As we know adjectives are the words that modify, describe, or give attributes to the nouns. Pali language too has many types of adjectives, as in case of English. We will not be learning different types of adjectives, their classification etc; but will learn about certain characteristics of these adjectives which are common across all types. The adjectives occur quite frequently in the Suttas, and learning about their usage helps us in understanding and translating the Suttas.

An adjective, i.e. a word describing a noun, can be used for any noun across all genders (masculine, feminine & neuter) and numbers (singular & plural).

Let us consider a simple adjective – white.

It can be used to describe different things like a horse, a garland, or a cloth. In English, we will simply say :

  • a white horse
  • a white garland
  • a white cloth / garment

Even if the noun is in plural, the adjective white remains the same.

  • white horses
  • white garlands
  • white clothes

In Pali, however, the adjective changes its form depending on the gender, number and case of the noun which it modifies.

Let us consider the above example using Pali words.
seta (adj) = white
assa (m) = horse
mālā (f) = garland
vattha (n) = cloth / garment

  • a white horse = seto asso*
  • a white garland = setā mālā
  • a white cloth / garment = setaṃ vatthaṃ

* When we describe a person or a thing, as in the above examples, we use nominative case of the noun.

An adjective matches the noun it modifies in :
Number, and

Hence, the adjective seta takes up –

Masculine nominative singular form – seto – with asso

Feminine nominative singular form – setā – with mālā, and

Neuter nominative singular form – setaṃ – with vatthaṃ.

Similarly, when we have plural forms of these nouns, the adjectives also take up the plural forms.

  • white horses = setā assā*
  • white garlands = setāyo mālāyo
  • white clothes / garments = setāni vatthāni

* Nominative plural


If we have sentences with various declined forms of the above nouns, the adjectives will take up similar forms.

1. The king descends from a white horse.
Bhūpālo setasmā assasmā oruhati. (masculine ablative singular)

2. The girl will worship the Buddha with white garlands.
Kaññā setāhi mālāhi buddhaṃ pūjessati. (feminine instrumental plural)

We will now learn a few adjectives, their use with various types of nouns and translate a few sentences containing adjectives.

Last modified: Friday, 14 July 2023, 9:39 AM