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Introduction to Pali (1991)

Lesson 4 (sample text)

Past (Aorist) Tense

The usual past tense, which is called the "aorist" (ajjatanii) tense, is generally formed directly from the root (more rarely from the present stem) by adding special inflections. Sometimes the vowel a is prefixed to the root as an indication of past time, though the difference of inflections avoids ambiguity in most cases. This a goes between the prefix (upasagga), if any, and the root. It is called the "augment". The root is sometimes changed to form a special aorist stem. There are three main forms of aorist according to the stem used, having some differences in inflection also (they correspond only partially to the conjugations of the present tense).

The first form of the aorist, followed by the majority of verbs, simply adds a set of inflections beginning with the vowel i to the root (sometimes to the present stem). It may be illustrated from the root (k)kam with the prefixes upa and sa.m. The augment is not used with this root.

Singular Plural
3rd person upasa.mkami "he approached" upasa.mkami.msu
2nd person upasa.mkami upasa.mkamittha
1st person upasa.mkami.m upasa.mkamimhaa (or -imha)

The following verbs are inflected in the same way:-

A second form of aorist is taken by verbs of the seventh conjugation. Here an aorist stem is formed by adding s to the present stem in e. The singular inflections are as in the first form of aorist. The 3rd person plural inflection is u.m; the other plural persons are not used (> first form on strong root).

Singular Plural
3rd person desesi "he taught" desesu.m
2nd person desesi desittha
1st person desesi.m desimha

Similarly inflected are:-

A third form of aorist is taken by a small but important group of verbs, mostly with roots ending in aa. Like the second form it has a stem in s and the usual singular inflections, but the plural inflections begin with the vowel a. The root kar, "to make", "to do", "to work", takes this form of aorist after changing irregularly to kaa. Several verbs of this group take the augment.

Singular Plural
3rd person akaasi "he made" aka.msu
2nd person akaasi akattha
1st person akaasi.m akamhaa

Similarly inflected are:-

The root huu is very irregular in the aorist. The singular takes strengthening (gu.na) and s, the 3rd plural substitutes e for the root vowel:-

Singular Plural
3rd person ahosi "he was" "there was" ahesu.m
2nd person ahosi ahuvattha
1st person ahosi.m ahumha

The aorist is used for all kinds of past actions, including besides the "historical" or "narrative" past particularly the (present-) perfect: desesi.m = "I have taught". The second and first persons plural are not often found in the Pali texts. The third person is extremely common, both singular and plural.

Agreement of Verb and Agent

When a verb has two or more agents it usually agrees with the sum of the agents and is plural; more rarely it may agree with the nearest agent only or with the agents taken as a collective, being singular. If the persons conflict, the second takes precedence over the third and the first over both.


Some indeclinables (nipaata):-

Masculine nouns in a:-