrit language whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no philosopher could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.


Devimahatmya manuscript on palm-leaf, in an early Bhujimol script, Bihar or Nepal, 11th century.
Devimahatmya manuscript on palm-leaf, in an early Bhujimol script, Bihar or Nepal, 11th century.

The adjective saṃskṛta- means "refined, consecrated, sanctified". The language referred to as saṃskṛtā vāk "the refined language" has by definition always been a "high" language, used for religious and learned discourse and contrasted with the languages spoken by the people. It is also called deva-bhāṣā meaning "language of the gods". The oldest surviving Sanskrit grammar is Pāṇini's Aṣṭādhyāyī ("Eight-Chapter Grammar") dating to ca. the 5th century BC. It is essentially a prescriptive grammar, i.e., an authority that defines (rather than describes) correct Sanskrit, although it contains descriptive parts, mostly to account for Vedic forms that had already passed out of use in Panini's time.

Sanskrit belongs to the Indo-Aryan sub-family of the Indo-European family of languages. Together with the Iranian languages it belongs to the Indo-Iranian branch and as such is part of the Satem group of Indo-European languages, which also includes the Balto-Slavic branch.

When the term arose in Southern India, "Sanskrit" was not thought of as a specific language set apart from other languages, but rather as a particularly refined or perfected manner of speaking. Knowledge of Sanskrit was a marker of social class and educational attainment and was taught mainly to Brahmins through close analysis of Sanskrit grammarians such as Pāṇini. Sanskrit as the learned language of Ancient India thus existed alongside the Prakrits (vernaculars), which evolved into the modern Indo-Aryan languages (Hindi/ Urdu, Bengali etc.). Most of the Dravidian languages of India, despite being a separate linguistic family by their own right, are highly influenced by Sanskrit, especially in terms of loanwords. Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam have the highest incidence of loans while Tamil has the lowest. This influence of Sanskrit on these languages is recognized by the notions of Tat Sama (equivalent) and Tat Bhava (rooted in). Sanskrit itself has also been exposed to Dravidian substratum influence in ancient times.

Vedic Sanskrit

Sanskrit, as defined by Pāṇini, had evolved out of the earlier "Vedic" form, and scholars often distinguish Vedic Sanskrit and Classical or "Paninian" Sanskrit as separate dialects. However, they are extremely similar in many ways and differ mostly in a few points of phonology, vocabulary, and grammar. Classical Sanskrit can therefore be considered a seamless evolution of the earlier Vedic language. Vedic Sanskrit is the language of the Vedas, a large collection of hymns, incantations, and religio-philosophical discussions which form the earliest religious texts in India and the basis for much of the Hindu religion. Modern linguists consider the metrical hymns of the Rigveda Samhita to be the earliest, composed by many authors over centuries of oral tradition. The end of the Vedic period is marked by the composition of the Upanishads, which form the concluding part of the Vedic corpus in the traditional compilations. The current hypothesis is that the Vedic form of Sanskrit survived until the middle of the first millennium BC. It is around this time that Sanskrit began the transition from a first language to a second language of religion and learning, marking the beginning of the Classical period.

Hinduism believes that the language of the Vedas is eternal and revealed in its wording and word order. Evidence for this belief is found in the Vedas itself, where in the Upanishads they are described as the very "breath of God" (niḥśvāsitam brahma). The Vedas are therefore considered "the language of reality", so to speak, and are unauthored, even by God, the rishis or seers ascribed to them being merely individuals gifted with a special insight into reality with the power of perceiving these eternal sounds. At the beginning of every cycle of creation, God himself "remembers" the order of the Vedic words and propagates them through the rishis. Orthodox Hindus, while accepting the linguistic development of Sanskrit as such, do not admit any historical stratification within the Vedic corpus itself.

This belief is of significant consequence in Indian religious history, as the very sacredness and eternality of the language encouraged exact memorization and transmission and discouraged textual learning via written propagation (see: Apaurusheyatva). Each word is believed to have innate and eternal meaning and, when properly pronounced, mystic expressive power. Erroneous learning of repetition of the Veda was considered a grave sin with potentially immediate negative consequences. Consequently, Vedic learning by rote was encouraged and prized, particularly among Brahmins, where learning of one's own Vedic texts was a mandated duty.

Classical Sanskrit

A significant form of post-Vedic Sanskrit is found in the Sanskrit of the Hindu Epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The deviations from Pāṇini in the epics are generally due to interference from Prakrits, and not because they are 'pre-Paninean'. "In fact, almost all 'un-Paninean' forms of Epic Sanskrit are innovations" [Oberlies, "A Grammar of Epic Sanskrit", p.XXIX, emphasis in the original]. Traditional Sanskrit scholars call such deviations aarsha (आर्ष) or "of the rishis", the traditional title for the ancient authors. In some contexts there are also more "prakritisms" (borrowings from common speech) than Classical Sanskrit proper. Finally, there is also a language dubbed " Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit" by scholars, which is actually a prakrit ornamented with Sanskritized elements (see also termination of spoken Sanskrit). According to Tiwari ([1955] 2004), there were four principal dialects of Sanskrit, viz., paścimottarī (Northwestern, also called Northern or Western), madhyadeśī (lit., middle country), pūrvi (Eastern) and dakṣiṇī (Southern, arose in the Classical period). The first three are even attested in the Vedic Brāhmaṇas, of which the first one was regarded as the purest (Kauṣītaki Brāhmaṇa, 7.6).

European Scholarship

European scholarship in Sanskrit, begun by Heinrich Roth (1620 - 1668) and Johann Ernst Hanxleden (1681 - 1731), led to the proposal of the Indo-European language family by Sir William Jones, and thus played an important role in the development of Western linguistics. Indeed, linguistics (along with phonology, etc.) first arose among Indian grammarians who were attempting to catalog and codify Sanskrit's rules. Modern linguistics owes a great deal to these grammarians, and to this day, for example, key terms for compound analysis such as bahuvrihi are taken from Sanskrit.

Principal Differences

Vedic Sanskrit differs from Classical Sanskrit to an extent comparable to the difference between Homeric Greek and Classical Greek. Tiwari ([1955] 2005) lists the following principal differences between the two:

In Phonology

  • Vedic Sanskrit had a voiceless bilabial fricative (/ɸ/, called upadhmānīya) and a voiceless velar fricative (/x/, called jihvāmūlīya)—which used to occur when the breath visarga (अः) appeared before voiceless labial and velar consonants respectively. Both of them were lost in Classical Sanskrit to give way to the simple visarga.
  • Vedic Sanskrit had a retroflex lateral approximant (/ɭ/) (ळ) as well as its aspirated counterpart /ɭʰ/ (ळ्ह), which were lost in Classical Sanskrit, to be replaced with the corresponding plosives /ɖ/ (ड) and /ɖʰ/ (ढ). (Varies by region; vedic pronunciations are still in common use in some regions, e.g. southern India, including Maharashtra.)
  • The pronunciations of syllabic /ɻˌ/ (ऋ), /lˌ/ (लृ) and their long counterparts no longer retained their pure pronunciations, but had started to be pronounced as short and long /ɻi/ (रि) and /li/ (ल्रि). (Varies by region; vedic pronunciations are still in common use in some regions, e.g. southern India, including Maharashtra)
  • The vowels e (ए) and o (ओ) were actually realized in Vedic Sanskrit as diphthongs /ǎi/ and /ǎu/, but they became pure monophthongs /eː/ and /oː/ in Classical Sanskrit.
  • The vowels ai (ऐ) and au (औ) were actually realized in Vedic Sanskrit as diphthongs /aːi/ (आइ) and /aːu/ (आउ), but they became diphthongs /ǎi/ (अइ) and /ǎu/ (अउ) in Classical Sanskrit.
  • The Prātishākhyas claim that the dental consonants were articulated from the root of the teeth (dantamūlīya), but they became pure dentals later. This included the /r/, which later became retroflex.
  • Vedic Sanskrit had a pitch accent which could even change the meaning of the words, and was still in use in Panini's time, as we can infer by his use of devices to indicate its position. At some latter time, this was replaced by a stress accent limited to the second to fourth syllables from the end. Today, the pitch accent can be heard only in the traditional Vedic chantings.
  • Vedic Sanskrit often allowed two like vowels to come together without merger during Sandhi.

In Grammar

  • The subjunctive mood of Vedic Sanskrit was also lost in Classical Sanskrit. Also, there was no fixed rule about the use of various tenses (luṇ, laṇ and liṭ).
  • There were more than 12 ways of forming infinitives in Vedic Sanskrit, of which Classical Sanskrit retained only one form.
  • Nominal declinations and verbal conjugation also changed pronunciation, although the spelling was mostly retained in Classical Sanskrit. E.g., along with the Classical Sanskrit's declension of deva as devaḥdevaudevāḥ, Vedic Sanskrit additionally allowed the forms devaḥdevādevāsaḥ. Similarly Vedic Sanskrit has declined forms such as asme, tve, yuṣme, tvā, etc. for the 1st and 2nd person pronouns, not found in Classical Sanskrit. The obvious reason is the attempt of Classical Sanskrit to regularize and standardize its grammar, which simultaneously led to a purge of Old Proto-Indo-European forms.
  • To emphasize that Proto-Indo-European and its immediate daughters were essentially end-inflected languages, both Proto-Indo-European and Vedic Sanskrit had independent prefix-morphemes. Such prefixes (especially for verbs) could come anywhere in the sentence, but in Classical Sanskrit, it became mandatory to attach them immediately before the verb.

In Vocabulary

  • Many lexemes attested in the Vedic texts became lost, while others contained a considerable amount of polysemy. Numerous loanwords from Dravidian languages brought in more and more retroflex plosives.

Phonology of Classical Sanskrit

Classical Sanskrit distinguishes 48 sounds. Some of these, are, however, allophones. The number of phonemes is smaller, at about 35, see below.

The sounds are traditionally listed in the order vowels (Ach), diphthongs (Hal), anusvara and visarga, stops (Sparśa) and nasals (starting in the back of the mouth and moving forward), and finally the liquids and fricatives, written in IAST as follows (see the tables below for details):

a ā i ī u ū ṛ ṝ ḷ ḹ ; e ai o au
ṃ ḥ
k kh g gh ṅ; c ch j jh ñ; ṭ ṭh ḍ ḍh ṇ; t th d dh n; p ph b bh m
y r l v; ś ṣ s h

An alternate traditional ordering is that of the Shiva Sutra of Pāṇini.


The vowels of Classical Sanskrit with their word-initial Devanagari symbol, diacritical mark with the consonant प् (/p/), pronunciation (of the vowel alone and of /p/+vowel) in IPA, equivalent in IAST and ITRANS and (approximate) equivalents in Standard English are listed below:

Letter Diacritical mark with “प् Pronunciation Pronunciation with /p/ IAST equiv. ITRANS equiv. Approximate English equivalent
/ə/ or /ä/ (two sounds are represented by the same letter) /pə/ or /pä/ a a short Schwa: as the a in above or sometimes like the u in under.
पा /ɑː/ /pɑː/ ā A long Open back unrounded vowel: as the a in father
पि /i/ /pi/ i i short close front unrounded vowel: as i in bit
पी /iː/ /piː/ ī I long close front unrounded vowel: as i in machine
पु /u/ /pu/ u u short close back rounded vowel: as u in put
पू /uː/ /puː/ ū U long close back rounded vowel: as oo in school
पे /eː/ /peː/ e e long close-mid front unrounded vowel: as a in game (not a diphthong), or é in café
पै /əi/ or /ai/ /pəi/ or /pai/ ai ai a long diphthong: approx. as ei in height
पो /οː/ /poː/ o o long close-mid back rounded vowel: as o in tone (not a diphthong)
पौ /əu/ or /au/ /pəu/ or /pau/ au au a long diphthong: approx. as ou in house
पृ /ɻ̩/ /pɻ̩/ R short syllabic vowel-like retroflex approximant
पॄ /ɻ̩ː/ /pɻ̩ː/ RR long syllabic vowel-like retroflex approximant: a longer version of /r̩/
पॢ /ɭ̩/ /pɭ̩/ LR short syllabic vowel-like retroflex lateral approximant: approx. as handle
पॣ /ɭ̩ː/ /pɭ̩ː/ LRR long syllabic vowel-like retroflex lateral approximant: longer version of /l̩/

The long vowels are held about twice as long as their short counterparts. Also, there exists a third, extra-long length for most vowels, called pluti, which is used in various cases, but particularly in the vocative. The pluti is not accepted by all grammarians.

The vowels e and o continue as allophonic variants of Proto-Indo-Iranian /ai/, /au/, and they are phonologically (conceptually) /ai/ and /au/ still in Sanskrit, and are categorized as diphthongs by Sanskrit grammarians even though they are realized phonetically as simple long vowels. (See above).

Additional points:

  • There are some additional vowels traditionally listed in the Sanskrit/Hindi alphabet. They are :
    • अं (called anusvāra), pronounced as /əŋ/ ( IAST: ). Its diacritic (the dot above) is used both for nasalizing the vowel in the syllable and for the sound of a vowel-like /n/ or /m/. (पं).
    • अः (called visarga), pronounced as /əh/ ( IAST: ).
    • The diacritic }} (called chandrabindu), not listed in the alphabet, is used interchangeably with the anusvāra to indicate nasalization of the vowel (पँ).
  • If a lone consonant needs to be written without any following vowel, it is given a halanta/virāma diacritic below (प्).
  • The vowel /aː/ in Sanskrit is realized as being more central and less back than the closest English approximation, which is ɑː. But the grammarians have classified it as a back vowel. (Tiwari, [1955] 2004).
  • All vowels in Hindi, short or long, can be nasalized. All vowels can have acute grave or circumflex pitch accent.
  • Note that the ancient Sanskrit grammarians have classified the vowel system as velars, retroflexes, palatals and plosives rather than as back, central and front vowels. Hence and are classified respectively as palato-velar (a+i) and labio-velar (a+u) vowels respectively. But the grammarians have classified them as diphthongs and in prosody, each is given two mātrās. This does not necessarily mean that they are proper diphthongs, but neither excludes the possibility that they could have been proper diphthongs at a very ancient stage (see above). These vowels are pronounced as long /eː/ and /oː/ respectively by learned Sanskrit Brahmans and priests of today. Other than the "four" diphthongs, Sanskrit usually disallows any other diphthong—vowels in succession, where they occur, are converted to semivowels according to predetermined rules.
  • In the devanagari script used for Sanskrit, whenever a consonant in a word-ending position is without any virāma (ie, freely standing in the orthography: as opposed to प्), the neutral vowel schwa (/ə/) is automatically associated with it—this is of course true for the consonant to be in any position in the word. Word-ending schwa is always short. But the IAST a appended to the end of masculine noun words rather confuses the foreigners to pronounce it as /ɑː/—this makes the masculine Sanskrit/Hindi words sound like feminine! e.g., shiva must be pronounced as /ɕivə/ and not as /ɕivɑː/. Tiwari ([1955] 2004) argues that in Vedic Sanskrit, अ was simply short ɑ, and became centralized and raised in the era of the Prakrits.


IAST and Devanagari notations are given, with approximate IPA values in square brackets.

p [p] b [b] t [t̪] d [d̪] [ʈ] [ɖ] c [c] j [ɟ] k [k] g [g]
ph [pʰ] bh [bʱ] th [t̪ʰ] dh [d̪ʱ] ṭh [ʈʰ] ḍh [ɖʱ] ch [cʰ] jh [ɟʱ] kh [kʰ] gh [gʱ]
m [m] n [n̪] [ɳ] ñ [ɲ] [ŋ]
v [ʋ] y [j]
l [l̪] r [ɻ]
s [s̪] [ʂ] ś [ɕ] [h] h [ɦ]

The table below shows the traditional listing of the Sanskrit consonants 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.

Alpaprāna Śvāsa
Mahāprāna Śvāsa
Alpaprāna Nāda
Mahāprāna Nāda
Anunāsika Nāda

/kə/; English: skip

/kʰə/; English: cat

/gə/; English: game

/gʱə/; Aspirated /g/

/ŋə/; English: ring

/cə/; ≈English: chat

/cʰə/; Aspirated /c/

/ɟə/; ≈English: jam

/ɟʱə/; Aspirated /ɟ/

/ɲə/; English: finch

/ʈə/; American Eng: hurting

/ʈʰə/; Aspirated /ʈ/

/ɖə/; American Eng: murder

/ɖʱə/; Aspirated /ɖ/

/ɳə/; American Eng: hunter
Apico- Dental

/t̪ə/; Spanish: tomate

/t̪ʰə/; Aspirated /t̪/

/d̪ə/; Spanish: donde

/d̪ʱə/; Aspirated /d̪/

/n̪ə/; English: name

/pə/; English: spin

/pʰə/; English: pit

/bə/; English: bone

/bʱə/; Aspirated /b/

/mə/; English: mine

/jə/; English: you

/rə/; American Eng: tearing

/l̪ə/; English: love
व (labio-dental)
/ʋə/; English: vase

/ɕə/; English: ship

/ʂə/; Retroflex form of /ʃ/

/s̪ə/; English: same
/ɦə/; English behind


The Sanskrit vowels are as discussed in the section above. The long syllabic l () is not attested, and is only discussed by grammarians for systematic reasons. Its short counterpart occurs in a single root only, kḷp "to order, array". Long syllabic r () is also quite marginal, occurring in the genitive plural of r-stems (e.g. mātṛ "mother" and pitṛ "father" have mātṝṇām and pitṝṇām). i, u, ṛ, ḷ are vocalic allophones of consonantal y, v, r, l. There are thus only 5 invariably vocalic phonemes,

a, ā, ī, ū, ṝ.

Visarga is an allophone of r and s, and anusvara , Devanagari of any nasal, both in pausa (ie, the nasalized vowel). The exact pronunciation of the three sibilants may vary, but they are distinct phonemes. An aspirated voiced sibilant /zʱ/ was inherited by Indo-Aryan from Proto-Indo-Iranian but lost shortly before the time of the Rigveda (note that aspirated sibilant are exceedingly rare in any language). The retroflex consonants are somewhat marginal phonemes, often being conditioned by their phonetic environment; they do not continue a PIE series and are often ascribed by some linguists to the substratal influence of Dravidian. The nasal ñ is a conditioned allophone of n (n and are distinct phonemes - one has to distinguish aṇu "minute, atomic" (nom. sg. neutr. of an adjective) from anu "after, along"; phonologically independent occurs only marginally, e.g. in prāṅ "directed forwards/towards" (nom. sg. masc. of an adjective) and can thus be omitted). There are thus 31 consonantal or semi-vocalic phonemes, consisting of four/five kinds of stops realized both with or without aspiration and both voiced and voiceless, three nasals, four semi-vowels or liquids, and four fricatives, written in IAST transliteration as follows:

k, kh, g, gh; c, ch, j, jh; ṭ, ṭh, ḍ, ḍh; t, th, d, dh; p, ph, b, bh; m, n, ṇ; y, r, l, v; ś, ṣ, s, h

or a total of 36 unique Sanskrit phonemes altogether.

The phonological rules to be applied when combining morphemes to a word, and when combining words to a sentence are collectively called sandhi "composition". Texts are written phonetically, with sandhi applied (except for the so-called padapāha).

Some additional features of the Sanskrit phonological system are given here, as well as some useful tips for those whose native language is English but are interested in learning Sanskrit language.

  • No other nasal consonant except /m/ and /n/ can start a word in Sanskrit.
  • The number of allowable consonant clusters of Sanskrit is limited, but still very large as compared to other IE languages.
  • The "r" of Sanskrit may be as in Standard American English. Certain regional traditions pronounce the vowel "ṛ" (ऋ) as /ri/, while others as /ru/. Still others pronounce it simply as /r/. The oldest Śikṣās (general phonetic texts) and Prātiśākhyas (phonetic studies of particular branches of Vedas) vary significantly in descriptions of these sounds; this may be due to different dialects and/or traditions their authors belonged to.
  • There is no retroflex flap (ड़) in Sanskrit. In modern Hindi, they have sprung up as the allophonic flap variants of Sanskrit’s simple voiced retroflex plosives. The /ɳ/ ( or ण) in Sanskrit is not a flap but a simple nasal stop, although it is pronounced by modern pundits while chanting as a nasal variant of the voiced retroflex flap (devanagari/ Hindi: ड़ँ).
  • Aspiration is actually a puff of breath that may follow a plosive consonant. English speakers could try pronouncing the words “kite”, “take”, “chip” and “pack” with a greater-than-usual puff of breath after the first consonant. The corresponding unaspirated plosives must be pronounced with no significant puff of breath at all, as in the English words "ski", "steak", "speak".
  • For practicing the voiced aspirates, one could try pronouncing, with very clear articulation: “drag him”, “said him”, “enrage him”, “grab him”. The voiced aspirated plosives (also called as murmur stops or breathy voice) are extremely important and frequent in Sanskrit, and preserve the series of Proto-Indo-European voiced aspirates.
  • The dental consonants in Sanskrit are as in Spanish or French. They can be pronounced by pronouncing /t/ and /d/ (of English) by pressing the tip of the tongue against the back of the teeth rather than against the back of the alveolar ridge as done by English speakers. The normal "t" and "d" in IAST transliteration are the dental stops; and they occur much, much more frequently than the retroflex stops.
  • The retroflex consonants are the most difficult to pronounce. They are pronounced by curling-up the tongue such that its tip touches the roof of the mouth, like how the Americans pronounce their "r". However, bringing the tip of the tongue a bit above the normal alveolar ridge would also work fine. The normal alveolar plosives of English /t/ and /d/ do not exist as such in Sanskrit.
  • The palatal plosives of Sanskrit do not have a sharp frictional sound following them, as what happened in English chips and jam. These are more of pure plosives than affricates.
  • Sanskrit has no /v/. Its nearest equivalent is /ʋ/, which is very close to /v/, but does not a friction or buzzing sound associated with it. But in consonant clusters, this may allophonically change to /w/.
  • The voiceless palatal sibilant of Sanskrit (श, IAST: ś) is very close to like the English sh in ship (although the Sanskrit phoneme is the voiceless alveolo-palatal fricative /ɕ/) while the English phoneme is the voiceless postalveolar fricative /ʃ/ with optional lip rounding). Today, some speakers of Sanskrit vary the palatal fricative from /ɕ/ to /ʃ/.
  • The voiceless retroflex sibilant (ष, /ʂ/) is pronounced like /ʃ/, but with the tongue curled upwards towards the roof of the mouth. In Mādhyandini branch of Yajurveda, this phoneme is allowed to be pronounced at certain places as /kʰ/.
  • The Sanskrit voiced glottal fricative (ह, /ɦ/) is a voiced allophone of the normal h, as in English behind.
  • Although any consonant may come in the word-final position in an uninflected word-stem, the number of word-final consonants in any inflected word (or verb or particle) standing freely by itself is severely limited and determined by the rules of Sandhi. Only the following consonants may come in the word-final position: /k/, /ʈ/, /t/, /p/, /l/ (rare), voiceless /h/ (i.e., visarga), and all nasals except /ɲ/. Any vowel may come at the word-final position.


Vedic Sanskrit is a pitch accent language. Native grammarians define three tones (svara): udātta = 'raised', anudātta = 'not raised', and svarita = 'sounded'. The udātta syllable corresponds to the original Proto-Indo-European stress. The svarita is usually the next syllable after an udātta. Probably when the Rigveda was written down, the pitch of speech rose through the udātta and came back down through the following svarita. A svarita which is not preceded by an udātta is called an "independent svarita". In transliteration udātta is marked with acute accent (´) and independent svarita with a grave accent (`). Independent svarita occurs only where its udātta was lost because of vowel sandhi.

Classical Sanskrit is usually pronounced with a stress accent decided by the syllable length pattern of each word. That is, Sanskrit, like Latin, is a syllable-timed language. It is the syllable which forms the basis of Sanskrit prosody.

Traditional Phonology of Sanskrit ( Śikshā)

Traditionally syllables (not alphabets) in Sanskrit are called Aksharam, meaning non-diminishing entity. These aksharas are basically classified mainly into two types,

  • Svaram (Ach) - (Vowel)
  • Vyanjanam (Hal) ( Consonant)

Svara aksharas are also known as Prāna akshara i.e., they are main sounds in speech without which speech is not possible. So, they are considered as life letters. We find same notation used for refering the Tamil vowels calling them as Uyir ezhutthu. Panini refered the svara by Ach Pratyahāra. So aftermath him, they are refered as Ach Aksharam.

Vyanjana means embellishment. i.e., Consonants are treated as embellishment for the vowels in order to make a language sonorant. They are also known as Prāni akshara i.e., they are like a body in which life (Svara) will be present. We find same notation used for refering the Tamil Consonants calling them as Mey ezhutthu. Panini refered the vyanjana by Hal Pratyahāra. So aftermath him, they are refered as Hal Aksharam.

Again Vyanjana aksharas are divided into three types,

  • Vyanjana
    • Sparśa ( Stop)
    • Antastha ( Approximant)
    • Ūshman ( Sibilant)

Sparśa aksharas include syllables from Ka to Ma they are 25 in number. Antastha aksharas include syllables ya, ra, la and va. Ūshman aksharas include śa, sha, sa and ha.

It was told that an vowel can be pronunciated in 18 ways (3x2x3) in Sanskrit language based on timing, manner and accent of pronunciation.

Time based classification

Each vowel can be classified into three types based on the time of pronunciation. The unit of time is mātra (Approxly, 0.4 second). They are,

  • Hrasvam ( Short vowel, Eka Mātra)
  • Dīrgam ( Long vowel, Dvi Mātra)
  • Plutam (Prolonged vowel, Tri Mātra)

So each vowel can be pronunciated in three ways according to timespan of articulation.

Manner based classification

Each vowel cane be classifies into two types based on manner of pronunciation. They are,

  • Mukha ( Oral)
  • Nāsika ( Nasal) (all vowels are considered phonemically oral)

so each vowel can be pronounced in two ways according to the manner of pronunciation.

Accent based classification

Each vowel can be classifies into three types based on accent of articulation. This was lost in classical sanskrit, but used in chanting vedic & upanishadic hyms and mantras.

  • Udātta (high pitch)
  • Anudātta (low pitch)
  • Svarita (falling pitch)

so each vowel can be pronounced in three ways according to the accent of pronunciation.

Traditional Articulatory phonetics

According to the Indian linguistic tradition, articulation is analysed by different parameters and features.

Places of Articulation

Generally, in articulatory phonetics, the place of articulation (also point of articulation) of a consonant is the point of contact, where an obstruction occurs in the vocal tract between an active (moving) articulator (typically some part of the tongue) and a passive (stationary) articulator (typically some part of the roof of the mouth).

According to Indian linguistic tradition,

  • The places of articulation (passive) are classified as five. They are,
    • Kanthyam ( Velar)
    • Tālavyam ( Palatal)
    • Mūrdhanyam ( Cerebral)
    • Dantyam ( Dental)
    • Ōshtyam ( Labial)
      Apart from that, other places are combinations of the above five places. They are,
    • Dantōsthyam ( Labio-dental) (Eg:v)
    • Kantatālavyam (Eg: Diphtong e)
    • Kantōsthyam ( labial-velar) (Eg: Diphtong o)
  • The places of articulation (active) are classified as three, they are
    • Jihvā Mūlam ( tongue root, for velar)
    • Jihvā Madhyam ( tongue body, for palatal)
    • Jihvāgram ( tip of tongue, for cerebral and dental)
    • Adhōstam ( lower lip, for labial)

Efforts of Articulation

Effort of articulation (Ucchārana Prayatna)is of two types for consonants,

  • Bāhya Prayatna (External effort)
    • Spristam ( Plosive)
    • Īshat Spristam ( Approximate)
    • Īshat Samvritam ( Fricative)
  • Abhyantara Prayatna (Internal effort)
    • Alpaprānam ( Unaspirated)
    • Mahāprānam ( Aspirated)
    • Śvāsam ( Unvoiced)
    • Nādam ( Voiced)

Articulation of Consonants

Articulation of consonants will be a logical combination of components in the two prayatnas. The belove table gives a view upon articulation of consonants.

Samskrita Vyanjana Ucchārana Pattika
Prayatna Niyamāvalī Kanthya
(jihvā Mūlam)
(jihvā Madhyam)
Dantōshtya Ōshtya
Sparśam, Śvāsam, Alpaprānam ka ca Ta ta - pa
Sparśam, Śvāsam, Mahāprānam kha cha Tha tha - pha
Sparśam, Nādam, Alpaprānam ga ja Da da - ba
Sparśam, Nādam, Mahāprānam gha jha Dha dha - bha
Sparśam, Nādam, Alpaprānam,
Anunāsikam, Dravam
nga nja Na na - ma
Antastham, Nādam, Alpaprānam,
- ya ra
( Lunthitam)
( Pārśvikam)
va -
Ūshman, Śvāsam, Mahāprānam Visarga śa sha sa - -
Ūshman, Nādam, Mahāprānam ha - - - - -

Writing System

Kashmiri Shaivaite manuscript in the Sharada script (17th or 18th century)
Kashmiri Shaivaite manuscript in the Sharada script (17th or 18th century)

Historically, Sanskrit is not associated with any particular script. The emphasis on orality, not textuality, in the Vedic Sanskrit tradition was maintained through the development of early classical Sanskrit literature. When Sanskrit was written, the choice of writing system was influenced by the regional scripts of the scribes. As such, virtually all of the major writing systems of South Asia have been used for the production of Sanskrit manuscripts. Since the late 19th century, Devanagari has been considered as the de facto writing system for Sanskrit, quite possibly because of the European practice of printing Sanskrit texts in the script.

In northern India, there are Brahmi inscriptions dating from the 3rd century BCE onwards, the oldest appearing on the famous Prakrit pillar inscriptions of king Ashoka. Roughly contemporary with the Brahmi, the Kharosthi script was used. Later (ca. 4th to 8th centuries AD) the Gupta script, derived from Brahmi, became prevalent. From ca. the 8th century, the Sharada script evolved out of the Gupta script, and was mostly displaced in its turn by Devanagari from ca. the 12th century, with intermediary stages such as the Siddham script. In Eastern India, the Bengali script and, later, the Oriya script, were used.

In the south where Dravidian languages predominate, scripts used for Sanskrit include Kannada in Kannada and Telugu speaking regions, Telugu in Telugu and Tamil speaking regions, Malayalam and Grantha in Tamil speaking regions.

Image:Phrase sanskrit.png
Sanskrit in modern Indian scripts. May Śiva bless those who take delight in the language of the gods. ( Kalidasa)

Verbal learning occupied the pride of place in ancient India and bears an influence which can still be felt in Indian schooling today. High value was placed on the memorization of texts, often using sophisticated mnemonic techniques. As such, propagation and learning through writing was correspondingly deemphasized, and it is hypothesized that writing was introduced relatively late to India. Rhys Davids suggests that writing may have been introduced from the Middle East by traders, with Sanskrit remaining a purely oral language until well into India's Classical age.

It is interesting to note the importance that Sanskrit orthography and Vedic philosophy of sound play in Hindu symbolism, as the varnamala, or sound-garland/alphabet, of 51 letters is also seen to be represented by the 51 skulls of Kali. In the Upanishads, the transcendent-immanent nature of Brahman is represented by the half-matra, or sphota of sound that is inherent to a beat of sound in the Sanskrit system.


Since the late 18th century, Sanskrit has been transliterated using the Latin alphabet. The system most commonly used today is the IAST (International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration), which has been the academic standard since 1912, and which is used in this article. ASCII-based transliteration schemes have evolved due to difficulties representing Sanskrit characters in computer systems. These include Harvard-Kyoto and ITRANS, a lossless transliteration scheme that is used widely on the Internet, especially in Usenet and in email, for considerations of speed of entry as well as rendering issues. With the wide availability of Unicode aware web browsers, IAST has become common also for online articles.

For scholarly work, Devanagari in the 19th century was generally preferred for the transcription and reproduction of whole texts and lengthy excerpts also by European scholars; however, references to individual words and names in texts composed in European languages are usually represented using Roman transliteration, and from the mid 20th century, textual editions edited by Western scholars have also been mostly in romanized transliteration.


Grammatical tradition

Sanskrit grammatical tradition (vyākaraṇa, one of the six Vedanga disciplines) begins in late Vedic India, and culminates in the Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini (ca. 5th century BC). Patañjali, who lived several centuries after Panini, is the reputed author of the Mahābhāṣya, the "Great Commentary" on the Aṣṭādhyāyī. Recent work on Sanskrit grammar has been done by Dr. B.P.T. Vagish Shastri. He has developed a mnemonic method VAGYOGA, which proposes learning grammar in a mathematical way.


Classification of verbs

Sanskrit has ten classes of verbs divided into in two broad groups: athematic and thematic. The thematic verbs are so called because an a, called the theme vowel, is inserted between the stem and the ending. This serves to make the thematic verbs generally more regular. Exponents used in verb conjugation include prefixes, suffixes, infixes, and reduplication. Every root has (not necessarily all distinct) zero, gua, and vddhi grades. If V is the vowel of the zero grade, the gua-grade vowel is traditionally thought of as a + V, and the vddhi-grade vowel as ā + V.

Tense systems

The verbs tenses (a very inexact application of the word, since more distinctions than simply tense are expressed) are organized into four 'systems' (as well as gerunds and infinitives, and such creatures as intensives/ frequentatives, desideratives, causatives, and benedictives derived from more basic forms) based on the different stem forms (derived from verbal roots) used in conjugation. There are four tense systems:

  • Present ( Present, Imperfect, Imperative, Optative)
  • Perfect
  • Aorist
  • Future ( Future, Conditional)

Present system

The present system includes the present and imperfect tenses, the optative and imperative moods, as well as some of the remnant forms of the old subjunctive. The tense stem of the present system is formed in various ways. The numbers are the native grammarians' numbers for these classes.

For athematic verbs, the present tense stem may be formed through:

  • 2) No modification at all, for example ad from ad 'eat'.
  • 3) Reduplication prefixed to the root, for example juhu from hu 'sacrifice'.
  • 7) Infixion of na or n before the final root consonant (with appropriate sandhi changes), for example rundh or ruadh from rudh 'obstruct'.
  • 5) Suffixation of nu (gua form no), for example sunu from su 'press out'.
  • 8) Suffixation of u (gua form o), for example tanu from tan 'stretch'. For modern linguistic purposes it is better treated as a subclass of the 5th. tanu derives from tnnu, which is zero-grade for *tannu, because in the Proto-Indo-European language [m] and [n] could be vowels, which in Sanskrit (and Greek) change to [a]. Most members of the 8th class arose this way; kar = "make", "do" was 5th class in Vedic (krnoti = "he makes"), but shifted to the 8th class in Classical Sanskrit (karoti = "he makes")
  • 9) Suffixation of (zero-grade or n), for example krīa or krīī from krī 'buy'.

For thematic verbs, the present tense stem may be formed through:

  • 1) Suffixation of the thematic vowel a with gua strengthening, for example, bháva from bhū 'be'.
  • 6) Suffixation of the thematic vowel a with a shift of accent to this vowel, for example tudá from tud 'thrust'.
  • 4) Suffixation of ya, for example dī́vya from div 'play'.

The tenth class described by native grammarians refers to a process which is derivational in nature, and thus not a true tense-stem formation.

Perfect system

The perfect system includes only the perfect tense. The stem is formed with reduplication as with the present system.

The perfect system also produces separate "strong" and "weak" forms of the verb — the strong form is used with the singular active, and the weak form with the rest.

Aorist system

The aorist system includes aorist proper (with past indicative meaning, e.g. abhū "you were") and some of the forms of the ancient injunctive (used almost exclusively with in prohibitions, e.g. mā bhū "don't be"). The principal distinction of the two is presence/absence of an augment - a- prefixed to the stem.

The aorist system stem actually has three different formations: the simple aorist, the reduplicating aorist (semantically related to the causative verb), and the sibilant aorist. The simple aorist is taken directly from the root stem (e.g. bhū-: a-bhū-t "he was"). The reduplicating aorist involves reduplication as well as vowel reduction of the stem. The sibilant aorist is formed with the suffixation of s to the stem.

Future system

The future system is formed with the suffixation of sya or iya and gua.

Verbs: Conjugation

Each verb has a grammatical voice, whether active, passive or middle. There is also an impersonal voice, which can be described as the passive voice of intransitive verbs. Sanskrit verbs have an indicative, an optative and an imperative mood. Older forms of the language had a subjunctive, though this had fallen out of use by the time of Classical Sanskrit.

Basic conjugational endings

Conjugational endings in Sanskrit convey person, number, and voice. Different forms of the endings are used depending on what tense stem and mood they are attached to. Verb stems or the endings themselves may be changed or obscured by sandhi.

Active Middle
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Primary First Person mi vás más é váhe máhe
Second Person si thás thá ā́the dhvé
Third Person ti tás ánti, áti ā́te ánte, áte
Secondary First Person am í, á váhi máhi
Second Person s tám thā́s ā́thām dhvám
Third Person t tā́m án, ús ā́tām ánta, áta, rán
Perfect First Person a é váhe máhe
Second Person tha áthus á ā́the dhvé
Third Person a átus ús é ā́te
Imperative First Person āni āva āma āi āvahāi āmahāi
Second Person dhí, hí, — tám svá ā́thām dhvám
Third Person tu tā́m ántu, átu tā́m ā́tām ántām, átām

Primary endings are used with present indicative and future forms. Secondary endings are used with the imperfect, conditional, aorist, and optative. Perfect and imperative endings are used with the perfect and imperative respectively.

Present system conjugation

Conjugation of the present system deals with all forms of the verb utilizing the present tense stem (explained under Tense Stems above). This includes the present tense of all moods, as well as the imperfect indicative.

Athematic inflection

The present system differentiates strong and weak forms of the verb. The strong/weak opposition manifests itself differently depending on the class:

  • The root and reduplicating classes (2 & 3) are not modified in the weak forms, and receive guṇa in the strong forms.
  • The nasal class (7) is not modified in the weak form, extends the nasal to in the strong form.
  • The nu-class (5) has nu in the weak form and in the strong form.
  • The nā-class (9) has in the weak form and nā́ in the strong form. disappears before vocalic endings.

The present indicative takes primary endings, and the imperfect indicative takes secondary endings. Singular active forms have the accent on the stem and take strong forms, while the other forms have the accent on the endings and take weak forms.

Active Middle
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Present First Person dvémi dvivás dvimás dvié dviváhe dvimáhe
Second Person dvéki dviṣṭhás dviṣṭ dviké dviā́the dviḍḍhvé
Third Person dvéṣṭi dviṣṭás dviánti dviṣṭé dviā́te dviáte
Imperfect First Person ádveam ádviva ádvima ádvii ádvivahi ádvimahi
Second Person ádve ádviṣṭam ádvisa ádviṣṭhās ádviāthām ádviḍḍhvam
Third Person ádve ádviṣṭām ádvian ádviṣṭa ádviātām ádviata

The optative takes secondary endings. is added to the stem in the active, and ī in the passive.

Active Middle
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
First Person dviṣyā́m dviyā́va dviyā́ma dviīyá dviīvahi dviīmahi
Second Person dviyā́s dviyā́tam dviyā́ta dviīthās dviīyāthām dviīdhvam
Third Person dviyā́t dviyā́tām dviyus dviīta dviīyātām dviīran

The imperative takes imperative endings. Accent is variable and affects vowel quality. Forms which are end-accented trigger gua strengthening, and those with stem accent do not have the vowel affected.

Active Middle
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
First Person dvéṣāṇi dvéāva dvéāma dvéāi dvéāvahāi dvéāmahāi
Second Person dviḍḍ dviṣṭám dviṣṭá dvik dviāthām dviḍḍhvám
Third Person dvéṣṭu dviṣṭā́m dviántu dviṣṭā́m dviā́tām dviátām

Nominal inflection

Sanskrit is a highly inflected language with three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, neuter) and three numbers (singular, plural, dual). It has eight cases: nominative, vocative, accusative, instrumental, dative, ablative, genitive, and locative.

The number of actual declensions is debatable. Panini identifies six karakas corresponding to the nominative, accusative, dative, instrumental, locative, and ablative cases . Panini defines them as follows (Ashtadhyayi, I.4.24-54):

  1. Apadana (lit. 'take off'): "(that which is) firm when departure (takes place)." This is the equivalent of the ablative notion which signifies a stationary object from which movement proceeds.
  2. Sampradana ('bestowal'): "he whom one aims at with the object". This is equivalent to the dative notion which signifies a recipient in an act of giving or similar acts.
  3. Karana ("instrument") "that which effects most". This is equivalent to the instrumental notion.
  4. Adhikarana ('location'): or "substratum". This is equivalent to the locative notion.
  5. Karman ('deed'/'object'): "what the agent seeks most to attain". This is equivalent to the accusative notion.
  6. Karta ('agent'): "he/that which is independent in action". This is equivalent to the nominative notion. (On the basis of Scharfe, 1977: 94)

Possessive (Sambandha) and vocative are absent in Panini's grammar.

In this article they are divided into five declensions. Which declension a noun belongs to is determined largely by form.

The basic declension suffix scheme for nouns and adjectives

The basic scheme is given in the table below—valid for almost all nouns and adjectives. However, according to the gender and the ending consonant/vowel of the uninflected word-stem, there are predermined rules of compulsory sandhi which would then give the final inflected word. The parentheses give the case-terminations for the neuter gender, the rest are for masculine and feminine gender. Both devanagari script and IAST transliterations are given.

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative -स् -s
(-म् -m)
-औ -au
(-ई -ī)
-अस् -as
(-इ -i)
Accusative -अम् -am
(-म् -m)
-औ -au
(-ई -ī)
-अस् -as
(-इ -i)
Instrumental -आ -ā -भ्याम् -bhyām -भिस् -bhis
Dative -ए -e -भ्याम् -bhyām -भ्यस् -bhyas
Ablative -अस् -as -भ्याम् -bhyām -भ्यस् -bhyas
Genitive -अस् -as -ओस् -os -आम् -ām
Locative -इ -i -ओस् -os -सु -su
Vocative -स् -s
(- -)
-औ -au
(-ई -ī)
-अस् -as
(-इ -i)


A-stems (/ə/ or /ɑː/) comprise the largest class of nouns. As a rule, nouns belonging to this class, with the uninflected stem ending in short-a (/ə/), are either masculine or neuter. Nouns ending in long-A (/ɑː/) are almost always feminine. A-stem adjectives take the masculine and neuter in short-a (/ə/), and feminine in long-A (/ɑː/) in their stems. This class is so big because it also comprises the Proto-Indo-European o-stems.

Masculine (kā́ma- 'love') Neuter (āsya- 'mouth') Feminine (kānta- 'beloved')
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative kā́mas kā́māu kā́mās āsyàm āsyè āsyā̀ni kāntā kānte kāntās
Accusative kā́mam kā́māu kā́mān āsyàm āsyè āsyā̀ni kāntām kānte kāntās
Instrumental kā́mena kā́mābhyām kā́māis āsyèna āsyā̀bhyām āsyāìs kāntayā kāntābhyām kāntābhis
Dative kā́māya kā́mābhyām kā́mebhyas āsyā̀ya āsyā̀bhyām āsyèbhyas kāntāyai kāntābhyām kāntābhyās
Ablative kā́māt kā́mābhyām kā́mebhyas āsyā̀t āsyā̀bhyām āsyèbhyas kāntāyās kāntābhyām kāntābhyās
Genitive kā́masya kā́mayos kā́mānām āsyàsya āsyàyos āsyā̀nām kāntāyās kāntayos kāntānām
Locative kā́me kā́mayos kā́meu āsyè āsyàyos āsyèu kāntāyām kāntayos kāntāsu
Vocative kā́ma kā́mau kā́mās ā́sya āsyè āsyā̀ni kānte kānte kāntās

i- and u-stems

Masc. and Fem. (gáti- 'gait') Neuter (vā́ri- 'water')
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative gátis gátī gátayas vā́ri vā́riī vā́rīi
Accusative gátim gátī gátīs vā́ri vā́riī vā́rīi
Instrumental gátyā gátibhyām gátibhis vā́riā vā́ribhyām vā́ribhis
Dative gátaye, gátyāi gátibhyām gátibhyas vā́rie vā́ribhyām vā́ribhyas
Ablative gátes, gátyās gátibhyām gátibhyas vā́rias vā́ribhyām vā́ribhyas
Genitive gátes, gátyās gátyos gátīnām vā́rias vā́rios vā́riām
Locative gátāu, gátyām gátyos gátiu vā́rii vā́rios vā́riu
Vocative gáte gátī gátayas vā́ri, vā́re vā́riī vā́rīi
Masc. and Fem. (śátru- 'enemy') Neuter (mádhu- 'honey')
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative śátrus śátrū śátravas mádhu mádhunī mádhūni
Accusative śátrum śátrū śátrūn mádhu mádhunī mádhūni
Instrumental śátruā śátrubhyām śátrubhis mádhunā mádhubhyām mádhubhis
Dative śátrave śátrubhyām śátrubhyas mádhune mádhubhyām mádhubhyas
Ablative śátros śátrubhyām śátrubhyas mádhunas mádhubhyām mádhubhyas
Genitive śátros śátrvos śátrūām mádhunas mádhunos mádhūnām
Locative śátrāu śátrvos śátruu mádhuni mádhunos mádhuṣu
Vocative śátro śátrū śátravas mádhu mádhunī mádhūni

Long Vowel-stems

ā-stems (jā- 'prodigy') ī-stems (dhī- 'thought') ū-stems (bhū- 'earth')
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative jā́s jāú jā́s dhī́s dhíyāu dhíyas bhū́s bhúvāu bhúvas
Accusative jā́m jāú jā́s, jás dhíyam dhíyāu dhíyas bhúvam bhúvāu bhúvas
Instrumental jā́ jā́bhyām jā́bhis dhiyā́ dhībhyā́m dhībhís bhuvā́ bhūbhyā́m bhūbhís
Dative jā́bhyām jā́bhyas dhiyé, dhiyāí dhībhyā́m dhībhyás bhuvé, bhuvāí bhūbhyā́m bhūbhyás
Ablative jás jā́bhyām jā́bhyas dhiyás, dhiyā́s dhībhyā́m dhībhyás bhuvás, bhuvā́s bhūbhyā́m bhūbhyás
Genitive jás jós jā́nām, jā́m dhiyás, dhiyā́s dhiyós dhiyā́m, dhīnā́m bhuvás, bhuvā́s bhuvós bhuvā́m, bhūnā́m
Locative jós jā́su dhiyí, dhiyā́m dhiyós dhīṣú bhuví, bhuvā́m bhuvós bhūṣú
Vocative jā́s jāú jā́s dhī́s dhiyāu dhíyas bhū́s bhuvāu bhúvas


-stems are predominantly agental derivatives like dāt 'giver', though also include kinship terms like pit́ 'father', māt́ 'mother', and svás 'sister'.

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative pitā́ pitárāu pitáras
Accusative pitáram pitárāu pit́n
Instrumental pitrā́ pit́bhyām pit́bhis
Dative pitré pit́bhyām pit́bhyas
Ablative pitúr pit́bhyām pit́bhyas
Genitive pitúr pitrós pitṝṇā́m
Locative pitári pitrós pitṛ́ṣu
Vocative pítar pitárāu pitáras

See also Devi inflection, Vrkis inflection.

Personal Pronouns and Determiners

The first and second person pronouns are declined for the most part alike, having by analogy assimilated themselves with one another.

Note: Where two forms are given, the second is enclitic and an alternative form. Ablatives in singular and plural may be extended by the syllable -tas; thus mat or mattas, asmat or asmattas.

First Person Second Person
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative aham āvām vayam tvam yuvām yūyam
Accusative mām, mā āvām, nau asmān, nas tvām, tvā yuvām, vām yuṣmān, vas
Instrumental mayā āvābhyām asmābhis tvayā yuvābhyām yuṣmābhis
Dative mahyam, me āvābhyām, nau asmabhyam, nas tubhyam, te yuvābhyām, vām yuṣmabhyam, vas
Ablative mat āvābhyām asmat tvat yuvābhyām yuṣmat
Genitive mama, me āvayos, nau asmākam, nas tava, te yuvayos, vām yuṣmākam, vas
Locative mayi āvayos asmāsu tvayi yuvayos yuṣmāsu

The demonstrative ta, declined below, also functions as the third person pronoun.

Masculine Neuter Feminine
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative sás tāú tát tā́ni sā́ tā́s
Accusative tám tāú tā́n tát tā́ni tā́m tā́s
Instrumental téna tā́bhyām tāís téna tā́bhyām tāís táyā tā́bhyām tā́bhis
Dative tásmāi tā́bhyām tébhyas tásmāi tā́bhyām tébhyas tásyāi tā́bhyām tā́bhyas
Ablative tásmāt tā́bhyām tébhyam tásmāt tā́bhyām tébhyam tásyās tā́bhyām tā́bhyas
Genitive tásya táyos téṣām tásya táyos téṣām tásyās táyos tā́sām
Locative tásmin táyos téṣu tásmin táyos téṣu tásyām táyos tā́su


One other notable feature of the nominal system is the very common use of nominal compounds, which may be huge (10+ words) as in some modern languages such as German. Nominal compounds occur with various structures, however morphologically speaking they are essentially the same. Each noun (or adjective) is in its (weak) stem form, with only the final element receiving case inflection. Some examples of nominal compounds include:

1. Dvandva (co-ordinative)

These consist of two or more noun stems, connected in sense with 'and'. There are mainly two kinds of dvandva constructions in Sanskrit. The first is called itaretara dvandva, an enumerative compound word, the meaning of which refers to all its constituent members. The resultant compound word is in the dual or plural number and takes the gender of the final member in the compound construction. e.g. rāma-lakşmaņau - Rama and Lakshmana, or rāma-lakşmaņa-bharata-śatrughnāh - Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrughna. The second kind is called samāhāra dvandva, a collective compound word, the meaning of which refers to the collection of its constituent members. The resultant compound word is in the singular number and is always neuter in gender. e.g. pāņipādam - limbs, literally hands and feet, from pāņi = hand and pāda = foot. According to some grammarians, there is a third kind of dvandva, called ekaśeşa dvandva or residual compound, which takes the dual (or plural) form of only its final constituent member, e.g. pitarau for mātā + pitā, mother + father, i.e. parents. According to other grammarians, however, the ekaśeşa is not properly a compound at all.

2. Bahuvrīhi (possessive)

Bahuvrīhi, or "much-rice", denotes a rich person—one who has much rice. Bahuvrīhi compounds refer (by example) to a compound noun with no head -- a compound noun that refers to a thing which is itself not part of the compound. For example, "low-life" and "block-head" are bahuvrihi compounds, since a low-life is not a kind of life, and a block-head is not a kind of head. (And a much-rice is not a kind of rice.) Compare with more common, headed, compound nouns like "fly-ball" (a kind of ball) or "alley cat" (a kind of cat). Bahurvrīhis can often be translated by "possessing..." or "-ed"; for example, "possessing much rice", or "much riced".

3. Tatpuruṣa (determinative)

There are many tatpuruas (one for each of the nominal cases, and a few others besides); in a tatpurua, the first component is in a case relationship with another. For example, a doghouse is a dative compound, a house for a dog. It would be called a "caturtitatpurua" (caturti refers to the fourth case—that is, the dative). Incidentally, "tatpurua" is a tatpurua ("this man"—meaning someone's agent), while "caturtitatpurua" is a karmadhārya, being both dative, and a tatpurua. An easy way to understand it is to look at English examples of tatpuruas: "battlefield", where there is a genitive relationship between "field" and "battle", "a field of battle"; other examples include instrumental relationships ("thunderstruck") and locative relationships ("towndwelling").

4. Karmadhāraya (descriptive)

The relation of the first member to the last is appositional, attributive or adverbial, e. g. uluka-yatu (owl+demon) is a demon in the shape of an owl.

5. Amreḍita (iterative)

Repetition of a word expresses repetitiveness, e. g. dive-dive 'day by day', 'daily'.


Because of Sanskrit's complex declension system the word order is free (with tendency toward SOV).


The numbers from one to ten are:

1 éka
2 dví
3 trí
4 catúr
5 pañca
6 ṣáṣ
7 saptá, sápta
8 aṣṭá, áṣṭa
9 náva
10 dáśa

The numbers one through four are declined. Éka is declined like a pronominal adjective, though the dual form does not occur. Dvá appears only in the dual. Trí and catúr are declined irregularly:

Three Four
Masculine Neuter Feminine Masculine Neuter Feminine
Nominative tráyas trī́ṇi tisrás catvā́ras catvā́ri cátasras
Accusative trīn trī́ṇi tisrás catúras catvā́ri cátasras
Instrumental tribhís tisṛ́bhis catúrbhis catasṛ́bhis
Dative tribhyás tisṛ́bhyas catúrbhyas catasṛ́bhyas
Ablative tribhyás tisṛ́bhyas catúrbhyas catasṛ́bhyas
Genitive triyāṇā́m tisṛṇā́m caturṇā́m catasṛṇā́m
Locative triṣú tisṛ́ṣu catúrṣu catasṛ́ṣu


Symbolic Usage

In the Republic of India, Sanskrit phrases are widely used as mottoes for various educational and social organizations. The motto of the Republic is also in Sanskrit.

  • Republic of India - Satyameva Jayate
  • Nepal - Janani Janmabhūmischa Svargādapi garīyasi
  • Life Insurance Corporation of India - Yogakshemam Vahāmyaham
  • Indian Navy - Shanno Varuna
  • Indian Air Force - Nābha Sparsham Dīptam
  • Indian Coast Guard - Vayam Rakshāmaha
  • All India Radio - Bahujana-hitāya bahujana-sukhāya
  • Andhra University - Tejasvi Nāvadhitamastu
  • Sri Venkateswara University - jnanam samyaga vekshanam
  • University of Calicut - Nirmaya Karmana Sree
  • University of Colombo - buddhih sarvatra brājate
  • University of Moratuwa - Vidyaiwa Sarwadhanam
  • University of Peradeniya - Sarvasva Locanam Sāstram
  • University of Delhi - Nishtā drithih Satyam
  • University of Kerala - Karmani Vyajyate Prajna
  • Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur - Yogah Karmasu Kaushalam
  • Indian Institute of Technology Bombay - Dhyānam Paramam Dhyeyam
  • Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur - Tamaso Mā Jyotirgamaya
  • Indian Institute of Technology Madras - Siddhirbhavati Karmaja
  • Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee - Shramam Binam Na Kimapi Sādhyam
  • Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad - Vidya Viniyogadvikāsaha
  • Indian Institute of Management Bangalore - Tejasvi Nāvadhitamastu
  • Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode - Yogah Karmasu Kaushalam

Modern-day India

Sanskrit's greatest influence, presumably, is that which it exerted on languages that grew from its vocabulary and grammatical base. Especially among élite circles in India, Sanskrit is prized as a storehouse of scripture and the language of prayers in Hinduism. Like Latin's influence on European languages and Classical Chinese's influence on East Asian languages, Sanskrit has influenced most Indian languages. While vernacular prayer is common, Sanskrit mantras are recited by millions of Hindus and most temple functions are conducted entirely in Sanskrit, often Vedic in form. Of modern day Indian languages, while Hindi tends to be more heavily weighted with Arabic and Persian influence, Bengali and Marathi still retain a largely Sanskrit vocabulary base. The national anthem, Jana Gana Mana, is witten in a higher form of Bengali, so Sanskritized as to be archaic. The national song of India Vande Mataram which was originally a poem composed by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and taken from his book called 'Aanandmath', is in highly Sanskritized Bengali. Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada also combine a great deal of Sanskrit vocabulary. Sanskrit is still prized and widespread as a medium of spiritual instruction for Hindus in India.

In non-Indian languages

Due to common cultural, ethnic and linguistic traditions, Sanskrit words are found in Sinhalese, Nepali, Sindhi and other languages of the Indian subcontinent.

Sanskrit words are also found in many other present-day non-Indian languages. For instance, the Thai language contains many loan words from Sanskrit. For example, in Thai, the Rāvana - the emperor of Sri Lanka is called 'Thoskonth' which is a derivation of his Sanskrit name 'Dashakanth' ("of ten necks"). The influence extends as far as the Philippines, e.g., Tagalog 'gurò' from 'Guru', or 'teacher', with the Hindu seafarers who traded there. Many Sanskrit words are also found in modern day Malay 9 10% of the words are Sanskrit), Old Javanese language (close to 50%) and Vietnamese.

Attempts at revival

Of late, there have been attempts to revive the speaking of this ancient tongue, so that the vast literature available in Sanskrit can be made easily available to everyone. The CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) in India has made Sanskrit a third language (though it is an option for the school to adopt it or not, the other choice being the state's own official language) in the schools it governs. In such schools, learning Sanskrit is an option for grades 5 to 8 (Classes V to VIII). This is true of most schools, including but not limited to Christian missionary schools, affiliated to the ICSE board too, especially in those states where the official language is Hindi. An option between Sanskrit and Hindi (or many other local languages) as a second language exists for grades 9 and 10. Many organizations like the Samskrta Bharati are conducting Speak Sanskrit workshops to popularize the language. About four million people are claimed to have acquired the ability to speak Sanskrit fluently.

Sanskrit is spoken natively by the population in Mattur village in central Karnataka. Inhabitants of all castes learn Sanskrit starting in childhood and converse in the language. Even the local Muslims speak and converse in Sanskrit. Historically, the village was given by king Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayanagara Empire to Vedic scholars and their families. People in his kingdom spoke Kannada and Tuluva.

Several organizations across India are putting in efforts to revive the language and to preserve oral transmission of the Vedas. Shri Vedabharathi is one such organization based out of Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh that has been digitizing the Vedas through voice recording the recitations of Vedic Pandits.

In recent years, there has been an interest with using Sanskrit in computer programming. Because of its syntax, it was believed to be ideal for computer translation.

Interactions with Sino-Tibetan languages

Sanskrit and related languages have also influenced their Sino-Tibetan-speaking neighbors to the north through the spread of Buddhist texts in translation. Buddhism was spread to China by Mahayanist missionaries mostly through translations of Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit and Classical Sanskrit texts, and many terms were transliterated directly and added to the Chinese vocabulary. (Although Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit is not Sanskrit, properly speaking, its vocabulary is substantially the same, both because of genetic relationship, and because of conscious imitation on the part of composers. Buddhist texts composed in Sanskrit proper were primarily found in philosophical schools like the Madhyamaka.)

Sanskrit's usage in modern times

All of India's scientific discoveries and developments are named in Sanskrit, as a counterpart of the practice of naming scientific developments in Latin or Greek followed in the west. The Indian guided missile program that was commenced in 1983 by DRDO has named the five missiles (ballistic and others) that it has developed as Prithvi, Agni, Akash, Nag and Trishul. India's first modern fighter aircraft is named Tejas. The Indian Space Research Organization ISRO has named all of its propulsion rockets after mythological characters found in Sanskrit literature.

This practice is usually followed in scientific institutions in India also.

Recital of Sanskrit shlokas as background chorus in films, television advertisements and as slogans for corporate organizations has become a trend.

Recently, Sanskrit has also made an appearance in Western pop music in recent years, in two recordings by Madonna. One, "Shanti/Ashtangi," from the 1998 album "Ray of Light," is the traditional Ashtanga yoga chant referenced above set to music. The second, "Cyber-raga," released in 2000 as a B-side to Madonna's single "Music," is a Sanskrit-language ode of devotion to a higher power and a wish for peace on earth.

Some noted western scholars (mainly from Europe) have taken interest in the study of Sanskrit. Main article: Sanskrit in the West.

Computational linguistics

There have been suggestions to use Sanskrit as a metalanguage for knowledge representation in e.g. machine translation, and other areas of natural language processing because of its highly regular structure. This is due to Classical Sanskrit being a regularized, prescriptivist form abstracted from the much more irregular and richer Vedic Sanskrit. This levelling of the grammar of Classical Sanskrit occurred during the Brahmana phase, after the language had fallen out of popular use, arguably qualifying Classical Sanskrit as an early engineered language.

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