Lesson 15 – Infinitives and potential passive participles (gerundives)

In lesson 14, we looked at verbal prefixes and continuatives. In this lesson we will look at infinitives and the potential passive participle (gerundive).

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


The infinitive is normally used to indicate the motive or purpose of an action. For example,

“Rama goes to the city to kill Raavana.” Here, “to kill” is the infinitive. The purpose or motive of Rama going to the city is to kill Raavana.

In Sanskrit you would render this as:

rāmo rāvaṇaṃ hantuṃ nagaraṃ gacchati  रामो रावणं हन्तुं नगरं गच्छति. The infinitive is hantum  हन्तुम्.

Formation of the infinitive

The infinitive is formed by adding “-tum  -तुम्” or sometimes “-itum  -इतुम्” to the strengthened root.

For example,

√han  √हन् (“kill”) forms hantum  हन्तुम्

√āp  √आप् (“obtain”) forms āptum  आप्तुम्

√i  √इ (“go”) forms etum  एतुम्

√kr̥  √कृ (“do”) forms kartum  कर्तुम्

√krī  √क्री (“buy”) forms kretum  क्रेतुम्

svap  स्वप् (“sleep”) forms svaptum  स्वप्तुम्

√car √चर् (“move”) forms caritum  चरितुम्

√krīḍ √क्रीड् (“play”) forms krīḍitum  क्रीडितुम्

√cur  √चुर् (“steal”) forms corayitum  चोरयितुम् etc.

Please refer to a good dictionary for the forms of other roots.

Uses of the infinitive

As mentioned before, the primary use of the infinitives is to indicate a motive or purpose of an action.

rāmo rāvaṇaṃ hantuṃ nagaraṃ gacchati  रामो रावणं हन्तुं नगरं गच्छति “Rama goes to the city to kill Raavana.”

rāmaḥ svaptuṃ nagaraṃ gacchati  रामः स्वप्तुं नगरं गच्छति “Rama goes to the city to sleep.”

Note that the infinitive is an indeclinable. It has only one form. There are no cases.

Note that the infinitives of transitive verbs will take an object in the accusative case (rāvaṇaṃ hantuṃ “to kill Raavana”), whereas infinitives of intransitives verbs will not take an object (svaptuṃ “to sleep”).

Note The infinitives are also used alongside substantives like past participles which are used with the meaning of a verb. rāmaḥ svaptuṃ nagaraṃ gatavān  रामः स्वप्तुं नगरं गतवान्; or rāmeṇa svaptuṃ nagaraṃ gatam  रामेण स्वप्तुं नगरं गतम्

In the above gatavān and gatam are past participles used with the force of a verb

Note The infinitive is used identically with both active (and middle) and passive verbs. [We will learn passive verbs later]

  • rāmo rāvaṇaṃ hantuṃ śaknoti  रामो रावणं हन्तुं शक्नोति [Rama can kill Raavana]
  • rāvaṇo rāmeṇa hantuṃ śakyate  रावणो रामेण हन्तुं शक्यते [Raavana can be killed by Rama]

Some other uses of the infinitive are:

  1. It is used with substantives (nouns) to indicate purpose/motive: gantuṃ samayaḥ  गन्तुं समयः (“time to go”)
  2. With verbs and substantives meaning “wish”. sa gantum icchati  स गन्तुम् इच्छति “He wishes to go”
  3. With verbs and substantives indicating ability, power, skill, strength, sufficiency, time etc. Eg. ramo rāvaṇam hantuṃ śaknoti  रमो रावणम् हन्तुं शक्नोति (“Rama is able to kill Raavana”); bhojanaṃ bhoktum asti  भोजनं भोक्तुम् अस्ति (“There is food to eat”) etc.

[The use of the Sanskrit infinitive closely follows the use of the infinitive in English. But, note that you cannot use the Sanskrit infinitive in sentences like “I wish you to go”, “I want him to sit” etc. ]

Potential passive participles (gerundives)

The gerundive denotes that the action or state expressed by the root or derivative must or ought to be done or undergone.

For example “vācyam, vaktavyam, vacanīyam  वाच्यम्, वक्तव्यम्, वचनीयम्” all three [derived from the root √vac  √वच् (“speak”)] mean “that which is to be said”, “that which ought to be said”. By extension of meaning, it can stand for “that which should be said”

satyaṃ  vācyam (vaktavyam, vacanīyam) – (the) truth should said [Note the this type of sentence is common, where the gerundive is used as a predicate adjective with the copula (is, was etc.) left out. Here, therefore, in effect, the gerundive substitutes for a verb.]

Also, the gerundive can be used in impersonal constructions like “tena gr̥haṃ gantavyam  तेन गृहं गन्तव्यम् ”  [from the root √gam √गम् (“go”)] -literally “By him home has to be gone”; meaning – he must go home, he should go home, he will go home etc.”

Construction of the gerundive

The gerundive is made by adding one of the three suffixes “-ya, -tavya, -anīya,  -य, -तव्य, -अनीय”

The gerundive in “-ya” is formed by adding the suffix to variously treated roots (guṇated, vriddhied, changed, several of these, none of these etc.). This gerundive needs to learned for each root.

The gerundive in “-tavya” is formed in a fashion identical to the infinitive. Simply add -tavya instead of -tum.

The gerundive in -anīya is also formed by adding the suffix to variously treated roots.

Many roots form the gerundive in all three forms, others in one or two of the forms.

Some examples:

√han  √हन् (“kill”) forms hantavya

√āp  √आप् (“obtain”) forms āpya and āptavya

√i  √इ (“go”) forms eya and etavya

√kr̥  √कृ (“do”) forms kārya and kartavya and karaṇīya

√krī  √क्री (“buy”) forms kravya and kretavya

√krīḍ √क्रीड् (“play”) forms krīḍitavya

√cur  √चुर् (“steal”) forms corya and corayitavya and coraṇīya

√vac  √वच् (“speak”)  forms vācya and vaktavya and vacanīya

√vah √वह् (“carry”)  forms vāhya and voḍhavya and vāhanīya

√bhū √भू (“be”) forms bhāvya and bhavitavya

√jñā  √ज्ञा (“know”) forms jñeya and jñātavya

Please refer to a good dictionary for the forms of other roots.

The gerundives are declined like the “-a” ending masculines and neuters and “-ā” ending feminines.


Translate into English

  1. sa praśnaḥ praṣṭavyaḥ  स प्रश्नः प्रष्टव्यः
  2. rāmeṇa rāvaṇaṃ hantuṃ lankāṃ gantavyam  रामेण रावणं हन्तुं लन्कां गन्तव्यम्
  3. sa dātuṃ śaknuvati, ataḥ tena dhanaṃ deyaṃ  स दातुं शक्नुवति अतः तेन धनं देयं
  4. jñeyaḥ sa nityasaṃnyāsī yo na dveṣṭi na kāṅkṣati  ज्ञेयः स नित्यसंन्यासी यो न द्वेष्टि न काङ्क्षति

Translate into Sanskrit

  1. Rama bought some fruit to eat
  2. He should go there to play
  3. You should always speak the truth
  4. To enter heaven you should do good deeds

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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