Declension of Nouns

In the previous unit we constructed Pali sentences with a subject and a verb. In these sentences, we used personal pronouns such as I, you, he, she as the subjects. Now we will be studying sentences with various nouns in them.

The nouns in Pali sentences can appear in various forms.

E.g. consider the noun ‘boy’. It can be the subject of the sentence or the object or we can come across ‘to the boy’, ‘with the boy’, ‘from the boy’ ‘of the boy’ and so on.

In Pali, a specific form / a specific case of the noun is used to denote each of the above words / group of words. We will be learning the declension of nouns to understand this concept clearly.

The Pali nouns decline into :
> 8 Cases – Nominative, Accusative, Instrumental, Dative, Ablative, Genitive, Locative, Vocative; and
2 Numbers – Singular and Plural

Each of the ‘cases’ is used for a specific purpose.

E.g. The subject of a sentence is denoted by a particular case, for the object of the sentence a particular case is used. Similarly, specific cases are used to express ‘to (the noun)’, ‘with / by (the noun), ‘from (the noun)’, ‘of (the noun)’ and so on.

Let us understand this concept further by comparing a few English and Pali sentences.

Consider the following English sentences :

  1. A man    walks    along the road.
  2. A woman     offers     alms    to a monk.
  3. The boys     play    in the park    with    (their) friends.
  4. The lay devotees    listen to    a Dhamma talk    from the teacher.

The corresponding Pali sentences are :

  1. Naro maggena carati.
  2. Itthī samaṇassa dānaṃ dadāti.
  3. Kumārā uyyāne mittehi saddhiṃ kīḷanti.
  4. Upāsakā ācariyasmā dhammaṃ suṇanti.

You will observe that the Pali sentences are shorter and contain less words than the respective English sentences. The reason being that the Pali sentences use specific forms / cases of nouns to express a group of words from the English sentences. Please observe the groups of words in the English sentences written above (underlined). A single Pali word is used for indicating each of these groups.

E.g. along the road = maggena

to a monk = samaṇassa

in the park = uyyāne

from the teacher = ācariyasmā

It is extremely important to be well conversant with the declension of nouns for understanding and translating the Pali Suttas.

Please note a few important points regarding declension :

  • All Pali nouns, pronouns, adjectives, numbers and certain participles undergo declension.
  • The declension of a noun into its various forms depends on
    • the gender of the noun (masculine, feminine or neuter), and
    • the ending (last) character of the noun
      E.g. Masculine nouns ending in ‘a’ have different declension than feminine nouns ending in ‘ā’ or neuter nouns ending in ‘u’ and so on.
  • The rules regarding specific use of the cases are the same across all the nouns, pronouns, adjectives and numbers.

We will keep revisiting these concepts in our next few units where we will study declension of various types of nouns.

Now let us study declension of ‘a’ ending masculine nouns.

Last modified: Saturday, 5 November 2022, 2:52 PM