Indeclinable words, which are called nipātāḥ (“exceptions”) and avyayāni (“indeclinables”), are words that do not change their form according to grammatical categories like gender, number, case, or person. They can be classified into several categories, but the in classification adopted here, they are twofold:
- particles, or indeclinable words that are used on their own to modify the meaning of a phrase or clause; and
- adpositions, or indeclinable words that are used with a nominal complement upapadam.
What distinguishes particles from other indeclinables, such as adverbs (kriyāviśēṣaṇāni), is that they “indicate” certain aspects of the meaning, or syntax, of the phrase or clause to which they are attached. In Sanskrit they are often called dyōtakāni or “indicators” of the meaning of a syntactically-connected unit of speech, such as a phrase or clause, rather than “expressors” vācakāni of a meaning of their own.
Particles are also sometimes called vākyālaṅkārāḥ, “ornaments of a sentence”: I suspect that this phrase means not that the particles are meaningless verse-fillers, as it is often taken to mean, but rather that the particles slightly change the sense of the entire phrase or clause vākyam in which they occur.
Speijer (§394) categorized the use of particles under two general headings: modality and connection. I am not convinced that this categorization can be sustained, but the use of the particles will be discussed in detail below.
The position of particles within the clause tells us what unit of speech the particle is connected with. Many Sanskrit particles are postpositive, that is, they occur after another word, and cannot occur at the beginning of a sentence. It is important to bear phrase structure in mind: a phrase will often consist of multiple words, and a postpositive particle connected with that phrase will very often appear not at the end of the entire phrase, but after the first word in the phrase. For example:
- pallavāḥ puṣpāni ca mr̥dūni “shoots and soft flowers”
Here we have two noun phrases, one consisting of a single noun (pallavāḥ) and the other consisting of a noun with an adjective (puṣpāni mr̥dūni). The particle ca is syntactically connected with the second phrase, but rather than following the entire phrase, it follows the first word in the phrase.
When a postpositive particle connects with an entire clause, it usually appears in the second position of the clause. This is sometimes called Wackernagel’s Position after Jacob Wackernagel, who discovered evidence across several Indo-European languages for the tendency to put either unaccented or weakly-accented words immediately after the first accented word in a clause.
A few particles are not only postpositive but enclitic as well, which means that the particle has no accent of its own, and forms a single phonological and accentual unit with a preceding word (its host). Sanskrit also has one proclitic particle, namely na, which forms a single phonological unit with the word a following word.
Despairing of a coherent classification of particles based either on their syntax or on their usage, I present them below in an alphabetical list.
This is an enclitic particle, added primarily onto phrases, which has the force of inclusion samuccayaḥ.
Its most general usage is to mark its host phrase as included in, or added to, something else. That “something else” is implied by the discursive context. In this sense it corresponds closely to the English words “also” or “too.”
- tēnāpi praśnaḥ pr̥ṣṭaḥ “He too asked a question”
- “He” is included (samuccitaḥ) in the set of people who have asked a question.
- sūrya udēty api “The sun also rises”
- “Rising” is included in the set of things that the sun does.
- sō ’py āgacchati “He is coming, too.”
- “He” is included in the set of people who are coming.
Closely related to this inclusive sense of ápi is another sense, which we might call inclusion contrary to expectation, which corresponds closely to one usage of the English word “even.” In many cases, only context can tell us whether the expectation of non-inclusion is present, and thus whether ápi should be translated as “even” instead of “also.”
- sō ’py āgaccati “Even he is coming.”
- If there is an expectation that “he” would not come, ápi tells us that “he” is included in the set of people who are coming, contrary to this expectation.
- sāpi jānāti “Even she knows.”
- If there is no expectation that “she” would not know, ápi tells us that “she” is included in the set of people who know, contrary to this expectation.
The inclusive force of ápi is present in one of its most common usages, namely, as a marker of polarity, including especially negative polarity:
- na śabdō ’pi śrutaḥ “Not even a sound was heard.”
- sō svaṁ nāmāpi na smr̥tavān “He couldn’t even remember his name.”
Note here that ápi can be added to the interrogative pronoun to give it an indefinite, rather than interrogative, force: hence kṓ ’pi (m.), kā́pi (f.), and kímapi (n.) mean “someone” or “something.” These pronouns are often found in negative sentences as polarity markers:
- tēna na kiṁcic chrutam “He didn’t hear anything.”
Another very common usage of ápi is to give phrases or clauses a concessive force.
- sa rājā dhanavān api nārthibhyō dadāti “That king, although he is wealthy, does not give to those in need.”
It is also used, especially with numbers, to indicate the sum or totality of a set:
- saptāpy r̥ṣayaḥ “[all] seven sages”
- trayō ’pi kālāḥ “[all] three times”
As its accent indicates, ápi is not a true enclitic, and hence it can stand at the beginning of a sentence. When it does so, however, it obviously does not modify the meaning of a phrasal host, because there is nothing that precedes it. Rather, it turns the entire clause into a question:
- api sandēśō mē dr̥ṣṭō bhavatā “Did you see my message?”
This is a postpositive and enclitic particle, connected primarily with phrases, which indicates that the phrase with which it is connected serves as the standard upamānam of comparison upamā. The standard introduced by iva has the same syntactic role in the sentence as the target of comparison upamēyam, and thus if the latter is the nominative case, the former will be, and so on.
- naur iva bhūś cacāla “the earth shook like a ship” Buddhacarita 1.21
- ālakṣyaraśanā rējē sphuradvidyud iva kṣapā “[The women] whose girdles became momentarily visible were like the night flashing with lightning” (Buddhacarita 4.33)
- The target upamēyam is the women, and the standard upamānam is a two-word phrase, “the night flashing with lightning” (sphuradvidyut kṣapā); iva, as a postpositive particle, appears after the first word of the phrase.
This is a postpositive particle, connected primarily with phrases, which has the force of exclusion vyavacchēdaḥ, or restriction avadhāraṇam.
The philosopher Dharmakīrti formulated two senses of ēvá:
- anyayōgavyavacchēdaḥ “the exclusion of a connection [between whatever is predicated of the subject under discussion and a contextually-determined set of other possible subjects]”
- pārtha ēva dhanurdharaḥ “Arjuna alone is an archer” → “It is not the case that anyone besides Arjuna is an archer”
- caitrō dhanurdhara ēva “Caitra is indeed an archer” → “It is not the case that Caitra does not have the quality of being an archer”
- nīlaṁ sarōjaṁ bhavaty ēva “The lotus is surely blue” → “It is not the case that the lotus is not blue” (actually considered to be a case of atyantāyōgavyavacchēdaḥ “exclusion of an absolute lack of connection,” which I follow Jonardan Ganeri in assuming to be subsumed under the general case of ayōgavyavacchēdaḥ at least regarding its logical form).
Insofar as it expresses the exclusion of either a connection between something and a set of other things, or the lack of a connection between something and another thing, the particle ēvá depends on context: specifically, the connection, or lack thereof, must either be supplied or presumed from the discursive context:
- In the sentence pārtha ēva dhanurdharaḥ, we know from context that what is excluded by ēvá is the connection between being an archer and the other four Pāṇḍava brothers, not all other things in the universe.
- The sentence caitrō dhanurdhara ēva would only be produced against the background of a doubt about whether Caitra is an archer or not. The lack of a connection between Caitra and being an archer is thus discursively salient, and the particle ēvá excludes this lack of connection.
For further details on the properties of ēvá, see J. Ganeri, “Dharmakīrti’s Semantics for the Particle eva,” pp. 101–115 in Shoryu Katsura (ed.), Dharmakīrti’s Thought and Its Impact on Indian and Tibetan Philosophy: Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences, 1999.
A few further examples:
- bhōgā na bhuktā vayam ēva bhuktāḥ (Vairāgyaśatakam) “Pleasures were not consumed [by us]; rather, it is we who have consumed.”
- What is excluded by ēvá is the connection between “being consumed” and anything other than “us” (vayam).
ēvá is often used, in the anyayōgavyavacchēdaḥ sense above, in identifications:
- sa ēva rāmaḥ “he is that very Rāma”
- yad ēva śrutaṁ tad ēva paśyāmi “I now see the very thing that I had heard about”
- navavadhū makaranda ēva “The newly-married bride was none other than Makaranda”
ēvá is also used, in the ayōgavyavacchēdaḥ sense, in affirming something when a doubt about it is either raised or implied. Here it functions as an affirmative particle, and can be seen as giving emphasis to something, but it is important to remember that affirmation and emphasis are derived from the more basic sense of exclusion, in this case against the background of an implicit or explicit doubt or negation.
- satyam ēva “That is indeed true” (although one might have presumed that it was not)
- ihaiva rājā “The king is right here” (although one might have presumed that he was not)
With past participles, ēvá often has the ayōgavyavacchēdaḥ sense, i.e., that it is not the case that the action has not taken place. Hence when it follows a past participle, it can very often be translated as “already”:
- tāruṇyaṁ gatam ēva (Vairāgyaśatakam 46): “my youth has already gone away.”
This is a postpositive and enclitic particle, connected with both phrases and clauses, which has the force of coordination. ca coordinates two or more elements, similar in function to the English word “and.” As an enclitic particle, however, ca must follow its host.
ca derives, like Latin que and Greek τε, from Indo-European kʷe, and corresponds to its cognates in both form and function.
ca may follow every element that is coordinated, or it may only follow the last such element. Hence X-ca Y-ca, and X Y-ca, are both acceptable usages.
Here are some examples of ca as a phrasal particle, where it coordinates two or more noun phrases, or adjective phrases, or adverbial phrases:
- prītā ca bhītā ca babhūva dēvī “The queen was both pleased and frightened” Buddhacaritam 1.29
- taṁ ... snēhēna bhāvḗna ca ... saṁvardhayām ātmajavad babhūva “They raised him like a son, with love and affection.” Buddhacaritam 2.19
- striyaṁ tasyāś ca cēṭīṁ paśyāmi “I see a woman and her servant”
This is a postpositive particle, connected with clauses, which signals that the clause will be contrasted with another, subsequent clause. It therefore is similar in function to English “on the one hand” and Greek μέν.
This is a postpositive particle, connected with clauses, which has the force of contrast. As a clausal particle, it almost always occurs in the second (or “Wackernagel’s”) position.
tu is often added onto the words ápi, páram and kím to form non-enclitic markers of contrast, similar to the English word “but.”
- śr̥ṇōmi kiṁtu na draṣṭuṁ śaknōmi “I hear it, but I’m not able to see it.”
This is a prepostive particle, connected with both phrases and clauses, which negates that with which it is construed.
As a particle, this word is postpositive, and combines with clauses. It is the counterpart to tā́vat, and hence introduces a new idea—usually in contrast to the clause modified by tā́vat—and can often be translated as “on the other hand.”
This is a prepositive particle, connected with clauses, which negates the verbal predicate with which it is connected. In contrast to na, mā́ is used primarily to negate verbs in the imperative lr̥ṭ and in the injunctive, an augmentless form of the aorist.
- mā bhaiṣīḥ “Don’t be afraid”
- mā bhūt “May it not happen” ∼ “God forbid”
This is a postpositive and enclitic particle, connected with both phrases and clauses, which has the force of disjunction. It corresponds closely to the English word “or,” with the difference that, like ca, vā is an enclitic particle and must come after the element it coordinates, or more precisely, after the first accented member of the coordinated phrase or clause.
vā is cognate with Latin ue, but in my reading, it can be used for both inclusive and exclusive disjunction, in contrast to what is commonly said about Latin ue (and uel). The exclusive sense probably predominates, although both senses will be exemplified below.
vā, exactly like ca may follow every element that is coordinated, or it may only follow the last such element. Hence X-vā Y-vā, and X Y-vā, are both acceptable usages.
Here are some examples of vā as a phrasal particle, where it coordinates two or more noun phrases, or adjective phrases, or adverbial phrases:
- mr̥tyur vā pāṇḍityaṁ vā “Either death or scholarship.”
- This is clearly an exclusive use of vā.
- trayaḥ puruṣān paśyāmi, caturō vā “I see three or four people”
- Here vā represents inclusive disjunction.
This is a postpositive and enclitic particle, connected with clauses, that is most commonly use to give a verbal form that would otherwise refer to the present tense (e.g., a present-tense verb or participle) a reference to past time. When used in this way, it regularly follows the verb that it “converts,” effectively, to a past-tense form.
- tataḥ praṇētā vadati sma tasmai “Then his leader said to him” (Buddhacarita 3.59)
This is a vocative particle, generally used before a vocative noun, to get the listener’s or reader’s attention. It is relatively neutral in terms of politeness.
This is a vocative particle. It has a somewhat impolite or casual tone.
“Adposition” is what I will call an indeclinable word that takes a nominal complement in a specified case. These words, which are called karmapravacanī́yāḥ in Sanskrit, are similar to prepositions in European languages (like to, for, by means of, etc.) and postpositions in Hindi, Gujarati, etc. (e.g., mēṁ, kē liyē, etc.). They are called adpositions because in Sanskrit they can occur either before or after the nominal phrase that they govern.
In terms of their form and meaning, the adpositions are largely identical to the preverbs. That is to say, the same indeclinable word can be used as a preverb (e.g., práti-vartatē) and as an adposition (e.g., gr̥háṁ práti). The entire phrase (AP or “adpositional phrase”) will usually have an adverbial meaning within the clause in which it occurs.
“enough”. Takes a complement in the instrumental case (तृतीया विभक्तिः). Expresses the sense of “enough.” Unlike most other karmapravacanī́yāḥ, the phrase governed by álam it is usually the predicate in a sentence.
- alam ativistarēṇa “Enough of this going on and on” = “I have gone on long enough”
- alaṁ khēdēna “We’ve had suffering enough”
“up to, as far as, since”. Takes a complement in the ablative case (पञ्चमी विभक्तिः), signifiying an inclusive limit abhividhíḥ or an exclusive limit maryādā, according to Aṣṭādhyāyī 2.1.13. This word generally comes before its complement.
- ā janmanaḥ “since birth”
“towards”. Generally takes a complement in the accusative case (द्वितीया विभक्तिः) and expresses the ideas of (1) motion towards something (”towards x), (2) reference or respect (“as far as x is concerned,” “with reference to x”).
- gatvaikaṁ saśucā gr̥haṁ prati padaṁ “Having, in her suffering, taken a single step in the direction of her house” (Subhāṣitaratnakōśa).
- sarvadēvanamaskāraḥ kēśavaṁ prati gacchati “Reverence done to all of the gods makes its way to Kēśava” (Mahāsubhāṣitasaṅgraha).
“with”. Takes a complement in the instrumental case (तृतीया विभक्तिः). Expresses accompaniment, or an action that is done with another person.
- rāmō lakṣmaṇēna saha vanaṁ gacchati “Rāma goes to the forest with Lakṣmaṇa.”
- sarasō mahiṣaiḥ saha āgacchanti “They are coming out of the lake with the buffalos.”