Pali Grammar Question: buddhaṁ saraṇaṁ gacchāmi

I’m starting to teach myself Pali and have a basic question about the grammar of “buddhaṁ saraṇaṁ gacchāmi”. Normally this is translated as “I go to the Buddha for refuge”. Would a more literal interpretation be “I go to the Buddha-refuge”?

I understand that motion verbs (like gacchāmi) use the accusative for the destination of the motion, hence buddhaṁ is in the accusative. Since saraṇaṁ is also in the accusative, it seems like it’s modifying buddhaṁ like an adjective. If we were going to the Buddha for refuge, it would be in the dative case, which I guess would be saraṇāya.

I would appreciate any guidance to know if I’ve got that right or where my errors are.

Thank you!


Yes, I believe you are correct in all respects.


As I understand it, buddhaṃ and saraṇaṃ are two accusative nouns in apposition (which just means juxtaposition). The two adjacent nouns in apposition refer to the same thing, with the second one usually saying something about the first one.

So in this case, it would literally be: the Buddha / a refuge / I go to.

Or, a somewhat more polished, but still literal, translation: I go to the Buddha, a refuge.

And maybe the better translation would be: I go to the Buddha as a refuge.


Indeed, as noted, the literal translation would be “I go to the Buddha [who is] a refuge”, or more idiomatically, “i go to the Buddha as refuge”.


These responses were very helpful and gave me a better understanding of the language. Thank you all!