This is the fourth lesson of the Learn Sanskrit series. It is strongly recommended that you start from Lesson 1 to appreciate the real beauty of this language. In this lesson we will learn about how Dhatus, the root words of Sanskrit Grammar can be used to create new words in Sanskrit.

Sanskrit Word = Prefix + Dhatu + Suffix

See how simple it is! We just have to add a prefix or a suffix to a dhatu, and lo we have a new word in Sanskrit! We will now see what these prefixes and suffixes are. As explained in earlier lessons, Sanskrit has a fixed set of Dhatus or root words, and each Dhatu has a predefined meaning.

So when we added a prefix or suffix to a Dhatu, we will be adding additional details to the meaning of that Dhatu. How? Say for example dhatu gam means means “to move”. Now by adding prefixes or suffixes we can add additional information to it like who moved, or what is moving, the gender, the direction, one or many, etc. So the new word becomes Prefix + gam + Suffix.

In fact, it is not mandatory that both Prefix and Suffix be added at the same time. So the new words can be either

  • Prefix + Dhatu or
  • Dhatu + Suffix or
  • Prefix + Dhatu + Suffix

Now let us see what exactly these prefixes and suffixes are and how to use them to create new words from Dhatus.

Upasarga – Prefixes added to Dhatus in Sanskrit

The prefixes added to a Dhatu in Sanskrit are called Upasarga. They are used to indicate the direction of the Dhatu. They enhance the meaning of a dhatu. Let us understand with an example.

Take the Sanskrit dhatu gam (गम्) – which means to move. Now consider the upasarga aa (आ) which means towards. So prefixing this upasarga to the dhatu gam would make it

aa + gam = aagam

In devanagari script it is आ + गम् = आगम्

The meaning of this Sanskrit word aagam(आगम्) is to move towards something or some place. It can also mean, arrive, come, etc.

Consider another upasarga nir (निर्) which means away. Prefixing this upasarga to the dhatu gam would make it

nir + gam = nirgam

In devanagari script it is निर् + गम् = निर्गम्

The word nirgam (निर्गम्) in Sanskrit means to move away from something or some place. It can also mean go, depart, etc.

See how easily the meaning of a dhatu can be enhanced to include additional information by adding upasarga prefixes to it. Panini’s wonderful book on Sanskrit grammar Ashtadhyayi – mentions a list of 20 upasargas of Sanskrit.

Pratyaya – Suffixes added to Dhatus in Sanskrit

Pratyaya are the suffixes that can be added to Dhatus to add additional context to the meaning of a dhatu. By adding a pratyaya to a dhatu, we convert the dhatu into name like word (noun, adjective, etc) or action like word (verb, adverb etc).

There are six types or categories of Pratyaya in Sanskrit. Three of them can be suffixed to a dhatu to create a name related word. The remaining three types can be suffixed to a dhatu to create an action related word.

Name related Pratyaya to enhance noun context

There are three types of pratyaya to create name related words in Sanskrit. They are used to enhance the context of a name by supplying additional information. They are Linga, Vachana and Vibhakti.

Linga – adds gender context to a dhatu

Linga adds gender to a dhatu. There are 3 types of genders in Sanskrit. They are masculine, feminine and neutral genders. So adding linga to a dhatu makes it a noun and also gives it a gender.

Consider the dhatu div which means “splendour” or “shiny”. The two gender words that can be derived from it are deva and devi, which mean magnificent male, and magnificent female, respectively. So these two new words add additional context of gender to the original dhatu’s meaning.

The maginificent or splendor or shiny attribute is often related to divinity. So the words deva and devi also mean god and goddess respectively!

Vachana – indicates grammatical number of a dhatu

Vachana adds grammatical number to a dhatu, indicating how many. There are 3 types of numbers in Sanskrit. They are singular, dual and plural. Yes, Sanskrit has a separate word to mention dual or two things. So we can create three separate words in Sanskrit to imply one cat, two cats, more than two cats.

Consider the word nadi which means a river. nadyou means two rivers. nadyaha means more than two rivers.

Vibhakti – specifies grammatical case (role) of a dhatu

Vibhakti adds a grammatical case to a dhatu. It indicates the role of the dhatu like whether the person or object represented by the dhatu is the performer of an action, target of an action, instrument in an action, reason behind the action, and so on. There are 7 vibhaktis in Sanskrit.

To understand vibhakti in simple English, consider the sentence “Relativity was discovered by Einstein.” We have two names here, Relativity and Einstein. Einstein is the performer of the action “to discover” and Relativity is the target of the action, “the one that was discovered”.

So, in Sanskrit we suffix the corresponding vibhakti to each of these two words. Einstein becomes Einsteinaha (aha is the vibhakti implying “by”). Relativity becomes Relativityam (am is the vibhakti implying target of an action) . Thus by looking at the vibhakti suffix of a word, the role played by the entity of that word becomes obvious.

To make it even more clear, consider the sentence “Bohr congratulated Einstein”. In this sentence, Einstein has a different vibhakti, he is the receiver of the action “to congratulate”. So in Sanskrit, in this sentence, Einstein becomes Einsteinam, while Bohr becomes Bohraha.

Since all information like role, gender, etc becomes a part of the word in Sanskrit, interachanging the words in Sanskrit will not alter the meaning of the sentence.

In English, interchanging the words in a sentence will alter its meaning. Example “God created Universe” and “Universe created God” have completely different meanings. But in Sanskrit since the role is suffixed to the noun, interchanging the words does not alter the meaning of the sentence.

In fact, you can actually change the word order as you wish and the meaning will still remain the same! This is true for most Indian languages as they are heavily influenced by Sanskrit grammar.

Sanskrit Table for Name related Pratyaya

Since we have 3 linga, 3 vachana and 7 vibhakti in Sanskrit, there is a simple 3 x 3 x 7 table that can be used to list out the rules of creating new name related words for different combinations of gender, number and case of a given dhatu. We will learn about these rules in future lessons.

Action related Pratyaya to enhance verb context

There are three types of pratyaya (suffix) to create action words in Sanskrit. They are Lakaara, Vachana and Purusha.

Lakaara – adds Tense and Mood context to a dhatu

Lakara are those pratyaya that add grammatical tense (time related) and grammatical mood related information to a dhatu, which also makes the dhatu a verb. There are 10 lakaara in all, 6 of them indicate tense and 4 indicate the mood. The names of all this lakaara start with ‘la’, hence they are called lakaara.

The tense lakaras indicate when the action happened, like past tense, present tense and future tense. There are 3 lakara for past tense, 2 for future and 1 for present. We will discuss them in detail in future lessons.

The 4 lakara that indicate mood indicate the mood of the action being performed – like whether the action is a command, a wish, a condition, a request, a probability, etc.

Vachana – indicates grammatical number in the context of action

The vachana when used for a dhatu in the form of an action indicates the number of people involved in the action. And here again we have 3 types of grammatical numbers – singular, dual and plural. By adding a vachana to a verb dhatu – one can easily find out the grammatical number involved in the action.

Purusha – grammatical person involved in the action

Purusha is a suffix or a pratyaya that can be added to a dhatu to indicate whether the action is being performed in first person (I, We) or second person (You) or in third person (He, She, They). So we have 3 purusha pratyaya. Purusha is grammatical person.

Sanskrit Table for Action related Pratyaya

Since we have 10 lakaara, 3 vachana and 3 purusha in Sanskrit, there is a simple 10 x 3 x 3 table that can be used to list out the rules of creating new action related words for different combinations of tense, mood, number and person of a given dhatu. We will learn about these rules in future lessons.

Creation of Nouns and Verbs from Dhatus

As we saw earlier, a dhatu can be converted into a noun or other name related words like adjectives, etc or can be converted into a verb or other action related words like adverbs, etc by simply suffixing it with appropriate pratyaya. Then we can also prefix upasarga to add further directional information.

You may have realized by now that the beauty of Sanskrit grammar lies in the fact that a single dhatu root verb can be used to create another word that gives all information about the entity and context it represents like gender, case, number, tense, mood, person and what not. A single sanskrit word holds all this information!

Endless Word Creation – The Power of Sanskrit

We have seen in earlier lessons that Sanskrit being an attribute based language, we can also combine multiple attributes to create more complex attributes. For instance, consider the word nayana which means eye and manohara which means pleasant. So the word nayanamanohara gets the meaning “the one that is pleasant to the eye” or “beautiful to see”. Similarly shravana means ear and so shravanamahohara means “pleasant to ear” or “melodious music”!

Now we can further enhance the meaning of these word combinations using the rules of pratyaya and upasarga to create even more meaningful words. For instance, adding suffix of feminine linga (gender), the word nayanamanohara becomes nayanamanohari or “she who is pleasant to the eye” implying “a beautiful lady”.

The sanskrit word tri means three, pura means city. So, Tripura means three cities. The word antaka means destroyer. So the word Tripurantaka (Tri+pura+antaka) means “destroyer of three cities”. God Shiva is said to have destroyed 3 cities of 3 daemons, and hence is also called Tripurantaka.

In other words, one can go on creating more and more complex words in Sansikrit using its basic rules. Some words can get so complex that, in languages like English one would require an entire sentence, or sometimes an entire paragraph to represent those words. Obviously, the longest word ever used in literature would be a Sanskrit word.

This is one of the reason why entire articles or even books have been written in Sanskrit just to explain the meaning of a single word. A single word when used in different context can end up with different meanings relevant to that context.

This is also the reason behind the tremendous flexibility available in Sanskrit to create poetic literature. You can create words referring to an entity or action using its attributes so that it rhymes with almost any consonant!

Take the case of Earth. Using the attributes of Earth one can call it with numerous names like bhumi, prithvi, mahi, vasudha, ila, dharani, kshiti, ida, etc. This is the reason why all Sanskrit literature is in the form of poetry.

Poetry can be tuned to music, is easy to remember, can be sung, and given the power of Sanskrit word creation any subject or story can be explained in the form of poetry. It also makes it easy for students to remember stuff. It also increases creativity which further brings about the otherwise little known relations between different entities. In other words, Sanskrit grammar encourages scientific classification of stuff based on different attributes.


  • Sanskrit grammar in a nutshell is the set of rules where we add a prefix and/or a suffix to a dhatu to create new words.
  • Upasarga are the prefixes and Pratyaya are the suffixes.
  • Prefixes indicate the direction of the dhatu, while Pratyaya add additional context like names and actions to the dhatu meaning.

In the next lesson we will learn how easy it is to create sentences in Sanskrit using these words derived from dhatus. You can refresh your Sanskrit knowledge by reading previous Sanskrit lessons. Also read about the list of loan words imported into English from Sanskrit.

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