Hindi Language Blog

Indirect Verb Constructions, Revisited Posted by on Nov 21, 2018 in Hindi Language

I thought I would take this opportunity to revisit indirect verb constructions in Hindi, which are particularly useful in this language as they are so plentiful. In fact, if you learn other South Asian languages as well, you will find that this type of verb construction is extremely prevalent. Now, what do I mean by indirect verb construction? An indirect verb construction, in Hindi at least, is any use of a verb that has the natural or intuitive subject (such as a I, you, we, they, etc.) blocked from agreeing with the verb by a postposition, usually को/ko – therefore, instead of the natural subject and the verb agreeing in gender and number, the verb agrees with the object of the sentence. You will see what I mean in the examples below.

Sorry I’m late

Image by Thomas Leuthard on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Just a simple comparison between the English and Hindi ways of conveying this oft-used phrase is enough to illuminate the differences between English and Hindi grammar and perhaps even the differing cultural mindsets of English and Hindi speakers. In English, we simply use the pronoun I (in this case, the subject of the sentence), the verb “am” and an adjective to convey the fact that we are late. The Hindi differs dramatically from this:

माफ़ कीजिए/करो/सॉरी, मुझे देर हो गई । Maaf kijiye (respectful)/maaf karo (informal)/sorry, mujhe der ho gayi.

Let’s break that down:

मुझे/mujhe (=मैं + को or “to me”) + देर/der (singular, feminine noun) + हो गई/ho gayee (happened – notice how this verb agrees in gender and number with the singular feminine noun “देर/der“).

So, this Hindi phrase literally means in English: To me lateness happened.

This is a great example of an indirect verb construction – instead of the verb agreeing with the intuitive or natural subject of the sentence (I), the verb agrees with the object (देर/der, lateness) because it is blocked from agreeing with the natural subject by the postposition को/ko. This type of construction also carries a subtle meaning that “one is not late” (that is, defined or described by your lateness) but lateness is an entity with a will of its own that HAPPENED to you while you were minding your own business. So, next time you’re late, just explain why it’s not your fault in Hindi 😉

माफ़ करो, मुझे देर हो गई – लेकिन, मेरी ग़लती नहीं है – बस, यों ही देर हो गई ।

I like this film a lot

Image by woodleywonderworks on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Similarly, if we compare the English and Hindi in this case, it is vastly illuminating as to how different the two languages conceive of this simple phrase. In English, a language that is naturally very “I” centric, we use the pronoun “I” and the direct verb construction “like,” which agrees with I, and end the whole thing with the object liked or approved of and the quantity of our liking. In Hindi, the case is much different:

मुझे यह फ़िल्म बहुत पसंद है । mujhe yah film bahut pasand hai

मुझे यह फ़िल्म बहुत अच्छी लगती है। mujhe yah film bahut acchi lagti hai

मुझे यह फ़िल्म बहुत पसंद आई । mujhe yah film bahut pasand aayi

In all of these variations of a sentence expressing one’s liking of something, we have an indirect verb construction wherein the verb is blocked from agreeing with the natural subject (मैं/main/I) due to the presence of the postposition को/ko. Let’s break it down:

मुझे (=मैं + को) + यह फ़िल्म (the object – a singular, feminine noun, by the way) + बहुत (a lot, adjective) + पसंद (noun and adjective, meaning “approved/liked, approval”) है (singular verb – agrees with singular, feminine noun फ़िल्म; if it agreed with मैं, it would be हूँ)

” ” + यह फ़िल्म (object – singular, feminine noun) + बहुत (a lot, adjective) + अच्छी (good – adjective, agrees in number and gender with फ़िल्म) + लगती (to seem, appear – verb – again agrees in number and gender with फ़िल्म) + है (singular verb, agrees in number with फ़िल्म – the present tense here is not gendered so it does explicitly agree with the gender of फ़िल्म – this applies of course to the other examples as well)

” ” + यह फ़िल्म (object – singular, feminine noun) + बहुत (a lot, adjective) + पसंद (again, a noun and adjective meaning “liking/liked” or “approval”) + आई (past tense verb that agrees in gender and number with फ़िल्म)

These phrases literally mean:

“To me this film is pleasing”

“To me this film seems good”

“To me came the liking of this film”

Yes, it sounds silly when rendered into literal English, but these translations help illuminate the crucial differences between direct verb constructions, which are common in English, and indirect verb constructions, common in Hindi.

*An important qualification: 

Since publishing this blog, a reader has drawn my attention to the importance of direct constructions in expressing a like or dislike of something, so I will go into such a construction briefly here. Unlike the indirect constructions above, in which the verb is blocked from agreeing with the natural subject by the postposition को/ko, the direct verbal construction is much more intuitive in that the verb agrees with the natural subject and not with the object of the sentence, due to the absence of को/ko and the presence of a direct verb. Here are some examples:

मैं यह फ़िल्म बहुत पसंद करती हूँ/करता हूँ / main yah film bahut pasand karti huun/kartaa huun (I like this film a lot – here the verb agrees with a singular, feminine subject or a singular, masculine subject).

हम ये मिठाइयाँ खूब पसंद करते हैं/करती हैं / hum ye mithaaiyaan khoob pasand karte hain/karti hain (We like these sweets a great deal – here the verb agrees with a plural, masculine subject हम/hum or a plural, feminine हम/hum). *remember that, in a mixed group of men and women, the verb will default to the masculine plural regardless of whether it is a group composed of mostly women and one man; in order for the verb to be feminine plural with हम/hum, the group must be composed solely of women).

आप यह किताब कैसे नापसंद कर सकते हैं/कर सकती हैं ? / aap yah kitaab kaise naapasand kar sakte hain/kar sakti hain? (How can you dislike this book? – here the verb can agree with a masculine, plural “आप/you formal” or a feminine, plural आप. Remember that “aap” is always conceived as being grammatically plural because it is an honorific pronoun (used to show respect). Notice the use of नापसंद करना/naapasand karnaa (to dislike) and सकना/saknaa (to be able to).

तुम किस तरह का खाना पसंद करते हो/करती हो? / tum kis tarah kaa khaanaa pasand karte ho? (What kind of food do you like – here, again, you have two options – the masculine, plural तुम and the feminine, plural तुम). *तुम is conceived as grammatically plural, although it is not honorific.

वह किस क़िस्म के खेल पसंद करता है/करती है? / voh kis kism ke khel pasand karta hai/karti hai? (What kind of games does he/she like? – here again I gave you two options – the masculine, singular वह and the feminine, singular वह, depending on who you are talking about).

In these constructions, the gender and number of the object of the sentence doesn’t matter much because the verb (पसंद करना or नापसंद करना) agrees with the pronoun (he/she, I, we, they, you, etc.). So, it’s doubly helpful in these cases to remember how the present tense conjugates with each pronoun: मैं = हूँ, आप = हैं, तुम = हो, तू = है, वह/यह = है, वे/ये = हैं, हम = हैं |

I have a cold

Image by Ryan Hyde on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Predictably enough, in English we express this sentiment with a direct verb construction, stating that the subject (I) is in possession (to have) of a particular ailment. If you think of it this way, the Hindi method of constructing the same sentence seems to make more sense:

मुझे ज़ुकाम है । mujhe zukaam hai (literally: To me there is a cold)

The break down:

मुझे (मैं + को, the “natural subject” + को, postposition) + ज़ुकाम (a singular, masculine noun for “cold”) + है (present tense, singular verb that agrees in number with ज़ुकाम/zukaam).

Thus, instead of stating that you “have” (literally, that you “possess” an intangible object, such as a sickness) a cold, in Hindi you are stating that the cold happened to you or is happening to you, which makes a lot of sense when you consider how germs are spread from person to person. Other common phrases that use this type of construction are the following:

मुझे उल्टी आ रही है । mujhe ulti aa rahi hai (I’m feeling nauseous)

मुझे बुख़ार है । mujhe bukhaar hai (I have a fever)

मुझे झींगा मछली से एलर्जी है । mujhe jheengaa machli se allergy hai (I’m allergic to shrimp)

मुझे खाँसी आ रही है । mujhe khaansi aa rahi hai (I have a cough or I’m coughing)

In addition to expressions of being afflicted by an ailment, this construction is also used for more mundane sensations and feelings, such as:

मुझे भूख लग रही है । mujhe bhookh lag rahi hai (I’m hungry or I’m feeling hungry)

मुझे प्यास लग रही है । mujhe pyaas lag rahi hai (I’m thirsty or I’m feeling thirsty)

मुझे नींद आ रही है । mujhe neend aa rahi hai (I’m sleepy or I’m feeling sleepy/falling asleep)

Just keep in mind with indirect verb constructions such as these that the verb never agrees with the “natural subject” (such as मैं, हम, वे, ये, यह, वह, आप, तुम, etc.) but always agrees with the object of the sentence (such as नींद, फ़िल्म, बुख़ार, ज़ुकाम, देर, etc.), often a noun, precisely because the verb is blocked from agreeing with the natural subject due to the presence of that pesky postposition को/ko.

Also, don’t forget your pronoun + postposition contractions (shorthand forms):

Pronoun Pronoun + Postposition Contraction Break Down Literal English
मैैं (I) मुझे (long form: मुझको) मैं + को To me
आप (you, formal) आपको (only form that exists) आप + को To you (formal=used with superiors, people elder to you, strangers)
तुम (you, informal) तुम्हें (long form: तुमको) तुम + को To you (informal=used with colleagues, friends, some family members)
तू (you, intimate) तुझे (long form: तुझको) तू + को To you (intimate=used with small children, very close friends, close family members)
हम हमें (long form: हमको) हम + को To us
वह, यह वह = उसे (long form उसको)
यह= इसे (long form: इसको)
वह + को
यह + को
To he/she/it (वह=far away), (यह=nearby)
वे, ये वे=उन्हें (long form: उनको)
ये=इन्हें (long form: इनको)
वे + को
ये + को
To them, it (plural), he/she (formal)
(वे=far away)
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About the Author: Rachael

नमस्ते, मेरा नाम रेचल है/السلام علیکم، میرا نام ریچل ہے۔ Hello, my name is Rachael, but I also on occasion go by Richa––an interesting story for another time :) My two great loves are Hindi and Urdu. I first traveled to India (Jaipur, Rajasthan) in college on a Hindi study abroad program. A little over a year later, I returned to the same city to study Hindi in a yearlong program. I've also spent a summer in Kolkata, West Bengal learning Bengali, and I studied Urdu at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was a graduate student in South Asian Studies. I hope to share with you the fascinating world of Hindi and Urdu literature, society, culture and film through my blogs!


  1. Ian Rowcliffe:

    Hi Rachael – a useful post! However, at one point, I discussed this notion with an Indian friend who pointed out that things can be expressed more egocentrically. For example, मैं यह फ़िल्म बहुत पसंद करता हूँ।. The point being that people can express things in that way if they choose to. It would be interesting if you could expand on this further. Thanks, Ian

    • Rachael:

      @Ian Rowcliffe ज़रूर, बिल्कुल स्पष्ट है कि उस क़िस्म की वाक्य-रचनाएँ संभव हैं। लेकिन, इस पोस्ट में, इस बात पर ज़ोर देने की कोशिश कर रही थी कि, अँग्रेज़ी में (हिंदी की तुलना में) प्रत्यक्ष क्रिया की वाक्य-रचनाएँ ज़्यादा आम हैं। हिंदी में अप्रत्यक्ष क्रिया की वाक्य-रचनाएँँ ज़्यादा आम हैं, अँग्रेज़ी की तुलना में, और इसलिए मैंने उनके बारे में लिखा था। लेकिन, जैसे जैसे हिंदी में ज़्यादा अँग्रेज़ी का इस्तेमाल किया जाता है, तैसे तैसे हिंदी भाषा बदल जाती है। यह भी साफ़ है कि व्यक्ति हमेशा चुन सकता है कि वह अपना व्यक्तित्व कैसे अभिव्यक्त करे।

  2. Ian Rowcliffe:

    Thanks for your answer which I got the gist of, making my next point that being able to express one’s personality clearly requires the means. All to say that alternative forms of expression in teaching tend to give way to ‘common’ usage such that the student may not know that they exist. Rarely do they focus on intention.

    P.S. It would be helpful if readers who comment might be notified of replies. I could easily have missed your reply, which would have been a pity as feedback is very helpful.

    • Rachael:

      @Ian Rowcliffe आपकी बात सही है – इसलिए मैंने उस ब्लोग को direct constructions के बारे में कुछ बातें जोड़ दी हैं। और, आपकी दूसरी बात को लेकर – मुझे नहीं मालूम कि कोई तरीका है पढ़नेवालों को notify करने का है कि नहीं, लेकिन ज़रूर पूछ लूँगी 🙂 चिंता न कीजिए, पहले हिंदी पढ़कर कुछ न कुछ दिक्कत आएगी, लेकिन धीरे धीरे सब कुछ साफ़ हो जाएगा ।

  3. Ian Rowcliffe:

    स्पष्ट नहीं है। बिल्कुल मुश्किल है 🙂