Lesson 44 – Vedic Sanskrit – Accents -2

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In the last lesson, Lesson 43, we started looking at Vedic accents.

We said that one of the key aspects in which Vedic Sanskrit differs from Classical Sanskrit is the use of accents.

The ancient Sanskrit accent is described as being dependent on a variation of pitch or tone. It is never described the the grammarians as a difference of stress, as it is in English.

We said that the tones or pitches are called svara स्वर in Sanskrit and that there are three tones or svaras on vowels. The udātta उदात्त (meaning “raised”), the anudātta अनुदात्त (meaning “not raised”) and the svarita स्वरित (meaning “sounded”). The udātta is a high tone or pitch, the anudātta is a low tone and the svarita is like a circumflex accent. It is a combination of a high tone and low tone (the tone rises and then falls).

We also looked at how accents are marked.

Let us take our investigation of accents further.

Accent of single words

Normally, in a word, only one syllable is accented. As we said before, the normal main accent is the udātta.

Example: jā́nu जानु॑

But in some words, the svarita appears as the main accent. This is called the independent svarita. This independent svarita always follows a y or a v, which represents an original i or u.


  • rathyàm र॒थ्य॑म् for rathíam र॒थिअ॑म्
  • svàr स्व॑र् for súar सुअ॑र्
  • tanvàm त॒न्व॑म्  for tanúam त॒नुअ॑म्

Double accent

We said that normally a word has one main accent. But, there are certain words that allow a double accent.

A form of dative infinitive (we will learn about this later) has a a double accent: Example: étavaí एत॒वै

In the Vedas, dvandva compounds (see lesson 23) of two deities (and some others), have the dual form for both and in this case both the members are accented. [Note that in older Sanskrit, the ending in ā was an alternative to the ending in au for the nominative and accusative dual for “a” ending stem and some other stems.]


  • mitrā́váruṇā मि॒त्रावरु॑णा (Mitra and Varuna)
  • mātárāpitárā मा॒तरा॑पि॒तरा॑ (mother and father)
  • dyā́vāpr̥thivī́ द्यावा॑पृथि॒वी (heaven and earth)

Sometimes a compound where the first member has a genitive meaning has a double accent: Example: bŕ̥haspáti बृह॒स्पति॑

One particle has a double accent: vā́vá वाव

Lack of accent

Some words never have the accent. Others lose it based on their syntactical position in a sentence.

The following are always without an accent:

  • All cases of the pronoun ena “he, she it etc.” (optional forms of etad and idam), tva “another”, sama “some”.
  • The enclitic forms of the first and second person accusative, dative and genitive cases: mā, me, nau, and naḥ ; and tvā, te, vām and naḥ
  • The demonstratives īm and sīm
  • The particles ca “and”, “also”, vā “or”, iva “like”, gha, ha “just”, cid “at all”, bhala “indeed”, samaha “somehow”, sma “just, indeed”, svid “probably”

The following are cases of words losing their accents depending on their syntactical position:

  • vocatives (except when they begin a sentence or a verse Pāda). (Note that any word qualifying a vocative (adjective, apposition etc., also loses its accent. And, when this combination appears at the beginning of a sentence, only the first of the combination gets the accent on the first syllable. However, two or more independent vocatives at the beginning of a sentence or Pāda are all accented on the first syllable). See accent of declensions below.
  • the main verb in a sentence, unless they begin a sentence or a verse Pāda. Verbs in subordinate clauses always keep their accent.
  • some cases of the pronoun idam if unemphatic (replacing a preceding noun) and not beginning a sentence or
  • yáthā when it appears in the sense of iva (like) at the end of a Pāda
  • kám when it follows nú, sú or 

The accent in various situations

We will now go back to our previous lessons ad see how the accent is applied in the various situations we learned so far:

Sandhi accent

In Lesson 5, we looked at vowel Sandhis. Let us see how the accent behaves in the context of Sandhis.

  1. When two vowels combine to form a long vowel or a diphthong, the combined vowel or diphthong gets the udātta, if either or both of the combining vowels had it.
  2. If neither of the combining has the udātta, but, if either or both of the vowels has an independent svarita, the combined vowel gets the independent svarita.


  • ā́ आ + agāt अ॒गा॒त् –> ā́gāt आगा॑त्
  • nudasva + átha नु॒द॒स्व॒ + अथ॑ –> nudasvā́tha नु॒द॒स्वाथ॑
  • kvà क्व॑ + ít इत् –> kvét क्वेत् (independent svarita + udātta –> udātta)
  • kvà क्व॑ + iyatha इ॒य॒थ॒ –> kvèyatha क्वे॑यथ

Note an exception here: The combination of í इ + i इ॒ is expected by the above rules, to become ī́ ई. However, it always becomes ī̀ ई॑.

Example: diví दि॒वि + iva इ॒व॒ –> divī̀va दि॒वी॑व

3. When í इ or ī́ ई and ú उ or ū́ ऊ is changed to y or v, if the following vowel does not have an udātta, then the following vowel gets the independent svarita.

Example: ví वि + ānaṭ आ॒न॒ट् –> vyā̀naṭ व्या॑नट् [Note that in the RV, the combination is unravelled and it is always, the uncontracted form with the udātta that is pronounced]

4. When an accented á अ is elided (in e ए॒ or o ओ॒ + á अ), the udātta is thrown backwards on the unaccented e ए॒ or o ओ॒ .


sūnáve सू॒नवे॑ + ágne अग्ने॑ –> sūnávé’gne सू॒नवेऽग्ने॑;

vo वो॒ + ávasaḥ अव॑सः –> vó’vasaḥ वोऽव॑सः

5. But, when an unaccented a अ॒ is elided, it changes a preceding udātta to an independent svarita.

Example: só सो + adhamáḥ अ॒ध॒मः –> sò’dhamáḥ सो॑ऽध॒मः

Accent in declension

In Lesson 2 and Lesson 7, we looked at declension. Let us look at the rules of accentuation in declensions.

  1. The vocative, when accented, is always accented on the first syllable. Examples: vocative pítaḥ पितः॑ (the nominative is pitā́ पि॒ता); vocative déva देव॑ (the nominative is deváḥ दे॒वः). (In an earlier part of this lesson, we looked at situations where the vocative loses its accent)
  2. The “a” and the “ā” ending declensions keep the accent throughout on the same syllable (except the vocative): devásya दे॒वस्य॑; devā́nām दे॒वाना॑म्
  3. As regards other cases: A stem that is accented on the penultimate or any other syllable further back, retains the udātta on that syllable throughout the declension (ie. in all cases) except teh vocative (see above) [Numeral stems are exceptions]

Example: sárpant सर्प॑न्त्, vā́ri वारि॑, bhágavant भग॑वन्त्, sumánas सु॒मन॑स् etc.

3. The thing to note are stems that are accented on the final syllable [This includes monosyllables]. These stems are subject to variation of accent in declension mainly because some endings (not all) have the tendency to take the accent from the stem. The so-called strong cases, that is the nominative singular, dual and plural and the accusative singular and dual (see Lesson 7), always retain the accent on the stem (except when the stem final and the vowel of the ending fuse into a diphthong), while the other cases (middle and weakest)  are liable (not always) to take accent. Of these two (middle and weakest), the weakest cases (that is cases whose endings begin with a vowel) take the accent more readily than the middle cases (cases whose endings begin with a consonant).


Let’s take the declension of monosyllable naú नौ. Here the nominative singular is naúḥ नौः; accusative singular is nā́vam नाव॑म्; but note the instrumental, genitive and locative singulars: nāvā́ ना॒वा, nāváḥ ना॒वः, nāví ना॒वि. Again note the instrumental plural: naúbhiḥ नौभिः॑

But, the instrumental plural of glaú ग्लौ is glaubhíḥ ग्लौ॒भिः

Let us take the polysyllabic stem adánt अ॒दन्त्. Nominative singular adán अ॒दन्; nominative accusative dual adántau अ॒दन्तौ॑; accusative plural adatáḥ अ॒द॒तः; instrumental singular adatā́ अ॒द॒ता; locative singular adatí अ॒द॒ति and instrumental plural adádbhiḥ अ॒दद्भिः॑

The example of a strong case where the stem final and the vowel of the ending fuse into a diphthong: From dattá द॒त्त comes dattaú द॒त्तौ (dattá द॒त्त + au औ॒), but datténa द॒त्तेन॑ and dattā́ya द॒त्ताय॑; from nadī́ न॒दी comes nadyaù न॒द्यौ॑ (nadī́ न॒दी + au औ॒)

Note an exception: The ām आ॒म् of the genitive plural of word stems ending in í इ, ú उ and ŕ̥ ऋ takes the accent, though, separated from the stem by “n”. Example: agnīnā́m अ॒ग्नी॒नाम्, dhenūnā́m धे॒नू॒नाम् etc.

4. Root words ending in ī and ū as final members of compounds retain the accent throughout, without shifting it to the endings.

This is the end of Lesson 44.




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