A Practical Grammar of the PŒli Language
Chapter 3


51. The matter included in this chapter should perhaps have come under the head of "sandhi" for assimilation is nothing but changes that occur for the sake of euphony.

I have remarked that, although the rules of sandhi, as explained in the preceding chapter, are readily understood and applied by the young students, the laws of assimilation puzzle them not a little, and retard their reading much more than is necessary. The difficulty thus experienced arises from their ignorance of Sanskrit, without at least a slight knowledge of which, the study of PŒli becomes sensibly more difficult.

In the following paragraphs, I shall try and explain as succinctly and as clearly as possible, the rules of assimilation. The student cannot be too much recommended to study thoroughly this chapter and to refer to it constantly in the course of his studies.

52. Assimilation is the blending into one of two consonantal sounds. It involves the change of one sound to another of the same series, but sometimes also to a sound of another series. (See chart at end of para 6).

53. Assimilation is of two kinds:
(i) The initial consonant is assimilated to the final consonant of the preceding word. This is called Progressive Assimilation.
(ii) The final consonant of the preceding word is assimilated to the initial consonant of the word that follows. This is called Regressive Assimilation.

I. Progressive Assimilation
(a) ├lag (to cling) + na = lagna = lagga (clung).
(b) ├budh (to know) + ta = budhta = buddha (known).

It will be remarked that in example (a) the n (dental) has been assimilated to the g which belongs to another series (gutteral).

In (b), the t, become d, assimilates to the preceding dh, both being sounds of the same series (dentals).

II. Regressive Assimilation
(a) ├lip (to smear) + ta = lipta = litta (smeared).
(b) ├dam (to subdue) + ta = damta = danta (subdued).

In these two examples, p in (a), is assimilated to initial t and passes to another series of sounds.

In (b), m likewise passing to another series, assimilates itself to t and becomes n.

General Rules of Assimilation

54. Assimilation takes place mostly in the formation of the Passive Voice, the Passive Perfect Participle, the base of verbs of the third conjugation, of the Infinitive, Gerund, the Potential Passive Participle and in the formation of the Desiderative; also under the influence of certain suffixes in the derivation of words.

55. In PŒli, regressive Assimilation is the more common.

56. When a mute meets with an initial mute (non-nasal), there is regressive assimilation generally, that is the first consonant is assimilated to the second:
(i) sak + ta = sakta = satta.
(ii) sak + thi = sakthi = satthi.

57. A gutteral assimilates the following dental:
(i) lag + na = lagna = lagga.
(ii) sak + no = sakno = sakko + ti = sakkoti.

58. A gutteral assimilates a final dental:
(i) ud + kamŒpeti = ukkamŒpeti.
(ii) tad + karo = takkaro.
(iii) ud + gacchati = uggacchati.

59. A final palatal* being followed by a dental surd or sonore, assimilates it into a lingual:
(i) ├maj + ta = ma╩╩ha or ma╩╩a.
(ii) ├pucch + ta = pu╩╩ha.
(iii) ├icch + ta = i╩╩ha.

(a) j however sometimes is assimilated to the following t:
(iv) ├bhuj + ta = bhutta.

(b) c also becomes assimilated to t:
(v) ├muc + ta = mutta.

*To better understand these changes, the student ought to bear in mind that no word can end in a palatal nor in h, because these letters are not primitive letters the palatals have sprung into existence from the contact of gutteral consonants with certain vowels; and h represents an old gh and is the aspirate of j; the original gutterals, therefore, reappear at the end of words either pure or transformed into a lingual, and then assimilate or are assimilated by the following dental. For instance:
├pucch = pu╩h + ta = pu╩╩ha, but, ├muc = muk + ta = mukta = mutta;
├bhuj = bhuk + ta = bhukta = bhutta;
again, ├maj = ma╩ (╩ = Sansk. s) + ta = ma╩╩a.
In Sansk., ├mĘj + ta = mrsta = PŒli: ma╩╩a.

60. But an initial palatal assimilates a final dental in palatal:
ud + cinati = uccinati.
ud + ched┤ = ucched┤.
ud + jala = ujjala.
ud + jhŒyati = ujjhŒyati.

61. A final lingual assimilates a following surd dental, (t): ├ku╩╩ + ta = ku╩╩ha.

62. A final dental is assimilated to the following consonant:
(i) ud + ga÷hŒti = ugga÷hŒti.
(ii) ud + khipati = ukkhipati.
(iii) ud + chindati = ucchindati.
(iv) ud + jhŒyati = ujjhŒyati.
(v) ud + sŒha = ussŒha.
(vi) ud + ti÷÷a = utti÷÷a.
(vii) ud + loketi = ulloketi.

63. When initial t, follows a sonant aspirate, the assimilation is progressive: the final sonant aspirate loses its aspiration, the following t (surd) becomes sonant, viz; d, and taking the aspiration which the final sonant has lost, becomes dh.


├rudh + ta = rudh + da = rud + dha = ruddha.

Remark. In the case of final bh, initial t having become dh, regressive assimilation takes place;
├labh + ta = labh + d = lab + dha = laddha.

64. Before an initial dental surd, a gutteral or a labial surd unaspirate is generally assimilated:
(i) tap + ta = tapta = tatta.
(ii) sak + ta = sakta = satta.
(iii) sakt + hi = sakthi = satthi.
(iv) kam + ta = kamta = kanta.

65. An initial labial generally assimilates a preceding dental surd or sonant unaspirate:
(i) tad + purisa = tappurisa.
(ii) ud + bhijjati = ubbhijjati.
(iii) ud + pajjati = uppajjati.
(iv) ud + majjati = ummajjati.

66. A final labial may assimilate an initial nasal: pŒp + no + ti = pŒpno + ti = pappoti

Assimilation of Nasals

67. Final m before t is assimilated: ├gam + tvŒ = gamtvŒ = gantvŒ.

68. The group sm is preserved: tasmiÁ, bhasmŒ, asmŒ, usmŒ.

69. An initial nasal assimilates a preceding dental: ud + magga = un + magga = ummagga.

Remark. Here final d, being before a nasal, is first changed to the nasal of its class, that is n, and this n (dental) is then assimilated to m (labial). So for gantvΠin (67).
(i) ud + nadati = unnadati.
(ii) ├chid + na = chinna.

Assimilation of Y

70. y is regularly assimilated to the preceding consonant by Progressive Assimilation.

71. The assimilation of y takes place principally in the Passive Voice in the formation of verbal bases of the 3rd conjugation, of some gerunds and of numerous derived nouns.
(i) ├gam + ya = gamya = gamma.
(ii) ├pac + ya = pacya = pacca.
(iii) ├mad + ya = madya = majja.
(iv) ├bha÷ + ya = bhanya = bha––a.
(v) ├div + ya = divva = dibba.
(vi) ├khŒd + ya = khŒdya = khajja (34).
(vii) ├khan + ya = khanya = kha––a.

72. This rule holds good also in the middle of a compound word: final i having become y by Rule 27 (i) (a), is assimilated to the preceding, consonant, and the following word is joined on to form a compound.


(i) pali* + a║ko = paly a║kso = palla║ko.
(ii) vipali
* + Œso = vipaly Œso = vipallŒso.
(iii) vipali + atthaÁ = vipaly atthaÁ = vipallatthaÁ.
(iv) api + ekacce = apy ekacce = appekacce.
(v) api + ekadŒ = apy ekadŒ = appekadŒ.
(vi) abhi + uggacchati = abhy uggacchati = abbhuggacchati.
(vii) abhi + okira÷aÁ = abhy okira÷aÁ = abbhokira÷aÁ.
(viii) abhi + a–janaÁ = abhy a–janaÁ = abbha–janaÁ.
(ix) Œni + Œyo = Œnv Œyo = a––Œyo. (34, 35)

*The preposition pari, is often changed into pali.

73. By far the most common changes occurring through the assimilation of y (final as in the above examples) or of y (initial as in 71), take place when the dental surd unaspirate t or the dental sonore aspirate or unaspirate d, dh, precedes. To state the rule shortly:

74. (i) final ti + any dissimilar vowel becomes cc + that vowel.
(ii) final dhi + any dissimilar vowel becomes jjh + that vowel.
(iii) final di + any dissimilar vowel becomes jj + that vowel.
(iv) final t + y = cc.
(v) final d + y = jj.
(vi) final dh + y = jjh.


(i) ati + antaÁ = aty antaÁ = accantaÁ.
(ii) pati + ayo = paty ayo = paccayo.
(iii) pati + eti = paty eti = pacceti.
(iv) iti + assa = ity assa = iccassa.
(v) iti + Œdi = ity Œdi = iccŒdi.
(vi) jŒti + andho = jŒty andho = jaccandho. (34, 35)
(vii) adhi + Œgamo = adhy Œgamo = ajjhŒgamo.
(viii) adhi + ogŒhitvŒ = adhy ogŒhitvŒ = ajjhogŒhitvŒ.
(ix) adhi + upagato = adhy upagato = ajjhupagato.
(x) adhi + eti = adhy eti = ajjheti.
(xi) nad┤ + Œ = nady Œ = najjŒ.
(xii) yadi + evaÁ = yady evaÁ = yajjevaÁ.
(xiii) sat + ya = satya = sacca.
(xiv) pa÷Âita + ya = pa÷Âitya = pa÷Âicca.
(xv) ├mad + ya = madya = majja.
(xvi) ├vad + ya = vadya = vajja.
(xvii) ├rudh + ya = rudhya = rujjha.

75. Final th + y = cch: tath + ya = tathya = taccha.

76. A final sibilant may assimilate a following y:
(i) ├pas + ya = pasya = passa.
(ii) ├dis + ya = disya = dissa.

77. v + y becomes bb:
(i) ├div + ya = divya = dibba.
(ii) ├siv + ya = sivya = sibba.

Remarks. At the beginning of a word, however, the y (the semi-vowel of i) is retained, and v, is changed to b:
(i) vi + Œkara÷aÁ = vyŒkara÷aÁ = byŒkara÷aÁ.
(ii) vi + a–janaÁ = vya–janaÁ = bya–janaÁ.

78. When y follows h, metathesis, the transposition of letters, takes place:
(i) ├sah + ya = sahya, and by metathesis = sayha.
(ii) ├guh + ya = guhya = guyha.

79. Initial y, may assimilate a final dental, non-nasal:
(i) ud + yu–jati = uyyu–jati.
(ii) ud + yŒti = uyyŒti.
(iii) ud + yŒna = uyyŒna.

Assimilation of R

80. Final r is often assimilated to a following mute:
(i) ├kar + tabba = kattabba.
(ii) ├kar + tŒ = kattŒ.
(iii) ├kar + ya = kayya.
(iv) ├dhar + ma = dhamma.

81. Very often too, final r is dropped:
(i) ├mar + ta = mata.
(ii) ├kar + ta = kata.

82. Sometimes, r having been dropped, the vowel a before it, is lengthened:
(i) ├kar + tabba = kŒtabba.
(ii) ├kar + tuÁ = kŒtuÁ.

83. r followed by n, lingualizes the n, and then becomes assimilated to it:
├car + na = car÷a = ci÷÷a.

The student will understand the insertion of i when reading the chapter on Passive Perfect Participles.

84. Final r may be assimilated to a following l:
dur (=du) + labho = dullabho.

Assimilation of S

85. s (or sa) is assimilated by the preceding consonant, having first been transformed into a gutteral or a palatal.

86. Final j + sa = kkha:
(i) titij + sa = titikkha.
(ii) bubhuj + sa = bubhukkha.

87. Final p + sa = ccha:
jigup + sa = jiguccha.

88. Final t + sa = cch:
tikit + sa = tikiccha.

89. Final s + sa = ccha:
jighas + sa = jighaccha.

90. Final s assimilates a following y:
├nas + ya = nassa. (See para 76).

91. But sometimes the combination remains unchanged:
alasa + ya = Œlasya.

92. Final s, assimilates an initial t into a lingual:
(i) ├kas + ta = ka╩╩ha.
(ii) ├kilis + ta = kili╩╩ha.
(iii) ├das + ta = da╩╩ha.

93. Initial s assimilates a preceding dental:
(i) ud (or ut) + sŒha = ussŒha.
(ii) ud (or ut) + suka = ussuka.

94. Pretty often, s + t = t:
├jhas + ta = jhatta.

95. Sometimes too, s + t = tth:
├vas + ta = vuttha.

Assimilation of H

96. Initial h sometimes is changed to the mute aspirate of the class of the preceding final consonant:
(i) ud + harati = uddharati.
(ii) ud + hara÷a = uddhara÷a.
(iii) ud + hata (├han) = uddhata.

97. When final h is followed by a nasal, the group generally undergoes metathesis (see 78, note):
├gah + ÷a = gah÷a = ga÷ha.

98. Metathesis also occurs in the groups hy and hv:
(i) mahyaÁ becomes mayhaÁ.
(ii) oruh + ya becomes oruyha.
(iii) jihvŒ becomes jivhŒ.

Remarks. Very seldom, h is assimilated to the following y, leh + ya = leyya.

99. h is sometimes changed to gh; (*) principally in the root han, to kill.

hanati, to kill, or gha╩eti, to kill.
gha––a, killing, from ├han (han or ghan + ya = gha––a).
ghammati, to go = hammati, to go.

*It must be remembered that h is the aspirate of j, since it now represents an ancient gh (59, note), and therefore, in euphony, it is treated exactly as j, that is to say when final it becomes sometimes k and sometimes t. The above rules, which may seem arbitrary are familiar to the Sanskritist.

100. Final h + t becomes generally ddha:
├duh + ta = duddha.

101. Sometimes also h + t = dh:
├lih + tuÁ = ledhuÁ.
(For the change of i to e see "Strengthening")

102. It has been said above (7) that ┬ is very often interchangeable with Â; when the  is aspirate viz, Âh, its substitute also becomes aspirate, viz., ┬h.

Now, according to para (101), we have seen that h + t becomes Âh; for this Âh may be substituted ┬h, so that we have the following form:
├muh + ta = mŔÂha = mŔ┬ha.
├ruh + ta = rŔÂha = rŔ┬ha.