Despite being a major language with around 270 million speakers, Bengali is not as common to be studied as other top languages of the world. Despite that, the language is well worth learning and it is not as difficult to learn as it seems to many. This article will give you an overview of the key notions in Bengali grammar to give you an idea of what you should focus on.
Nouns in Bengali are inflected for case, including nominative, objective, genitive (possessive), and locative.
The case marking pattern for each noun being inflected depends on the noun’s degree of animacy. The objective case cannot be inflected upon nouns which are inanimate, and the locative case cannot be inflected upon nouns which are animate.
When a definite article is added, nouns are also inflected for number.
Bengali nouns do not have the category of gender.
When counted, nouns take one of a small set of measure words. Nouns in Bengali cannot be counted by adding the numeral directly adjacent to the noun. An appropriate measure word, a classifier, must be used between the numeral and the noun (most languages of the Mainland Southeast Asia linguistic area are similar in this respect).
Most nouns take the generic measure word টা (ṭa), though other measure words indicate semantic classes (e.g. জন (jôn) for humans).
Adjectives do not inflect for case, gender, or number in Bengali and are placed before the noun they modify.
Some adjectives form their opposites by prefixing অ (before consonants) or অন (before vowels).
সম্ভব (sômbhôb) – possible
অসম্ভব (asômbhôb) – impossible
Bengali adjectives form their comparative forms with আরও (aaro) – more, and their superlative forms with সবচেয়ে (shôbcheye) – than all.
In Bengali, many adverbs are formed from adjectives, simply by adding a prefix to the singular form of adjectives or by repeating the same adjective.
There is no hard and fast rule in changing an adjective to an adverb. Adverbs are identified only when they qualify the verbs. Some words are adverbs by nature, i.e. not formed from any other part of speech.
Examples of adverbs:
গওটওকল্ (gotokal) – yesterday
সওর্বওট্রও (sorbotro) – everywhere
খুব্ (khub) – very
সওচরচওর্ (socharachor) – usually
Bengali personal pronouns are somewhat similar to English pronouns, having different words for first, second, and third person, and also for singular and plural.
However, Bengali pronouns do not differentiate for gender; that is, the same pronoun may be used for “he” or “she”.
Bengali has different third-person pronouns for proximity. The first-person pronouns are used for someone who is nearby. Second-person pronouns are used for those who are a little further away. Third-person pronouns are usually used for people who are not present.
In addition, each of the second- and third-person pronouns have different familiar and polite forms.
Bengali has no negative pronouns (such as no one, nothing, none). These are typically represented by adding the negative particle না (na) to indefinite pronouns, which are themselves derived from their corresponding question words.
কে (ke) – who
কেউ (keu) – someone
কেউ না (keu na) – no one
Bengali verbs are highly inflected and are regular with few exceptions.
There are two classes of verbs: finite and non-finite. Non-finite verbs have no inflection for tense or person, while finite verbs are fully inflected for person (first, second, third), tense (present, past, future), aspect (simple, perfect, progressive), and honor (intimate, familiar, and formal), but not for number.
Conditional, imperative, and other special inflections for mood can replace the tense and aspect suffixes. The number of inflections on many verb roots can total more than 200.
Verbs are conjugated for tense and person by changing the endings, which are largely the same for all verbs. However, the stem vowel can often change as part of the phenomenon known as “vowel harmony”, whereby one vowel can be influenced by other vowels in the word to sound more harmonious.
Bengali differs from most Indo-Aryan languages in the zero copula, where the copula or connective be is often missing in the present tense. Thus, “he is a teacher” is সে শিক্ষক (se shikkhôk), literally “he teacher”. In this respect, Bengali is similar to Russian and Hungarian.
Like many other Indo-Aryan languages (such as Hindi or Marathi), nouns can be turned into verbs by combining them with select auxiliary verbs. In Bengali, the most common such auxiliary verb is করা (kôra) – to do.
Thus, verbs such as “to joke” are formed by combining the noun form of joke (রসিকতা) with to do (করা) to create রসিকতা করা. When conjugating such verbs the noun part of such a verb is left untouched.
Whereas English and many other Indo-European languages feature prepositions, Bengali typically uses postpositions. That is, while these modifying words occur before their object in English (beside him, inside the house), they typically occur after their object in Bengali.
Some postpositions require their object noun to take the possessive case, while others require the objective case (which is unmarked for inanimate nouns). This distinction must be memorized. Most postpositions are formed by taking nouns referring to a location and inflecting them for locative case.
Here are some common Bengali postpositions:
আগে (aage) – before
থেকে (theke) – fro
সহ (shôho) – with
বিনা (bina) – without
কথা (kôtha) – about
জন্য (jonno) – for
This is a very brief overview of Bengali grammar. To truly master it, you will need to study each of the parts of speech in much more detail. However, this overview will hopefully give you a general idea of the Bengali grammatical system and the main points you should consider when studying.