Pali grammar question

I’m learning Pali, currently using de Silvas ‘Pali Primer’. One of the exercises (translate into Pali) gives such sentence:
"The uncle’s friend calls the boys singing songs seated under the tree"
On the site with answers ( its translated as:
“Mātulassa mitto rukkhamūlamhi nisīditvā gītāni gāyante kumāre pakkosati.”

Would this be the right translation? It seems to me, that this Pali sentence meaning is more like “The uncle’s friend having sat under a tree calls the song singing boys”.

Does the ‘rukkhamūlamhi nisīditvā’ refer to the uncle or the boys? If the latter, why?

It refers to the friend: the friend is seated under the tree. Mitto has the nominative ending, making it the agent of the sentence.

Good luck and have fun!

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hi tuvok

to answer your question with certainty what i think needs to be figured out is whether Pali’s Absolutive has to agree in gender, number and case with the noun it describes

yet to me, who is no expert in Pali, at first glance your translation seems right and Ven Brahmali has just pointed out that it is

Just a tip–the absolutive (what some books called the gerund) is indeclinable. Maybe that’s why I find it easier than all the other cases because I don’t have to remember all the endings :-):relaxed:


in which case the noun described by the Absolutive must probably be determinable on the basis of the syntax, there could be a recurrent pattern attesting to this

Hi @tuvok ,
I’ve also been learning Pali and I started with the Pali Primer. I have to say that at a certain point it seemed to be making things more difficult because the sentences can be so odd (and sometimes the answers didn’t seem correct either, or at least not in terms of how they were worded).

After going through about half of it, I changed to Warder’s Intro to Pali, and it was a relief because he uses actual passages from the Canon (except for the first few chapters).Somehow, even thought it’s more complex and difficult in some ways, I actually find it easier for learning.

Also the explanations are much clearer and more in depth. For example, in terms of the absolutive/gerund, the agent is the same as that as of the main action. That’s why in the example, it has to refer to the uncle’s friend (as you say in your translation).

Even better in terms of working with familiar passages from the suttas is A New Course in Reading Pali. But personally I find it more difficult to learn the grammar with that book. I think different books work for better for different people. Also, Ajahn Bramali has made the recordings of his Pali classes available on this site (though I don’t recall what discussion they are in), so wanted to mention that in case you didn’t know. They have been immensely helpful to me (heartfelt thanks, Bhante) as I’ve found learning Pali to be quite challenging (and I have a long way to go), especially given my ignorance of other languages :disappointed:

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so if Absolutive is used it always refers to the subject, is this the rule?


If by subject you mean the person (in the nominative) who does the main action, yes. But really, I’m still learning myself, so I’m certainly not qualified to offer good Pali explanations :confused: Nevertheless, I’ll put in my ‘two cents’ in the hope that someone more experienced will correct me if I’ve said anything incorrect or misleading.

In Pali, if we want to describe a series of actions done by someone, all the actions preceding the main (final) one would be in the absolutive and the main actin would be a regular finite verb. In English, for example, we would just use all finite verbs and put commas or ‘and’ between each action. For example if I want to say: I went into my office, (and I) turned on the computer, (and I) checked my email, (and I) opened SC, (and I) read a post from LYNDXR, and I wrote a reply. In Pali, it would be something like: Having gone into my office, having turned on the computer, having checked my e-mail, having opened SC, having read a post from LYNDXR, I wrote a reply. (But don’t ask me to write this in Pali :wink: )

So ‘I’ is in the nominative and I’m the subject doing the main action (writing a reply) while all of my previous actions are in the absolutive . But each clause (the previous actions in the absolutive) can have it’s own ‘patient’ (in this case, ‘office’, ’computer’, ‘e-mail’, ‘SC’ ’post’). The final action uses the finite verb ‘wrote’ with the ‘patient’ being ‘reply’. The absolutives are not declined but of course the main finite verb, in this case, would be first person, singular to agree with I.


Thak you very much for clarifying.

Hi @Linda,
I know the Warder’s book, currently I prefer da Silvas because of the many exercises, but yes, the sentences are sometimes weird and complicated. I basically put them in anki droid flash card application and review regularly. It helps to get the language to sink in. While reading Warder there seemed to be too much grammar and too little exercises to help internalize it.
Thanks for pointing out the third book and recordings, I’ll check them as soon as possible

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