Lesson 28 – The Perfect Tense – 1

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 27, we looked at the simple future, the periphrastic future and the conditional – lr̥ṭ लृट्, luṭ लुट् and  lr̥ṅ लृङ् as called by the Sanskrit grammarians.

In this and the next two lessons we will look at the perfect tense, called liṭ लिट् by the Sanskrit grammarians.

In Sanskrit there are three tenses to indicate past action. The imperfect, laṅ लङ्, (which we learned earlier in lesson 5 and lesson 6), the aorist, luṅ लुङ् (which we will learn in a later lesson), and the perfect, liṭ लिट् (which we will learn in this lesson). According to the Sanskrit grammarians, the imperfect is used to denote past action done previous to the current day, the perfect is used to denote past action done previous to the current day, but not witnessed by the speaker (parokṣe liṭ परोक्षे लिट्), while the aorist is used to denote an indefinite past time.

In classical Sanskrit, in practice, these three tenses seem to be used interchangeably for any past action.

Formation of the perfect stem

The characteristics of the formation of the stem are:

  1. reduplication of the root
  2. distinction between strong and weak forms as in athematic verbs (see lesson 16). The singular active forms are strong, all others are weak.
  3. some peculiar ending that are different from the present
  4. the frequent use of a union vowel, i इ, between the stem and endings


The basic concept behind the formation of the perfect stem is reduplication, like the present stem of roots of class 3 (see lesson 21). We saw that reduplication is a process by which the stem is formed by adding a (sometimes modified) part of the root to the beginning of the root.  So, the general principle of reduplication is the prefixing to the root a part of itself  – the initial consonant and the vowel, the starting vowel and maybe the following consonant etc.

We looked at some of the rules of reduplication in lesson 21. These rules are generally valid here also, but with some changes:

  1. Roots beginning with a consonant, radical a, ā, r̥ अ आ ऋ will always reduplicate with an a अ. Never with an i इ, like sometimes in the present. Eg. Take root √pr̥ √पृ “fill”, the present stem is pipr̥ पिपृ but the perfect stem is papr̥ पपृ; from √mā √मा “measure”, we get mimā मिमा in the present but, mamā ममा in the perfect.
  2. A root with initial a अ before a single final consonant, repeats the a अ, which then fuses with the initial a अ to form ā आ. From ad अद् “eat”, we get the perfect stem ād आद्
  3. A root with initial i or u इ or उ, follows the same rule as with a अ above, except in the strong forms where the radical vowel takes guṇa गुण, becoming e ए or o ओ. The reduplicating vowel retains its independent form and joins the gunated radical vowel through the addition of the corresponding semivowel. Thus, from root √iṣ √इष् “desire”, the weak form is i + iṣ इ + इष् –> īṣ ईष्; while in the strong form it is i + eṣ इ + एष् –> iyeṣ इयेष्; from uc उच्, we get ūc ऊच् and uvoc उवोच्.
  4. Roots that undergo “samprasāraṇam”, do so in both the reduplicated syllable and the root syllable in the weak forms, but only in the reduplicated syllable in the strong forms. (see lesson 26. we discussed “samprasāraṇam” while we talked of the modifications undergone by the root before the addition of “ya” to form the passive stem). If the root begins with a vowel after undergoing “samprasāraṇam”, the previous rules for roots beginning with vowels apply.
  5. Roots that begin with a vowel that is long either by nature or by position (short vowel before a conjunct consonant) do not form the reduplicated perfect, but from the periphrastic perfect, which we will take up later.

Rules for making the strong form (strengthening)

  1. A final vowel takes either the guṇa गुण or vr̥ddhi वृद्धि change in the 1st singular active, the guṇa गुण change in the 2nd singular active and the vr̥ddhi वृद्धि change in the 3rd singular active. So from root √bhī √भी we get the stems bibhe बिभे or bibhai बिभै in the 1st singular, bibhe बिभे in the 2nd singular, and bibhai बिभै in the 3rd singular. Similarly, from √kr̥ √कृ we get cakara चकर or cakāra चकार in the 1st, cakara चकर in the 2nd and cakāra चकार in the 3rd.
  2. Medial a अ before a single final consonant, follows the same rules as 1 above; So from √tap √तप्, we get 1st singular stem, tatap ततप्  or tatāp तताप् , 2nd singular stem tatap ततप् and 3rd singular stem tatāp तताप्. [Such roots which also begin with a single consonant that is not an aspirate, an unvoiced guttural  or h, (that is, roots that in reduplication repeat the consonant unchanged), contract their weak forms into one syllable having as its vowel an “-e-“. Thus, the root pat पत्, has strong stems papat papāt पपत् पपात्, but weak stem pet पेत्]
  3. A medial short vowel takes the guṇa गुण for strengthening (where guṇa गुण is possible) in all three persons. Thus from √viś √विश् comes viveś विवेश्, from √druh √द्रुह्  comes dudroh दुद्रोह्, and from √kr̥t √कृत् comes cakart चकर्त्.

There are many other less important rules and also exceptions in the reduplication and strengthening process.

Note: the very common root √bhū √भू forms both the strong and weak stems identically as babhūv बभूव्.


The perfect endings are as follows:

Third person: active: a atuḥ uḥ अ अतुः उः middle: e āte re ए आते रे

Second person: active: tha athuḥ a थ अथुः अ middle: se āthe dhve से आथे ध्वे

First person: active: a va ma अ व म middle: e vahe mahe ए वहे महे

Note: Roots ending in ā आ take the ending au औ in the first and third person singular active.

Note: Those endings beginning with a consonant is often joined to the stem with the help of an interposed union-vowel i इ. [Note: there are exceptions: the “re” of the 3rd person plural has it always, the other consonant-endings, except, “tha” of the 2nd singular active, take it in most verbs (with some exceptions). The “tha” of the 2nd singular active takes it in some and not in others.]

The rules above are complicated. However, when we see some actual conjugations, things become easy.

Example conjugations

Let us take the root √budh √बुध् “know” as an example of a normal conjugation of a root ending in a consonant. The strong stem is bubodh बुबोध् and the weak stem is bubudh बुबुध्.


bubodha बुबोध bubudhatuḥ बुबुधतुः bubudhuḥ बुबुधुः
bubodhitha बुबोधिथ bubudhathuḥ बुबुधथुः bubudha बुबुध
bubodha बुबोध bubudhiva बुबुधिव bubudhima बुबुधिम


bubudhe बुबुधे bubudhāte बुबुधाते bubudhire बुबुधिरे
bubudhiṣe बुबुधिषे bubudhāthe बुबुधाथे bubudidhve बुबुदिध्वे
bubudhe बुबुधे bubudhivahe बुबुधिवहे bubudhimahe बुबुधिमहे

We will take up some other example conjugations in the next lesson.

This is the end of lesson 28. In this lesson we started looking at the perfect tense.





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