Case Marker: Lāī


We don’t like a lie, but when I give you one, you are better off taking it on face value as a lie is very important in Nepali (maybe). The word in Nepali, which is pronounced in the same way as the English synonym for untruth, is लाई (lāī). And this word is important, not because it states false facts or misleads, but rather because it is a frequently used case marker. Specifically, लाई (lāī) is the sometimes-accusative and mostly-dative case marker, used to show the object of a sentence. 

Before we move on, we have to first learn the concept of what an object is, specifically what constitutes one and what I mean when I say either direct or indirect object.


कलम (kalam)Pen
दिनु (dinu)To give
जर्मन (jarman)German
भाषा (bhāṣā)Language
सिकाउनु (sikāunu)To teach
पिट्नु (piṭnu)To hit; To beat up
भात (bhāt)Rice
खानु (khānu)To eat
राम्रो (rāmro)Good
भोक लाग्नु (bhok lāgnu)To feel hungry


Last time, we explore a bit about transitivity. As a recap, transitivity is the property of a verb to be able to take up a direct object in a sentence. Before we know what a direct object is, let’s briefly look over a simpler question: what is an object? An object is anything that takes the action of a transitive verb. So for example:

John eats fish
[subject + verb + object]

Here, the subject is John while the action is “to eat”. The object is the thing that the action “to eat” is acting upon, which is this case is “fish”. Now, to be very specific, actions can affect the object in one way or another, and not every action directly affects the object. In the case above, the object is more specifically called the direct object, the object which directly takes the action of the verb.

What is meant by directly? When we say ‘directly’, we mean that it is the principal or the primary object upon which the transitive verbs acts on. Now, there are also another class of objects which takes the action of the verb, but indirectly. For example:

John gave the child a book 
[subject + verb + indirect object + direct object]

In the statement above, “the child” is still an object (in the grammatical sense), as it is being affected by the verb “to give”, but not in a direct manner. Somehow, the action of giving “a book” is affecting “the child”, but the effect is indirect. You give a child, yes, but what? This question lingers on, and we cannot answer it until we involve a direct object. The action of “giving” affects the child as well, but it’s secondary compared to the book. This kind of object, that is affected by the action of a transitive verb (typically as a recipient), but is not the direct object, is called an indirect object. It shows where the action of the effect takes place. Here is another example:

I built a school for the students
[subject + verb + direct object + indirect object]

I built “a school”, since the action of building something is directly related to the something, i.e. “a school”. However, the side effect is that the action also affects someone else in this case, which is “the students”. Through this way, we can conclude that “a school” is the direct object here, while “the students” is the indirect object. In many ways, the indirect object is marked by the prepositions to or for in English, and we do that in Nepali as well, but use the case marker लाई (lāī) instead to show the indirect object.


The primary function of लाई (lāī) is to function as the dative case marker. Simply put, the dative marker is the case marker which shows the dative case in a sentence, or in other words, the indirect object or where the action takes place. Take the sentence:

म कलम दिन्छु (ma kalam dinchu)
= I give (a) pen
[subject + direct object + verb]

In the above sentence, “pen” is the direct object, as the action of giving directly affects the object. Now, the way लाई (lāī) works is by showing where the action takes place, or show what the indirect object is:

म तिमीलाई कलम दिन्छु (ma timī-lāī kalam dinchu)
= I give you (a) pen
[subject + indirect object  (+) lāī-case marker + direct object + verb]

In Nepali, there is a strong tendency for the indirect object to be placed before the direct object. Take one more example:

रोबर्टले मलाई जर्मन भाषा सिकाउन खोज्यो (robarṭ-le ma-lāī jarman bhāṣā sikāuna khojyo)
= Robert sought to teach me (the) German language
[subject + indirect object (+) lāī-case marker + direct object + compound verb]

Note | [verb stem]-na khojnu means “to try to [verb]”. Literally, khojnu means “to seek; to search”

In the above sentence, “German language” is the direct object, as the action of “teaching” by the subject “Robert” is directly affecting “German language”, while “me” is the indirect object as the effect of “teaching” is only affecting it indirectly.

लाई (lāī) is also used when you indicate purpose of an activity when the indirect object benefits from an action:

जनले फोहोरलाई खाल्टो खन्यो (jan-le phohor-lāī khālṭo khanyo)
= John dug (a) hole for (the) waste
[subject + benefactor (+) lāī-case marker + verb]


The secondary function of लाई (lāī) is to function as the accusative case marker. This sounds very confusing, as लाई (lāī) is apparently used to mark the direct object as well! However, things will be clearer as I explain when this happens and when it does not. As an accusative marker, लाई (lāī) marks the direct object in a sentence, but only if there is no indirect object in the sentence and the direct object is a human animates. Take the sentence:

म जनलाई पिट्छु (ma jan-lāī piṭchu)
= I hit John
[subject + direct object (+) lāī-case marker + verb]

In the statement above (sorry John), the direct object is “John”, but is marked by लाई (lāī) because it fulfills the two criteria set down for marking the direct object: there is no indirect object in the sentence, and “John” is a human animate. This can’t be said for the same if the direct object was inanimate or non-human (though this is a grey area):

म भात खान्छु (ma bhāt khānchu)
= I eat rice
[subject + direct object + verb]

Yet if you somehow resort to cannibalism and decide to consume John anyway in a violation of his human rights and your country’s criminal codes, लाई (lāī) magically appears:

म जनलाई खान्छु (ma jan-lāī khānchu)
= I eat John
[subject + direct object (+) lāī-case marker + verb]

When an indirect object appears, लाई (lāī) preferably marks the indirect object, thus even if you may have a human animate direct object, it will not be marked in favour of the indirect object:

म जनलाई तिमी दिन्छु (ma jan-lāī timī dinchu)
= I give you to John
[subject + indirect object (+) lāī-case marker + direct object + verb] 

Sometimes, anthropomorphization (assigning of human characters to non-human entities) allows us to use लाई (lāī) with non-human entities as well. This is often seen with animals, especially pets. Essentially, the idea is that you elevate a non-human entity to the same priority group as a human:

मैले कुकुरलाई छुएँ (maile kukur-lāī chue~)
= I touched (the) dog
[subject + direct object (+) lāī-case marker + verb]

This is related to the effect of also really emphasizing the direct object, if you choose to mark a non-human entity with लाई (lāī):

चुरोटलाई तान् ! (curoṭ-lāī tān)
= Inhale[lr] (the) cigarette! [lit. pull[lr]]
[direct object (+) lāī-case marker + verb]

In the above sentence, the direct object is very, very emphasized. This is usually done when you are giving out a command, or you want to emphasize the direct object in the sentence. Normally you do not do this, however.


Take the following sentence and interpret it as you see it:

I am cold

Now, the English sentence above could mean two things: either that you are feeling cold, or you are a cold person. A German speaker would never be confused however, as the two meanings are two separate sentences in German:

Ich bin kalt (as in, I am a cold person)
Mir ist es kalt (as in, I am feeling cold)

What is going on in German (and Nepali) that allows speakers to discern the intended meaning instantly, but requires context to do so in English? Simply put, the difference is that some languages like German and Nepali employ a different sentence structure to describe feelings, states and emotions (or so on), while reserving the normal sentence solely to describe something. The structure which employs the dative case, which is marked by लाई (lāī) in Nepali, is called the dative construction. In this construction, the subject which would be nominative in English is converted into the dative case (which is marked by लाई (lāī)) to describe feelings, emotions etc.

There are a few verbs that require the dative case in Nepali, whose subject is marked by लाई (lāī). These are mostly verbs that describe your state, feelings or emotions. Take the following sentence:

म राम्रो छु (ma rāmro chu)
am (a) good (person)
[subject + adjective + verb]

The above sentence clearly describes that you are a good person, since it uses the nominative म (ma) followed by the copula छु (chu) which is conjugated according to the subject. Now, if you however employ the dative construction:

मलाई राम्रो छ (ma-lāī rāmro cha)
= I am (feeling) good
[dative subject (+) lāī-case marker + adjective + verb]

The meaning changes entirely. This is because you used the dative construction, which shows how you feel instead of stating a quality like how the first one did. If you notice, the verb is conjugated according to the third person, so when using the dative construction, it is important that you do not conjugate according to the dative subject but rather just use 3rd person conjugation. For a closer translation, you could say “for me, (it) is good” instead of “I am good”, but it sounds much less natural. Another example:

तिमीलाई भोक लाग्यो (timī-lāī bhok lāgyo)
= You[mr] are hungry
[You (+) lāī-case marker + hunger + felt] 

The above sentence is more literally “you felt hungry”. In Nepali, feelings and emotions often use the past indefinite tense to define a current state; this is mostly a quirk of the language than anything highly technical. You could use the present indefinite tense as well, but the meaning shifts to present habitual/future, so if you say:

तिमीलाई भोक लाग्छ (timī-lāī bhok lāgcha)
= You[mr] (will) feel hungry

You would imply that you either will be hungry in the future, or that you feel hungry habitually.

One notable case where you use the dative construction is with the verb “to know” or थाहा हुनु (thāhā hunu):

मलाई थाहा छ (ma-lāī thāhā cha)
= I know

The verb that is being conjugated is hunu, so you could theoretically attach any of its conjugates to get different sentences. However, thāhā is usually paired up with cha and thiyo, but never with ho:

तँलाई सुरुदेखि नै थाहा थियो, हैन त? (ta~lāī suru-dekhi nai thāhā thiyo, haina ta)
= You[lr] knew (it) from (the) start, isn't it?
[you[lr] (+) lāī-case marker + beginning (+) dekhi-case marker + emphatic particle + knew + isn't it]

Note | In colloquial Nepali, थाहा (thāhā) is often shortened to just था (thā).

Here are all the different hunu forms with thāhā:

छ (cha)knowमलाई थाहा (ma-lāī thāhā cha)I know (it)
हुन्छ (huncha)(will) get to knowमलाई थाहा हुन्छ (ma-lāī thāhā huncha)I (will) get to know (it).
थियो (thiyo)knewमलाई थाहा थियो (ma-lāī thāhā thiyo)I knew (it).
भयो (bhayo)got to knowमलाई थाहा भयो (ma-lāī thāhā bhayo)I got to know (it).
हुनेछ (hunecha)will get to knowमलाई थाहा हुनेछ (ma-lāī thāhā hunecha)I will get to know (it).
हुँदैछ (hu~daicha)knowingमलाई थाहा हुँदैछ (ma-lāī thāhā hu~daicha)I am knowing (it).
रहेछ (rahecha)*knew, it seemsमलाई थाहा रहेछ (ma-lāī thāhā rahecha)I knew (it), it seems.
हुन्थ्यो (hunthyo)used to knowमलाई थाहा हुन्थ्यो (ma-lāī thāhā hunthyo)I used to know (it).

Note | *रहेछ (rahecha) is from रहनु (rahanu), which is used as the past unknown tense for hunu, because hunu itself does not have a past unknown form. We will look at this later.

Other dative verbs include: पर्नु (parnu) [to befall], लाग्नु (lāgnu) [to find (emotion)], हुनु (hunu) [to be], रिस उठ्नु (ris uṭhnu) [to get angry], चाहनु (cāhanu) [to desire] etc. Note that these verbs may also have other meanings when the dative construction is not used.


  • The direct object is the object which directly takes the action of the verb.
  • An indirect object is an object that is affected by the action of a transitive verb (typically as a recipient), but is not the direct object.The primary function of लाई (lāī) is to function as the dative case marker.
  • The dative marker is the case marker which shows the dative case in a sentence, or in other words, the indirect object or where the action takes place.  In Nepali, there is a strong tendency for the indirect object to be placed before the direct object. 
  • The secondary function of लाई (lāī) is to function as the accusative case marker.
  • As an accusative marker, लाई (lāī) marks the direct object in a sentence, but only if there is no indirect object in the sentence and the direct object is a human animate. When an indirect object appears, लाई (lāī) preferably marks the indirect object, thus even if you may have a human animate direct object, it will not be marked in favour of the indirect object.
  • The structure which employs the dative case, which is marked by लाई (lāī) in Nepali, is called dative construction.
  • The dative construction is used mostly to describe feelings and emotions.



1. He tried to give me a letter.
2. She[mr] donated money to charity.
3. The scissor cut the grass.
4. I read three books yesterday.
5. Matija helps his friends. | मातिया /mah-tea-yeah/



1. यो देखेर तिमी रिस उठेन ? (yo dekhera timī ris uṭhena) | After seeing (this), were you not angry?
2. जन म:म सह्रै मिठो लाग्छ (jan ma:ma sahrai miṭho lāgcha) | John finds momo very tasty.
3. म तिमी माया गर्छु (ma timī māyā garchu) | I love you[mr].
4. नरिवलको बोट काट (nariwal-ko boṭ kāṭa) | Cut[mr] the coconut tree.
5. म थाहा छ (ma thāhā cha) | I know.


1. मलाई कुकुरलाई मनपर्छ (ma-lāī kukur-lāī manparcha) | I like dog(s).
2. रामलाई हात्तीलाई पुजा गर्‍यो (rām-lāī hāttī-lāī pujā gar‍yo) | (The) elephant worshipped Rama.
3. तपाईँलाई डाइल गर्नुभएको नम्बरलाई व्यस्त छ (tapāī~lāī ḍāil garnubhaeko nambar-lāī vyasta cha) | (The) number you[hr] have dialed is busy.
4. हामीलाई अल्छिलाई लाग्यो (hāmī-lāī alchi-lāī lāgyo) | We are feeling bored.
5. गुरुङ जीलाई उहाँकी छोरीलाई दश रुपैयाँलाई दिनुभयो (guruṅ jī-lāī uhā~-kī chorī-lāī daś rupaiyā~-lāī dinubhayo) | Mr. Gurung gave his[hr] daughter ten rupees.


A.1. He tried to give me[ind. obj.] a letter[d. obj.].
A.2. She donated money[d. obj.] to charity[ind. obj.].
A.3. The player kicked the ball[d. obj.].
A.4. I read three books[d. obj.] yesterday.
A.5. Matija helps his friends[ind. obj.].
B.(A.1.). उसले मलाई चिठी दिन खोज्यो (usle ma-lāī ciṭhī dina khojyo)
B.(A.2.). उनले परोपकारलाई पैसा दान दिइन् (unle paropakār-lāī paisā dān diin)
B.(A.3.). कैंचीले घाँस काट्यो (kaiṃcī-le ghā~s kāṭyo)
B.(A.4.). मैले हिजो तीनवटा किताब पढेँ (maile hijo tīn-waṭā kitāb paḍhe~)
B.(A.5.). मातियाले उसका साथीहरूलाई सहयोग गर्छ (mātiyā-le uskā sāthī-harū-lāī sahayog garcha)
C.1. यो देखेर तिमीलाई रिस उठेन ? (yo dekhera timī-lāī ris uṭhena)
C.2. जनलाई म:म सह्रै मिठो लाग्छ (jan-lāī ma:ma sahrai miṭho lāgcha)
C.3. म तिमीलाई माया गर्छु (ma timī-lāī māyā garchu)
C.4. नरिवलको बोटलाई काट (nariwal-ko boṭ-lāī kāṭa)
C.5. मलाई थाहा छ (ma-lāī thāhā cha)
D.1. मलाई कुकुर मनपर्छ (ma-lāī kukur manparcha)
D.2. रामलाई हात्तीले पुजा गर्‍यो (rām-lāī hāttī-le pujā gar‍yo)
D.3. तपाईँले डाइल गर्नुभएको नम्बर व्यस्त छ (tapāī~-le ḍāil garnubhaeko nambar vyasta cha)
D.4. हामीलाई अल्छि लाग्यो (hāmī-lāī alchi lāgyo)
D. 5. गुरुङ जीले उहाँकी छोरीलाई दश रुपैयाँ दिनुभयो (guruṅ jī-le uhā~-kī chorī-lāī daś rupaiyā~ dinubhayo)

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