Lesson 26 – The passive voice

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

In the previous lesson, lesson 25, we looked at bahuvrīhi compounds.

In this lesson we will look at the passive voice.

In earlier lessons we learned that most verbs could be conjugated in two voices – the active or परस्मै पदम् (parasmai padam) and the middle or अत्मने पदम् (ātmane padam). The active voice is generally used to convey a transitive meaning and the middle voice is used to convey a reflexive meaning. [In practice, however, they are used almost interchangeably. Also, some verbs are conjugated only in the middle voice, some only in the active. Most are conjugated in both the voices. The middle voice is many a time also used with a passive meaning.]

In the active voice (and the middle) the object undergoes the action of the verb. The passive voice is a form of the verb where the subject undergoes the action of the verb.

For example:

Active voice: Rama kills Ravana; Passive voice: Ravana is killed by Rama

In Sanskrit there is a special conjugation to convey the passive meaning.

The passive voice conjugation can almost considered to be the 11th conjugation class. Like the 4th class (or div-class) (see Lesson 3),  the class sign is a “ya य”. However, for the passive, the root is modified somewhat and then “ya” added to get the stem. The verb is then conjugated like a thematic verb (the stem ends in “a” of the “ya”) (for example “labh”), but only with the middle voice endings. And using this stem, all the tenses and modes can be conjugated – the present indicative, the imperfect, the optative and the imperative. Regular present participles in “māna मान” can also be formed.

From the root √nī √नी is formed the following paradigms:

Present indicative : nīyate nīyete nīyante नीयते नीयेते नीयन्ते etc. like thematic middles.

Imperfect: anīyata anīyetām anīyanta अनीयत अनीयेताम् अनीयन्त etc. like thematic middles.

Optative: nīyeta nīyeyātām nīyeran नीयेत नीयेयाताम् नीयेरन् etc. like thematic middles.

Imperative: nīyatām nīyetām nīyantām नीयताम् नीयेताम् नीयन्ताम् etc. like thematic middles.

Present participle: nīyamāna नीयमान

Similarly, for √labh the stem is “labhya”; for √bhū,  “bhūya” etc.

As we said before, unlike for verbs conjugated in class 4, the root is modified before the “ya” is added. The rules of modification are very complicated. Some of them are:

  1. In some roots, the nasal is dropped. So from root √añj √अञ्ज् we get stem “ajya”
  2. Generally, roots ending in r̥ ऋ make it “ri”. So from root √kr̥ √कृ, we get stem “kriya” (Roots ending in r̥ ऋ after a conjunct constant) gunate the root: So from √smr̥ we get “smarya”
  3. Roots ending in ṝ, change it to īr; or, if preceded by labial  to ūr ; So “śīrya” from root √śṝ and “pūrya” from √pṝ
  4. Final i and u are lengthened. So, “mīya” from √mi and “sūya” from √su.
  5. Roots ending in ā change the ā to ī. So from √dhā we get dhīya. [There are some exceptions to this rule. Eg. jñāya from √jñā][Note. Roots ending in e, o, ai and au also change these to ī, again with exceptions]
  6. Some roots take “samprasāraṇam” (ie. semivowels change to the corresponding vowels). So starting y,r,v change to i, r̥ and u. When that happens the vowel following the semivowel is dropped. Thus, from √vas we get uṣya; from √grah, gr̥hya; from √vac, ucya; from √vah, uhya; from √yaj, ijya etc.
  7. Roots of the 10th class drop the “aya” of the class 10 stem and instead add the “ya”. Thus the class 10 stem of √cur is coraya, the passive stem is corya; for √taḍ we have tāḍya etc.

Uses of the passive

  1. Transitive verbs: The passive is used exactly as in English. Rama kills Ravana (active) becomes Ravana is killed by Rama. The original subject (ie. Rama) is put in the instrumental in the passive construction. The original object (ie. Ravana) is put in the nominative.
    1. So, rāmo rāvaṇaṃ hanti रामो रावणं हन्ति (Rama kills Ravana) becomes in the passive rāvaṇo rāmeṇa hanyate  रावणो रामेण हन्यते (Ravana is killed by Rama); lakṣmaṇo rāmaṃ vahati लक्ष्मणो रामं वहति  (Lakshmana carries Rama) becomes rāmo lakṣmaṇena uhyate रामो लक्ष्मणेन उह्यते (Rama is carried by Lakshmana)
    2. lakṣmaṇo rāmaṃ vahatu लक्ष्मणो रामं वहतु; “Let Lakshmana carry Rama” (imperative) becomes lakṣmaṇena rāma uhyatām लक्ष्मणेन राम उह्यताम्
    3. lakṣmaṇo rāmān vahatu लक्ष्मणो रामान् वहतु; “Let Lakshmana carry the Ramas (more than two)” (imperative) becomes lakṣmaṇena rāmā uhyantām लक्ष्मणेन रामा उह्यन्ताम्
    4. rāmā lakṣmaṇānnayeyuḥ रामा लक्ष्मणान्नयेयुः “May the Ramas (more than two)  lead the Lakshmanas (more than two) (optative) becomes lakṣmaṇā rāmairnīyeran लक्ष्मणा रामैर्नीयेरन्
  2. Intransitive verbs: Intransitive verbs can also be made into passive in Sanskrit (This is not possible in English). This type of construction is called bhāve भावे (or impersonal) construction. “I go to the forest” becomes, “It is gone to the forest by me”. The passive verb is then always rendered in the third person singular.
    1. ahaṃ vanaṃ gacchāmi अहं वनं गच्छामि becomes mayā vanaṃ gamyate मया वनं गम्यते
    2. sa vanaṃ gacchatu स वनं गच्छतु “let him go to the forest”(imperative) becomes tena vanaṃ gamyatām तेन वनं गम्यताम्
    3. upaviśatu bhavān उपविशतु भवान् “sit down (polite)” becomes upaviśyatām bhavatā उपविश्यताम् भवता

[Note: You would have noticed that the passive sign “ya” is the same as the class sign for class 4 roots. Of course, in the class 4 roots, the root is unaltered to form the stem, but in the passive, the root may be altered. However, the real difference is a change of accent. In the class 4 roots, the “ya” added is unaccented. The accent falls on the radical vowel. However, in the passive, the “ya” added is an accented one. The radical vowel is unaccented. A similar difference exists between class 1 roots and class 6 roots. In class 1 roots, the “a” added is an unaccented one, while in class 6, “a” added is an accented one. These differences of accent, which, were very glaring in ancient (Vedic) Sanskrit, have been lost in classical Sanskrit. We will look at Vedic accents in later lessons.]

This is the end of lesson 26. In this lesson we looked at the passive.


Translate into Sanskrit

  1. I am seen by him
  2. May you kill the demon (optative)
  3. May the demon be killed by you (optative)
  4. Go home (in the passive)
  5. (You all) Run! (in the passive)

2 thoughts on “Lesson 26 – The passive voice

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