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TLAN 101: CLASSICAL TIBETAN

GRAMMAR HANDBOOK

Benjamin Collet-Cassart (2011)

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

This course covers the main elements of classical Tibetan grammar with the aim of bringing
the students to the stage where they have sufficient knowledge to continue learning the
language by reading and translating basic texts of the Buddhist literature.
The emphasis is placed on integrating the most important points of grammar in a short period
of time (about two months). The presentation tries to stay clear, to avoid too many details, and
is therefore far from being exhaustive or complete. The complexities related to the traditional
Tibetan presentation (often confusing for westerners at the initial stage of the learning
process) are also temporarily avoided.
Once the material of this course has been covered and integrated, students will then
consolidate and expand their knowledge of vocabulary and grammar by translating and
discussing increasingly complex Tibetan texts.
After having gained sufficient proficiency in Tibetan grammar through practical application,
the students are encouraged to deepen their knowledge of the language by studying Tibetan
grammar from a Tibetan perspective, as it is presented in the foundational treatises of Thonmi
Sambhota (sum cu pa and rtags 'jug pa)

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

TABLE OF CONTENT

LESSON1
Nouns
Adjectives
Compound words
Demonstrative pronouns
Indefinite particles
Plural particles
Numbers
Order of a nominal group
Lists

1
3
3
5
6
7
7
8
9

LESSON2
Introduction to the particles
Personal pronouns
The connective particles
1. Relationships in which the connective particle can be translated as "of"
2. Connecting an adjective to a noun
3. Apposition
The emphasizing particle
The use of honorifics

14
15
16
17
19
20
21
21

LESSON3
Introduction to the verbs
Linking verbs
Existential verbs
Transitive and intransitive verbs
The terminating particles

27
29
31
34
39

LESSON4
The agentive/instrumental particles
1. The agent of a transitive verb
2. The instrument of an action
3. Adverb
Special structure of some intransitive verbs
Imperative mood
Nominalized verbs
Vocative case

45
45
46
47
48
50
53
54

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

LESSON5
La don particles
1. The direct object of some transitive verbs
2. Location
3. Purpose/Benefit
4. Adverb
The concessive particles
The "and/or" particles

60
61
62
64
67
70
70

LESSON6
The source particles
1. Source/origin
2. Comparison
3. Exclusion and inclusion/isolation
Relative clauses
Interrogative and indefinite pronouns

76
76
78
79
80
85

LESSON7
The auxiliary verbs
Verbal uses of particles
1. The connective particles
2. The concessive particles
3. The agentive/instrumental particles
4. The reason/purpose particle
5. The particle dang
6. The particles cing/zhing/shing
7. The source particles
8. The La don particles
9. The conditional particle
The continuative particles
How to approach a Tibetan sentence?

91
96
96
97
98
98
99
100
101
102
103
104

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

LESSON 1
Tibetan sentences consist of a string of syllables (
each other and separated by dots (

"between the dots") placed next to

).

All the elements found in a sentence can be divided into two broad categories: 1) words
(nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, pronouns, and so forth) and 2) particles. Unlike the words,
the particles have no meaning on their own but are used to indicate the syntactic relationships
between the various words of the sentence as well as other grammatical functions1. The uses
of the particles are at the center of focus of Tibetan grammar and will be introduced in the
next lessons.
Some words consist of a single syllable but most of them are made of two or sometimes
more syllables, each of them usually having its own individual meaning. Tibetan sentences
are written continuously, without any space between the words or any punctuation marks that
would indicate where the words end. The only punctuation marks are the dots (
) that
separate the syllables and the strokes (

). A stroke is a vertical line placed at the end of a

syllable, instead of the dot. It has no real punctuation significance. Although it is frequently
seen at the end of sentences, it is not limited to that position and should therefore not be
systematically regarded as a period. A stroke is placed in a text to induce a certain rhythm in
the recitation (Tibetan texts are traditionally read aloud). It shows the place where the reader
marks a short pause to take his breath. Double strokes are used to indicate the end of larger
sections and four strokes

the end of a chapter or an entire text.

Due to the syllabic nature of Tibetan and its lack of punctuation marks to separate words,
one of the major difficulties for beginners is to be able to identify the words within a sentence,
i.e. to group the syllables into words. This initial difficulty is easily overcome with
experience, by building up one's vocabulary, learning the way words are formed, and how
sentences are structured. This first lesson focuses on the formation of nouns and on the
different possible elements that surround the noun in a nominal group.

NOUNS
Nouns consist of one (or sometimes more) syllable(s) that is either alone or combined with
one of the six ending particles

See lesson 2

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

Examples of nouns without ending particle:


Tibet

Dharma

path

horse

Yoga

Examples of nouns with ending particle:


virtue

hand

sun

monastery

When these six ending particles (

house
disciple, student

happiness, bliss
essence

are the most common) are joined to a syllable to form

a noun, they become an integral part of that word without usually adding any meaning to it. In
some cases however, they can create new nouns by adding a sense of agent/association or
gender.
Agent/association: The ending particle indicates someone who practices/is associated
with the preceding syllable.
Dharma
horse

Dharma practitioner
horse rider

Tibet

Tibetan

yoga

yogin

Buddha

Buddhist

Gender: Tibetan nouns do not indicate the gender (they are neither masculine nor
feminine) except in some cases where their gender is specified by the addition of the ending
particles
(feminine) and
(masculine).

yogin

yogin

king

queen

god

goddess

son

daughter

It is however not the case that all nouns ending in


following nouns end in

or

are feminine! As an example, the

but are neither masculine nor feminine.

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

guru

Middle Way (Madhyamaka)

sun

student

festival

ADJECTIVES
Adjectives are formed in the same way as nouns2 but there are only a few of them that are
not associated with one of the six ending particles

! all

supreme
holy

good, excellent

profound, deep

"

new

cold

old

big, great

bad, evil
hot

sacred,
red

former, past

Adjectives are usually placed right after the noun they modify3.

all Dharmas

practitioner

"

red monastery
great bliss

old house

hot sun

excellent Dharma
bad student

new student

COMPOUND WORDS:
Multi-syllable words are formed by joining two nouns, two adjectives, or a noun and an
adjective together. In Tibetan, each syllable usually has its own meaning. The parts of these
compound words combine in different ways. For example, they can be synonyms (to
emphasize the meaning intended), opposites (to indicate an abstract quality), bring a new
meaning to the compound, or one part can modify the other:

It will quickly become evident that the categories of nouns, adjectives, and verbs often overlap in Tibetan,
and words can move from one of these categories to the other according to the context in which they are used.
For example, many words can function both as nouns and adjectives. For example,
can mean both "virtue"
(noun) and "virtuous" (adjective). Similarly,

&

can mean "noble being" or "noble" (adjective). Many

nouns are also derived from verbs (see lesson 4).


3

Adjectives sometimes also precede the noun they modify. In that case, they are linked to the noun by a
connective particle (see lesson 2).

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

desire (

'

) + attachment (

) = attachment (synonyms)

exertion ( ' ) + effort ( ( ) = diligence (synonyms)


big ( ) + small () ) = size (two opposites indicate a range of possibilities that

suggests the abstract quality "size")

good + bad = quality

center + circle = ma ala

medicine + house = hospital

, '

star + calculation = astrology

mind + possessing particle = sentient beings (mind possessors)4

. / heart + lord = compassion (lord of the hearts)


0 / stone + lord = diamond, Vajra (lord of the stones)
knowing + supreme = wisdom (the supreme knowledge)

vehicle + great = great vehicle, Mahyna (often contracted as 1

symbol + great = great symbol, Mahmudr (often contracted as 2

)
)

An important feature of Tibetan is the abbreviation of compound words and the omission
of other parts of the language. Many compounds consisting of two syllables are formed by
omitting particles (usually the ending particles
, but any particle can be omitted) or
even parts of words. Contracting sentences by abbreviating words and/or omitting words
and particles is extremely frequent in Tibetan, especially in poetry where each line of the
text has to be composed in a specific number of syllables. Here are a few examples of
contracted compounds and lists of words:
4

- is a particle that shows the possession of the preceding noun. It can also turn nouns into adjectives. For

example,

"kindness" followed by the possessing particle

(adjective). Note that

means "possessing kindness" or "kind"

- "sentient beings" is a word that is understood to be plural although it is devoid of

plural particle.

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

inferior (

the great (

White ( 6

* 7 Dharma (
1

) = 1

) vehicle (1

) = 4

) perfection (4
) Tr (5

) = 5

) body (7 ) (Skt. Dharmakya) =

rvakas (

1 ) and Pratyekabuddhas (

Sa sra (

) and Nirv a (8

75
) =

) =

DEMONSTRATIVE PRONOUNS
The two demonstrative pronouns are

"this" and

(or the adjective if there is one) they modify.


this path
that house
this happiness
that horse

that white monastery


this new student

this excellent guru


that bad queen

The connective particle * will be explained in lesson 2.

The particle

will be explained further in this lesson.

"that". They are placed after the noun

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

this great ma ala


this great yogin

There is no word in Tibetan to express the article "the", but these two demonstrative
pronouns are sometimes used in a similar way.
and
are also used to express the
pronouns she/he/it (the personal pronouns will be covered in lesson 2).

INDEFINITE PARTICLES:
Just like there is no article "the", there is no indefinite particle "a" or "an" used systematically
in Tibetan. However, - 9
(derived from the word - "one") are sometimes used in
that role. Like the demonstrative pronouns, the indefinite particles are placed after the noun
(or the adjective if there is one) they modify. The spelling of these particles varies according
to the final letter of the previous syllable7:
, the spelling is -

After the suffix letters

(or no suffix), the spelling is 9

After the suffix letters


After the suffix letter

9
9

, the spelling is

a path
a horse
a Buddha

a wisdom

"

an old monastery

All the particles can be divided into two groups: the dependent (

- ) and the independent (

- ) particles. The independent particles always keep the same spelling. On the other hand, the spelling of the
dependent particles changes according to the last letter of the preceding syllable. The spelling rules for these
particles will be presented gradually in the next lessons.

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

a new house

PLURAL PARTICLES
The two main particles8 used to indicate the plural are

and

. Both can be used but

is slightly more common. They are placed after the noun, adjective, and demonstrative.
Just as it is the case for the gender, Tibetan nouns are also ambiguous regarding the
number. A word without plural particle is not necessarily singular and can be understood to
be plural by relying on the context. The addition of a plural particle, however, makes the
plural number obvious.
Dharmas
vases
Stras
those
those
these
these
these red monasteries
the new students

the excellent gurus

NUMBERS
The cardinal numbers are placed after the noun and adjective they modify, but before the
demonstrative pronoun (there is no plural particle right after a cardinal number)
8

See also the plural forms of personal pronouns in lesson 2.

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

one

two

> nine

eight

9 four

three

? ten

; five

hundred

The ordinal numbers (except for

<

six

= seven

one thousand

"first") are formed by adding the particle

to the

cardinal numbers.

1st

>

8th
The particle

2d

3d

9th

10th

4th

5th

<

6th

7th

100th

added to a cardinal number indicates the group taken together.

the (group of) two

the (group of) three

the (group of) ten

ORDER OF A NOMINAL GROUP


A nominal group is a noun followed by the different elements that can modify it. A nominal
group forms a "building block" within a sentence and it has to be taken together as an
inseparable unit (see lesson 2). When all the elements of a nominal group are present (most
of the times, only some of them are), the order is the following:

Noun + Adjective(s) + Number + Demonstrative + Plural particle


:

those three new monasteries

>
#

those nine supreme yogins

these four excellent students

those two white vases

The adjectives !

and 1

- "all" can also be added at the end of this list:


all these five white horses

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

LISTS
The particle

is commonly used to separate different members of a list (simple nouns or

entire nominal groups). It is equivalent to the English word "and"9. It is usually placed after
each member of the list, but it is often omitted (after each member or just after some of
them).
virtue (

) and non-virtue (

method (1

=
@

A B

) and wisdom (

), Dharma (
), discipline (A B

generosity (@

1
%

), and Sa gha (

= )

), and patience ( #

the first, second, third, and fourth bhmis ( )

), and Mantrayna (

Buddha (

:
1

Hinayna (1

), Mahyna (1

)
the red monasteries and the eight black houses

is also frequently seen in association with a series of words indicating possession (E

The particle
), relationship (

this excellent guru and those three new students

), separation (F

), etc. In these cases, it is better translated as "with" or "from":

endowed with ...

together with ...

together with, in relation with, associated with ...

free from ...

As it is the case for all particles (see lesson 2),

E
G

endowed with glory (

refers to what precedes it:

together with the retinue (

free from mental constructs (G

associated with the guru (

)
)

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

A plural particle placed after a list doesn't necessarily mean that the members of the list (or
the last member) are plural. It usually just means that the list consists of many singular things.
It should therefore be left untranslated.
Lists frequently end by a number totaling its members. This number usually refers to the
list as a whole and doesn't qualify the last member of the list only. It can be left untranslated
too.
The particle

can be placed at the end of a list or a quote to indicate that the list (or a

quote) should continue. It corresponds to the English expressions "and so forth", "and so
on". The full form is
, but it is often abbreviated as

A B
9H
)

#
IJ

generosity, discipline, patience, and so forth


desire (

), anger (9 H ), ignorance ( I J ), etc.

earth ( ), water () ), fire ( ), and so forth

the three excellent yogins, the hundred

Dharma practitioners, and so on

10

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

Vocabulary list 1
Buddha
Dharma

Sa gha

enlightenment, (Skt. bodhi)


mind
cyclic existence (Skt. sa sra)
virtue

evil deed
happiness

suffering
Stra
path
monastery
guru
student, disciple
supreme
big, great
low, inferior

good, excellent
bad, evil
new

"

old
sacred, holy

profound, deep
many, a lot

11

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

EXERCICES:
1) Memorize the words of the vocabulary list 1 (with the correct spelling!), the cardinal
numbers (1 to 10), and the order of a nominal group.

2) Translate into English

#
#
1

L I #

!
9

=
#

9
>

1
)
#

<

9
9

H
#

1
12

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

H
1
1
L I #

0/1

"

M
=

#
N

Extra vocabulary:

L I (excellent) quality
method

Tibetan names)

man

vehicle, yana

moon

0/1

) water
M

empowerment, initiation
/N

Tashi, Tsering, Dawa (personal

Vajrayna

3) Write in Tibetan
This old monastery
These two profound Stras
Those five new students
All those ten white horses
A red house
The second Buddha
Many supreme paths and so forth
Five great monasteries and all those old houses
The king, the queen, and so forth
This excellent yogin, those new Dharma practitioners, and so on
The (group of) five sacred gurus
These five old students, those three new students, and the guru
13

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

LESSON 2

INTRODUCTION TO THE PARTICLES


The particles form a complex linguistic category that includes many different elements.
The particles are always placed right after the words they modify. This is the opposite
of English where the particles precede these words (prepositions). The Tibetan particles
should therefore better be understood as postpositions. For example, in the English sentences
"he makes offerings to the guru" and "she works in Nepal", the particles are placed before the
nouns to indicate respectively the recipient of the offering and the location where the work
takes place. In Tibetan, the particles are always placed after the words they modify. The way
to express these recipient and location would therefore read: "the guru to" and "Nepal in".
The particles mark entire nominal groups (or lists), not just their last element.
It is important to keep in mind that, like most of the words, particles can be omitted in
Tibetan, especially in texts written in verses.
Particles are traditionally divided into two groups: the case marking particles and the noncase marking particles. Unlike many of the non-case particles, the case particles are used to
indicate the main functions and relationships (agent, objects, purpose, location, etc.)
between the different words of a sentence10. They are traditionally presented according to
eight cases, based on a similar presentation found in Sanskrit grammar. The four particles
10

Non-case particles form the biggest category and regroup all the particles that are not one of the four case
marking particles. Some of them are integral parts of words (such as the ending and plural particles) while others
are used to indicate "secondary" grammatical functions. We will see that the absence of particle is as important
as particles to show grammatical functions.
The "case" particles are called that way because of their similarity with the case-endings (declensions) found in
Sanskrit and other Indo-European languages. The traditional Tibetan classification into eight cases and the
corresponding particles that mark them are listed below. The names of the cases given first are the Latin terms
conventionally followed by Sanskritists. The names given in bracket are closer to the actual Tibetan names:
1st case: nominative (nominative) no particle
2d case: accusative (objective)
3d case: instrumental (agentive)

4th case: dative (beneficial and purposive)


5th case: ablative (source)
6th case: genitive (connective)

O L

7th case: locative (locative)


8th case: vocative (vocative) no particle

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TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

marking these eight cases are the connective particles, the agentive/instrumental particles,
the source particles, and the
particles. Their study is one of the most important
aspects of Tibetan grammar. However, to understand Tibetan texts, it is not necessary to
identify systematically which case the particles encountered belongs to. The study of the case
particles according to their traditional classification in eight cases can be a bit confusing at the
beginner level.
The approach presented in this course focuses on identifying any particle and
understanding their main usages. Each of the particles will be presented in turn, with the
emphasis placed on the case particles, the most important ones to understand the basic
structures of Tibetan sentences. Until lesson 6, we will focus on the roles that particles play
within a sentence. The last lesson will then focus on the roles that they play between two
sentences. Before presenting the connective particles, let us first have a look at personal
pronouns.

PERSONAL PRONOUNS
Many words are used in Tibetan for personal pronouns but it suffices for now to remember
the most common ones. A distinction is made between honorific and non-honorific forms.

2d person: P
3d person:

(literary)11 "I"

and

1st person:

and P
/

(honorific) "you"
(honorific) "he/she"12

and

The plural of personal pronouns is formed by adding a plural particle to their singular
form. The plural particles used in classical Tibetan are
, as well as - and Q , two
particles mainly associated with these pronouns.
1st person:

2d person: P
3d person:

11

Q "we"

and
and P
/

"you"
and

"they"

is a more classical form of the personal pronoun

. The personal pronoun

shouldn't be confused

with the usage of the same word (noun) in a philosophical context, where it refers to the "Self" or "Ego".
12

is the honorific form for both

"he" and

"she". Keep also in mind that the demonstrative pronoun

is often used to express the pronouns he/she/it.

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TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

Reflexive pronouns are formed by adding the particles

and

13

to the personal

pronouns.
oneself (myself, yourself, himself, etc)
and

myself

and P
/

yourself
and

himself/herself

THE CONNECTIVE PARTICLES (*

L)

The connective particles are used within sentences to indicate various types of relationships
between nominal groups14, adjectives and pronouns. They are usually placed right between
the words they connect. The connective particles have different forms according to the suffix
letter of the preceding syllable.
After the suffix letters
After the suffix letters
After the suffix letters

, the spelling is *
, the spelling is
, the spelling is O

When there is no suffix or the suffix letter , the spelling is

or L 15

The connective particles indicate a wide range of relationships that are traditionally
subdivided into many categories and sub-categories that tend to overlap. For the ease of study,
the various usages of the connective particles are subsumed here under three main groups:
13

emphasizes the word that comes before it (the thing itself) but it can also be used to create abstract nouns.

For example,

"empty" followed by the particle

"emptiness" and

"Buddha" =

"Buddhahood".
14

Nominal groups include simple nouns.

15

is joined to the syllable devoid of suffix while

L forms a separate syllable. This technique for creating a

new syllable is often used in poetry where each line must have a specific number of syllables. For example,
followed by a connective particle can be written
the

(one syllable) or

> is placed directly over the . For example 6


16

L (two syllables). If the word ends in ,

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

1. Relationships in which the connective particle can be translated as "of":


This is the most frequent usage of the connective particles. It includes different types of
relationships traditionally presented as "relationship between an owner and a thing
possessed", "relationship between a place and its inhabitants", "relationship between a whole
and its parts", and so on. The good news is that it is not necessary for beginners to be able to
distinguish all these different categories in order to understand Tibetan sentences. For all the
different types of relationships of this group, the connective particles can be translated by the
English word "of", connecting the words from right to left. The translation follows this
model:
A (nominal group/list or pronoun) + * / /O // /L + B (nominal group/list) = B of A

the teachings (

1
S

the vehicle (1

the wisdom (
people ( ) of Tibet (

T
O

and Indians (

! ) of Tibetans (

)
)

the deities ( ) of the ma ala ( *

)16

) of the queen (

* 7 the body (7 ) of Dharma (

) of the bodhisattva (

) of meditation ( T

the meaning (

) of the Buddha (

all the religious traditions (

the excellent guru (

) of the white monastery (

16

This could alternatively be written

This applies to every instance where the connective

particle is

17

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

- 1

- *

- 1

the supreme protector (

- )

the oral instructions (


#

practitioner (

) of that excellent Dharma

)
the monastery (

) of all sentient beings

profound empowerments (

) of the guru and the students (

the rituals (
#

) and sacred commitments (

)
S ) of the four

9)

The same model applies if there are several connective particles in a sentence (remember
to connect from right to left)

"

SV
"

many old houses (

W O

6
6

monastery (

the jealousy (V

) of the owner (

) of those

S
) of Nepal (

the teachings (

) of the guru (

) of the white

W )

Possessive pronouns are formed by adding a connective particle to the personal pronouns
my guru (the guru of me)
my red house (the red house of me)

P *

your excellent disciple (the excellent disciple of you)


his great pride (the great pride of him)

: our three white horses (the three white horses of us)


the monastery of my guru (the monastery of the guru of me)

Although the connective particles can here be translated as "of", some other English
prepositions ("in", "at", "for", "to", etc.) might be more appropriate in some contexts. It is

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TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

nevertheless possible to begin by translating the particle as "of", before adjusting the
translation to the particular context (by common sense).

) *

the path (

= O

) of enlightenment (

) ) = the path to enlightenment

) of the front ( = ) = the space in front

the space (
the offerings (

) of the guru (

). This is grammatically correct but "the

offerings for the guru" could be more appropriate depending on the context.

2. Connecting an adjective to a noun:


We saw in lesson 1 that adjectives usually follow directly the noun they modify. The (only)
other possibility for an adjective to modify a noun is to precede it and to be joined to it by a
connective particle. The model then becomes Adjective + Connective particle + Noun17.
This model is frequently seen in Tibetan sentences. Grammatically, both ways of combining a
noun and an adjective are valid, but it seems that some adjectives always follow or always
precede the noun they qualify. Moreover, when an adjective precedes a noun, the connective
particle between them (together with the ending particle of the adjective) is regularly
omitted.
sacred (

) Dharma (

profound (#

) path (

perfect (4
virtuous (

often seen abbreviated as #

) Buddha (

) action (

and

For example, there are two grammatical ways for the adjective

"Dharma":

18

often seen abbreviated as

) man ( )18

Tibetan (

17

or

"white" to modify the noun

= the white Dharma (they can respectively be abbreviated as

).

Note that the adjectives

"virtuous" and

"Tibetan" are used as nouns in other contexts.

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TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

3. Apposition:
An apposition is a situation where two or more nominal groups are describing the same
thing by using different words. The nouns in apposition can be synonyms, or one of them
can introduce complementary information regarding the other. A connective particle can be
placed before them.

/ the lord of death (


1

0/1

)19, Yama (

), Vajrayna (0 / 1

the supreme vehicle (1

* = ' the inner offering (


8

/ ) (the lord of death = Yama)


)

), nectar ( = ' )

hell and so forth (8

), the lower realms (

The (only) other possibility to express an apposition is simply to place the two nominal
groups equated next to each other, without any particle between them.

the teacher of the Dharma (

), the fourth Buddha (

9 )

= ' the inner offering (


Buddha (

), nectar ( = ' )
) Amitbha (

Concluding remarks for the connective particles:


The connective particles connect together entire nominal groups/lists. It is crucial to
remember that these connected groups/lists have to be taken together as inseparable units.
When you encounter a connective particle in a text, identify its usage in the order
presented in this lesson: 1) Begin by translating the connective particle as "of", connecting
the words on its both sides from right to left. If it doesn't work, 2) the word that precedes the
particle might be an adjective. If it still doesn't work, try 3) the apposition.

19

As an example of word abbreviation,

death (

is a contraction of

20

, the lord/owner (

) of

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

Remember that all the particles can be omitted. Among the case marking particles, the
connective particle is the most frequently omitted one.
Another important function of the connective particles is to connect a relative clause to a
noun. This usage will be covered in lesson 6. There are also a few secondary functions that
will be introduced later.

THE EMPHASIZING PARTICLE


The particle

is used to emphasize a word or a group of words. It doesn't give any

information concerning the grammatical function of the words it emphasizes. The particle
merely draws the attention of the reader on the words that precede it by stressing their
importance in the sentence. It can be translated by "regarding", "as for", or "concerning",
but it is often better to leave it untranslated.
as for him,/ he ...

)
6

(regarding) all those bodhisattvas, ...

= L

(concerning) the three jewels ( 6

) (they) are (L ) the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sa gha20.


The particle

is also frequently used in poetry to fill up the number of syllables required

in a line. It adds no meaning to the translation and can be ignored.

THE USE OF HONORIFICS


Tibetan language has different forms of speech according to the person it addresses or refers
to. The ordinary form is used to address or refer to someone of equal or lower status while the
honorific form is to address or refer to someone of higher status. The honorific form of speech
is very important in Tibetan (especially in the spoken language) and many words (nouns,
verbs, pronouns) have both an honorific and an ordinary form. These forms have to be
assimilated gradually and it suffices for now to be aware that this distinction exists. Here are a
few examples of words together with their honorific forms:

20

Verbs will be introduced next lesson.

21

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

Ordinary form

Pronouns:

Honorific form

you

/
Nouns:

he/she

&

father

mother

son

body

:
/L

speech
mind
head

[
Verbs:

hand

foot

to be

to stay, abide, live

to do

to know

22

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

Vocabulary list 2
6

:
)

the three jewels (litt. the three "rare" and "supreme")


bodhisattva

sentient beings
emptiness
space, sky

cause

effect, fruition

nirv a

ma ala

0/

vajra
action, karma
afflictive emotion
desire, attachment

9H

anger, aversion

IJ

ignorance, stupidity

L I

(excellent) quality

. /

compassion
wisdom, discriminating knowledge

method, skilful means


teaching

&

noble/noble being (Skt. rya)

hell being

L_
=

hungry ghost (Skt. preta)

animal
god, deity

23

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

the three lower realms

the three higher realms


offering
India

Nepal

24

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

EXERCICES
1) Memorize the three main types of relationships that the connective particles indicate,
the personal pronouns, and the words of the vocabulary list 2. If you can, memorize
also the words and their honorific forms presented in this lesson.

2) Translate into English (focus on the role played by the connective particles by
proceeding in the order described in this lesson. Remember that nominal groups are
inseparable units that have to be taken together)

)
*

O
*
L I

L I

&

! O `
-

&
1
* F
)

!
#

: O

S
- 1

. /
#

&

I
1

:
25

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

Sa 1

- *L I

SL I O ^

S
6

: O #

(
6
Extra vocabulary:

perfect, complete
oral instruction

religion

source, origin

2 outer

& level

flower

butter lamp

( spiritual accomplishment (siddhi)

liberation

monk

Tsering (personal

name)

3) Write in Tibetan (remember that the spelling of the connectives particles depend
on the suffix of the preceding syllable)
The qualities of those three gurus
The source of great bliss
The unity (b

c ) of method and wisdom

The level of liberation of the greater vehicle (Mahyna), Buddhahood


The profound methods of Vajrayna (0 / 1

Those many monasteries of India, Tibet, and Nepal


All the qualities of the guru of the red monastery
His great compassion
My great desire
26

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

LESSON 3
INTRODUCTION TO THE VERBS
Tibetan verbs are called
particles

or

21

"words of action". They are formed by adding the ending

to one or sometimes several syllables indicating an action. The study of the

verbs constitutes, with the study of the case marking particles, the main concern of Tibetan
grammar. The verbs determine what the structure of the sentence (the type of particles - or
absence of particle - that will be used) will be. For that reason, the verb is always the first
thing to look at when translating a sentence from Tibetan. Here are a few important
generalities concerning the verbs:
The verb is always placed after everything else (subject, objects, adverbs, complements,
etc), at the very end of the sentence. Although some arrangements are more common than
others22, the order of the words in a sentence is relatively free since the function of the words
is clearly indicated by the particles (or the absence of particle) that follow them. Nevertheless,
the verb always appears at the end. Moreover, unlike most of the other words, particles, and
23
, verbs are never omitted.
the linking verb L
In classical Tibetan, a verb does not provide any information concerning the person and
the number. The same verb form is used for the 1st, 2d, and 3d person singular and
plural. Similarly, verbs are ambiguous regarding the active and passive voice. Verbs can
often equally be translated in an active or in a passive voice.
A verb ending with the particles

or

is the infinitive form of the verb24, the one that

appears, for example, when they are listed in a dictionary. When they are used within a
sentence, the verbs lose these particles and appear only in their "root" form.
There are three tenses (=
the future (

: ) in Tibetan: the past (

), the present ( d ), and

), with the addition of the imperative mood (7

S ). Some verbs have

the same tense form for the three tenses and the imperative mood while others have two,
three, or four different forms. There is no complete set of rules to determine systematically all
the different tense forms of the verbs, and this topic is very complex and can be
21

comes after the suffix letters

or after a syllable devoid of suffix letter.

22

For example, the order Subject + Objects + Verb is more common, but the subject and objects can exchange
their position without there being any ambiguity in the translation.
23

This will be explained further in this lesson.

24

These particles are also used to nominalize verbs, i.e. to turn verbs into nouns (see lesson 4).

27

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

overwhelming for beginning (and advanced) students. There are nevertheless some recurring
patterns that can gradually be recognized. The idea is to begin by slowly familiarizing oneself
with the tenses of the verbs as they are encountered in sentences, then to start memorizing
them by focusing on the most important ones. Here are a few examples of verbs having, one,
two, three, or four tense forms:
One tense form verbs:
Present
To stay, dwell

Past

Future

Imperative

To know

To see

To understand

Two tense forms verbs:


Present
To produce
e
To enter

Past

Future

e
\

Imperative

To teach
To sit

Three tense forms verbs:


Present
To offer

Past

Future

Imperative

To explain
To write

To destroy

Four tense forms verbs:


Present
To do

Past

Future

Imperative

To fall

&

To look at
To cut

d
-

&
d

28

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

If the form of a verb is the same for different tenses:


1) An auxiliary verb can be joined to the main verb to clarify its tense (see lesson 7).
2) If the tense form of the verb is ambiguous and if no auxiliary verbs are there to clarify it,
the tense must be determined from the context.

There are various ways of classifying the verbs into distinct categories. In this course, the
verbs are divided into four groups: linking verbs, existential verbs, transitive verbs, and
intransitive verbs. It is crucial to keep in mind the sentence structures associated with these
four types of verbs.

LINKING VERBS (L

A linking verb is a verb25 that "links" a subject to its description. It corresponds to the English
verb "to be" like in the sentence
L "he is Tibetan". Something is equated to
something else. When L

appears at the end of a sentence, you have to ask yourself: "what

equals what?"
Neither the subject described (

) nor its description (

) are followed by any case

particle! However, the subject is often followed by the emphasizing particle


distinguish it from its complement.

that helps to

L "(as for him,) he is Tibetan"

As it was mentioned before, the word order is rather free in Tibetan. However, the only
sentences in which the word order is very important are sentences ending with the verb L ,
because neither the subject nor the complement has any case particle to indicate their
function. Therefore, the subject always comes before its description. For example in the
sentence
L "he is Tibetan", the subject
"he" is placed before its description
"Tibetan". If the subject and complement would exchange their position, the meaning
of the sentence would be different.

L "the Tibetan is him". The emphasis would

shift from "he" to "the Tibetan".

25

The main linking verb is L

. Its honorific form is

29

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

is the only verb that is frequently (more often than not) omitted. When there is

no verb at the end of a sentence, you know that the verb L

must be missing. It is

nevertheless understood to be there and that omission doesn't affect the translation.
The negation of L

A no particle (or

) +

A = B26

no particle + (L )

this monastery is white

#
1

L or

is

L
-

that excellent guru is a yogin

all Dharmas (phenomena) are impermanent (

9H

IJ

desire, anger, ignorance, and so

forth are afflictive emotions

the three jewels are the Buddha, the Dharma,

and the Sa gha

P
1

L
)

you are not a new student

the greater vehicle (1

) is the vehicle (1

) of the

bodhisattvas

P *&W

your homeland (& W ) is not Tibet

^L
H

^ L

virtue is the cause of happiness


evil deeds are not the cause of happiness
those men are Indians (

26

A and B can be nominal groups, lists of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, or nominal groups connected together
by a connective particle. These connected nominal groups also form inseparable units that have to be taken
together!

30

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

L
K
*

this long (

% O

) path is not authentic (L

Q ) of suffering

sa sra is a great ocean (


the teacher (

) of the Dharma is the protector (

) of

beings ( $ )

L I

. /

>

the qualities of an authentic (L

Dharma practitioner are compassion, devotion (

my benefactor (@

> ), etc.
) is him/her

The following verse consists of four famous statements,

*2

9 " the four seals

of the Dharma", that distinguish the Buddhist view from other views:

=
#

1
- 1
1

All conditioned things ( =

- K

All defiled things (#

) are impermanent (

- ) are suffering

All phenomena are selfless (

Nirv a is peace (9 )27

EXISTENTIAL VERBS (L

An existential verb is a verb28 that indicates the existence of something/someone. It


corresponds to the verbs "to exist" or "to be" like in the sentence
L "there are
monasteries" or "monasteries exist".

27

The fact that there are no verbs in this verse indicates that the verb L

is missing (but understood to be

present)
28

The main existential verb is L

. Other verbs used as synonyms are =

(honorific). It is interesting to note that, strictly speaking, L

and

"words of action") by Tibetans, since they don't indicate an action.

31

(honorific), and

are not regarded as verbs (

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

can be used to indicate the plain existence of something/someone, but it often shows

the existence of someone/something somewhere. The place of existence is then marked


particles29.
(followed) by one of the
The word order is not important. The negation of L

A no particle

(B

A is (exists) (in/on/at B)30

+ L

there are many Dharma practitioners

L
W

is

there are those new monasteries

I am in Nepal

I am in Nepal31

Tashi and Sonam are not in the temple (

@
&

the benefactor (@

His/her parents (& ) are in the guesthouse ( $

) of the monk (a ) is in Tibet

the precious (

) ornaments (

)
) are not in the

red monastery of the guru

$
(

29

e 1

e ), and dkins (

The

(as for) all the deities, Dharma protectors

$ ) (they) are in the ma ala32

particles are a group seven particles,

and six others (

i = : j

) having the same meaning.

The functions of these particles will be covered in detail in lesson 5. To facilitate the learning process, only the
particle will be used in the following examples to indicate the place of existence, but keep in mind that the
other six particles can be used for that role too.
30

A and B can be nominal groups, lists, pronouns, or nominal groups connected together by a connective
particle. A is sometimes followed by the emphasizing particle

31

The meaning is the same as the one of the previous sentence. Switching the word order in that way can
nevertheless put an emphasis on the location. "In Nepal" (not anywhere else), I exist.

32

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

The verb L

is used to indicate the possession. The possessor (the place of possession)

is indicated (followed) by the particle

(and none of the other

particles) and the thing

possessed is in the nominative case (no particle). The word order is not important.

B no particle

+ L

9 L

I have a big house

I have a big house

9
N

L
&

'

Dawa and Tsering have a new house

his/her parents (& ) do not have a lot of money ( k )

L I

L
l

the king (

L
L I P
Q

you have authentic (L


the owner (

) of this shop ( Q

) has a lot of

I have a question ( 3 )

Remember that it is often better to leave the emphasizing particle

33

untranslated.

A and B can be nominal groups, lists, pronouns, or nominal groups connected together by a connective
particle. A is a sentient being.

33

) qualities

3 9 L

32

) of this land (W ) does not have a big

those yogins do not have many possessions (L

wealth (

his/her root (' ) guru has a lot of qualities

l )

army (

A has (possesses) B33

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

TRANSITIVE AND INTRANSITIVE VERBS


We have seen that different sentence structures are associated with different types of verbs
(four are presented in this course). The key point to determine the structure of a sentence is to
be able to distinguish between transitive verbs (1
S ) and intransitive verbs (1

S ). The basic difference is that a transitive verb has an agent that acts on an object
that is different than itself. A transitive verb has an agent as well as a direct object. On the
other hand, an intransitive verb has a subject that does not act on an object that is
different than itself. There is no direct object. It is crucial to be able to identify these two
types of verbs without confusion!
Examples of transitive verbs: "to eat", "to do", "to cut", "to say", and "to turn (to cause
something else to turn)". These verbs imply that an agent acts on a separate object.
I eat an apple: agent = "I"
from "I" to the apple)

direct object = "an apple" (the action of eating is transmitted

He does his work: agent = "he" direct object = "his work"


The old man cuts a big tree: agent = "the old man" direct object = "a big tree"
He says something nice: agent = "he" direct object = "something nice"
The monk turns his prayer wheel: agent= "the monk" direct object = "his prayer wheel"
Examples of intransitive verbs: "to rise", "to be confused", "to go", "to become", and "to
turn (by oneself)". The action of the subject happens on itself.
The sun rises: subject = "the sun" no object (the sun rises itself, it doesn't rise something)
Sentient beings are confused:
themselves)

subject = "sentient beings"

He goes to India: subject = "he"


complement, not a direct object)34

no object (they are confused

no object (he goes himself - "to India" is a locative

The wheel turns: subject = "the wheel" no object (the wheel turns itself)
A transitive verb has an agent marked (followed) by an agentive particle and a direct object
marked by the particle or by no particle at all. Most of the transitive verbs do not require

34

Verbs of motion (to go, to come, to get up, to leave, to enter, etc) are intransitive although they are volitional.
No action is transmitted to an external object. Try not to confuse the location of motion verbs for a direct object!

34

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

their direct object to be marked by a

, but others do35. The agentive particles will be

described in detail in lesson 4, but their main function is already described here: to indicate
the agent of a transitive verb. The spelling rules for the agentive particles are similar to those
of the connecting particles:

, the spelling is *

After the suffix letters


After the suffix letters

, the spelling is
, the spelling is O

After the suffix letters

When there is no suffix or the suffix letter , the spelling is

Agent * /

/O /L /

+ Direct object

Buddha taught (

or L

36

37

/no particle + Transitive verb

) the Dharma

!m # I eat (# ) an apple (!m )


$

this enemy ( $ ) harms (

) the Dharma practitioner

the excellent guru explains (

) those treatises (

- )

35

that soldier (

Knowing which transitive verbs require a

) kills (

) the enemies ( $

for their direct object and which ones don't is something that

comes from experience. However, it is useful to know that certain types of verbs, like the verbs of benefit/harm
always have their direct object followed by the particle . A few transitive verbs have their direct objects
sometimes marked by
36

and sometimes not.

is joined directly to the syllable devoid of suffix and L

eat an apple" could be written

forms a new syllable. For example,

L !m # . If the word ends in ,

replaces the suffix letter

!m # "I

. For example

37

As usual (from now on, this won't be repeated anymore), the agent and objects can be nominal groups, lists,
nominal groups connected by a connective particle, and so forth. A is usually a sentient being.

35

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

d he/she looks (d ) at me
a

* . /T

the monks (a

) of the monastery cultivate (T )

compassion

,
*

$ ! 5

Buddha liberates (5 ) all beings ( $ )

E O

&

P * 5.

you listen (

) to that melodious (.

E ) guru benefits (& ) the

) sound (5 )

the Tibetan guru gives/teaches (

) of/on Mahmudr (2

that qualified (

beginners (

Tsering turns (, ) this great wheel (

! O

) oral instructions

all the Dharma practitioners of the greater

vehicle generate (e ) the mind of enlightenment/bodhicitta (

An intransitive verb has a subject in the nominative case and no direct object.

Subject no particle + Intransitive verb38


the sun (

- 1

) rose (

(as for) all sentient beings, (they) are confused ( n )

the wheels (

$
`
38

) of the chariot (

those yogins are liberated ($ )

(as for) renunciation (

` ), (it) arises (e )

A is sometimes followed by the emphasizing particle

36

) turn (

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

&

) increases ( & )

merit (

the mind (Z

) (h.) of the guru and the mind (L ) of the

disciple mingle together ( 3 )

he goes to Tibet39

the new student stays (

) in Nepal

Many verbs have both a transitive and an intransitive form. Here are a few examples
of these pairs40:
Transitive/active verbs

Intransitive/passive verbs

to turn (spin)

to generate, produce

to transform

to become

to accomplish

to be accomplished

to liberate

to obscure

to turn

to be born, arise

to be liberated

to cut

to be cut

&

to cause to increase
to cause to fall

to be obscured

to increase
to fall

to mix together

to be mixed together, mingle

The negation of transitive and intransitive verbs is expressed by placing the negations
and

39

before those verbs. Often,

is used to negate verbs in the past tense or in the

Just as it was the case for the existential verbs, the

particles (here only

is used) are used to indicate a

location (place of existence, place of living, destination of a motion verb, etc). See lesson 5.
40

Verbs are always listed in their present tense form.

37

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

imperative mood and

to negate verbs in the present or future tenses.

adjectives like in

"permanent" and

"impermanent", or

and

also negate

"pure" and

"impure".

that monk didn't teach the Dharma

d he/she doesn't look at me


$

this enemy doesn't harm the Dharma practitioner41


(as for) the sun (it) didn't rise

- 1

all sentient beings are not confused


the wheels of the chariot don't turn

Concluding remarks for the four types of verbs:


Important elements of the sentences can be missing when you read a Tibetan text. In
particular, the subject/agent is frequently omitted if it can be understood from the
context (the objects can be missing too). It is common to mention the subject/agent once and
not to repeat it in later sentences. As you can see, the context is very important in classical
Tibetan!
We have seen in this lesson the simplest structures of the sentences ending with the four
types of verbs. It is extremely important to keep them clearly in mind. New complements
(location, instrument, purpose, reason, indirect objects, adverbs, and so forth) will now be
added to these basic structures. The functions of these complements will be indicated by the
particles that will be studied in the next lessons. Remember that the absence of particle is as
important as their presence. We have already seen that the absence of particle can indicate
the subject and complement of a linking verb, the subject of a verb of existence, the direct
object of a transitive verb, and the subject of an intransitive verb.
There is no need at this stage to start memorizing the tenses of the verbs, except if you are
able and willing to do it
41

When the verb has the same form for the present and future (as it is the case here), the tense must be
determined from the context. For example, this sentence could mean: "he will not harm the Dharma
practitioner".

38

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

TERMINATING PARTICLES
Terminating particles indicate the end of a sentence or the end of an idea expressed over
several sentences42. They mark a full stop. They are formed by duplicating the final suffix
letter of the preceding word and adding a
on it. If there is no suffix letter, the terminating
particle

is joined to the last syllable. After the second suffix letter

, the terminating

particle is I . The eleven terminating particles are:

I
^L
1

virtue is the cause of happiness

all phenomena are impermanent43

I am in Nepal

*
- 1

Buddha taught the Dharma

all sentient beings are confused

42

Not all sentences end in a terminating particle! As we will see in lesson 7, many sentences (most of them
requiring a period in English) can be connected together before ending in a terminating particle. The examples
and exercices of this course will sometimes be concluded by a terminating particle and sometimes not. No need
be confused about this. Similarly, strokes will be placed at the end of the examples and exercises.
43

is missing so the terminating particle

is joined to the syllable

39

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

Vocabulary list 3
$

dkin

Dharma protector (Skt. Dharmapla)

>

devotion

aspiration prayer
permanent (adj.) / permanence (noun)
impermanent (adj.) / impermanence (noun)

authentic, genuine
long

ocean

Words (of the Buddha)

treatise (commentary on the Words)

peace

) *

awakened mind (Skt. bodhicitta)


merit

=
T

conditioned thing, composite


to meditate, cultivate [T]

to go [I]

to enter, engage [I]

40

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

to dwell, live, stay [I]

to dwell, live, stay [I] (h.)

to cut [T]

to look at [T]
to do [T]

to do, to make [T] (h.)

]S

to hold, grasp [T]

to speak, say, teach [T] (h.)


to explain [T]

to generate, produce [T]

to arise, to be born [I]


to turn [I]

Note on the verbs:


Verbs on the vocabulary lists are given in their present tense spelling. Verbs are classified as
transitive [T] or intransitive [I] according to the Bod rgya tshig mdzod chen mo.
(h.) indicates the honorific form of verbs or nouns.
41

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

EXERCICES

1) Memorize the structures of the sentences associated with the four types of verbs and
the words of the vocabulary list 3.

2) Translate into English

&
6

E
L
e

L_

$L

e
L

L I
> T

> L
*

e L

42

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

e
* K

% e
a

)
=

1
1

% O^

s
]

K
M

% O

*
$

W
W

Extra vocabulary:

teacher

guide

generating bodhicitta

unsurpassed

complete, perfect

qualified
precious

$ going for refuge

benefit

43

protector

to examine, investigate

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

3) Write in Tibetan

All phenomena are impermanent

This is our aspiration prayer

Buddha has no afflictive emotions

He has authentic qualities

The Tibetan guru teaches the words (of the Buddha) and the treatises

The Bodhisattvas generate the awakened mind

Compassion and devotion are born

44

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

LESSON 4

THE AGENTIVE/INSTRUMENTAL PARTICLES (*

L )

As the name suggests, when it is used within a sentence, an agentive/instrumental particle


( 5 "agent word") indicates the agent of a transitive verb or the instrument by which an
action is done. The spelling rules were already explained in lesson 3.

1. The agent of a transitive verb:


Marking the agent of a transitive verb44 is the most important function of an agentive
particle. Generally speaking, an agentive particle implies the intentionality of the action. For
that reason, agentive particles are sometimes used with verbs of motion that are intransitive,
but intentional verbs. The agentive particle is usually not translated.

Buddha taught (

) the Dharma45

he/she looks at the mountains ( )

the scholars (

) explain the stras and the tantras

(^ )

97

P * ,

M
(

the guru bestows (7 ) the four empowerments (

you said this speech (, ) / these words

*&
) aspiration prayers (+

the parents (& ) of Tashi and Sonam make


)

44

Sometimes, agentive particles are used to indicate the subject of verbs of perception (see further in this lesson).
Agentive particles are usually not omitted but they can be in some occasions.

45

The agentive particle does not have to be translated. Remember that case particles are used to indicate the
function of what precedes them but that they have no meaning on their own. A common mistake is to
systematically translate the agentive particle as "by" like in "the Dharma was taught by the Buddha". This
translation is correct (Tibetan verbs do not specify the active or passive voice of a verb), but this way of
interpreting the agentive particle has the undesired consequence of having to translate all the sentences in a
passive voice.

45

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

2. The instrument of an action:


The agentive particles are also used to indicate the means, the manner by which the action
of the verb (transitive or intransitive) is done ("by", "with", "through", "by means of",
etc). When two agentive particles are present within the same sentence, it is often the case
that one indicates the agent of the transitive verb and the other its instrument. The agent is a
sentient being and the instrument an inanimate object.

!m

I eat (#) an apple (!m ) with my hands (

the wheel (

) turns (

)
) through the power (

) of

the wind (t )

4 %

* r

the guru increases (r ) the substances (4 ) of the ritual (

) through/by means of mantras (%

with a sword (

the soldier (

) kills (

) the enemies ( $

$)

> *
power (

* $

those yogins are liberated ($ ) through the

) of devotion

d
)

'

efforts/diligence ( '

'

he/she looks at me with his/her eyes (

( * . /T

the bodhisattva cultivates compassion through

( )

my root (' ) guru teaches the Dharma by means

of/through many methods

1
. /
benefit (

S
]

all those new houses are consumed (

S ) by fire ( )

the Dharma practitioner accomplishes ( ] ) the

) of beings ( $ ) through great compassion.

46

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

3. Adverb:
An adverb modifies a verb (transitive or intransitive) by showing how its action is carried
out (quickly, nicely, smoothly, gradually, etc.). They can be formed by adding an agentive
particle to a noun or an adjective. Adverbs are usually placed right before the verb they
modify.

I persistent

I O

stage, sequence

gradually

moment, instant , -

, -

respect >

>

persistently

9 nature
)

respectfully

9 O

benefit (

in one moment, instantly

naturally

I O

the bodhisattvas accomplish ( ] ) the

) of beings ( $ ) persistently

>

he offers (

) flowers ( I ) and butter lamps (

respectfully

9 O
, . /

the wheel turns naturally

S
O

those houses were instantly consumed ( S ) by fire ( )


the guru teaches the Dharma gradually with great

compassion
A "secondary" usage of the agentive particle is to show the absence of something. This
usage occurs with just a few verbs. One of them,
"to be empty", is important and
common. Associated with this verb, the agentive particle indicates of what something is
empty.

the five aggregates (f

47

) are empty of "Self" (

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

9 O

all phenomena are empty of nature / naturally empty

Remember that nominal groups and nouns connected together form inseparable units. An
agentive particle indicates the function of the whole unit, not just its last element(s). In the
sentence
6
S 1 - *
"all those yogins and
the gurus of the white monastery teach the Dharma" the agentive particle *

indicates

that the whole group (all those yogins and the gurus of the white monastery) is the agent of
the verb "to teach".

SPECIAL STRUCTURE OF SOME INTRANSITIVE VERBS


Generally speaking, transitive verbs have an agent acting on a separate object and are
intentional - the action depends on the volition of the agent. On the other hand, intransitive
verbs do not have separate objects and are unintentional - the action happens naturally, by its
own power. If it is always true that transitive verbs are volitional and have separate objects, it
is not the case that all the intransitive verbs are non volitional and have no separate objects. In
short, a transitive verb is volitional and has a direct object. All the other types of verbs are
usually considered intransitive.
We have already seen that motion verbs (to go, to come, etc.) are intransitive although
they can be intentional. These verbs nevertheless follow the general structure of intransitive
verbs "Subject (no particle) + Intransitive verb (of motion)" to which a complement of
$ "he goes to Tibet".
location46 is added:
Some intransitive verbs, the verbs of perception and attitude, have a sentence structure
different than the one described in lesson 3. They are unintentional but have an object
different than themselves, a fact that made a few Tibetan grammarians classify these verbs as
transitive. The verbs of perception usually have their subject marked by an agentive particle
(although they are intransitive) and their object in the nominative case. The verbs of attitude
have their subject in the nominative case and their object usually followed by the particle .
Verbs of perception: (to see, to hear, to taste, to know, to realize, to understand, etc).

Subject * /

/O /L /

+ Object no particle + Verb of perception

46

Other types of intransitive verbs accompanied by a complement of location are the verbs of living (to stay, to
dwell, to live, etc) and the verbs of dependence (to depend on, to be based on, to rely on, etc).

48

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

1
\

he/she sees ( 1 ) a form ( b

) knows ( P ) many scriptures/texts ( \

this scholar (

1
) of the precious (

the nomad ( F

) heard (1 ) the oral instructions

) guru

one realizes (

) the abiding nature (

) of mind47

Verbs of attitude: (to be attached, to be afraid, to doubt, to have faith, to love, to hate, etc).
These verbs are called in that way because they express a mental attitude (feelings, emotions,
etc.)

Subject no particle + Object

+ Verb of attitude

I am attached (

) to the happiness of sa sra

one is not afraid ( g


Sonam likes (

) of the suffering of sa sra

) [her] friends ($

he/she has no faith (

)
) in the teachings of the precious

guru

e ) love (

ordinary beings (

) [their] relatives/friends (

$ H
&

[they] hate (H ) [their] enemies48

- 1

noble beings ( &

) love all sentient beings

47

When the agent/subject is missing in a sentence (it is extremely frequent!), it must be determined based
on the context. In the exercises of this course, I systematically use the word "one" when the subject is not
mentioned. While reading a text and understanding its context, the word "one" has to be replaced by the adequate
word.
48

If these two sentences follow each other, it is evident from the context that the subject is the same (ordinary
beings)

49

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

Another exception is the verb

"to need". Its subject is marked by the particle

and its object is in the nominative case.

Subject
I

+ Object no particle +
flowers ( I ) need water () )
I need a new house

the monks (a ) do not need a lot of wealth (

Finally, the (unintentional) intransitive verb 1

"to obtain", "to get", "to achieve"

has both its subject and its object in the nominative case.

Subject no particle + Object no particle +


)

) 1

1
(

the bodhisattva achieves enlightenment

$ -

& 1

) achieve the level (

the rvakas (

& ) of Arhants ( $ -

1 ) and Pratyekabuddhas

IMPERATIVE MOOD
The imperative mood (7

S "exhortation word") of the verbs is not regarded traditionally

as one of the three tenses. It expresses a command (polite or not). Most (unintentional)
intransitive verbs do not have an imperative form. The standard way of forming the
imperative mood is to add one of the imperative particles - 9 - to the root verb in its
imperative form (sometimes the verb is in other tense forms). The imperative can also be
expressed by the imperative form of the verb alone. The spelling rules for the imperative
particle are the following:
After the suffix letters

, the spelling is (or no suffix), the spelling is 9

After the suffix letters


After the suffix letter

, the spelling is
50

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

Sit!

H -

Sit!
come (

) inside (

go (

]Q

)!

) to the temple (

)!

accomplish ( ]Q ) the benefit of beings (honorific form)

look (d ) at me!

9
The particle

teach the sacred Dharma49

is also sometimes seen in classical Tibetan to form the imperative mood,

but it is much less common than it is in the spoken language where it expresses a polite
command, like in :
"please speak!"
Wishes and aspirations ("May ... happens!") are frequently made in Tibetan literature.
and
to the main verb. These
They are formed by adding the auxiliaries p auxiliaries are linked to the main verb by
form of the verb)50. p -

Root verb + (

A + p M
$ !

and

particle

attached to the infinitive

sometimes function as the main verb.

) + p -

= May the action of the verb happen

= May there be A or May A occur

May there be auspiciousness ( M

& 1

p -

)!

May all beings ( $ ) attain (1 ) the level (

& ) of Buddhahood!

49

All the verbs of the examples are in their imperative form.

50

The auxiliary verbs will be presented in lesson 7.

/
51

can be omitted (especially in poetry!).

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

& p -

May the merit (

&

May the merit increase

` . /

) increase ( & )

May renunciation (

` ), compassion, and wisdom

arise
The following verse is a verse recited while training in the "four immeasurables" (

9 ): loving-kindness (
.

), compassion (. / ), joy (

), and equanimity ( I

):

- 1
K

^
% O^

p -

I .

p -

-May all sentient beings be endowed with (


-May they52 be free from (

-May they remain (

E )51 happiness and the causes of happiness

F ) suffering and the causes of suffering

-May they not be separated from (


of suffering (K

p -

p F

) the sacred bliss (

) which is53 devoid

)
) in the great equanimity which is free from attachment (

aversion (H ) for friends ( ) and enemies (

) and

)54

51

See footnote 9 in lesson 1 for this usage of the particle

52

The subject "all sentient beings" is not repeated after the first sentence.

53

This usage of the connective particles (connecting a relative clause to a noun) will be presented in lesson 6.

54

It is normal at this stage not to understand the grammar of this verse completely.

"friends" and

respectively means "those who are close" and "those who are far" when they are translated literally.

52

"enemies"

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

NOMINALIZED VERBS
We have seen that verbs lose their infinitive particles

when they are used as the main

verb, at the end of a sentence. When these particles are added to the root form of a verb
within a sentence, the verb is turned into a noun (or an adjective) that can still function
like a verb (it can have an agent, objects, etc). Here are a few examples of nominalized verbs
that appear within sentences:

desire / (the fact of) desiring


teaching
realization / realizing

meditation / meditating
knowledge / knowing

liberation / liberating
offering

attainment / attaining

(regarding) the teachings of the Buddha (given by the Buddha)55,

*
K
1

& 1
% O^L
1

& ) of liberation (1

55
56

(regarding) the attainment / attaining the level of Buddhahood56,

&

desire / (the fact of) desiring is the cause of suffering

1 Z

$ -

&

the final ( 1 Z

) of the Hinayna is the level of Arhant ( $ -

) level (

Note that "teaching" is a noun but still functions as a verb ("the Buddha" is its agent).
Similarly, "attainment" is a noun but functions as a verb ("the level of Buddhahood" is its direct object).

53

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

VOCATIVE CASE
The vocative case is found in dialogues, when someone is called by his or her name (or
title). The name usually appears at the beginning of the sentence, sometimes emphasized by
the interjections * or u L that could be translated by English interjections like "Hey!" or
"Oh!" The name is not followed by any particle.
Monks (

*
*
M

Oh! Precious (

)! It is (

) amazing (

)!

) guru, ...

Hey! Sons (Y ) of the victorious ones (

), ...

Tashi! This new student is Indian (

54

).

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

Vocabulary list 4

earth

water
fire

wind
ignorance
loving-kindness
joy (noun)/to enjoy [I]57

I .

equanimity
obstacle
scholar (noun)/to be skilled [I]

$ -

Arhant

confusion (noun)/to be confused [I]

scripture, text
benefit, meaning, object

other

transformation (noun)/to transform [T]

57

In the same way, the infinitive verbs listed below can be interpreted as nouns when their root form is joined
with the ending particles / within sentences. This is the case for most verbs and it won't be repeated in the

vocabulary lists of the following lessons.

55

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

transformation (noun)/to become [I]

analysis (noun)/to analyze, examine [T]


knowledge (noun)/to know [I]

knowledge (noun)/to know (h.) [I]

wandering being (noun)/to go [I]


to go (h.) [I]

arising (noun)/to occur [I]


realization (noun)/to realize [I]

vision (noun)/to see [I]

fear (noun)/to be afraid [I]


gift (noun)/to offer [T]

&

benefit (noun)/to benefit [T]


harm (noun)/to harm [T]

to attain, obtain [I]

"

to find, get [I]

56

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

EXERCICES

4) Memorize the three main functions indicated by the agentive particles, the special
structures associated with intransitive verbs described in this lesson, and the words
of the vocabulary list 4

5) Translate into English (you can always use the word "one" when the agent/subject is
missing in a sentence)

1
*

& 1

d
OL I ,

(
9

- ! K
1

9 O

9
-

$ -

&

9 O 1

57

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

- 1
K

p -

p -

' L

'
P *

L I 1

1
9 O 4

n
K

, -

% Ov

#
Oo

3 L

1
#

&

>

*=

: O

'
I O T

* . /
0/

T
'

. /

$ !
&

&
`

) *

I O

58

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

Extra vocabulary:

wheel

stage

accomplished [I]

desire (noun)/to desire [I]

faith (noun)/to have faith in [I]

abiding mode

to hear [I]

life

[I]

of

to be endowed with [I]

'
w

0/

love

dream

imperative form of

to kill [T]

59

nature

to listen to [T]

advice
to be free from

Vajrasattva

` renunciation

illusion

I persistence

exhaustion (noun)/to be exhausted [I]

to be

power, strength

oral instruction

to be similar to [I]

auspiciousness

others

complete, perfect (adj.)/ to be complete [I]

appearance (noun)/to appear [I]

to turn [T]

>

respect

imperative form

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

LESSON 5

In the first four lessons, we have seen that:


Particles (and the absence of particles) are used to indicate the functions of the different
elements of the sentence (case particles) as well as other grammatical information (non-case
particles).
Nominal groups, lists, and words joined together by a connective particle form inseparable
units. A case particle placed in front of them indicates the function of the entire group.
The final verb of a sentence determines its structure, i.e. the particles that will be used in it.
In this course, all the verbs are classified into four types, determining four main sentence
structures.
On top of the basic sentence structures previously explained, various complements are
usually added to form longer, complex sentences. These complements can be associated with
any type of verb and their role in sentences is shown by the particles that follow them58. The
next lessons will introduce the usages of these particles. Some of the following complements
were already explained or mentioned in the previous lessons:
location: where/when is the action happening La don particles
manner: by means of what is the action happening agentive particles
purpose: for the sake of what is the action happening La don particles, purpose particle
beneficiary: for whom is the action happening La don particles
reason: why is the action happening agentive particles, reason particle, source particles
source: from where is the action happening source particles
adverb: how is the action happening La don particles, agentive particles, source particles

PARTICLES (: j i =
The

particles (the particles that have "the meaning of

") are a group of seven

particles having the same meaning but different spellings. Among these seven particles,
and

are independent and always keep the same spelling. The spelling rules for the five

other particles are the following:


58

Since the function of these complements is made clear by the presence (or absence) of the particles that follow
them, the word order is not important.

60

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

, the spelling is i

After the suffix letters

, the spelling is :

After the suffix letter

, the spelling is =

After the suffix letters

or j

When there is no suffix, the spelling is

The

59

particles are the most complex particles to study since they can be used in different

kinds of contexts to indicate a wide range of functions. According to the traditional


presentation, these particles are used to mark three of the eight cases. This traditional
approach can be troublesome for beginners since these categories tend to overlap and it is
sometimes difficult to determine with certainty to which one of these categories they belong.
It is sufficient for now to understand the main functions indicated by these particles60:

1. The direct object of some transitive verbs: ( )


As we have seen previously, the direct object of some transitive verbs (most of them are in
the nominative case) is followed by a (but none of the six other
).

I look at him/her

the enemy ( $) harms (

% O^

) me

those scholars (

) investigate ( s ) the

cause of suffering

&

the guru helps (& ) the new students

if ( )61 one divides (

) that, ...

is joined to the syllable devoid of suffix while j forms a separate syllable. For example,

59

by a

particle can be written

(one syllable) or

particles that can follow any letter,

and

replaces the suffix letter . For example

j (two syllables). Since

and

"bird" followed
are independent

are also possible combinations. If the word ends in

60

The study of the case particles according to the traditional presentation in eight cases is nevertheless important
if one wants to grasp the subtleties of the language. It should therefore only temporarily be put aside.

61

The conditional particle

"if" will be explained in lesson 7

61

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

The particle

also indicates the object of most of the (intransitive) verbs of attitude (see

lesson 4)

this man is not afraid ( g

one has faith (

) in the teachings of the Buddha

one is attached (

2. Location: (: j i =

) of sa sra's suffering

) to the happiness of this life ( )

particles62 are used to indicate different kinds of location in place or in

The seven

time: location where an action takes place, location of "static" verbs ("to exist", "to live", "to
stay", etc), destination of verbs of motion ("to go", "to come", etc), and place of dependence
particles are then translated by "in", "on", "at", "to",
("to depend on"). The
"during", etc.

Buddha taught the Dharma in India63

"

"

j
$
=

the scholars explain the treatises in the monastery

"

"

"

"

"

"

[he/she] killed (

- =

"

) his/her enemy during the night (

in all times (= ) and circumstances (

)
), one

meditates on impermanence64

62
63

A location is the only function that the particle


and

ever indicates.

can be used everywhere. The five remaining particles are dependent particles and their usage is

restrained by the spelling rules.

62

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

the queen died ( ) on the third day (9 )

the host ( Q

the host ( Q

\
W

) of deities appears (v ) in the sky (

) of deities appears (v ) in the sky (

he/she stays at/in the monastery

I am in Nepal

there are many monks (a ) in this monastery


the guru of the monastery goes to Tibet

=2
)

= c

his daughter (

F 9

one enters/engages ( c ) in the path of the bodhisattvas


draw (F 9 )65 the ma

the result depends (

W
=

)!

) on the cause

one makes offerings (

) time (W )
) in the temple (

) on

-;)

the 15th day (

ala at the full moon (N

he/she stays in India for a long (

-;

months (N

) went (2 ) to India

= =

this yogin stayed in retreat (

) for seven

= )

= V

Tashi goes to America ({ ) this week ( = V )

64

"Impermanence" is the direct object of the verb "to meditate" and should not to be mistaken for a location even
if the English translation uses the preposition "on".
65

Imperative particle

added to the verb F "to draw".

63

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

In possessive constructions, the particle

is used to indicate the place of possession (only

is used. See lesson 3).

L I

I have a big house (a big house exist in me)

he/she has a lot of qualities (a lot of qualities exist in him/her)

The seven

particles (

and

are less frequent in this usage) are sometimes joined

with a word indicating a location (in place or in time), itself usually preceded by a
connective particle.

= inside

= inside the monastery

= outside

= on top of

= on top of that

i below

i below the vase (

i behind

= = in front of him/her

= : at the time of

= : at the time of death (

: at the occasion of

/ : after
% = before

: on that occasion

/ : after that
% = before that

3. Purpose / Benefit: (: j i =
The

i behind the house

= = in front of
,

= outside the monastery

particles (except for

) are used to indicate the aim / purpose of an action as well

as the indirect object receiving the benefit of an action.


Purpose: the six particles can be used. However, the most common way of indicating a
purpose is to place the particle
after the infinitive form of a verb (verb + / + ). The
particles are translated by "in order to", "to", "for", etc.

64

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

one goes (

) for refuge (e

in order to abandon (

) in the three jewels66


9 ) of this life

) the worldly activities (

( ), ...

` ^

in order to generate ( e ) renunciation (

` ) in the mind

stream (^ ), ...

) *

e =

. /

I .

to the awakened mind, one needs (

) *

in order to give rise ( e )

) loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity

. /

I .

( e ) to the awakened mind, one needs (

in order to give rise

) loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and

equanimity

& 1

= c

to attain (1 ) the level of Buddhahood,

one engages ( c ) on the path of the greater vehicle (1

- 1

&

)
Buddha taught the Dharma in

India to benefit (& ) all sentient beings67

Benefit: the particles indicating the indirect object that benefits from an action are
translated by "for the benefit of", "for the sake of", "for", "to", etc.68

- 1

one generates the awakened mind (

) for the

sake of all sentient beings

+
66

+
The particle

the doctor (+

) gives (

) medicine (+ ) to the sick person (

indicates the destination of the motion verb "to go" (in the three jewels) while the particle :

indicates the aim of the action (for refuge).


67

The first

indicates a location (in India), the second

transitive verb "to benefit", and the third

indicates the direct object (all sentient beings) of the

indicates the purpose of the action (to benefit all sentient beings).

68

The sense of benefit that the indirect object receives is not always obvious, like in the sentence "he speaks to
particles indicate an indirect object in a general sense, even
them". It is sometimes better to think that the
if there is no clear benefit for it.

65

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

the guru taught the Dharma to many disciples

&

benefit (&

he/she said this to me

Q
P
I

) and happiness for them

he made offerings (

I explained (

f ) to the host ( Q

) of deities

) [it] to you69

flowers ( I ) need water70

To indicate a purpose or a benefit, the

particles (except for

) are frequently

associated with words meaning themselves "benefit" or "purpose". These words are
usually (when not omitted) preceded by a connective particle.
benefit, purpose

= for the sake of, in order to, for the benefit of, for, etc.

= for the purpose of, on behalf of, on account of, for, etc.
2 = in order to, for the sake of, etc.
2 = for that purpose, ...
= for that, for the purpose of that, ...
=

: O

- 1

- *

= %

one dedicates ( % ) the virtue of the three

times (= ) for the sake of all sentient beings

4. Adverb: (: j i =

69

This is a case where the direct object (of the verb "to explain") is omitted.

70

The subject of the verb "to need" is marked by the particle

66

(see lesson 4).

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

Adverbs (modifying the verbs by showing how their action is carried out) can be formed by
adding a
particle to a noun or an adjective. They are usually placed right before the
and

verb they modify.

are not used in this way.

clear

clearly

quick, swift } =

quickly, swiftly

truth, true

' ^

truly

one-pointedness ' - i
continuum, flow ^ =

he goes to Tibet quickly

outer (2 ) objects (

' - i9

) are not truly established (( )

rest (9 ) one-pointedly within that state (

L
accumulations ( Q

continuously

the guru explains the treatises clearly

} = $
2

one-pointedly

* Q

) of merit (

^ =

he/she continuously gathers (

) and wisdom (L

) the

There is a particular type of adverbs translating prefixes frequently used in Sanskrit to


form compound verbs and nouns. To provide precise translations, Tibetans created these
adverbs to mirror perfectly the different parts of the Sanskrit words. These adverbs often
indicate a degree of intensity and are placed before the word (verb, noun, adjective) they
modify. The effect of these Sanskrit prefixes on the words they modify is not always clear
and a literal translation of their Tibetan equivalent does not always reflect the original
meaning. Sometimes, these prefixes must be translated literally and sometimes not71. Here are
a few examples of the main Sanskrit prefixes and their Tibetan equivalents:

Ati-

71

i very, extremely atyutsda

It may sometimes be useful to consult a Tibetan-Sanskrit dictionary.

67

very abundant

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

Anu- / : subsequent, after anubuddhi / :

subsequent understanding

towards, above, supreme abhij

Abhi-

supreme knowing /

clairvoyance
- ! i completely, totally nanda ! i
close, related to upabhoga

Upa-

certainly, definitely

Nir-

complete joy / bliss

close experience / enjoyment


definite arising / renunciation

: completely, wholly parinma L

Pari- L

: p

i completely, excellently, extremely prabhava

Pra-

transformation

ie

completely, distinctly vijna

Vi-

strongly arising
distinctly knowing /

consciousness
truly, authentically samudcra

Sam- L

to correctly

apply

Other functions of the

particles:

The most important functions have been described above. Some important "secondary"
functions include the followings:
When something is equated to something else (treating A as B), a
for

and

) is used. It has the meaning of "as".

- 1
K
1

particle (except

- &
%

= ]S

one knows all sentient beings as [one's] parents (& )

one sees sa sra's suffering as happiness

one takes ( ]S ) a rope (1

68

) as/to be a snake ( )

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

The particle

(only) often indicates the topic that is being discussed by emphasizing it

(like the emphasizing particle

does). It can be translated by a semi colon, "as for",

"regarding", etc. This usage is commonly seen in the outline sections of texts.
as for that,
as for the first / the first [is the following]:

dr
%

$ Z

give up (r

there are (two): the common (Z

d ) regarding the guru!

) wrong view (

as for the preliminary practices (%


L

) and the uncommon (Z

$ ),

) preliminary practices

Compound verbs can be formed by connecting a noun to a verb with a

particle.

These particles are also often placed between two verbs or between a verb and an
adjective, in a way that is often translated as an infinitive72.

to practice = to take (

: $

to go for refuge (e

) into one's experience (


)

=)

to comprehend = to be inserted () ) within (

, =

[I] ask (

"

this stra is easy (

) [you] to turn (, ) the wheel of Dharma

a precious human body ( U

find (" )
) to understand ( )

THE CONCESSIVE PARTICLES (* L

72

See for example the formation of auxiliary verbs in lesson 7.

69

) is hard ( 6

) to

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

When they are used within a sentence, after a nominal group, the concessive particles are
translated by "even", "also", "too", "as well", etc. They also appear occasionally after
another particle. The spelling rules are the following:
, the spelling is *

After the suffix letters

, the spelling is L

After the suffix letters

When there is no suffix or the suffix letter , the spelling is

- *
2

there does not exists even one

? # *
L

outer (2 ) objects (

) do not exist even a little bit (? # ) / at all

he is Tibetan too

(as for) this treatise, even the scholars (

) did not

understand (it)

9 L

others also want happiness

'

) dilligence ( '

the students need (

( ) as well73

THE "AND/OR" PARTICLES


The eleven

K "separating and joining" particles are formed by duplicating the final

suffix letter of the preceding word and adding the suffix letter
letter, the particle is

to it. If there is no suffix

. After the second suffix letter , the particle is I

I
Within a sentence, these particles can be translated by "or" and sometimes "and"74

73

the concessive particle is placed after the particle

74

It is often better to translate this particle by "or", but this has to be determined from the context.

that indicates the subject of the verb "to need"

70

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

permanent or impermanent

]S

<

Tashi or/and Tenzin

six or seven
existing or not existing

After the main verb, at the end of a sentence, they function as a question mark. The
other way to form a question is to use an interrogative pronoun (see lesson 6)
he is Tibetan

L
=

*
*

$
8

are all conditioned things ( =

is the essence (

) as/to be the Dharmakya (

is he Tibetan?
) not impermanent?

did the Buddha teach the Dharma?

9
(

) of mind existent or non-existent?

did one realize (


7 )?

is he/she also going to Tibet?


am I crazy (8

)?

71

) the nature (

9 ) of thoughts

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

VOCABULARY LIST 5

time
life, time

nature
essence
retreat

refuge

enemy

collection, group, accumulation, host

monk

(continuum of) mind, mind-stream / tantra

? #

a little, a bit, a few

hard, difficult
easy
meaning, benefit, object

(primordial) wisdom
`

renunciation
liberation (noun) / to be liberated [I]
a wish (noun) / to wish, desire [I]

&

benefit (noun) / to help, benefit [T]


harm (noun) / to harm [T]
faith (noun) / to have faith, to trust [I]
to need [I]

to enter, engage in [I]


to gather, accumulate [T]

to give up, abandon [T]


72

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

to prostrate, pay homage [T]


to depend on, to be based on [I]
to supplicate, to ask [T]

73

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

EXERCICES

1) Memorize the four main functions indicated by the La don particles, the location
words (inside, outside, etc), and the words of the vocabulary list 5.

2) Translate into English (try to identify clearly the function indicated by the
particles)

=
L
^

s
L
L

]S
b

d
#

!
K

= c

&
%

g
\

` L ^

e
=

a
!

% =

- 1

O
*

* 6

9 O

} =
*

L
74

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

& 1

+
- 1

- *

- 1

%
%

L
)

\
i Q

L
= \

= c

*
F

= = =
^
*

Extra vocabulary:

to go, to come [I]

doctor

long time

ill, patient

form

clear
to dedicate [T]

Indian

75

quick

ground, bhmi

+ medicine
W

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

LESSON 6

THE SOURCE PARTICLES (

The `

"source of arising" particles indicate the starting point/source of an action.

They also have a few other secondary usages.

and

are independent particles that can

be placed after any words, regardless of their suffix letter.

1. Source / origin: (

The most important function of the source particles is to indicate the source, origin, or
starting point of something. This source can be a place, time, or a text. The source particles
are then translated by "from" or "since".

rain (

) arises from the clouds (G )

the sun rises (

1
- 1

\
=

sa sra since beginningless (1

he/she also obtained this teaching from the guru

sentient beings from the darkness (J

) direction (2

one is liberated (1 ) from the ocean of cyclic existence (Y

L
*

) from the eastern (

does the Buddha free (5 ) all

) of ignorance?

one stayed in retreat since the first month (N )

childish beings (

) wander ( P

) times (= )
you stayed in Tibet since a long time (W

76

) in

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

W O

= from Tibet to Nepal75

* N

N <

I also stay in Nepal from the

second month until the sixth month


The source particle

is used to indicate the source of quotes (scripture). The quote

starts after the source particle76 and ends with one of the quote closing particles -

77

. If a person is quoted, that person is marked by an agentive particle. The quote is then
followed by the verb "to say", "to teach", etc78. When the source particle indicates the source
of a quote, it is better translated by "in".

Text name +

+ Quote79 + -

Person + *

...... -

+ Quote + -

: "to say", "to teach"

: "to say"

it is said in the Ornament (

) of the Middle Way (

):

"......"

L 9

it is said in this scripture ( \ ): "all

phenomena are impermanent"

it is said in the [Prajpramit

): "the nature of mind is luminosity (

in] eight thousand verses (

75

= = "from A until B", or "starting with A up to B".

)"

= "until" is usually connected to the word

it follows by a connective particle.


76

Sometimes, a

particle is used instead of

77

These particles correspond to the closing quotation marks (") used in English to conclude a quote. The spelling
rules are the following:
after the suffix letters

after the suffix letters

or when there is no suffix letter

78

The verb is sometimes omitted and the quote then ends by 9

79

Quotes are usually complete sentences.

77

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

L 9

the Buddha said: "all phenomena are

)"

selfless (

` 0/

7 9

nature of thoughts (

) is Dharmakya (

2. Comparison: (

Rangjung Dorje (

` 0 / ) said: "the

7 )"

To express a comparison, Tibetans use the particle

and

cannot be used).

These particles indicate the place of comparison and are translated by "than". Word order is
not important.
+ adjective80 + (L ) = A is more (adjective) than B

A + B

this monastery is bigger than that house

!
(

1 L

"

"

"

"

"

"
) is higher ( 1 ) than all the mountains

Mount Meru (

rvakas (

&

the bodhisattvas are more noble ( &

1 )

9
6

I am younger ( 9

[it] is whiter ( 6

) than you

) than that

that horse is redder (

8080

) than the

) than fire

Some adjectives have a comparative form. For example,

"smaller", etc.

78

"big"

"bigger", )

k "small" )

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

3. Exclusion and inclusion/isolation:


Exclusion: The particle

(only) is used in that way and is translated by "except for",

"other than ", or "apart from". The verb is always negated.

'

there is no place ( ) of hope ( ) apart from the root (' ) guru

- *

9
6

2
:

there is not even a single Dharma other than mind


except for him, others didn't go (2 ) to Tibet

there is no refuge other than the three jewels

Inclusion/isolation: The source particles can indicate the inclusion of something into a
larger group or something that is singled out from a larger group. The particles are translated
by "amongst", "from among", "within", etc.
is often associated with the word

("within", "from within").

"inside", to form the phrase

is usually (when not

omitted) preceded by a connective particle.

amongst the three lower realms, ...

"

"

: O

"

from among the three jewels, ...


bliss arose (

<

) from within

among the six chapters ( ), the first [is as follows]: ...

<

are the most supreme (

- *

from among the six classes of beings (

), the humans

) / best81

from within all the religions (

), that one is

the best
81

is used for superlative constructions. A

The ending

+ B + adjective = B is the most (adjective) among A.

is sometimes added to the adjectives to indicate the superlative:

79

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

Secondary functions of the source particles:


After the

and the agentive particles, the source particles are sometimes used to form

adverbs82. This usage is often similar to their basic "source usage".


primordial, beginning =

. 1

primordially, from the beginning

sincerely, from the bottom of one's heart

By extension of their basic meaning ("from"), the source particles are sometimes used to
indicate the instrument ("by", "with", "through", "by means of", etc) or the reason
("because", "since", etc) by which an action occurs. In Tibetan, a reason is usually shown
by an agentive particle (see lesson 7), but the source particles can be used to show a reason in
texts translated from Sanskrit (where a reason is commonly indicated by a source particle)

1
$ ( '

( )

1
&

'

I attained liberation (1

) through this method83

one attains the level of an Arhant through diligence

one knows that there is fire due to seeing smoke (= )

RELATIVE CLAUSES
Relative clauses are clauses that, like adjectives, qualify nouns in a sentence. For example,
in the sentence The bodhisattva who desires to attain the level of Buddhahood practices on
the path., who desires to attain the level of Buddhahood is a relative clause qualifying the
agent of the sentence, "the bodhisattva".
Relative clauses always end with the infinitive form of a verb (verb +

). They

qualify nouns in the same way as an adjective does: they are either placed right after the
noun (without any particle in between), or before (joined to it by a connective particle).
Although it is slightly more common for an adjective to follow the noun it qualifies, relative
clauses are more frequently preceding the noun:

82

These are the three ways to form adverbs in Tibetan. The

particles, followed by the agentive particles,

are the most commonly used particles.


83

Note that this usage is very similar to the basic source usage ("from") of this particle.

80

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

(adjective) 6

"white" + (noun)

or

"Dharma"

= white Dharma

(relative clause)

"taught the Dharma" + (noun)


84

or

"the Buddha"

= the Buddha who taught the Dharma

A modified noun can have different roles regarding the relative clause: the noun can be
the agent, subject, object, location, etc. The nouns are related to the relative clauses by
relative pronouns: "who", "that", "which", "where", "when", "whose", etc85. The
following examples highlight various relationships possible between the noun modified by the
relative clause and the infinitive verb within the clause itself.
Agent of a transitive verb
the Buddha who taught the Dharma86
"

"

"

the man who commits evil deeds

"

"

"

Subject of intransitive verb

: = \
=

the Buddhas who abide in the three times

: = \

"

"

the sun that rises (

"

"

) from the eastern (


"

) direction (2

"

Object of a transitive verb

the Dharma that the Buddha taught / the Dharma that was taught

by the Buddha87
84

Both clauses are identical in meaning.

85

The appropriate relative pronoun has to be determined from the context. When the relative clause is joined to
the noun it modifies by a connective particle (it is the case most of the times), it is easy to translate the
connective particle as one of those relative pronouns (instead of "of"), following this model: noun qualified +
"who", "that", etc + relative clause (translation from right to left).
86

Note that no agentive particles are used after Buddha to indicate its role of agent with respect to the relative
clause. An agentive particle placed after "the Buddha" would indicate its role of agent with respect to the final
verb of the sentence. Relative clauses are underlined in Tibetan and in italique in English.

81

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

*
H

"

"

"

the evil deed that the man commits / the evil deed that is committed by the

man.

"

"

"

Subject of a linking verb

phenomena which are impermanent

"

"

"

Location (space and time)


the monastery where the guru taught the Dharma
"

W
W

"

"

the place (W ) where there is no Dharma


"

"

an era (,

"

"
) when Buddhas didn't come (
"

"

Relative clauses are describing nouns within larger sentences. Every noun can be modified
by a relative clause, sometimes creating long and complex sentences. Just like a noun and an
adjective that modifies it, a noun and its relative clause form an inseparable unit that
must be taken together. How to translate sentences containing one or more relative clauses?

1) Identify relative clauses. Unlike the final verb of a sentence, relative clauses always end
with an infinitive verb. Oftentimes, the relative clause precedes the noun it modifies and is
joined to it by a connective particle.
2) Translate the relative clause(s) and the noun(s) modified by it. When the relative clause
precedes the noun, follow this model:
Clause ending in verb +

+ noun = noun + "who", "that", etc + relative clause

87

The agent of the transitive verb within the relative clause is marked by an agentive particle. When the noun
modified by a relative clause is the object of that relative clause's verb, the translation can be done either in the
active or in the passive voice.

82

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

the Dharma (

Ex:

) + that ( ) + the Buddha taught (

) = "the Dharma that the Buddha taught"


the Buddha (

) + who ( ) + taught the Dharma (

) = "the Buddha who taught the Dharma"


3) Identify the grammatical function of the nouns modified by relative clauses (forming
inseparable units) within the larger sentence. The nouns modified will be followed by a
particle (or no particle) according to their grammatical function (agent, subject, object, etc)
within the larger sentence. In this way the same nouns can have two different grammatical
functions, one within the relative clause and one within the larger sentence.

* H

Ex:

1) Identify the relative clause:

is a verb in the infinitive form connected to the noun

by the connective particle

is the relative clause modifying the noun


the man who commits evil

2) Translate the noun and its relative clause: H

deeds
3) Identify the grammatical function of the noun modified within the larger sentence: the
noun is followed by the particle . In this case,
indicates the indirect object of the verb
"to teach (past tense)" the Buddha taught the Dharma to the man who commits evil
deeds ("the man who commits evil deeds" is the indirect object)

the man who commits evil deeds is a king

the man who commits evil deeds has no merit

d
H
H

the man who commits evil deeds looks at me


the king killed (

was this wealth (

evil deeds?

83

) the man who commits evil deeds


) obtained from the man who commits

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

the guru who comes from Tibet

) time (W )

stayed in retreat for a long (

the rain (

) that falls (

) from the sky is cold

($

) *

= c

) to the three jewels

enters the path of awakening pays homage (2

) *

# ) who

this person (

= c

the scholar explains treatises to

this man who enters the path of awakening

"

the precious (

) human body ( U )

that is achieved (" ) by us is impermanent

this guru who comes from Tibet

explains the Dharma that the Buddha taught

L
=

W = $

he also goes to a place (W ) where there are no humans

: = \

victorious ones (

one pays homage (2

) who abide in the three times

. / e

generates compassion for the sentient beings who wander ( P


existence (Y

) to all the

the

bodhisattva

) in the ocean of cyclic

)
does the wisdom that realizes emptiness arise

) from within?

&

W L

the place (W ) where the

Buddha taught the Dharma is India or (in other words) the Noble land ( &

'

( * 1

) that is achieved through diligence ( '

84

W )

this precious human body ( U

( ) is also easy to be destroyed ( g

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

) 1

) for a long time (W

accumulations that were gathered (

one attains enlightenment through the two

afflictive emotions realizes directly (

: =

)
that monk who abandoned

: = ) the abiding nature (

) of phenomena

INTERROGATIVE AND INDEFINITE PRONOUNS


There are traditionally four main interrogative pronouns in Tibetan88. They are usually
placed right before the verb.
what, who (for things and persons) ^

- /g

what, how (for things)89

: who (for persons)

^ -L
:L

what is the reason (^

)?

what is the cause of happiness?

who is this guru?

These four interrogative pronouns are often associated with the different case particles
according to the role they play in the sentence.
of what? whose?

whence? from what?

to what? where?

: L
L
L

- of what?

by whom?

by what?

: whose?

by what?

to whom?

from whom?

- -

where do these men come (L ) from?


whose house is that?

88

We can also add -

89

to what? why?

who has great wisdom?

where does happiness arose (

and

"how much/how many" and

) from?

"when" to these four.

have similar meanings.

85

from what?

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

where is he/she going?

Tibetans use these interrogative pronouns as the basis for the relative pronouns that are
needed to maintain the sentence structure of Sanskrit texts. These four interrogative
pronouns (
is the most common) are therefore also used as relative pronouns ("that",
"who", "which", etc) without being question words. This usage will be covered later.
Indefinite pronouns are formed by adding the indefinite particle 9
particle L

or the concessive

to one of the four interrogative pronouns. When the verb of the sentence is

negated, the indefinite pronouns are translated by "nothing", "no one", "nothing", etc.

something, someone, that which, the one who

:9

someone, the one who

-9

something, that which is

whatever, whoever, anything, anyone

-L

whatever, anything

:L

whoever, anyone

B =:L
L

there is no one in the mountain hermitage ( B )


apart from that, there is nothing

86

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

Vocabulary list 6

sound, word

person, individual
family, class

cyclic existence (syn. sa sra)


(discursive) thoughts, concepts
truth
ultimate

! 4

relative, conventional
luminosity, clear light

religious tradition

reason

condition, circumstance

place, region, country

blessing
direction
east
south

west

87

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

north

moon, month
year

until, up to

L
1
v
P
1

primordially

(1

from beginningless (1

) times

appearance (noun) / to appear [I]


to roam, wander [I]
to hear [I]
to come [I] (h.)

q
(

to accomplish [T]
to be accomplished, established [I]

88

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

EXERCICES

1) Memorize the three main functions indicated by the source particles, the four
interrogative pronouns, and the words of the vocabulary list 6.

2) Translate into English (proceed in the order described in this lesson)

- O

]
- O

-L

- OK

:L
2
*

= c

L
B = \
! 4 i

a
! ^

(
M

L
`
*
:L
W

W = $

'
(

6 3
1 ! O

=
P

* 8

N :L
89

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

- *
1

=
O

/-L

= $

:
*

I O

Extra vocabulary:

to make offerings
place of hope
mountain hermitage

to accomplish the benefit of

to be endowed with/ possessing

6 3 kindness (h.)

'
9

root

Entering the Way of the Bodhisattva (Skt. bodhicaryvattra)

/ compassion (h.)

Lhassa

peace

I earnest, persistent

90

liberation

form

1 philosophical system

Madhyamaka Prasa gika

oral instruction
superior

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

LESSON 7

THE AUXILIARY VERBS


S &

Auxiliary verbs (

) are secondary verbs that follow the main verbs (

clarify their tense or extend their verbal expression. They are linked by

Q ) to

. When a verb

with an auxiliary is negated, the negation is placed right before the auxiliary verb:
Main verb + (

90

+ ( / ) + Auxiliary verb

We have seen in lesson 3 that many verbs do not have distinct forms for the three tenses and
the imperative mood, but only one, two, or three of them. A very important function of the
auxiliary verbs is to specify the tense of the main verbs91. The two main verbs used in that
way are p
"to become" and
"to do".

p = past tense

When p

p = present and future tenses

is the main verb, its present/future form ( p ) means "to become", "to

change into", but its past tense (p ) often has the same meaning as the linking verb L
be". This verb must be connected to the preceding noun by a

= p

$ p

iron (

) changes into gold (

"to

particle.

afflictive emotions that are the enemies ( $ )

^ p
When p

ignorance that is the cause (^ ) of sa sra

is used as an auxiliary verb, it only indicates the tense of the main verb

it is associated with (it expresses the "becoming" of the main verb). The present/future form
90

are sometimes omitted.

91

Note that auxiliary verbs can be placed after any verb, even those having distinct forms for all the tenses. On
the other hand, auxiliary verbs are not always used, even when the tense of a verb is ambiguous. Sometimes, the
tense has to be determined from the context.

91

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

( p ) just indicates that the main verb is in the future tense while the past form (p )
indicates that the main verb is in the past tense.

&

& 1

one will not attain the level of Buddhahood in

this life

- 1

one has not attained the level of Buddhahood

will all sentient beings be freed

( $ ) from the ocean of sa sra?

- 1

have all sentient beings been freed ($

) from the ocean of sa sra?

) *

= c

$ !
P

p
p

all beings ( $ ) will die (

one will engage on the path to enlightenment

you will all be frightened ( g

those great light rays (

)
# ) will dissolve (1 )

into me

= present tense

= future tense

is used as an auxiliary verb92, it also indicates the tense of the main verb.

When

92

= past tense

Buddha taught the Dharma

Buddha teaches the Dharma

Buddha will teach the Dharma

Always start by checking if

and

are the main verbs or auxiliary verbs

92

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

Most of the times, the future auxiliary

must be translated by "must", "should", "have

to", etc.
one should teach the Dharma (or less frequently: "one will teach the
Dharma")

^ = T
&
K

one must meditate continuously (^ = ) on impermanence

one should know the four nobles truths

% O^r

one has to abandon (r ) the cause of suffering

The auxiliary verb

is also used to give a causative sense to the main verb,

especially to unintentional verbs. It often transforms intransitive verbs into transitive ones.
When it is used with transitive verbs, it doesn't add any meaning or places an emphasis on the
agent of the action.

to be liberated [I]

to cause to be liberated = to liberate [T]

to realize [I]

v
9

to cause to realize, to make one realize

to be illuminated [I]93

to be pacified [I]

to cause to be illuminated = to illuminate [T]


to cause to be pacified = to pacify [T]

to teach [T]

to teach (same meaning)

to kill [T]

to kill (same meaning)

- 9

the guru pacifies all the obstructing spirits (

> L

realize Mahmudra (2

the supreme method that makes one

) is devotion

one should understand the causes that liberate (one)

from sa sra

93

The verb v

has several meanings ("to appear", etc). One of them is "to be illuminated".

93

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

: v

(v ) the three realms (

=1

the light rays (

# ) that illuminate

) dissolve (1 ) into the ma ala

) kills the enemy ( $ )

the soldier (

the guru does not explain that stra

The future form

is also used to nominalize verbs. When placed right after the root form

of the verb (without

in between)94, it is translated by "the object of (verb)", or "that

which is/the one who is to be (verb)". The difference with the nominalizing particles
that

is

emphasizes the object and not the action of the verb.

knowing (noun)/to know

that which is to be known/the object of

knowledge
meditation (noun)/to meditate

that which is to be meditated upon/the

object of meditation
realization (noun)/to realize

that which is to be realized/the object of

realization
to abandon r

to tame

=
T

L
1
) *

the one who is to be tamed/the object of taming

what is the object of meditation?

Y
=r

abandon gradually (

94

that which is to be abandoned/the object of abandonment

Try not to confuse verb +

is it possible (Y ) to know all the objects of knowledge?

O r

on the path to enlightenment, one has to

O ) all that is to be abandoned

and verb +

!!! For example,

"object of knowing" (noun) and "one should know" (verb)

94

and

respectively mean

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

Buddha taught the Dharma to those who are to be tamed

(syn. "disciples")

Other auxiliary verbs

Apart from specifying the tense of the main verb, auxiliary verbs are also used to extend the
verbal expression of the main verb. Here are a few examples:
to be able to

stay for a long time (W


to need

he/she is not able to

) in retreat

) 1

one needs to realize

emptiness in order to attain enlightenment95


to want

to be suitable, ok H

to be possible

darkness (J

one wants to go to Tibet96

it is not ok to commit evil deeds

is it possible to dispel (

) of ignorance?

95

Note that

96

Keep in mind that

and
/

have a similar meaning. The particle

are regularly omitted (especially in poetry).

95

indicates a purpose.

) the

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

VERBAL USES OF PARTICLES


In Tibetan, it is common to see several sentences joined together before being concluded by a
terminating particle. The terminating particles therefore not only indicate the end of single
sentences but also the end of series of connected sentences that could be compared to
paragraphs. These "paragraphs" often need to be broken into distinct sentences (ending with
periods) when they are translated into English.
In the lessons 2 to 6, we have covered mainly the usages of the particles when they are used
within sentences. We will now focus on the main usages of these particles (the indication of
different types of relationships between two sentences) when they are placed after final
verbs, to connect sentences together.
When several sentences are connected in that way, 1) each sentence has to be translated
individually before being 2) joined together according to the usages of the particles used for
that purpose.

1. The connective particles: (*

L)

When they are used after the final verb of a sentence, the main function of the connective
particles is to indicate a contradiction between the previous sentence and the following one.
The sense conveyed by the connective particle is that, "the action of the first verb occurs,
nevertheless, the action of the second verb takes place". The connective particles can be
translated by "but", "however", "nevertheless", "although", "even if", "even though",
"nonetheless", "rather", etc.

although one knows the words ( S ), one does not understand ( )

the meaning

this was not spoken by the Buddha

but was spoken by this scholar

O1

liberation, liberation depends (

even though I taught you the method of


)97 on yourself (

)98

97

in the verb

98

can mean "oneself", "myself", yourself", "himself", themselves", etc, according to the context in wich it is

"to depend on" should not be confused with the source particle.

used.

96

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

L O5

he/she is lazy (

) but he/she must abandon the two

obscurations (5 )

' - i

L ) in this world ( g

distractions (
discipline (A B

L *A B

there

are

many

), nevertheless, one must guard ( ) one's

) one-pointedly (' - i )

L O

]S

all phenomena are impermanent but one takes ( ]S ) them

as being permanent

2. The concessive particles: (* L

Like the connective particles, the concessive particles indicate a contradiction, often meaning
that the action of the previous sentence is not sufficient for the action of the following one to
happen: "Although the action of the first verb occurs, the action of the second verb (does not)
take place". These particles can also be translated by "but", "however", "nevertheless",
"although", "even if", "even though", etc.

many teachings of the Buddha, he was not able to abandon (r

8 L

L * ^
) but contentment (

L *

L I
spiritual guide (

that merchant ( Q

) has not arisen in his mind (^

W =e

in the god realms (

) to the mundane activities (

in retreat, on has not eliminated (

) his afflictive emotions

although one experiences (8 ) a lot

of suffering in sa sra, one is attached (

even though he heard

) of this life
) has a lot of wealth

although one stayed for many years

) one's afflictive emotions

even if you have hopes (

), you won't be reborn

W )

I have no qualities but I have faith (


)
97

) in the

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

3. The Agentive/instrumental particles: (*

L )

After a final verb, agentive particles indicate that the action of the previous sentence is the
reason (or the support) for the action of the following sentence: "because the action of the
first verb occurs, the action of the second verb takes place". The agentive particles sometimes
follows the
directly follow the root form of the verb, but most of the times the particle
infinitive form of the verb: Verb +

The connective particles can be translated by "because", "therefore", "since", "by", etc.

conditions, they are like (

student is a Buddhist (

3 ) a dream (w

) this teaching,

because that western (

6 3 3

), he doesn't listen ( )

) of the guru

> 3

3 ) of one's root guru, therefore, fervent (3

g)

), he prostrates to the three jewels


since he/she is lazy (

to the oral instructions (

` ^

I shall explain (

since all phenomena arise from causes and

'

) one-pointedly (' - i )!

therefore listen (

! ^

' - i

L I #

one remembers (3 ) the kindness ( 6

) devotion arises in one's mind

9 O

&

because renunciation

has not arisen in one's mind, profound qualities will not increase ( & ) naturally

4. The reason/purpose particle: (2 )


This particle placed after a verb indicates that the previous sentence is the "reason for" or the
"purpose of" the following sentence. It is usually connected to the previous verb (in its
infinitive form) by a connective particle Verb +
/
+2

98

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

The meaning of the particle 2


The particles

(reason or purpose) has to be determined from the context.

and = sometimes following the particle 2

do not add any meaning but 2

always indicates a reason while 2 = always indicates a purpose. When it shows a reason,
the particle 2

can be translated by "because", "therefore", etc (same usage as the

agentive/instrumental particle). When it shows a purpose, it can be translated by "in order


to", "for the sake of", etc.

since he is lazy (

( ) to the oral instructions (

&

) he doesn't listen

) of the guru

2 1

in order to benefit sentient beings, one

needs method and wisdom

L r

2 =

in order to abandon distractions (

must stay in a solitary place (

& 1

L ), one

2 5

in order to attain the level of liberation, one

must abandon the two obscurations (5 )

L I =

= L

2
6

A B

because this precious human

) is hard to find (" ), one must guard ( ) one's discipline (A B

5. The particle
The particle

all phenomena are impermanent because

there is fire because there is smoke (= )

"

body ( U

)99

they are conditioned ( =

placed after a verb connects two sentences together, often suggesting that

the actions of the two verbs are simultaneous or in a relation of causality. The action of the
first verb sets up the conditions for the action of the following verbs: "the action of the first
99

The continuative particles

will be explained at the end of this lesson.

99

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

verb occurs and the action of the second verb takes place", or "as the action of the first verb
occurs, the action of the second verb takes place". This particle often follows the infinitive
form of the verb and can be translated by "and", "as", "upon", a participle ("...ing"), etc.

'

> e

as one remembered (3 ) the root guru, devotion was

born

/ :L

rejoiced (/ : L

) of the guru and

one prostrated to the feet (9

the yogin established ( - ) the boundary

) and recited mantras

'

the Dharma practitioner dedicated ( % ) the

roots (' ) of virtue and made ( I ) aspiration prayers

# `

upon reciting ( N ) mantras (%

), light rays

emerged (` ) from the ma ala

6. The particles - 9
Like

, these particles connect two sentences together and can often be translated by

"and" or sometimes by a participle ("...ing").100 They usually suggest a sense of


simultaneity or a close relationship between the actions of the two verbs. They can also
connect two related adjectives together.

he makes offerings (

and prostrates [to him]

100

The spelling rules are the foollowing:


after the suffix letters
or when there is no suffix letter

after the suffix letters


after the suffix letter

100

) to the guru

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

- ! O A B

( ) their discipline (A B

all sentient beings should guard


)101

) and cultivate patience ( #

that bodhisattva

does not remain in sa sra and does not remain in nirv a

% O

are tormented ( #

$ !

one visualizes (

) all beings who

) by suffering and dedicates (% ) the merit / visualizing all beings who

are tormented by suffering, one dedicates the merit

) and very powerful ( Z

his mind is stable (

7. The source particles: (

After a verb, the source particles indicate a temporal sequence between the actions of two
is much more common and is placed after the root form of the verb while
sentences.
).

follows the infinitive form of the verb (verb +

The source particles usually show a temporal succession between the actions of two verbs
that can be translated by "after having done ..., then ..."

` ^

after renunciation has arisen in the mind

(^ ), one must generate the mind of enlightenment

` ^

"

2
to the temple (

the confusion ( n

"

"

Tsering and Sonam went (2 )

) and (then) prostrated to the precious guru

: = 1

) *

= c

having seen directly (

: =)

) of beings, one engages on the path to enlightenment

101

An auxilliary verb placed after the last verb of a list of verbs usually distributes back to all the verbs. In this
case, the auxilliary is understood to apply to both verbs:
"should guard" and T
"should
cultivate".

101

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

=\

the deities of the ma ala melt (\ ) into light (

) and

(then) dissolve (1 ) into oneself

having gathered (

: =

) the two accumulations for three uncountable ($

one will attain unsurpassable (

(after)
) eons (,

),

) enlightenment

Sometimes, they indicate that the actions of the two verbs are simultaneous. In that case,
they can be translated by a participle ("... ing"), "while", etc

&

% 3

. /e

(while) remembering (3 ) the suffering of [one's] parents

(& ), compasion was born

'

(while) visualizing (

crown of one's head (~ ), one made a supplication (

8. The

) the root guru on the

I )

particles:

Verb +
The particle

placed after the root form of a verb102 simply connects two sentences together

in a way that could be translated by "and", "a coma", or even a period. It is also found
between two imperative verbs.

in sa sra, there is only (

) suffering,

there is no enlightenment

W =
! 4 i

e ! v

go (

) to Nepal and generate bodhicitta!


in the relative, all phenomena appear and (or but)

in the ultimate, they are not established (truly existent)


102

Remember that the particle

placed after the infinitive form of the verb (verb +

(see lesson 5)

102

) can indicate a purpose

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

<

- !

all sentient beings of the six

) want happiness and are afraid of suffering.

classes (

Verb +
This particle indicates that the actions of the two verbs are simultaneous and can be
translated by a participle ("... ing"), "while", "as", etc. The verb is usually negated.

&

without understanding the

four noble truths, one wanders in sa sra since beginingless times.

)103 the blessings (

) of the spiritual friend (

one receives ( c

) without having listened to

the teachings of the Buddha for many years

*
directly (

: =

: $

: = ) the nature (

without realizing

) of mind, who will be liberated from samsara?

as there is no virtue, there is no happiness

9. The conditional particle :


The conditional particle indicates a temporal or conditional relation (the action of the first
sentence is the condition for the action of the following one) between two sentences that can
be translated by "when" and "if".
is placed after the root form of the verb or after its
infinitive form104. When it expresses a conditional relation, it is sometimes accompanied by
the words
I or
Y that are placed at the beginning of the sentence.

I L

103
104

if there is fire, smoke (= ) will appear ( ` )

Litt. "entering into the blessings"


In most cases, can be equally translated by "if" and "when". After the infinitive form of a verb, it tends to

indicate a temporal relation and should maybe better be translated by "when". When the sentence begins by the
I , should be translated by "if"
word

103

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

if one is Buddhist (

), one should not harm

others

=\
P

when the sun rose, one engaged (\

on death (

) on the path

if/when you are lazy (

), you should meditate

) and impermanence

W = \

if

the guru who comes from Tibet stays in Nepal, he will teach the Dharma to the students of the
white monastery

W
p

if one reflects (

) for a long time (W ) about the impermanance of life (

and the deffects (


activities (

9 O E
)

) of sa sra, one's mind ( ) will naturally turn away (E ) from the

) of this life

THE CONTINUATIVE PARTICLES (

The continuative particles can be placed after verbs or nominal groups. Generally speaking,
they indicate that something remains to be said about what was just expressed. The
spelling rules for the continuative particles are the following:

After the suffix letters

or when there is no suffix letter

After the suffix letters

After the suffix letter

105

The continuative particles can indicate a temporal sequence of simultaneity ("while",


participle "...ing") or succession ("after having ..., then ..."). This usage can be compared
to the verbal use of the source particles.

105

Don't confuse this continuative particle with the similar demonstrative pronoun. If there is confusion, look at
the suffix letter of the previous word. If the suffix letter is , the ambiguity remains and has to be solved by
relying on the context. If the suffix letter is not

must be a demonstrative pronoun.

104

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

I@

while the monk (a

) was meditating, the

benefactor went to the monastery

*9

one visualizes (

) the field (9 ) of accumulation

and makes offerings

having generated bodhicitta, one accomplishes the

benefit of beings
The continuative particles are also used to introduce a further clarification about what
was just said, in the form of a definition, a quote, a list, an explanation, etc. In this usage,
these particles function often like a colon, a semi-colon, brackets, etc., and can be compared
to the emphasizing particle.

IZ

are two [types]: the common (Z

&

9 K

regarding preliminaries (%

O
`

), cessation (

) of the sleep (

) and the extraordinary (Z

truths [are]: the truths of suffering, origin (!

$ ), there

) preliminaries
the four noble
) and path

Buddha [is]: the clearing away

) of ignorance and the expansion (

) of wisdom ( $ )

regarding the objects of knowledge (

Continuative particles are also used in logical reasonings between the probandum (the
statement made) and the reason. In the traditional structure of a syllogism, a continuative
particle is placed after the probandum while the particle 2 is placed at the end of the
following reason.

L I =

106

= L

all phenomena are impermanent because

there is fire on the mountain ( ) because there is smoke (= )


1

In this syllogism, the probandum is

reason for such a statement is

)106

they are conditioned ( =

"all phenomena are impermanent" and the

"(they) are conditioned"

105

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

Vocabulary list 7
o

illusion

motivation

! ~

conduct

fault, defect
virtuous friend, spiritual guide
thing, entity

life-force

obscuration (noun)/to obscure [T]

basis, ground

essence, heart, core

limit, end, extreme

world

T :

the three doors:

U /

/L

body, speech, and mind

7 / : /Z

body, speech, and mind (h.)

& 2 <

the six Paramits:

generosity

A B

discipline

patience

'

diligence

meditative concentration
wisdom
consciousness

to encourage, exhort, urge [T]

to dedicate [T]

106

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

EXERCICES

1) Memorize the words of the vocabulary list 7.

2) Translate into English

9H ^

L
K

~
K

% 8

QL

% O

1 *
1

N ;
T

=a
L

N
*

1 *

>

J
:

*
)

= c
1

& 2 <

- r
@

9 O e

L I

-L

, - i $

O
2 !

! ~

9 O

A B
107

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

L O

J
1
'

2 =1

L I^

. / e

- *

= %

~
- 1

I 9 A B

- 1

'
2

*
- &

^ =
1 *

Extra vocabulary:
obstructing spirits

to strive [T]
unfabricated

ritual

practice [T]

, -

advice (the object of training)

U
@

visualize [T]

A B

dedicate [T]

uncontrived,

instant

to be generous [T]

to train in [T]

the crown of the head

to

to recite mantras [T]

to guard one's discipline [T]

to gather [T]

&

to think, reflect about [T]

parents

temple

continuity
108

to

to have faith in [I]

to increase [I]

abiding nature

to experience

to dispel, eliminate [T]

oral instruction

lazy(ness)

precious human body

darkness

to perform [T]

to

TLAN 101: Classical Tibetan Grammar Handbook

HOW TO APPROACH A TIBETAN SENTENCE?

1) Look at the main verb. The final verb tells you what the structure of the sentence will be,
i.e. the type of particles (or absence of particles) that will be used. Remember that verbs of
relative clauses are in the infinitive form while the main verbs are most of the times (some
exceptions were described in lesson 7) in their root form.

2) Group the sentence's building blocks together: nominal groups, lists, words joined
together by connective particles, and nouns qualified by a relative clause.
3) Go through every particle of the sentence and identify the function (of the building
blocks that immediately precede them) they indicate. Be sure to have in mind all the different
options!
4) Once the main verb, the nominal groups, and the functions indicated by the particles are
identified, translate the sentence.
5) If several sentences are connected to each other, translate them individually, then join
them together according to the verbal use of the particles used for that purpose.