An insatiable appetite for ancient and modern tongues

Classification: Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Modern Indo-Aryan, Southwestern. Other languages of the southwestern group are Gujarati and Konkani.

Overview. Marathi is a regional language of central-western India spoken in the state of Maharashtra. It descends from the Middle Indo-Aryan Maharashtri, the most literary of the vernacular languages known as Prakrits. It has been influenced by Kannada and Telugu, two neighboring Dravidian languages.

Distribution and Speakers. Marathi is spoken in India, in the state of Maharashtra and adjacent regions (Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Goa) by around 83.5 million people:




Madhya Pradesh


Andhra  Pradesh



Other states









Status. Marathi is the official language of the central Indian state of Maharashtra.

Varieties. Deshi spoken in the city of Pune, Varhaddi and Nagpuri spoken in the city of Nagpur and surrounding area, and Kokni prevalent in the coastal regions.

Oldest Documents

8th c.The earliest mention of spoken Marathi is found in a literary work (Kuvalaymala by Udyotansuri).

10th c. Inscriptions at the Jain site of Shravanabelgola in Karnataka, south India.

1199. Viveksindhu of Mukundraja is the earliest literary text .


Vowels (6). Marathi has six basic vowels and two diphthongs (əi,  əu). It has short and long vowels but vowel length is not phonemic. Nasalization is optional and not phonemic.


Consonants (34). Marathi has 34 consonants in total, including 16 stops, 7 affricates, 3 fricatives, 3 nasals, 3 liquids and 2 glides. The stops and nasals are articulated at five different places being classified as: labial, dental-alveolar, retroflex, palatal and velar. Every series of stops and affricates, includes voiceless and voiced consonants, unaspirated and aspirated, this four-way contrast being unique to Indo-Aryan among Indo-European languages (Proto-Indoeuropean had a three-way contrast only). The only exception is the absence of an aspirated voiceless alveolar affricate.

    The retroflex consonants of Marathi, articulated immediately behind the alveolar crest, are not from Indo-European origin though present already in Sanskrit. They are, probably, the result of Dravidian language influence. Marathi has, also, a retroflex liquid not inherited from Sanskrit.


Script and Orthography

    From the 17th century until the mid 20th century, Marathi was written with the modi cursive script. Afterwards, with a slightly modified Devanāgarī script. The Marathi script contains 48 characters ordered phonetically.

    First, come the simple vowels, which are followed by the diphthongs (e and o derive from ancient diphthongs and were considered so by the native grammarians). After the vowels come the stops and nasal consonants divided into five groups (each of five letters) according to their place of articulation (from back to front). Within each group the order is: voiceless unaspirated stop, voiceless aspirated stop, voiced unaspirated stop, voiced aspirated stop, nasal. After these five groups, follow the semivowels (liquids and glides) also arranged according to their place of articulation. Then, the fricatives starting with the sibilants. The last three are biconsonantal groups which are traditionally included in the alphabet. The vowel a [ə] is inherent in all consonants.

    Below each letter the standard transliteration is shown followed by its International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) equivalent between brackets:

  1. the vowel ə is rendered as a.

  2. The syllabic vowel ri, transliterated ṛ, is present only in Sanskrit loanwords.

  3. the aspirated stops and affricates are rendered as digraphs (pʰ = ph, dʰ = dh, etc).

  4. the retroflex stops ʈ, ɖ are transliterated ṭ , ḍ.

  5. the affricates ts/ tʃ, dz/dʒ are transliterated c and j, respectively. The alveolar and palatal affricates are not differentiated in the script, but in scholarly texts [ts] = c, [dz] = j, [dzʰ] = jh, [tʃ] = č, [tʃʰ] = čh,

  6. [dʒ] = ǰ, [dʒʰ] = ǰh.

  7. the Marathi script has three signs for sibilants (ś, ṣ, s) but ś and ṣ are pronounced ʃ.

  8. the voiced glottal fricative ɦ is transliterated h.

  9. the nasal ɳ is rendered ṇ. There are signs for the palatal and velar nasals (ñ, ṅ) in the script but they are pronounced as n.

  10. the retroflex liquid ɭ is transliterated ḷ.

  11. the glide w is transliterated v.


  1. Nominal. Many adjectives are invariable. Those that are inflected agree in case, gender and number with the nouns they qualify.

  1. gender: Marathi, like Gujarati, has a three-gender system, inherited from Sanskrit, of masculine, neuter and feminine. Masculine nouns typically end in -ā, feminine nouns in -ī, and neuter nouns in -ẽ (though nasalization of singular neuter nouns in the direct case is fading).


  1. number: singular and plural. Many nouns and adjectives have identical singular and plural forms in the direct case. Only masculine nouns ending in -ā have a distinctive plural ending (in -ē). Most feminine nouns add ā in the plural. Neuter nouns add - in the plural except those whose singular ends in - which make their plural in -ī̃.

  1. masculine (‘horse’): ghoḍā → ghoḍē

  2. masculine (‘father’): bāp → bāp

  3. feminine (‘mare’): ghoḍī → ghoḍyā

  4. feminine (‘garland’): māḷ → māḷā

  5. neuter (‘tank’): taḷẽ → taḷī̃

  6. neuter (‘house’): ghar → gharẽ

  1. case: direct, oblique

  1. The first one is used for subject and direct object. The second is used for nouns accompanied by postpositions which serve as markers for other syntactical functions (similar to English prepositions but placed after the noun). There are remnants of the Middle Indo-Aryan case system in some words (dative, instrumental, locative).

  1. Adjectives are not inflected unless they end in ā in which case they inflect like this:

  1. pronouns: personal, demonstrative, interrogative, relative, indefinite.

  1. Personal pronouns are genderless but they are inflected for case. Demonstrative pronouns, which mark gender, act as 3rd person pronouns. The 1st. person plural has inclusive and exclusive forms, differentiating if the speaker is included or not. The 2nd. and 3rd. persons distinguish several degrees of politeness; the 2nd. plural may be used as a polite form for the second singular.

  1. Demonstrative pronouns distinguish two deictic degrees (proximal and distal) and are inflected for case and number. The distal demonstrative ('that') is identical to the 3rd person pronoun. The proximal demonstrative ('this') has the following direct forms: (masc. sing.), he (masc. plural), (femin. sing.), hyā (femin. plural), he (neuter sing.), hī̃ (neuter plural).

  1. Marathi has two interrogative pronouns which don’t distinguish gender and number but are inflected in five cases, in contrast with nouns that only recognize two:

  1. Note: except in the direct case, koṇ has alternative forms with u instead of o e.g. kuṇā in the oblique, etc.

  1. Indefinite pronouns are based on the interrogatives:


  1. koṇsā differentiates gender in the direct case.

  1. The relative pronoun is inflected for case, gender and number. Its correlative in the main clause is the remote demonstrative.

  1. Note: j = [dz], ǰ = [dʒ].

  1. compounds: Marathi uses a variety of nominal compounds (see Gujarati page).

  1. Verbal

  2. person and number: 1s, 2s, 3s; 1p, 2p, 3p.

  1. aspect: imperfective (including habitual and continuous actions), perfective (completed activities) and prospective (anticipated or predicted activities). The imperfective uses the marker -t-, the prospective employs the marker -nār and the perfective the marker -l-.

  1. mood: indicative, presumptive, subjunctive, contrafactual, imperative.

  2. The presumptive, subjunctive and contrafactual are considered an integral part of the tense system. Only the imperative is an independent mood.

  1. tense: most finite-verbs combine aspect and tense-mood. Marathi has 3 aspects, imperfective, perfective and prospective, which combine with five different forms of the verb 'to be': present, past, presumptive, subjunctive and contrafactual (past conditional). They result in thirteen (compound) aspectual tenses: five imperfective, five perfective and three prospective.

  1. Besides these verbal forms, Marathi has four non-tense forms (unspecified imperfective or present habitual, unspecified contrafactual, unspecified perfective or simple past, unspecified prospective), one non-aspectual form (future), and one non-aspectual non-tense form (old unspecified or past habitual).

  1. The present and presumptive copula distinguish person and number, while the past, subjunctive and contrafactual ones distinguish person, number and gender.

  1. The forms of the copula for the 1st and 3rd singular are:

  1. present: 1sg. āh, 3sg. āhe.

  2. past: 1sg. masc. hotõ, 1sg fem. hot, 3sg masc. hotā, 3sg fem. hotī.

  3. presumptive: 1sg. asen, 3sg. asel.

  4. subjunctive: 1sg. masc. aslõ, 1sg. fem. aslẽ, 3sg masc. aslā, 3sg fem. aslī.

  5. contrafactual: 1sg masc. astõ, 1sg fem. astẽ, 3sg masc. astā, 3sg fem. astī.

  1. For example, the list of Marathi finite forms of the verb yee ('to come') is:


  1. stems: ye-, ā-

  2. black: verb root; brown: aspect marker; red: gender marker; green: gender + person marking; blue: personal endings.

  1. voice: active, passive.

  1. non-finite forms: infinitive, gerund, conjunctive participle, present participle, past (perfective) participle, gerundive.

  1. The infinitive is treated as a noun, being inflected for case and taking postpositions. Gerunds express an ongoing action while the conjunctive participle expresses an action that precedes another. The present participle indicates simultaneity with the action expressed by the main verb. The gerundive indicates necessity or obligation.


The neutral word order is a flexible Subject-Object-Verb. Most adjectives precede their nouns with which they concord. Adverbs precede verbs. Syntactical relations are conveyed mainly by postpositions. Transitive verbs conjugated in any of the perfective tenses agree with their object while the subject adopts the oblique case, a phenomenon known as split ergativity.


Marathi has acquired many loanwords from the neighboring Dravidian languages, Kannada and Telugu. English has also contributed substantially to the Marathi vocabulary.

Basic Vocabulary

one: ek

two: don

three: tīn

four: cār

five: pāc

six: sahā

seven: sāt

eight: āṭh

nine: naū

ten: dahā

hundred: śe/śat

father: pitā

mother: āī/mātā

brother: bhāū

sister: bahīṇ

son: putra/mulgā

daughter: duhitā/ mulgī

head: śir/śīr/śīrṣa

eye: akṣī, ḍoḷā

foot: pāy

heart: hṛdaya

tongue: jībh

Key Literary Works (forthcoming).

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

  1. -The Formation of the Marathi Language. J. M. Bloch. (Original French edition: La Formation de la Langue Marathe, 1920). Translated by D. R. Chanana. Motilal Banarsidass (1970).

  2. -A Marathi Reference Grammar. M. Berntsen & J. Nimbkar. University of Pennsylvania Press (1975).

  3. -Marathi. R. V. Dhongde & K. Wali. London Oriental and African Language Library 13. John Benjamins (2009).

  4. -'Marathi'. R. Pandharipande. In The Indo-Aryan Languages, 766-802. G. Cardona & D. Jain (eds). Routledge (2007).

  1. Top   Home   Alphabetic Index   Classificatory Index   Largest Languages & Families   Glossary



Address comments and questions to: