Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 5 : 6 June 2005

Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.




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Copyright © 2004
M. S. Thirumalai

S. Rajendran, Ph.D.

1. Introduction

There need to establish word classes or parts of speeches in Tamil before describing how to form them.  Words can be categorized from the point of view of morphology and syntax features.  Bases on how a particular word get inflected and how and where it occurs in sentences, they can be assigned grammatical or word category.  In English words are classified into eight parts of speech.  They are: noun, adjective, pronoun, verb, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and interjection.  Traditional grammarians, it appears recognizes only two classes, noun and verb as major grammatical classes in Tamil.  The Tamil grammars written by the influence of English grammars assumes the same number of parts of speech for Tamil.  It is proposed here to explore the word classes in Tamil from the point of view of morphology and syntax.

2. Traditional approach to word class

The traditional grammars in Tamil classifies words into peyar 'noun', vinai 'verb', iTaiccol 'particle', and uriccol.  It is always assumed that nouns and verbs are the major word categories and iTaiccol and uriccol are treated secondary to nouns and verbs. The words which does not show tense but inflect form case are           grouped as nouns and those which show tense, but do not inflected for case are considered as verbs. The forms which does not occur independently and depend on noun or verb by appearing before or after them which include morphs, suffixes, bound forms of demonstratives and interrogatives, are considered as iTaiccol.  The forms which are neither nouns nor verbs but depends on nouns and verbs and which give the meaning mikuti 'more' (similar to intensifiers) are considered as uriccol

If we analyze closely the word classes of traditional grammarians, it can be interpreted that they recognize noun and verb as major word classes and consider iTaiccol and uriccol as a third class which depend on noun and verb.  Traditional grammars consider uriccol as modifier to nouns and verbs.  Thus traditional grammars identifies four classes of words: noun, verb, particles and modifiers. If we analyze old Tamil text, we may conclude that it is enough to have the four type of classes to explain the grammar of data of that period. 

3. Word classes for modern Tamil

As the modern Tamil has evolved new grammatical categories to express itself effectively, there need to posit new grammatical categories.  Modern Tamil grammarians like Asher (1982), Kothandaraman (1986) and Lehman (1989) have posited new word classes for Tamil. Lehman elaborately discusses the word classes in Tamil (Lehman, 1989, 9-11).  Applying morphological and syntactic criteria, he identifies eight parts of speech for Modern Tamil: 1. nouns, 2. verbs, 3. postpositions, 4. adjectives, 5. adverbs, 6. quantifiers, 7. determiners, and 8. conjunctions. According to him in modern Tamil all lexical  or root morphemes can be classified into four types: two major groups of nominal and verbal roots and two minor groups of adjectival roots and adverbial roots.  Based on the shape all the words can be considered as being inflected or uninflected forms of the roots of noun, verb, adjective and adverb.  Nouns contain noun roots and verb contain verb roots.  But postpositions, many adverbs, quantifiers and conjunctions can be considered as inflected and uninflected forms of nominal or verbal roots. As number of word classes proposed for Old Tamil are very few in number, a number of inflected and uninflected forms are reanalyzed in Modern Tamil to closed classes of various parts of speech as postpositions, adjectives, adverbs, quantifiers, etc. As we know only two word classes, nouns and verbs  will inflect.  Noun inflects for case and number and verb will inflects for tense, person, gender and number. Nouns exhibit word formation process.  Nouns can be derived from verbs.  Kothandraman (1989) classifies the free words into ten: 1. noun, 2. verb, 3. adjective, 4. adverb, 5. intensifier, 6. conjunctions, 7. Asher (1982:101-102)  under the heading 'Operational definitions for word classes' classifies words into six classes: 1. noun, 2. pronoun, 3. verb, 4. adjective, 5. postposition, 6. numeral/quantifier, 7. particles, exclamation, 8. words expressing feeling, 9. addressing words, and 10. viLi eeRpuc col 'words accepting address '.  He considers certain bound forms such as suffixes as dependent class and classifies them based on their shape and character into five types: 1. suffix, 2. postposition, 3. verbal participle, clitics, and fillers (caariyai or ndirappi).  All the three scholars have taken verb, noun, adjective as word classes. Kothandaraman and Lehman have taken adverb and conjunction as word classes.   Asher and Lehman have taken postposition as a word class.  But Kothandaraman has taken postposition as a dependent class.    Kiriyaavin taRkaalat tamizh akaraati identifies the following word classes to categorize the words listed in the dictionary: iTaiccol 'paticles', iNaippu iTaiccol 'conjunctive particle', etirmaRai vinaimuRRu 'negative finite verb', cuTTuppeyar 'pronoun', cuTTuppeyaraTai 'demonstrative adjective', tuNaivinai 'auxiliary verb', peyarccol 'noun', peyaraTai 'adjective',  vinaiccol 'noun', vinaiyaTai 'adverb', vinaimuRRu 'finite verb', viLippu iTaiccol 'address particle'.  Let examine the word classes one by one.

3. 1.  Nouns

Asher, Lehman and Kothandaraman establishes nouns as a class based on their morphological and syntactic characteristics. Nouns based on their morphological characteristics takes case and plural suffix.  Based on their syntactic characteristics they function as head of postpositional phrase and also  as subject or object of a sentence. The verb inflect in concordance with the person-number-gender of the subject noun. According to Kothandaraman, nouns those which take case suffixes and bound forms such as aana and aaka and function as subject and predicate. Lehman (1989:11) defines nouns as "those words which can take case suffixes and the suffixes –aaka/aay".  There is no controversy between the three scholars in considering noun as a word class.  Lehman has sub classified pronoun, quantifier, numeral as subclasses of noun. 

3. 1. 1. Pronouns

Pronoun function as a substitute to a noun.  It differs form noun by signification.  Noun signify one thing or one person, whereas pronoun signify different things or different persons depending on the context.  That is why the number of pronouns in a language are a few compared to innumerable number of nouns.  Asher takes pronoun as a separate word class.  They form a closed set of words which shares most of the features by which nouns are defined.   They take the same set of case suffixes which the nouns take and they can act as head of a postpositional phrase and they can function as subject or object of a sentence and they determine the choices of person/number/gender suffix of the verb in a sentence.   Lehman does not describe pronouns under morphology; he describes it under the heading 'syntactic categories'.  So it appears that Lehman takes pronoun as a syntactic category.  He (1989: 92) considers pronouns as a subgroup of nouns which do not take noun modifiers to form  a noun phrase.  He classifies the pronouns into two sub types:  simple (ndaan 'I', avan 'he') and derived pronouns (yaaroo 'someone',  yaarum 'anyone').  Pronouns are of different types such as personal pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, interrogative pronouns and reflexive pronouns.  Lehman sub classifies pronoun taking into account the semantic concepts such as referentiality, definiteness and specificity (Lehman:93). 



                                    |                                                              |

                             referential                                                    non-referential


                  |                                             |

             singular                         general (all-inclusive, open ended)

             referential                       referential


 |                                          |

definite             indefinite


                        |                                   |

                 specific                          non-specific

Personal pronouns are related to time and place.  Speaker is identified as first person and listener can be identified as second person and the person who is talked about is identified as identified as third person.  Third person differs from first person and second person having more number of divisions.  First person, second person and third person pronouns are distinguished by means of number into singular and plural.  The second person and third person pronouns are distinguished by the feature 'high versus  low status'.   Only third person pronouns are differentiated by gender into masculine, feminine and neuter and by spatial deixis into remote proximate and remote.   In addition to the three types of personal pronouns there is a fourth category of pronouns called reflexive pronouns which are coreferential to the nouns which are subject of the same or higher clause. The following table will establish the above discussed classification:




First person

ndaan 'I'

ndaam 'we (inclustive)'

ndaangkaL 'we (exclusive)'

Second person

ndii 'you'

ndiir 'you'

ndiingkaL 'you'

Third person

avan 'he (remote)'

ivan 'he (proximate)'

avaL 'she (remote)'

ivaL 'she (proximate)'

atu 'it (remote)'

itu 'it (proximate)'

avar 'he/she (honorific)'

ivar 'he/she (honorific)'





avai(kaL) 'they (neuter, remote)'

ivai(kaL) 'they (neuter proximate)

avarkaL 'they'

ivarkaL 'they'

Fourth person

taan 'he, she, it'

taangkaL 'they'

Interrogative pronouns are indefinite referential pronouns.  Interrogative pronouns can classified into specific and non-specific referential pronouns. The non-specific interrogative pronouns show the difference in terms of rationality and irrationality in their form (ex. yaar 'who', enna 'what').  Specific interrogative pronouns show the difference in terms of  third person, number and gender in their form (ex. evan 'who (male third person)', evaL 'who (female third person), evar 'who (male/female third person)', etu 'what' evai 'what (plural)').  The interrogative pronouns with clitic um such as yaarum 'anyone' and etuvum 'anything' are examples of general referential pronouns.  Interrogative pronouns with cilitic oo such as yaaroo 'someone', eetoo 'something' and ennavoo 'something' are examples of specific indefinite referential pronouns. Interrogative pronouns with clitic aavatu such as yaraavatu 'someone', eetaavatu 'something' and ennavaavtu 'something' are examples of non-specific indefinite referential pronouns. 

3. 1. 2. Quantifier nouns

cila 'some', pala 'many', ellaam 'all' , elloorum 'all persons' are classified unde quantifier nouns.  They functions as modifier to nouns (ex. cila manitarkaL 'some men'); they occurs after nouns taking case suffixes (ex. peenaakkaL cilavaRRai vaangkineen 'I bought few pens'). cila and pala can be taken as adjectives and cilavai and palavai can be considered as pronominalized forms which become cilavaRRai and palavaRRai when inflected for accusative case.

cila + avai > cilavai 'some'

            pala + avai > palavai 'many'

3. 1. 3.  Numeral nouns

Numeral nouns can be classified into two: cardinal number and ordinal number. Ordinal numbers are formed from cardinal numbers by adding clitic aavatu or aam.  The adjectival forms of ordinal numerals can be converted into pronominalized cadinal numbers (ex. oru + an > oruvan 'one male person', oru + tti > orutti 'one female person', oru + ar > oruvar  'one male/female person'). 

3. 2. Verbs

There is no dispute between scholars in taking verbs as a word class.  Verbs take tense and person-number-gender suffixes.  Like some nouns verbs also morphologically deficient i.e. some verbs do not take all the suffixes meant for verbs. Verb is a obligatory part of a sentence except copula sentences (ex. avan maaNavan 'he is a student').  Verbs can be classified into different types based on morphological, syntactic and semantic characteristics.  Based on the tense suffixes, verbs can be classified into weak verb, strong verbs and medium verbs.  Based on the form and function, verbs can be classified into finite verb (ex. va-ndt-aan 'come_PAST_he’) and non-finite verb (ex. va-ndt-a 'come_PAST_RP' and va-ndt-u ‘come_PAST_VPAR').  Depending the non-finite whether non-finite form occur before noun or verb, they can be classified as adjectival or relative participle form (ex. vandta paiyan 'the boy who came') and adverbial or verbal participle form (ex. vandtu poonaan 'having come he went').   The classification of verbs into tanvinai and piRavinai based on semantics.  The semantic definition that if an act is performed by oneself it is called tanvinai and if it is done by another then it is called piRavinai is not a suitable definition which can distinguish tanvinai from piRavinai (Paramasivam, 1983:2-3). It can be interpreted that basic verbs can be considered  tanvinai (ex. ooTu 'run', kaaN 'see') and derived verbs can be considered piRavinai (ex. ooTTu 'cause to run', kaaTTu 'show').  Based on whether verbs take object or not when used in a sentence, verbs can be classified into intransitive verb (ex. poo 'go', vaa 'come') and transitive verbs (ex. paTi 'read', aTi 'beat').  Verbs can be classified based on their argument structure.  Verbs can be classified based on the case relations they establish with the noun phrase they receive and valency.

3. 3.  Postpositions

Asher (1982) considers postpositions as a word class. "A postposition is an element that can be added to a nominal in one of a subset of the set of case forms ...  to form a postpositional  phrase standing in a functional relationship with a verb." (Asher, 1982:102)  Postpositions are somewhat a heterogeneous class with members ranging from bound to free.  Kothandaraman (1989) classifies postpositions under depend class.   Nominal and verbal form become postpositions in the course of time.  Lehman (1989) also considers postpositions as a syntactic category.  According to him the inflected and  uninflected forms of nouns and non-finite forms of verbs have become postpositions.   For example, to express various locative functions, nouns denoting various locations are used as postpositions.  The nominal and verbal forms are syntactically reanalyzed as postpositions (uL 'inside', mun 'in front',  meel 'above', kiizh 'below', aTiyil 'at the bottom').  There is no common opinion in considering such words as nouns or postpositions. Many of the noun forms which are used as postpositions are morphologically defective.   That is they cannot occur with all case markers.  Many of these noun forms are also defective.  That is, they do not occur in all nominal postionss and with all grammatical function as other nouns do.  For example, ndaTu 'centre' and iTai 'middle', function as postpositions while inflected for locative case suffix il as ndaTuvil 'at the centre' and iTaiyil 'in between'.  They do not occur as subject, object or predicate.  When a closed set of noun and verb occur as postpositions they follow a noun phrase and form with the preceding noun phrase a postpositional phrase,



                        |                                               |

                        NP                                           P

The verbal and nominal forms loose their respective syntactic properties of nouns while functioning as postpositions.  The postpositions can be classified based on the inflected form of the noun after which they come.  The following is a list of postposition classified according to their from and the inflected noun after which they occur.

      1. Nouns in bare form

1.1. After nouns in nominative case

muulam 'with'    from muulam  'instrument'

            varai 'until' from varai      'limit'

1.2. After nouns in oblique form

aNTai   'near' from aNTai 'side'

            aruku 'near' from aruku 'nearness'

            aaTTam 'like' from aaTTam 'motion'

            kiTTa 'near' from kiTTam 'nearness'

            kiizh 'under' from kiizh 'inferiority'

            pakkam 'near' from pakkam 'nearness'

            paTi 'according to' from paTi    'manner,way'

1.3. After nouns in dative case

appaal  'beyond’ from demonstrative stem  a + paal 'side'

appuRam after' from demonstrative stem a + puRam'side'

uL 'inside' from uL 'interiority'

kizakku 'east'from kizakku 'east'

kiiz 'below' from kiiz 'inferiority'

teeRku 'south' from teeRku 'south'

pin 'after' from pin 'posteriority'

piRaku 'after' from piRaku 'posteriority'

1.4. After nouns in accusative case

maatiri  'like' from  maatiri  'manner'

.           2. Nouns + euphonic clitic  -ee

After nouns in dative case

etiree 'opposite' from etir 'the oppposite'

kuRukkee 'across' from kuRukku 'transverseness'

veLiyee 'outside' from veLi 'exteriority'

3. Nouns + locative case suffix -il

After nouns in dative case

iTatyil 'in between' from iTai 'centre'

ndatuvil 'in the middle' from ndaTu  'centre'

4. Nouns + so called adverabializing suffix aaka

4.1. After nouns in oblique form

vazhiyaaka 'through'  from vazhi  'way'

4.2. After nouns in dative case

patilaaka 'instead of' from patil  'substitute'.

5. Verbs in verbal participle form

5.1. After nouns in accusative case

oTTi  'regarding' from oTTu 'stick'

            kuRittu 'about' from kuRi 'aim'

            koNTu 'with' from koL 'take'

            cuRRi   'around' from cuRRu 'urubte'

            tavirttu 'except' from tavir  'avoid'

            paRRi   'about'  from paRRu  'seize'

            taaNTi 'across' from  taaNTu  'cross'

            paarttu 'towards' from  paar  'see'

            viTTu'   'from from viTu 'leave'

            vaittu 'with' from vai 'put'

            nookki  'towards' from  ndookku 'see'

5. 2. After nouns in dative care

pinti 'after' from pindtu  'be behind'

            munt-i   'before' from mundtu 'precede'

6. Verbs in infinitive form

After nouns in accusative case

tavira 'except'   from tavir 'avoid'

ozhiya   'except' from ozhi  'cease'

poola 'like' from  pool  'seem'

viTa 'than from viTu  'leave."

7. Verbs in conditional form + poola 

After nouns in dative case

etirttaarpoola 'opposite' from etir  'oppose'

aTuattaarpoola  'next to' from aTu 'be adjacent'

8. Verbs in negative verbal participle form

            After nouns in nominative case

            illaamal 'without' from -il be not'

            allaamal 'except' from -al be not'

3. 4. Adjectives

Linguists differ in their opinions in taking adjective as a grammatical category. Scholars like Asher, Lehman and Kothandaraman take adjective as a grammatical category in Tamil. There is a complete lack of agreement among grammarians whether to consider adjective as a form class in Tamil. The difficulty in providing an operational definition for adjective crops up due to this reason.  Lehman takes adjective as a syntactic category only. According to Lehmann (1989:131)"The lexical category of adjective is another syntactic category in Modern Tamil which has evolved in a diachronic process”. Adjective can occur as an attribute in pre nominal position as modifier of a head noun in a noun phrase.

The traditional grammars of Tamil talks elaborately about nouns and verbs only.  It appears that they have not treated adjectives and adverbs as separate categories in Tamil. They treat adjectives as relative participial forms of appellative verbs (kuRippup peyareccam) and relative participial forms of regular verbs (terindilaip peyareccam). The qualitative adjectives are reconstructed as qualitative nouns.

      peeraacai 'extreme eagerness' < perumai 'bigness' + aacai 'desire'

      ciRRaamal 'small lilly' < ciRumai 'smallness' + aampal 'lilly'

There are at least three kinds of opinion regarding the categorization of adjectives:

1. Adjective is a separate grammatical category

2. Adjective is not a separate grammatical category but a sub-category of noun or verb

            3. Adjective is a mixed grammatical category

Adjectives come before a head noun as a modifier (ex. periya nduul 'big book').  It can be followed a determiner  (ex. indta periya puttakam 'this big book').  When adjective occupies the predicate slot, it is pronominalized (ex. andta nduul periyatu 'that book is a big one').  Adjectives can be classified into simple adjectives (ex. ndalla 'good', periya 'big') and derived adjectives (azhaku 'beauty' + aana > azhakaana 'beautiful', uyaram + aana > uyaramaana 'high'). There is still some dispute over considering aana, uLLa, illaata the relativized forms of verbs aaku 'become', uL  'be', ill 'not' as adjectivalizer or not.  Both adjectives as well as relative participle forms occur before a noun.  But relative participle form of verbs co-occur with adverbial elements like uTan 'immediately', pin 'after', piRaku 'after', pootu 'at that time', mun 'before', maTTum 'up to', varaikkum 'up to' to form adverbial clauses (ex. vandta uTan 'immediately after coming', vandta pin 'after coming', varum mun 'before coming').  Adjectives (from appellative verbs) do not behave like this (Paramasivam, 1983:194). Paramasivam includes relative participle forms of  verbs, relative participle forms of appellative verbs, negative relative participle forms of verbs and adjectives formed by the adjectivalizer aana as adjectives.  At the same time he identifies relative participle forms and negative relative participle forms as phrases and appellative relative participle forms and adjectives formed by the adjectivalizer aana as simple words.

Those who argue adjective as a word class points out the property of adjective not taking the plural suffix kaL and case suffixes. Those who consider that adjective comes under nouns, take adjectival forms as alternate forms of the concerned nouns. For example, in the compound peeraapattu (< peer+ aapattu), the modifying element peer is considered as an alternate form of perumai and peeraapattu will be analyzed as perumai + aapattu.  The traditional grammars also carry the same opinion.  There is no consistency in reconstructing the adjectives into nouns.  For example irumozhi 'two language' is reconstructed as iraNTu + mozhi 'two language' and mummuurtti 'three gods' is reconstructed as muunRu + muurtti.  There is no reason whey they cannot be analyzed as irumai + mozhi and mummai + muurtti respectively.  There is no valid reason why perumai, ciRumai and ndanmai are not derived from the adjectival roots peer, ciRu and ndal by suffixing mai.  Lakoff (1970) considers adjectives as verbs. There is enough justification in considering peer, ciR, and ndal as adjective or as a word class different form noun.  In languages like English adjectives comes before a as a modifier and in where as a complement after be-verbs (ex. She is a beautiful girl. The girl is beautiful).  In Tamil aaku/aay suffixed abstract nouns, which are in adverbial form and which come as complement before the be-verb iru, function as adjectives modifying the noun in subject slot apart form aana suffixed abstract nouns which function as adjectives before nouns under modification.   


            avaL azhakaana peN

            she beautiful woman

'She is a beautiful woman'

andta peN azhakaaka/azhakaay iru-kkiR-aaL

            that woman beautifully be_PRES_she

'That woman is beautiful'

The same N+aaka/aay form function as adverbial if the verb in predicate slot is not a be verb.

         andta peN  azhakaaka paaTu-kiR-aaL

            that woman well sing_PRES_she

            'That girl sings well'

aaka/aay added to abstract nouns denoting emotions also functions as adverbs when collocated with be verbs such as iru and uL. 

            andta peN koopamaaka/koopamaay irukkiRaaL

            that woman angrily be_PRES_she

            'That woman is angery'

            andta peN koopamaaka/koopamaay irukkiRaaL

            that woman angrily be_PRES_she

            'That woman is angry'

Kothandaraman (1973:94-100) considers aaka as a case marker.

3. 4. 1.  Test for finding out adjectives

Gopal (1981:88-93) following Quirk et al (1976:231-34) and Nadkarni (1971:187-193), lists four tests to find out adjectives:

1.      Intensifier rompa 'very' test

2.      Comparative test

3.      eppaTippaTTa 'what kind of' test

4.      Exclamation test

3. 4. 1. 1. Intensifier rompa test

The intensifier rompa 'very' can co-occur only with adjectives.  If it is used with other attributes, it will not produce acceptable phrases.


            rompa ndalla paiyan

 'very good boy'

            *rompa va-ndt-a paiyan

             very come_PAST_RP boy

            *rompa marap peTTi

            very wooden box

            *rompa andta paiyan

            very that boy

            *rompa cila paiyan

            very some boy

            *rompa iraNTu paRavaikaL

            very two birds

            *rompa iraNTu maTangku kaTTiTam

            very two times building

            *rompa aaciriyar kaNNan

            very teacher Kannan

3. 4. 1. 2. Comparative test

Employing comparative test can identify adjectives.  If the test is used with other attributes it will produce only ungrammatical phrases.

            avan-ai viT-a ivaL ndalla-va

           he_ACC leave_INF he good_she

            'He is better than her'

            *avan-ai viT-a ivaL va-ndta-vaL

            he_ACC leave_INF she came_she

            *avan-ai viT-a ivarkaL cilar

            he_ACC leave_INF they few

            *avan-ai viT-a ivarkaL iraNTu paRavaikaL

            he_ACC leave_INF two birds

            *at-ai viT-a itu iraNTu maTangku kaTTiTam

            that leave_INF two times building

            avan-ai viT-a ivan aaciriyar

            he_ACC leave_INF he teacher

3. 4. 1. 3. Interrogative eppaTippaTTa 'what kind of' test

Adjectives can be identified from other attributes by employing interrogative test using the interrogative word eppaTippaTTa 'what kind of'.    By using the question word eppaTippaTTa, we can get answers as given in the first two phrases and not as given in the rest of the phases given below:

            Possible answers

            ndalla manitarkaL

'good men'

            azhakaana manitarkaL

'beautiful men'

            Impossible answers

            va-ndt-a manitarkaL

            'come_PAST_RP men'

            aaciriyar manitarkaL

            'teacher men'

            cila manitrakaL

            'few men'

Similarly, the answers for eppaTippaTTa peTTi 'what kind of box' is:

            Possible answers

            ndalla peTTi 'good box'

            paLuvaana peTTi 'heavy box'

            Impossible answers

            marppeTTi 'wooden box'        

3. 4. 1. 4. Exclamation test

Adjectives can be differentiated from other attributes by exclamation test employing the exclamatory word evvaLavu 'how much'.

            evvaLavu azhakaana paiyan!

            how_much beautiful boy

            'How beautiful boy he is!'

            evvaLavu veekamaana kutirai!

            how much fast horse

            'How fast the horse is!'

            evvaLavu pazhu-tt-a pazham!

            how_much ripe_PAST_RP fruit

            'How much ripped the fruit is!'

This test cannot be successfully employed for relative participles, quantifiers, appositional clauses and other noun phrases.

            *evvaLavu va-ndt-a paiyan

            how_much came_RP boy

            *evvaLavu andta paiyan

            how_much that boy

            *evvaLavu cila peer

            how_much some persons

            *evvaLavu iraNTu peer

            how_much two persons

            *evvaLavu reNTu maTangku kaTTiTam

            how_much two times building

            *evvaLavu aaciriyar kaNNan

            how_much teacher Kannan

evvaLavu as an exclamatory word can successfully collocated with nouns as compound nouns, but only to exclaim the quantity and not the quality.

            evvaLau paiyankaL

            'How many boys!'

            evvaLavu marappeTTikaL

            how_much wooden boxes

            'How many wooden boxes!'

Generally, adjectives in Tamil are taken as a separate category on the basis of their syntactic behaviour and not from the point of view of their morphological features. But still they can be treated as separate category from the point of view of their morphological behaviour too.  The adjectives of peer type (discussed in the later part) show some kind of morphological regularity. This can be seen from the following information about peer type of adjectives.  For example, peer occurs as peer, perum and periya while function as adjectives (the details are dealt in the later part of the paper).   The adjectives with iya, aiya and a as adjectival suffixes (dealt in the later part of the paper) can be treated so on the following grounds.

1.      They appear before nouns as modifiers.

umaa oru periya paaTaki

Uma one big singer

 'Uma is a good singer'

2.      The adjectives can be intensified by intensifiers such as mika.

umaa oru mikap periy

a paaTaki

Uma one very big singer

'Uma is a very good singer'

3.      The adjectives can be modified by comparative propositions introduced by the comparative elements such as viTa, kaaTTilum.

umaa raataiyai viTa mikap periya paaTaki

Uma Radha_ACC than

very big singer

'Uma is very talented singer than Radtha'

4.      If the adjectives function as predicates they occur in their pronominalized forms.

      paaTaki umaa raataiy-ai viTa mikap periya-vaL

                  singer Uma Radha_ACC more very talented_she

                  'The singer Uma is very talented than Radha'

5.      The adjectives of the periya-type take pronominalizers such as atu, avai, etc.

periya-tu 'big one', kariya-tu 'black one', ndalla-tu 'good one'

periya-vai 'big ones', kariya-vai 'black ones', ndalla-vai 'good ones'

                  periy-van 'big man', kariya-van 'black man', ndalla-van ' good man'

6. The stop consonants (k, c, t, p) of the nouns which follows the adjectival suffix a of the adjectives of the periya-type do not geminate. 

                  periya paiyan 'big boy'

                  ciRiya peTTi 'small box'

The first two statements are based on the syntax and the fourth and are based on morphology and the sixth based on phonology.  

3. 4. 2. Concluding remarks of Gopal on adjectives

Goapal comes to the following conclusion through his analysis of adjectives in Tamil: “The conclusion arrived at is that adjectives are not a separate part of speech and are only separate category like that of infinitives and verbal participles. The various forms which are considered to be adjectives in Tamil by various scholars which in reality are not adjectives have been taken for study in detail ... and rejected as they do not account for certain syntactic requirements.  That is, the demonstratives, quantifiers, numerals, nominal compounds, participles are not considered as adjectives.  And certain syntactic tests have been posited to identify adjectives. ... A constrictive study of English and Tamil is undertaken ... in order to show adjectives in Tamil in the surface structure behave differently from adjectives in English.... different forms of adjectives are taken up and it has been shown that the shape cannot determine an adjective and it must be treated as a syntactic category rather than a morphological category.” (Gopal, 1981:246-247).

3. 4. 3. The Reasonable solution to the problem

Adjectives in Tamil can be taken as a grammatical category on the basis of their syntactic function. They come before the nouns to attribute them and they are not followed by a postposition.  Bhat (1991) argues in details how adjective establishes itself as a separate category like noun and verb.

There is a pair of forms for a number of adjectives:

1.      One is a bound form that has to be added immediately before a noun like a prefix.


ndal 'good' found in the word ndalaaci ‘good wish’

2.       The other is an a-ending form that is independent.Ex.

ndalla ‘.good’ found in the phrase ndalla eNNam ‘good thinking’ 

We have at least three alternative solutions in dealing with the paired form.

1.      The bound form can be taken as an allomorph of the a-ending forms.

2.      The bound form can be considered as a reduced form of its counterpart, which is a quality noun (ex. ndanmai ‘goodness’ + eNNam > ndalleNNam, as proposed by the traditional grammarians). 

3.      The bound form can be considered as a root or base from which the a-ending forms are derived by the suffixation of the adjective maker -a.

The third alternative is not fruitful and productive as far as Modern Tamil is concerned.  The second alternative indirectly supports the formation of a stem by truncation.  The first alternative holds well.  But if we do not give categorical status to the bound forms, the relation between many related forms will be denied.  For example, the relation between ndalla ‘good’, ndanku ‘well’, ndanRu ‘fine’ ndanmai ‘benefit’, ndalam ‘state of good health' and ndalloor ‘great person’ cannot be established if these words are considered monomorphemic.  The denial of categorical status to the bound form probably needs rethinking. 

3. 4. 4. Whether to consider relative participle form as adjective or not

There is not doubt that relative participle forms of verbs attribute the noun which follows them.  So naturally one may doubt whether to consider the relative participle form of a verb as adjective or not. The difference between the adjectivalized forms such periya 'big', ciRiya 'small' and koTiya 'cruel' of appellative verbs peri 'be big', ciRi 'be small', koTi 'be cruel' and the adjectivalized forms (i.e. relaive participle forms) of the normal verbs is that the former is adjectivalized at the lexical level and the latter is adjectivalized at the sentential level.  The adjuctivalization does not disturb the argument structure of the verb that is adjectivalized.

            ndaan paLLiyil ndeeRRu paTitta paaTattai inRu avan paTittaan

            I school_LOC yesterday studied_RP lesson today he studied_he

            'He studied the lesson which I had studied in school yesterday'

Though adjectivalization changes the category of a verb into an adjective, it does not disturb its argument structure and its characteristic feature of expressing tense or negative.   There is no need to give the adjectivalized forms of verbs in dictionary as their resultant meanings and acquired syntactic characteristics can be predicted.  KTTA has listed only those relativized forms that are lexicalized into adjectives due to their idiosyncratic meaning.

3. 4. 3. Position of adjectives in noun phrase

The position of adjectives among the elements occuring in NP reveal that adjectives occur inbetween the noun and the relative participle form. If the relative participle form occurs in an NP, then the acceptable postion of adjective is after relative participle form.

                      va-ndt-a ndalla paiyan

            come_PAST_RP good boy

            ‘the good boy who came’

            ooTiya azhakaana kutirai

            run_PAST_RP beautiful horse

            ‘the beautiful horse ran’

            *ndalla vandta paiyan

            *azhkaana ooTiya kutirai

In the case of compound noun the adjective cannot immediately attribute the head noun (i.e. It cannot occur inbetween the constituents of the compound noun.) The adjective precedes the compound noun.

            *mara ndalla peTTi

            wooden good box           

            *pon azhakiya cankili

            golden beautiful chain           

            ndalla marappeTTi

            ‘good wodden box’

            azhakiya pon cangkili

            ‘beautiful golden chain’

The demonstratives generally precede the adjective.

            andta ndalla paiyan

            ‘that good boy’

            indta azhakiya ciRumi

            ‘this good girl’

            ?ndalla andata paiyan

            good that boy

            ?azhakiya indta ciRumi

            beautiful this girl

The qunatifiers like cila ‘few’, ovvoru ‘each’, iraNTu ‘two’, mutalaavatu ‘first’, etc. can be interchanged with adjectives.

            ndalla cila manitarkaL

            ‘good few men’           

            cila ndalla manitarkaL

            ‘few good men’

            ndalla ovvoru manitarum

            ‘good each one of good men’

            ovvoru ndalla manitarum

            ‘each one of good men’

            ndalla iraNTu ciRumikaL

            ‘good two girls’

            iraNTu ndalla ciRumikaL

            ‘two good girls’

            ciRandta mutalaavatu paiyan

            ‘best first boy’

            mutalaavatu ciRandta paiyan

            ‘first best boy’

3. 5. Adverbs

Kothandaraman (1989) and Lehman (1989) consider adverb as a word class. Lehman deals adverb only as a syntactic category.   Asher (1982:101-102) does not give adverb under "operational definition for word classes". But he talks about adverb while taking about the formation of adverb  (1982:199-203).  While talking about the position of adverbs in sentences (1982:57), he confers that in sentences other than locative and existential sentences, adverbs normally follow subject or indirect object or precede direct object, which tends to be the constituent that is closest to the verb.  If different types of adverb occur in the same sentence it is not possible to state clearly the order of their occurrence.  There is a tendency for temporal adverbs occurring before locative adverbs. Adverbs can be classified as simple and derived adjectives. aaka and aay are considered as adverbializers which form adverbs form when suffixed to a set of nouns.

azhaku + aay > azhakaay 'beautifully'

azhaku+ aaka > azhakaaka 'beautifully'

Certain inflected and non-inflected forms of nouns and verbs can be syntactically reanalyzed as a closed set of adverbs.  The form like aTikkaTi 'frequently', inimeel 'hereafter', innum 'still', maRupaTiyum 'again', miiNTum 'again' and mella 'slowly' justifies the postulation of a separate category of adverbs in Modern Tamil.  These word forms were considered as inflected verb forms or composite word forms consisting of a noun a clitic. Certain postpositions such as mun 'before', munnaal 'before' and piRaku 'afterwards' can function as adverbs.  The forms such as apaalee (appaal ‘further’+ee) 'afterwards', uLLee (uL ‘inside’+ee) 'before', and appuRam 'after', the nouns which are inflected for locative case such as iTaiyil (iTai ‘in between’ +il) 'in between' and ndTuvil (ndaTu ‘centre’+il)'at the centre', the past participle form of verbs such as paarttu (<paar ‘see’+ ttu) 'carefully', pindti (pindtu ‘be late’+ i) 'afterwards', mundti (mundtu ‘overtake’ + i) 'before' can function both as adverbs and postpositions.  The word forms which are not nouns also function as adverbs.  For example, the words containing demonstrative and interrogative bound forms such as a-ppaTi ' this way', e-ppaTi 'how', a-ppootu 'at that time, then' e-ppootu 'when', ingku 'here', engku 'where', inRu 'today', enRu 'when' are generally considered as adverbs.  Sometimes they may function as nouns too (ex. inRu ndalla ndaaL 'today is a good day'.  Many inflected and uninflected forms of nouns and verbs can be reanalyzed syntactically as sentential adverbs or sentential coordinators.   They occur at the initial position of a sentence to relate the two sentences semantically (ex. avan ndanRaakap paTittaan, aanaal veRRipeRavillai 'he studied well, but did not pass the examination').  The words such as appaTiyum ‘even then’, aanaal ‘but’, irundtaalum ‘even then’, etaRkum ‘for anything’ are sentential adverbs. 

Asher (1982) and Kothandaraman consider the forms which are derived by suffixing the infinitive form aaka and past participle form aay of the verb aaku 'become' as adverbs.  But Lehman (1989) by pointing out the functioning of aaka/aay not only to form adverbs but also as forms of different functions, concludes that aaka can be taken either as a bound postposition or a clitic.   Renukadevi (1987) classifies the adverbs semantically into temporal adverbs (ex. inRu 'today', ndaaLai 'tomorrow'), place adverbs (ex. ingku 'here', angku 'there'), manner adverbs (ex. mella 'slowly', ndanku 'well'),  frequency adverbs (ex. aTikkaTi 'often', maRupaTiyum 'again' and quantifier adverbs (ex. mika 'very', veku 'very').   Asher and Lehman consider quantifier adverbs as a separate class called quantifiers.   Paramasivam (1983) considers past participle form of verbs as adverbs.   As past participle form carries tense suffix, scholars are reluctant to group them as belonging to the word class adverb. 

3. 6. Quantifiers

Asher (1982) takes numerals and quantifiers together as a separate word class. Lehman (1989) lists quantifiers under syntactic categories as a separate category. Asher (1982:102) makes the following observation: "No overall definition of the class of numerals and quantifiers is possible in terms of morphological features.  They can occur as modifiers of nouns and, unlike adjectives, the other major modifiers of nouns are not subject to adverbial modification."   A closed groups of words such as the following can function as quantifiers: caRRu 'a littele', muzhu 'whole', konjcam 'a litte', ittanai 'this much', attanai 'that many', ettanai 'how many', ivvaLavu 'this much', avvaLavu 'that much', evvaLavu 'how much', ndirampa 'much', ndiRaiya 'much, many', mikavum 'much'.  All these quantifiers can occur as noun modifiers.  However, their distribution or position of occurrence is not identical.   For example, muzhu occurs always before a head noun (ex. andta muzhut tokai   'that full amount'),  caRRu generally occurs before temporal nouns (ex. caRRu ndeeam 'a little time'), mikavum occurs before nouns suffixed with aaka, aana, illaata, uTaiya, ceerndta (ex. mikvum azhakaaka 'very beautifully', mikavum azhakaana 'very beautiful', mikavum azhakillaata 'very ugly')  and other quantifiers occurs before the phrase adjective + N (ex. konjcam periya paattiram 'a little big vessel').  The quantifiers such as muzhu 'whole', ittanai 'this much', attanai 'that much', ettanai 'how much' and  mikavum 'much' comes before an adjective as a modifier (ex. koncjam cinnak kai 'a little bit small hand').   Kothandaraman classifies the modifiers such as mikavum 'much' which can come before noun, verb, adjective and adverb as intensifiers (vallaTai in Tamil) (ex. mikavum kaRuppu 'more blackness', mikavum piTikkum 'like more', mikavum ndalla 'very good', mikavum veekamaaka 'very fast'.

3. 7. Determiners

The modifiers such as indta 'this' and andta 'that' which are demonstratives and which can occur in pre-nominal position are classified as determiners by Lehman (1989).  He has included under syntactic categories.  They specify or identify the referent of a noun phrase by describing the referent's proximity to the speaker.  itndta 'this is the proximate demonstrative determiner and andta 'that is the remote demonstrative determiner. 

3. 8. Conjunctions

Kothandaran and Lehaman have taken conjunctions as a word class.  Lehman lists it under syntactic categories.  Conjunctions conjoins two words, phrases or sentences.  Though  co-ordination in Tamil is mainly performed by the use of clitics, there are also a number of verb forms which are syntactically reanalyzed to co-ordinate conjunction words.

anaaal 'but' conditional form aaku 'become'

allatu 'or' nominalized form of al 'be not'

 illaiyenRaal 'or' iilai 'be not' + conditional form of en 'say'

3. 9. Clitics

Clitics are called kuRaiccoRkaL 'partial words' in Tamil.  Clitics have been elaborately studies by Arokyanathan (1982).  Kothandaran classifies clitcs under dependent class.  He calls it as oTTu ‘affix’.  He defines clitics as elements like  taan, um, aa which occur in different places in phrases and which can effect change to the phrasal meaning and which can be considered neither as suffixes of nouns nor as suffixes of verbs.  Lehman lists clitics under syntactic categories. According to him "Clitics are bound forms which are affixed to a word not due to a morphological process, but due to some phonological rules of the grammar.  They are not thus representations of inflectional or derivational categories and not restricted to the occurrence with words of one particular word class only, as inflectional and derivational suffixes are. Clitics can be suffixed to words or heads of all syntactic categories, except adjectivals and a number of nominals functioning as noun modifiers".  All clitics in Tamil are pre clitics only, i.e they are added at the end of words.  A clitics with a specific phonemic shape perform various semantic functions.  So, it is possible to postulate a number of semantically different clitics, which are homophonous.  The following clitics can be posited for Modern Tamil:


Their functions


inclusive, concessive, coordination









Asher classifies emphatic markers, ee and taan, interrogative marker in yes/no question, aa, and the coordinators  um and oo under particles. 

3. 10. Verb dependent words

Kohthandaraman (1989) classifies words such as pin, pootu, uTan as found in phrases such vandta pin 'after some one came', vandta pootu 'while some one came', vandta uTan 'as soon as some one came'. He defines verb dependent words as that which have lost nominal feature and which comes after relative participle form as suffixes forming past participle forms as well as those which come after past participle form as suffixes forming relative participle forms. Lehman groups pootu time relation 'at that time', piRaku, appuRam, pin which refer to posterior time relation 'after', mun which refer to anterior time relation 'before', uTan which refers to time relation 'immediately', etc. as complementizing nouns.  The words such as takka, kuuTiya, veeNTiya which occur in compound relative participle forms such ceyyatakka 'that which is worth doing', ceyyakkuuTiya 'that which is possible to be done' and ceyyaveeNTiya 'what which should be done' as verb dependent words. 

3. 11. Exclamatory words

Kothandaraman groups words such as aiyoo, ammaa, appaa found in the following sentences as exclamatory words.

            aiyoo, enn-aal indta tukkatt-ait taangk-a muTiya-villaiyee.

            Oh I_by this tragedy_ACC bear_INF be_able_INF_not

            Oh! I could not bear this tragedy’

            ammaa, itu enna cootanai

            Oh! this what test

            Oh! what kind of test is this. 

            appaa, enn-aal veyilait taangk-a muTiyavillaiyee

            Oh I_by this sun_ACC bear_INF be_able_INF_not

            Oh! I could not bear sun’

3. 12. Words expressing feelings

The elements such as kalakala, paLapaLa, cap, vazhavazha, tiTiir 'immediately' as found in phrases such as kalakalavenRu 'joyfully', paLapaLavenRu 'shiningly',   capenRu 'ordinarily', vazhavazhavenRu 'continuously' and tiTiirenRu 'immediately' as words expressing feelings.

3. 13. Words of calling

Kothandaraman (1989) groups eenungka, ennangka, eey, aTee as belonging to the word class viLippu col 'words for calling'. The following sentences will exemplify these expressions.

            eenungka, ingkee vaangnka

            what_you here come_you

            ‘Hello come here’

             eey, ingkee vaa

            hello here come

            ‘Hello come here’

3. 14. Words of accepting call

Kothandraman (1989) classifies ennangka and eenungka which are expressed as response to the call as viLi eeRpuc col 'words of accepting call'. The following discourse will exemplify these expression.

umaa, ingkee vaa

Uma here come

‘Uma come here’

ennangka/eenungka kuuppiT-T-iingkaL-aa

what_you call_PAST_you_INT

‘Hello, did you call me?’

3. 15. Suffix

Kothandaraman classifies suffixes as vikuti and as a dependent class of word elements. He includes case suffixes such as ai, aal, ku, etc personal suffixes such as an, aan, aL, aaL  etc, aana which is a adjectivizling suffix and aaka which is an adverbializing as suffixes.

3. 16. Fillers

Kothandaraman classifies fillers under dependent classes of words as caariyai or ndirappi.  He defines fillers as those elements which does have any grammatical and lexical meaning and helps in the joining of words.  The phonemic element in and an in the following examples are fillers.

viiTT-in-ai ‘house_FIL_ACC

vandt-an-an ‘come_PAST_FIL_he

cenR-an-an  ‘go_PAST_FIL_he

4. Conclusion

As for as parts of speech or word class is concerned the grammarians classifies and defines the words based on the grammar formalism they follow.   That is why certain word classes found in one grammatical analysis is not found in the other.  For the same reason the word class which is considered as a subclass of one class is considered as a separate class in another classification. As Kothandaraman classifies words and other grammatical elements into main grammatical or independent categories and sub grammatical or dependent grammatical categories, he includes suffixes and fillers under his classification of words and grammatical categories.  There are certainly pertinent reasons to classify adjectives and adverbs as word classes. But classifying relative forms of verbs as adjectives and past participle forms of verbs as adverbs is not acceptable to many grammarians.   If we do so then we have take the relative participle markers and verbal participle markers respectively as adjectivilizers and adverbializers.  Kothandaraman identifies new class of words such as exclamatory words, words denoting feelings, words of call and words of accepting call to accommodate modern Tamil data.  Paramasivam (1983:98) states that there is no definite basic theory to classify words.  Even if one follows traditional grammarians or linguists there may be exceptions.  There is no grammatical theory which can help us to classify words without exceptions.  It is not a surprise that there are problems in classifying words as there are problems in defining words even. 


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S. Rajendran, Ph.D.
Department of Linguistics
Tamil University
Thanjavur 613 005
Tamilnadu, India

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