Looking at the Pali Tripitaka, many of the words are really long:

  • Ucchedavādo
  • anuppādadhammā
  • evaṃsukhadukkhappaṭisaṃvedī
  • micchādiṭṭhikammasamādānā
  • sambodhiparāyaṇo’’ti (btw, what does that ’’ mean, I see it a lot?)

Can you break these words down to smaller ones automatically/algorithmically somehow? Or must you understand the meaning of the word's parts, and only then could you attempt it (and even then it is not recommended).

How do you emphasize the main part of the word like you do in english "REG-yu-lear-lee" (regularly)? How do you speak or read such long words, is it normal in Pali? I know they didn't use the Latin alphabet, but not sure how they thought of words even. Just looking for some perspective / advice on how to handle them.

  • There's a famous word where people aren't sure what it means because they don't know where to divide it. Maybe it's a compound word where the division is at a "long a"? If someone here knows/remembers this word, or one like it, it would be relevent in an answer.
    – ChrisW
    Oct 13, 2023 at 8:45
  • Tathagata: "Modern scholarly opinion generally opines that Sanskrit grammar offers at least two possibilities for breaking up the compound word: either tathā and āgata (via a sandhi rule ā + ā → ā), or tathā and gata."
    – ChrisW
    Oct 13, 2023 at 13:16

4 Answers 4


Here are some useful resources for understanding Pali compound words:

All the Chapter 12 links are probably coming from the same source i.e. the book by Charles Duroiselle.

  • My main question is, can words be broken down automatically (programmatically with code)?
    – Lance
    Oct 14, 2023 at 4:26
  • @Lance Please take a look at the last link.
    – ruben2020
    Oct 14, 2023 at 4:36
  • Ok great, thanks, so basically it's an unsolvable problem, and we need AI to help?
    – Lance
    Oct 14, 2023 at 4:55
  • 2
    @Lance Or real intelligence. I guess you're referring to "because even for Sanskrit we have ambiguities". Consider a spoken language which has homophones -- what's the meaning of each word in a sentence, how do you understand or translate it? A human, native speaker of the language has little difficulty (e.g. using grammar and context).
    – ChrisW
    Oct 14, 2023 at 7:13

get this https://digitalpalidictionary.github.io/ get both the dictionary and the pali grammar there's a team of people that are constantly updating the database it will break down words correctly

  • Is there an associated dataset somewhere?
    – Lance
    Oct 14, 2023 at 0:29
  • This breaks up words like tāvadeva into tāva + eva, which is not what I really wanted. I wanted tāva + deva (every letter accounted for), is that not possible?
    – Lance
    Oct 14, 2023 at 4:22
  • 1
    [tāva + eva] ✓ looks correct to me. the 'd' is a sandhi, just something to smooth out the pronunciation between word parts.
    – frankk
    Oct 14, 2023 at 10:58

These are word compounds (samāsa). I have found this short introduction booklet relatively easy to follow, page 21.

While the Pali-English function on Sutta Central is very good (click on the 'Views' icon to explore the language features only in Sujato translations), possibly the easiest & clearest assistance (for the novice) with dissenting Pali compounds in sutta is the Digital Pali Reader (here, insert the sutta number that you know contains the word, for example for sambodhi).

Gradually, we gain familiarity. The main thing is knowing how to research using Pali-English suttas & dictionaries.

  • Uccheda + vāda
  • anuppāda + dhammā
  • evaṃ + sukha + dukkha + paṭisaṃvedī
  • micchā + diṭṭhi + kamma + samādāna
  • sambodhi + parāyaṇa

'ti' is merely an ending. It does not mean anything, except 'thus'.

We can break down some words further when we become familiar with common prefixes & suffixes. While I am only a novice, I can see the prefixes of:

  • anu
  • pati
  • sam

So now I just use Sutta Central dictionaries or Pali Digital Reader and try my luck. For example:

  • 'anu' generally means 'close'. But looking at the dictionary, my guess was wrong because anuppāda is an + uppāda therefore 'an' means 'non'. Anuppada means 'non-arising'.

Once we have the basic of researching, we just fumble along until we work it out, hopefully.

  • I was able to use @frankk's approach (see my comment), but it breaks down words like tiha into t + iha, or others like tāvadeva into tāva + eva (missing the d)? How am I supposed to interpret this? I was hoping for words to be split in a slightly "better" way, where each part was a main whole word (like you demonstrated). Is it not possible to do automatically?
    – Lance
    Oct 14, 2023 at 4:24

I am not a Pali expert but I have studied Sanskrit.Pali and Sanskrit have a lot in common. Words can be formed by combining multiple words. You should have a thorough knowledge of the Pali language to combine or separate words. It can be done automatically but the machine algorithm will be very complex as words change depending upon context of singular, plural , past tense , present tense , future tense etc.

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