Bhante Sujato Pali Course 2023: Warder lesson 1

From @Luis

I’m reviewing the first class and having a hard time understanding the process of strengthening vowels in the derivation of present tense verb stems.

Just a reminder, Vowel Gradation is a general phonetic phenomena in Pali. We happen to be learning it in the context of first conjugation verbs, but this is just one of many places it can be observed. Vowel Gradation is, in and of itself, meaningless, it is purely a change in the phonetics. In fact we do similar things in English. Consider the initial vowel in “child” as compared with “children”. In this irregular plural, the vowel is weakened from ai to i. We pronounce the difference, but don’t spell it. In Pali, it’s always spelled out.

The usefulness of Vowel Gradation is that it helps us recognize the different forms of words. Sometimes these indicate meaningful grammatical changes (the concrete noun mitta “friend” becomes the abstract noun mettā “friendliness”), sometime they indicate words with distinct meanings (bhava is “existence” while bhāva is “state”), and other times they are simply variant spellings (eg. viriya vs. vīriya).

What is “the compound vowel nearest in place of articulation” (referred to in page10)?

Go back to the table of letters in the Introduction. The places of articulation are on the left: back of the throat, roof of the mouth, etc. Each has a set of consonants associated with it, and also a set of vowels. The consonants b, bh, p, ph for example are labial, pronounced with the lips, and the semi-vowel v (or w) is articulated as the same place, as are the vowels u and o.

(I have a meeting, I’ll get to the rest of the questions soon.)

What is closer to what in the Vowel Gradation diagram? Is this the same as the rule expressed in page 10? (i becomes e, and u becomes o, etc. which means that e is like i with a prefixed a, and o is like an u with a prefixed a… did I get it right?)
And why in the case of bhavati the ū in the root was strengthened, but it was lengthened in bhāveti (examples given in page 12).



Hi @bran, I didn’t reply on this yesterday, but it is good advice.I wanted some time to reflect and ponder on the implications on my learning of Pali.

One of the things I took from Warder’s preface is that, unlike some other textbooks and grammar guides, Warder teaches grammar from the “classical Pali” perspective (he specifically refers to providing “a grammar of Pali in its ancient phase”) rather than adhering to modern grammar and linguistics.

More specifically, a lot of the grammar in Warder comes from the " Kaccāyanabyākaraṇaṃ" - the oldest extant Pali grammar.

Anyway, this led me down a rabbit hole yesterday where I was trying to find out more information about Kaccāyana and I ended up reading Māgadhabhāsā (Pāḷi) – A Compendious Grammar on the Language of Pāḷi Buddhism (Second Edition).

From there, i received the understanding that the word vyākaraṇaṃ does not exactly translate to grammar in English. As the 19th century Sri Lankan scholar bhikkhu Subhūti explains

Vyākaraṇa is the science of writing and speaking a language without fault and of understanding the intentions of texts by knowing all the divisions and syntactic relations of a language’s expressions.

So it is not a pure book about grammar but a mixture of syntax, morphology, grammar but also semantics, with a focus on syntax production rules.

So the verb conjugation groups are mainly syntax rules, there is no semantic meaning associated with them.

Interestingly (my speculation, not explicitly stated in the book), Pali cases may also be more syntactic rather than semantic. Or, at least, there are two “aspects” of cases - one syntactic, and one semantic, and they are referred to using different terms in classical Pali grammar.

Syntactic cases are given numbers: paṭhamā (first), dutiyā (second), etc. Much like the verb conjugation groups. These are just syntax production rules, governing how the nouns are inflected. There is no number associated with vocative, because vocative is just the noun stem uninflected.

Then, each numbered syntactic case is “associated” with a semantic case, named paccattavacana (nominative), āmantaṇavacana (accusative) and so on.

The important insight and “a ha” moment for me is that the association between syntactic case and semantic case is strong but by no means fixed in concrete. And this explains places in the suttas when a word is inflected in one case but the semantic usage is that of another case - this happens more often than I would have thought, and it’s not just because it’s a mistake in the text - it’s sometimes used for emphatic or stylistic reasons.

Hence the reason why genitive and dative cases share the same inflections - over time the the 6th form of case inflections have gradually been used for both semantic cases.

Warder confuses between syntactic and semantic cases by conflating them using European grammar classifications.

Warder also “incorrectly” (in my opinion) refers to nipāta as “indeclinable” whereas it’s probably better described as “particle”. There are also different types of nipāta which Warder doesn’t fully explain.

Hence his rather confusing and inconsistent explanations of the yenatena construction - he refers to the indeclinable yena governing the use of the nominative noun on page 14 but then on page 73 he refers to it as an “instrumental”.

A much simpler explanation is if we regard this as a syntactic rule: the yenatena construction requires the noun to be inflected in the 1st case form, just like when you quote a word.

On a different note, the enclitic me is much easier to understand if we regard it as an undeclinable that can be associated with three different semantic cases, rather than irregular inflections of the various syntactic cases.

So, anyway, to cut a long story short, I think if we were to continue studying Pali using Warder, it would be helpful to think of the grammar from a classical perspective rather than from a modern perspective. For this reason, I am going to try to learn and use the Pali terminology rather than the English, to avoid further confusion.

For example, I am going to internally think of gender using the Pali names pulliṅga, itthiliṅga, napuṁsakaliṅga rather than masculine, feminine and neuter. This helps me to understand that a single noun can be inflected using multiple genders. For example kumāra can be inflected as kumāro as well as kumārī, used to denote masculine and feminine versions of the noun.

Sorry for the long and somewhat rambling post. I am documenting it more to clarify my thoughts rather than imposing my opinions on others. Feel free to completely disregard this post and follow your own path.


Thanks Bhante!

I pretty much came to the same conclusion in my deep dive in classical Pali grammar yesterday. The verb conjugation groups are pretty much syntactic.

And thank you for correcting my spelling mistake for the root bhid! That’s what happens when I type fast rather than copy and paste.

I’ve decided my focus is on being able to read Pali, and not really on the ability to write Pali, so I’ve decided to “let it go” and be relaxed (upekkha) about the syntax production rules in classical Pali grammar.

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Yep, that’s exactly it. The main thing to remember is that in certain situations, vowels can strengthen along the given axis. Mostly you’ll just need to recognize that they are, in fact, different phonetic values for the same thing (eg. bhavati and hoti).

But in some cases you’ll need to dig down to understand why the difference is there. An example would be in the often-subtle indications of the difference between the name of the place and the name of the people who live in that place. The people of Videha are called Vedehi, for example. See too the Jina (i.e. Mahavira) whose followers are called Jaina (that’s a Sanskritic form, where the dipthong remains; it doesn’t seem to occur in Pali, but would probably be Jena). (These construction are secondary derivation, which is a later topic.)

In this case the “lengthening” (i.e. one more step on the gradation) is meaningful, as it indicates a causal verb. Bhavati = “one is”, bhāveti = “one makes it become (more)”, i.e. “develops”. But causal verbs come much later!


In Lesson 1 Warder gives the word upasaṁkamati (to approach).
In the dictionary (in PTS at least) - I can’t find it with this spelling, but instead there is upasaṇkamati with .

Is it just that there are various spellings for the same word?

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Yes. (-ish)*

This is discussed briefly in p. 4 of Warder’s Introduction, on the “nasal”, and the first footnote on that page.

Before the gutteral consonants (k, kh, g, gh), the nasal sound is spelled ṅ. In Romanized Pali we typically spell such conjuncts as ṅk, ṅg, and so on.

However the sound is exactly the same as ṁ. It is technically possible to spell the same words ṁk, ṁg. Thus sometimes you might see saṁgha instead of saṅgha.

The specific nasal sounds that correspond to the relevant place of articulation are each spelled differently (ṅk, ñc, ṇṭ, nt, mp), and in theory are pronounced differently, but in reality we just pronounce them that way because they’re a nasal before a consonant: it’s just kind of how the sound comes out, you don’t think about it.

Usually modern editions will specify the correct nasal before the consonant. Manuscripts, however, are inconsistent, so you’ll want to get used to seeing both forms.

* The “-ish” is because you seem to have spelled it incorrectly. It’s not ṇ but ṅ. Is this just a typo, or is it a mistake in the dictionary?


Oh yes! My mistake, the dictionary has it correct. :grinning:

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Bhante :pray:, regarding memorization. I have pseudo-memorized some devotion chants and also anatthalakkhana sutta and aditta pariyaya sutta. And I wonder about ‘memorization techniques’.

So far I just chant it along with a youtube video and once I do that several times it starts to get imprinted on the memory but I wonder, given that the tradition is heavily oral there must be ‘techniques’ or ‘tips and tricks’.

For example: sometimes I wonder if repeating little sections a lot on a single sitting is better than the whole sutta all the time. in that case, I also wonder how many repetitions is enough.

And, are there any resources for studying the techniques of the oral recitations and their mnemonic strategies?

thank youuuu

Thanks a lot, very interesting chat session, and one that shows the potential as well as the limitations of ChatGPT.

I guess one of the issues is that there isn’t a lot of literature on the conjugation groups - Warder is one of the few that even mentions them. And the grammar books like Duroiselle don’t really explain them. So I am not surprised ChatGPT would focus more on the inflectional endings based on person (vibhatti).

Maybe you have to train it explicitly with the conjugation groups, supply a set of roots belonging to each conjugation group, then ask it to determine if there are any commonality across sentences that use verbs in a specific conjugation group.

Duroiselle has the list of conjugation groups and common words in each. I’ve been told someone has compiled a list of all 1700 roots and which conjugation group they fall into, but I haven’t been able to track it down.

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When I was a young monk, I memorized the patimokkha in seven weeks, and in addition, memorized dozens of suttas in Pali. Here’s how I did it.

  • Each day, learn a new passage. Usually a few sentences. Go over them phrase by phrase, then sentence by sentence until they are completely fluent. Be sure to be precise in pronunciation.
  • Learn the grammar and vocabulary of the Pali as you go, so it is meaningful.
  • Then, each day, recite by heart all that has been learned up till then, plus the new passages.
  • Don’t stop before you finish! You will not come back and learn it again later!
  • When finished, recite the whole piece by heart every day for a significant period (for patimokkha, I did it every day for a year.)
  • When you stop reciting it every day, come back to it every week or so.

I found that the best posture for learning was walking. I would take the text for learning onto the walking path and chant there. Something about the rhythm helped reinforce learning.

Reciting alongside a clip or something is fine, but as quickly as you can, graduate to chanting purely by sight-reading.


A great protocol for memorising meaningful text. :heavy_check_mark:

You have offered to share a list of recommended sutras for memorisation. It would be great if you could group them for beginner, intermediate and advanced learners.


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I just posted the first three suttas in the reference list. That’s probably enough, once someone’s learned that much, my recommendation would be, “learn what your heart feels inspired!”.

The only more general advice would be, avoid memorizing verse if your intent is to learn Pali. All verses should be considered advanced.


Also, dear Bhante, may I recommend to the other students that we refrain from using the Jitsi chat feature to discuss Internet quality/video session quality while you are teaching the course. I, too, have to remind myself to refrain. It is very distracting for me. I’m sure many of us have been in the position of leading meetings over Zoom (or other) professionally. It becomes a real distraction to the one leading – as well as to all the other participants – to have to keep checking the chat and see it cluttered with everyone’s comments about the technology performance. I understand this is our tendency but perhaps we can use this as an exercise in watching our impulses and just letting them be. Thanks.


I’ve managed to find the Holy Grail, or at least the Rosetta Stone.

A list of Pali roots (about 1700), which conjugation group they belong in, their English meaning, the equivalent Sanskrit root and meaning, plus indexes into the various Pali grammar books they came from.

As you can see, the majority of verbs (just under 65%) belong in conjugation group 1 (bhūvādigaṇa) so if you encounter a word you don’t know, the chances are it’s in this group. The other groups are very small, quite often less than 100 roots per group.

This is the list of roots from various sources, summarised into a spreadsheet:

B. Bhikkhu’s Root Bible

And these are the various books they came from:

The Pali Dhatupatha and the Dhatumañjusa

The Pali Roots In Saddaníti

Please enjoy and practice safe conjugation!


Bhante where can I find the reference list please? Learning from scratch I tried to get the essence of the basics and summarized in a table–Learn Pali Channel and A.K. Warder book (attached–I am learning in my own pace…). Much merit to you for giving me a chance.
Pali Lesson1.pdf (511.6 KB)

Here you go!

Nice, you’ve summarized it well, not an easy task!

Great stuff, can you add them as a comment in the Reference thread? I’ll keep the OP there for things directly relevant for the course, but we can add more references underneath.


Everybody here sounds so knowledgeable. I’m feeling so far behind. Ah well, … Please bear with this classmate of yours…

Question 1 (very stupid, I know): where can I get the answer key? I found Kelly’s on Access to Insight: Answer Key to Warder's 'Introduction to Pali': Exercises 1-21

Is it the right version?

Question 2: Bhante @sujato, I’d be grateful if you could please explain the word ‘evam’ in more details.

Question 3: Where can I get all Pali alphabets that I can do ‘copy and paste’ easily? At the moment, I’m struggling with typing m (with a dot below) and i with the lengthening diacritical mark.

Question 4: What’s the difference between samano and brahmano? I understand samano to be monastic or renunciate, while brahmano is brahmin.

Question 5: what is the meaning of khattiyo? I understand it to be person of a ruling class (royal family)

Question 6: Can the word ‘jivati’ mean ‘to be alive’? manusso jivati (man lives) sounds incomprehensible to me.

Question 7: What is the difference between marati and cavati. The sentence in the exercise is ‘The god dies’. I think die here is marati, but Kelly says cavati.

Question 8: What is the difference between bhasati and vadati?

Question 9: What is the meaning or usage of vowel strengthening/vowel gradation?
Learn Pali said that it was like ‘sing sang sung’. This comparison has got me totally confused!

It seems that most of my questions concern vocab. Yes, I know that the best place to go is a dictionary. At the moment, I’m using Concise Pali-English Dictionary by Buddhadtta and Golden Dictionary. Is there a very good ‘learner’s dictionary’ somewhere? (One belonging in the same high standard as Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of English would be lovely.)

Thank you.

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The Pāli romanization scheme is pretty much identical to the Sanskrit romanization scheme IAST – International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration - Wikipedia
Just ignore the additional sanskrit letters like ṛ , ḷ , ḥ , ś , ṣ etc (which don’t exist in Pali).

Question 8: What is the difference between bhasati and vadati?

Bhāsati is ‘speaks’, vadati is ‘says’

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Oh, that would indeed be marvelous. The OLDE is an amazing thing. I don’t believe there is anything comparable.

What operating system are you using? If you are on Windows there is a simple app here that lets you type easily.


Don’t be intimidated. A few students are rocking some advanced stuff, but most of them are with you!


Evaṁ is an indeclinable particle, which means that it (almost always) appears in the same way in any context, without being inflected. (I say “almost” because the final letter can change when it is is combined with a following word (eg. evam’eva “in just this way”, or evan’ti “It is so!”, but this does not change the meaning.)

Generally evaṁ means “thus”, “suchways”, “in this/that way”, “likewise”, “so”, etc. The exact nuance must be inferred from context.

It can also be used as an affirmative particle like the English “Yes”, “it is so”. Example: “Is that you?” “evaṁ”. In this sense, it is sometimes added at the end of Dhamma talks, affirming that “this is correct” and marking the end of the talk.

Don’t copy/paste, find out how to type Pali on your operating system. See Snowbird’s answer, and also find various discussions on here by searching “diacriticals”. Ask for help for your operating system if you need it.

But if you must copy/paste, you can use Wikipedia as a source.

A samaṇa is a member of an ascetic renunciate order such as the Buddha, who has given up the home life to pursue their vision of the truth. Samaṇas typically rejected caste. The samaṇas most commonly met with in the Suttas are the Buddhists, Jains, and Ajivakas.

A brāhmaṇa is a member of a hereditary caste believed to have a divine sanction to recite holy scripture and perform essential rituals. Most brāhmaṇas are householders, but some, following the example of Yajnavalkya, have left home to establish renunciate orders similar to those of the samaṇas.

The Buddha identified as a samaṇa in terms of lifestyle and philosophy, but he also redefined (or restored) brāhmaṇa in the sense of “holy man”.

Grammarians sometimes give these as an example of two things that are commonly put together but are constantly in conflict!

Pretty much, yes. But more along the lines of aristocratic rather than royal as such, since all kings are khattiyas (in theory), but not all khattiyas are kings.

They are often said to be a warrior class, akin to the knights of the west, but most of the khattiyas we meet with in the Suttas are not warriors. Soldiering had already become a professional rather than hereditary occupation. Still, Kings and their generals would have been khattiyas.

Yes. Manusso jīvati means “The man is alive”.

For us, none, they both mean “death”, and both answers are correct.

Marati means specifically “to die”. Cavati means “to fall away” and is often used in the sense of “dies”.

They have a similar basic meaning like English “speak” and “say”, but in context can be used in idiomatic ways.

  • There is no meaning to vowel gradation as such, it is purely a phonetic phenomenon. The purpose of learning it is to understand that some words that look different are in fact the same. Eg., the word “descent (into a womb)” is sometimes spelled avakkanti, sometimes okkanti, but these are exactly the same in meaning.
  • Usage is widespread, we encounter the same phenomenon in many different contexts.
  • In some cases, the occurrence of vowel gradation indicates that a certain kind of transformation has occurred that is meaningful. For example bhava is “existence” while bhāva is “state”. Thus while the vowel change as such is not meaningful, it can act as a marker for a grammatical change that differentiates meaning.

Not a great example, as these are different vowels. Better would be child and children, where the initial “i” has been irregularly weakened in the plural. Similarly, wild and wilderness.

That’s fine. Sadly, we do not have the resources that the English language has, but the best available general dictionary is the Digital Pali Dictionary on GoldenDict.