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Introduction to Pali (1991)

Lesson 1 (sample text)

First Conjugation

The inflection of the present tense (indicative active) of a verb of the bhuu or first conjugation (bhuvaadi ga.na) is as follows:-

Singular Plural
3rd person (pa.thamapurisa)
"he", "she", "it", "they"
bhavati "he is" bhavanti
2nd person (majjhimapurisa)
bhavasi bhavatha
1st person (uttamapurisa)
"I", "we"
bhavaami bhavaama

The root of this verb is bhuu, and the meaning "to be". The root appears more clearly in other forms derived from it, such as the past participle bhuuta, "been". The theory of derivation of the present tense stems of verbs of the first conjugation is that within certain limits the vowel in the root is "strengthened" by alteration into the compound vowel nearest in place of articulation (see next section: "Vowel Gradation"). Where the vowel is a, aa, e, or o, no change is made; where it is followed by a double consonant no change is made; the long vowels ii and uu are not changed when followed in the root by any consonant. Thus the changes are: i becomes e and u becomes o unless two consonants follow; ii becomes e and uu becomes o unless any consonant follows. The stem vowel a is then added, before which e becomes ay and o becomes av.

Verbs of the first conjugation; root and 3rd person singular:

(huu is in fact a weaker form of bhuu and o here a "contraction" of ava. In the present tense hoti is far commoner than bhavati, which is probably used only for special effect: elevated or poetic speech. On the other hand in certain tenses only the forms from bhuu are used.)

Vowel Gradation

The Indian grammarians described the commonest (in the old Indo-Aryan languages) processes of strengthening of roots, or of syllables generally in morphology (derivation), as a prefixing of a to the letter actually strengthened. There are then three grades: zero or weak (avuddhika: no a-), strong (gu.na: a- prefixed), lengthened (vuddhi="increase": a second a- prefixed). In the case of vowels (which is the most important) the three grades are seen for example in: bhuuta (zero), bhavati and hoti (strong), bhaaveti (lengthened). The system of vowel gradation may be set out as follows:-

Zero Strong Lengthened
- a aa
i or ii e or ay e or aay
u or uu o or av o or aav

Present Tense

The present (vattamaanaa) tense (lakaara) is used to express present (paccuppanna) time (kaala), the limits of which are somewhat vague, or indefinite time (timeless statements such as "eternal truths"), sometimes the immediate future (which may include a shade of "imperative" sense; cf. English "I'm going") and sometimes the past ("historic present"). It is used to express the duration of an action "until", a fixed future time (a vivid future visualized as present) "when", and in certain other constructions.

It is not necessary to express the person by a pronoun, as this may be understood from the inflection alone. (Pronouns in Pali usually refer back to words in previous sentences or merely emphasize the person.) The inflected forms express "she" and "it" as well as "he".

Masculine Nouns in -a

Nouns (masculine) inflected like loka > loko, nominative case singular:-

Nominative Case

(In Pali eight case-categories are needed in order to describe the colligations in which nouns are used. In the singular of the masculine -a declension all are formally distinct; elsewhere some are formally alike, but the colligations must still be distinguished.)

The nominative (pa.thamaa, paccatta) case is used for the agent (or "subject") of an active sentence (or "subject" of an active verb). E.g., braahma.no passati, "the priest sees".

The nominative case is used for any attribute of an agent in the nominative, including one "predicated" of it by means of a verb meaning "to be" (sometimes there is no verb in Pali in this type of sentence). The attribute usually follows the agent. E.g., (with verb) braahma.no mahaamatto hoti, "the priest is a minister". Without verb: eso sama.no, "this is the philosopher". This curious feature of verbs meaning "to be" (the "copula"), distinguishing them from all other verbs, must be firmly fixed in mind. When there is a verb expressing an action as well, such an attribute may still be applied to the agent (without any verb meaning "to be"): braahma.no mahaamatto passati, "the priest (who is) the minister sees". As far as possible in Pali words referring to the same thing agree in case, number, gender, and person (exception: cases of relative pronouns).

The nominative is used with ("governed by" in traditional European terminology) certain indeclinables relating it to the action, in place of another case related directly to the verb. E.g., yena gaamo ... upasa.mkamati = "he approaches ... towards the village".

The nominative form is used when a word is quoted or cited (to refer simply to itself). E.g., kaayo ti = " 'body' ". (It is in accordance with this convention that Indian dictionaries and grammars cite words in the nominative, not in the stem form.)

Word Order

The normal prose order of a sentence is: agent - attribute - patient - action, thus the verb is usually at the end. The order is very rarely of grammatical value (the agent will still be the agent even if it follows the patient or the verb), but it is stylistically important.