Tibetan Grammar - agentive particle

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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.

Work on the grammar wiki will resume during 2015.

31.Jan.12 The approach to explain Tibetan verbs will be changed to that of the "three thematic relations: Theme, Location, and Agent" 31.Aug.12 - there will be discrepancies to the other grammar section until they are matched with it

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. Gueffroy[1] [fka Eckel])

Agentive Particle - བྱེད་པའི་སྒྲ་ : གིས་, ཀྱིས་, གྱིས་, འིས་, ཡིས་

  • Also called: agentive case [particle], instrumental particle, ergative particle

Variants and Spelling

The agentive particle has five variants (allomorphs [2]): གིས་, ཀྱིས་, གྱིས་, -ས་, ཡིས་. Which one is to be use depends on the last syllable of the word it follows.


གིས་, ཀྱིས་, གྱིས་ are prounced as /ki/.
N. Tournadre: "In conversation, the three particles གིས་/khi/, ཀྱིས་/kyi/, གྱིས་/khyi/ are pronounced in exactly the same way, as an unstressed syllable: /-ki'/."[3]
ཡིས་ is pronounced /yi/.
ས་ is joined to syllable that do not have a postfix-letter and is not pronounced itself. It changes the pronunciation of the vowels /a/, /o/ and /u/ (of the syllable it is attached to). They become /ä/, /ö/ and /ü/. The vowels /e/ and /i/ are not changed.
E.g.: བུ་མོ་ /bu mo/ "girl" + ས་ = བུ་མོས་ /bu mö/


last letter of the syllable marked spelling of the particle example: word - word with particle
ག་, ང་ གིས་ བདག་ - བདག་གིས་  ཆང་ - ཆང་གིས་
ད་, བ་, ས་ ཀྱིས་ ངེད་ - ངེད་ཀྱིས་  ཁབ་ - ཁབ་ཀྱིས་  སངས་རྒྱས་ - སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱིས་
ན་, མ་, ར་, ལ་ གྱིས་ རྒྱུན་ - རྒྱུན་གྱིས་  དོམ་ - དོམ་གྱིས་  དར་ - དར་གྱིས་  ཟིལ་ - ཟིལ་གྱིས་
འ་ and no postfix letter[4] -ས་ [5]or ཡིས་ མདའ་ - མདས་ or མདའ་ཡིས་  ཁ་ - ཁས་ or ཁ་ཡིས་

  • When the agentive particle −ས་ is joined to a word that has no postfix letter the ས་ is joined to the word. E.g., རྒྱལ་པོ་ + ས་རྒྱལ་པོས་
  • When the agentive particle −ས་ is joined to a word that has the postfix letter འ་ then འ་ is dropped and ས་ added instead. E.g., མདའ་ + ས་མདའ་མདས་
Note: The ས་ after the root letter can either be the agentive particle joined to a word i.e. a word with no postfix letter, a word that has the postfix letter འ་ or it could be part of the word. E.g., བཀས་ could be བཀའ་ (honorific) "word, command, speech" with agentive particle བཀས་ (same meaning as བཀའ་ཡིས་) or it could be བཀས་ "crack, split" without agentive particle. (It would be བཀས་ཀྱིས་ with the agentive particle.)
Note: གྱིས་ is not only the a variant of the agentive it is also གྱིས་ "Do!" the imperative form of བགྱིས་པ་ "to make, to do" (བགྱིས་པ།, བགྱིད་པ།, བགྱི་བ།, གྱིས།; it has the same meaning as བྱེད་པ་ "to make, to do".) This can lead to puzzlement when mistaking one for the other. Often a way to easily check is to look at the postfix letter of the preceding word and see if གྱིས་ as agentive particle is possible. If it is possible (or a typo might be likely) then which one it is needs to be decided through context.


The naming of this particle as "agentive" comes from its Tibetan name "doing sound", "doing particle" and is a reasonably descriptive naming convention.


Traditional Ideas


From བོད་རྒྱ་ཚིག་མཛོད་ཆེན་མོ་ "The Great Tibetan [Tibetan] Chinese Dictionary":
བྱེད་པའི་སྒྲ་: འབྲེལ་སྒྲའི་མཐར་ས་སྦྱར་བ་ལྔ་པོ་དེ་ཡིན་ལ་རྣམ་དབྱེ་གསུམ་པའང་ཟེར་བ་དང་...
"Agentive particle: These are the five that are the ས་ joined to the end of the conective case, they are also called the third case."

Walter Simon

The western scholar Walter Simon on the origin of the agentive particle:
"Since nas and las have an ablatival meaning, it would seem in keeping with this suggestion [that ' the suffix of the agent is probably identical ' with the final s of nas and las] that s itself had developed the meaning of agency (and instrumentality) from an original ablatival meaning, ..."
"I should like to explain the s as shortened from either sa in the meaning "place" or from so, which is derivative of sa. [6]


གིས་ does obviously looks like the connective particle གི་ with an added ས་ "earth, ground, place" and that it originated that way was / is (?) the predominant theory. Yet since a number of the Trans-Himalayan Languages have a /sa/ in their verbal morphology. And while གིས་(and ནས་ etc.) are case marking particles and us such not part of the verbal morphology it should be reasonable to still wait until the development of the language family and the origin of the particles are clearer than they are at this point in time (2017), before saying with certainty that the /sa/ comes from the meaning "earth, ground, place" combined with the connective particle གི་.

Independent of Verb Type


to look agentive directed ཐ་དད་པ་
བལྟས་པ།  ལྟ་བ།  ལྟ་བ།  ལྟོས།
past pres. fut. imp.
he eye form looked
He looked with [his] eyes at the form.

to cut agentive transitive ཐ་དད་པ་
བཅད་པ།  གཅོད་པ།  གཅད་པ།  ཆོད།
past pres. fut. imp.
he wood axe cut
He cut the wood with the axe.
Note: ལྟ་རེ་ "axe" + agentive ས་ = ལྟ་རེས་


Sometimes it is not a clear line between marking of an instrument or a reason since Tibetan does not make a syntactic distinction (it is simply only the one agentive particle).

  • When the agentive particle comes after a nominalized verb, then it is marking a reason or cause. This is a coordination of clauses. It corresponds to the causal coordination of the agentive particle after the root of the verb (see:causal coordination) but does not include the other two possible coordination (see below: agentive particle, coordination).
to throw out, abandon, give up, discard agentive transitive ཐ་དད་པ་
དོར་བ་  འདོར་བ་  དོར་བ་  དོར་
past pres. fut. imp.
compassion sentient beings ་benefit [lit. meaning] not abandon
because of compassion [one] does not abandon [ones intention
and activity to accomplish] the benefit of beings
Note: སྙིང་རྗེ་ "compassion" + agentive ས་ = སྙིང་རྗེས་
compassion peace not remain
because [they] to not remain in the peace [of Nirvana] due to compassion...
to lose, "gone astray" agentive transitive '
སྟོར་བ།  སྟོར་བ།  སྟོར་བ། 
past pres. fut. imp.
to guard agentive transitive ཐ་དད་པ་
བསྲུངས་པ།  སྲུང་བ།  བསྲུང་བ།  སྲུངས།
past pres. fut. imp.
oxen not guard lost
Because of not guarding the oxen got lost.
Note: སྟོར་ was in older Tibetan སྟོརད་ which leads to the usage of the completion particle ཏོ.


"to come into existence"; to be produced ming tsam intransitive ཐ་མི་དད་པ་
གྲུབ་པ།  འགྲུབ་པ།  འགྲུབ་པ། 
past pres. fut. imp.
nature exist, came into existence
naturally existent


These are standard expression that are placed after a word and joined with it by the connective particle or placed directly after it without the connective case.

mode, manner, way; tep, stance, posture
in the manner of; because, therefore, since
power, force, control
by the power of, by means of, due to,

under the influence of, in consequence of

evil deeds non virtue due to
due to evil deeds and non virtue[s action ...]


The agentive particle is far less often seen after the root of the verb than for example ན་ and ནས་ or the the agentive particle after a nominalized verb (marking reason).
When the agentive particle comes after the root of the verb then out of the following three possible functions the first type (causal) is the common usage, whereas the second and third are rare. The latter two are taken from Nicolas Tournadre, "The Classical Tibetan cases and their transcategoriality, From sacred grammar to modern linguistics".[7]

Note: If a གྱིས་ stands at the end of a clause it could also be the གྱིས་ "Do!" (see: Note on གྱིས་).


When the agentive particle comes after the root of the verb then in most cases its meaning is same to its function after a nominalized phrase, i.e. stating reason or cause.

to kill, to extinguishing agentive transitive ཐ་དད་པ་
བསད་པ  གསོད་པ  གསད་པ  སོད
past pres. fut. imp.
to give, to donate agentive transitive ཐ་དད་པ་
བྱིན་པ  སྦྱིན་པ  སྦྱིན་པ  སྦྱིན
past pres. fut. imp.
you my husband killed my husband give [8]!
Since you killed my husband, give me [a new] (my) husband!


Nicolas Tournadre:"The agentive may be used directly after the verb to indicate a connexion between two clauses. However, for this function, the agentive case alone is rarely used, ..." [9]

moment mere fatigue restore stayed
We stayed while and rested (lit. rest and stay).

Nicolas Tournadre states that in this case the agentive expresses the same type of coordination as the originative case ནས་ (expressing "while"):"...'We stayed while and rested (lit. rest and stay).' This is equivalent to: ཡུད་ཙམ་ངལ་གསོས་ནས་བསྡད་པ་ཡིན། ... here the agentive kyis [ཀྱིས་] may be replaced by the elative nas [originative ནས་]."


Nicolas Tournadre:"This adversative function is rather rare. For this function, the agentive usually appears twice in a construction involving two verbs, a causative and a resultative verb separated by a negation, ..." [10]
The structure is : Verb (causative)+Agentive+Negation+ Verb (resultative)+Agentive.

outer appearances subdue not subdued
[You try] to subdue the external phenomena but [you will] not [/never] succeed.
I      stop  even not able
Although I tried to prevent [it], [I] could not.
ལར་རྟགས་དེ་དག་དང་ལྡན་པ་རིགས་ཆད་དུ་གསུང་པ་དེ་ཡང་།  འཁོར་བར་ཡུན་རིང་དུ་འགོར་བ་ལ་དགོངས་པ་ཡིན་གྱིས།
generally sign those endowed family cut-off taught moreover  Samsara duration long take-time intent is
ever-lasting enlightenment not attain not is ...
moreover, that teaching that generally [those] endowed with these characteristics are taught as [being those of] the disconnected family is [of the] intent [of] saying [that they will] spent a long time in Samsara, but [it] is not [that they] will for ever not attain enlightenment ...

This teaching about the beings of disconnected family, those endowed with these characteristics has the intention to say that they will remain in Samsara for a long time, but this does not mean that they will never attain enlightenment - [once they make effort they too will attain enlightenment.]

Sentence final

This function has been described by S.V. Beyer: "The modal performance particle -KYis occurs in sentence-final position in direct address where the speaker is making a promise or prediction of an event which is in some way under his control: in this position -KYis constitutes what we will call the PROMISE particle." [11]
Nicolas Tournadre points out: ... Since the grammatical semantic relation with the other functions of the agentive is not obvious, it is not clear whether this marking is historically derived from the agentive." [12]

Note S. V. Beyer: "In some manuscripts we find what is clearly the same particle written -KYi. .... different manuscripts of the same text may sporadically make the same substitution: in the Spo block print of the biography of Mi-la ras-pa, for example, we find the reading mar-pa-dan̄ sprad-gyi [མར་པ་དང་སྤྲད་གྱི།], rather than the reading mar-pa-dan̄ sprad-kyis (མར་པ་དང་སྤྲད་གྱིས།) found in the woodblock prints from Spun̄s-than̄."[13]
to introduce agentive transitive ཐ་དད་པ་
སྤྲད་པ།  སྤྲོད་པ།  སྤྲད་པ།  སྤྲོད།
past pres. fut. imp.
well I Marpa introduce
Well, I will introduce you to Marpa.

to request agentive transitive ཐ་དད་པ་
ཞུས་པ།  ཞུ་བ།  ཞུ་བ།  ཞུས།
past pres. fut. imp.
not give I request / ask
If [he] does not give [them], I will ask [him].

Dependent of Verb Type

agent of an agentive transitive verb

See:Transitive Verbs

agent (subject): agentive particle, theme(object): ming tsam
Buddha  Dharma taught
The Buddha taught the Dharma.
to teach agentive transitive ཐ་དད་པ་
བསྟན་པ།  སྟོན་པ།  བསྟན་པ།  སྟོན།
past pres. fut. imp.

With Agentive Directed Verbs

With Intentional Verbs of Perception

See: Intentional Verbs of Perception and agentive directed - intransitive dynamic directed

agent (subject): agentive particle, qualifier(direction): la don
book         look
[one] will look at (/ study) the books
to look agentive directed ཐ་དད་པ་
བལྟས་པ།  ལྟ་བ།  བལྟ་བ།  ལྟོས།
past pres. fut. imp.

With Verbs Expressing "to make effort, to engage in"

See: Verbs that Express "to Make Effort, to Engage In" and agentive directed - indirect transitive dynamic directed

agent (subject): agentive particle;  qualifier, direction - what the effort is towards: la don
study    make effort imperative particle
Make effort in your studies!
to exert oneself, to strive, make effort agentive directed ཐ་དད་པ་
འབད་པ།  འབད་པ།  འབད་པ།  འབོད།
past pres. fut. imp.

With Verbs of Pervasion

See: Verbs of Pervasion

With Verbs of Benefit or Harm and Hindrance

See: Verbs of Benefit or Harm and Hindrance and agentive directed - indirect ditransitive

agent, (subject) doing the benefit or harm: agentive particle;  recipient, direction (indirect object) - the benefited or harmed: la don ལ་;
  (theme - the harm or benefit: lexicalized in the verb)
illness   body    to harm
The illness harmed the body.
to harm, hurt, injure, damage, undermine agentive directed ཐ་དད་པ་
གནོད་པ།  གནོད་པ།  གནོད་པ།    
past pres. fut. imp.

Verbs That Can Take a Referential ལ་ for Their Theme

See: Verbs That Can Take a Referential ལ་ for Their Theme and agentive directed - directed grammar with transitive verbs

འཛིན་པ། agentive transitive
agentive directed
to apprehend;...
བཟུང་བ།  འཛིན་པ།  གཟུང་བ།  ཟུང་།
past pres. fut. imp.

common structure: agent (subject): agentive particle;   "topic referred to" - theme or direction: referential la don ལ་;  qualifier: la don སུ་རུ་ཏུ་དུ་ར་

household grave only apprehend
to apprehend a household only as a grave

See also: Verbs with multiple meanings occurring with different syntax.

Verbs of Absence and Presence

See: Verbs of Absence and Presence and
ming tsam intransitive - agentive, agentive transitive agentive

theme: ming tsam, qualifier - that what is absent or "present": agentive particle

land water empty
The land is empty of water.
to be empty ming tsam intransitive ཐ་མི་དད་པ་
སྟོངས་པ།   སྟོང་པ།   སྟོང་པ།  
past pres. fut. imp.


  1. adopted
  2. གིས་, ཀྱིས་, གྱིས་ were allomorphs at the time when the respective allomorphs of the connective particle were still used (pronounced) and the ས་ was joined to the connective particle creating allomorphs.
    In their currant state they are not allomorphs anymore, (since they are pronounced in the same way) and are simply conservative spelling variants.
  3. Tournadre, Nicolas; Dorje, Sangda, Manual of Standard Tibetan, New York: Snow Lion Publications (2003), 142
  4. In Tibetan called མཐའ་མེད་
  5. archaic and in grammar text also written as འིས་
  6. Walter Simon, Certain Tibetan Suffixes and Their Combinations, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 5, No. 3/4 (Jan., 1941), pp. 372-391
  7. Nicolas Tournadre, University of Provence and CNRS, Lacito, The Classical Tibetan cases and their transcategoriality, From sacred grammar to modern linguistics, Himalayan Linguistics, Vol. 9(2): 87-125.
  8. This example with the past tense form of སྦྱིན་པ་ is from "Michael Hahn, Lehrbuch der klassischen tibetischen Schriftsprache, Bonn Indica-et-Tibetica-Verlag, 133.
  9. Nicolas Tournadre, University of Provence and CNRS, Lacito, The Classical Tibetan cases and their transcategoriality, From sacred grammar to modern linguistics, Himalayan Linguistics, Vol. 9(2): 103.
  10. Ibid. p.104
  11. S. V. Beyer, The Classical Tibetan Language, p. 353-354
  12. Nicolas Tournadre, Himalayan Linguistics, Vol. 9(2), p. 105
  13. S. V. Beyer, The Classical Tibetan Language, p. 354