Lesson 3: Nominative and Accusative
Nouns have gender (M F N)
Nouns in Sanskrit, as in English, are spoken of as substantives (e.g., in possessing सत्त्व, “substance”). But whereas English only shows gender in the 3rd person pronoun (e.g., “he,” “she,” “it”), every noun in Sanskrit has an inherent gender (as in German, French, etc.). Gender—masculine, feminine, and neuter—is therefore a conventional rather than biological fact in Sanskrit. While males (male animals, titles, etc.) tend to be masculine and females tend to be feminine, even here there are exceptions. For example, one word for wife (दार) is masculine. On the other hand, one word for friend is neuter (मित्र) while another is masculine (सहाय).
Gender must therefore simply be memorized on a word by word basis. The reason you need to know a word’s gender is because words of different genders often take different case-endings. For example, the masculine singular nominative case-ending for -a final stems is ः (कूप → nom. कूपः), while the same for neuters is म् (वन → nom. वनम्) For this reason, you should add a nominative singular case ending to the nominal vocabulary in every lesson in the textbook, so that you can memorize words’ gender at the same time you memorize their meaning. For example, in Lesson 3, change the masculines beginning with अश्व to अश्वः, etc., and the neuters beginning with अन्न to अन्नम्, etc. This has already been done for you in the Anki flaschcard file.
Here are the paradigms given by Deshpande (pp. 35-36) for masculine and neuter nouns in the nominative (Subject) and accusative (Direct Object) cases:
Note that the duals of nominatives and accusatives are always identical (as here in कूपौ and वने). And in fact, the neuter accusative is always identical with the neuter nominative (e.g., वनम् वने वनानि for both).
The Nominative is the Subject case. Any time you want to use a noun as the Subject of a sentence, you will put it in the nominative. And the Finite Verb must therefore agree with it. For example,
- कूपः भवति । कूपौ भवतः । कूपाः भवन्ति ।
“There is a well. There are two wells. There are (3 or more) wells.”
- अश्वः धावति । अश्वौ धावतः । अश्वाः धावन्ति ।
“A horse is running. Two horses are running. (3 or more) horses are running.”
Nouns and adjectives “incompletely predicated” of the Subject will also always take the nominative case. For example, नृपः बालः भवति । “The king (nom.) is a boy (nom.).” See the page on Apposition.
- Subject (always nominative) = the word with which the verb agrees (in person and number). In “He stands,” “stands” agrees with the subject (“he”) in person (3rd) and number (singular).
- (Direct) Object (always accusative) = the word directly governed by a transitive verb in the active voice. In “I hit him,” the 3rd person pronoun (“he”) takes its oblique form (“him”) because it’s governed by the transitive verb, “to hit.”
- A verb is used transitively if it acts directly on a thing—which will be the direct object (accusative) in the active voice. For example, “Man bites dog.” Here the verb, “to bite” is being used transitively, as it is acting on the dog without an intervening preposition.
- Whereas in the question, “Does your dog bite?” the verb is used intransitively, because it isn’t acting on anything. Of course, there are many verbs which can never act on anything directly—such as, ‘to be,’ ‘to sit,’ etc.—which are therefore intransitive by nature. For example, “to sit” requires a preposition with an indirect object (“He sits on a throne”), so it doesn’t act directly on anything. Similarly, in “Rāma is king,” “being” is not acting on anything (Rāma is not acting on a king) so the verb is intransitive and “king” is not a direct object.
The accusative is fundamentally the Direct Object case. For example,
- बालः फलम् खादति । “A boy is eating a fruit.”
- अश्वौ तृणम् खादतः । “Two horses are eating grass.”
- जनकः नृपम् वदति । “Father is speaking to the king.”
- जनकः ग्रामम् गच्छति । “Father is going to the village.”
- बालः (तत्र) सुखम् वसति । “The boy is happily living (there).”
- बालः ग्रामम् परितः धावति । “The boy is running around the village.”