April 20, 2012

Indirect Verb Constructions

Hindi has an idiom for certain verbs that are perceived as passive called indirect verb constructions.

Indirect verb constructions are very common in Hindi.

Indirect verb constructions generally connote that the subject is not actively participating in the activity of the verb, but rather passively participating – that the action is somehow happening to the subject.

These constructions are generally very different that the equivalent English translations.

The idiom can be described from the perspective of the equivalent English sentence as follows:

  1. The subject of the English sentence becomes the indirect object of the Hindi sentence, typically followed by को or से.
  2. The direct object of the English sentence becomes the subject of the Hindi sentence and the verb agrees with it.


Consider the following examples.

पसन्द होना

मुझे ये जूते पसन्द हैं – “I like these shoes”

मुझे ये जूते पसन्द हैं
to me these shoes are pleasing

This sentence may be literally rendered as “to me these shoes are pleasing”. This literal rendering will help an English speaker to understand the basic idiom. The subject of the English sentence (I) became the indirect object of the Hindi sentence, followed by को (मुझे = “to me”), and the direct object of the English sentence (shoes) became the subject of the Hindi sentence (जूते), and the verb agrees with it (it is third person plural).”

उसको तबला बजाना बहुत पसन्द है – “He really likes to play the tabla”; Note that the subject of this sentence is the infinitive/gerund बजाना (“playing”). The subject need not be a noun or pronoun always.

उसको मैं पसन्द हूँ – “He/she likes me”

Note that in the past tense, the verb आना is used instead of होना:

मुझे तुम्हारा उपहार पसन्द आया – “I liked your gift”

पसन्द था has a different meaning. It would imply that the person liked the gift at some point in time but perhaps no longer likes it.

पसन्द may be used with आना in other tenses too:

तुम्हें कौनसा रंग सबसे पसन्द आता है – “Which color do you like the most?”

पता/मालूम होना

पता होना (and मालूम होना) mean “to be known”. मुझे पता नहीं है (often abbreviated as मुझे पता नहीं or just पता नहीं) – “I don’t know”; Literally, “to me (it) is not known”

मुझे पता नहीं था कि वह भारत में रहता है – “I didn’t know that he lives in India”; Literally, “to me it was not known that he lives in India”.

मुझे उसका नाम मालूम नहीं है – “I don’t know her name”

पता चलना

पता चलना is used in idioms meaning “to find out/to realize/to learn (come to know)”, etc.

मुझे पता चला कि वह यहाँ रहती है – “I came to know that she lives here”


मिलना is another verb that is used in both direct and indirect verb constructions. In direct verb constructions, it means “to meet (someone)”. It implies that the meeting was deliberate or planned.

मैं हर हफ्ते अपनी दादीजी से मिलता हूँ – “I meet my grandmother every week.

In indirect verb constructions, मिलना has two different meanings, depending upon the context:

  1. To happen to meet someone. If the subject of मिलना is animate, मिलना means “to happen to meet someone”, implying that the meeting was unplanned.
  2. To get/receive. If the subject of मिलना is inanimate, मिलना means “to get (something)”, etc.

मुझे वहाँ बहुत अमरीकन लोग मिलते हैं – “I encounter a lot of American people there”

इस दुकान में बहुत सस्ते जूते मिलते हैं – “(You) get very inexpensive shoes in this shop”

क्या तुम्हें मेरा पत्र मिला – “Did you receive my letter?”


लगना is perhaps the most idiomatic verb in Hindi. It is used in a variety of indirect verb constructions, many of which relate to physical sensation such as hunger or thirst.

मुझे भूख लगी है – “I’m hungry”; this sentence uses the present perfect form of लगना

मुझे भूख लग रही है – “I’m hungry”; this sentence uses the present continuous form of लगना

Both of the previous forms are common.

मुझे प्यास लग रही है – “I’m thirsty”

मुझे प्यास लग रही थी – “I was feeling thirsty”

उसको उससे बात करने से बहुत डर लग रहा था – “He was very scared to talk to him”

ख़ुशी होना

“to be glad”

मुझे बहुत ख़ुशी हुई कि आपको मेरी किताब पसन्द आई – “I was very glad that you liked my book”


आना means “to come” in direct verb constructions:

तुम्हारा भाई कब आएगा – “When will your brother come?”

However, in indirect constructions, it means “to know”. It generally is used to describe acquired skills, such as speaking a language or playing an instrument, etc.

मुझे हिंदी आती है – “I know Hindi”

मुझे हिंदी समझ में आती है – “I know Hindi”; समझ में = “in understanding”

क्या आपको तबला बजाना आता है – “Do you know how to play the tabla?”

Aspect and Indirect Verb Constructions

English speakers should pay careful attention to verbal aspect in indirect verb constructions (and in general) in Hindi. Literal translations from English to Hindi may not be correct.

For instance, as mentioned previously, the following sentence is incorrect:

मुझे तुम्हारा उपहार पसन्द था

It implies some finite event that happened at some point in time, for instance “I liked the gift (at some point, but no longer do)”. Thus this sentence is somewhat odd.

It should be:

मुझे तुम्हारा उपहार पसन्द आया

Likewise the following sentence is incorrect:

मुझे ख़ुशी थी की

It should be

मुझे ख़ुशी हुई की … “I was glad that…”