April 20, 2012

Compound Verbs

Compound verbs are formed by combining the stem of a main verb with an inflected form of an auxiliary verb. The main verb provides the basic meaning, and the auxiliary modifies the meaning with some nuance.

The nuance implied by an auxiliary sometimes cannot be translated easily. The nuances imparted by auxiliary verbs can sometimes be subtle, and are best absorbed by observing examples.

Not every auxiliary verb can be used with every main verb. There is no prescription for which auxiliary can be used with which verb.

The same auxiliary verb may impart different nuances to different main verbs, depending on the context.

Some auxiliary verbs do not nuance the meaning of the main verb at all. This is especially so when a compound verb has become a stereotypical expression.

Hindi Compound Verbs

The most common auxiliary verbs used to form compound verbs in Hindi are as follows:

  • लेना
  • देना
  • जाना
  • बैठना
  • डालना
  • पड़ना
  • उठना
  • रखना

By far, लेना, देना, and जाना are the most common verbs used as auxiliaries in compound verbs.

The basic form is <verb stem of main verb> + <inflected form of auxiliary verb>

लेना / देना

लेना (“to take”) is often used as an auxiliary to indicate an action toward the subject or for the benefit of the subject.

देना (“to give”) is often used as an auxiliary to indicate an action away from the subject or for the benefit of another.


Consider the following sentences:

चाबी रखो – “Put the key (somewhere)”

चाबी अपनी जेब में रख लो – “Put the key in your pocket”

चाबी मेज़ पर रख दो – “Put the key on the table”

The first sentence does not use a compound verb, and so does not express any particular nuance of direction or benefit.

The second sentence, however, expresses an action toward the subject – the person keeps the key in their own pocket.

The third sentence expresses an action away from the subject – the key is kept on a table.


लेना and देना may also express the beneficiary of the action.

Consider the following sentences:

यह किताब पढ़ लो – “Read this book (for yourself)”

यह किताब पढ़ दो – “Read this book (aloud, for others sake)”

The former sentence employs लेना, and indicates an action for the benefit of the subject, whereas the latter sentence employs देना and indicates an action for the benefit of others.

फ़ोन नंबर लिख लो – “Note the phone number”

फ़ोन नंबर लिख दो – “Write out the phone number”

The former sentence uses लेना, and thus expresses an action for the benefit of the subject, but the latter sentence uses देना and expresses and action for the benefit of another.

लेना and देना with Intransitive Verbs

लेना and देना may, in some circumstances, be used as auxiliaries with particular intransitive verbs. This is somewhat rare, however.

साथ हो लेना – “to accompany; to join”

जब मैं घर जा रहा था तो मेरी बहिन मेरे साथ हो ली – “My sister accompanied me while I was going home

काम हो लेना – “work to be finished”

क्या सब काम हो लिया – “Is all the work finished?”

चल देना – “to set off, to depart”

खाना खाने के बाद लड़के चल दिए – “After eating food, the boys set off”.

हंस देना – to laugh

लड़कियां हंस दीं – “The girls laughed”


The verb जाना as an auxiliary often imparts a sense of completeness, finality, or change of state.

होना – “to be”; हो जाना – “to become”

सोना – “to sleep”; सो जाना – “to go to sleep”

समझना – “to understand”; समझ जाना – “to realize”

आना – “to come”; आ जाना – “to arrive”

खाना – “to eat”; खा गया – “to eat up”

क्या वह सो गया – “Has he gone to sleep?”

माँ आ गयी – “Mom has arrived”

जाना and Transitivity

For verbs that can be either intransitive or transitive, जाना as an auxiliary signals the intransitive form of a verb:

उसका नंबर बदल गया है – “His number has changed”

The verb बदलना can be used intransitively, as in “मौसम बदलता रहता है” (“the weather keeps changing”) or transitively, as in “मैंने अपना फोन नंबर बदला है” (“I have changed my phone number”). However, in the sentence उसका नंबर बदल गया है, the use of the auxiliary indicates an intransitive verb.

Notes about Compound Verbs

Several important notes must be observed.


Perfect/perfective verbs only employ the agentive postposition, ने, if both the main verb and the auxiliary verb require ने.

Consider the following examples:

मैंने पहले से यह किताब पढ़ ली है – “I have already read this book”

वह खाना खा गया – “He ate up the food”

Note that the latter sentence does not use ने since the auxiliary verb जाना is intransitive. However, the former sentence is like most sentences with transitive perfective verbs: the agent is marked with ने and the verb agrees with the object.

When Compound Verbs Are Not Used

In some circumstances compound verbs are never used.

Progressive Tenses

Compound verbs are not used with progressive verb forms. Thus मैं पत्र लिख रहा हूँ is correct while मैं पत्र लिख ले रहा हूँ is not correct.

Oblique Infinitive + लगना Idiom

Compound verbs are not used with the oblique infinitive + लगना idiom. Thus, वह गाना गाने लगा (“she began to sing a song”) is correct and वह गाना गा देने लगा is not correct.

With सकना, पाना, चूकना

Compound verbs are not used with सकना, पाना, or चूकना. These verbs are themselves used as auxiliaries. Thus, there are generally no double auxiliaries.Thus, मैं यह किताब पढ़ सकता हूँ is correct, but मैं यह किताब पढ़ ले सकता हूँ is not correct.

Conjunctive Participles

Compound verbs may not be used as conjunctive participles. Thus, क्या तुम लोग खाना खाके आओगे (“Will you eat food and then come?”), but not क्या तुम लोग खाना खा लेके आओगे.

Conjunctive Participle + Verb

Often, conjunctive participles are used with another verb in stereotyped expressions. If a conjunctive participle is used without any suffix (के / कर), the construction will appear to have the same form as compound verbs. However, each of the two verbs lends its own meaning to the overall expression. The most common verbs in this case are आना and जाना.

ले आना – “to bring”; क्या तुम खाना ले आया – “Did you bring food?”

Note that ने was not used since the auxiliary आना is intransitive.

Often the conjunctive participle is used with a suffix.

मैं चाय लेके आया – “I brought tea”

ले जाना – “to take away”; पुलिस उस चोर को ले गए – “The police took the thief away”

Or with a conjunctive participle:

चोर पैसा लेके गया – “The thief took the money away”