Lesson 14 – Verbal prefixes and Continuatives

In lesson 13, we looked at past passive and active participles. In this lesson we will look at verbal prefixes and continuatives.

A short YouTube version is available here. [Expand to the full article to be able to click on the link]

We saw that the root √gam √गम् means “go”. When you add the prefix “ā  आ” to this root, the meaning becomes “come”.

gacchati  गच्छति means “he goes”, but when the prefix  “ā  आ” is added it becomes āgacchati  आगच्छति meaning “he comes”.

Adding other prefixes gives other meanings.

  • adhi+√gam – go to, attain
  • anu+√gam – go after
  • antar+√gam – enter
  • api+√gam – join
  • abhi+√gam – go unto
  • ava+√gam – go down
  • abhi+ā+√gam – visit
  • upa+ā+√gam – approach
  • sam+ā+√gam – assemble, meet
  • prati+√gam – return
  • sam+√gam – come together

And so on.

A prefix changes the meaning of a verb. The meaning after the prefix is added is not predictable. The meaning of each prefixed verb needs to be learned individually. Some prefixes do not change the meaning at all, while others change it drastically. It is possible to add more than one prefix to a verb as we saw above in sam+ā+√gam.

A verbal prefix is called “upasarga  उपसर्ग” by the Sanskrit grammarians.

The common prefixes in use are:

ati, adhi, anu, antar, apa, api, abhi, ava, ā, ud, upa, ni, nis, parā, pari, pra, prati, vi, sam

There are some others of more restricted use:

āvis, tiras, puras, bahis and some others.

Some examples we have seen before.

In the story, The Brahmin and his jar, in Lesson 11, we saw the sentence “yadyahamimaṃ saktuśarāvaṃ vikrīya daśa kapardakānprāpnomi ” In this sentence, prāpnomi – present indicative active first person singular of pra + class 5 root √āp “obtain” – “get”.

Note. In classical Sanskrit, the prefix stands immediately before the verb, as we have seen above, but in older Sanskrit (as is seen in the Vedas), the prefix may be separated from the verb. We will learn this later.


The continuative indicates an action prior in time to the action of the main verb of a sentence. A series of continuatives can be used, where each continuative is prior in time to the one that immediately follows. Continuatives must always be followed by a main verb. For example, we can say,

rāmo laṅkāṃ gatvā rāvaṇaṃ hatvā sītām amuñcat  रामो लङ्कां गत्वा रावणं हत्वा सीताम् अमुञ्चत्

“Rama went to Lanka (or having gone to lanka) , killed Ravana and (or having killed Raavana) freed Sita.”

All verbs except the last (“freed’) are in the form of continuatives.

Note 1. There is no equivalent construction in English.

Note 2. The conjunctive construction in  “-kar” of Hindi (See Michael Shapiro 12.3)  is equivalent to the continuative. Thus Hindi  “jākar  जाकर” is equivalent to Sanskrit “gatvā  गत्वा”.

Note 3. The continuative is called the “gerund” in most grammar books.

Formation of the continuative

The continuative is formed by adding “tvā  त्वा” (or sometimes “itvā  इत्वा”)  to a simple or unprefixed (sometimes strengthened)  root  and “ya  य” ( or sometimes “tya  त्य”) to a prefixed root. The first type is called “ktvānta  क्त्वान्त” and the second “lyabanta  ल्यबन्त” by the Sanskrit grammarians.

[The continuative of an unprefixed root can be formed by removing the “ta  त” of the past passive participle and replacing it with “tvā  त्वा”]

Some examples:

  • Class 9 root √krī :  krītvā ; vi-krīya
  • Class 5 root √āp  :  āptvā ; pra-āpya
  • Class 1 root √gam : gatvā ; ā-gatya  (also ā-gamya)
  • Class 1 root √kr̥ṣ : kr̥ṣṭvā ;  ā-kr̥ṣya
  • Class 1 root √tyaj : tyaktvā ; pari-tyajya
  • Class 4 root √budh : buddhvā ; pra-budhya
  • Class 1 root √dah : dagdhvā ; sam-dahya
  • Class 1 root √śaṃs : śastvā ; pra-śasya
  • Class 1 root √vah : ūḍhvā ; ud-uhya
  • Class 1 root √jīv : jīvitvā ; anu-jīvya
  • Class 3 root √hā : gives hitvā ; pari-hāya

Examples from Hitopadeśa lessons we have studied so far.

  • tam ca dūre dr̥ṣṭ gardabha puṣṭāga gardabhī iyam iti matvā śabdam kurvāa tadabhimukham dhāvita  (“Seeing him from afar and thinking that it was a she-donkey, the well-fed donkey ran towards him, braying”) Lesson 4
  • yadyahamima saktuśarāva vikrīya daśa kapardakānprāpnomi (“If (when) I sell this pot of grain, I will get ten coins.”) Lesson 11
  • tato vānarāstarutale’vasthitāñchītārtānkampamānānavalokya pakibhiruktam (“Then, seeing some monkeys sitting on the tree cold and shivering, the birds told them”) Lesson 8
  • tacchrutvā (= tat śrutvā) vānarairjātāmarṣairālocitaṃ (“Hearing this, the monkeys became angry and thought”) Lesson 8

Note 1: Like a normal verb the continuative takes an object in (normally) the accusative case. laṅkāṃ gatvā, rāvaṇaṃ hatvā etc.

Note 2: A continuative normally always comes before the main verb (never after it) and the object of the continuative must come before it (not after it)

Note 3: The subject of the main verb must also be the subject of the continuative.

Continuatives in passive sentences

In passive sentences (which we will learn later) the subject of the continuative is the doer of the action (which is in the instrumental) and not the grammatical subject. [tam hatvā mayā sā muktā  तम् हत्वा मया सा मुक्ता; (She was released by me after I killed him)]

Negation of continuatives

Like the participles, the continuative may be negated by adding an “a” (“an” before vowels) in the beginning. Example  tam ahatvā mayā sā muktā तम् अहत्वा मया सा मुक्ता “She was released by me without killing him”


Translate into English

  1. bhīmo duḥśāsanaṃ hatvā tasya raktamapibat  भीमो दुःशासनं हत्वा तस्य रक्तमपिबत्
  2. hanumān lankāṃ gatvā aśokavanam abhyāgamya sītām apaśyat  हनुमान् लन्कां गत्वा अशोकवनम् अभ्यागम्य सीताम् अपश्यत्

Translate into Sanskrit

  1. Rama killed Raavana and made Vibhishana king.
  2. Hanuman went back without freeing Sita

Read carefully the three Hitopadeśa stories in lessons 4, 8 and 11. This will give you a good understanding of continuatives.

Please study the first few verses (I have reached up to verse 10)  of the नळोपाख्यानम् naḷopākhyānam   – The story of Nala – that I have analysed on a first level and uploaded here. This will help you understand how to analyse Sanskrit verses.



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