Edit: I am currently researching this topic in depth and I must say, I am wrong. However, stating it as wrong would be misleading, because most of the things here do apply to the case marker. Rather, it is the reason why it does so that is not quite right. I will be rectifying these errors soon, so you can read the following chapter with slight precaution.
Now that we have gone over what case markers are, we shall now look at them one by one and see how they function in a Nepali sentence. As a reminder, case markers appear after the case and are adjoined to the case itself, so instead of saying “in Rome”, you would say “Romein”. The first case we shall be looking over is the nominative case, or more precisely, looking at the case marker ले (le), which has many other functions outside than the nominative.
Now comes the step where we begin to unlearn and learn the things previously said. Wait, what? Isn’t ले (le) a nominative case marker? Well, it is not so simple. Nepali isn’t strictly nominative-accusative as languages like English or German, but not quite ergative-absolutive like Basque. It is somewhere in the middle, having feature of both while not being part of either. In precise terms, ले (le) would be considered to be somewhat of an ergative marker, but I shall not be bothering you as to why and when, but rather show you how it functions in a sentence. You can ignore this brief technicality completely if you wish.
To understand how it works, we need to first understand a few key properties of verbs, namely, what constitutes an action, or in specific terms, define what transitivity is.
|खानु (khānu)||To eat|
|सुत्नु (sutnu)||To sleep|
|लेख्नु (lekhnu)||To write|
|माछा मार्नु (māchā mārnu)||To catch fish [lit. to kill fish]|
|पकाउनु (pakāunu)||To cook|
|काट्नु (kāṭnu)||To cut|
|जित्नु (jitnu)||To win|
|बन्नु (bannu)||To be made|
|चुरोट खानु (curoṭ khānu)||To smoke a cigarette [lit. to eat (a) cigarette]|
|पर्खाल (parkhāl)||Fence; Wall (outside)|
|भिज्नु (bhijnu)||To be made wet|
|निभ्नु (nibhnu)||To get put out; To get extinguished|
|पोल्नु (polnu)||To burn|
|गर्नु (garnu)||To do|
Verbs come in many different shapes and sizes, and by this point, I am sure you know what a subject is. In the following sentence:
John eats cake. [subject + verb + object]
The subject is the doer of an action. This last part “doing something” is very important thing to note because when you indicate an action is being done, you are using a verb. Mostly, you have the action “being done” on something, which in this case is the “cake”, which is called the object. Now, there are some sentences that indicate you doing something, but does not quite take up an object:
John sleeps. [subject + verb]
What’s important here is that even though the subject (John) is doing something (sleeps), the verb does not (or cannot) take up an object. The verb “sleep” is not acting upon anything, unlike the verb “eat” which was acting on “cake”. So, you cannot say something like:
John sleeps (?)cake. [Subject + Verb + (?)Object]
What you have just witnessed in all glory is the concept of transitivity, or the property of verbs which determines if they can take up an object or not to make sense. When referring to an object here, it usually refers to something more strictly known as direct object, which we shall be looking at later. For now, object should do fine.
Verbs which need or can take up an object, just like the first one, are called transitive verbs, while verbs which do not take up an object, like the second one, are called intransitive verbs.
Transitive verbs include (but not limited to): eat, write, hit, drink, cut etc,
Intransitive verbs include (but not limited to): sleep, laugh, flow, run, die etc.
A trick to differentiate between them is to ask the question “what?”. For example, “what do I cut?” can be answered with an object “paper”, making it a transitive verb, while intransitive verbs do not give an answer, “what do I laugh?”.
You can read more about transitivity here.
The most common function of ले (le) is to mark the subject in certain time aspects, thus functions as the subject marker. What is a subject again? A subject is the doer of an action, so it is vital that something needs to be done, at least in Nepali terms:
John eats cake. [subject + verb + object]
Why is it vital that something needs to be done? That is because ले (le) only marks subjects if the verb is transitive. Remember that transitive verbs take up an object, so that the action is being done on something.
Now, if only life were that simple, and I can wrap up and say “Well, that’s all about ले (le), pack up your bags” because it isn’t. The truth is more muddy, as it marks the subject of a transitive verb-having sentence about half the time. This is because not every tense-aspect can be marked. What does this mean?
This means that ले (le) is not used every time the subject pops up. Namely, the only “time” (pun intended) you can use ले (le) to mark your subject are these:
- Past indefinite tense
- All perfect tenses
- Past unknown tense
As you can see, not every subject of every tense is marked, so you do not mark the subject in, let’s say, present indefinite tense. For the ones listed above however, you have to use ले (le) to mark the subject, otherwise it goes unmarked. Take the following examples:
जन भात खान्छ (jan bhāt khāncha) = John eats rice [subject + rice + eats]
The above sentence is in present indefinite tense, so the subject “John” (in bold) is unmarked by ले (le). Now, what if you wanted to say that in past indefinite tense?
जनले भात खायो (jan-le bhāt khāyo) = John ate rice [John (+) le-case marker + rice + ate]
As you can see, the subject is marked with the case marker ले (le) to indicate that it is doing something in that regard in transitive cases. This however cannot be done with intransitive verbs, as mentioned earlier. Take the following sentence:
जन सुत्छ (jan sutcha) = John sleeps [John + sleeps]
The verb sleep (sutcha) is intransitive and the sentence is in present indefinite tense, which does not take on the subject marker ले (le). However, since the verb is intransitive, you still say the following in past indefinite tense, as intransitive verbs do not take up le:
जन सुत्यो (jan sutyo) = John slept [John + slept]
You cannot for example saying the following:
जनले सुत्यो (jan-le sutyo) = John slept (?) [John (+) le-case marker + slept]
The above would be incorrect because ले (le) is not used in intransitive aspects. Here are some more examples to illustrate how ले (le) is used as a subject marker:
लेखकले किताब लेख्यो (lekhak-le kitāb lekhyo) | past indefinite = Writer wrote (a) book [writer (+) le-case marker + book + wrote]
उसले माछा मारेको छ (usle māchā māreko cha) | present perfect = He has killed (a) fish [figuratively would be “he has caught a fish”] [he (+) le-case marker + fish +killed + has]
A quick reminder that it is उसले (usle) and not ऊले (ūle) because of pronoun obliquing. Basically, adding certain case markers to certain pronouns change the base form of the pronoun. Another example where this is true:
मैले खीर पकाएछु (mai-le khīr pakāechu) | past unknown = I cooked porridge, I didn’t know that [I[obliqued](+) le-case marker + porridge + cooked[unknown]]
The second function of ले (le) is to show the instrument, not as in a piano or a guitar, but as in showing how the action is achieved. In simple terms, an instrument marker marks the instrument in a sentence, which is basically anything that achieves or accomplishes an action, whether this be a real or an abstract concept. For example:
I cut (the) apple with (a) knife. [subject + verb + object + instrument]
In the sentence above, the subject (I) is doing something (cut) to an object (the apple) with an instrument (a knife). It is important to notice that the action is done solely with the help of the instrument, so it is necessary for you to mark this with ले (le). Note that the sentence is in present indefinite tense so the subject (I) is not being marked with ले (le):
म स्याउ छुरीले काट्छु (ma syāu churī-le kāṭchu)
[I + apple + knife (+) le-case marker + cut]
Here is another sentence:
जनले किताब कलमले लेख्यो (jan-le kitāb kalam-le lekhyo) = John wrote (a) book with (a) pen [John (+) le-case marker + book + pen (+) le-case marker + wrote]
Note that the two ले (le) in the sentence have different functions: the first being the subject marker as the tense is past indefinite, while the second is to show the instrument of the action. When there are two ले (le), it is always important to keep the subject first and the instrument after the first or elsewhere, otherwise it will be hard to understand the pragmatic meaning without mentally clarifying the otherwise eccentric sentence structure.
The instrument does not necessarily need to be an actual object. It can be an abstract concept, for example:
म यो युद्ध चलाख सोचले जित्छु (ma yo yuddha calākh soc-le jitchu)
= I win this war with clever thought
[I + this + war + clever + thought (+) le-case marker + win]
LE AS DISCOURSE PROMINENCE
Sometimes, ले (le) is used even in cases where ले (le) shouldn’t be used such as in the present indefinite. When done so, it emphasizes the action being done. This giving of special attention is also known as discourse prominence. This comes from the fact that ले (le) is also an ergative marker, but the way Nepali handles ergativity is not straight forward. It is not important to know what it linguistically is, but rather how you can use ले (le) to emphasize certain actions.
Often, the present indefinite does not require ले (le) marking of the subject. This is true for many other tense-aspects as well. However, you will often find sentences with ले (le), even though it is not required of it. In fact, even intransitive verbs take up ले (le) sometimes! Take the following sentence:
जन चुरोट खान्छ (jan curoṭ khāncha) = John smokes cigarette(s). [occasionally] [subject + cigarette + smokes] |
Nepali uses the present indefinite tense to also indicate a present habitual action. From the sentence above, it is understood that John smokes cigarettes sometimes. However, if you mark it with ले (le):
जनले चुरोट खान्छ (jan-le curoṭ khāncha) = John smokes cigarette(s). [addicted]
The attention to John is significantly increased. This sentence now means that John smokes cigarettes rather frequently, or that he smokes because he is addicted to smoking. The idea of “John” doing something is emphasized, and in this particular case, highlights the subject doing an action.
Often, you will find that ले (le) obligatorily marks subjects when the subject is doing something that would otherwise not be done by other subjects (of its kinds), or that subjects of its kind are known for that specific property. This all comes down to emphasizing the role of the subject, which ले (le) does:
यो पसलले राम्रो सामान बेच्छ (yo pasal-le rāmro sāmān beccha) = This shop sells good item(s) [emphasis]
The above sentence sounds strange without ले (le), as the subject has to be emphasized as the doer of an action (in this case, selling good items).
हात्तीहरूले पर्खाल भात्काउँछन् (hāttī-harū-le parkhāl bhātkāu~chan) = Elephants destroy fence(s). [aggressive]
In the above sentence, it is understood that elephants are known to destroy fences because they are aggressive, or that these specific group of elephants are known for destroying fences. Without ले (le), it would be generally understood that elephants are known to destroy fences, but rather occasionally.
मैले नुहाएँ (maile nuhāe~) = I showered. [emphasis]
While intransitive verbs do not normally take up ले (le), sometimes adding it emphasizes the role of the subject in the action. While the sentence does fine without ले (le), adding it highlights the subject as the definite doer of the action, so the above is generally understood as, “yes, I did shower” or something to that effect. ले (le) is also sometimes used with intransitive verbs to indicate a non-animate or natural agent of cause:
हावाले दियो निभ्यो (hāwā-le diyo nibhyo) = (The) oil lamp got put out by (the) wind.
Note that trying to use an animate entity results in the use of a causative verb, which changes the structure entirely:
मैले दियो निभाएँ (maile diyo nibhāe~) = I put out (the) oil lamp.
There are other functions of ले (le), which are often a part of a bigger verbal construction. This is an expansion of the instrumental marker function of ले (le), as an instrument can mean many things.
Use with verb-eko to denote composition or framework
When a word marked by ले (le) is followed by a verb in its –eko form, it usually denotes the composition of the subject, or the action of the word marked by ले (le) affects the subject in some way (like a framework). For example:
कागजले बनेको (kāgaj-le baneko)
= Made of paper
[paper (+) le-case marker + made]
यो किताब पानीले भिजेको हो (yo kitāb pānī-le bhijeko ho)
= This book is (made) wet by water
[this + book + water (+) le-case marker + wet + is]
In the second sentence above, ले (le) is used to indicate reason as well (because of water).
Use before verb stem+dā to denote cause or reason
When a word marked by ले (le) is followed by a verb in its –dā form, it usually denotes a cause or a reason for something that happened or happens. The verb choice for denoting such a cause is usually गर्नु (garnu), although other verbs also denote some form of reason or action. For example:
मेरो छाला घामले गर्दा पोल्यो (mero chālā ghām-le gardā polyo) = My skin (got) burnt by (the) doing of (the) sun [lit.] = My skin was burnt due to the sun [fig.] [my + skin + sun (+) le-case marker + doing + burnt]
कविता जनले मात्र लेख्दा राम्रो हुन्छ (kavitā jan-le mātra lekhdā rāmro huncha)
= Poem is nice only (if) John writes (it)
[poem + John (+) le-case marker + only + writes + good + is]
In the statement above, the reason for goodness of the poem can be seen as a product of John’s action, such that its outcome is determined by whether John undertakes an action or not.
The above can also be used with –eko verb stems, when an action was the cause in the past. When done so, the le-phrase is often always followed by गर्दा (gardā):
भात खाएकोले गर्दा अहिले भोक छैन (bhāt khāeko-le gardā ahile bhok chaina) = No hunger now, (the) doing by rice eaten [lit.] = Because (I) had eaten rice, I am not hungry [fig.] [rice + eaten[perf.] (+) le-case marker + doing (because) + now + hunger + not is]
Use with verb stem+nā to indicate reason
Similar to above, ले (le) we can attach to verb stem+nā to indicate reason. This is generally understood as: because of verb+ing.
पाहुना आउनाले ढिलो भइयो (pāhunā āunā-le ḍhilo bhaiyo) = Late happened because of guest(s) coming [lit.] = Because guest(s) were coming, I arrived late [fig.] [guest(s) + coming (+) le-case marker + late + became[passive]]
In the above sentence, the verb is in the passive form. You could also replace it with an earlier construct, though the tense will change slightly:
पाहुना आएकोले गर्दा ढिलो भइयो (pāhunā āeko-le gardā ḍhilo bhaiyo) = Late happened because of guest(s) come [lit.] = Because guest(s) had come, I arrived late [fig.] [guest(s) + come[perf.] (+) le-case marker + doing + late + became[passive]]
It may be helpful if you consider the bold part to be one clause and the non-bolded part another clause.
- Case marker ले (le) serves primarily as the subject marker in certain aspects and as the instrument marker.
- Transitivity is the property of verbs which determines if they can take up an object or not to make sense.
- Verbs which need or can take up an object are called transitive verbs.
- Verbs which do not take up an object are called intransitive verbs.
- The most common function of ले (le) is to mark the subject in certain time aspects, thus functions as the subject marker.
- ले (le) can mark the subject in the following tenses: Past Indefinite Tense, Past Perfect Tense, Past Unknown Tense, Present Perfect Tense, Future Perfect Tense
- The other function is to act as an instrument marker, which marks the instrument in a sentence, which is basically anything that achieves or accomplishes an action.
- Sometimes, ले (le) is used even in cases where ले (le) shouldn’t be used such as in the present indefinite. When done so, it emphasizes the action being done.
- When a word marked by ले (le) is followed by a verb in its –eko form, it usually denotes the composition of the subject.
- When a word marked by ले (le) is followed by a verb in its –dā form, it usually denotes a cause or a reason for something that happened or happens.
- ले (le) can be attached to verb stem+nā to indicate reason as well.
A. DO THE FOLLOWING TENSES TAKE LE FOR THE SUBJECT? WHY OR WHY NOT? IGNORE DISCOURSE PROMINENCE.
1. We went yesterday.
2. Grandma[hr] cooked rice.
3. He smokes cigarette(s).
4. You[lr] are going (to) Pokhara.
5. He had played chess yesterday.
B. TRANSLATE THE SENTENCES IN (A.) INTO NEPALI.
C. INSERT LE CORRECTLY IN THE STATEMENTS BELOW. OBLIQUE PRONOUNS IF NECESSARY.
1. म स्याउ हात टिपेँ (ma syāu hāt ṭipe~) | I picked (an) apple with (my) hand
2. म किताब पढ्छु (ma kitāb paḍhchu) | I read book(s)
3. हात्ती वनमा घाँस खान्छ (hāttī van-mā ghā~s khāncha) | Elephant(s) eat grass in (the) forest
4. मेरो हातमा सुन बनेको औँठी (mero hāt-mā sun baneko au~ṭhī) | (A) ring made of gold on my hand
5. म आफै आँप छुरी काटेँ (ma āphai ā~p churī kāṭe~) | I cut (the) mango myself with (a) knife
D. ARE THE FOLLOWING SENTENCES CORRECT? WHY OR WHY NOT? TIP: TAKE CARE OF DISCOURSE PROMINENCE.
1. गैंडाले तालको पानी खान्छ (gaiṃḍā-le tāl-ko pānī khāncha) | Rhino(s) drink(s) water of (the) lake.
2. मैले भात खाएको छु (maile bhāt khāeko chu) | I have eaten rice.
3. सिताले राति रुन्छ (sitā-le rāti runcha) | Sita cries (at) night.
4. मैले किताब आँखा पढेँ (maile kitāb ā~khā paḍhe~) | I read book(s) with (my) eye(s).
5. जनले हिँड्दै हुनेछ (jan-le hi~ḍdai hunecha) | John will be walking.
E. CORRECT THE SENTENCES IN (D.) IF NECESSARY.
A.1. No | ‘to go’ is intransitive
A.2. Yes | ‘to cook’ is transitive | past indefinite tense
A.3. No | present indefinite tense
A.4. No | ‘to go’ is intransitive
A.5. Yes | ‘to play’ is transitive | present perfect tense
B.(A.1.). हामी हिजो गयौँ (hāmī hijo gayau~)
B.(A.2.). हजुरआमाले भात पकाउनुभयो (hajurāmā-le bhāt pakāunubhayo)
B.(A.3.). ऊ चुरोट खान्छ (ū curoṭ khāncha)
B.(A.4.). तँ पोखरा जाँदै छस् (ta~ pokharā jā~dai chas)
B.(A.5.). उसले हिजो चेस खेलेको थियो (usle hijo ces kheleko thiyo)
C.1. मैले स्याउ हात टिपेँ (maile syāu hāt ṭipe~)
C.2. म किताब पढ्छु (ma kitāb paḍhchu)
C.3. हात्ती(ले) वनमा घाँस खान्छ (hāttī[-le] van-mā ghā~s khāncha) [ले (le) can be omitted as well]
C.4. मेरो हातमा सुनले बनेको औँठी (mero hāt-mā sun-le baneko au~ṭhī)
C.5. मैले आफैले आँप छुरीले काटेँ (ma-le āphai-le ā~p churī-le kāṭe~)
D.1. Yes | discourse prominence
D.2. Yes | past perfect tense
D.3. No | ‘to sleep’ is intransitive
D.4. No | instrumental case ‘eye(s)’ is not marked
D.5. No | ‘to go’ is intransitive
E.(D.3.). सिता राति रुन्छ (sitā rāti runcha)
E.(D.4.). मैले किताब आँखाले पढेँ (maile kitāb ā~khā-le paḍhe~)
E.(D.5.). जन हिँड्दै हुनेछ (jan hi~ḍdai hunecha)