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

variants and spelling

The agentive particle has five variants (allomorphs [2]): གིས་, ཀྱིས་, གྱིས་, -ས་, ཡིས་. Which one is to be use depends on the last syllable of the word they follow.


གིས་, ཀྱིས་, གྱིས་ are prounced as /ki/.
N. Tournadre: "In conversation, the three particles གིས་/khi/, ཀྱིས་/kyi/, གྱིས་/khyi/ are pronounced in exactly the same way, as an unstressed syllable: /-ki'/."[3]
ཡིས་ is pronounced /yi/.
ས་ is joined to syllable that do not have a postfix-letter and is not pronounced itself. It changes the pronunciation of the vowels /a/, /o/ and /u/ (of the syllable it is attached to). They become /ä/, /ö/ and /ü/. The vowels /e/ and /i/ are not changed.
E.g.: བུ་མོ་ /bu mo/ "girl" + ས་ = བུ་མོས་ /bu mö/


last letter of the syllable marked spelling of the particle example: word - word with particle
ག་, ང་ གིས་ བདག་ - བདག་གིས་  ཆང་ - ཆང་གིས་
ད་, ད་, ས་ ཀྱིས་ ངེད་ - ངེད་ཀྱིས་  ཁབ་ - ཁབ་ཀྱིས་  སངས་རྒྱས་ - སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱིས་
ན་, མ་, ར་, ལ་ གྱིས་ རྒྱུན་ - རྒྱུན་གྱིས་  དོམ་ - དོམ་གྱིས་  དར་ - དར་གྱིས་  ཟིལ་ - ཟིལ་གྱིས་
འ་ and no postfix letter[4] -ས་ [5]or ཡིས་ མདའ་ - མདས་ or མདའ་ཡིས་  ཁ་ - ཁས་ or ཁ་ཡིས་

  • When the agentive particle −ས་ is joined to a word that has no postfix letter the ས་ is joined to the word. E.g., རྒྱལ་པོ་ + ས་རྒྱལ་པོས་
  • When the agentive particle −ས་ is joined to a word that has the postfix letter འ་ then འ་ is dropped and ས་ added instead. E.g., མདའ་ + ས་མདའ་མདས་
Note: The ས་ after the root letter can either be the agentive particle joined to a word i.e. a word with no postfix letter, a word that has the postfix letter འ་ or it could be part of the word. E.g., བཀས་ could be བཀའ་ (honorific) "word, command, speech" with agentive particle བཀས་ (same meaning as བཀའ་ཡིས་) or it could be བཀས་ "crack, split" without agentive particle. (It would be བཀས་ཀྱིས་ with the agentive particle.)
Note: གྱིས་ is not only the a variant of the agentive it is also གྱིས་ "Do!" the imperative form of བགྱིས་པ་ "to make, to do" (བགྱིས་པ།, བགྱིད་པ།, བགྱི་བ།, གྱིས།; it has the same meaning as བྱེད་པ་ "to make, to do".) This can lead to puzzlement when mistaking one for the other. Often a way to easily check is to look at the postfix letter of the preceding word and see if གྱིས་ as agentive particle is possible. If it is possible (or a typo might be likely) then which one it is needs to be decided through context.


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. [6]
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 or cause. 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".[7]

Note: If a གྱིས་ stands at the end of a clause it could also be the གྱིས་ "Do!" (see: Note on གྱིས་).


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. གིས་, ཀྱིས་, གྱིས་ were allomorphs at the time when the respective allomorphs of the connective particle were still used (pronounced) and the ས་ was joined to the connective particle creating allomorphs.
    In their currant state they are not allomorphs anymore, (since they are pronounced in the same way) and are simply conservative spelling variants.
  3. Tournadre, Nicolas; Dorje, Sangda, Manual of Standard Tibetan, New York: Snow Lion Publications (2003), 142
  4. In Tibetan called མཐའ་མེད་
  5. archaic and in grammar text also written as འིས་
  6. Walter Simon, Certain Tibetan Suffixes and Their Combinations, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 5, No. 3/4 (Jan., 1941), pp. 372-391
  7. 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.