“Without your love, I’m like a song without words, just like a nest without birds … I’m like a plane without wings, a violin with no strings.”

You can almost hear Billie Holiday sing through the nostalgic pitter-patter of vinyl-crackles, when she tunes her voice of roasted spices to the melody of Without Your LoveAnd just as songs cannot be without words or violins without strings, so the roots of words and their suffixes stand in mutual need of each other; their togetherness the only condition for their individual meaningful existence. Without a suffix the root’s eloquence remains mute and without a root the suffix has nothing to say.

Suffixes are the strings that make the bodies of the roots resonate with meaning. Their mutual indispensability is a manifestation, at the microscopic level of the inner mechanics of word-formation, of the need for meaning to find expression, of the song to be sung, and of the contradiction that all meaning must be remodelled by expression to become audible, that all songs are to be interpreted to be sung. And it is this very contradiction that makes meaning and expression as indispensable to each other as the lover and the loved in the Billie Holiday’s song. In no other language is the passionate duet of meaning and expression, of root and suffix, sung more clearly than in Sanskrit, where the majority of all nouns can be analysed into roots and suffixes. 

Concerning prefixes, which often augment roots and modify their basic meanings, the reader is directed to read The multiplication of meanings: Sanskrit prefix 101. The reader is also advised to become acquainted with the contents of the article Vowel gradation 101as the present article will refer to processes described there throughout. 

The essential function of all suffixes discussed here is nominal derivation, i.e. the process by which a noun or an adjective is formed from a root, or less frequently from a more highly developed form already containing a suffix. In doing so, different suffixes will trigger different gradations of the vowel contained in the root, meaning that understanding the system of vowel gradation is essential to being able to recognise the root behind a given word the meaning of which is remodelled by expression. The suffixes treated here are those that a student of modern Hindi is most likely to encounter in his or her studies on a more or less regular basis, a basic knowledge of which will therefore contribute to make learning the language more rewarding. These suffixes, in alphabetical order, are: -अ (a), -अन (ana), -आ (ā), -इक (ika), -ति (ti), -ता (tā), the nominative of the suffix – तृ (tṛ), -ता (tā), -त्व (tva) and -म (ma). 

-अ (a)

This sound produces masculine nouns. In Hindi, nouns formed with this suffix will be treated as consonant stems, since the word-final अ (a) is not pronounced. Such nouns will therefore follow the paradigm of type 2 masculine nouns, e.g. घर (ghar) or आदमी (ādamī), the unifying feature of which is, with very few exceptions, a word-final sound other than -आ (ā).

As far as the vowel of the root is concerned, it frequently appears in the गुण (guṇa) gradation, but forms with वृद्धि (vṛddhi) grade or without strengthening of the vowel, so called स्वर (svara) grade, also exist. One distinctive feature of the suffix is that its employ causes all root-final palatals  च (ca) and ज (ja) to change into the corresponding velars क (ka) and ग (ga). This sound change was not developed by Sanskrit independently. It reflects a context sensitive treatment of the inherited set of velars and g. Context-sensitive means that while the velars were allowed to remain in their original shape before the short back vowels and o, they were palatalised before the short front vowels i and e. Palatalisation represents an adaptation of the articulation spot of the velar consonant to the articulation spot of the following front vowel by moving it forward from the soft palate to the hard palate. The palatals of Sanskrit, which cannot be traced back to a distinct set of palatal sounds in the mother-tongue of all Indo-European languages, are thus the result of the context-sensitive splitting of one sound into two. The palatal form of the original velar was then in time, once the mechanics behind the sound change were no longer understood by speakers of the language, extended to the roots, which should contain the original velar form, as there is no following vowel to influence the articulation spot of the consonant. 

This splitting of sounds is why palatals frequently fluctuate with velars in the derivational processes of Sanskrit. In the employ of the suffix -अ (a) the velar appears in its original shape because the suffix consists of a back vowel. This back vowel may either reflect an original or an o, since both these short vowels, along with the short front vowel e, merged to one vowel in all Indo-Iranian languages. Comparative linguistics points to the likelihood of the vowel having been rather than a.

Forms taking गुण (guṇa)

One example for the change of palatal to velar is the well-known word योग (yoga), meaning yoga or combination, formed on the root युज् (yuj), to yoke. The word designating the oldest Hindu scriptures is also formed with this suffix: वेद (veda), sacred knowledge, from the root विद् (vid), to know. देव (deva), deity, comes from the root दिव् (div), to shine, making a god a luminous being. The root भिद् (bhid) means split, its derivative भेद (bheda) means difference. The adjective विशेष (viśeṣa), special, comes from the combination of root and prefix विशिष् (viśiṣ), to discern or discriminate. Combining the same prefix with the root रुध् (rudh), to hinder or block, the noun विरोध (virodha), opposition or protest, is formed. Finally, the common noun प्रवेश (praveśa), entrance, is based on the combination of root and prefix प्रविश् (praviś), meaning to enter.

Forms taking वृद्धि (vṛddhi)

Only roots containing the vowels अ (a) or ऋ (ṛ) commonly take this grade when expressing meanings through the employ of this suffix. One of the most common roots in ऋ (ṛ) is कृ (kṛ), to make or fashion. In combination with various prefixes the root finds expression in a host of nouns, the most common one probably being प्रकार (prakāra), type, kind. Other examples are उपकार (upkāra), help or support, and विकार (vikāra), disorder or defect. स्तृ (stṛ) means to strew, by joining it to the prefix वि (vi), the noun विस्तार (vistāra) can be produced by the addition of the suffix in question.  Literally the word means the act or process of spreading out, hence expansion, extension, elaboration. The word अवतार (avatāra), based on the root तृ (tṛ), to cross, also belongs to these formations, concerning its meaning see Avatar: the one who has descended. Among the root containing the vowel अ (a), there is वह् (to carry), from which the word for marriage is formed, literally the carrying away: विवाह (vivāha). With change of palatal back to the original velar there is भाग (bhāga), part or section, which is based on the root भज् (bhaj), to divide. The root कम् (kam) means to desire, the derivative काम (kāma), is love or desire. A very common word formed with this suffix and a वृद्धि (vṛddhi) degree of the vowel of the root is आराम (ārāma), rest, which is based on the prefix आ (ā) joined to the root रम् (ram), to stop. The word विश्वास (viśvāsa), trust, is constructed in the same way from the combination of suffix and root विश्वस् (viśvas) meaning to breathe freely.

Forms without strengthening, स्वर (svara)

The root of योग (yoga) also expresses its meaning without strengthening of the vowel in the noun युग (yuga), which means age or period. The great difference in meaning between the two nouns makes it clear how important expression is for the manifestation of a root’s purely potential meaning. Or, to draw on the analogy established earlier, how important suffixal interpretation is for the unsung song of the root.

-अन (ana)

In Sanskrit the suffix produces neuter nouns. Since Hindi has lost the neuter gender, all these nouns have become masculine, and, since the modern pronunciation of the suffix produces a consonantal stem, more precisely, to the type 2 masculines. In the majority of the cases the vowel of the root will appear in the गुण (guṇa) degree. Still using the same root as in the last example above, but joining it to the suffix नि (ni), the word नियोजन (niyojana) is formed, the appointment to a post or position. The attentive reader will instantly realise that in this case the change back to the original velar does not take place. This is probably due to the first vowel of the suffix originally having been the front vowel e, which subsequently merged with a and to अ (a), rather than a back vowel, which would have caused the secondary palatal to revert to the original velar. The behaviour of palatals before this suffix is consistent and nowhere can the characteristic sound change associated with the previous suffix be observed. Joining the same prefix नि (ni) to the root विद् (vid), the noun निवेदन (nivedana), request, is formed. As above, the root कृ (kṛ), to make or fashion, takes वृद्धि (vṛddhi) rather than गुण (guṇa), and thus forms the very common noun कारण (kāraṇa), cause, reason. The change from dental to retroflex nasal is due to the proximity of the sound र (ra), which, in Sanskrit, always has this effect on a nearby न (na). Another example, but with गुण (guṇa) of the root, is the word मरण (maraṇa), death, from the root मृ (mṛ), to die. The same effect can also be seen when one joins the word अयन (ayana), way or path – itself a derivative formed by joining the suffix -अन (ana) with the root इ (i), to go – to the name राम (rāma), which results in रामायण (rāmāyaṇa), the path or wanderings of Rama, i.e. the tale of Rama.

-आ (ā)

This suffix produces feminine nouns. The long final vowel आ (ā) is in Sanskrit, as long as it is the basic, unmodified form of the ending, the characteristic sign of feminine nouns. Most of the Hindi nouns ending in -आ (ā), which are not type 1 masculines are therefore Sanskrit feminines. Two examples shall suffice: भाषा (bhāṣā), language, from the root भाष् (bhāṣ), to speak; आशा (āśā), hope, from the root आश् (āś), to hope.

-इक (ika)

This is usually suffixed to forms already containing a suffix, so that a proper understanding of forms involving its use requires above all an understanding of the primary suffixes, which are added directly to the root and form the principal subject matter of the present article. The function of this suffix is mainly the indication of appurtenance. The root invariably appears in the वृद्धि (vṛddhi) degree. वैदिक (vaidika) means belonging to the वेद (veda), which word is produced from the root विद् (vid) by addition of the suffix -अ (a). लौकिक (laukika) means worldly, from लोक (world), which word is probably ultimately to be derived from the root रुच् (ruc), to shine. What belongs to धर्म (dharma) is said to be धार्मिक (dhārmika), i.e. religious or virtuous. Concerning the derivation of the word धर्म (dharma) itself see below. What belongs to संस्कृति (sanskṛti), culture, is called सांस्कृतिक (sānskṛtika), cultural.

-ति (ti)

This suffix is used to produce feminine nouns. The root always appears in its shortest form, स्वर (svara). The word संस्कृति (sanskṛti) just above is formed with this suffix. It is based on the combination of the prefix सम् (sam) and the root कृ (kṛ), to make or fashion. The स् (s) before the root is a ghost-sound appearing in certain combinations of these two elements and has no morphological value or meaning, c.f. the noun संस्कार (sanskāra), ceremony or refinement, which is formed from the same root and prefix by the addition of the suffix -अ (a). Keeping the same root and adding the prefix प्र (pra) the word for nature can be formed: प्रकृति (prakṛti). श्रुति (śruti) is the act or faculty of hearing, from the root श्रु (śru), to hear. स्मृ (smṛ) is to remember, स्मृति  (smṛti) is therefore memory or texts traditionally handed down by memory. When one of the palatalised original velars comes into contact with the initial consonant त् (t) of the suffix it appears as a क् (k), the voiced ग् (g) losing its voice before the voiceless त् (t). The root भज् (bhaj) to divide, has already been encountered above in relation with the noun भाग (bhāga). When the suffix -ति (ti) is added to the same root, the result is the noun भक्ति (bhakti), devotion, i.e. worship as an act of making oneself part of the object of worship. In case the त् (t) of the suffix comes into contact with a voiced aspirate, e.g. ध् (dh), it will assimilate the articulatory features of the preceding sound, which itself will lose its aspiration while retaining its voice. So when the suffix is added to the root बुध् (budh), to awake, the resulting noun has the form बुद्धि (buddhi), intellect, understanding, the state of having an awakened mind. Roots such as मन् (man), think, and गम् (gam), go, also call for special mention.

As has been explained above, the suffix  -ति (ti) always takes the shortest form of the root. In the case of roots with a root-final nasal, this means that the consonantal nasals न् (n) or म् (m) need to turn into their syllabic counterparts ṇ or ṃ, which do no exist as such in Sanskrit and are represented by the vowel अ (a) instead, if their occurrence is demanded by the laws governing the shift between different gradations. This means that the nasals will entirely disappear when the suffix -ति (ti) is added to such roots. Meaning that when the suffix is added to the root मन् (man) the result is मति (mati), intellect or understanding, which reflects the form *mṇti, in which *mṇ represents the स्वर (svara) grade of the root मन् (man), just as मृ (mṛ) represents the स्वर (svara) grade of मर् (mar), with the only difference that while Sanskrit retained the syllabic version of the sound र् (r) it dropped the syllabic nasals as a distinct set of sounds. In analogical fashion गति (gati), motion or speed, results from the addition of the suffix -ति to the root गम् (gam).

-ता (tā)

This suffix forms masculine and neuter agent nouns in Sanskrit. As expected, the neuters have gone over to the masculine declension in Hindi. The -ता (tā), serving as the base form in Hindi, is the nominative singular of the base form -तृ (tṛ) of Sanskrit. So although the forms used in Hindi end in -आ (ā), the characteristic sign of type 1 masculines, they originated in a type of consonantal stem ending in अर् (ar) – the ऋ (ṛ) of the base form merely being its shortest, स्वर (svara), form – which is entirely unrelated to type 1 masculines. Nouns containing this suffix therefore follow the paradigm of type 2 stems and thus constitute an understandable exception to the rule that all nouns ending in -आ (ā) belong to type 1. The word पिता (pitā), father, also contains a form of this suffix, which fact explains why it does not have a case form distinct from the direct case of the singular for the oblique case of the singular and the direct case of the plural, as would be expected for a masculine noun belonging to type 1. This suffix always causes the vowel of the root to appear in the गुण (guṇa) degree. Examples of such forms are numerous in Hindi, a few examples will suffice here to demonstrate meaning and derivation. The root नी (nī) means to guide or lead, the नेता (netā) is therefore the one who guides, a leader. कर्ता (kartā) is formed from the already repeatedly mentioned root कृ (kṛ), to make or fashion, and therefore means the one who does, the doer or, more specifically, the subject of a sentence as the one who performs the action of the verb. श्रोता (śrotā), from the root श्रु (śru), hear, means a listener, an audience.

-ता (tā)

Here the -आ (ā) does not hide a more basic form, the nouns formed with this suffix are therefore feminine, both in Sanskrit and Hindi. It is a secondary suffix added to forms that have already gone through a process of derivation. Numerous nouns are formed with it, none of which will prove difficult to understand if one knows the behaviour of the basic suffixes. Two examples will therefore be enough to illustrate the employ of the suffix. सुंदरता (sundartā), beauty, is formed from the adjective सुंदर (sundara), beautiful. The adjective विशेष (viśeṣa), special, has been discussed in relation with the suffix -अ (a) above. When the suffix in question is added to it the result is the noun विशेषता (viśeṣatā), a characteristic feature or speciality.

-त्व (tva)

This is a secondary suffix used to form a wide range of neuter nouns in Sanskrit, which have all gone over to the type 2 masculine declension in Hindi. Two examples are: अस्तित्व (astitva), existence, derived from अस्ति (asti), the third person singular of the verb to be in Sanskrit; and महत्त्व (mahattva), greatness or importance, from the adjective महत् (mahat), big.

-म (ma)

Originally the nominative singular of the base form -मन् (man), this is a primary suffix requiring गुण (guṇa) of the root if it contains a vowel other than अ (a). The resulting nouns are mostly neuters in Sanskrit, which again, as expected, become masculines of type 2 in Hindi. With this suffix, two nouns are formed, the cultural significance of which is such, both in India and across the globe, that they can even be found in a regular English dictionary: कर्म (karma), a deed, the grammatical subject or karma, and धर्म (dharma), faith, belief, virtue, dharma. The former is based on the root कृ (kṛ), to make, the latter on the root धृ (dhṛ), to hold.

What Does it All Mean?

At first sight the two roots—simple, prosaic and unidimensional as they are—seem rather to be destined for manual labour than for spiritual greatness. But such is the power of expression to transform and develop inherent meaning, that two incredibly weighty words came into being when these two plain-looking roots came into contact with a small additional element, which on its own has no weight of its own at all. Thus meaning is subject to destiny. Its development follows laws that are neither its nor our own. It too is the result of blindfold meteoric clashes governed by the hand of incalculable accident bringing together in time and space inseparable strangers.

Meaning is not static but dynamic. It is a relationship. The relationship of itself with expression, of the word with the song, the violin with the strings. As such it only exists as the magnetically loaded room between two elements that stand in uttermost need of each other; as the tense space between the last sound of the root and the first sound of the suffix; as the invisible embrace of lovers’ eyes. Meaning is the unavoidable chance of fate expressing itself in ideas – the universe as thinker and rethinker of what is possible and impossible.