Tibetan Grammar - Formation of the Tibetan Word

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WORK IN PROGRESS: the grammar articles are being edited for wiki publication. During editing, the content might be incomplete, out of sequence or even misleading.

Template:Grammar articles

by Stefan J. Eckel

Formation of the Tibetan Word

This section is just intended as an introduction and information. You will become naturally familiar with Tibetan words in the process of learning Tibetan, so there is no need to learn everything presented here. The important informations will be pointed out during class. Template:Tibetan

Definition from བོད་རྒྱ་ཚིག་མཛོད་ཆེན་མོ་, the Great Tibetan Chinese Dictionary:

  • མིང་ཚིག་: ...དོན་གྱི་ངོ་བོ་སྟོན་པ་མིང་སྟེ། བུམ་པ། ཀ་བ་ལྟ་བུ་དང༌། དོན་གྱི་ཁྱད་པར་སྟོན་པ་ཚིག་སྟེ། རི་མཐོན་པོ། ངས་བཤད། ཁྱོད་ཀྱིས་ཉན་ལྟ་བུའོ།
མིང་ཚིག་, name word: "showing the essence of the object" is the name, like "vase" or "pillar", and "showing the particularities of the object" is the word / phrase like "high mountain", "I explained", "you listened".

Simple nouns

One syllable

  • མགོ་, head; ཁྱི་, dog; གྲུ་, boat; གྲོ་, wheat; ཤིང་, wood; གཡག་, bos grunniens; མིག་, eye; མི་, person, man; རྩྭ་, grass; མེ་, fire; ཉ་, fish; བྱ་, bird; ཁ་, mouth

Two syllables

  • ཅོག་ཙེ་, table; སོག་ལེ་, saw (the carpenters tool); སྟ་རེ་, axe; སྟོན་ཀ་, autumn

Compound nouns with པ་ and བ་

  • The endings པ་ and བ་ are used to form nouns and are then part of the noun as second syllable without adding any extra meaning. (See Compound nouns).
  • ཀོ་བ་, hide, leather; ཁང་པ་, house; བུམ་པ་, vase; ཐོ་བ་, hammer; ཟླ་བ་, moon
With the same root as a verb:
འཁོར་ལོ་, wheel, with འཁོར་བ་, to turn, spin

Compound nouns

Nouns, adjectives and verbs forming compound nouns

Noun and noun


སྦྲ་ཐག་, rope of a yaks' hairs, སྦྲ་, thick material woven from long, coarse yak hairs ཐག་པ་, rope, string

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Noun and adjective




Adjective and adjective


  • ཆེ་ཆུང་, size; ཆེ་བ་, bigger, ཆུང་བ་, smaller
  • མང་ཉུང་, quantity; མང་པོ་, many, ཉུང་ངུ་, few
  • ཕྲ་སྦོམ་, thickness; ཕྲ་མོ་ / ཕྲ་བ་, subtle, fine, tiny, སྦམ་པོ་, thick, rough, coarse, bulky

Compound nouns where the meaning is not clearly apparent from knowing the words in the compound

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Translation compounds used for translations into Tibetan

སྒྲོལ་དཀར་, White Tara; སྒྲོལ་མ་, Tara, དཀར་མོ་ white
གྲུབ་མཐའ་, siddhanta, siddhyanta, philosophical tenets; མཐའ་, limit, end, border, གྲུབ་པ་, accomplishment, existence, established

Nominalizer and formatives

Note: Nominalization generally refers to change a verb, an adjective, or an adverb into a noun. In Tibetan nominalizers can also be used to change nouns into different (new) nouns.[1]


ཅན་ comes after a word or phrase showing the idea of possession of this word or phrase, or changes it into a new noun-phrase from the idea of "possession, being endowed, to have" (similar to a བདག་སྒྲ་). It can be used with animated and inanimate things.

Noun phrase

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Possession, adjectival phrase

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The same phrase can have both meanings:




and from the same text:


Note on other usages: Rather different from the former two ཅན་ also shows "in the presence of, near to, side, in front of, before...", ཁོའི་ཅན་དུ་འགྲོ་བ།, "went to him", ང་ཅན་དུ་མ་ཡོང།, "will not come to me" (ཡོང་བ་ could have different meanings as all tenses have the same form.) Template:Gverb


  • མཁན་ comes after a word or phrase showing the "the doer, agent".
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བདག་པོ་, owner, ruler, sovereign, master

བདག་, I, me, self, ego
བདག་པ་, to be owned, belong to, being controlled, governed


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  • ལྡན་པ་ is a abbreviation of དང་ལྡན་པ་ and is in its full form treated in the verb section, (although it is not considerated to be a verb in Tibetan grammar). The meaning of ལྡན་པ་ is that of possession, associated with and concordant with.

Noun phrase

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Adjectival phrase

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  • ཉིད་ when placed after other terms it is used to produce abstract nouns, like in English "-ness". It’s used for the translation of the Sanskrit "ta" at the end of a noun. e.g. the ta in shunyata.
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  • ཉིད་ has different meanings, one very common is "this one, that very, itself"


  • Joined པོ་ཆེ་ expresses "big, bigger, great, greater".
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བུ་, འུ་

  • བུ་ and འུ་ form diminutives of nouns.
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This process can also occur with taking off and then using the noun’s postfix-letter:

  • གཟེར་, nail, stake; both གཟེར་བུ་ and གཟེ་རུ་ mean "spike, little nail", (taking off and using the ར་)
  • ལུག་, sheep; both ལུག་གུ་ and ལུ་གུ་ mean "lamb", (taking off and using the ག་)

A change of the noun’s vowel can also occur:

  • རྟ་, horse; རྟེའུ་, foal; སྟ་རེ་, axe; སྟེའུ་, small axe; བྱ་, bird; བྱིའུ་, little bird; མཚོ་, lake; མཚེའུ་, pond, small lake; རྡོ་, stone; རྡེའུ་, pebbles, small stone; ཁྱོ་, ཁྱོ་བོ་, ཁྱོ་ག་, husband; ཁྱེའུ་, child


  • ཕྲུག་ from ཕྲུ་གུ་ indicates the young ones of a species.
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  • ས་ itself means "place, earth, ground, land, soil, base, territory; the element earth; stage, state, level, ground", related to that ས་ forms noun with the meaning "the place where":


  • སྡོད་ས་, place to stay or live, residence, dwelling
  • སྡོད་པ་, to stay, live, reside, remain, to sit
  • སྐྱེ་ས་, birthplace, homeland, one's native land Template:Gfverb
  • སྐྱེ་བ་, to be born; to arise, to be produced; to develop, grow; to happen
  • སྐམ་ས་, shore, dry land" སྐམ་ "be dry
  • རེ་ས་, place of hope" རེ་བ་ "hope; to hope, want



  • ངད་, expressing the "power, potency, strength" of the noun. (ངད་ also means "smell, scent, odor")
  • སྨན་, medicine, སྨན་ངད་, potency of the medicine
  • དྲོ་པོ་, heat, warmth; to be warm, དྲོ་ངད་, strength of the warmth
  • དྲོ་ངད་ཡལ་བ།, the strength of the warmth disappears, ཡལ་བ་, to disappear, fade away, vanish

Usage of པ་, བ་, མ་, པོ་, བོ་, མོ་

པ་ / བ་ change

Euphonic changes of པ་ and པོ་ to བ་ and བོ་ do not occur in all usages.

  • པ་ after ག་, ད་, ན་, བ་, མ་, ས་, ད་དྲག་
  • བ་ after ང་, འ་, ར་, ལ་, མཐའ་མེད་

པ་ / བ་ as part of a noun

Here པ་ / བ་ were used to form a noun and are now part of the noun as second syllable without adding any extra meaning.

ཀོ་བ་, hide, leather; ཁང་པ་, house; བུམ་པ་, vase; ཐོ་བ་, hammer; ཟླ་བ་, moon; རྐང་པ་, foot; ལག་པ་, hand.

པ་ forming nouns—"having to do with"

Showing the owner, agent, user with an "active" connection

Note: There are different opinions which usage/example falls into which subcategory. For པ་ forming nouns see also 1.2
  • ཞིང་, "field, ཞིང་པ་, farmer; མདའ་, arrow, མདའ་པ་, archer
  • སྨན་, medicine, སྨན་པ་, doctor; ཁྱིམ་, household, house, ཁྱིམ་པ་, householder, layman; རྟ་, horse, རྟ་པ་, horseman; གར་, dance, acting, གར་པ་ "dancer, actor
  • རྣལ་འབྱོར་, yoga, རྣལ་འབྱོར་པ་, yogi

Showing connection

  • བོད་, Tibet, བོད་པ་, Tibetan; སངས་རྒྱས་, Buddha, སངས་རྒྱས་པ་, follower of Buddha

Possession, having the feature

(see also ཅན་ and བདག་ )
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པོ་ (/ མོ་ ) "doer" of the verb

  • The "doer" of the verb (nomina agentis) is only formed from present tense form of the verb.
  • བྱེད་པ་, to do, བྱེད་པ་པོ་, the doer (also short བྱེད་པོ་)
  • ཉན་པ་, to listen, ཉན་པ་པོ་, the listener
  • རྩོམ་པ་, to compose, རྩོམ་པ་པོ་, the composer, author
  • ཞོན་པ་, to ride, ཞོན་པ་པོ་, the rider
  • སྟོན་པ་, to teach, show, explain
  • སྟོན་པ་པོ་, the teacher, demonstrator, explainer
  • ས་བོན་འདེབས་པ་, to plant seeds
  • ས་བོན་འདེབས་པ་པོ་, the one who plants the seed/seeds
  • ས་བོན་, seed, འདེབས་པ་, to sow, to plant, to establish, start; to strike, hit; to stamp (with a seal)

In some cases the specific female form is formed by using མོ་ Template:Gfverb

  • སྦྱིན་པ་མོ་, female giver, bestower

པ་, བ་ nominalizing verbs

  • པ་ and བ་ are used to nominalize verbs (see verbs), which then can be used in different ways.

པ་, བ་ verbal adjective

  • One usage of nominalized verbs is as verbal adjectives which can function as qualifier (see connective case), or can be used as a noun.
  • འགྲོ་བ་ to go, (verbal root འགྲོ་ (see verbs))

Verbal adjectives as qualifier:


As a noun:

འགྲོ་བ་, the goer, the going one, migrators, for "sentient beings"

  • མཐོང་བ་ to see (verbal root མཐོང་)

Verbal adjectives as qualifier:


As a noun:

མཐོང་བ་, what is seen, sight

  • Note: In some cases the verbal adjective can become the nomina agentis. རྒྱལ་བ་, to be victorious, becomes nomina agentis to translate the Sanskrit jina, conqueror, victorious one, an epithet for the Buddha and used in reference to high lamas.

པ་, བ་ nouns with the same root as a verb

  • འཁོར་བ་, v. to rotate, spin, to cycle through, to go around Template:Gfverb
  • འཁོར་བ་, n. samsara, cyclic existence

  • རིག་པ་, v. to know, understand; to see Template:Gfverb
  • རིག་པ་, n. rigpa; knowledge; intelligence; science

  • ཐར་བ་, v. to be liberated, freed, to escape Template:Gfverb
  • ཐར་པ་, n. mokṣa, liberation, emancipation, freedom

  • འགྲེལ་བ་, v. to elucidate, comment on, explain Template:Gfverb
  • འགྲེལ་པ་, n. commentary, explanation

  • འཁྲུལ་བ་, v. to confuse, mistake; be bewildered, deluded, confused
  • འཁྲུལ་པ་, n. confusion

Note: In the last three examples པ་ instead of བ་ follows ར་ and ལ་, which shows that it is not just a nominalized verb used as noun.

པོ་, བོ་, མ་, མོ་ as genus-indicator for nouns

  • མ་, མོ་ are used to form the feminine form, either for nouns which do have a masculine form, or those without. Often only the feminine form is expressed.
  • པོ་, བོ་ are not as strong a genus-indicator as མ་, མོ་ and nouns with པོ་, བོ་ might be still used as just general terms.
  • གྲོགས་, a friend, གྲོགས་པོ་, also a friend or specifically a male friend
  • གྲོགས་མོ་, a female friend
  • དགྲ་, enemy, foe, དགྲ་བོ་, opponent, enemy, དགྲ་མོ་, a female enemy, opponent
  • རྒྱལ་པོ་, the king, རྒྱལ་མོ་, the queen, (from རྒྱལ་བ་, to be victorious, to win)
  • རྒན་པ་, the older, senior; elders, རྒན་པོ་, old man, རྒན་མོ་, old woman
  • དཔའ་, courageous, brave, fearless, དཔའ་བོ་, the hero; daka, དཔའ་མོ་, heroine, female warrior
  • སྟག་, tiger, སྟག་མོ་, tigress, ལྷ་, god, deva, ལྷ་མོ་, goddess, devi
  • སྲས་, son (h.) སྲས་མོ་, daughter (h.)
  • ཆང་ཚོང་མ་, barmaid, female tavern worker/owner, ཆང་, barley beer, ཚོང་པ་, a shop-keeper, merchant, འཚོང་བ་, to trade, sell
  • རེས་, vāra, sometimes; [mutually taking] turn[s], times" རེས་མ་, vārā, courtesan; prostitute

པོ་, མོ་ genus specific adjectives

  • With པོ་ and མོ་ genus specific adjectives can be formed. (See Adjectives.)

བོ་, མ་, མོ་ genus-neutral nouns

  • བོ་, མ་, མོ་ can be part of a noun without indicating a genus.
  • གད་མོ་, laughter, བགད་པ་, to laugh Template:Gfverb
  • རྩེ་མོ་, peak, pinnacle, tip; the finger-nail, རྩེ་, point, tip, peak
  • བླ་མ་, lama, བླ་, superior, higher, that which above
  • གོང་མ་, the superior, higher (one); previous, earlier (one), གོང་, above, on top; higher, superior
  • ངོ་བོ་, essence

Using པ་ for ordinal numbers

  • པ་ is used to create ordinal numbers. The one exception is for "first".
  • གཅིག་, one, but དང་པོ་, the first
  • གཉིས་, two, གཉིས་པ་, the second, བཅོ་ལྔ་, fifteen, བཅོ་ལྔ་པ་, the fifteenth


  • Note: these stubs contain unfinished articles


ཡས་པ་, ཀླས་པ་

  • One meaning of ཡས་, ཡས་པ་ and ཀླས་, ཀླས་པ་ when coming after a word is to express negation in terms of absence, of being without like the English "-less".
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  • ཁྲུམ་ཁྲུམ་, the peculiarity of the sound of chewing dry food
From the Great Dictionary, བོད་རྒྱ་ཚིག་མཛོད་ཆེན་མོ་: ཟས་སྐམ་པོ་སྡད་པའི་སྒྲའི་ཁྱད་པར་
  • ཁྲོལ་ཁྲོལ་, one of the sounds of a damaru etc.
  • ཆེམ་ཆེམ་, sound of cymbals; tremble, shake


  • ཨ་ཆུ་ཆུ་, the sounds uttered because of cold
  • ཨ་ཚ་ཚ་, the cry out because of pain from heat
  • ཨ་ལེ་, expression of surprise
  • ཀྱེ་, O!, Hey! for calling someone higher than oneself


  1. S. V. Beyer: The Classical Tibetan Language, "Syllabic formatives"