Tibetan Grammar - Connective Particle

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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. In the verb section the approach to explain Tibetan verbs is changed to that of the "three thematic relations: Theme, Location, and Agent" - there will be discrepancies to the other grammar section until they are matched with it

Articles on Tibetan Grammar
1. Introduction
2. Formation of the Tibetan Syllable
3. Formation of the Tibetan Word
4. First case: ming tsam
5. agentive particle
6. Connective Particle
7. La don particles
8. La don particles—Notes
9. Originative case
10. Verbs
11. Verbs—Notes
12. Syntactic particles

by Stefan J. Gueffroy[1] [fka Eckel]

Connective Particle—འབྲེལ་བའི་སྒྲ་: གི་ཀྱི་གྱི་འི་ཡི་

  • Also called: relation particle; genitive particle; connective case [particle]

The connective cases connects nouns and noun phrases with other nouns, noun phrases and adjectives. Of the two connected parts it is the second that is "said more about", that is modified etc. by the first part. E.g. དམ་པའི་ཆོས་ with དམ་པ་ "noble" coming first and being joined by the connective particle འི་ to ཆོས་ "Dharma" identifying it to be the "noble Dharma". The usage of the connective case is always independent of the clause's verb, it does not mark the function of any of the participants of the clause in relation to the verb. The connective particle is also used to coordinate clauses. In this usage it comes after the root of the verb.

The categories below are for illustration of the types of connections that occur with the connective case and are not exhaustive as such. Some of these categories can be further expanded while others can be merged. Some examples might belong to more than one category or, on the other hand, some might not fit neatly into any of them, e.g.

we        teacher
our teacher

བདག་ཅག་གི་སྟོན་པ་ "our teacher" might be classed with "possessive connective", yet as it is an epithet of the Buddha himself it does not seem quite fitting when thinking of the Tibetan term for the "possessive connective" which is described by བདག་པོ་ "owner". The usual "quick fix" would be to place it with "modification" and does not cause any trouble with the English meaning of the term, but with the Tibetan explanation for "modification-connective" being the connection of the ཁྱད་ཆོས་ "feature, quality" and the bases for these features ཁྱད་གཞི་ it again does not seem to be quite fitting. It might also be placed in "field of activity connective" or in a new extra category of "metaphorical field of activity connective". One solution would be to introduce a category like "simple connections" or "miscellaneous connections" to include all those connections that seem not to fit otherwise. Since that would not add anything new to support the understanding of the different type of connections expressed by the connective case, this is not done here.

Connecting Nouns and Pronouns With Nouns

Possessive Connective

  • Also called: ownership, possession
  • Tibetan grammatical term: བདག་པོ་དང་དངོས་པོའི་འབྲེལ་བ་
I clothes
my clothes

I hand}
my hand

who house
Whose house?


  • Also called: type connective, relation of modifier and modified
  • Tibetan grammatical terms: ཁྱད་ཆོས་དང་ཁྱད་ཆོས་ཅན་གྱི་འབྲེལ་བ་, ཁྱད་གཞི་དང་ཁྱད་ཆོས་ཀྱི་འབྲེལ་བ་
gold colour
golden colour, colour of gold

degeneration time time
time of degeneration

non-virtue karma
karma of non-virtue

daytime star
stars at daytime
Note: This is one of the cases where the usual rendering of he connective case by using the English "of" (saying "this of that") does not work.
yana supreme instruction
instruction of the supreme yana

Relation of Location

Relation of Location and Inhabitants

  • Tibetan grammatical terms: གནས་གཞི་དང་གནས་ཆོས་ཀྱི་འབྲེལ་བ་

mandala deity
deities of the mandala

eart centre lama
the lama in the heart centre
Note: An other cases where "of" does not work as translation.

Field of Activity Connective

Tibet king
king of Tibet

cause and result

Relation of Cause and Result

  • Tibetan grammatical term: རྒྱུ་འབྲས་ཀྱི་འབྲེལ་བ་
barley sprout
barley-sprout, seedling of barley

Relation of Origination, Causal Relation

  • Tibetan grammatical term: དེ་འབྱུང་འབྲེལ་གྱི་འབྲེལ་བ་
sun light rays
rays of sun

generosity merit
merit from / of generosity

Relation of the Source / Origin and the Originated

  • Tibetan grammatical term: འབྱུང་ཁུངས་དང་འབྱུང་ཁུངས་ཅན་གྱི་འབྲེལ་བ་
Buddha Dharma
the Dharma of the Buddha

Relation of Agency

Buddha teaching
the teachings of the Buddha

lama command, word
the lama's command

Relation of Result

pleasant go cause
the cause of [the birth in] higher realms


path five second
second of the five path


enlightenment path
path to enlightenment

Note: An other cases where "of" does not work as translation.

Apprehended Object and That Which Apprehends

  • Tibetan grammatical term: ཡུལ་དང་ཡུལ་ཅན་གྱི་འབྲེལ་བ་
eye consciousness held object
the held object of the eye consciousness

sound consciousness, awareness
consciousness (that knows) sound; the knowing of sound


Relation of Part and Whole

  • Tibetan grammatical term: ཡན་ལག་དང་ཡན་ལག་ཅན་གྱི་འབྲེལ་བ་
tree leaves
leaves of the tree

tree branch
branches of the tree

Relation of Essence and That What Is Of That Essence

  • Tibetan grammatical term: རང་བཞིན་དང་རང་བཞིན་ཅན་གྱི་འབྲེལ་བ་
gold ear ring
golden ear ring

Compositional Relation

noble ones sangha
sangha of noble ones

sutra book
book of sutras

bone ornament
ornament [made] of bones

Metaphorical Relation

compassion water
water of compassion

Adjectives, Verbal Adjectives

Adjectives can be used directly with nouns in two ways. [2]

  • They can be placed after the noun (in ming tsam) without the usage of any particle. E.g.,རི་དཀར་པོ་ "white mountain". See: Tibetan Grammar - Adjectives
  • They can be placed before the noun with the conective particle between the adjective and the noun.


white Dharma all
all white/virtue Dharmas

ultimate truth
ultimate truth

Verbal Adjective

Note: The verb that is used as a verbal adjective is always nominalized.

See also: connecting phrases and clauses with nouns or noun-phrases

to sleep girl this
this sleeping girl; this girl [who] sleeps


Specific to General

animals and so on bad go /lower realms
lower realms of animals and so on; lower realms [like that of] animals and so on

we and so on sentient beings all
all sentient beings [like] us and so on

Apposition - Relation of Same Identity / Essence

  • Tibetan grammatical term: གཞི་ཆོས་ངོ་བོ་གཅིག་པའི་འབྲེལ་བ་
death lord Yama
Yama, the lord of death; Yama, [who is] the lord of death

Postpositions and Postpositional Structures

Postpositions come with the connective case before them, joining them to the word they follow.


As the great scholar and pioneer of Tibetan, Alexander Csoma de Körös wrote: "The compound postpositions require, in general, the genitive case [here: connective case] before them. But sometimes the genitive signs being dropped, they are put after the nominative [here: ming tsam], like the simple postpositions [here: case-marking particles]."[3]

house in to, inside
into the house; inside the house

In Alexander Csoma de Körös, the example ཁང་པའི་ནང་ན་ is given. ཁང་པ་ means "house" and ནང་ "inside" or "home". So what this compound expresses is "at the inside of the house", where by "house" is qualifying "inside". (For example in Kham ནང་ལ་འགྲོ་ is the common way to say "to go home",ནང་ being the noun "inside" / "home".) This means that like in the case of ནང་ some of the words treated as postpositions are just nouns with a qualifier, (and actually all postpositions originated from nouns (indicated by the connective case they come with) - and so did the case marking particles as well[4]).
Nevertheless, looking at the meaning expressed by these it seems reasonable to treat them as postpositions here.

smoke exist because
... because there is smoke

field water to send in order to canal make, construct
to construct water canals in order to irrigate the fields

he in front of
in front of him

Multiple Connections

human body cause
མིའི་  ལུས་
human body
human, human [birth]
མིའི་ལུས་ཀྱི་ རྒྱུ་
human [birth] cause
the cause for [attaining a] human [birth]

Kagyu          great          tradition    not  corrupted    Mahamudra
བཀའ་བརྒྱུད་རིན་པོ་ཆེའི་ བཞེད་སྲོལ་མ་ཉམས་པ་
Kagyu        great tradition    not  corrupted
the uncorrupted tradition of the precious Kagyu

བཀའ་བརྒྱུད་རིན་པོ་ཆེའི་བཞེད་སྲོལ་མ་ཉམས་པའི་ ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ཆེན་པོ་
the uncorrupted tradition of the precious Kagyu Mahamudra
Translation as apposition:
Mahamudra, the uncorrupted tradition of the precious Kagyu
Translation as qualifier:

Mahamudra of the uncorrupted tradition of the precious Kagyu

Connecting Phrases and Clauses with Nouns or Noun-Phrases

  • Note: Most of the upcoming examples in this section are generic.

The Basic Structure

A clause qualifying or modifying the following noun or noun-phrase is a very common structure in Tibetan sentences. In essences this structure very simple, with an argument [noun] on the right and the verbal adjective (qualifier ) to the left (of the connective particle). The qualified noun itself is then commonly a part of a bigger clause.
In the simple example of two nouns ཉི་མའི་འོད་ཟེར་ "the light rays of the sun" the qualifier ཉི་མ་ "sun" (left position) is joined to the argument (right position) འོད་ཟེར་ "light rays" with the connective case.
In the same way a clause can be the qualifier. If a clause is taken as qualifier the structure is the same with only difference that the qualifier is a clause with a nominalized verb.
E.g., with

འཆར་བ། ming tsam intransitive ཐ་མི་དད་པ་
to arise, rise, appearing, emerge, shine; visible, apparent
ཤར་བ།  འཆར་བ།  འཆར་བ། 
past pres. fut. imp.

ཉི་མ་འཆར་བ་ "the sun rises" as qualifier (left position) for འོད་ཟེར་ "light rays" in

sun arise light rays
the light rays of the rising sun

The verb of the modifying clause is always nominalized (e.g., བསྟན་པ་ , འགྲོ་བ་) and the connective particle is added. (པ་ / བ་ with connective particle become པའི་ / བའི་, e.g., བསྟན་པའི་, འགྲོ་བའི་).

tea poured girl
the girl who poured the tea

In "the girl who poured the tea" the phrase qualifies the girl (and singles her out as that girl who poured the tea) and "the girl" is a noun that can be part of a bigger clause.

tea poured girl this city went
This girl who poured the tea went to the city.

དེ་ཉིད་ དཀར་པོ་ཡིན་པའི་གནས་ཚུལ་
that itself white is situation /actual condition
the actual condition of that [conch shell] itself being white

མཁྲིས་ནད་ཅན་ལ་ དུང་ སེར་པོར་ སྣང་ཚེ་ དེ་ཉིད་དཀར་པོ་ཡིན་པའི་གནས་ཚུལ་ཤེས་ཀྱང་སེར་སྣང་མི་ལྡོག་ལ།
jaundice having one conch shell yellow appear time itself white is actual condition know even yellow appear not reverse [coord.]
when for some with jaundice the conch shell appears [to be] yellow, then even though knowing the actual condition which is that [the conch shell] itself is white, [it] will not stop (reverse) the yellow appearance [of the conch shell]

The Clause and the Noun

"Reintegrating" the Noun

The connection between the noun and the clause / phrase can be such that the noun could meaningfully appear in the clause as a part of the clause itself. It could be understood as a "missing" participant of the clause and so to speak be "reintegrated" in to it. The occurrence of this kind of connection is much more common with nouns that are not abstract[5], but it is not guaranteed, e.g. in above ཉི་མ་འཆར་བའི་འོད་ཟེར་"the light rays of the rising sun" the "light rays" are not a "missing" participant for "rising".

"reintegrating" the noun:

dharma taught Buddha
The Buddha who taught the dharma.
Buddha[6] dharma taught
The Buddha taught the dharma.

tea poured girl
the girl who poured the tea
girl[7] tea poured
The girl poured the tea.

There are cases where the noun can be "reintegrated" in a grammatically correct way but the resultant clause would make a false or illogical statement. This can easily occur when the qualified noun is part of a bigger clause with a negated verb.

The མོ་གཤམ་ལ་སྐྱེས་པའི་ཕྲུ་གུ་ "the child" qualified by the phrase "who was born by the barren woman" is still a valid as a noun to be made statement about in the bigger clause. But "reintegrated" it would become:

barren woman child born
[A] child was born by the barren woman.

This sentence is a simple statement that is strictly speaking false since by definition she can not be called a barren woman.[8]

Connecting Clause to "Subject", "Object", "Qualifier"

One way Joe Wilson[9] uses to name these connections is by looking at the function the noun would have in the clause. J. Wilson: "It is useful when analyzing clauses and sentences to name these connectives after the grammatical function the nouns that follow them would play were they to appear in the clause that precedes them. Thus, verbals may be followed by different sorts of clause connectives: ..." With that he names the connection respectively "connecting clause to 'subject'", "connecting clause to 'object'" etc.. At the same time he makes it very clear thats the qualified nouns are not the subject, object etc.: "... [they] are not the actual subjects ...; they are, rather, metaphoric subjects. The actual subject of the verb occurs before it. to its left, not after it. ... "
J. Wilson lists the four of: clause connected to "subject", "object", "qualifier" and "complement". In here is added "connecting clause to 'indirect object / recipient'".
Wilson's "connecting clause to 'complement'" is replaced by "connecting a clause with a linking Verb and complement to the 'theme'".[10]

connecting clause to "subject"

Dharma teach lama
the lama who teaches the Dharma

connecting clause to "indirect object / recipient"

doctor medicine gave the ill
the ill to whom the doctor gave medicine

connecting clause to "qualifier"

lama teach Dharma city
the city in which the lama teaches the Dharma

connecting a clause with a linking Verb and complement to the "theme"

categorizations not is absolute, ultimate
the absolute that is not categorized; uncategorized absolute


  • When the conecetive particle comes after the root of a verb it coordinates the clauses it comes in between. This expresses often a scene of "even though" the first action of the first verb takes place the action of second verb occurs. It is often translated as "even though [it is this, it is not this]", "but", "yet", "although".
samsara root ignorance is indeed samsara again exist propelling force becoming is
even though the root of samsara is ignorance indeed, since the propelling force to be reborn in samsara is becoming ...

view point different exist of course here arrangement
there are of course different view points [on this], yet the way it is arranged here [by including ...]

  • With this kind of coordination of "it is not this not but it is that" (and reverse) the second clause can also be in accordance with the first one.
dependent [origination] learned fourth antidote becomes is
self         doing   not  is  but cause condition dependent connection just manifestation occur because
being learned about dependent [origination] is the antidote to the forth [way of grasping at the self, the grasping at the self as the creator] because [one knows that it] is not [a] doing [/creation] by the self but is [a] occurrence due to the manifestation of [nothing else than] just the dependent connection of causes and conditions


  1. recently adopted
  2. Other usages of Adjectives are as the complement of a linking verb or as stative non-volitional verbs. See: Linking Verb and State of Being Verbs and Adjectives.
  3. Alexander Csoma de Koros, 1834, A grammar of the Tibetan Language, p. 101 §187
  4. See: Certain Tibetan Suffixes and Their Combinations, Walter Simon, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 5, No. 3/4. (Jan., 1941), pp. 372-392.
  5. It is not a "physical entity". An abstract object is an object which does not exist at any particular time or place, but rather exists as as an idea, or abstraction.; E.g.(generic): with the verbs of perception མཐོང་བ་ "to see": one can ཇ་མཐོང་ "see tea" and ཇ་བཟོ་བར་མཐོང་ "see the tea making" (abstract theme) but with རེག་པ་ "to touch": one can only ཇར་རེག་ "touch tea" (not abstract), but not ཇ་བཟོ་བར་རེག་ "touch the tea making" (abstract theme). While one is perceiving the act of "making tea" one sees an action in progress, but not a "thing" that is "tea-making".
  6. "Buddha" is marked with the agentive case.
  7. "Girl" is marked with the agentive case.
  8. This is not about a woman who until that point was or was thought of as a barren woman ... [story goes on]. This is a sentence to illustrate the point.
  9. Joe Bransford Wilson, 1992, Translating Buddhism from Tibetan, p.649-651
  10. The "connecting a clause with a linking Verb and complement to the 'theme'" matches in fact Wilson's example མི་རྟག་པ་ཡིན་པའི་ཆོས་ "phenomena that are impermanent". It is actually not possible to connect a clause with a linking verb to what would have been the its complement, since that would create a clause of a linking verb with a completely omitted complement, something that can not occur in a meaningful way. See: A ཡིན་ with a Partially Omitted Complement