Tibetan Grammar - 'la don' particles - Notes

From Rigpa Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

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

The la don particles—Notes

These notes are note merely on la don particles alone. Some of the topics here could be moved to the verb section or be a section on their own. Yet as the grammatical structures covered all have a la don (though omitted at times), it is included in this chapter for now.

Note on classifications for Verbs with la don

See: Verbs with la don


This is about the classifications in chapter Verbs with la don, where a verb or adjective has a verb or clause directly preceding it. The main topic of concern is the subcategories in Modal relation.

A verb-verb structure is placed in Direct verb-verb relation or Modal relation when the theme of the verb is replaced by a verb complement (see below).

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

Even though an auxiliary verb can be clearly viewed as a verb with its theme replaced by a verb complement,[1] auxiliary verbs are singled out Verb and auxiliary verb[2]

"Modal auxiliary verbs" will not be used as a category as such, for the reason that the verbs used as a second verb in Modal relation express some kind of modal relation, while grammatically they function in different ways. In Adverbial / simultaneity (of verb-verb) the verb / clause is an adverbial qualifier that works in the same way for both transitive and intransitive verbs and can be seen as a form of Adverbial / simultaneity.

Because adjectives connected with verbs can have the same structure and grammar as "verb-verb" relations with intransitive verbs, and considering the character of Tibetan adjectives in general, here it is reasonable to treat verbs and adjectives together. "Verbs with adjectives" are part of Expressing a quality and Expressing a feature. E.g., ཐོས་པར་སྙན་ "pleasant to hear"[3] belongs to Expressing a feature.

The difference in structures, which is the topic here, is in terms of the relation between the first and the second verb. That is, looking at whether the first verb / clause is a qualifier, theme[4] or complement[5] of the second verb.[6] These differences are more complex when the second verb is an intransitive verb and they will be covered first, looking at the structure, function and meaning expressed.

Intransitive verbs

First we will look at whether the first verb is a qualifier, theme or complement.

If the two verbs have a coreferential participant—the agent or theme of the first verb is also the theme of the second verb—then the first verb can not be the theme of the second verb.

In བརྒལ་བར་མི་ནུས། "not able to cross (over)" or "not being able in terms of crossing (over)" བརྒལ་བ་ is qualifying ནུས་, both verbs have a coreferential participant—the theme for both verbs—this means there is not one person who is "unable", and another (non-coreferential) performing the action "to cross (over)".

Whereas in གསུངས་པར་མངོན་པ་ "[it is] apparent [that the Buddha] taught..." the verb གསུངས་པ་ the fact that "[the Buddha] taught" is what is "apparent" while "the Buddha" did the action "taught" but did not "apparent" nor is here "the Buddha" "apparent".

In accordance with the observed fact that Tibetan has no dummy theme[7] (means there is no dummy subject for intransitive verbs and no dummy object for transitive verbs), in other words there cannot be an (omitted) "it"[8] as the theme for མངོན་པ་. The clause ending in གསུངས་པ་ becomes the verb complement for མངོན་པ་.[9] The first verb / clause functions as the "theme-substitute" for the second verb, མངོན་པ་ making a statement about the clause ending in གསུངས་པ་གསུངས་པ་ is མངོན་པ་.

There is a difference in meaning between a clause with an "actual" theme (subject) and this complement construction (as somewhat expected with the difference in structure / syntax). E.g. (generic), with a verb as complement for དཀའ་བ་ in འགྲོ་བར་དཀའ་ "difficult to go", the verb / the action འགྲོ་བ་ itself is qualified (see below), and this is a statement about a general action, a fact stated about "going" (which could be further qualified with ལྷ་སར་ "to Lhasa", ད་ལོ་ "this year" etc.), but not about an actual event. Whereas in འགྲོ་བ་འདི་དཀའ་ "this going is difficult" with འགྲོ་བ་འདི་ as "actual" theme for དཀའ་བ་ it refers to a specific event, a statement about a noun consisting of a nominalized verb.

In the first example, the complement construction, a statement about of the action itself is expressed. This relation is often described as an auxiliary and modal auxiliary relation and can already be found in early Tibetan texts. མྱི་དབུལ་པོའི་ཁ་ནས་སྲིད་ལ་ཕན་པའི་ཚིག་བཟང་པོ་བདེན་པ་ཞིག་ཟེར་ན་ཡང་སུས་ཀྱང་མྱི་ཉན་བར་ཡོང་ངོ༌།[10] "Though a good and true word, beneficial to life, is spoken from the mouth of a poor man, [it] 'will come' that no one listens / no one would listen". The same structure was later used to translate the complex Sanskrit tense system into Tibetan with help of བྱེད་, འགྱུར་, etc.

The usage of this structure with auxiliary verbs and occurrences like ཤིན་ཏུ་རྟོགས་པར་དཀའ་ "extremely difficult to understand" with ཤིན་ཏུ་ referring to དཀའ་ shows that the relation between the two verbs can be very close, yet one can still see how the second verb makes a statement about the first.

With this as a basis the divisions within intransitive verbs (as the second verb) are as follows:

Case 1. The first verb is the complement:
Case 1.1 Expressing a "quality": epistemic, evaluative
Case 1.2 Expressing a "feature"
Case 2. The first verb is a qualifier:
Case 2.1 Involuntary 1,
Case 2.2 Involuntary 2,
Case 2.3 Voluntary

Case 1. The first verb / clause functions as the complement of the second verb

Note: Here intransitive verbs and adjectives function in the same way.

In this structure the second verb makes a statement about the first "theme verb"*(together with its clause). There are two main types of statements expressed.

Case 1.1: expressing a "quality" which has no direct effect on the "theme verb"

epistemic[11] status like མངོན་པ་ "evident, apparent", བདེན་པ་ "true" and

evaluative status with "verbs of assertion" like རིགས་པ་ "logical, fitting", རུང་བ་ "suitable, appropriate"

Case 1.2: expressing a "feature" which has a direct effect on the "theme verb"

like དཀའ་བ་ "difficult", སླ་བ་ "easy"

*The first verb is given the name "theme verb" here, (merely to give it a name). This comes from viewing it as the theme of the second verb, where the second verb says something about the first. This way of naming differs (but is not mutually exclusive) to the description of it as a complement which describes or explains the action expressed by the second verb.

Case 1.1: expressing a "quality" which has no direct effect on the "theme verb"

epistemic status: མངོན་པ་ "evident, apparent", བདེན་པ་ "true", ངེས་པ་ "certain", སྲིད་པ་ "be possible", སྣང་བ་ "apparent" and

evaluative status with "verbs of assertion": རིགས་པ་ "logical, fitting", རུང་བ་ "suitable, appropriate", འོས་པ་ "appropriate, worthy", འཐད་པ་ "logically acceptable, feasible, correct" and also དགོས་པ་ "needed"

  • Epistemic status: གསུངས་པར་མངོན་ "[it is] apparent [that the Buddha] taught ..... "
In ཐུགས་བསྐྱེད་པའི་ཁྱད་པར་སོགས་དགོངས་གཞི་མང་པོས་ཐ་དད་དུ་གསུངས་པར་མངོན་པས། "[It is] apparent [that the Buddha] because of many intentions taught the specifics and so on of generating the mind [in various ways which explain them] differently." མངོན་པ་ "be apparent, be evident" expresses the epistemic status of གསུངས་པ་ "taught".
Here a statement about the "theme verb" / the clause is made without affecting the verb itself. The action itself is unaffected and functions as before, and there is no direct effect on the participants within the qualified clause. E.g. (generic), in ཁོང་ཕྱིན། "he went" and ཁོང་ཕྱིན་པར་མངོན། "[it is] apparent / clear [that] he went" the way in which the action "went" happened doesn't change.[12]
(This structure can sometimes be translated as an infinitive construction, yet it can always be translated as "[it is] >verb< [that] >"theme verb"<".)
རྒྱ་ཡུལ་དུ། བོད་ལྟ་བུར་ཐུན་མོང་དུ་གསང་སྔགས་ཀྱི་བསྟན་པ་དར་བ་ནི་མ་བྱུང་བར་སྣང་ཞིང༌། "It is apparent that in China the general spread of the teachings of secret mantra did not occur like [it did] in Tibet."
  • Evaluative status: Here the verb-verb connection is the same as in 'epistemic status'.
In མྱ་ངན་བྱ་བར་འོས། "appropriate to [feel] sorrow" that what is འོས་ "appropriate" is མྱ་ངན་བྱ་བ་ "to [feel] sorrow". In གསུམ་པ་མི་འཛིན་པ་ལྔ་ནི།་་་་་་་་ལོག་པར་འཛིན་པ་དང་ལྔ་སྤངས་དགོས་ "Third: the five incorrect ways of remembering: .....[and] "wrong remembering", those five need to be abandoned." It is the སྤངས་ "abandoning" that is དགོས་ "needed".

Case 1.2: expressing a "feature"

དཀའ་བ་ "difficult", སླ་བ་ "easy", སྙན་པ་ "pleasant (to hear)" which has a direct effect on the "theme verb".

  • Expressing a feature: སྦྱང་བར་དཀའ་ "difficult to purify"
In Tibetan the reason why one uses the future form of the verb comes from the fact that the action of the "theme verb" is not actually happening, but is abstract. It is only a statement about an abstract or potential action. So it is not the present tense form (with its factual or general character), nor the past (with its completion character) but the future with its necessitive character (or "anticipated but not as yet completed"[13] character) that is used.[14]
In རྟག་ཏུ་ལྟ་བ་སྣ་ཚོགས་པའི། །ཁྱིམ་པའི་ལྟ་བ་སྦྱང་བར་དཀའ།། "The views of the householders of various views of permanence are difficult to purify.": the verb དཀའ་ "be difficult" "becomes a feature" of the action སྦྱང་བ་ "to purify"; the action itself is expressed as "difficult" to do. This is what is meant by having a "direct effect on the 'theme verb'". As a direct result of this change to the action itself there will be an effect on a potential participant of the clause (it will be more difficult for the person who is purifying).
(This structure is translated most easily as an infinitive construction.)
A (rather rare) example with a stated subject: འཇིག་རྟེན་པ་དག་གིས་རྟོགས་པར་དཀའ་ཞིང༌། "[this] is difficult to understand for worldly persons "

Case 2: The first verb / clause is a qualifier for the second verb.

The second verb will be further categorized into involuntary and voluntary.

Case 2.1: Involuntary 1: "ability"

One group of verbs which the second verb can belong to are static verbs which express an ability, ནུས་པ་ "be able", ཕོད་པ་ "to be able, to dare", ཐུབ་པ་ "be able" and also ཁོམ་པ་ "to have time to, be (time-wise) free to". བསྲུང་བར་ནུས་ "able to protect"

The first verb / clause is a qualifier for the second and belongs to "qualifier-verb". It is placed in a subcategory of its own here as there is also a semantic "modal relation" between the two verbs, which expresses the "ability" to do the action of the first verb. There is some similarity to the direct verb-verb relation (above) in expressing a modal relation. (It is easiest to translate them as infinitive constructions.) (It is placed in "1.10.2 qualifier - intransitive verb" "ability")

Case 2.2: Involuntary 2: "qualifier-verb"

The second verb can also be any intransitive verb which can have a clause as a qualifier like the "qualifier of identity / equivalence"; it makes no difference whether the qualifier is a noun, adjective or clause. This is just a type of qualifier without a "direct" relation between the first and the second verb and therefore it is placed in the category of "qualifier-verb".

འཁོར་ལོ་ནི་གདུལ་བྱའི་རྒྱུད་ལ་འཕོ་བར་སྣང་བས་ནའམ། "[it is called] chakra because it appears to enter (move into) the stream [of being] of the ones to be tamed and ..."

Case 2.3: Voluntary

These can have a clause as a qualifier like the involuntary verbs.

E.g., in ལེན་དུ་འོངས་ "come to take" the qualifier states a purpose or reason.

བདག་སློབ་དཔོན་གྱི་བསོད་སྙོམས་ལེན་དུ་འོངས་སོ།། "I came to receive the alms for my master."

Again, since this is a type of qualifier without a particular relation between the two verbs, it is also placed into the category of "qualifier-verb".

Note: A clause together with ཡོང་ "to come" is more likely to be an auxiliary construction. (see: 1.10.1 verb and auxiliary verb, and the Chapter on auxiliary verbs x.xx.x)

སེང་གེ་གང་ན་འདུག་པར་སོང་ངོ༌།། "[He] went to where the lion was." (here སོང་ is not an auxiliary verb)

Transitive verbs

With a transitive verb as second verb, the first verb / clause becomes the theme (object), or a qualifier for the second verb. The two verbs may have a coreferential participant “it is called chakra because it appears to enter the stream [of being] of the ones to be tamed and ..."


With the first verb / clause as a qualifier for the second verb the qualifiers are mainly " "adverbial" or "qualifier of identity" and "identity of transformation". There can sometimes be an ambiguity if the first verb / clause is a "verbal clause as the theme (object)" or a "qualifier of identity / equivalence ". See: Note on ambiguities.

Theme (object)

In ལེན་པར་ཤེས་པ་ "to know to take" with ལེན་པ་ "to take" and the transitive verb ཤེས་པ་ "to know" the verb ཤེས་པ་ has ལེན་པ་ as its theme (object), ལེན་པ་ is that what is known. Transitive verbs that can have a verbal clause as theme are only verbs which can have an abstract theme (since every normalized verb / clause is abstract).[15]

These verbs belong mainly to two categories: verbs dealing with perception, mental activity and communication[16] and verbs of command and supplication.

Verbs of "perception" like: མཐོང་བ་ "see", ཉན་པ་ "listen", ཐོས་པ་ "hear"; verbs of "mental activity" like: སེམས་པ་ "to think", གོ་བ་ "understand; hear", ཤེས་པ་ "know", རྟོག་པ་ "conceive, conceptualize, examine", འདོད་པ་ "want, wish", དྲན་པ་ " remember", བརྗེད་པ་ "forget", འཛིན་པ་ "apprehend; remember", དམིགས་པ་ "consider; visualize"; and verbs of "communication" like: འཆད་པ་ "explain", གསུང་བ་ "teach", སྨྲ་བ་ "say", སྙོད་པ་ "tell, relate".

Verbs of "command and supplication" like: གསོལ་བ་ "request", ཞུ་བ་ "ask, request", སྒོ་བ་ "order, command", འཆོལ་བ་ "entrust, commit", སྐུལ་བ་ "urge, exhort".

Note on ambiguities

The ambiguity between "verbal clause as the theme (object)" and "qualifier of identity / equivalence" is rarely a problem as the meaning in both interpretations is in most cases similar. If it needs to be either the one or the other then this should be clear through either context or syntax.[17]

སྣང་བ་ with "qualifier of identity": དག་པའི་འཁོར་ལ་ཆོས་སྟོན་པ་དང༌། མ་དག་པའི་གདུལ་བྱ་རྣམས་ལ་མྱ་ངན་ལས་འདའ་བར་སྣང་བ་དང༌། "[He] teaches the Dharma to the pure retinue, and appears as passing beyond misery for impure disciples."

With "verbal clause as object": ཁས་བླངས་པའི་བཅས་མཚམས་ལས་གཡེལ་བར་སྣང་ན་ལས་འབྲས་སྒོམ་པ་ལ་གཙོ་བོར་བྱ། "If [it becomes] apparent that [one] is inattentive to the boundaries of the accepted vows, [one] needs to meditate chiefly on action and result."

In the case of ཆོས་ཐམས་ཅད་སྐྱེ་བ་མ་མཆིས་པར་ཤེས་ "to know all dharmas as non arising", if it should be "to know that all dharmas have no arising", one would either assume an omitted la don[18] for ཆོས་ཐམས་ཅད་ or need to interpret མཆིས་བ་ as an auxiliary verb with an omitted la don between the two verbs.

Note on omissions

See: Verbs with la don

In འཇམ་མགོན་ཀོང་སྤྲུལ་གྱི་ཤེས་བྱ་ཀུན་ཁྱབ་མཛོད་ one finds ཤེས་དགོས་ meaning "one needs to know / understand" but not ཤེས་པར་དགོས་. On the other hand one finds སྒྲོལ་བར་དགོས་ "need to liberate" with བར་, and one finds both ཤེས་པར་འདོད་ and ཤེས་འདོད་ "to wish to understand". While there seem to be patterns in the omissions for some of the combinations, statistic research is required to see how certain patterns apply to a specific text, author, period, region etc..

With certain auxiliary verbs like བྱ་ which also form compounded nouns, omission are very unlikely (except for anything in meter). E.g. ཤེས་པར་བྱ་ unlikely to become ཤེས་བྱ་ as this itself means " knowable object, any knowable phenomena, what can be known". In the same way བརྗོད་བྱ་ "the expressed, object to be expressed" and བརྗོད་བྱེད་ "expression, the means of expression; expresser" function as nouns and are extremely unlikely to function as a verb with an auxiliary verb.

Having said this, in དྭགས་པོའི་ཐར་རྒྱན་, chapter 10, in meter there is: སེམས་དེའི་ཕན་ཡོན་དྲན་བྱ་དང༌། ། which is later explained as སེམས་བསྐྱེད་པའི་ཕན་ཡོན་དྲན་པར་བྱ་བ་ལ་བསླབ་པ་ཞེས་བྱ་བ།, but in the verse itself all lines end with a verb, and this repetition of structure shows that དྲན་བྱ་ stands for དྲན་པར་བྱ་.

སེམས་ཅན་བློས་མི་བཏང་བ་དང༌། །སེམས་དེའི་ཕན་ཡོན་དྲན་བྱ་དང༌། །ཚོགས་གཉིས་བསག་པར་བྱ་བ་དང༌། །་་་་


  1. S.V. Beyer: The Classical Tibetan Language, p.339.
  2. Auxiliary verbs form a periphrastic construction. As function words they add information like future tense, completion etc. to a content word but have no meaning (they lack semantic content) on their own (in that structure). E.g., in སྐྱེས་སུ་ཟིན་ "[the child] was born" the auxiliary verb ཟིན་པ་ (which otherwise means "to grasp, hold" ) expresses that the birth is completed. One needs to know the function of the auxiliary verb in order to know the expressed meaning. On the other hand, in ཞི་བར་སྣུས་ "able to pacify" the verb སྣུས་པ་ "to be able" expresses the ability to do the action. The expressed meaning is clear from knowing the verbs themselves.
  3. Note: A. Csoma de Koros and M. Hahn describe these verb-adjective relations as the equivalent to the Latin supine, like: mirabile dictu, "wonderful to say", "wonderful in terms of saying (it)". In this case "to say, to relate" qualifies "wonderful". (In Latin supines in the ablative are used with certain adjectives to show respect or specification.)
  4. See: Theme link void. In general: with intransitive verbs, linking verbs and verbs of existence the theme is the subject of these verbs; with transitive it is the object.
  5. In general: a complement is a word, phrase or clause that is needed to complete the meaning of a sentence. A verb complement is different in nature from a verb object (theme); an object (theme) is the recipient of the action expressed by the verb, but a complement serves to describe or explain the action expressed by the verb. S.V. Beyer:“ In a verb complement construction, a nominalized proposition adverbially modifies a verb head."
  6. This is inspired by and based on S.V. Beyer 's approach. However it might look different as he describes it by the requirement of coreferential participants with intransitive and transitive "verb heads". see: The Classical Tibetan Language, pg.338 et sqq.
  7. In Tibetan each event (action or state of being expressed by a verb) needs to have a stated or understood theme (dummy-intransitive-subject / transitive-object.
  8. If one accepts the view of dummy pronouns see: link void then "it" in English like in "It snows." is a dummy subject. (Note: In "Note for Verbs of Evaluation" there is some discussion on "it" too.)
  9. S.V. Beyer: "...the complement replaces the patient of its intransitive verb head: in such a construction, the verb has no patient participant."
  10. The Classical Tibetan Language, p.340.
  11. In general "epistemic" has a wider meaning (a speaker's evaluation or judgment of, degree of confidence in, or belief of the knowledge upon which a proposition is based) than the way it used in here, where it only refers to the speaker's judgment of the situation.
  12. There may or may not be a pragmatic effect on a participant, depending on the context. E.g. (generic), ཁོང་འཆི་བར་ངེས། "[it is] certain [that] he will die" might have some impact on him, while in ཁོང་ཤི་བར་མངོན། "[it is] evident [that] he died", the fact that it is "evident" might not bother him much anymore.
  13. S. V. Beyer: The Classical Tibetan Language, p.261
  14. In English also the future tense is not just about expressing 'future'. E.g., if A says: "He will leave now. He will not stay." it only expresses A's opinion about the future, but nothing about B's coming action.
  15. It is not a "physical entity". An abstract object is an object which does not exist at any particular time or place, but rather exists as as an idea, or abstraction.; E.g.(generic): with the verbs of perception མཐོང་བ་ "to see": one can ཇ་མཐོང་ "see tea" and ཇ་བཟོ་བར་མཐོང་ "see the tea making" (abstract theme) but with རེག་པ་ "to touch": one can only ཇར་རེག་ "touch tea" (not abstract), but not ཇ་བཟོ་བར་རེག་ "touch the tea making" (abstract theme). While one is perceiving the act of "making tea" one sees an action in progress, but not a "thing" that is "tea-making".
  16. Or: "information reception, processing and transmittal", S. V. Beyer: The Classical Tibetan Language, p.342
  17. Syntax is about the structure of sentences.
  18. བོད་རྒྱ་ཚིག་མཛོད་ཆེན་མོ་: ཡུལ་ཁམས་དེར་ཆུ་བོ་ཆེན་པོ་ཞིག་མཆིས་པ་