Reading The Devanagari Script


Over the previous few lessons, we have gone through the script in thorough detail. Now that you know how to write the script, it is now important how to read the Devanagari script as well. We will also look at how to pronounce words.

Fortunately, Nepali is a very phonetic script. There are some exceptions pertaining to some vowel sounds but overall, you read what you see. One phenomenon which is very important to consider is the schwa deletion, where you delete the trailing ‘a’ sound from a word, which we will discuss later. For now, just omit the final a-sound unless specified.

Syllables are separated by a dot (⋅) in this lesson.


कलम | pen
It comprises of three characters, namely: क (ka), ल (la) and म (ma). Omitting the schwa in the end, we read this as kalam

काम | work
We now introduce diacritics. There is an ā-diacritic attached to क (ka), thus it is read as . Overall, the word is read as kām

दूध | milk
Similar to above, it uses the ū-diacritic. It reads as dūdh. Since Nepali does not differentiate between a long vowel and a short vowel, it is pronounced more like dudh.


हुन्छ | okay
Now we introduce consonant clusters. This is the ncha conjunct. Note that schwa of syllables formed from conjuncts are usually retained, thus this word is read as huncha

गर्छ | does
This is the rcha conjunct with the reph. We read it as garcha

प्रेस | press
This is the pre conjunct with the rakār. We read it as pres

मृग | deer
The diacritic comes from ऋ (). The word is read as mṛga. The schwa here is retained. Note that since ऋ () is pronounced like रि (ri), the word is pronounced as mriga. You may also occasionally hear mirga due to the difficulty of pronouncing mri.


संसार | world
We now introduce nasalization. This particular dot adds an ‘’ sound after the syllable, thus we read it as saṃsār. Note that IAST writes this sound with an ‘m’, although a closer real approximation is actually ‘n’. The word is pronounced more like sansār.

बाँस | bamboo
The candrabindu (ँ) adds a nasal sound to the syllable itself, so the word is read as bā~s. Note that the actual pronunciation is closer to bās since Nepali does not consider nasalization to be strong enough to distinguish phonemes.

श्रेष्ठ | good
It contains the ligatures śre and ṣṭha. The word is read as śreṣṭha. Here, the sharp ś sound is preferred, although it can be replaced by a regular s without a change in meaning. The other can be approximated with a sharp ś sound or a regular s as well. Thus, the word can be read as śreśṭha, śresṭha or sresṭha.

श्रुतिसम्भिन्नार्थक | homonym
Full of clusters. It contains the following conjuncts: śrumbhinnārtha. With proper care, we can read this word as śrutisambhinnārthak

ओर्ह्लिनु | to descend
A rather complex combination. ह्ल (hla) is the base, which is modified into ह्लि (hli). The sickle above is the r-diacritic (which precedes the word), thus the character is read as rhli. Overall, the word is orhlinu. In Nepali, h is often deleted from pronunciation if it appears in the middle or end of the word, thus the word is pronounced more closely as orlinu.



1. घरमा पानी पर्‍यो 
2. हामीलाई सञ्चो थिएन 
3. अहिले काठमाडौंमा शित्तल छ
4. अस्ति बाटोमा ओर्ह्लिरहेको मृगलाई देखेँ
5. आकाशको रङ्गसँगै तिमी उडिगयौ स्वप्नसरि, नहेरी नफर्की बाटै बाटो लाग्यौ 



Translations are approximate only

A.1. ghar-mā pānī par‍yo
A.2. hāmī-lāī sañco thiena 
A.3. ahile kāṭhmāḍauṃ-mā śittal cha
A.4. asti bāṭo-mā orhliraheko mṛ(i)ga-lāī dekhe~
A.5. ākāś-ko raṅg-sa~gai timī uḍigayau swapna-sari, naherī napharkī bāṭai bāṭo lāgyau
B.(A.1.). Rain fell on (the) house
B.(A.2.). We were not (feeling) fine
B.(A.3.). (It) is cool in Kathmandu now
B.(A.4.). Day before yesterday on the road (I) saw a deer going downhill
B.(A.5.). You flew away with (the) colours of (the) sky like (a) dream, without looking (or) turning back (you) went (for the) road