Section 17 == *more help*

17.1 = Simplicity will take you far

When in doubt, go for simplicity. Here are some shapes this rule takes in different circumstances:

== When in doubt about the gender of a noun, treat it as masculine. This is partly because probably 60% of nouns are masculine and 40% feminine, and partly because to native speakers a feminine noun treated as masculine sounds less ridiculous than a masculine noun treated as feminine. (The masculine is treated as normative; let's not get started on the politics of this.) While we're on the subject, here's a small useful trick for recognizing noun genders on the fly. If someone uses that noun in the direct plural, you're home free. If someone mentions two "X," you'll know that X is an unmarked masculine noun (one "X"). If you hear of two "X- e ", you'll know that X is a marked masculine noun (one "X- aa "). Similarly, two "X- en " means unmarked feminine (one "X"), and two "X- iyaa;N ") means marked feminine (one "X- ii "). (Unfortunately, this nice little technique doesn't work for the oblique forms.)

== When in doubt about the spelling of a word, use the simpler, more ordinary letters: for example, use ze instead of one of the other three, fancier "z" sounds. A simpler spelling, even if wrong, is less obtrusive (or confusing, or pretentious-looking) than a fancier spelling that's wrong.

== When you're not sure about an idiomatic expression, say something plain instead. Idioms and proverbs usually have to be exactly, word-for-word correct in order to sound good. Few things sound sillier than a mangled idiom or a misquoted proverb. Of course, you might want to amuse your listener(s), and also to have them teach you the correct form, so that prospect could make it worthwhile.

== When you're trying to express yourself in Urdu, NEVER frame what you want to say in sophisticated English and then ask yourself, "Oh dear, what is the Urdu word for ---- ?" Probably you don't know it or can't think of it, and there may in fact be no such precise counterpart word. And meanwhile, while you're turning all this over in your mind, the person you're trying to talk to has gotten bored with waiting and stopped listening, or maybe even sauntered away.

Instead, always ask yourself, what that is appropriate to the situation CAN I say? At a minimum, you can say achchhii baat or burii baat , or in a surprised way you can say, achchhaa, yih baat hai ? , or you can ask why the thing happened, or inquire what the other person thinks about the subject, or in a philosophical manner you can say haa;N aisii baate;N to hotii rahtii hai;N . For example, I found that people often used to ask me whether I liked America or India better. Eventually I worked out an irreproachable all-purpose reply. I would pause for a bit, then with an air of judiciousness I would say: har mulk me;N kuchh achchhii baate;N hotii hai;N , kuchh burii baate;N hotii hai;N . The other person would be obliged to nod sagely and agree.

And think of how you do it in English. Lack of a technical term would never stop you. You'd say "the thing you put your foot on to stop the car," or "the thing you hold over your head when it rains," or "when people ask for money to do bad things," or "the office where marriages are written down." You can do the same thing in Urdu. Make use of the simple words and basic grammatical forms that you DO know. Keep up your end of the discussion at all costs, lob the conversational ball back over the net somehow, and then the person you're talking with will be constantly supplying you with fresh vocabulary of just the kind you need. Don't hesitate to repeat a word and ask its meaning.

Preferably, have a little notebook with you and write it down too; or if you can't, ask the other person to write it for you. This turns any conversation into a practice session, and also reminds the other person that you're a learner, and enlists him or her in helping you. Most people are very willing informants, when they see that you're serious and respectful. In such situations, don't ask questions that use technical or grammatical terms. Asking about suitable examples works much better: kyaa ba;Raa kitaab kahte hai;N , yaa ba;Rii kitaab ? to discover gender, or kyaa la;Rkii ne dekhaa kahte hai;N , yaa la;Rkii dekhii ? to learn about transitivity.

Here's one more special suggestion for certain social situations involving food. People's hospitality can sometimes be extraordinary, and they just won't let you stop eating. (Many Hindus feel that they have a religious duty to feed a guest, and that duty doesn't seem to require that the guest should actually be hungry.) My teachers first told me that mujh se khaayaa nahii;N jaa))egaa was a particularly strong and emphatic refusal: it showed that you weren't just being refined and un-greedy, but actually meant business. But I found that it didn't always work (once in desperation I even tried to cover my plate with my hand to repel more food, but my host managed to put food on the plate between my fingers). So finally I found the ultimate weapon, and here I share it with you: "The doctor has forbidden it" [;Daak;Tar ne man((a kiyaa] (If you're curious about the small tense discrepancy here, see 19.3.) When accompanied by an ominous, sickly expression and a hand placed suggestively on the stomach, this has never been known to fail. Someday you'll be glad you know it!

In putting sentences together, no other grammatical forms are as simple, or as all-round invaluable, as postpositions. This means of course that you need to know the oblique forms of nouns and pronouns so well that they become second nature.

17.2 = In praise of postpositions

Prepositions do lots of the heavy lifting in English, but postpositions do even more in Urdu/Hindi. The number of simple, one-word ones in the whole language is minimal: ko , kaa / ke / kii , se , me;N , par , tak . (And of course, even they aren't really very simple; they all have complex lives that include not only literal but also extended and metaphorical uses.)

All the rest are compound, mostly with ke , like ke ba((d (after) and ke uupar (above). When you encounter a promising new one, cherish it: give it a special place in your notebook and your mind. You'll find a number of excellent, versatile ones in the list of "sentence organizers" in section 18.1.

Most postpositions simply take the oblique forms of nouns and pronouns, but the ubiquitous and indispensable ko family offers-- surely just because it's so close to the center of the language-- its own optional short forms for some pronouns: mujhe and so on. (Similarly in English, "do not" can become "don't," but "heed not" can't become "heedn't.")

But ko can't hold a candle to the set kaa / ke / kii , forms which appear everywhere all the time, sometimes in longish strings, and which often confuse learners more than they should. The way to get a handle on them is to think of them as the outcome of a mixed marriage: their father is a postposition, and their mother is an adjective.

That's why at the back end, through their shifting vowels, they operate like adjectives, displaying the three possible endings available to marked adjectives, aa , e , ii -- and displaying them, conveniently, in exactly the way that marked adjectives would display them (with aa going to e for both direct plural and oblique singular).

Meanwhile, at the front end, they operate like postpositions: nouns and pronouns before them go oblique. And in addition, they have a set of short forms that aren't even optional, but entirely compulsory: you're not allowed to say mujh kaa ever at all-- it has entirely withered away (or perhaps worn out) and been replaced by the shorter form meraa . And ditto for the related forms of course; this also applies to compound postpositions-- thus no mujh ke ba((d , but always and only mere ba((d . Just wrap your mind around these forms, and memorize them thoroughly, and use them without fail. They're not negotiable, and you don't want to sound like a moron by making mistakes of such a fundamental kind.

The unusual case of ba;Gair is one that you'll definitely run into, especially in older language. Here's a discussion, with Ghalibian examples: {59,1}.

Urdu/Hindi is notably poor in adverbs, so that lots of work done by adverbs in English is done by postpositional phrases in Urdu, usually with se ("from, with, by means of"): instead of "slowly" there's dhiire se ; instead of "wllingly" there's ;xvushii se ; instead of "forcefully" there's zor se ; and so on. Sometimes kar constructions are used instead: for "carefully" there's sambhal kar ; for "laughingly" there's ha;Ns kar ; and so on.

"Ghostpositions" of time and destination: The postposition ko is so commonly used for adverbial expressions of time, and direct-object expressions of destination, that in such cases it's colloquially omitted. My old friend and former colleague in the language program at Columbia, David Rubin, coined the perfect name for such cases: "ghostpositions," Thus for example consider "Last year she used to go to his house": pichhle saal vuh us ke ghar jaatii thii . Here pichhlaa saal , "last year," and "his/her/its house," us kaa ghar , have each gone oblique before an invisible but effective ko . The ko is a "ghostposition" because its hovering presence is established by its obliquifying effect (and its grammatical necessity). To actually say or write it wouldn't be wrong, but it would strike people as clumsy, redundant, and naive.

A "ghostpositional" baat : The possessive postposition kii has an extra trick up its sleeve. The abstract feminine noun baat -- meaning "Speech, language, word, saying, conversation, talk, gossip, report, discourse, news, tale, story, account; thing, affair, matter, business, concern, fact, case, circumstance, occurrence, object, particular, article, proposal, aim, cause, question, subject" (Platts p.117)-- is so utterly ubiquitous that it's very often colloquially omitted. So when you encounter a dangling kii , the odds are overwhelming that it's evoking a hovering, unstated, but still fully powerful-- baat . Ghalibian examples: {59,2}.

17.3 = Possessed by postpositions

In Urdu/Hindi, there isn't any verb that corresponds to "to have." (This of course is only an adventitious grammatical fact, and isn't evidence of any kind of anti-materialism.) Thus we're constantly, from an English point of view, improvising: instead of saying that we "have" things, we're using various postpositions to say that things and people are "to," or "of," or "near" us.

Possession of abstractions with ko : The usual way to "have" moral or emotional qualities (pride, shame, happiness, anger, hope, fear, etc.), or certain borderline mental/physical states (hurriedness [jaldii], lateness [der], business [kaam], necessity [.zaruurat], success [kaamyaabii], opinion [;xiyaal] etc.), or physical conditions (fever, headache, illness, etc.), takes the form of "X ko Y honaa," where X is the human subject and Y is an abstract noun for the state or quality.

Needless to say, the abstract noun then becomes the grammatical subject of the resulting sentence; the verb agrees with it in all cases, while the human "subject" (the experiencer) remains a mere recipient of the action of the verb.

In older texts, such ko constructions reign supreme; they strike you as how the essential genius of the language works. But the increasing pressure of English is now generating different kinds of variation: mai;N jaldii me;N huu;N , which now feels natural to many speakers, is an obviously literal translation of "I am in a hurry."

And of course, in particular cases there are longer-established variant forms as well: instead of us ko yih ;xiyaal hai , literally "to him is this opinion," we often see us kaa yih ;xiyaal hai ("of him is this opinion", or us kaa ;xiyaal yih hai ("of him the opinion is this"). Sometimes-- though really very rarely, compared to English-- an adjectival form is also possible: instead of us ko ;xvushii hai , literally "happiness is to him," we also find vuh ;xvush hai , "he is happy."

Possession of humans, etc., with kaa / ke / kii : The way one "has" relatives, children, friends, loved ones, etc., is with the possessives kaa / ke / kii . Usually the resulting constructions are quite straightforward: un kaa ek potaa hai ("of them is one grandson"), us ke do be;Te the ("of him/her were two sons"), us kii tiin be;Tiyaa;N hai;N ("of him/her are three daughters"). In constructions like this, of course, the grammatical subject of the sentence is the relative(s), while the "owner" of the relatives is the object of the possessive postposition. Thus one can't tell the gender of the "owner."

There's also a variant possibility for relatives-- one can also use a uniform masculine plural form: us ke tiin be;Tiyaa;N hai;N , un ke ek potaa thaa . To me, this standardization around masculine plural recalls the adverbial participal form; but even if it's taken as perfectly arbitrary, it will frequently be encountered, and it's formally quite correct.

The possessives kaa / ke / kii are also used for many other purposes, as a kind of "least marked" possessive form: us kii do gaa;Riyaa;N hai;N ("s/he has two cars"), un ke tiin kutte hai;N ("they have three dogs"), us kaa bahut paisaa thaa ("s/he had a lot of money"), us ghar kii mo;Tii diivaare;N hai;N ("that house has thick walls").

Possession of objects with ke paas : The basic meaning of ke paas , as a compound postposition, is "at the side (of), beside, alongside, near, about (the person, &c.), in the possession (of); at hand, close by, in the neighbourhood (of)" (Platts, p. 217). Thus as a form of possession it's used especially for things that are 1) relatively small; 2) under one's direct control. and 3) immediately available.

If a friend asks you, kyaa tumhaare paas aspirin hai? ("do you have any aspirin?"), and you say yes, your friend will expect you to promptly hand some over; if you say, "Oh, I meant that I have aspirin in the medicine chest at home," your friend will be exasperated.

Another illustration: it makes sense to say, jo kitaab us ke paas hai , vuh merii hai ("the book that is in his/her possession, is mine"), or to ask ((aadil kii kitaab kis ke paas hai? ("Who has Adil's book?"). Examples like these show the (to English speakers) readily comprehensible distinction between abstract ownership and immediate physical control.

17.4 = Compelled by postpositions

Moral obligation: The sense of "ought to" marks a kind of moral obligation that is, in Urdu as in English, deniable: it makes sense to say, "I ought to do X, but I'm not going to do it." In Urdu, this kind of moral obligation is expressed almost only by "X ko Y karnaa chaahiye," where X is the human agent, and Y karnaa is the content of the obligation. (The only other way I can think of to convey such moral obligation would be something like "Y karnaa X kaa far.z hai"; or in Hindi, "kartavya" gives the same sense.)

Thus chhaahiye deserves some special attention. Structurally, it's the polite imperative of chaahnaa , "to desire, want." You might think there could be a risk of confusion here, but in practice there isn't. For while you can say lots of other things involving chaahnaa , you'll never have occasion to say "Please want/desire" [chaahiye]. When you're offering something to someone, you can either say "Please take some" or you can say "Do you want some?". But to say "Please want some" is nonsensical. (As an undergraduate in philosophy, I remember my pleasure in reflecting on the paradoxical aphorism "you can do what you want, but you can't want what you want.") And while we're on the subject of chaahnaa , please note that vuh us ko bahut chaahtii hai means "she likes him/her very much," and not "she wants him/her."

Some speakers-- though a minority, as best I can judge-- pluralize chaahiye in plural contexts: us ko tiin saa;Riyaa;N ;xariidnii chaahiye;N ("s/he ought to buy three saris"). Others would produce us ko tiin saa;Riyaa;N ;xariidnaa chaahiye;N . [[EXPLAIN MORE ABOUT THIS]]

The ordinary "have to": The most common form of compulsion, the "least marked" one, is "X ko Y karnaa hai" ("X has to do Y"). In Urdu as in English, the range of this form is broad and the exact nature of the compulsion it invokes is unspecified. Normally, it's not deniable: in Urdu as in English, it would be odd to say that you have to do something but you won't do it.

Agreement is very commonly made: us ko tiin saa;Riyaa;N ;xariidnii hai;N ("s/he has to buy three saris"), un ko bahut-se makaan dekhne ho;Nge ("they will have to look at a lot of houses"), mujhe us ke ghar jaanaa thaa ("I had to go to his/her house").

External coercion: The most extreme form of (externally imposed) coercion is expressed by "X ko Y karna pa;Rtaa hai" ("X is compelled/forced to do Y"). The sense of pa;Rnaa includes "to fall to, to befall," with the same sense of fatedness and ineluctability as in English. It's not deniable: in Urdu as in English, it makes no sense at all to say "I am compelled to do it, but I won't do it."

Agreement is generally made: mujhe bahut kitaabe;N pa;Rnii thii;N ("I was compelled to read many books"); us ko ka))ii kaam karne pa;Re;Nge ("s/he will be be compelled to do a number of tasks").


== on to Section 18 == Urdu script index page == fwp's main page ==