Tipitaka Community Project: Pali Accelerated Learning Initiative

Masculine a Nouns and Present Tense

Welcome to the study of Pali. If you are keen in learning the language, PALI will give you a jumpstart towards the mastery of the language. If you want to have a feel of what Pali is, PALI will provide you a good glimpse of the language without much difficulty. Just like learning any other languages, the key to mastery is practice. So, there will be lots of exercises throughout every section. Please make sure you go through every exercise and are familiar with the new concepts learnt before proceeding to the next section.

1. What are Masculine a Nouns?

(a) They are nouns which end with 'a'. For example: Buddha, nara, mitta, putta, kum±ra. In Pali, these nouns are also known as stems or bases. The two words are used interchangeably. Stems are formed from root words which we will not discussed here.

(b) They are of the masculine gender. Examples of gender in English are king and queen, bull and cow. However, please note that in Pali, the assignment of gender does not strictly follow the natural division of male, female and neutral. This loose rule of gender, which is called grammatical gender, requires more memory works.

A short list of masculine nouns, Table 1, that occur on this page are shown at the bottom of the page. You will also find tables of other Pali words appearing for the first time. Please refer to these tables whenever you encounter difficulties with any word. As you progress to later pages, these tables will not occur again. Please look up for these words in the Pali Dictionary. The link to the dictionary is also available at the end of the page.

2. Declension and Cases

Declension is a process in which a noun is modified to be used for a specific purpose in a sentence. After declension, a noun will show gender, number (singular or plural, one or many) and case. There are eight cases in Pali, and each of them will be introduced subsequently.

2.1 Nominative Case

A noun in the nominative case is used as the subject of a sentence. The noun can be singular or plural, so two different case endings are used for each.

For singular nouns, use the case ending -o. For example, kum±ro boy, naro man.

For plural nouns, use the case ending . For example, kum±r± boys, nar± men.

Exercise 1: Decline these words according to the number (singular/plural) indicated.

Remember always to refer to the tables or the dictionary when you are uncertain of a word.

Singular           Plural          
1. nara nar±
2. putta
3. kum±ra kum±ro
4. m±tula
5. mitta

3. The Present Tense and Conjugation

A verb is a word that describes action, while a tense is used to signify the time of action. There are many tenses in Pali, the most important is the Present Tense. Just like nouns, verbs are derived from roots. This process of inflecting or expanding a root into a stem, and then change the base into a verb that reflect a certain tense, number, person, voice and mood is called conjugation.

Here is a simple illustration of the conjugation process: verbal root >>> verbal stem/base >>> verb. Usually, to distinguish between roots of nouns and verbs, we call the root of a noun "root" and the root of a verb "verbal root". The same applies to the stems/bases. Again, we will not discussed about the root words here. Let's talk briefly about verbal stems or bases.

3.1 Third Person Active Voice

Examples of verbal bases are paca to cook, bh±sa to speak, bhuñja to eat.

For singular verbs, use the termination -ti. For example, pacati (he/she) cooks, bh±sati (he/she) speaks. Note that a verb does not reflect the gender.

For plural verbs, use the termination -nti. For example, pacanti (they) cook, bh±santi (they) speak.

A list of verbs appearing on this page is shown in Table 2. Notice that the verbs are listed in the present tense, third person active voice, singular form. This is the convention used in most dictionaries and have proved to be helpful.

Exercise 2: Conjugate these verbs to the third person active voice form as required.

Singular           Plural          
1. paca
2. bh±sa bh±sati
3. bhuñja bhuñjanti
4. kasa kasati
5. passa passanti

4. Making Your First Pali Sentence

Now that you have learnt about nouns and verbs, you are able to make your own Pali sentences. Let's start with a few examples.

1. Buddho ±gacchati.
> Buddha comes.

2. Kassako kasati.
> The farmer ploughs.

3. Kum±r± dh±vanti.
> The boys run.

Table 1: Masculine a nouns
Buddha founder of Buddhism, Siddhattha Gotama; an enlightened person.
kassaka farmer.
kum±ra boy.
m±tula uncle.
mitta  friend.
nara man, person.
putta son.
Table 2: Verbs
±gacchati comes.
bh±sati speaks.
bhuñjati eats.
dh±vati runs.
kasati ploughs.
pacati cooks.
passati sees.