The sentence vākyam is the basic unit of discourse. It has been defined by Kātyāyana as that which contains a single verb (ēkatiṄ vākyam, Vārttikam on Aṣṭādhyāyī 2.1.1), and by Jaimini as that which has a unitary meaning (arthaikatvād ēkaṁ vākyam, Mīmāṁsā Sūtra 2.1.46).
We can think of the sentence as consisting of two parts. Aristotle influentially distinguished the subject (ὑποκείμενον) of a proposition from its predicate (λεγόμενον). These components refer, in the most basic sense, to “what one is talking about” and “what one says about it,” respectively. (We should be careful to distinguish the subject of a proposition from the subject of a verb: although they often coincide, there are certain types of sentences in which they do not.)
A similar distinction was available to Indian thinkers. Mīmāṁsakas analyzed each sentence into two parts. One part, called the uddēśyaḥ, referred to something that was already known, while the other part, the vidhēyaḥ, conveyed some new information about it. They can be translated loosely as “what is referred to” by the sentence in question and “what is laid down” regarding it. These categories map closely onto what linguistics now call the topic and focus. For our purposes, the uddēśyaḥ can be considered to be the “subject” of a sentence, and the vidhēyaḥ to be the “predicate.”
The order of words in a Sanskrit sentence is relatively free, since almost all of the information about the relationships between its constituent parts is expressed morphologically—that is, by the nominal and verbal suffixes. We can, however, make some broad generalizations, which pertain to particular types of sentences, discussed below.
A nominal sentence is a sentence in which both the subject and the predicate are represented by nominal rather than verbal forms. This type of sentence is not possible in standard English, but it is extremely common in Sanskrit, where nominal forms—such as adjectives and participles—are frequently used as the predicate.
As in other types of sentences, the subject of a nominal sentence is in the nominative case प्रथमा विभक्तिः. In Sanskrit, the predicate of a nominal sentence must agree with its subject in gender, number and case, and hence it will almost always appear in the nominative case as well.
Regarding the order of words in nominal sentences, there is a tendency in the earlier language for the predicate to precede the subject. However, both subject-predicate and predicate-subject orders are attested for all phases of the language.
- kathaṁ saṁdēha ēvātra bhavataḥ “How can you have any doubt in this matter?”
- ahiṁsā ... dharma uttamaḥ “Non-violence is the greatest dharma.”
On a semantic level, Indian grammarians distinguished the main action of a sentence, or kriyā, from several different kinds of participants in the action, or kārakāṇi. Morphologically, the action is usually represented by a verbal form, and the participants are usually represented by nominal forms. The participants in the action are classified into one of the following types, which we may call semantic roles (or “thematic roles”):
- kartr̥ or agent: That which performs the action.
- karma or patient: That to which the action is done.
- saṁpradānam or recipient: That which receives or benefits from the action.
- karaṇam or instrument: That by means of which the action is performed.
- adhikaraṇam or location: That in which the action is performed.
- apādānam or from-which (there is not a good English term for this): That away from which the action is performed.
These semantic roles map onto morphological cases in predictable ways. Hence the saṁpradānam or recipient is represented by the caturthī or dative, the karaṇam or instrument is represented by the tr̥tīyā or instrumental, the adhikaraṇam or location is represented by the saptamī or locative, and the apādānam is represented by the pañcamī or ablative.
In the case of the kartr̥ and karma, however, the assignment of case depends on which construction is used. See the section on agentive, patientive, and impersonal constructions for details.
This section will detail uses for the seven cases of Sanskrit (eight, including the vocative). Their formation is discussed in the chapter on nominal morphology.
The primary use of the nominative case is the subject of a sentence. This includes the subject of a nominal sentence as well as the subject argument of a verb.
rāmō vanaṁ gacchati
“Rāma goes to the forest”
rāmaḥ is the subject of the verb gacchati.
- ahiṁsā ēva dharmamārgaḥ “It is non-violence that is the way of dharma.” Pañcatantraḥ, prose after 3.104
The nominative is also used for the predicates of nominal sentences:
- ahiṁsā ēva dharmamārgaḥ “It is non-violence that is the way of dharma.” Pañcatantraḥ, prose after 3.104
The nominative is similarly used for the predicate when a verb of being or becoming is expressed:
- tadā na kaścid vimukhō babhūva “Nobody then was looking the other way” Aśvaghōṣa, Buddhacaritam 2.10
The primary use of the accusative is the direct object of a verb. In this function it is usually mapped onto the karma or patient semantic role.
- sa paraṁ padam āpnōti “He obtains the highest position.” Pañcatantraḥ 1.316
Note that verbs of motion are traditionally considered transitive and therefore take an accusative. But we may consider this usage to be an accusative of the goal of motion as well.
- vanaṁ gacchāmaḥ “Let’s go to the forest.” Pañcatantraḥ, prose after 5.72
Note also that several verbs are ditransitive dvikarmakaḥ and therefore take two accusative objects, generally one corresponding to a direct object and one corresponding to an indirect object in English:
- suvarṇaṁ rajatām gāḥ ca na tvāṁ rājan vr̥ṇōmy aham “I do not ask you for gold, silver, or cows, king.” Mahābhārataḥ, Speijer §46
Sometimes the accusative is used as a secondary predicate after a verb of making:
- ēkaṁ bhūmipatiḥ karōti sacivaṁ rājyē pramāṇam “The king makes one of his ministers the authority over the state.” Pañcatantra, prose after 1.263
The accusative is also used in adverbial expressions indicating an extent of time or space:
- ētāvanti dināni tvadīyam āsīt “It was yours for so many days.” Pañcatantraḥ, from Speijer §54
- cakarṣa ha tasmād dēśād dhanūṁṣi aṣṭau “He dragged him from that place for eight bow-lengths.” Mahābhārataḥ, from Speijer §54
The accusative is also often used as the complement of adpositions karmapravacanī́yaḥ:
- jānāmi dharmaṁ prati niścayaṁ tē “I know your certainty regarding dharma.” Aśvaghōṣa, Buddhacaritam 9.14
- vyavasāyaṁ vinā na karma phalati “Deeds do not come to fruition without application.” Pañcatantraḥ, prose after 2.132
The instrumental is used first of all to express an instrument karaṇam by means of which the action is done.
- sāmnā ēva vilayaṁ yāti vidvēṣaprabhavaṁ tamaḥ “It is only through conciliation that the darkness arising from hostility disappears.” Pañcatantraḥ, 1.411
It is also used for the agent of the action in patient-oriented and impersonal constructions:
- sarvē bhakṣitā rākṣasēna “They were all eaten by the Rākṣasa.” Pañcatantraḥ, prose after 5.79
The instrumental is also used in a sociative sense, expressing accompaniment, usually as the complement of a noun or adposition:
- mr̥gā mr̥gaiḥ saṅgam anuvrajanti “Deer seek after company with deer.” Pañcatantraḥ, 1.305
- spardhatē tridaśaiḥ saha “He vies with the gods.” Pañcatantraḥ, 5.59
An idiomatic use of the instrumental is with the words kim, meaning “what is the use of...”, and alam, meaning “enough with...”:
- kiṁ vr̥thā prayāsēna “What’s the use of striving in vain?” Pañcatantraḥ, prose after 1.370
- alaṁ sambhramēṇa “Enough confusion.” Pañcatantraḥ, prose after 1.236
The dative is used both for arguments of a verb (the indirect object) as well as a range of modifiers. The dative is assigned the sampradānam or “recipient” thematic role, and accordingly the core use of the dative is for a recipient, and more widely construed, as the one to whom something is given, told, or presented, or to whom something appears. In this sense it very often correponds either to an indirect object in English, or a prepositional phrase with to or for:
- vāsāṁsy ābhāraṇāni ca sītāyai śvaśurō dadua pitrē “Her father-in-law gave Sītā clothing and ornaments.” Rāmāyaṇam, from Speijer §81
- tat tasyai kathayati “He tells it to her.” Śākuntalam, from Speijer §81
- adarśayat pitrē sakhīm “She presented her friend to her father.” Pañcatantraḥ, from Speijer §81
The dative is used to express the experiencer with verbs of pleasing, in a construction like the Italian verb piacere.
- eṣa tē rōcatē “Do you like him?” (Lit. “Is he pleasing to you?”) Pañcatantra
The dative is also used for the target of certain feelings, especially anger and jealousy:
- nr̥patis takṣakāya cukōpa “The king felt anger at Takṣa.” Mahābhārataḥ, from Speijer §83
The dative is very often used to express the purpose of an action, especially with verbal nouns:
- tvaratē mē manaḥ saṅgrāmāvatāraṇāya “My heart rushes to participate in the battle.” Vēṇīsaṁhāraḥ, from Speijer §87
- gurus tu vidyādhigamāya sēvyatē “But a teacher is served in order to gain knowledge.” Kām., from Speijer §87
- svayam ēvāhaṁ tadvijayāya yāsyāmi “I will go to conquer him myself.” Pañcatantraḥ, prose after 3.115
In the sense of purpose it can sometimes be used for the goal of motion:
kusumapurāya karabhakaṁ prēṣayāmi
“I will send Karabhaka to Pāṭaliputra.”
From Speijer §79.
An important use of the dative is to express that to which something serves or conduces. It is often the predicate in such constructions:
parōpakāraḥ puṇyāya, pāpāya parapīḍanam
“Helping others leads to merit, while harming other leads to sin.”
From Speijer §80.
The principal role assigned to the ablative case is that of the apādānam, or the fixed place from which motion takes place. Accordingly it is used for the origin or source of motion, and corresponds to prepositional phrases with from in English:
- kṣitipatir āsthānamaṇḍapād uttasthau “The king got up from his audience hall.” Kādambarī, from Speijer §94
- niragān nagaryāḥ “He went out from the city.” Kathāsaritsāgaraḥ, from Speijer §94
This usage is extended to express the source of any activity.
An important subclass of the above is the so-called ablative of cause hētupañcamī:
- bhayād idam āha “He said this out of fear.” Hitōpadēśaḥ, from Speijer §102
- durmantrān nr̥patir naśyati “From bad counsel a king is ruined.” Hitōpadēśaḥ, from Speijer §102
The ablative of separation is used especially with verbs meaning to “separate” (acc. from abl.):
- tvaṁ piṅgalakāt taṁ viyōjayitum asamartha ēva “You’re completely incapable of separating him from Piṅgalaka.” Pañcatantraḥ, prose after 1.227
- durmantrān nr̥patir naśyati “From bad counsel a king is ruined.” Hitōpadēśaḥ, from Speijer §102
The ablative is used to express that in relation to which something is compared, as well as the complement of words like para- and anya- “other,” and the noun varam “the better.” In these cases it corresponds to an English propositional phrase with than.
- vajrād api kaṭhōrāṇi mr̥dūni kusumād api “Harder even than adamant, yet softer even than a flower.” Uttararāmacaritam
- rāmaḥ sītāyāḥ prāṇēbhyō ’pi priyō ’bhavat “Rāma was dearer to Sītā than life itself.” Uttararāmacaritam 6.32
The genitive’s uses are largely adnominal, that is, a genitive will almost always modify another noun or nominal phrase. It is therefore used to express any relation sambandhaḥ between two noun phrases. Very often that relation is one of possession. For example:
- kathāprabandhasya kīdr̥śaḥ paryantaḥ “What is the end of the story like?” Uttararāmacaritam, prose after 4.22
Some verbs take a complement in the genitive, such as smr̥ “remember.”
- smara tasyā haṁsakathāyāḥ “Remember that story of the goose.” Daśakumāracaritam, from Speijer §120
The genitive can be used to express the agent kartā or patient karma with a noun derived from a verb. These usages are similar to what, in Greek and Latin grammar, are called subjective and objective genitives respectively.
- rūpasya hantrī “[Old age], the destroyer of beauty.” Aśvaghōṣaḥ, Buddhacaritam 3.30
- na marṣayiṣyati rākṣasakalatrapracchādanaṁ bhavataḥ “He won’t much like your hiding Rākṣasa’s wife.” Mudrārākṣasam, from Speijer §115
The genitive also tends to take over the functions of the dative in expressing the person for whom something happens, or who experiences something in a certain way:
- rāmabhadrasya bahutaraprakārakaṣṭō jīvalōkaḥ “The world has become difficult in all kinds of ways for Rāma.” Uttararāmacaritam, prose after 3.30
The principal use of the locative is to express the adhikaraṇam or location in which an action occurs. However, it is often used not just as a modifier of a verb (i.e., in adverbal phrases), but as a modifier of nouns as well. For example:
- asmin ... pradēśē bhūyāṁsa udgīthavidō vasanti “In this region live many masters of the Veda.” Uttararāmacaritam, 4.3
- rājagr̥hē mēṣayūtham asti “In the palace there is a flock of rams.” Pañcatantraḥ, from Speijer §133
- abhramac ca paurajānapadēṣu iyam vārtā “This report spread among the townspeople.” Daśakumāracaritam, from Speijer §133
The locatival sense is often metaphorical, and serves to indicate a reference viṣayaḥ of a particular feature of quality:
- vāci niyamaḥ “Restraint in speech.” Uttararāmacaritam, 4.2
- udgīthē kuśalā babhūvuḥ “They were skilled in the Veda.” Chāndōgyōpaniṣat, from Speijer §142
The vocative is very often used to express a condition nimittam for the rest of the sentence:
- priyānāśē kr̥tsnaṁ kila jagad araṇyaṁ hi bhavati “When a loved one is lost, they say, the whole world becomes a desert.” Uttararāmacaritam, 4.30
A specialization of the expression of condition is the use of the locative in expressions of time:
- ṣaṇmāsābhyantarē vidhiniyōgād vidhavā bhaviṣyasi “You will become a widow, on fate’s decree, within six months.” Pañcatantraḥ, prose after 3.196
Whenever a verbal form is used in Sanskrit, it is either used with reference to the agent kartr̥ of the verbal action, or alternatively, with reference to either the patient karma of the verbal action or the verbal action bhāvaḥ itself. When a form is used in reference to the agent, patient, and verbal action, we speak, respectively, of agentive, patientive, and impersonal constructions. These constructions correspond closely to active constructions (“He was driving the car”), passive constructions (“She was hit by a car”), and constructions with a “dummy” subject (“It’s raining”) in English, respectively.
The referent of a verb does not necessarily need to be expressed by a nominal or pronominal phrase in the same sentence; its expression by the verbal form is often sufficient, especially if the referent (whether the agent or patient of the verb) can be determined on the basis of context. However, in the agentive and patientive construction, the verbal form will agree with, and thus express the same grammatical categories, as the agent and patient, respectively:
- tudyāmahē “We are being hit”
- vayaṁ tudyāmahē “We are being hit”
In the impersonal construction, by contrast, the verbal form will always express the categories of a “dummy” subject in the third person singular neuter:
- anēna hasitam “there was laughing done by him” = “he laughed”
In part, the choice of construction is limited by the lexical semantics of a given verb. Only transitive sakarmakaḥ verbs, i.e., those that can theoretically take a patient as one of their arguments in the first place, can be used in the patientive construction. Correspondingly, the impersonal construction is much more likely to be used with intransitive verbs. The primary alternation in construction, therefore, is between agentive, on the one hand, and patientive and impersonal, on the other. We can therefore distinguish between agentive and non-agentive forms of Sanskrit verbs. Every verbal form in Sanskrit is specified as to whether it expresses an agent or not.
These three constructions prayōgāḥ determine the referent of the verbal form and thus, if it is a finite form, its subject. We must distinguish between the subject as a syntactic category, which is one of a verb’s core grammatical arguments, and that with which it agrees in person and number (and possibly other grammatical categories), from the agent as a semantic category, which simply refers to the participant who does the action associated with a verb. In the case of finite verbs, as well as with nominal sentences, the subject stands in the nominative case prathamā vibháktiḥ, and in Pāṇini’s account of sentential syntax, this is because the nominative case is used for a participant that has already been expressed elsewhere in the sentence. Because of the possibility of non-agentive constructions in Sanskrit, the subject of a verb will very often not be the agent of the verbal action.
In the non-agentive constructions (patientive and impersonal), the agent of the verb may nevertheless be expressed, but if so, the agent must be expressed by an instrumental case-form tr̥tīyā vibháktiḥ.
If we take our verbal action, for example, to be the transitive verb tud “strike,” and our agent to be adhyāpakaḥ and our patient to be śiṣyaḥ, we can produce the following sentences:
- adhyāpakaḥ śiṣyaṁ tudati: agentive construction kartári prayōgáḥ
- adhyāpakēna śiṣyaḥ tudyatē: passive construction karmáṇi prayōgáḥ
For an intransitive verb such as has, we do not have the option of using the karmáṇi prayōgáḥ, but we do have the option of using the bhāvḗ prayōgáḥ:
- śiṣyō hasati: agentive construction kartári prayōgáḥ
- śiṣyēṇa hasyatē: impersonal construction bhāvḗ prayōgáḥ
Non-finite forms of verbs, including verbal adjectives, are also used either agentively or not. Here are a few examples using verbal adjectives kr̥t:
- kumbhakārō ghaṭasya kārakaḥ: agentive construction kartári prayōgáḥ “the potter is the maker of the pot” (using the suffix Ṇvul)
- kumbhakārēṇa ghaṭaḥ kr̥taḥ: patientive construction karmáṇi prayōgáḥ “the pot was made by the potter” (using the suffix Ktaḥ)
- śiṣyēṇa hasitam: impersonal construction bhāvḗ prayōgáḥ (using the suffix Ktáḥ)
A subordinate clause is a unit that has, internally, the same syntactic organization as a sentence, but which is embedded into another sentence—called the matrix clause—where it serves as either an adverbial or adjectival modifier. (Complement clauses are also embedded into a matrix clause, but because they stand in a different syntactic relationship to the matrix clause, and because they are generally formed differently from subordinate clauses in Sanskrit, they will be discussed separately below.) One way to think about clausal modifiers is that they tell us something about one of the noun phrases in the matrix clause (in the case of adjectival modifiers), or about the verbal action of the matrix clause itself (in the case of adverbial modifiers):
- He got on the bus that was going to Madison. (Adjectival modifier clause.)
- She rides her bike when the weather is nice. (Adverbial modifier clause.)
In Sanskrit, these kinds of subordinate clauses are all formed in more or less the same way: the subordinate clause involves a relativizer, a pronoun or adverb formed from the base yá-, and very often there is a correlative form in the matrix clause that is “relativized on.” The correlative form is typically a pronoun or an adverb formed from the base tá-. The form in the matrix clause that is “relativized on,” i.e. the form to which the relative clause refers, is called the antecedent or head of the relative clause.
Here is an example:
na sō ’sti pratyayō lōkē yaḥ śabdānugamād r̥tē
“There is no concept in the world that is not accompanied by a linguistic expression.”
Vākyapadīyam of Bhartr̥hari
- Matrix clause: na sō ’sti pratyayō lōkē (note correlative saḥ): “that concept does not exist in the world”
- Subordinate clause: yaḥ śabdānugamād r̥tē (note relative yaḥ): “which (concept) is apart from the accompaniment of a linguistic expression”
- Relativized on: the noun phrase saḥ pratyayaḥ
Here, as often, we have a relative–correlative pair, represented by the pronouns yaḥ and saḥ. The entire subordinate clause serves to characterize the nominal with which the correlative adjective saḥ is construed, which in this case is saḥ pratyayaḥ.
Note that the relative and correlative words will generally agree in their gender and number (if they are pronouns or adjectives). The case of each form, however, will depend on the role that it plays within its respective clause (either the relative clause or the matrix clause). Here are some examples:
- yasya cētasi vartēthāḥ sa tāvat kr̥tināṁ varaḥ “In whose mind you might occur, that person is the best of those who do good deeds.” Kumārasambhavaḥ 6.18
- yasminn agnayē hōtraṁ bhavati, tad agnihōtram “That in which there is an offering to Agni is the agnihōtram.” Śābarabhāṣyaḥ on 1.4.4
Here is an example using adverbs:
yatra dāridryaṁ tatrāham
“Wherever poverty is, there I am.”
- Matrix clause: tatrāham “there I am”
- Subordinate clause: yatra dāridryaṁ “where poverty [exists]”
- Relativized on: the adverbial phrase tatra
yadā sa dēvō jāgarti tadēdaṁ cēṣṭatē jagat
“When that deity is awake, then this world is in motion.”
- Matrix clause: tadēdaṁ cēṣṭatē jagat “then this world is in motion”
- Subordinate clause: yadā sa dēvō jāgarti “when that deity is awake”
- Relativized on: the adverbial phrase tadā
In English grammar, a distinction is often drawn between “restrictive” and “nonrestrictive” relative clauses. These words refer to the function of the relative clause vis-à-vis the noun phrase that it modifies: a restrictive relative clause “restricts” the reference of the noun phrase to something rather more narrow than what it would mean on its own (“the men who drank the sōma became intoxicated,” where “the men who drank the sōma” refers to fewer people than “the men”), while a nonrestrictive relative clause does not substantially change the reference of its noun phrase (“Indra, who killed Vr̥tra, drank the sōma”).
Whereas in English, these kinds of relative clauses are often distinguished by means of different relative pronouns (“who/that” vs. “who/which”) and sometimes by punctuation, in Sanskrit, there is no explicit way of drawing this distinction.
However, Sanskrit has “restrictive” relative clauses in another sense: the correlative form, and sometimes also the relative form, is qualified by the word ēvá in its sense of “exclusion of a connection with anything else” (anyayōgavyavacchēdaḥ). These sentences mean that whatever is “relativized on” in the matrix clause must be given the interpretation supplied in the subordinate clause; all other interpretations are foreclosed. These constructions therefore “restrict” the meaning of whatever is relativized on in the matrix clause (e.g., a noun phrase, a temporal adverb, etc.) to precisely that which is specified in the subordinate clause. For example:
- yád ēvá kháṁ tád ēvá kám “Prajāpati is precisely the same as space.” Chāndōgya Upaniṣad
- mr̥taḥ sa ēvāsti yaśō na yasya “He alone is dead who has no fame.” Mahāsubhāṣitasaṅgraha
- tat tat karma kr̥taṁ yad ēva munibhiḥ “I did all of the very same rituals that the sages did.” Vairāgyaśatakam 6
The relative and correlative forms may be repeated in a distributive sense (vīpsāyām). The indefinite sense of such constructions is often underscored by the presence of an indefinite pronoun or adverb.
yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānir bhavati bhārata abhyutthānam adharmasya tadātmānaṁ sr̥jāmy aham“For whenever dharma is on the wane, Bhārata, and adharma is ascendant, I bring myself forth.” Bhagavadgītā
- yad yad dhi kurutē kiṁcit tat tat kāmasya cēṣṭitam “Every single thing one does is the work of Kāma.” Mahāsubhāṣitasaṅgraha
Unlike in English, where no more than one constituent of the matrix clause is relativized on, in Sanskrit it is not uncommon to see constructions involving two relative-correlative pairs. Some care must be taken to determine which correlative form each relative form refers to, as well as to distinguish between this type of construction and the aforementioned construction wherein relative forms are doubled.
It is very bad translation style, but in order to understand these constructions, it may be useful to translate the relative-correlative pairs with variables, e.g., x and y.
yad ēva rōcatē yasmai bhavēt tat tasya sundaram
“If something pleases someone, he’ll think that it’s beautiful.”
“x would be beautiful to y if precisely that x is pleasing to y,” i.e., (regardless of whether or not it actually is).
yasmāc ca yēna ca yadā ca yathā ca yac ca yāvac ca yatra ca śubhāśubham ātmakarma tasmāc ca tēna ca tadā ca tathā ca tac ca tāvac ca tatra ca kr̥tāntavaśād upaiti“From which, by which, when, how, how long, where, and what good or bad deeds one does, from that, by that, then, in that way, for that amount of time, and there one goes, according to fate.” Pañcatantraḥ 2.19
In Sanskrit, certain forms, both nominal and verbal, can take as a complement an arbitrarily long constituent—a phrase, a clause, or multiple clauses. These constituents are usually marked as complements by the particle iti, which always follows the constituent.
Participles are verbal adjectives and can therefore perform all of the same syntactic functions as adjectives. Here, however, we will spell out some of the main functions with examples, since in some cases, participles are used in ways that regular adjectives are not, and vice versa.
All participles are adjectives and therefore can always be seen as constituting part of a noun phrase. But participles are also verbal forms, and can also be seen as constituting part of a verb phrase. Whether one or the other of these roles is more prominent in a sentence will depend on context.
When used as part of a noun phrase, there are two options: the participle is either used attributively, that is, to qualify the noun that is the head of the phrase, or it is used substantively, that is, as the head of the noun phrase itself, replacing rather than qualifying the noun. The distinction between these two usages is not very vast, in syntactic terms, because the participle is either the head of the phrase itself, or an adnominal modifier of the head of the phrase. In both cases, the participle can be translated with a relative clause in English.
Here are some attributive usages:
- tatrōdāsīnān munīn abravīt “he told the sages who were sitting there.”
- yājñavalkyaṁ vidvāṁsaṁ pr̥cchati “he asks Yājñavalkya, who is learned.”
- caturaḥ puruṣān paryaṅkaṁ bibhr̥taḥ paśyāmi “I see four men who are carrying a palanquin.”
- mama na rōdatī bhāryā “I don’t have a wife who cries after me.”
- tēna praśastō dharmō jñātaḥ “He knew the dharma that is praised.”
Here are some substantive usages that are closely related to the examples given above:
- tatrōdāsīnān abravīt “he told those who were sitting there.”
- vidvāṁsaṁ pr̥cchati “he asks the one who is learned.”
- paryaṅkaṁ bibhr̥taḥ paśyāmi “I see those who are carrying a palanquin.”
- mama na rōdatī “I don’t have someone who cries after me.”
When used as part of a verb phrase, there are also two options: either the participle is used as the main predicate of the sentence, and hence as the head of the verb phrase, or it is used to introduce an adverbial clause that modifies the main verb phrase in some way. Note that present participles (i.e., those formed with the suffixes ŚatR̥ and ŚānaC) can never be used as the main predicate of the sentence. This function is only available for past participles (i.e., niṣṭhā).
The second usage, where the participle is used as part of an adverbial clause, is equivalent to the circumstantial participle, as Greek textbooks call it, and it can have a variety of senses depending on the context, which can usually be translated by a subordinate clause in English: temporal (“when,” “as,” “while,” etc.); concessive (“although”), causal (“because”), conditional or hypothetical (“if”), etc. This adverbial function does not depend on how the participle is linked to the main sentence in syntactic terms: it may refer to someone or something that is mentioned or implied elsewhere in the sentence, in any case. Alternatively, the participle can even be used without reference to someone or something that is mentioned or implied elsewhere, a usage that we call absolute and describe below.
Pāṇini includes this usage under the terms “characterization or cause of a verbal action” (lakṣaṇahētvōḥ kriyāyāḥ, Aṣṭādhyāyī 3.2.126).
Here are some examples of participles functioning as the head of adverbial clauses:
palāyantō hanyamānāḥ svargaṁ na gacchanti
“they do not go to heaven, because they are killed as they are fleeing”
Pañcatantra 58, cited by Speijer
palāyantaḥ temporal, and hanyamānāḥ causal
paṭhan rāmāyaṇaṁ naraḥ prētya svargē mahīyatē
“by reading the Rāmāyaṇam, a man goes to heaven when he dies”
Rāmāyaṇam 1.1.99, cited by Speijer
“he is staying here in order to study”
Kāśikā on Aṣṭādhyāyī 3.2.126
ajalpatō jānatas tē śirō yāsyati khaṇḍaśaḥ
“If you know it but do not say it, your head will fly to pieces”
Kathāsaritsāgaraḥ 77.92, cited by Speijer
ajalpataḥ and jānataḥ expressing a condition for the main action
bhō niṣiddhas tvaṁ mayānēkaśō na śr̥ṇōṣi
“Sir, although I have tried to dissuade you multiple times, you do not listen to me”
Pañcatantra 304, cited by Speijer
- bhasmībhūtāḥ kathaṁ yūyaṁ jīvantaḥ puna utthitāḥ “How is it that you, after being turned into ashes, are standing alive once again?” Kathāsaritsāgaraḥ 12.11.106
śayānā bhuñjatē yavanāḥ
“the Yavanas eat lying down”
Kāśikā on Aṣṭādhyāyī 3.2.126
śayānāḥ a participle of manner
Sanskrit has two absolute constructions, by which a participal phrase can be used without a “pivot” (see above) linking it to the main clause. By far the most common is the locative absolute, in which the subject of a verbal action (either the agent or the patient) and an accompanying participle (either active or passive) is put into the locative case. The participle can be past or present. Pāṇini describes this use as “characterizing another verbal action” (bhāvalakṣaṇam, Aṣṭādhyāyī 2.3.37). It is regularly called satisaptamī because of the prevalent use of sati, the locative singular masculine/neuter of the present participle of the verb as “be.” In fact sati is sometimes included in the construction even when another participle is used.
- ētasmin mr̥tē rājasutē kō ’rthō mamāsubhiḥ “now that this prince has died, what use is my life to me?” Kathāsaritsāgara 28.134, cited by Speijer
- karṇam dadāty abhimukhaṁ mayi bhāṣamāṇē “when I am speaking to her she listens” Śākuntala 1, cited by Speijer
- rātrau dīpaśikhākāntir na bhānāv uditē sati “it is at night that the lamp is beautiful, not when the sun has risen” Pañcatantra 1.310, cited by Speijer
The genitive absolute is used in much more limited circumstances. According to Pāṇini it is used when there is an additional sense of disregard Aṣṭādhyāyī 2.3.38, although there is a range of interpretations of what this might mean. The standard example shows that the disregard is that of the agent of the principal action for the agent of the action expressed by the participle::
- rudataḥ prāvrājīt “notwithstanding their crying, he renounced the world” cited by Speijer