Tibetan Grammar - Formation of the Tibetan Word

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WORK IN PROGRESS: the grammar articles are being edited for wiki publication. During editing, the content might be incomplete, out of sequence or even misleading.

Articles on Tibetan Grammar
1. Introduction
2. Formation of the Tibetan Syllable
3. Formation of the Tibetan Word
4. First case: ming tsam
5. agentive particle
6. Connective Particle
7. La don particles
8. La don particles—Notes
9. Originative case
10. Verbs
11. Verbs—Notes
12. Syntactic particles

by Stefan J. Eckel

Formation of the Tibetan Word

This section is just intended as an introduction and information. You will become naturally familiar with Tibetan words in the process of learning Tibetan, so there is no need to learn everything presented here. The important informations will be pointed out during class.

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This section contains Tibetan script. Without proper Tibetan rendering support configured, you may see other symbols instead of Tibetan script.

Definition from བོད་རྒྱ་ཚིག་མཛོད་ཆེན་མོ་, the Great Tibetan Chinese Dictionary:

  • མིང་ཚིག་: ...དོན་གྱི་ངོ་བོ་སྟོན་པ་མིང་སྟེ། བུམ་པ། ཀ་བ་ལྟ་བུ་དང༌། དོན་གྱི་ཁྱད་པར་སྟོན་པ་ཚིག་སྟེ། རི་མཐོན་པོ། ངས་བཤད། ཁྱོད་ཀྱིས་ཉན་ལྟ་བུའོ།
མིང་ཚིག་, name word: "showing the essence of the object" is the name, like "vase" or "pillar", and "showing the particularities of the object" is the word / phrase like "high mountain", "I explained", "you listened".


Simple nouns

One syllable

  • མགོ་, head; ཁྱི་, dog; གྲུ་, boat; གྲོ་, wheat; ཤིང་, wood; གཡག་, bos grunniens; མིག་, eye; མི་, person, man; རྩྭ་, grass; མེ་, fire; ཉ་, fish; བྱ་, bird; ཁ་, mouth


Two syllables

  • ཅོག་ཙེ་, table; སོག་ལེ་, saw (the carpenters tool); སྟ་རེ་, axe; སྟོན་ཀ་, autumn

Compound nouns with པ་ and བ་

  • The endings པ་ and བ་ are used to form nouns and are then part of the noun as second syllable without adding any extra meaning. (See Compound nouns).
  • ཀོ་བ་, hide, leather; ཁང་པ་, house; བུམ་པ་, vase; ཐོ་བ་, hammer; ཟླ་བ་, moon
With the same root as a verb:
འཁོར་ལོ་, wheel, with འཁོར་བ་, to turn, spin
to turn v.i. ཐ་མི་དད་པ
འཁོར་བ།  འཁོར་བ།  འཁོར་བ། 
past pres. fut. imp.


Compound nouns

Nouns, adjectives and verbs forming compound nouns

Noun and noun

ཀོ་གྲུ་
leather boat
leather-boat, a boat made from animal hide; (ཀོ་བ་, hide, leather)

སྦྲ་ཐག་, rope of a yaks' hairs, སྦྲ་, thick material woven from long, coarse yak hairs ཐག་པ་, rope, string

ཚོང་ཁང་
business house
shop
མིག་ཆུ་
eye water
tears
ཆུ་མིག་
water eye
well

སྙིང་རུས་
heart bone
courage, endeavour

Noun and adjective

ཉེ་རིགས་
near lineage
relatives, kinsman
ཉེ་བ་, near; རིགས་, lineage, family line, caste, blood-line, class, type

གླང་ཆེན
ox big
elephant; ཆེན་པོ་, big, great

བྱ་རྒོད་
bird wild
vulture


Adjective and adjective

Two adjectives with opposite meaning forming an abstract noun
  • ཆེ་ཆུང་, size; ཆེ་བ་, bigger, ཆུང་བ་, smaller
  • མང་ཉུང་, quantity; མང་པོ་, many, ཉུང་ངུ་, few
  • ཕྲ་སྦོམ་, thickness; ཕྲ་མོ་ / ཕྲ་བ་, subtle, fine, tiny, སྦམ་པོ་, thick, rough, coarse, bulky


Compound nouns where the meaning is not clearly apparent from knowing the words in the compound

རྡོ་རིང་
stone long
stone pillar, obelisk, monument
རྡོ་རྗེ་
stone lord
vajra;..."
རྡོ་ཞོ་
stone yogurt, curd
lime (quick and slaked)

མཆོད་རྟེན་
offering support
stupa
མོ་གཤམ་
woman inferior, below
barren woman, barren
གན་རྒྱ་
near seal
written contract


Translation compounds used for translations into Tibetan

སྒྲོལ་དཀར་, White Tara; སྒྲོལ་མ་, Tara, དཀར་མོ་ white
གྲུབ་མཐའ་, siddhanta, siddhyanta, philosophical tenets; མཐའ་, limit, end, border, གྲུབ་པ་, accomplishment, existence, established
to be accomplished
existent, proven
v.i. ཐ་མི་དད་པ་
གྲུབ་པ།  འགྲུབ་པ།  འགྲུབ་པ། 
past pres. fut. imp.

Nominalizer and formatives

Note: Nominalization generally refers to change a verb, an adjective, or an adverb into a noun. In Tibetan nominalizers can also be used to change nouns into different (new) nouns.[1]

ཅན་

ཅན་ comes after a word or phrase showing the idea of possession of this word or phrase, or changes it into a new noun-phrase from the idea of "possession, being endowed, to have" (similar to a བདག་སྒྲ་). It can be used with animated and inanimate things.

Noun phrase

སེམས་ཅན་
mind
sentient being,
mind having one
ཀ་བ་ཅན་
pillar
house (with pillars)

ཟུག་རྔུ་ཅན་
pain
ill person
རི་བོང་ཅན་
rabbit
rabbit bearer, the moon (poet.)

Possession, adjectival phrase

ནོར་ཅན་
wealth
rich, wealthy
རྒྱུ་ཅན་
cause
having a cause
ཚེར་མ་ཅན་
thorn
thorny, having thorns

The same phrase can have both meanings:

ཡོན་ཏན་ཅན་
qualities
1. having good qualities,
2. learned, talented or holy, virtuous person

ལས་ཅན་
action, karma
1. karmically fortunate one,
2. fortunate, having merit

བསམ་གཏན་གཉིས་པ་སྐྱོན་ཅན་དང་གསུམ་པ་ཡོན་ཏན་ཅན་དུ་ཡིད་བྱེད་དྲུག་གིས་
dhyana         second  fault          third    good qualities  mental attention six
through the six mental attentions [apprehending] the second dhyana as faulty and the third as possessing good qualities...

and from the same text:

ཡོན་ཏན་ཅན་ལ་བསྔགས་པ་བརྗོད་པས་མི་བསྔགས་པ་
virtuous person   praise   to express   not praise
not to praise—through expressing praise—the virtuous person, good qualities having one.

(Here "expressing praise" is the means one is not using and so one doesn’t praise)

Note on other usages: Rather different from the former two ཅན་ also shows "in the presence of, near to, side, in front of, before...", ཁོའི་ཅན་དུ་འགྲོ་བ།, "went to him", ང་ཅན་དུ་མ་ཡོང།, "will not come to me" (ཡོང་བ་ could have different meanings as all tenses have the same form.)
to come v.i. ཐ་མི་དད་པ་
ཡོང་བ  ཡོང་བ།  ཡོང་བ། 
past pres. fut. imp.

མཁན་

  • མཁན་ comes after a word or phrase showing the "the doer, agent".
ཤིང་མཁན་
wood
carpenter
ལམ་མཁན་
way
guide
ཤེས་མཁན་
to know
the knower"

རི་མོ་འབྲི་མཁན་
painting, to draw
painter
to write, to paint v.t. ཐ་དད་པ་
བྲིས་པ  འབྲི་བ།  བྲི་བ།  བྲིས
past pres. fut. imp.


བདག་

བདག་པོ་, owner, ruler, sovereign, master

བདག་, I, me, self, ego
བདག་པ་, to be owned, belong to, being controlled, governed

to be owned
being controlled
v.i. ཐ་མི་དད་པ་
བདག་པ།  བདག་པ།  བདག་པ། 
past pres. fut. imp.

ཞིང་བདག་
land, field
landlord
ཁང་བདག་
house
house-owner, landlord, ཁང་པའི་བདག་པོ།
ཀུན་བདག་
all
ruler of the world

མངའ་བདག་
to possess
lord, ruler, king
ཡོན་བདག་
offering, gift, payment
benefactor; boss
སྦྱིན་བདག་
giving, generosity
patron, benefactor, sponsor

ལྡན་

  • ལྡན་པ་ is a abbreviation of དང་ལྡན་པ་ and is in its full form treated in the verb section, (although it is not considerated to be a verb in Tibetan grammar). The meaning of ལྡན་པ་ is that of possession, associated with and concordant with.

Noun phrase

ཡིད་ལྡན་
mind
person, possessing mind
བལ་ལྡན་
wool
sheep, having wool
སྒྲོ་ལྡན་
feather
bird, arrow, having feathers
སྐྱེ་ལྡན་
birth, production
sentient beings, the universe

Adjectival phrase

དོན་ལྡན་
meaning
meaningful
རིག་ལྡན་
intelligence, knowledge
learned, intelligent


ཉིད་

  • ཉིད་ when placed after other terms it is used to produce abstract nouns, like in English "-ness". It’s used for the translation of the Sanskrit "ta" at the end of a noun. e.g. the ta in shunyata.
སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་
to be empty
shunyata, emptiness
ལུས་ཡང་བ་ཉིད་
body light
the light-body-ness

གཏིང་དཔག་དཀའ་བ་ཉིད་
difficult to fathom
the "difficult to fathom-ness"
མང་བ་ཉིད་
many
"many-ness"
རྟག་ཏུ་སེམས་གྱ་གྱུ་མི་མངའ་བ་ཉིད་ཀྱིས་
always mind deceit not have through
always through a mind-without-deceit-ness

  • ཉིད་ has different meanings, one very common is "this one, that very, itself"


པོ་ཆེ་

  • Joined པོ་ཆེ་ expresses "big, bigger, great, greater".
འོད་པོ་ཆེ་
light
greater (degree of) light
གླང་པོ་ཆེ་
ox, bull
elephant
རིན་པོ་ཆེ་
the value, worth
precious, jewel, ratna, Rinpoche, precious one


བུ་, འུ་

  • བུ་ and འུ་ form diminutives of nouns.
ཤིང་བུ་
wood
a stick
ནོར་བུ་
wealth
jewel"
སྒྲོམ་བུ་
box
casket, small box
ཁང་བུ་
house
small house, hut

མིའུ་
human
dwarf
རྗེའུ་
lord
small lord
གྲིའུ་
knife
small knife

This process can also occur with taking off and then using the noun’s postfix-letter:

  • གཟེར་, nail, stake; both གཟེར་བུ་ and གཟེ་རུ་ mean "spike, little nail", (taking off and using the ར་)
  • ལུག་, sheep; both ལུག་གུ་ and ལུ་གུ་ mean "lamb", (taking off and using the ག་)

A change of the noun’s vowel can also occur:

  • རྟ་, horse; རྟེའུ་, foal; སྟ་རེ་, axe; སྟེའུ་, small axe; བྱ་, bird; བྱིའུ་, little bird; མཚོ་, lake; མཚེའུ་, pond, small lake; རྡོ་, stone; རྡེའུ་, pebbles, small stone; ཁྱོ་, ཁྱོ་བོ་, ཁྱོ་ག་, husband; ཁྱེའུ་, child


ཕྲུག་

  • ཕྲུག་ from ཕྲུ་གུ་ indicates the young ones of a species.
བུ་ཕྲུག་, མིའི་ཕྲུ་གུ་
son
young ones of humans, child, offspring
ཁྱི་ཕྲུག་
dog
puppy
བྱ་ཕྲུག་
bird
fledglings, birdling, nestling
ཕག་ཕྲུག་
swine
piggy

also:

སློབ་ཕྲུག་
study
student, pupil
སློབ་དཔོན་
study chief, master
master, acharya
དགེ་ཕྲུག་
virtuous
disciple, student, pupil
དགེ་རྒན་
virtuous elder
teacher


བྱ་

ཤེས་བྱ་
to know
that which can be known, knowable objects
སྤང་བྱ་
to abandon, discard
discards, what is to be abandoned

འདུལ་བྱ་
to tame, subdue
the one(s) to be tamed, disciple, student
བླང་བྱ་
to adopt
what should be adopted, accepted


ས་

  • ས་ itself means "place, earth, ground, land, soil, base, territory; the element earth; stage, state, level, ground", related to that ས་ forms noun with the meaning "the place where":
to stay, to live v.i. ཐ་མི་དད་པ་
བསྡད་པ།  སྡོད་པ།  བསྡད་པ།  སྡོད།
past pres. fut. imp.
  • སྡོད་ས་, place to stay or live, residence, dwelling
  • སྡོད་པ་, to stay, live, reside, remain, to sit
  • སྐྱེ་ས་, birthplace, homeland, one's native land
to be born, to arise v.i. ཐ་མི་དད་པ་
སྐྱེས་པ།  སྐྱེ་བ།  སྐྱེ་བ། 
past pres. fut. imp.
  • སྐྱེ་བ་, to be born; to arise, to be produced; to develop, grow; to happen
  • སྐམ་ས་, shore, dry land" སྐམ་ "be dry
  • རེ་ས་, place of hope" རེ་བ་ "hope; to hope, want
to hope, want v.i. ཐ་མི་དད་པ་
རེ་བ།  རེ་བ།  རེ་བ། 
past pres. fut. imp.


ངད་

  • ངད་, expressing the "power, potency, strength" of the noun. (ངད་ also means "smell, scent, odor")
  • སྨན་, medicine, སྨན་ངད་, potency of the medicine
  • དྲོ་པོ་, heat, warmth; to be warm, དྲོ་ངད་, strength of the warmth
  • དྲོ་ངད་ཡལ་བ།, the strength of the warmth disappears, ཡལ་བ་, to disappear, fade away, vanish


Usage of པ་, བ་, མ་, པོ་, བོ་, མོ་

པ་ / བ་ change

Euphonic changes of པ་ and པོ་ to བ་ and བོ་ do not occur in all usages.

  • པ་ after ག་, ད་, ན་, བ་, མ་, ས་, ད་དྲག་
  • བ་ after ང་, འ་, ར་, ལ་, མཐའ་མེད་

པ་ / བ་ as part of a noun

Here པ་ / བ་ were used to form a noun and are now part of the noun as second syllable without adding any extra meaning.

ཀོ་བ་, hide, leather; ཁང་པ་, house; བུམ་པ་, vase; ཐོ་བ་, hammer; ཟླ་བ་, moon; རྐང་པ་, foot; ལག་པ་, hand.

པ་ forming nouns—"having to do with"

Showing the owner, agent, user with an "active" connection

Note: There are different opinions which usage/example falls into which subcategory. For པ་ forming nouns see also 1.2
  • ཞིང་, "field, ཞིང་པ་, farmer; མདའ་, arrow, མདའ་པ་, archer
  • སྨན་, medicine, སྨན་པ་, doctor; ཁྱིམ་, household, house, ཁྱིམ་པ་, householder, layman; རྟ་, horse, རྟ་པ་, horseman; གར་, dance, acting, གར་པ་ "dancer, actor
  • རྣལ་འབྱོར་, yoga, རྣལ་འབྱོར་པ་, yogi

Showing connection

  • བོད་, Tibet, བོད་པ་, Tibetan; སངས་རྒྱས་, Buddha, སངས་རྒྱས་པ་, follower of Buddha

Possession, having the feature

(see also ཅན་ and བདག་ )
རྐང་གཉིས་པ་
foot two
biped, human
གཅེར་བུ་པ་
naked
naked ones, Nirgrantha
ལས་དང་པོ་པ་
work first
beginner


པོ་ (/ མོ་ ) "doer" of the verb

  • The "doer" of the verb (nomina agentis) is only formed from present tense form of the verb.
  • བྱེད་པ་, to do, བྱེད་པ་པོ་, the doer (also short བྱེད་པོ་)
  • ཉན་པ་, to listen, ཉན་པ་པོ་, the listener
  • རྩོམ་པ་, to compose, རྩོམ་པ་པོ་, the composer, author
  • ཞོན་པ་, to ride, ཞོན་པ་པོ་, the rider
  • སྟོན་པ་, to teach, show, explain
  • སྟོན་པ་པོ་, the teacher, demonstrator, explainer
  • ས་བོན་འདེབས་པ་, to plant seeds
  • ས་བོན་འདེབས་པ་པོ་, the one who plants the seed/seeds
  • ས་བོན་, seed, འདེབས་པ་, to sow, to plant, to establish, start; to strike, hit; to stamp (with a seal)

In some cases the specific female form is formed by using མོ་

to give, donate
to bestow
v.t. ཐ་དད་པ་
བྱིན་པ།  སྦྱིན་པ།  སྦྱིན་པ།  སྦྱིན།
past pres. fut. imp.
  • སྦྱིན་པ་མོ་, female giver, bestower

པ་, བ་ nominalizing verbs

  • པ་ and བ་ are used to nominalize verbs (see verbs), which then can be used in different ways.


པ་, བ་ verbal adjective

  • One usage of nominalized verbs is as verbal adjectives which can function as qualifier (see connective case), or can be used as a noun.
  • འགྲོ་བ་ to go, (verbal root འགྲོ་ (see verbs))

Verbal adjectives as qualifier:

འགྲོ་བའི་མི་འདི་
to go  person this
this walking person

As a noun:

འགྲོ་བ་, the goer, the going one, migrators, for "sentient beings"

  • མཐོང་བ་ to see (verbal root མཐོང་)

Verbal adjectives as qualifier:

མཐོང་བའི་རྒྱལ་པོ་འདི་
to see     king   this
this seeing king, this king who sees, or: "this king who is seen"

As a noun:

མཐོང་བ་, what is seen, sight

  • Note: In some cases the verbal adjective can become the nomina agentis. རྒྱལ་བ་, to be victorious, becomes nomina agentis to translate the Sanskrit jina, conqueror, victorious one, an epithet for the Buddha and used in reference to high lamas.


པ་, བ་ nouns with the same root as a verb

  • འཁོར་བ་, v. to rotate, spin, to cycle through, to go around
to rotate v.i. ཐ་མི་དད་པ་
འཁོར་བ།  འཁོར་བ།  འཁོར་བ། 
past pres. fut. imp.
  • འཁོར་བ་, n. samsara, cyclic existence


  • རིག་པ་, v. to know, understand; to see
to know v.t.(!) ཐ་མི་དད་པ་(!)
རིག་པ།  རིག་པ།  རིག་པ། 
past pres. fut. imp.
  • རིག་པ་, n. rigpa; knowledge; intelligence; science


  • ཐར་བ་, v. to be liberated, freed, to escape
to be liberated v.i. ཐ་མི་དད་པ་
ཐར་པ།  ཐར་པ།  ཐར་པ། 
past pres. fut. imp.
  • ཐར་པ་, n. mokṣa, liberation, emancipation, freedom


  • འགྲེལ་བ་, v. to elucidate, comment on, explain
to comment v.t. ཐ་དད་པ་
བཀྲལ་བ།  འགྲེལ་བ།  དགྲོལ་བ།  ཁྲོལ།
past pres. fut. imp.
  • འགྲེལ་པ་, n. commentary, explanation


  • འཁྲུལ་བ་, v. to confuse, mistake; be bewildered, deluded, confused
  • འཁྲུལ་པ་, n. confusion


Note: In the last three examples པ་ instead of བ་ follows ར་ and ལ་, which shows that it is not just a nominalized verb used as noun.


པོ་, བོ་, མ་, མོ་ as genus-indicator for nouns

  • མ་, མོ་ are used to form the feminine form, either for nouns which do have a masculine form, or those without. Often only the feminine form is expressed.
  • པོ་, བོ་ are not as strong a genus-indicator as མ་, མོ་ and nouns with པོ་, བོ་ might be still used as just general terms.
  • གྲོགས་, a friend, གྲོགས་པོ་, also a friend or specifically a male friend
  • གྲོགས་མོ་, a female friend
  • དགྲ་, enemy, foe, དགྲ་བོ་, opponent, enemy, དགྲ་མོ་, a female enemy, opponent
  • རྒྱལ་པོ་, the king, རྒྱལ་མོ་, the queen, (from རྒྱལ་བ་, to be victorious, to win)
  • རྒན་པ་, the older, senior; elders, རྒན་པོ་, old man, རྒན་མོ་, old woman
  • དཔའ་, courageous, brave, fearless, དཔའ་བོ་, the hero; daka, དཔའ་མོ་, heroine, female warrior
  • སྟག་, tiger, སྟག་མོ་, tigress, ལྷ་, god, deva, ལྷ་མོ་, goddess, devi
  • སྲས་, son (h.) སྲས་མོ་, daughter (h.)
  • ཆང་ཚོང་མ་, barmaid, female tavern worker/owner, ཆང་, barley beer, ཚོང་པ་, a shop-keeper, merchant, འཚོང་བ་, to trade, sell
  • རེས་, vāra, sometimes; [mutually taking] turn[s], times" རེས་མ་, vārā, courtesan; prostitute


པོ་, མོ་ genus specific adjectives

  • With པོ་ and མོ་ genus specific adjectives can be formed. (See Adjectives.)

བོ་, མ་, མོ་ genus-neutral nouns

  • བོ་, མ་, མོ་ can be part of a noun without indicating a genus.
  • གད་མོ་, laughter, བགད་པ་, to laugh
to laugh v.t. ཐ་དད་པ་
བགད་པ།  དགོད་པ།  བགད་པ།  དགོད།
past pres. fut. imp.
  • རྩེ་མོ་, peak, pinnacle, tip; the finger-nail, རྩེ་, point, tip, peak
  • བླ་མ་, lama, བླ་, superior, higher, that which above
  • གོང་མ་, the superior, higher (one); previous, earlier (one), གོང་, above, on top; higher, superior
  • ངོ་བོ་, essence

Using པ་ for ordinal numbers

  • པ་ is used to create ordinal numbers. The one exception is for "first".
  • གཅིག་, one, but དང་པོ་, the first
  • གཉིས་, two, གཉིས་པ་, the second, བཅོ་ལྔ་, fifteen, བཅོ་ལྔ་པ་, the fifteenth


Stubs

  • Note: these stubs contain unfinished articles


Adjectives

ཡས་པ་, ཀླས་པ་

  • One meaning of ཡས་, ཡས་པ་ and ཀླས་, ཀླས་པ་ when coming after a word is to express negation in terms of absence, of being without like the English "-less".
མཐའ་ཡས་
limit, ending
limitless
དཔག་ཡས་
to assess
unfathomable
གཞལ་ཡས་
to measure
measureless

བགྲང་ཡས་པ་
to count
countless
འབྱམས་ཀླས་
field, vast range
infinite, limitless
མཐའ་ཀླས་པ་
limit, ending
limitless


Verbs

Onomatopoeia

  • ཁྲུམ་ཁྲུམ་, the peculiarity of the sound of chewing dry food
From the Great Dictionary, བོད་རྒྱ་ཚིག་མཛོད་ཆེན་མོ་: ཟས་སྐམ་པོ་སྡད་པའི་སྒྲའི་ཁྱད་པར་
  • ཁྲོལ་ཁྲོལ་, one of the sounds of a damaru etc.
  • ཆེམ་ཆེམ་, sound of cymbals; tremble, shake


Interjection

  • ཨ་ཆུ་ཆུ་, the sounds uttered because of cold
  • ཨ་ཚ་ཚ་, the cry out because of pain from heat
  • ཨ་ལེ་, expression of surprise
  • ཀྱེ་, O!, Hey! for calling someone higher than oneself


Endnotes

  1. S. V. Beyer: The Classical Tibetan Language, "Syllabic formatives"