Indeclinables : ca & vā

We have so far studied various nouns and their declension. We have also learnt that the adjectives, numbers and some participles undergo declension. As against these words, there are certain words in Pali which do not decline. i.e. they remain just the same wherever they occur. These words are called as indeclinables. We will now study two such indeclinables.

ca and are frequently occurring indeclinable particles in the suttas.

ca = and
= or

Though very simple to identify and translate, we need to understand how these particles are used in Pali sentences.

Let us understand the use of ca and by translating a few English sentences into Pali.

  1. Small boys and girls (children) play in the park.
  2. The lay devotee goes to the monastery with (his) son and daughter.
  3. The farmer’s bull eats grass or leaves.
  4. The female lay devotees worship the Buddha with fruits or flowers.

Please note that, while the English sentences have only one ‘and’ or ‘or’ in each sentence; the Pali sentences use ‘ca’ and ‘’ after each noun.

E.g. Small boys and girls = dārakā ca dārikāyo ca

grass or leaves = tiṇāni paṇṇāni

Thus, the above sentences will be translated into Pali as :

  1. Dārakā ca dārikāyo ca uyyānasmiṃ kīḷanti.
  2. Upāsako puttena ca kaññāya ca saddhiṃ vihāraṃ gacchati.
  3. Kassakassa goṇo tiṇāni paṇṇāni khādati.
  4. Upāsikāyo phalehi pupphehi buddhaṃ pūjenti.

This rule also applies when more than two nouns are present in a sentence.
brahmins, teachers and merchants = brāhmaṇā ca ācariyā ca vānijā ca
from friends, sons or daughters = mittehi puttehi kaññāhi

Please consider the following sentences :

  1. Dārako bhattaṃ ca bhuñjati khīraṃ ca pivati.
    The child eats rice and drinks milk.
  2. Vāṇijo nagaraṃ gacchati gāmamhi bhaṇḍāni vikkiṇāti.
    The merchant goes to the town or sells goods in the village.
  3. Kaññāyo bhattaṃ pacanti vatthāni dhovanti.
    The girls cook meal or wash clothes.
  4. Upāsako dānāni ca dadāti sīlāni ca rakkhati dhammaṃ ca suṇāti.
    The lay devotee gives alms, keeps precepts and listens to dhamma (teaching).

Please note the position of ca and in the above sentences. Here, various actions are mentioned and the indeclinable particles are written between the noun and the verb.

Thus, in the first sentence we have,
eats rice and drinks milk = bhattaṃ ca bhuñjati khīraṃ ca pivati
and in the third sentence,
cook meal or wash clothes = bhattaṃ pacanti vatthāni dhovanti

We will come across similar sentence construction in the suttas.

Last modified: Tuesday, 14 March 2023, 3:19 PM