Let's Learn Sinhalese in English 5

So far in the lessons, I made sure not to use plural nouns (except plural forms of pronouns). In Sinhala, nouns are somewhat complicated than in English. In English, almost all nouns are automatically singular, and you make plural of them by appending “s” or “es” at the end of the noun. However, in Sinhala both the singular and plural nouns are formed from “noun stems/roots”. Learning about noun roots, and deriving various forms out of them is deep and complicated, and even the native Sinhala speaker doesn’t know anything about it. So, we will keep that linguistically correct way of learning about nouns aside. Let’s take a different approach.

I suggest you to study both singular and plural forms when you study Sinhala words in the initial stage of learning. At once, it would seem like a daunting task, but it is not. There is an intuitive relationship between the singular and plural forms of a noun, and you will grasp it gradually. There are a set of grammatical rules on how to relate the two forms (of noun) to each other. However, I feel it is not required or important to know all these rules; it will not do any good. I will list some nouns in both forms.

Singular Plural
Mala (flower) Mal (flowers)
Gala (stone) Gal (stones)
Potha (book) Poth (books)
Paena (pen) Paen (pens)
Gasa (tree) Gas (trees)
Paensala (pencil) Paensal (pencils)
Balla: (dog) Ballo: / Ballan (dogs)
Pu:sa: (cat) Pu:so: / Pu:san (cats)
Mi:ya: (rat) Mi:yo: / Mi:yan (rats)
Ka:kka: (crow) Ka:kko: / Ka:kkan (crows)
Kurulla: (bird) Kurullo: / Kurullan (birds)
Lamaya: (child) Lamayi / Lamayin (children)
Samanalaya: (butterfly) Samanalayo: / Samanalayan (butterflies)
Maessa: (fly) Maesso: / Maessan (flies)
Miniha: , Minisa: (man) Minissu / Minisun (men)
Gaehaeniya, Gaehaeni (woman) Gaehaenu, Gaehaenun (women)
Pihiya (knife) Pihi (knives)
Kadaya (shop) Kada (shops)
Putuva (chair) Putu (chairs)
Me:saya (table) Me:sa (tables)
Ka:maraya (room) Ka:mara (rooms)
Geya (house) Geval (houses)
Putha: (son) Putha:la: / Puththu / Puthun (sons)
Duva (daughter) Duvala: (daughters)
Amma: (mother) Ammala: (mothers)
Tha:ththa: (father) Tha:ththala: (fathers)
Si:ya: (grandfather) Si:yala: (grandfathers)
A:chchi (grandmother) A:chchila: (grandmothers)
Ayya: (elder brother) Ayyala: (elder brothers)
Akka: (elder sister) Akkala: (elder sisters)
Malli (younger brother) Mallila: (younger brothers)
Nangi (younger sister) Nangila: (younger sisters)
Ma:ma: (uncle) Ma:mala: (uncles)
Naenda: (aunty) Naendala: (aunties)
Atha (hand) Ath (hands)
Kakula (leg) Kakul (legs)
Muhuna (face) Muhunu (faces)
Kana (ear) Kan (ears)
Aesa (eye) Aes (eyes)
Kata (mouth) Kataval (mouths)
Datha (tooth) Dath (teeth)
Bada (stomach/belly) Badaval (bellies)
Nahaya (nose) Nahayaval (noses)
Oluva (head) Olu / Oluvaval (heads)
Kalisama (pair of trousers) Kalisam (pairs of trousers)
Bo:thalaya (bottle) Bo:thal (bottles)
Vaththa (garden) Vathu, Vaththaval (gardens)
Pa:ra (road) Pa:raval (roads)
Guruvaraya: (teacher) Guruvaru / Guruvarun (teachers)
Aemathivaraya: (minister) Aemathivaru / Aeathivarun (ministers)
Rata (country) Rataval (countries)
Nagaraya (city) Nagara / Nagaraval (cities)
Gama (village) Gam, Gamaval (villages)
Mula (root) Mul (roots)

Study and memorize the above nouns (both singular and plural forms). Then, you will see some patterns. The more nouns you learn, the clearer and easier the pattern will be. Trust me. Anyway, I very briefly point out the mostly used patterns.

1. The ending vowel in the singular noun is omitted. Sometimes nouns ending with “ya” or “wa” lose it too.

Mala, Gala, Mula, Pihiya, Putuva

2. “-val” is suffixed to the singular noun to make it plural. While doing so, some nouns (specially ones ending with “ya”) loses the ending syllable.

Pa:ra, Bada, Nagaraya

3. The ending vowel of some nouns changed to “o:” or “an” to make it plural.

Balla:, Pu:sa:, mi:ya:

4. All the nouns ending with “varaya:” are made plural by changing it to “varu” or “varun”.

Guruvaraya:, Aemathivaraya:

5. “-la” is suffixed to make plural. While doing so, the stretched/long vowel sound at the end of the singular noun is made short too.

Ayya:, Nangi, Malli

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In English, a noun can be either definite (with the article “the”) or indefinite (with the article “a/an” in the singular case or without any article in the plural case). Sinhala has this definite/indefinite distinction only in singular nouns. In plural, the same plural noun form is used in either definite or indefinite meaning. Automatically the singular noun is definite. To make it indefinite you append “-ek” (for animate nouns) or “-ak” (for inanimate nouns) to the singular noun. Just as English “a/an” has the meaning of “one”, Sinhala “-ek / -ak” has the same meaning.

Lamaya: (the child)→ Lamayek (a child)

Miniha: (the man) → Minihek (a man)

Mala (the flower) → Malak (a flower)

Paena (the pen) → Paenak (a pen)

As you can see the last syllable of some nouns is modified so that the word is easily soundable/pronounceable. Actually, to ease pronunciation, it is done so in any language. It is a linguistic norm. When you get familiar with the language, you will intuitively do it.

Note that in the spoken Sinhala, there is no difference in nominative case (when a noun is used as a subject) and objective case (when a noun is used as an object).

Now let’s learn about Sinhala prepositions (like on, in, from, to, etc). Clearly there are Sinhala prepositions, some of which I list below. You must memorize these words first.

Uda, Matha On
Gaena About (as in “information about you”)
yata under
Paeththen beside
Udin, Ihalin Above, Over
Issarahin , Idiriyen In front of
Pitipassen, Pitupasin Behind
Athara Between, Among
Ekka, Sama’mga With
Naethiva, Haera Without, Except
Pamana, Vithara About (as in “about 100 dollars”)
Vate:ta Around (as in “around the table”)
Sa’mdaha: For
Venuven On behalf of, For
Thulin Through
Thek, Venakal, Thuru Till/Until (a time), as far as (a place)
Pura: , Pura:vata During
Pera, Issara Before, Ago
Thula, Aethule: , -e: In
Thulata, Aethulata Into
Eliyata, Pitathata Outside
Harahata Across
Dhige: Along
Visin, Magin By
Vetha, Dhesa At
La’mga, Asala Near, At (as in “he is waiting at the gate”)
Sita From (a place), Since (a time)
-gen , -en/-in From (a person or place)
-ge: , -e: Of
Vage: Like
Vasayen As
-ta To
Vethata Towards

Like in English, the preposition does not change with respect to noun, but unlike in English, there are some differences when using Sinhala prepositions. Sinhala prepositions are placed after the noun (but in English it is put in front of a noun).

Me:saya uda – On the table

Me:sayak uda – On a table

Me:sa uda – On the tables / On tables

Moreover, some of the prepositions are suffixed to the noun. In the above list, I have shown them clearly with a hyphen (like “-en”).

Sherin + -gen → Sheringen (from Sherin)

Anne + -ge → Annege (of Anne)

Gasa + -en → Gasen (from the tree)

Gasak + -in → Gasakin (from a tree)

Ahasa + -e: → Ahase: (in the sky or of the sky)

Atha + -e: → Athe: (in the hand or of the hand)

Earlier I told you that many English words (both nouns and verbs; but only nouns are considered now) are used in Sinhala. There are some implicit rules/norms when you use those English nouns, and there is a good underpinning for those rules.

Almost all English nouns (and other words too) don’t end with a vowel sound (that is, they are constant-sounding). However, most Sinhala words end with a vowel (that is, they are vowel-sounding). This is actually a very crucial factor because a person who is accustomed to speak/pronounce English (or another language sounded like English) may find difficult to pronounce/speak Sinhala, and vice versa.

Usually almost all Sinhala verbs (in whatever modified forms) end with a vowel sound. Almost all singular Sinhala nouns end so. Many plural Sinhala nouns also end with a vowel sound (and many end with constant sound too). So do most of other types of words (like prepositions, adjectives).

Therefore, constant-sounding singular English nouns are not used as it is. To make it more compatible with the usual Sinhala pronunciation, we put “eka” (definite noun) or “ekak” (indefinite) after the English noun.

Phone eka (the phone)

Phone ekak (a phone)

Bus eka (the bus)

Bus ekak (a bus)

Car eka (the car)

Car ekak (a car)

However, sometimes some English nouns are treated like normal Sinhala nouns; specially those nouns which end with a vowel sound. Only a few such nouns exist, you don’t have to worry much about them. One such example is “sofa”.

So:fa:va (the sofa)

So:fa:vak (a sofa)

So:fa: (the sofas or sofas)

However, because constant-sounding plural nouns are common and familiar in Sinhala, you just use the singular English noun, as it is, in the plural meaning. You don’t put “s” or “es” to make the English noun plural here (it is not right to apply grammar of another language even if you may borrow words from it); automatically almost all English nouns are considered plural within Sinhala (it is due to the fact that they end with a constant sound).

Bus (the buses or buses)

Car (the cars or cars)

Phone (the phones or phones)

Now let’s make some sentences with English nouns.

Shaun phone eka gannava: . (Shaun takes the phone.)

Amma: car ekak elavanava: . (The mother drives a car.)

Man car balanava: . (I am seeing cars.)


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