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                                           Tibetan language


These pages are intended to provide the basic rules to build simple
sentences in Tibetan, suitable to have small conversations or ask
The first part contains simple grammar rules and many examples on how
to use them.
The second part is a collection of words and phrases useful on different
occasions (visiting towns and monasteries, trekking on mountains, eating
at the restaurant, etc), where you can find some applications of the rules
presented in the first part.
Hurried and lazy people can skip directly to the second part, using
sentences without knowing nothing about their structure, but it will be
much less amusing...!
Pronunciation rules
Tibetan words have been transcribed using the Latin alphabet, trying to
reproduce the original pronunciation. However the readers must take in
mind that some Tibetan sounds have not a precise correspondence in
western languages. For instance you can hear a sound that is not really k
nor g but stays somewhere in the middle between them; the same happens
for p and b, or for d and t.
At the end of this grammar you can see the Tibetan alphabet, consisting
of 29 consonants and 5 vowels. For our western ears it can be difficult to
perceive the difference between k and k’, between ts and ts’, or between
ch and ch’. Sounds that for us are quite similar, for Tibetans are very
different. In any case, don’t get discouraged...Tibetan people can
understand you even if you don’t use the exact pronunciation and often,
with a smile or a warm laugh, they will repeat what you have awkwardly
tried to say, giving you the possibility to listen the correct way to
pronounce it...
The Tibetan language is spoken in a very wide region, extending for
thousands of kilometers. The written language doesn’t change, but the
pronunciation can vary a lot going from the western part of Tibet to the
extreme eastern regions or to the Himalayan lands. In this grammar we will
refer to the pronunciation used in Lhasa.
In general you can read the Tibetan sentences of this book as in English, but
remember that:
a is like in father
e is like in let
i is like in sing
o is like in low
is like the French eu in jeu
u is like in moon
is like the French u
ny is like the Spanish in nio
g is like in goat
j is like in jam
r is rolled, don’t read it like the Italian nor the French r’s.
ng is like in sing, but the g is almost silent (the very common word nga,
that means I, is pronounced as something between nga and na).
k,g at the end of a word are almost silent (yag, the popular animal yak, and
chig, the number one, are pronounced almost ya and chi)
h h after a consonant (except after c) means a breathy consonant. Don’t
read ph as in photo and don’t read th as in three or as in this. Pronounce thr
and dhr like in tree and drum.
In this book all the words are divided in syllables to make easier the learning.
In a word the accent generally falls on the last syllable...but not always: at the
restaurant remember to ask for mom (typical dumplings) and not for mmo
Good luck ! ... or better, Tashi deleg !
Sentence structure
In Tibetan language the structure of the sentence is:
subject + object + verb
The verb is always at the end.
I am Pema = nga Pe-ma yin
I - Pema - am
this is a book = di teb re
this - book - is
Tenzin is in Tibet = Ten-zin P la du
Tenzin - Tibet - in - is
Part I
In Tibetan language nouns can be monosyllabic or
polysyllabic. Most of them are disyllabic.
monosyllabic disyllabic
earth = sa mother = a-ma
mountain = ri monastery = gom-pa
people = mi lama = la-ma
water = chu house = khang-pa
tea =cha good = yag-po
Most of polysyllabic nouns end with the particles: -pa, -po,
-ba, -bo, -ma, -mo.
In some cases, by adding the particle -pa to a word, a new
term is created, denoting a man who is in some way
connected to the item.
horse = ta horseman = ta-pa
Tibet = P man of Tibet = P-pa
Number and gender
To make a noun plural you can add the particle -tso.
book = teb books = teb-tso
person = mi persons = mi-tso
In many cases the terminations -po and -mo define the
Example: king = gyel-po queen = gyel-mo
Some nouns have a single form for masculine and feminine.
Example: children (male and female) = pu-gu
In some case different words specifies different gender.
Example: male yak = yag female yak = dhri
In Tibetan the definite and indefinite articles do not exist.
Instead of the indefinite articles a and an you can use the
word for the number one, chig, following the noun.
a boy = bu chig (pronounce chig almost as chi),
a girl = bu-mo chig
Instead of the definite article the you can use, if necessary, the
demonstrative adjectives this/that and these/those, always
following the noun.
this = di that = de
these = din-tso those = den-tso
the book (if it is near) = teb di
the books (if it is far) = teb den-tso
Note: demonstrative adjectives will be more extensively
discussed at pg.13.
Personal pronouns
In practice for he and she you can always use khong, even
if it is an honorific term, to be used talking of important
people (for example lamas or professors).
I nga
you khye-rang
he/ she khong (honorific)
he kho / kho-rang
she mo / mo-rang
we ngan-tso
you khe-rang-tso
they khong-tso
Genitive and dative cases
To form the genitive case (ex.: the book of Tenzin) one must
insert the particle gi between the owner and the owned:
owner + gi + owned
the house of the lama = la-ma gi khang-pa
lama - of - house
the price of the tea = cha gi kong
tea - of - price
To form the dative case (ex.: I gave it to you) one has to put
the particle la after the noun or the personal pronoun that
receives the action.
to = la
to the lama = la-ma la
to me = nga la
Pronounce these sentences with the accent on the particle la.
Possessive adjectives and pronouns
To form possessive adjectives and pronouns simply add the
genitive particle –gi to the personal pronouns ( in practice
“your” is traduced as “of you”, etc.) except “nga-gi” that
becomes “nge” (pronounce nge like e with a long e) .
For plural persons you can also change the termination tso in
my - mine nge
your - yours khye-rang-gi
his/her-hers/its khong-gi
our - ours ngan-tso-gi / ngan-ts
your - yours khe-rang-tso-gi / khe-rang-ts
their - theirs khong-tso-gi / khong-ts
Possessive adjectives must be placed before the noun.
my friend = nge dhrog-po
this is yours = di khye-rang-gi re
Demonstrative adjectives and pronouns
Demonstrative adjectives must be placed after the noun.
this house = khang-pa di
house - this
this is my house = di nge khang-pa re
this - my - house - is
that is your friend = de khye-rang-gi dhrog-pa re
that - your - friend - is
this = di
that = de / pha-gi
these = din-tso
those = den-tso / phan-tso / pha-gi-tso
Qualifying adjectives
In Tibetan qualifying adjectives are always placed after the
nouns and do not change with the gender.
The particle -tso to make plural or demonstratives used as
articles are placed after the adjectives.
good person = mi yag-po
good persons = mi yag-po-tso
these good persons = mi yag-po din-tso
Some common adjectives
big = chen-po small = chun chun
hot = tsa-po cold = dhrang-mo
good = yag-po bad = dug-cha
long = ring-po short = tung tung
old = nyim-pa new = sar-pa
To say very + adjective you can use:
adjective + shi-tha or pe + adjective
Es.: very hot = tsa-po shi-tha or pe tsa-po
To say extremely + adjective add the particle -sh to the
adjective root.
Example: extremely hot = tsa-sh
To say too + adjective add the particle -tak to the adjective
Example: too hot = tsa-tak
To ask how + adjective ? add the particle –l to the
adjective root .
Example: how long is it ? = ring-l re ?
To say more + adjective one adds the particles -ua to the
adjective root. If the root ends with g or r instead of –ua you
must use -ga or -ra. Sometimes the root is slightly modified.
big = chen-po bigger = che-ua
good = yag-po better = yag-ga
To make a comparison the particle le (pronounced with a long
e) is used in the following way:
Ex: my horse is bigger than yours =
nge ta, khye-rang-gi ta le, che-ua du
my - horse - your - horse - than - bigger - is
. .
Interrogative pronouns
what is it ? = ka-re re ?
what is there ? = ka-re du ?
which is your house ? = ke-rang-gi khang-pa ka-gi re?
what time is it ? = chu-ts ka-ts re ?
hour - how much - is ?
how much is the price ? = kong ka-ts re ?
price - how much - is ?
what ? = ka-re which ? = ka-gi
where ? = ka-bar from where ? = ka-ne
how ? = kan-dhre in which way ? = kan-dhre-si
how much ? = ka-ts when ? = ka-d
who ? = s why ? = ka-re se-na
Post-positions correspond to English prepositions, but always
follow the noun they address (often between the noun and the
postposition the particle gi is inserted):
in, at, to, for, towards = la from = ne
on = gang-la under = uog-la
in, inside = la / nang-la outside = chi-log-la
near = thri-la far from = gyang-la
in front of = dn-la behind = gyab-la
before = ngon-la after = je-la
in middle = kyil-la with = nyam-du
about = kor-la
in Tibet = P la with me = nga nyam-du
on the table = chog-tse gi gang-la
near you = khye-rang gi thri-la
I come from Italy = nga Ithaly ne yin
I talk about this = nga di kor-la lap-gi-y
Verbs - To be
I am Tashi = nga Ta-shi yin
I - Tashi - am
this is mine = di nge re
this - mine - is
I am = nga yin
you are = khye-rang re
he is = khong re
In Tibetan language the verb to be has two different forms:
a) to express identity (ex: I am Tashi)
b) to express location (ex.: I am in Tibet).
The verb to be doesn’t change with the number. This means
that the conjugation of plural persons (we, you, they) is equal
to the conjugation of singular ones (I, you, he/she/it).
To be also doesn’t change tense. Tenses must be deduced by
the general context of the sentence.
a) Identity
How to choose between du and yo-re ?
Du (pronounced almost like dug) is used when the speaker has
personally experienced what he is talking about, while yo-re
(pronounced with the accent on re) is used if he only knows
the subject from other sources.
I am in Tibet = nga P la y
I - Tibet - in - am
If I have seen yaks in Tibet I can say:
in Tibet there are yaks = P la yag du
If I have only read on books that yaks live in Tibet I say:
in Tibet there are yaks = P la yag yo-re
I am = nga y
you are = khye-rang du / yo-re
he is = khong du / yo-re
b) Location, existence
To express existence in a place :
. .
To be – negative form
he is not Tenzin = khong Ten-zin ma-re
he - Tenzin - is not
I am not in Lhasa = nga Lha-sa la me
I - Lhasa - in - am not
here there are no yaks = de yag min-du
here - yaks - there are not
Note that ma-re and min-du have to be pronounced
with the accent on the last syllable.
yin min y me
re ma-re du min-du
The negative form of to be is obtained modifying the
conjugation as follows:
To be – interrogative form
Ex: is there a monastery ? = gom-pa chig yo-re-pe ?
monastery – a – is there
Furthermore the 1st and the 2nd persons are swapped, that is
to say that in a question the verb is conjugated as expected in
the answer (ex.: are you ? becomes am you ?).
Ex.: are you Tashi ? = khye-rang Ta-shi yin-pe ?
you - Tashi - are (am)
If in the sentence there is an interrogative pronoun (what,
who, where, when...) the verb doesn’t change.
Ex.: where is the market ? = throm ka-ba yo-re ?
market – where – is
Note that the accent of verbs in interrogative form falls
always on pe and ge, that must be pronounced with a long
and open e.
yin yin-pe y y-pe
re re-pe du du-ge
The interrogative form of to be is obtained adding the
terminations pe or ge, as shown in the panel.
To be - Summary
To be (identity)
Affirm. Neg. Inter. Inter.-neg.
nga yin min re-pe ma-re-pe
khye-rang re ma-re yin-pe min-pe
khong re ma-re re-pe ma-re-pe
To be (location)
Affirm. Neg. Inter. Inter.-neg.
nga y me yo-re-pe yo-ma-re-pe
khye-rang du min-du y-pe me-pe
yo-re yo-ma-re yo-ma-re-pe
khong du min-du du-ge min-du-ge
yo-re yo-ma-re yo-re-pe yo-ma-re-pe
Verbs - To have
The choice between du or yo-re follows the same rules
seen for to be.
I have a house = nga la khang-pa y
I – house - have
he has no yaks = khong la yag min-du
he - yaks – has not
have you a car ? = khye-rang la mo-tha y-p ?
you - car – have
In Tibetan the verb to have doesn’t exist.
To express the idea of possession you can use the verb to be
in its location form, putting the particle la after the subject.
In practice “he has...” is traduced as “by him there is….”
I have = nga la y
you are = khye-rang la du / yo-re
he has = khong la du / yo-re
Verbs conjugation
The verb conjugation is one of the most delicate parts of the
Tibetan grammar.
To conjugate verbs one must add a suitable termination to
the verb root, that depends on the person and the tense.
The terminations are formed by particle as gi or pa,
followed by auxiliary verbs (the two forms of to be).
The terminations do not change with the number (for
example the 3rd singular person he and the 3rd plural person
them have the same termination).
The termination also changes if the verbs is active or
Active verbs define an action “actively” performed (as to
go, eat, read...). Passive verbs refers to actions or sensations
that the subject doesn’t have control over (as to be hungry,
to feel, to fall asleep...).
With some active verbs, the particle gi has to be insert after
the subject.
Verbs - Infinitive
Verbs are formed by a root (fixed) and a termination (that
changes according to the person and the tense).
The termination of the infinitive is -ua or –pa depending
on the verb.
Active verbs
to go dhro-ua to come yong-ua
to make je-pa to meet thuk-pa
to eat sa-ua to drink thung-ua
to read log-pa to write dhri-ua
to see ta-ua to buy nyo-ua
to give te-ua to stay de-pa
Passive verbs
to be hungry dro-go to-pa to be thirsty kha-kom-pa
to remember dhen-pa to fall ill na-ua
active verbs:
I go home = nga nang la dhro-gi-y
I - home - go
he eats yak meat= khong yak-sha sa-gi-du
he - yak meat - eats
passive verbs:
I am hungry = nga dhro-go-to-gi-du
they are thirsty = khong-tso kha-kom-gi-du
Verbs - Present tense
Active verbs Passive verbs
1stperson +gi-y +gi-du
2nd and 3rd person +gi-du +gi-du
To conjugate the present tense add the following
terminations to the verb root:
I will go to Lhasa = nga Lha-sa la dhro-gi-yin
I - Lhasa - to - will go
you will drink tea = khye-rang cha thung-gi-re
you - tea - will drink
we will stay at home = nga-tso nang la de-gi-yin
we - home - at - will stay
we will meet at the market =
= ngan-tso throm la thuk-gi-yin
we - market- at -will meet
Verbs - Future tense
Active verbs Passive verbs
1stperson +gi-yin +gi-re
2nd and 3rd persons +gi-re +gi-re
Terminations to add to the verb root:
you drank water = khye-rang chu thung-pa-re
you - water - drank
I understood = nga ha-ko-song
I forgot = je-song I heard = ko-song
Note: some irregular verbs change the root in the past, ex:
to go dhro chin
to come yong lep
to eat sa se
Ex.: I went to the restaurant = nga sa-khang la chin-pa-yin
I - restaurant - to - went
Verbs - Past tense
Active verbs Passive verbs
1stperson +pa-yin +song
2nd and 3rd persons +pa-re +song
Terminations to add to the verb root:
Verbs - Negative form
I don’t go to the restaurant = nga sa-khang la dhro-gi-me
I - restaurant - to - don’t go
he doesn’t go to Lhasa = khong Lha-sa la dhro-gi-min-du
he - Lhasa - to - doesn’t go
he will not eat meat = khong sha sa-gi-ma-re
he – meat – will not eat
I have not understood = ha-ko-ma-song
yin min y me
re ma-re du min-du
song ma-song
The negative form is obtained by modifying the terminations
in the following way:
Verb - Interrogative form
Furthermore, as for the verb to be, the 1st and the 2nd persons
are swapped, that is to say that in a question the verb is
conjugated as expected in the answer.
Note that the termination gi-yin-pe can be shortened as ge,
while pa-yin-pe is shortened as pe.
do you go to Lhasa ? = khye-rang Lha-sa la dhro-gi-y-pe?
you - Lhasa - to - go
did you understand ? = ha-ko-song-ge ?
will you go ? = khye-rang dhro-gi-yin-pe (short. dhro-ge )?
did you go ? = khye-rang chin-pa-yin-pe (short. chin-pe )?
Remember, the accent of the verb falls always on pe and ge.
yin yin-pe y y-pe
re re-pe du du-ge
song song-nge
In order to obtain the interrogative form you must modify
the terminations as follows:
Questions and answers
We have seen that in a question the 1st and the 2nd persons
are swapped, that is to say that the verb is conjugated as
expected in the answer.
To answer, if the answer is simply yes or no, you have to use
the courtesy particle la, followed by the auxiliary verb used in
the question, in its affirmative or negative form.
question: are you Tibetan ? = khye-rang p-pa yin-pe ?
answer: yes = la-yin no = la-min
question: do you eat meat ? = khye-rang sha sa-gi-y-pe ?
answer: yes = la-y no = la-me
question: is this a monastery ? = di gom-pa re-pe ?
answer: yes = la-re no = la-ma-re
question: is there a market ? = throm chig yo-re-pe ?
answer: yes = la-yo-re no = la yo-ma-re
If you don’t know the answer: maybe = chig che-na
probably yes = yin-pa-dhra
probably not = me-pa-dhra
The ordinary form uses the termination -ah added to the
verb root. For a more polite form add the termination -nang
or rog-nang to the verb root (the g of rog is almost silent).
For an exhortation use the termination –scig.
For a strong command or in an informal situation you can
simply drop the termination from the verb root.
For the negative form put the particle ma before the verb
come ! = sho-ah
please, read = log-rog-nang (the accent is on rog)
come on, read ! = log-scig
give me ! = te
look ! = ta
come here ! = de sho
go away ! = gyu
don’t do that ! = ma-che
gi-min-du-ge gi-du-ge gi-min-du gi-du khong
gi-me-pe gi-y-pe gi-min-du gi-du khyerang
gi-min-du-ge gi-du-ge gi-me gi-y nga
gi-ma-re-pe gi-re-pe ghi-ma-re gi-re khong
gi-min-pe gi-yin-pe / ge ghi-ma-re gi-re khyerang
gi-ma-re-pe gi-re-pe min gi-yin nga
pa-re-pe pa-ma-re pa-re khong
pa-yin-pe / pe pa-ma-re pa-re khyerang
pa-re-pe pa-min pa-yin nga
Affirm. Neg. Inter. Inter.-neg.
Verbs – Terminations table
Active verbs
gi-min-du-ge gi-du-ge gi-min-du gi-du khong
gi-min-du-ge gi-du-ge gi-min-du gi-du khyerang
gi-min-du-ge gi-du-ge gi-min-du gi-du nga
gi-ma-re-pe gi-re-pe gi-ma-re gi-re khong
gi-ma-re-pe gi-re-pe gi-ma-re gi-re khyerang
gi-ma-re-pe gi-re-pe gi-ma-re gi-re nga
ma-song-nge song-nge ma-song song khong
ma-song-nge song-nge ma-song song khyerang
ma-song-nge song-nge ma-song song nga
Affirm. Neg. Inter. Inter.-neg.
Passive verbs
.. .
To want, need, must, can, etc
To traduce to want, to need something, you must use the verb
go in the following way:
Ex.: I want some tea = nga la cha go
I don’t want Tibetan tea = nga la P cha ma-go
do you want some tea ? = khye-rang la cha go-pe ?
answer: yes =go no = ma-go
what do you want ? = ka-re go ?
To traduce to need, must + verb, you have to use the present
tense form of the verb and substitute the particle gi of the
termination with the particle go.
Ex.: I have to go to the market = nga throm la dhro-go-y
you must go = khye-rang dhro-go-re
To traduce to want + verb you must use the present tense of
the verb and substitute d to ghi. Furthermore you must add a
-n to the verb root.
Ex.: I want to go to Lhasa = nga Lha-sa la dhron-d-y
I don’t want to eat = nga san-d-me
To traduce can, to be able, use the form verb + tub +
Ex.: I can go to Lhasa =
= nga Lha-sa la dhro-tub-gi-y
To traduce to have intention must use tsi in the
following way:
Ex.: I intend to buy this = nga di nyo-tsi-y
To traduce to be allowed you must use the verb cho:
Ex.: Am I allowed to go there ? =
= nga pa-ghi dhro cho-gi-re-pe ?
answer: yes = cho-ghi-re no = cho-ghi-ma-re
To like
To traduce to like...use the expression ga-bo in this way:
Es.: I like tea = nga cha la ga-bo y
I don’t like tea= nga cha la ga-bo me
do you like tea ? = khye-rang cha la ga-bo y-pe ?
I like tea very much = nga cha la ga-bo shi-tha y
Special structures
A sentence made of two parts connected by the conjunction if,
if [subordinate sentence], [main sentence]
is traduced in the following way:
[subordinate sentence] na, [main sentence]
Ex: if he comes, I will go =
khong yong-gi-du na, nga dhro-gi-yin
he - comes - if, I - will go
Expressions as before + verb, are traduced with the form
Ex.: before he arrives… = khong ma-lep-kong-la...
In expressions with when + verb..., the form verb-d is
Ex.: when we arrive to Lhasa… =
nga-tso Lha-sa la lep-d...
Expressions with to, in order to + verb are traduced with
the form verb-ga.
Ex.: let’s go to eat = ngan-tso sa-ga dhro
Who is doing the action
The termination ken added to the verb root indicates who
or what is doing the action.
Ex.: the car that is going to Lhasa =
= Lha-sa la dro-ken mo-ta


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