A Progressive Grammar of Common Tamil

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search





The Rev. A. H. ARDEN, M.A.

Published and sold by the Society for Promoting

Christian Knowledge, 17 Church Street, Vepery, Madras


(All rights reserved)


Several years' experience in teaching Tamil to the members of the Indian Civil Service at Cambridge has made the author increasingly to feel the need that exists for a Tamil Grammar, written on the same general system as the Telugu Grammar, which he published, when in Madras, in the year 1873, and which has for long been adopted as the textbook for the I.C.S., as well as by the various Missionary Societies, working in the Telugu Country.

The author is far from undervaluing the works which have already been published on the same subject. The student of Tamil must ever feel grateful to Dr. Pope, who has done so much to promote the study of this interesting language. But excellent as Dr. Pope's Tamil Handbook is, for its own particular purpose, being written on the Ollendorf system, it necessarily presents the grammar of the language in a somewhat broken and piecemeal form. There appears, therefore, to be a real need for an additional book in the English language, giving a compact outline of Tamil Grammar; and this need the author has now endeavoured to supply.

The Tamil Grammar of the Rev. C. T. E. Rhenius supplies the want to some extent; but not only is it almost out of print, but it needs revision and rearrangement; and as many years have passed since it was published, additional light has been thrown upon the language, and great improvements have been made in Tamil type.

The object of this book is to present the reader with grammar of common Tamil only, as it is correctly spoken and written. In ordinary conversation and writing several vulgarisms and colloquialisms are used. These can easily be mastered by observation, and by intercourse with the people of the country; and therefore they are only briefly noticed in these pages. When once the correct forms and expressions are known, vulgarisms and colloquialisms can easily be recognized and understood.

After mastering this Grammar, the student will then be in a position to proceed to the study of the higher dialect, and to the perusal of Native Grammars. It is in the higher dialect that Tamil poetry, and some also of the Native prose works, are written. So different is it from the common dialect, that a person who only knows the latter, cannot understand the former. It requires, therefore, separate treatment, and practically forms a distinct branch of study.

It is hardly necessary to add that the Native Grammars were composed for those who were already well acquainted with common Tamil as their own vernacular; and hence they are written in Tamil, and deal with the higher dialect. However useful therefore to advanced students, they are not adapted for teaching common Tamil to Europeans.

In this, as in the Telugu Grammar, the special effort of the author has been to adopt a strictly progressive system; in other words not to introduce matter which practically implies a knowledge of Tamil which has not been as yet imparted; and on the other hand, only to give such information as is absolutely required at the stage at which the student has arrived. Strict attention to this principle, while it makes the book much easier to study, must be pleaded as an excuse for any features in the arrangement of the subject-matter, which may at first sight strike the reader as somewhat peculiar. As instances of this, may be mentioned the explanation in para. 68 of the pronunciation of the first consonant, after the explanation of several letters which precede it in the alphabet—the insertion of syntax in Chapter VI—the reservation of information to the supplementary Chapter XI, etc.

Though, in some instances, it might have been advisable somewhat to alter the terms used, e.g. the word stem in many places for the word root, etc., yet to prevent any confusion, the author has thought it best to retain those terms which have been already adopted in his own Telugu Grammar, and in the Tamil works of Dr. Pope.

The examples given have been chiefly selected from the textbooks prescribed for the I.C.S. examinations.

The first chapter, on the alphabet and orthography, may perhaps seem to be somewhat long, and to be written in a style, which strictly speaking, may not be quite suited to the pages of a Grammar. But after some years of experience in teaching Tamil, the author has found that, owing to the peculiarities of the Tamil language, the system here adopted is at once the easiest and the shortest. He therefore does not hesitate to insert it. It enables the student, with the indispensable assistance of a qualified teacher, to acquire the power to read and to pronounce Tamil correctly, which is the first great and essential step in mastering the language.

Much time and labour have been spent upon the verbs and the rules for the formation of their tenses. All the verbs in Winslow's Dictionary have been collected and arranged under rules; and thus a regular classification has been made, which, when once mastered, will give the student a clear and comprehensive view of the subject.

A copious index, both in Tamil and English, is given at the end of the book, and will be found most useful for reference.

A few introductory remarks are added in reference to the Tamil language, and the manner in which it should be acquired.

The languages of Southern India, of which Tamil is the most important, are termed Dravidian. The principal members of this group of languages are—

(1) Tamil.—This is the vernacular of about thirteen millions of people, who principally inhabit the country on the Eastern side of the Ghauts from Madras to Cape Comorin, South Travancore on the Western side of the Ghauts, and also the Northern parts of Ceylon.

(2) Malayalam.—This is closely akin to Tamil. It is the vernacular of about five millions of people, who principally inhabit the country on the Western side of the Ghats, from Mangalore to Trivandrum.

(3) Telugu.—This is next to Tamil in importance, from which it differs very considerably. It uses an entirely distinct written character; and introduces the Sanskrit aspirates, which Tamil does not. It is the vernacular of about seventeen millions of people, who principally inhabit the country stretching North from Madras to the confines of Bengal, and far inland into the heart of the Dekhan.

(4) Canarese.—This language is closely akin to Telugu. It is the vernacular of about eight millions of people, who principally inhabit Mysore and Canara.

While, on the one hand, it may truly be said that no oriental living language can be properly mastered without a residence in the country where it is spoken, yet, on the other hand, the author believes, that if a suitable teacher can be procured, it is of the highest value, especially for an Indian Civilian, to study the language for a time, before he leaves his own country. The novelty of oriental life, the new scenes around him, the trials of the climate, the heat, the lassitude which is often felt by one new to the country, added to official calls, the requirements of society in the presidency town, the journey to an upcountry station, the civilities that have again to be gone through there, the settling down to a new home, and the effort to learn some of the official duties that will ere long devolve upon him,—all these are very serious hindrances to steady work with the rudiments of a language, and often greatly impede the progress of the young Civilian Whereas, if the rudiments of the language have been thoroughly mastered at home, much of the drudgery work will have been already surmounted, everyday rapid progress will be made after arrival in India, and the acquisition of the language will be a pleasure rather than a toil.

In learning Tamil the motto of the student, especially at first, should be 'Quality not Quantity'. A little thoroughly mastered, is of much more value than a far larger quantity only half learnt. Some, by being too rapid at first, bring upon themselves the great extra trouble of having to unlearn faulty pronunciations.

The student should, from the very beginning, provide himself with a pocket-book, and enter into it all the Tamil words which he finds in the early chapters of this book, with their English meaning placed opposite to them. These he should carefully commit to memory, and constantly repeat. They will form a most useful vocabulary of common Tamil words, the acquisition of which is of primary importance in learning a living language. After the mind has been stored with a well-learnt vocabulary, it will be found useful to enter in the pocket-book a number of common sentences illustrating the words in the vocabulary, and these also should be carefully committed to memory.

The student should daily practise Tamil handwriting, by writing copies at first of Tamil letters, and afterwards of Tamil words and sentences.

It only remains for the author very heartily to thank the kind friends who have rendered him much valuable assistance in the preparation of this work. They are too many to mention individually, but he cannot pass over in silence the names of A. E. Hutchins, Esq., I.C.S., and F. Brandt, Esq., I.C.S., Lecturer in Tamil and Telugu at the University of Cambridge. The former has been most kind in correcting the manuscript for the press, and the latter has most carefully read the book whilst in preparation, and offered many very useful suggestions.



N.B.—The author will be greatly obliged for any corrections, suggestions, criticisms, etc., which may strike the reader as he goes through this work. They can be sent either through the publishers, or direct to his private address—Curborough, Great Malvern. They would be of much value in preparing a second edition.


Chapter I. On the alphabet and orthography.
Chapter II. Rules concerning the combination, insertion, and changes of Tamil letters.
Chapter III. On nouns, pronouns, and adjectives.
Chapter IV. On numerals, postpositions, conjunctions, adverbs, and interjections.
Chapter V. On the imperative mood, and the tenses of verbs.
Chapter VI. On syntax.
Chapter VII. On the infinitive mood, the verbal participle, relative participles, participal nouns, affixes attached to relative participles, and verbal nouns.
Chapter VIII. On the negative form of verbs, passive verbs, reflexive verbs, and causal verbs.
Chapter IX. On auxiliary verbs, conditional sentences, the optative mood, certain parts of the verb en to say, and on the principal parts of a Tamil verb.
Chapter X. On the uses of the several tenses—combinate forms of the tenses and participles—certain uses of the verbal participle—translation of Tamil and English—intensive verbs—and on the idiomatic uses of several verbs.
Chapter XI. Supplementary information.
Chapter XII. Appendices.
Index in English and Tamil


Proceedings of the Madras Government, No. 1226.

Ootacamund, August 9, 1879.

His Grace in Council does not doubt that a grammar which has met with such high approval from very competent critics will be adopted by all students of Telugu.—C. G. Master, Chief Secretary to Government.

It is in my opinion the grammar for an Englishman wishing to learn Telugu.—Right Reverend Bishop Caldwell, d. d.

Contains a large amount of useful matter, arranged in a very lucid manner.—G. Oppert, Esq., m. a., Ph.D., Professor of Sanskrit, Telugu Translator to Government.

I have gone through the whole book, and think your work supplies a real want.—Col. R. M. Macdonald, Director of Public Instruction, Madras.

I am able to speak from experience as to the great services you have rendered to Telugu students by its publication.—T. Howley, Esq., Professor of Telugu, Oxford.

Is decidedly calculated to supersede its predecessors … has rendered a material service to the public.—Madras Mail.

In every respect an excellent work … has supplied a public need.—Madras Athenæum.


This work was published before January 1, 1925, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.