A Practical Grammar of the PŒli Language
by Charles Duroiselle
Third Edition 1997

[ Contents | Abbreviations | Appendix ]

Preface to the Third Edition

Most introductory PŒli grammar books consist of lessons that teach the elements of the language in stages, but because of that they are also very difficult to use as a reference when you need to look up a noun's declension, or a verb's conjugation. This book because of its practical and comprehensive coverage of the elements of the PŒli language in complete chapters is a very useful reference. This book was also not written for linguistics experts, but for students with little experience studying PŒli grammar. For these reasons I have found it extremely useful and I recommend it to people who have already completed one of the many books that have graduated exercies intended to introduce the basics of PŒli grammar. After you have completed one of those preliminary books and move on to really read PŒli texts you will find this book to be a really good friend.

Unfortunately, this book having been out of print for many years few people know of its existence and the copies that people who know about it are using are mainly photocopied versions like mine. So I thought that entering the text into a computer would be useful for both myself and also for other people interested in studying the PŒli language.

In producing this edition I have made some corrections and changes to the original. I have kept most of the archaic english spelling and usage. This is because it has a certain charm to it and is itself a lesson in language. PŒli has not changed in the last 80 years, but the reader will soon see how much English has changed. The corrections I made were mainly to errors in layout editing and punctuation that existed in the original book. Still, I have probably left a few and made some new ones for the editors of the fourth edition to correct when they update the English used.

I would like to thank Sayadaw U. Jotika who originally showed me the book and Miss Goh Poay Hoon who made a photocopy of it for me. Also Sean Doyle who generously let me use his scanner and optical character recognition software to scan the original in and then create a rough text to be edited; Gary Dellora who initially did the first editing of the scanned text; and Aniek Ley who donated the computer on which this text was edited.

May any merit made by all concerned be a condition for our attainment of NibbŒna.

U. Dhamminda 1997.

Preface to the Second Edition

This grammar was written at a time when it was urgently needed for schools and colleges, and as a consequence was conceived, written and seen through the press within the short space of a little over three months. Not-withstanding a few errors which had crept in - and which have now been corrected - the favour with which this work was received and reviewed in Europe, exceeded the author's expectations, if indeed he had any. Such favourable criticism it did not find in India: its great defect in the opinion of some Indian gentlemen being twofold; it does not enough adhere to the very ancient Hindu system of grammatical exposition; this venerable system was, it is readily recognized by every scholar, the most suitable - in fact the only suitable system for the method of imparting knowledge current in the times in which the earliest Sanskrit grammars and, modelled on them, the first PŒli grammars were composed. But, other times, other methods; and I am not alone in thinking that the old Hindu system, whatever its undeniable merits, could not be with success adapted to the clearer, more rapid and rational western methods of teaching. But the more unpardonable departure from the beaten track is, that the author has not thought it necessary constantly to refer to the Sanskrit forms and with them compare and from them deduce the PŒli ones. It must be remembered that this comparative method, however excellent and useful to persons already acquainted with Sanskrit who desire to take up the study of PŒli, does not answer in a practical manner to the needs of the class of students for whom this book has been written; that is, young students totally ignorant of the first principles of Sanskrit, and who do not, for the most part, in the least intend taking up such study. Moreover, to those who may later on, take up such a course, the close relation between the two languages will become easily apparent.

In section (603), mention is made of a so called "Nominative Absolute"; it is explained in a PŒli work called the Niruttid´pan´, printed in Rangoon. M. Monier Williams also mentions it in the preface to his Sanskrit Grammar.

Much official and literary work in connection with duties did not allow me to see this second edition through the press. Professor Maung Tin, of the Rangoon College, has most graciously undertaken this onerous work, and he has read and corrected every single proof. Persons who have had experience in proof-reading, above all of a book of such a character as the present one, will readily understand the magnitude of the service done me by my old pupil, and for which I beg here to thank him most sincerely.

Chas. Duroiselle. 1915.


This grammar was written for my pupils in the Rangoon College, to facilitate their work and make the study of the PŒli language easier for them. There is, to my knowledge no PŒli grammar suited to the requirements of students who do not know even the elements of Sanskrit, and to place into their hands grammars such as that of Muller of Frankfurter and of Minayef, which are intended for Sanskrit dilettanti, would serve rather to puzzle, than to help them; moreover, these grammars are not quite complete, consisting merely of the inflections of nouns and verbs. Mr James Gray's grammar, which was written with the same purpose as the one now presented to the public has long been out of stock; it had two drawbacks; the PŒli was all in Burmese characters, and it was too elementary to help the student in acquiring a thorough mastery of the language.

It is, I think, the first time, that Derivation has been treated systematically and fully in a European work; the chapter on Syntax. too, though not quite exhaustive (to make it so would require a special volume) is a novel feature, considering that Syntax has never as yet been treated of, except in one single instance (PŒli Grammar by H. H. Tilby, Rangoon Baptist College, 1899.), and very briefly and with no examples whatever given in illustration of the rules.

One of the greatest difficulties experienced has been to explain some forms (principally in Assimilation and Verbs), without the help of Sanskrit; scholars well understand how PŒli forms, thus explained, seem arbitrary, not to say incomprehensible in some cases; so that, although my avowed object was to write for students who do not know the first elements of Sanskrit grammar, I have thought it advisable to scatter here and there in the body of the work, a few explanations bearing on Sanskrit grammar, to make some forms better understood. But the student is perfectly free to skip them over and to assume the PŒli forms just as they are given; I would, however recommend him to peruse them at a second reading.

Each rule, throughout, is profusely illustrated with examples taken from the jŒtakas and from other books, and indigenous PŒli grammars. The paragraphs have been numbered and, to facilitate reference in looking up the rules, they are quoted whenever necessary, to render more easy the study of that part of the grammar which the student is actually reading.

Grammatical discoveries are not to be expected, but scholars will find in the work now issued, a few things which have never before appeared in European grammars of PŒli.

The following indigenous PŒli grammars have been consulted: saddan´ti, mahŒrèpasiddhi, mahŒrèpasiddhi ÊikŒ, akhyŒtapadamŒlŒ, moggallŒna, kacchŒyana, gaÂon pyan.

I have availed myself of all the grammars published in Europe to which I could have access.

Chas. Duroiselle.
Rangoon: 20th December 1906.


Here is a collection of dictionary definitions of some of the terms that can be found in this book.

Ablative: Of, relating to, or being a grammatical case indicating separation, direction away from, sometimes manner or agency, and the object of certain verbs. It is found in Latin and other Indo-European languages.

Ablative absolute: In Latin grammar, an adverbial phrase syntactically independent from the rest of the sentence and containing a noun plus a participle, an adjective, or a noun, both in the ablative case.

Accusative: Of, relating to, or being the case of a noun, pronoun, adjective, or participle that is the direct object of a verb or the object of certain prepositions.

Active: Indicating that the subject of the sentence is performing or causing the action expressed by the verb. Used of a verb form or voice.

Adjective: Any of a class of words used to modify a noun or other substantive by limiting, qualifying, or specifying and distinguished in English morphologically by one of several suffixes, such as -able, -ous, -er, and -est, or syntactically by position directly preceding a noun or nominal phrase, such as white in a white house.

Aorist: A form of a verb in some languages, such as Classical Greek or Sanskrit, that in the indicative mood expresses past action.

Conjugate: To inflect (a verb) in its forms for distinctions such as number, person, voice, mood, and tense.

Dative: Of, relating to, or being the grammatical case that in some Indo-European languages, such as Latin and Russian, as well as in some non-Indo-European languages, marks the recipient of action and is used with prepositions or other function words corresponding in meaning to English to and for.

Declension: Linguistics. a. In certain languages, the inflection of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives in categories such as case, number, and gender.

Genitive: Of, relating to, or designating a case that expresses possession, measurement, or source.

Gerund: A verbal noun analogous to the Latin gerund, such as the English form ending in -ing when used as a noun, as in singing in We admired the choir's singing.

Grammar: The system of inflections, syntax, and word formation of a language.

Inflection: a. An alternation of the form of a word by adding affixes, as in English dogs from dog, or by changing the form of a base, as in English spoke from speak, that indicates grammatical features such as number, person, mood, or tense. b. The paradigm of a word. c. A pattern of forming paradigms, such as noun inflection or verb inflection.

Interrogative: Of, relating to, or being an element or construction used to ask a question: an interrogative adverb; an interrogative particle.

Locative: Of, relating to, or being a grammatical case in certain inflected languages that indicates place in or on which or time at which, as in Latin dom’, 'at home.'

Nominative: Of, relating to, or belonging to a case of the subject of a finite verb (as I in I wrote the letter) and of words identified with the subject of a copula, such as a predicate nominative (as children in These are his children).

Optative: Of, relating to, or being a mood of verbs in some languages, such as Greek, used to express a wish. Designating a statement using a verb in the subjunctive mood to indicate a wish or desire, as in Had I the means, I would do it.

Present Participle: A participle expressing present action, formed in English by the infinitive plus -ing and used to express present action in relation to the time indicated by the finite verb in its clause, to form progressive tenses with the auxiliary be, and to function as a verbal adjective.

Passive: Of, relating to, or being a verb form or voice used to indicate that the grammatical subject is the object of the action or the effect of the verb. For example, in the sentence They were impressed by his manner, were impressed is in the passive voice.

Participle: A form of a verb that in some languages, such as English, can function independently as an adjective, as the past participle baked in We had some baked beans, and is used with an auxiliary verb to indicate tense, aspect, or voice, as the past participle baked in the passive sentence The beans were baked too long.

Past Participle: A verb form indicating past or completed action or time that is used as a verbal adjective in phrases such as baked beans and finished work and with auxiliaries to form the passive voice or perfect and pluperfect tenses in constructions such as She had baked the beans and The work was finished. Also called perfect participle.

Prefix: An affix, such as dis- in disbelieve, put before a word to produce a derivative word or an inflected form.

Pronominal: Of, relating to, or functioning as a pronoun. Resembling a pronoun, as by specifying a person, place, or thing, while functioning primarily as another part of speech. His in his choice is a pronominal adjective.

Radical: Arising from or going to a root or source; basic: a radical flaw in a plan; chose the radical solution of starting all over again.

Reflective: designating or expressing a grammatical relation in which a verb's subject and an object in the sentence refer to the same person or thing, serving to indicate that the action of the verb is directed back to the subject Ex. "Gary hurt himself", "Jane threw a party for herself".

Sanskrit: An ancient Indic language that is the language of Hinduism and the Vedas and is the classical literary language of India.

Substantive: 1. Expressing or designating existence; for example, the verb to be. 2. Designating a noun or noun equivalent.

Suffix: An affix added to the end of a word or stem, serving to form a new word or functioning as an inflectional ending, such as -ness in gentleness, -ing in walking, or -s in sits.

Vocative: Relating to or being a grammatical case used in Latin and certain other languages to indicate the person or thing being addressed.

Verbal Adjective: An adjective that is derived from a verb and that in some constructions, participial phrases for example, preserves the verb's syntactic features, such as transitivity and the capability of taking nominal or verbal complements.


Masc. = Masculine.
Fem. = Feminine.
Neut. = Neuter.
S., Sansk. = Sanskrit.
P.P.P. = Passive Perfect Participle.
P.P.A. = Perfect Participle Active.
F.P.P. = Future Passive Participle.
Adj. = Adjective.
Nom. = Nominative.
Gen. = Genitive.
Dat. = Dative.
Acc. = Accusative.
Inst. = Instrumentive,
Abl. = Ablative
Loc. = Locative.

(The numbers within bracket refer to the paragraphs)

I The Alphabet
  Vowels short and long (2-5)
The letters classified (6)
Pronunciation (10-11)
Conjunct consonants (12-13)
II Sandhi Euphony
  Introductory (14-16)
Vowel sandhi (17-27)
Consonantal Insertions (28)
Consonantal sandhi (29-36)
Niggah´ta Sandhi (37-46)
Interchange of letters (47)
Signs (48-50)
III Assimilation
  Introductory (51-52)
Kinds of Assimilation (53)
General Rules (54-66)
Assimilation of Nasals (67-69)
Assimilation of y (70-79)
Assimilation of r (80-84)
Assimilation of s (85-95)
Assimilation of h (96-102)
IV Strengthening
V Declension of Nominal Bases
  Stem or Base (116, b)
Gender (116, c, d)
The Cases (116, f)
Divisions of Declension (117)
General case endings (118)
Vowel declension, stems in a (119-121)
Masculines in a, deva (122)
Neuters in a, rèpa (123-124)
Declension of nouns in Π(125)
Feminines in Œ ka––Œ (126-127)
Masculines in Œ, sŒ (128)
Declension of nouns in i, (129)
Masculines in i, kapi (130-131)
Feminines in i, ´ ratti (132-133)
Neuters in i, vŒri (134)
Declension of nouns in ´ (135)
Masculines in ´, daö¶´ (136-137)
Feminines in ´ nad´ (138-139)
Declension of nouns in u (140)
Masculines in u, bhikkhu (141)
Feminines in u. dhenu (142-143)
Neuters in u, cakkhu (144-145)
Declension of nouns in è (146)
Masculines in è, sayambhu (147)
Feminines in è, vadhè (148)
Diphthongal stems (149)
Special nouns, go, sakhΠ(150 -151)
Consonantal Declension (152)
RŒjŒ (156)
Stems in s, mano (159-160)
îyu (161)
Stems in r, satthΠ(163)
MatŒ, pitŒ (164)
Stems in at, vat, mat, bhava
µ (166)
µ (167)
VI Formation of Feminine Bases
  Feminine suffixes (181)
Feminine bases of substantives (182-192)
Feminine bases of adjectives (193-195)
VII Adjectives
  Adjectives in a (197-201)
Adjectives in ´ (202-204)
Adjectives in i (205-210)
Adjectives in u (211-214)
Adjectives In è (215-218)
Adjectives with consonantal bases (220-224)
dh´mŒ (228)
guöavŒ (230)
Adjectives in vi (231-235)
Negative Adjectives (236-237)
Comparison (238-247)
Irregular Adjectives (247)
VIII Numerals
  Table of cardinals and ordinals (251)
Cardinals (252-272)
Ordinals (273-278)
Adverbial derivatives from numerals (279-287)
IX Pronouns, Pronominal Adjectives and Pronominal Derivatives
  Personal (288-296)
Demonstratives (297-311)
Relatives (312-314)
Interrogative (315-318)
Indefinite (319-327)
Other pronouns (328-335)
Pronominal derivatives (336-352)
Adjectives declined pronominally (353)
X Verbs
  Introductory (354-369)
Primitive Verbs (369)
First Conjugation (370-371)
Rules of reduplication (372)
Second Conjugation (373)
Third Conjugation (374-375)
Fourth Conjugation (376)
Fifth Conjugation (377)
Sixth Conjugation (378)
Seventh Conjugation (379)
Conjugation of the Present System (381-403)
Irregular verbs (404)
Aorist (405-426)
System of the Perfect (427-430)
Future System (431-438)
Participles: Present (439-448)
Future (449)
P.P.P. (450-464)
P.P.A. (465)
F.P.P. (466-469)
Gerund (470-472)
Infinitive (473-477)
Passive Voice (481-490)
Causative Verbs (491-497)
Denominative Verbs (498-502)
Desiderative Verbs (503-507)
Intensive Verbs (508-509)
Defective anomolous verbs (510-513)
Verbal prefixes (514-522)
Paradigm of a Verb fully conjugated: pacati (523)
coreti (524-527)
Table of the changes occurring in the root (528)
XI Indeclinables
  Derivative Adverbs (531)
Case-form Adverbs (532)
Pure Adverbs (532)
Prepositions (533-537)
Conjunctions (538)
XII Compounds
  Introductory (539-541)
dvanda (542-544)
tappurisa (545)
kammadhŒraya (546)
Nouns in apposition (547)
digu (548)
Adverbial Compounds (549)
Relative Compounds (550-551)
Upapada Compounds (552)
Anomalous Compounds (553)
Complex Compounds (554)
Changes in certain words in Compounds (555)
Verbal Compounds (556-557)
XIII Derivation
  Introductory (558-574)
Primary derivatives, kita (575-578)
Secondary derivation, taddhita (579-581)
Kvi suffixes (582-584)
XIV Syntax
  KŒraka (587)
Order of Sentences (588)
Article (589)
Concord (590-592)
Nominative (594)
Genitive (595)
Dative (597)
Accusative (598)
Instrumentive (599)
Ablative (600)
Locative (601)
Vocative (602)
Genitive and Locative Absolute (603)
of Adjectives (604)
of Pronouns (605-609)
Repetition (610)
of Verbs (611-618)
of Participles (619-622)
of Indeclinables (623)
Direct and Indirect Narration (624)
Interrogation and Negation (625)
XV Prosody
  Introductory (626-627)
Feet (628-629)
Short and long syllables (630)
Varieties of Metres (631)
Sama class (632)
Addhasama class (634)
Visama class (635)
Vatta (636)
Kinds of vatta (638)
JŒti (639-641)
VetŒliya (642)