Adding plural "-s" onto Pāli terms in English sentences

What is current best practice for pluralization of Pāli terms like brahmavihāra, jhāna, and satipaṭṭhāna that refer to lists when used in English sentences untranslated? I see all these:

  1. “the four brahmavihāras”
  2. “the four brahmavihāras” [final s not italicized]
  3. “the four brahmavihāra-s”
  4. “the four brahmavihāra”

My preference is #4, to omit the “s,” but I’m going for the most accessible practice here (this is for my work as editor at a lay meditation center) and so I wonder if just going with the simple “s” (#1) ends up being easiest.


Or #5 - pluralize according to Pāli rules! -ā, -āni, -e, etc :laughing:

But seriously, my preference is for #2 (whatever my vote is worth)


3 makes the least sense to me and I don’t think I have see in that in use before. 4 is also odd because it is plural in neither English nor Pali.

2 is much too subtle and also looks like it might be a typo. In general, for Buddhist documents there is no need to italicize Pali words. And in any case when non-English words are italicized, best practice is to only do that for the first occurrence. The idea is that the reader would be able to easily find where it was first used and get a definition. If the term is so common that it isn’t defined at first use, then there it has probably become an English loan word and therefore should not be italicized.

It partly comes down to whether it is an academic document or a religious document. If it is academic then you follow the style guidelines of your field. If it is religious, then you can do whatever you want! And in that case I vote for 1.


I’d normally do

  • the four brahmavihāras

Including the final -s in the italics. It just seems too fussy to not include it: who are we helping?

As others have said, it depends on the context, but for me the overriding concern is English diction: does it sound okay? Using italics serves to alert the reader that it is a foreign word, but as always, it depends on context. I’d definitely use it in cases where the word is a term under discussion.


Thank you, Venerables. I think #1, just adding the s like any other English plural and not doing any other fancy typography, is the way.

Ven. Anālayo uses #2, italicizing the Pāli term but not the final s, and I like it as a subtle, minimalist solution that telegraphs the linguistic mashup that’s happening, but there’s no way I could ever enforce (or even convincingly explain) it at our big center.

#3, the awkward hyphen, is used in academic papers. I haven’t seen many Pāli scholars use it, but it’s common among Sanskritists.

And yes, #4 isn’t grammatical in Pāli. I like it because it avoids the mashup, but it’s awkward in English grammar as well and not intuitive.

Our practice is to define/translate and italicize at first use in a document, and then not thereafter. It’s interesting to see how usage is evolving in our tradition as the Pāli terms start to become real loan words and begin to be able to be used without translation.

Thanks for weighing in! Bows.