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Hindustani grammar

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Hindustani grammar

Hindustani is the lingua franca of northern India and Pakistan, and through its two standardized registers, Hindi and Urdu, an official language of India and Pakistan. Grammatical differences between the two standards are minimal.


  • Phonology 1
  • Morphology 2
    • Nouns 2.1
    • Adjectives 2.2
      • Comparatives and superlatives 2.2.1
    • Numerals 2.3
    • Postpositions 2.4
    • Pronouns 2.5
      • Personal 2.5.1
      • Derivates 2.5.2
    • Adverbs 2.6
    • Verbs 2.7
      • Overview 2.7.1
      • Forms 2.7.2
      • Causatives 2.7.3
      • Compounds 2.7.4
      • Conjuncts 2.7.5
      • Passive 2.7.6
  • Syntax 3
    • Possession 3.1
  • Differences between Hindi and Urdu 4
  • References 5
  • Bibliography 6


In matters of script, Hindi uses Devanagari while Urdu uses an extended form of the Persian script, typically in the Nastaʿlīq style. On this grammar page Hindustani is written in "standard orientalist" transcription as outlined in Masica (1991:xv). Being "primarily a system of transliteration from the Indian scripts, [and] based in turn upon Sanskrit" (cf. IAST), these are its salient features: subscript dots for retroflex consonants; macrons for etymologically, contrastively long vowels; h denoting aspirated plosives. Tildes denote nasalized vowels.

Vowels are the following: a, ā, i, ī, u, ū, e, o, ai, au. Note that the vowels a ai au normally have the pronunciations [ə] [ɛː] [ɔː]. Consonants are outlined in the table below. Hovering the mouse cursor over them will reveal the appropriate IPA symbol, while in the rest of the article hovering the mouse cursor over underlined forms will reveal the appropriate English translation. See Hindustani phonology for further clarification.

Bilabial Labio-
 Dental  Alveolar Retroflex Post-alv./
 Velar   Uvular Glottal
Plosive p


Affricate c
Nasal m n ñ
Fricative f s z ś x ġ h
Tap or Flap r
Approximant v y



Hindustani distinguishes three genders (masculine, feminine and inanimate), two numbers, and three cases of direct, oblique, and vocative. Nouns may be further divided into declensional subtypes, type-I and type-II, with the basic difference being that the former has characteristic terminations in the direct singular while the latter does not.[1] An alternative assessment of this division would be that of respectively "marked and unmarked" nouns.

The below table displays the suffix paradigms. A hyphen symbol (for the marked) denotes change amongst terminations, whereas a plus sign (for the unmarked) denotes termination addition.

Sg. Pl.
Dir. anil. Dir. anil. Voc.
Masc. I -ā -e -õ -o
II +õ +o
Fem. I -ī, -i, -iyā -iyā̃ -iyõ -iyo
II + +õ +o

The next table of noun declensions, mostly adapted from Shapiro (2003:263), shows the above suffix paradigms in action. Words: laṛkā "boy", kuā̃ "well", seb "apple", vālid "father", chāqū "penknife", ādmī "man", mitra "friend", laṛkī "girl", ciṛiyā "finch", kitāb "book", aurat "woman".

Sg. Pl.
Dir. Obl. Dir. Obl. Voc.
Masc. I laṛkā
II seb


Fem. I laṛkī
II kitāb


  • ^1 Also the voc. sg.
  • ^2 A small number of marked masculines display nasalization of all terminations.[2]
  • ^3 Some masculines ending in ā don't change in the direct plural and fall in the unmarked category. i.e. vālid "father", cācā "uncle", rājā "king".[3]
  • ^4 Unmarked nouns ending in ū and ī generally shorten this to u and i before the oblique (and vocative) plural termination(s), with the latter also inserting the semivowel y.[3][4][5]
  • In Urdu, many Arabic words retain their Arabic plurals.
  • Many feminine Sanskrit loanwords end in ā.[3]
  • Perso-Arabic loans ending in final unpronounced h are handled as masculine marked nouns.[6] Hence bacca(h)baccā. The former is the Urdu spelling, the latter the Hindi.
  • Some Perso-Arabic loans may use their original dual and plural markings. i.e. vālid "father" → vālidain "parents".


Adjectives may be divided into declinable and indeclinable categories.[7] Declinables are marked, through termination, for the gender, number, case of the nouns they qualify. The set of declinable adjective terminations is similar but greatly simplified in comparison to that of noun terminations —

Dir. sg. All else
Decl. Masc. -ā -e
Fem. -ī

Indeclinable adjectives are completely invariable, and can end in either consonants or vowels (including ā and ī ). A number of declinables display nasalization of all terminations.[7] Dir. masc. sg. () is the citation form.

  • Examples of declinable adjectives: baṛā "big", choṭā "small", moṭā "fat", acchā "good", burā "bad", kālā "black", ṭhaṇḍā "cold".
  • Examples of indeclinable adjectives: xarāb "bad", sāf "clean", bhārī "heavy", murdā "dead", sundar "beautiful", pāgal "crazy", lāl "red".
Declinable adjective baṛā "big" in attributive use
Sg. Pl.
Dir. Obl. Dir. Obl. Voc.
M I baṛā laṛkā
baṛā kuā̃
baṛe laṛke
baṛe kuẽ
baṛe laṛkõ
baṛe kuõ
baṛe laṛko
II baṛā seb
baṛā pitā
baṛā cākū
baṛā ādmī
baṛā mitra
baṛe seb
baṛe pitā
baṛe cākū
baṛe ādmī
baṛe mitra
baṛe sebõ
baṛe pitāõ
baṛe cākuõ
baṛe ādmiyõ
baṛe mitrõ

baṛe pitāo

baṛe ādmiyo
baṛe mitro
F I baṛī laṛkī
baṛī śakti
baṛī ciṛiyā
baṛī laṛkiyā̃
baṛī śaktiyā̃
baṛī ciṛiyā̃
baṛī laṛkiyõ
baṛī śaktiyõ
baṛī ciṛiyõ
baṛī laṛkiyo
II baṛī kitāb
baṛī bhāṣā
baṛī aurat
baṛī kitābẽ
baṛī bhāṣāẽ
baṛī aurtẽ
baṛī kitābõ
baṛī bhāṣāõ
baṛī aurtõ

baṛī aurto
Indeclinable adjective xarāb "bad" in attributive use
Sg. Pl.
Dir. Obl. Dir. Obl. Voc.
M I xarāb laṛkā
xarāb kuā̃
xarāb laṛke
xarāb kuẽ
xarāb laṛkõ
xarāb kuõ
xarāb laṛko
II xarāb seb
xarāb pitā
xarāb cākū
xarāb ādmī
xarāb mitra
xarāb sebõ
xarāb pitāõ
xarāb cākuõ
xarāb ādmiyõ
xarāb mitrõ

xarāb pitāo

xarāb ādmiyo
xarāb mitro
F I xarāb laṛkī
xarāb śakti
xarāb ciṛiyā
xarāb laṛkiyā̃
xarāb śaktiyā̃
xarāb ciṛiyā̃
xarāb laṛkiyõ
xarāb śaktiyõ
xarāb ciṛiyõ
xarāb laṛkiyo
II xarāb kitāb
xarāb bhāṣā
xarāb aurat
xarāb kitābẽ
xarāb bhāṣāẽ
xarāb aurtẽ
xarāb kitābõ
xarāb bhāṣāõ
xarāb aurtõ

xarāb aurto

All adjectives can be used either attributively, predicatively, or substantively. Substantively they are of course declined as nouns rather than adjectives.

(~ se ~ ) is a suffix for adjectives, modifying or lightening their meaning; giving them an "-ish" or "quite" sense. e.g. nīlā "blue" → nīlā-sā "bluish". Its emphasis is rather ambiguous, sometimes enhancing, sometimes toning down, the sense of the adjective.[8]

Comparatives and superlatives

Comparisons are made by using "than" (the postposition se; see below), "more" (aur, zyādā), and "less" (kam). The word for "more" is optional, while "less" is required, so that in the absence of either "more" will be inferred.

Hindustani Literal Meaning
Gītā Gautam se lambī hai Gita Gautam than tall is Gita is taller than Gautam
Gītā Gautam se aur lambī hai Gita Gautam than more tall is Gita is more tall than Gautam
Gita is (just) as tall as Gautam
Gītā Gautam se kam lambī hai Gita Gautam than less tall is Gita is less tall than Gautam

In the absence of an object of comparison ("more" of course is now no longer optional):

Hindustani Literal Meaning
chokrā zyādā baṛā hai The lad more big is The lad is bigger
The lad is just as big
chokrā kam baṛā hai The lad less big is The lad is less big
Hindustani Literal Meaning
zyādā baṛā chokrā The more big lad The bigger lad
The just as big lad
kam baṛā chokrā The less big lad The less big lad

Superlatives are made through comparisons with "all" (sab).

Hindustani Literal Meaning
kamrā sabse sāf hai The room all than clean is The room is the cleanest
The room is the least clean
Hindustani Literal Meaning
sabse sāf kamrā The all than clean room The cleanest room
The least clean room

In Sanskritized and Persianized registers of Hindustani, comparative and superlative adjectival forms using suffixes derived from those languages can be found.[9]

Sanskrit Persian
Comp. ("-er") -tar
Sup. ("-est") -tam -tarīn


The numeral systems of several of the Indo-Aryan languages, including Hindustani and Nepali, are typical decimal systems, but contracted to the extent that nearly every number 1–99 is irregular.


The aforementioned inflectional case system only goes so far on its own, and rather serves as that upon which is built a system of agglutinative suffixes or particles known as postpositions, which parallel English's prepositions. It is their use with a noun or verb that necessitates the noun or verb taking the oblique case (though the bare oblique is also minorly used adverbially[10]), and it is with them that the locus of grammatical function or "case-marking" then lies. There are seven such one-word primary postpositions:

  • genitive marker; variably declinable in the manner of an adjective. X kā/ke/kī Y has the sense "X's Y", with kā/ke/kī agreeing with Y.[7]
  • ko – marks the indirect object (hence named "dative marker"), or, if definite, the direct object.[11]
  • neergative marker; applied to subjects of transitive perfective verbs.
  • seablative marker; has a very wide range of uses and meanings:
    • "from"; dillī se "from Delhi".
    • "from, of"; tumse ḍarnā "to fear of you".
    • "since"; itvār se "since Sunday".
    • "by, with"; instrumental marker.
    • "by, with, -ly"; adverbial marker.
    • "than"; for comparatives.
    • a minority of verbs use se rather than ko to mark their patients.
  • mẽ – "in".
  • par – "on".
  • tak – "until, up to".

Beyond these are a large range of compound postpositions, composed of the genitive primary postposition in the oblique form (ke, ) plus an adverb.

  • kī taraf "towards", ke andar "inside", ke āge "in front of, ahead of", ke ūpar "on top of, above", ke nīche "beneath, below", ke pīche "behind", ke bād "after", ke bāre mẽ "about", ke bāhar "outside", ke liye "for", ke sāmne "facing, opposite", etc.[12]



Hindustani has personal pronouns for the first and second persons, while for the third person demonstratives are used, which can be categorized deictically as proximate and non-proximate.[13] Pronouns distinguish cases of direct, oblique, and dative. The lattermost, often called a set of "contracted" forms, is in free variation with the oblique case plus dative postposition. Pronouns do not distinguish gender.

Also displayed in the below table are the genitive pronominal forms to show that the 1st and 2nd pronouns have their own distinctive forms of merā, hamārā, terā, tumhārā apart from the regular formula of OBL. + ; as well as the ergative pronominal forms to show that the postposition ne does not straightforwardly suffix the oblique bases: rather than *mujh ne and *tujh ne, direct bases are used giving mai ne and tū ne, and rather than in ne and un ne, it's inhõ ne and unhõ ne.

, tum, and āp are the three second person pronouns ("you"), constituting a threefold scale of sociolinguistic formality: respectively "intimate", "familiar", and "polite". The "intimate" is grammatically singular while the "familiar" and "polite" are grammatically plural.[9] When being referred to in the third person however, only those of the "polite" level of formality are grammatically plural.[14] The following table is adapted from Shapiro (2003:265).

Personal Demonstrative Relative Interrogative
1st pn. 2nd pn. 3rd pn.
Sg. Pl. Sg. Pl. Prox. Non-prox.
Int. Fam. Pol. Sg. Pl./Pol. Sg. Pl./Pol. Sg. Pl. Sg. Pl.
Direct mãĩ ham tum āp ye vo jo kaun, kyā
Oblique mujh tujh is in us un jis jin kis kin
Dative mujhe hamẽ tujhe tumhẽ āp ko ise inhẽ use unhẽ jise jinhẽ kise kinhẽ
Genitive merā hamārā terā tumhārā āp kā is kā in kā us kā un kā jis kā jin kā kis kā kin kā
Ergative mãĩ ne ham ne tū ne tum ne āp ne is ne inhõ ne us ne unhõ ne jis ne jinhõ ne kis ne kinhõ ne
  • Postpositions are treated as bound morphemes after pronouns in Hindi, but as separate words in Urdu.[15] Followed here is the example of Urdu, for easier reference.
  • The varying forms for the 3rd pn. dir. constitute one of the small number of grammatical differences between Hindi and Urdu. yah "this" / ye "these" / vah "that" / ve "those" is the literary set for Hindi while ye "this, these" / vo "that, those" is the set for Urdu and spoken (and also often written) Hindi.
  • The above section on postpositions noted that ko (the dative case) marks direct objects if definite. As "the most specific thing of all is an individual", persons (or their pronouns) nearly always take the dative case or postposition.[16]
  • Some speakers prefer plural ham over singular mãĩ. This is not quite the same as the "royal we"; it is rather colloquial.[17]
  • koī and kuch are indefinite pronouns/quantifiers. As pronouns koī is used for animates ("someone") and kuch for inanimates ("something").[18] As quantifiers/adjectives koī is used for singular count nouns and kuch for mass nouns and plural count nouns. koī takes the form kisī in the oblique. The form kaī "several" is partially a plural equivalent to koī.[19] kuch can also act as an adverb, qualifying an adjective, meaning "rather". koī preceding a number takes the meaning of "about, approximately". In this usage it does not oblique to kisī.[20]
  • apnā is a (genitive) reflexive pronoun: "my/your/etc. (own)".[21] Using non-reflexive and reflexive together gives emphasis; e.g. merā apnā "my (very) own".[22] xud, āp, and svayam are some (direct; non-genitive) others: "my/your/etc.-self".[23] Bases for oblique usage are usually apne or apne āp. The latter alone can also mean "of one's own accord"; āpas mẽ means "among/between themselves".[24]


Interrogative Relative Demonstrative
Prox. Non-prox.
Time kab jab ab tab
Place kahā̃ jahā̃ yahā̃ vahā̃
kidhar jidhar idhar udhar
Quantity kitnā jitnā itnā utnā
Quality kaisā jaisā aisā vaisā
Manner kaise jaise aise vaise


Hindustani has few underived forms.[25] Adverbs may be derived in ways such as the following —

  • Simply obliquing some nouns and adjectives: nīcā "low" → nīce "down", sīdhā "straight" → sīdhe "straight", dhīrā "slow" → dhīre "slowly", sawerā "morning" → sawere "in the morning", ye taraf "this direction" → is taraf "in this direction", kalkattā "Calcutta" → kalkatte "to Calcutta".
  • Nouns using a postposition such as se "by, with, -ly": zor "force" → zor se "forcefully" (lit. "with force"), dhyān "attention" → dhyān se "attentively" (lit. "with attention").
  • Adjectives using postpositional phrases involving "way, manner": acchā "good" → acchī tarah se "well" (lit. "by/in a good way"), xās "special" → xās taur par "especially" (lit. "on a special way").
  • Verbs in conjunctive form: hãs "laugh" → hãs kar "laughingly" (lit. "having laughed"), meherbānī kar "do kindness" → meherbānī kar ke "kindly, please" (lit. "having done kindness").[26]
  • Formative suffixes from Sanskrit or Perso-Arabic in higher registers of Hindi or Urdu. Skt. sambhava "possible" + -taḥsambhavataḥ "possibly; Ar. ittifāq "chance" + -anittifāqan "by chance".[10]



The Hindustani verbal system is largely structured around a combination of aspect and tense/mood. Like the nominal system, the Hindustani verb involves successive layers of (inflectional) elements to the right of the lexical base.[27]

Hindustani has 3 aspects: perfective, habitual, and continuous, each having overt morphological correlates.[10] These are participle forms, inflecting for gender and number by way of a vowel termination, like adjectives.[28] The perfective, though displaying a "number of irregularities and morphophonemic adjustments", is the simplest, being just the verb stem followed by the agreement vowel. The habitual forms from the imperfective participle; verb stem, plus -t-, then vowel. The continuous forms periphrastically through compounding (see below) with the perfective of rahnā "to stay".

Derived from honā "to be" are five copula forms: present, past, subjunctive, presumptive, contrafactual (aka "past conditional"). Used both in basic predicative/existential sentences and as verbal auxiliaries to aspectual forms, these constitute the basis of tense and mood.

Non-aspectual forms include the infinitive, the imperative, and the conjunctive. Mentioned morphological conditions such the subjunctive, "presumptive", etc. are applicable to both copula roots for auxiliary usage with aspectual forms and to non-copula roots directly for often unspecified (non-aspectual) finite forms.

Finite verbal agreement is with the nominative subject, except in the transitive perfective, where it is with the direct object, with the erstwhile subject taking the ergative construction -ne (see postpositions above). The perfective aspect thus displays split ergativity.

Tabled below on the left are the paradigms for adjectival concord (A), here only slightly different from that introduced previously: the f. pl. can nasalize under certain conditions. To the right are the paradigms for personal concord (P), used by the subjunctive.

(A) Sg. Pl.
Masc. -ā -e
Fem. -ī -ī( ̃)
(P) 1st. 2nd. 3rd.
Sg. -ū̃ -e
Pl. - -o/ẽ -


The sample verb is intransitive dauṛnā "to run", and the sample inflection is 3rd. masc. sg. (P = e, A = ā) where applicable.

Non-aspectual Aspectual
Root * dauṛ
*-n-ā dauṛnā
Obl. Infinitive *-n-e dauṛne
Conjunctive * kar dauṛ kar
*-n-e vāl-A dauṛne vālā
Perfective *-A (hu-A) dauṛā (huā)
Imperfective *-t-A (hu-A) dauṛtā (huā)
Adverbial. Obl. of adjectival.
Imperfective *-t-e (hu-e) dauṛte hue
Contingent Future *-P dauṛe
Definite Future *-P g-A dauṛe gā
Intimate * dauṛ
Familiar *-o dauṛo
Polite *-iye dauṛiye
Deferred *-nā dauṛnā
Deferential *-iye gā dauṛiye gā
Aspectuals plotted against copulas.
Perfective Habitual Continuous
*-A *-t-A * rah-A
Present h-? dauṛā hai dauṛtā hai dauṛ rahā hai
Past th-A dauṛā thā dauṛtā thā dauṛ rahā thā
Subjunctive Pho- dauṛā ho dauṛtā ho dauṛ rahā ho
Presumptive ho-P g-A dauṛā ho gā dauṛtā ho gā dauṛ rahā ho gā
Contrafactual ho-t-A dauṛā hotā dauṛtā hotā dauṛ rahā hotā
Unspecified dauṛā dauṛtā


  • Much of the above chart information derives from Masica (1991:292–294, 323–325).
  • The future tense is formed by adding the suffix (~ ge ~ ) to the subjunctive, which is a contraction of gaā (= gayā, perfective participle of jānā "to go").[28] The future suffix, conjunctive participle, and suffix vālā are treated as bound morphemes in written Hindi, but as separate words in written Urdu.[15] Again followed here is the example of Urdu, for easier reference.
  • ^ The present copula (h-?) seems not to follow along the lines of the regular P system of terminations; while the subjunctive copula (ho-P) is thoroughly irregular. So here are all of their forms.
Sg Pl.
1st. 2nd. 3rd. 1st. 2nd. 3rd.
Pron. mãĩ vo ham tum āp vo
Pres. hū̃ hai hãĩ ho hãĩ
Subj. hū̃ ho ho
  • For the 1. subj. sg. copula Schmidt (2003:324) and Snell & Weightman (1989:113, 125) list hū̃ while Shapiro (2003:267) lists hoū̃.
  • Shapiro (2003:268) lists the polite imperative ending as -iye, while Schmidt (2003:330) lists it as -ie but -iye after ā, o, ū.
  • The euphonic glide y is inserted in perfective participles between prohibited vowel clusters. It is historically the remnant of the old perfective marker.[30] The clusters are a + ā, ā + ā, o + ā, and ī + ā, resulting in āyā, ayā, oyā, iyā.[31] e.g. khāyā/khāye/khāī/khāī̃ (khā- "eat").
  • In addition, the combinations ī + ī and i + ī give ī.[31] e.g. piyā/piye/pī/pī̃ (pī- "drink").
  • As stated, agreement in the transitive perfective is with the direct object, with the erstwhile subject taking the ergative postposition ne. If however the direct object takes the postposition ko (marking definiteness), or if no direct object is expressed, then agreement neutralizes to default m. sg. .[32]
  • Is this regard, there are a small number of verbs that while perhaps logically transitive still do not take ne and continue to agree with the subject, in the perfective. e.g. lānā "to bring", bhūlnā "to forget", milnā "to meet", etc.
  • Besides supplying the copulas, honā "to be" can be used aspectually: huā "happened, became"; hotā "happens, becomes, is"; ho rahā "happening, being".
  • -ke can be used as a colloquial alternative to -kar for the conjunctive participle of any verb. But for karnā it is the only possible form; karke, not *karkar.[33]
  • Hindustani displays a very small number of irregular forms, spelled out in the cells below.
Root Perf.
Imperative[34] Subj.
Fam. Pol.
ho- "be" hu-
jā- "go" ga-
kar- "do" ki- kījie
de- "give" di- do dījie d-
le- "take" li- lo lījie l-
pī- "drink" pījie
  • ^ However, it is jā- that is used as the perfective stem in the rare instance of an intransitive verb like jānā being expressed passively, such as in a passivized imperative/subjunctive construction: ghar jāyā jāe? "Shall [we] go home?" (lit. "Shall home be gone to [by us]?").[36]


Transitives or causatives are morphologically contrastive in Hindustani, leading to the existence of related verb sets divisible along such lines. While the derivation of such forms shows patterns, they do reach a level of variegation so as to make it somewhat difficult to outline all-encompassing rules. Furthermore, some sets may have as many as four to five distinct members; also, the meaning of certain members of given sets may be idiosyncratic.[37]

Starting from intransitive or transitive verb stems further transitive/causative stems are produced according to these assorted rules —

1a. Root vowel change: aā, u/ūo, i/īe. Sometimes accompanied by root final consonant change: kc, , lØ.
1b. Suffixation of . Often accompanied by:
Root vowel change: ū/ou, e/ai/ā/īi.
Insertion of semivowel l between such vowel-terminating stems.
2. Suffixation of -vā (in place of if and where it'd occur) for a "causative".

The following are sets culled from Shapiro (2003:270) and Snell & Weightman (1989:243–244). The lack of third members displayed for the ghūmnā to dhulnā sets does not imply that they do not exist but that they were simply not listed in the source literature (Snell & Weightman 1989:243). Intransitive verbs are coloured brown while transitives remain the usual black.

  • girnā "to fall", girānā "to fell", girvānā "to cause to be felled".
  • banna "to become", banānā "to make", banvānā "to cause to be made".
  • khulnā "to open", kholnā "to open", khulvānā "to cause to be opened".
  • sīkhnā "to learn", sikhānā "to teach", sikhvānā "to cause to be taught".
  • khānā "to eat", khilānā "to feed", khilvānā "to cause to be fed".
  • biknā "to sell", becnā "to sell", bikvānā "to cause to be sold".
  • dikhnā/dīkhnā "to seem", dekhnā "to see", dikhānā "to show", dikhvānā "to cause to be shown".
  • kahnā "to say", kahlānā "to be called".
  • ghūmnā "to go round", ghumānā "to make go round".
  • leṭnā "to lie down", liṭānā "to lay down".
  • baiṭhnā "to sit", biṭhānā "to seat".
  • sonā "to sleep", sulānā "to make sleep".
  • dhulnā "to wash", dhonā "to wash".
  • ṭūṭnā "to break", toṛnā "to break", tuṛānā "to cause to be broken".

In the causative model of "to cause to be Xed", the agent takes the postposition se. Thus Y se Z banvānā "to cause Z to be made by Y" = "to cause Y to make Z" = "to have Z made by Y" = "to have Y make Z", etc.


Compound verbs, a highly visible feature of Hindi–Urdu grammar, consist of a verbal stem plus an auxiliary verb. The auxiliary (variously called "subsidiary", "explicator verb", and "vector",[38]) loses its own independent meaning and instead "lends a certain shade of meaning"[39] to the main or stem verb, which "comprises the lexical core of the compound".[38] While most any verb can act as a main verb, there is a limited set of productive auxiliaries.[40] Shown below are prominent such auxiliaries, with their independent meaning first outlined, followed by their semantic contribution as auxiliaries.

  • jānā "to go"; gives a sense of completeness, finality, or change of state. e.g. ānā "to come" → ā jānā "to come, arrive"; khānā "to eat" → khā jānā "to eat up"; pīnā "to drink" → pī jānā "to drink up"; baiṭhnā "to sit" → baiṭh jānā "to sit down"; samajhnā "to understand" → samajh jānā "to realise"; sonā "to sleep" → so jānā "to go to sleep"; honā "to be" → ho jānā "to become".[41]
  • lenā "to take"; suggests that the benefit of the action flows towards the doer. e.g. paṛh lenā "to read (to/for oneself)".[42]
  • denā "to give"; suggests that the benefit of the action flows away from the doer. e.g. paṛh denā "to read (out)".[42]

The above three are the most common of auxiliaries, and the "least marked", or "lexically nearly colourless".[43] The nuance laden by an auxiliary can often be very subtle and as well is not necessarily grounds for a rendering in different words upon translation to English as the examples here might conveniently show. lenā and denā, transitive verbs, occur with transitives, while intransitive jānā occurs mostly with intransitives; a compound of a transitive and jānā will be grammatically intransitive as jānā is.

  • ḍālnā "to throw, pour"; indicates an action done vigorously, decisively, violently or recklessly;[44] it is an intensifier, showing intensity, urgency, completeness, or violence.[45] e.g. mārnā "to strike" → mār ḍālnā "to kill", pīnā "to drink" → pī ḍālnā "to drink down".
  • baiṭhnā "to sit"; implies an action done foolishly or stubbornly;[46] shows speaker disapproval or an impulsive or involuntary action.[45] kahnā "to say" → kah baiṭhnā "to blurt out", karnā "to do" → kar baiṭhnā "to do (as a blunder)", laṛnā "to fight" → laṛ baiṭhnā "to quarrel (foolishly)".
  • paṛnā "to fall"; connotes involuntary, sudden, or unavoidable occurrence;[43] adds a sense of suddenness or change of state, with its independent/literal meaning sometimes showing through in a sense of downward movement.[46]
  • uṭhnā "to rise"; functions like an intensifier;[47] suggests inception of action or feeling, with its independent/literal meaning sometimes showing through in a sense of upward movement. e.g. jalnā "to burn" → jal uṭhnā "to burst into flames", nacnā "to dance" → nac uṭhnā "to break into dance".[46]
  • rakhnā "to keep, maintain"; implies a firmness of action, or one with possibly long-lasting results or implications;[48] occurs with lenā and denā, meaning "to give/take (as a loan)", and with other appropriate verbs, showing an action performed beforehand.[45]
  • The continuous aspect marker rahā apparently originated as a compound verb with rahnā ("remain"): thus mãĩ bol rahā hū̃ = "I have remained speaking" → "I have continued speaking" → "I am speaking". However it has lost the ability to take any form other than the perfective, and is thus considered to have become grammaticalized.[49]

Finally, having to do with the manner of an occurrence, compounds verbs are mostly used with completed actions and imperatives, and much less with negatives, conjunctives, and contexts continuous or speculative. This is because non-occurrences cannot be described to have occurred in a particular manner.[42]


Another notable aspect of Hindi–Urdu grammar is that of "conjunct verbs", composed of a noun or adjective paired up with a general verbalizer, most commonly transitive karnā "to do" or intransitive honā "to be(come)", functioning in the place of what in English would be single unified verb.

In the case of an adjective as the non-verbal element, it is often helps to think of karnā "to do" as supplementally having the senses of "to cause to be", "to make", "to render", etc.

Adjective Conjunct Literal Meaning
sāf clean sāf karnā to do clean to clean
niyukt/muqarrar appointed niyukt/muqarrar karnā to do appointed to appoint
band closed band honā to become closed to close
xatm finished xatm honā to become finished to finish

In the case of a noun as the non-verbal element, it is treated syntactically as the verb's (direct) object (never taking the ko marker; governing agreement in perfective and infinitival constructions), and the semantic patient (or agent: see gālī khānā below) of the conjunct verbal expression is often expressed/marked syntactically as a genitive adjunct (-kā ~ ke ~ ) of the noun.[50]

Noun Conjunct Conjunct + patient Literal Meaning
intizār wait intizār karnā kisī kā intizār karnā to do somebody's wait to wait for somebody
istemāl use istemāl karnā fon kā istemāl karnā to do a phone's use to use a phone
bāt talk bāt karnā Samīr kī bāt karnā to do Sameer's talk to talk about Sameer
pratiṣṭhā installation pratiṣṭhānkarnā mūrti/but kī pratiṣṭhā karnā to do an idol's installation to install an idol
gālī curse gālī khānā sanam kī gālī khānā to eat a lover's curse to be cursed out by one's lover
tasvīr picture tasvīr khīṅcnā/khicwānā Ibrahim ki tasvīr khīṅcnā/khicwānā to pull Ibrahim's picture to take Ibrahim's picture

With English it is the verb stems themselves that are used.

Verb stem Conjunct Meaning
cek check cek karnā to check
bor bore bor honā to be bored


The passive construction is periphrastic. It is formed from the perfective participle by addition of the auxiliary jānā "to go"; i.e. likhnā "to write" → likhā jānā "to be written". The agent is marked by the postposition se. Furthermore, both intransitive and transitive verbs may be grammatically passivized to show physical/psychological incapacity, usually in negative sentences. Lastly, intransitives often have a passive sense, or convey unintentional action.[51]


With regards to word order, Hindustani is an SOV language. In terms of branching, it is neither purely left- or right-branching, and phenomena of both types can be found. The order of constituents in sentences as a whole lacks governing "hard and fast rules", and frequent deviations can be found from normative word position, describable in terms of a small number of rules, accounting for facts beyond the pale of the label of "SOV".[52]

  1. Indirect objects precede direct objects.
  2. Attributive adjectives precede the noun they qualify.
  3. Adverbs precede the adjectives they qualify.
  4. Negative markers (nahī̃, na, mat) and interrogatives precede the verb.
  5. Interrogatives precede negative markers if both are present.
  6. kyā ("what?") as the yes-no question marker occurs at the beginning of a clause.


Possession, reflecting what many other languages indicate via the verb to have, is reflected in Hindustani by the genitive (inflected appropriately) or the postposition ke pās and the verb honā. Possible objects of possession (nouns) fall into two main categories in Hindustani: one for persons such as family members, or body parts, and the other for most inanimate objects, animals, most abstract ideas, and some persons such as servants.

  • For indicating possession with objects of the first category, appears after the subject of the possession, followed by the object. With personal pronouns, this requires the use of the possessive pronoun (inflected appropriately). Examples: Merī mātā he ("I have a mother"), Shiv kī tīn ā̃khẽ hain ("Shiva has three eyes").
  • For indicating possession with objects of the second category, the compound postposition ke pās is used. For example: Mohan ke pās ek bukkarī he ("Mohan has one goat").

Differences between Hindi and Urdu

At morphological level, the differences between Hindi and Urdu are mostly in the area of vocabulary. But there are few other differences also, which are:[53]

  • In the indirect constructions employing cāhi'e, Urdu also uses plural form cāhi'ẽ.
Language Transliterated sentence Translated meaning (in English)
Hindi mujhe kitāb cāhiye
mujhe kitābẽ cāhiye
I want the book.
I want the books.
Urdu mujhe kitāb cāhi'e
mujhe kitābẽ cāhi'ẽ
I want the book.
I want the books.
  • In another indirect construction, Hindi usually has the infinitive, functioning as a complement, agreeing with the grammatical subject of the verb; Urdu however has an additional possibility.
Language Transliterated sentence Translated meaning (in English)
Hindi mujhe kuch kitābẽ kharīdnī hãĩ I need/want to buy some books.
Urdu mujhe kuch kitābẽ kharīdnī hãĩ
mujhe kuch kitābẽ kharīdnā hãĩ
I need/want to buy some books.
I need/want to buy some books.
  • In sentences in which a conjunctive participle is used to refer to the first act in a series of two, if the first act is in some sense a 'cause' for the second act, Hindi prefers the conjunctive suffix -kar be dropped and only the root of the first verb used. In Urdu, on the other hand, the use of conjunctive suffix word is always required.
Language Transliterated sentence Translated meaning (in English)
Hindi unko dekh ham ro paṛe On seeing him we burst into tears.
Urdu un ko dekh kar ham ro paṛe On seeing him we burst into tears.
The following sentence, however, will be same in both Hindi and Urdu:
Hindustani un se jā kar mili'e Please go and meet him.
  • Many nouns which are masculine in Urdu are feminine in Hindi, the opposite also being true.
  • There are any number of derivational suffixes and prefixes in Urdu, as well as numerous adverbial words and phrases, which are not found in Hindi.
  • Urdu extensively uses Izāfat, a morphological device borrowed from Persian, to make nominal compounds. Izafat is not used in Hindi.


  1. ^ Shapiro (2003:262–263)
  2. ^ Shapiro (2003:262)
  3. ^ a b c Snell & Weightman (1989:24)
  4. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:43)
  5. ^ Shapiro (2003:263)
  6. ^ Schmidt (2003:313)
  7. ^ a b c Shapiro (2003:264)
  8. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:117)
  9. ^ a b Shapiro (2003:265)
  10. ^ a b c Shapiro (2003:266)
  11. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:67)
  12. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:80–81)
  13. ^ Shapiro (2003:264–265)
  14. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:21)
  15. ^ a b Schmidt (2003:293)
  16. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:68)
  17. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:106)
  18. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:88)
  19. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:89)
  20. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:90)
  21. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:79)
  22. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:80)
  23. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:198)
  24. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:199)
  25. ^ Schmidt (2003:322)
  26. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:150)
  27. ^ Masica (1991:257)
  28. ^ a b Schmidt (2003:323)
  29. ^ Shapiro (2003:268)
  30. ^ Schmidt (2003:324)
  31. ^ a b c Schmidt (2003:328)
  32. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:140)
  33. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:149)
  34. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:64)
  35. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:113, 125)
  36. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:179)
  37. ^ Shapiro (2003:270)
  38. ^ a b Shapiro (2003:269)
  39. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:154)
  40. ^ Shapiro (2003:269–270)
  41. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:155)
  42. ^ a b c Snell & Weightman (1989:156)
  43. ^ a b Schmidt (2003:337)
  44. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:220)
  45. ^ a b c Schmidt (2003:338)
  46. ^ a b c Snell & Weightman (1989:221)
  47. ^ Schmidt (2003:337–338)
  48. ^ Snell & Weightman (1989:222)
  49. ^ Masica (1991:329)
  50. ^ (Masica 1991, p. 368)
  51. ^ Schmidt (2003:331)
  52. ^ Shapiro (2003:271)
  53. ^ Introductory Urdu, Volume I, C. M. Naim, Revised, Third Edition, South Asia language & Area Center, University of Chicago, 1999


  •  .
  • Schmidt, Ruth Laila (2003), "Urdu", in Cardona, George; Jain, Dhanesh, The Indo-Aryan Languages, Routledge, pp. 286–350,  .
  • McGregor, Ronald Stuart (1995), Outline of Hindi Grammar (third ed.), Oxford: Clarendon Press,  .
  • Shapiro, Michael C. (2003), "Hindi", in Cardona, George; Jain, Dhanesh, The Indo-Aryan Languages, Routledge, pp. 250–285,  .
  • Snell, Rupert; Weightman, Simon (1989),  .
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