Tibetan Grammar - agentive 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.

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

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])

Agentive Particle - བྱེད་པའི་སྒྲ་ : གིས་, ཀྱིས་, གྱིས་, འིས་, ཡིས་

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


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. [See also: void]

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་


Sometimes it is not a clear line between marking of an instrument or a reason since Tibetan does not make a syntactic distinction (it is simply only the one agentive particle).

  • When the agentive particle comes after a nominalized verb, then it is marking a reason. This is a coordination of clauses. It corresponds to the causal coordination of the agentive particle after the root of the verb (see:causal coordination) but does not include the other two possible coordination (see below: agentive particle, coordination).
to throw out, abandon, give up, discard agentive transitive ཐ་དད་པ་
དོར་བ་  འདོར་བ་  དོར་བ་  དོར་
past pres. fut. imp.
compassion sentient beings ་benefit [lit. meaning] not abandon
because of compassion [one] does not abandon [ones intention
and activity to accomplish] the benefit of beings
Note: སྙིང་རྗེ་ "compassion" + agentive ས་ = སྙིང་རྗེས་
compassion peace not remain
because [they] to not remain in the peace [of Nirvana] due to compassion...
to lose, "gone astray" agentive transitive '
སྟོར་བ།  སྟོར་བ།  སྟོར་བ། 
past pres. fut. imp.
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.
Note: སྟོར་ was in older Tibetan སྟོརད་ which leads to the usage of the completion particle ཏོ.


"to come into existence"; to be produced ming tsam intransitive ཐ་མི་དད་པ་
གྲུབ་པ།  འགྲུབ་པ།  འགྲུབ་པ། 
past pres. fut. imp.
nature exist, came into existence
naturally existent


These are standard expression that are placed after a word and joined with it by the connective particle or placed directly after it without the connective case.

mode, manner, way; tep, stance, posture
in the manner of; because, therefore, since
power, force, control
by the power of, by means of, due to,

under the influence of, in consequence of

evil deeds non virtue due to
due to evil deeds and non virtue[s action ...]


The agentive particle is far less often seen after the root of the verb than for example ན་ and ནས་ or the the agentive particle after a nominalized verb (marking reason).
When the agentive particle comes after the root of the verb then out of the following three possible functions the first type (causal) is the common usage, whereas the second and third are rare. The latter two are taken from Nicolas Tournadre, "The Classical Tibetan cases and their transcategoriality, From sacred grammar to modern linguistics".[3]


When the agentive particle comes after the root of the verb then in most cases its meaning is same to its function after a nominalized phrase, i.e. stating reason or cause.


  1. adopted
  2. Walter Simon, Certain Tibetan Suffixes and Their Combinations, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 5, No. 3/4 (Jan., 1941), pp. 372-391
  3. Nicolas Tournadre, University of Provence and CNRS, Lacito, The Classical Tibetan cases and their transcategoriality, From sacred grammar to modern linguistics, Himalayan Linguistics, Vol. 9(2): 87-125.