Lesson 2 – Declension

aiunA YouTube video version on this lesson is available here. [Expand to the full article to be able to click on the link]

[Note: If you find that there are any mistakes in this or other lessons, please let me know so I can correct them.]

[For ease of understanding, I have ignored Sandhis in some of the sentences used as examples here and in the video]

In the first lesson we looked at a simple sentence and from that understood the normal word order in Sanskrit which is subject, object, verb. But since Sanskrit is an inflected language, the subject of the sentence or the object of a sentence is indicated by the form of the noun. So word order may not be very critical

We took an early look at Sandhi, and discovered the visarga and the anusvaara.

We had an introductory look at roots and said that all words in Sanskrit are derived from roots. We also said that there are 10 classes of roots and verb stems are derived from this by various different rules. We took an example of class 4 root and saw how the verb stem was derived from this.

We looked at the full conjugation of the present indicative active of a class 4 verb. We found that conjugation is gender independent always in grammatical agreement with the subject.

In this, the second lesson, we will look mainly at the concept of declension, which is the variation of the form of a noun, pronoun, or adjective, by which its grammatical case, number, and gender are identified. A case is any of the forms of a noun, adjective, pronoun etc. that express the semantic relation of the word to other words in the sentence.

[Note that in Sanskrit, nouns and adjectives are inflected in essentially the same manner. Hence we do not treat them separately in our lessons. Pronouns are also in general inflected similarly, but they show some peculiarities and hence we will treat them separately.]


As mentioned in the first lesson, Sanskrit is a highly inflected language. This is different from some of the languages like English and Hindi. Hindi has completely lost its declensional paradigms and use post-positions instead of declensional endings.

For example, in Hindi we say “raam ki pustak” or “raam ka desh”, while in Sanskrit we would say “raamasya pustakam” or ‘raamasya desha:”. In Hindi the post-position for indicating ownership is always “ka” or “ki” whereas in Sanskrit the declensional endings to indicate ownership may vary depending of the type of noun or adjective.

Even though English uses prepositions to indicate the various cases, it retains a remnant of the old declensional endings. You can say, “the book of Rama” or “Rama’s book”. The different forms “who” and “whom” and such others are also remnants of the old declensional paradigm.

Nominative and Accusative

In Lesson 1 we looked at the simple sentence रामः कृष्णं पश्यति (rāmaḥ kr̥ṣṇaṃ paśyati) – Rama sees Krishna – and noted how the subject and object of a sentence are rendered .

राम when rendered as a subject becomes रामः. Similarly, कृष्ण when used as an object becomes कृष्णम्. So even if we said कृष्णं रामः पश्यति the meaning would not change. It would still mean Rama sees Krishna. We also said that if we wanted to say Krishna sees Rama we would say कृष्णः रामं पश्यति.

रामः (rāmaḥ) is the “nominative” case of राम (rāma) and रामम् (rāmam) is the “accusative” case of राम (rāma) – both singular.

We can infer the main functions of two of the cases – nominative and accusative.  The nominative case is used as the subject of a sentence and the accusative case is used as the (direct) object of a verb.

As we saw for conjugation, the cases are formed by adding particular endings to the word stem. The nominative singular case is formed by adding स् (s) to the noun stem. So the nominative singular of राम (rāma) is राम (rāma) + स् (s) –> रामस् (rāmas) –> रामः (rāmaḥ) [We saw in Lesson 1 how word final “s” becomes visarga.]

Similarly the accusative singular case is formed by adding म् (m) to राम (rāma) to get रामम् (rāmam). [Note that the standard accusative singular ending is अम्. But the “a” ending masculine nouns like राम (rāma) take a shortened म् (m). When we look at other nouns we will see how the standard endings are used]

The dual and plural cases are formed by adding their own particular endings to राम (rāma). The nominative and accusative dual are both made by adding the ending औ (au). So both the nominative and accusative dual are रामौ (rāmau).

So रामौ कृष्णं पश्यतः (rāmau kr̥ṣṇaṃ paśyataḥ) – Two Ramas see Krishna –  कृष्णः रामौ पश्यति (kr̥ṣṇaḥ rāmau paśyati) – Krishna sees two Ramas.

The plural of the nominative and accusative cases are formed by adding the endings अस् (as) and आन् (ān) respectively to the noun stem.

So रामः कृष्णान् पश्यति (rāmaḥ kr̥ṣṇān paśyati) – Rama sees many Krishnas – and रामाः (rāmāḥ)  कृष्णं (kr̥ṣṇaṃ) पश्यन्ति (paśyanti) – Many Ramas see Krishna. [  रामाः (rāmāḥ) is equivalent to रामास् (rāmās)].

विभक्तिः (vibhaktiḥ)

  • The triad of nominative case endings is called the प्रथमा (prathamā) विभक्तिः (vibhaktiḥ) – The “first” vibhaktiḥ
    • [For “a” ending masculines it is – स् (s) औ (au) अस् (as) ]
  • The triad of accusative case endings is called the द्वितीया (dvitīyā) विभक्तिः (vibhaktiḥ) – The “second” vibhaktiḥ
    • [For “a” ending masculines it is – म् (m) औ (au) आन् (ān) ]

The nominative case is referred to as प्रथमा (prathamā) and the accusative case as द्वितीया (dvitīyā)

We have seen two cases – the nominative and the accusative. Sanskrit has six more cases.

  • the instrumental – तृतीया (tr̥tīyā) “third”,
  • the dative – चतुर्थी (caturthī) “fourth”,
  • the ablative – पञ्चमी (pañcamī) “fifth”,
  • the genitive – षष्ठी(ṣaṣṭhī) “sixth”,
  • the locative – सप्तमी (saptamī) “seventh” and the
  • the vocative – सम्बोधन प्रथमा (sambodhana prathamā) “first for addressing”

As you can see the cases are numbered as first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh.

A full paradigm

The full case paradigm for an “a” ending masculine noun राम (rāma) is given below.


Use of the Nominative [प्रथमा (prathamā)] and the Accusative [द्वितीया (dvitīyā)]

We have seen that the nominative case is primarily used to denote the subject of a sentence. The accusative case is primarily used to denote the direct object.

There are other uses of the accusative and nominative cases. We will look at these in later lessons.

Use of the Instrumental [तृतीया (tr̥tīyā)]

The instrumental case is used primarily to denote accompaniment and means (instrument). For example,  रामः कृष्णं शस्त्रेण हन्ति (rāmaḥ kr̥ṣṇaṃ śastreṇa hanti) – Rama kills Krishna with (a) weapon.

The word शस्त्रेण (śastreṇa) is the instrumental case singular, meaning “with or by weapon”. रामः is the subject (nominative case), कृष्णं is the object (accusative case) शस्त्रेण is the means or instrument (instrumental case), हन्ति is the verb in third person singular.

[Note that the word  शस्त्र (śastra) is in the neuter gender. However, all the cases from the instrumental are the same for masculine and neuter.]

The second most important use of the instrumental case is to signify accompaniment or “with”.   कृष्णः रामेण गच्छति (kr̥ṣṇaḥ rāmeṇa gacchati) – Krishna goes with Rama.

There are other applications of the instrumental case which we will see in later lessons.

Use of the Dative [चतुर्थी (caturthī)]

The dative case is primarily used as the indirect object of a sentence. For example, कृष्णः रामाय पुस्तकं ददाति (kr̥ṣṇaḥ rāmāya pustakaṃ dadāti) – Krishna gives a book to Rama.

In this sentence, the word रामाय (rāmāya) is in the dative case singular, meaning “to Rama”. कृष्णः is in the nominative case, रामाय is in the dative case which denotes the indirect object (to Rama), पुस्तकं is in the accusative case (direct object) ददाति is the verb in third person singular.

There are other applications of the dative case which we will see in later lessons.

Use of the Ablative [पञ्चमी (pañcamī)]

The ablative case is the “from”-case. It is used to express the place “from which” as in “Krishna comes from the city”. It is also used for comparisons ” Krishna is taller than Rama”.

For example,  रामः नगरात् आगच्छति ( rāmaḥ nagarāt āgacchati) – Rama is coming (comes) from the city.

In this sentence, नगरात् (nagarāt) is in the ablative case and means “from the city”. [The word नगरम् (nagaram) is a neuter word meaning “city”]. रामः (rāmaḥ) is in the nominative case and is the subject of the sentence,  नगरात् (nagarāt) is in the ablative case meaning “from the city” आगच्छति (āgacchati) is the verb meaning comes (is coming).

Similarly,  कृष्णः रामात् स्थूलतरः (kr̥ṣṇaḥ rāmāt sthūlataraḥ) – Krishna (is) fatter than Rama.

कृष्णः (kr̥ṣṇaḥ) is in the nominative case, रामात् (rāmāt) is in the ablative case meaning “than”, and स्थूलतरः (sthūlataraḥ) is a comparative degree adjective in the nominative case  meaning “fatter”.

[Note: In this sentence, कृष्णः रामात् स्थूलतरः (kr̥ṣṇaḥ rāmāt sthūlataraḥ), the verb “is” is not directly expressed. The “is” called the copula is understood.]

There are other applications of the ablative case which we will see in later lessons.

Use of the Genitive [षष्ठी(ṣaṣṭhī)]

The genitive case is primarily used for indicating possession. For example, रामस्य पुस्तकम् ( rāmasya pustakam) – Rama’s book.

[You will notice that in this primary use the value of the genitive is adjectival and is not directly connected to the verb as the other cases are.]

There are other true case applications of the genitive case which we will see in later lessons.

Use of the Locative [सप्तमी (saptamī)]

The locative is the “in”-case expressing situation or location. For example, रामः नगरे अस्ति (rāmaḥ nagare asti) – Rama is in the city.

In this sentence रामः (rāmaḥ) is in the nominative case, नगरे (nagare) is in the locative case and अस्ति (asti) is the verb meaning is.

There are other uses of the locative like situation in time (eg. in the night), and also for expressing the sense of “among”, “amidst” etc. (eg. among friends). We will look at these in later lessons.

Use of the Vocative [सम्बोधन प्रथमा (sambodhana prathamā)]

The vocative case is used for calling, for addressing etc. The vocative case for “a” ending masculines like राम (rāma) is the bare stem itself – राम (rāma).

For example, राम कृष्णः आगच्छति (rāma kr̥ṣṇaḥ āgacchati) – Hey Rama, Krishna is coming.

In this sentence, राम (rāma) is in the vocative case and आगच्छति (āgacchati) is the verb meaning is coming.

[Like the genitive in its primary use, the vocative is not directly connected to the verb as the other cases are.]

The vocative case is closely connected to the nominative and is therefore called the सम्बोधन प्रथमा (sambodhana prathamā) – “the first case for addressing”. [In fact, in all declensional paradigms, the dual and the plural of the vocative is identical to the nominative. It differs (if it does) only in the singular, like in the case of राम (rāma)]


The standard declensional endings are given in the reference.

You will notice that the paradigms for nouns/adjectives ending in vowels vary from the standard endings. You will also find that the endings for feminine and neuter stems are sometimes different. The full set of these paradigms are given here.

Nouns/adjectives ending in consonants are more regular and stick generally to the standard pattern. The paradigms for a sample of these are given here.

You will notice that nouns and adjectives – masculine, feminine and neuter – are classified and referred to according to their stem endings. For example, राम (rama) is an “a” ending masculine, हरि (hari) is an “i” ending masculine and सीता (sītā) is an “ā ending feminine. There are departures from the standard declensional endings based on what the stem endings are.

We will look at some of these paradigms in detail in later lessons.

It is best if you become thoroughly acquainted with these paradigms.  If possible, you should memorize them, so that when you encounter the form in a sentence or verse, you can immediately relate to the word.

Please study the first two verses of the नळोपाख्यानम् naḷopākhyānam   – The story of Nala – that I have analysed on a first level and uploaded here. You will see many of the cases mentioned in this lesson used in the verses.


Translate into English

1.रामेण गच्छामि rāmeṇa gacchāmi

2.राम गच्छ rāma gaccha

3.रामस्य शस्त्रेण कृष्णं हंसि rāmasya śastreṇa kr̥ṣṇaṃ haṃsi

4.रामाः कृष्णः पश्यति rāmāḥ kr̥ṣṇaḥ paśyati  [This sentence is very tricky!]

5.नगरे अस्मि nagare asmi

6. नगरात् आगच्छामः nagarāt āgacchāmaḥ

Translate into Sanskrit

1.I give a weapon to rama

2.You are  going with Krishna

3.Hey Krishna, go.

4.In the city

5.Krishna’s book



15 thoughts on “Lesson 2 – Declension

  1. These lessons are too good. I love your samskrutam lessons and blog. What is your mobile number, Facebook page name. I will call you. Follow you on FB.

  2. The lessons have been drafted with great clarity and due emphasis on concepts.
    Rarely do we come across Sanskrit lessons drafted with such impeccable English.

  3. In the Buddhist Heart sutra it says: rupam śūnyatā; śūnyatāiva rupam. (form is emptiness; emptiness is form)

    I’d personally want to say something like:

    rūpāḥ rūpān; śūnyatā śūnyatām (forms are forms; emptiness is emptiness)

    Is it correct?

  4. Just posting my thoughts on the exercise questions to start a dialogue with others that landed here…
    sure there will be mistakes and would be glad to see corrections or your points of view… Thanks!

    Translate into English

    1.रामेण गच्छामि rāmeṇa gacchāmi
    i am going with Rama
    i go with Rama

    2.राम गच्छ rāma gaccha
    Rama, move (vocative)

    3.रामस्य शस्त्रेण कृष्णं हंसि rāmasya śastreṇa kr̥ṣṇaṃ haṃsi

    changing the last word from हंसि to नन्दयसि 🙂
    रामस्य शस्त्रेण कृष्णं नन्दयसि (second person)
    By (using) Rama’s weapons, (you) please/gladden/impress Krishna.

    4.रामाः कृष्णः पश्यति rāmāḥ kr̥ṣṇaḥ paśyati [This sentence is very tricky!]
    (Many) Ramas see by ploughing (assuming कृष्णः as panchami of कृषि) ??
    (Many) Ramas see darkness (assuming कृष्णः as dviteeya of कृष्णस् as मनः is for मनस् 😛 … but is कृष्णस् valid stem?, maybe not ) ??

    5.नगरे अस्मि nagare asmi
    i (am) in the town

    6. नगरात् आगच्छामः nagarāt āgacchāmaḥ
    we came from the town.

    Translate into Sanskrit

    1.I give a weapon to rama
    अहं रामाय शस्त्रम् ददामि
    (but if i am giving the book to Rama, in the sense of handing over the possession of the book…
    for example ‘i give a book to Rama’ as opposed to ‘i give a book to Rama that i got for him’
    Of course, we should not give someone something they don’t need 🙂
    but sometimes it happens that ‘giving the book’ away can take more emphasis than “giving it for Rama’s kind perusal”
    Wonder if chaturthi is valid for such situation as well? Or Saptami would be better? because the receiver is actually a location rather than a beneficiary..

    2.You are going with Krishna
    त्वं कृष्णेन गच्छसि

    3.Hey Krishna, go.
    कृष्ण, गच्छ

    4.In the city

    5.Krishna’s book
    कृष्णस्य पुस्तकं

    • 4.रामाः कृष्णः पश्यति rāmāḥ kr̥ṣṇaḥ paśyati [This sentence is very tricky!]
      maybe कृष्णः here is an adjective.. so it probably means,
      ? “deep blue colored Krishna sees” ?

      • (sorry for earlier hastier post)
        4.रामाः कृष्णः पश्यति rāmāḥ kr̥ṣṇaḥ paśyati [This sentence is very tricky!]
        maybe कृष्णः here is an adjective.. so it probably means,
        ? “deep blue colored Ramas see” ?
        but then should the sentence have been रामाः ‘कृष्णाः’ पश्यति ? (to make the adjective agree with the case of of subject?)

        so this indeed is tricky..

      • कृष्ण: पश्यति ।
        कृष्ण: पश्यति काम् ? कृष्ण: पश्यति रामाम् । कृष्ण: पश्यति का: ? कृष्ण: पश्यति रामा:।

  5. I’m so grateful for,”Our Sanskrit.” Yet sometimes, the skimming nature of the teacher can be discouraging.

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