Tibetan Grammar - agentive particle

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  • Also called: agentive case [particle], instrumental particle, ergative particle

WORK IN PROGRESS (by Stefan J. Gueffroy[1] [fka Eckel]: the grammar articles are being edited for wiki publication. During editing, the content might be incomplete, out of sequence or even misleading.

Work on the grammar wiki will resume during 2015.

31.Jan.12 The approach to explain Tibetan verbs will be changed to that of the "three thematic relations: Theme, Location, and Agent" 31.Aug.12 - there will be discrepancies to the other grammar section until they are matched with it


The naming of this particle as "agentive" comes from its Tibetan name "doing sound", "doing particle" and is a reasonably descriptive naming convention. What should be noticed though is that the origin of the particle is the syllable ས་ "earth, ground, place" joined with the preceding word by means of the connective case or joined directly if the word has no post-fix letter, e.g. ཁོང་ + གི་ + ས་ = ཁོང་གིས་ From བོད་རྒྱ་ཚིག་མཛོད་ཆེན་མོ་ "The Great Tibetan [Tibetan] Chinese Dictionary":
བྱེད་པའི་སྒྲ་: འབྲེལ་སྒྲའི་མཐར་ས་སྦྱར་བ་ལྔ་པོ་དེ་ཡིན་ལ་རྣམ་དབྱེ་གསུམ་པའང་ཟེར་བ་དང་...
"Agentive particle: These are the five that are the ས་ joined to the end of the conective case, they are also called the third case."

The western scholar Walter Simon on the origin of the agentive particle:
"Since nas and las have an ablatival meaning, it would seem in keeping with this suggestion [that ' the suffix of the agent is probably identical ' with the final s of nas and las] that s itself had developed the meaning of agency (and instrumentality) from an original ablatival meaning, ..."
"I should like to explain the s as shortened from either sa in the meaning "place" or from so, which is derivative of sa.[2]
In this the agentive particle is very similar to the originative particles ནས་ and ལས་ that are ན་ and ལ་ with an added ས་ trough which the marking of a location and direction (ན་ and ལ་) "where, to [where]" changed into the marking of source and origin, a "place form where [something comes]". In a similar way the agentive particle marks "the place" form where an action originates, the source of an action or situation. To remember this origin of the agentive particle can help to understand the different functions the paricle.

independent of verb type


to look agentive directed ཐ་དད་པ་
བལྟས་པ།  ལྟ་བ།  ལྟ་བ།  ལྟོས།
past pres. fut. imp.
he eye form looked
He looked with [his] eyes at the form.

to cut agentive transitive ཐ་དད་པ་
བཅད་པ།  གཅོད་པ།  གཅད་པ།  ཆོད།
past pres. fut. imp.
he wood axe cut
He cut the wood with the axe.

Note: ལྟ་རེ་ "axe" + agentive ས་ = ལྟ་རེས་


to guard agentive transitive ཐ་དད་པ་
བསྲུངས་པ།  སྲུང་བ།  བསྲུང་བ།  སྲུངས།
past pres. fut. imp.
oxen not guard lost
Because of not guarding the oxen got lost.
to lose, "gone astray" agentive transitive '
སྟོར་བ།  སྟོར་བ།  སྟོར་བ། 
past pres. fut. imp.

Note: སྟོར་ was in older Tibetan སྟོརད་ which leads to the usage of the completion particle ཏོ


  1. adopted by
  2. Walter Simon, Certain Tibetan Suffixes and Their Combinations, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 5, No. 3/4 (Jan., 1941), pp. 372-391