We use nouns to describe a living being, a thing or a state. In Tamil, the nouns can be divided into different classes based on rationality and gender.

In this chapter, you will learn how words are separated in different classes and how to decline them. You will also learn the eight pronouns, the two demonstrative pronouns and the two interrogative particles.


A noun, in Tamil, always belongs to one of the classes based on rationality. There is a higher class உயர்திணைuyartiṇai and a lower class அஃறிணைaxṟiṇai.

Every rational beings are considered as the higher class. That are human adults and deities.

Children (பிள்ளைகள்piḷḷaikaḷ) and babies (குழந்தைகள்kuḻantaikaḷ) are considered as irrational and thus fall into the lower class category together with animals, birds, plants and inanimate objects.

Number and Gender

Based on the classification by rationality, the Tamil language then divides words into gender and number.

Tamil has two genders: Masculine and feminine correspond to their natural sex. Tamil has also two numbers: singular and plural

So based on the rationality, a word of the higher class can either be singular masculine, singular feminine or just plural. The plural form is not linked to any gender.

The lower class nouns can be seen as the "neuter" in English. It is not split in masculine and feminine but only in singular and plural.

As a result, we have five different gender/number combinations as seen in the following overview:


ஆண்பால்āṇpāl (male)
பெண்பால்peṇpāl (female)
பலர்பால்palarpāl (plural)


ஒன்றன்பால்oṉṟaṉpāl (singular)
பலவின்பால்palaviṉpāl (plural)

The noun stem and the oblique stem

The noun stem is the form of the noun without any suffix marking the case or the number added to it. It is the form that you would find the noun in a dictionary. As you will learn in the following paragraphs, it is also the presentation of the nominative case.

Some nouns have in addition to the noun stem an oblique noun form, called oblique stem. However, not all of them have one, in those cases the oblique stem equals the regular noun stem.

The oblique stem is used in some situations, one of them is that they are used when adding the suffix during declension.

The -ththu oblique

The first class of oblique stem consists of all nouns that have their stem ending in -அம்-am, for example மரம்maram, படம்paṭam, திட்டம்tiṭṭam or அப்பம்appam. In those cases, you build the oblique by taking away the -ம்-m and adding a -த்து-ttu instead. So



The double consonant oblique

The other class of oblique stems are for nouns that end on -டு-ṭu or -று-ṟu but are not a two short syllable word. Examples for this class are for example வீடுvīṭu, கிணறுkiṇaṟu or ஆறுāṟu.

In those cases, you double the consonant of the last syllable, so you add a ட் or ற் before the last syllable.



There are five nouns (pronouns) that have a custom oblique suffix but you will learn those during the course of the book individually.

All other nouns apart from these two (three including the custom class) have no special oblique form. Whenever you need the oblique form, you can just use the noun stem.

The number marking

Tamil has two different plural version based on the rationality of a noun. However, both version share the same set of suffixes to form a plural. That are -கள்-kaḷ and -க்கள்-kkaḷ.

Which suffix is used in which case is defined by the ending of the noun stem. It is not based on rationality, the following rules apply for the higher class and lower class:

-க்கள்-kkaḷ has to be used for all words that end on a long vowel and for all words that are only two short syllables with the last one ending on -உ-u.



All other words will use the suffix -கள்-kaḷ




The word tree in the example above contains a first Sandhi rule. Whenever a ம்m is followed by a க்k the former consonant will transformed into a ங்


There is a small exception for nouns that consist of a root and a gender suffix. For those you can only add the number suffix to the female or honorific gender marking suffixes but not to the masculine gender suffix. How that looks, will be explained in the next paragraphs.

Gender marking suffix

For nouns that are describing human beings, there are three different suffixes to describe a gender.

-அன்-aṉ is the suffix for the male gender, -இ-i the suffix for the female gender and -அர்-ar the one for honorific gender. The honorific gender is actually gender-independent and will be used for males and females.


மாணவன்māṇavaṉthe male student
மாணவிmāṇavithe female student
மாணவர்māṇavarthe honorific student

As mentioned in the previous chapter, you can only build the plural form the last two nouns. If you want to describe "the male students" you just stick with the plural form of the honorific version மாணவர்கள்māṇavarkaḷ


The word மாணவிmāṇavi contains another Sandhi rule. This time two vowels meet each other: In மாணmāṇa + i, we have an a and an i. In this case we put a -வ்--v- inbetween:

மாணmāṇa + வ்v + i = மாணவிmāṇavi.

In general, whenever the last sound of the first word is one of a, ā, u, ū, o, ō, au and the first sound of the second word is a vowel, then we put a -வ்--v- in between those vowels.

If the last sound of a first word is one of the other vowels i, ī, e, ē, ai) and it's followed by a vowel, we put a -ய்--y- in between.

பிழைpiḻai + இன்றிiṉṟi = பிழையின்றிpiḻaiyiṉṟi

Noun Declension

The concept of noun declension is used to indicate the the relationship between a noun and a verb or between two nouns. Based on the different cases of the noun one can define it's function within a sentence.

In modern English, declension is very simple. It is that simple that you might not even learn it as the grammatical term declension or cases at all. But the two existing forms of declension are often times confusing enough not only for non-native speakers.

In English, a noun can have the plain form and the possessive form.


plain: one girl / many girls
possessive: one girl's / many girls

In contrast to this simplicity old languages such as Latin or Greek come with more than two different cases. Even in the German languages you will find four different cases.

Tamil Grammar has eight cases. If you check some other grammar books, you might find some that state nine or even ten cases. But don't worry, when we talk about eight cases we just combine a few cases as they belong together.

As everything in Tamil grammar each of these cases have their own suffix that you can use to identify the case and thus the function of a noun in a sentence.

Let's go through each of them and learn the what the case is about and how you can identify them in Tamil:


This is the plain case. It has no suffix but the plain noun. This form indicates the subject of a sentence, it answers the question Who or What did a certain action.

சேரன் படிக்கின்றான்cēraṉ paṭikkiṉṟāṉ

In this example, சேரன்cēraṉ is a name and has no suffix, so that is the nominative. படிக்கின்றான்paṭikkiṉṟāṉ is a verb and means to read. (More about it in the next chapter).

So that sentence itself translates to:

Seeran reads


The second case is the accusative. It describes the object of a matter and can be formed by adding an -ஐ-ai suffix.

You can use the accusative to answer the question What or Whom.

சேரன் மாறனை சந்தித்தான்cēraṉ māṟaṉai cantittāṉ

In this sentence, சேரன்cēraṉ is again the nominative. மாறன்māṟaṉ is another name and is cased as the accusative by adding its suffix.

மாறன்māṟaṉ + ai = மாறனைmāṟaṉai

The word சந்தித்தான்cantittāṉ is the verb meaning met. So this sentence can be translated to

Seeran (Who) met Maaran (Whom)


The third case is used to express the person in whose company or through whom/what the action is carried out. For the first, you use the -ஓடு-ōṭu suffix, for the latter it's -ஆல்-āl

While Tamil grammar sees both question as a single case, you will find text books that split them up into two cases based on the question. The -ஓடு-ōṭu will be the sociative case, the -ஆல்-āl is then the instrumental case.

சேரன் மாறனோடு விளையாடினான்cēraṉ māṟaṉōṭu viḷaiyāṭiṉāṉ

This sentence translates into Seeran was playing with Maaran

மாறன் கத்தியால் மரத்தை வெட்டினான்māṟaṉ kattiyāl marattai veṭṭiṉāṉ

This sentence translates into Maaran cut the tree with a knife

Note that மரத்தைmarattai is accusative form of tree: மரம்maram + ai


The forth case is sometimes split up as well. The dative case answers the question of to whom/what does the action happen and it can be built by using the suffix -உக்கு-ukku.

The benefactive case is for the question for whom/what did the subject do the action. This can be built using the suffix -உக்காக-ukkāka

சேரன் மாறனுக்கு புத்தகத்தை கொடுத்தான்cēraṉ māṟaṉukku puttakattai koṭuttāṉ

This sentence translates into Seeran gave the book to Maaran

சேரன் மாறனுக்காக வீடு திரும்பினான்cēraṉ māṟaṉukkāka vīṭu tirumpiṉāṉ

This sentence translates into Seeran returned home for Maaran


Whenever you talk about the starting position from which you move towards something else, you use the ablative case. It answers the questions about the from such as from where or from which point of time and similar.

The suffix to build the ablative case is -இருந்து-iruntu

If the word is a place noun, you can directly add it to the noun stem.


அங்குaṅku + இருந்துiruntu = அன்கிருந்துaṉkiruntu

If the word is an inanimate noun, use -இலிருந்து-iliruntu, so இல்il + இருந்துiruntu. For animate nouns, use இடமிருந்துiṭamiruntu = இடம்iṭam + இருந்துiruntu

மாறன் மரத்திலிருந்து விழுந்தான்māṟaṉ marattiliruntu viḻuntāṉMaaran fell from a tree.சேரன் அப்பாவிடமிருந்து வந்தான்.cēraṉ appāviṭamiruntu vantāṉ.Seeran came from dad.

The ablative case can be used for many more expressions such as separation from something, a selection, a starting point and so on. For all of them, you will use the same case markers as above. In almost every case, you will be able to understand the meaning from the context.


You will see further down in this chapter that the -இடம்-iṭam and -இல்-il that were added to the suffix are case markers as well


As the languages German or Latin, the Tamil language also has the genitive case used to express a relation between the genitive noun and the nominative. A common use-case would be the expression of possession and belonging (whose)

The genitive case can be built by using multiple suffixes

-இன்-iṉ, -அன்-aṉ, -உடைய-uṭaiya, -அது-atu

However, the -அன்-aṉ suffix is not used that often anymore in common Tamil but the other three can be found frequently in different contexts.

மாறனின் தம்பிmāṟaṉiṉ tampiMaaran's younger brotherமாறனுடைய பாடசாலைmāṟaṉuṭaiya pāṭacālaiMaaran's schoolஅவனது வீடுavaṉatu vīṭuHis house

While it sometimes might sound strange, it is totally okay if you just stick with one suffix only in the beginning and learn the other two during your journey of learning Tamil.


The locative case is built using the -இல்-il and the -இடம்-iṭam suffixes that you already saw in the chapter about the ablative case.

Use the -இல்-il suffix when you have inanimate nouns that describe the location of space and time or you want to describe the how



You also use the -இல்-il suffix when you express that something is among that locative cased noun



The -இடம்-iṭam suffix is only used with animate nouns to express to whom or from whom something is moving.


அவள் அப்பாவிடம் செல்கின்றான்avaḷ appāviṭam celkiṉṟāṉ
அவன் அம்மாவிடம் இருந்து வருகின்றான்avaṉ ammāviṭam iruntu varukiṉṟāṉ


This eigth and last case is a special one. It is actually not really a case grammatically as the previous ones but in Tamil grammar it is seen as one.

You use the vocative to call something or someone or to point out something.

You use the -ஏ suffix, or if it is a question you will use -ஆ.




Pronouns are a small category within nouns. They can be easily described as the nouns that can be substituted for other nouns.

There are a few different types of pronouns, however, in this book, we are going to focus on the ones that are used most of the time.

Personal pronouns

Personal pronouns reference one or a group of people (or things). In English, following personal pronouns are commonly known


In Tamil, there are a few more.

அவர்avar is the formal way of saying she or he

நீங்கள்nīṅkaḷ is not only the second person plural but is used as a formal way for you in singular.

அவைavai is the third person plural for neuter nouns


In Tamil, there is a grammatical distinction between inclusive and exclusive we. This concept is called clusivity in linguistics. An inclusive we includes the speaker to the group while the exclusive we does not.

The generally used pronoun நாங்கள்nāṅkaḷ is the exclusive we. The inclusive we is written as நாம்nām.

While this concept exists in theory and in written Tamil, this distinction barely made in spoken Tamil anymore. So as long as you remember that this word நாம்nām also means we, you should be fine.

Possessive Pronouns

The oblique forms of personal pronouns are called the possessive pronouns. They indicate possession or ownership of a noun:

அவைavaiஅவைavai (அவற்றுavaṟṟu) — its

Note that the third persons except the plural neuter don't change in the oblique form. It's only the first person and second person pronouns that change.


It's also common that possessive pronouns get அதுatu as a suffix. The exception for this is obviously for அதுatu as the pronoun itself.

என்eṉ + அதுatu = எனதுeṉatu
அவர்கள்avarkaḷ + அதுatu = அவர்களதுavarkaḷatu


Tamil differentiates between two different types of adjectives: Derived adjectives and non-derived adjectives.

நல்ல படம்nalla paṭamnice pictureபெரிய யானைperiya yāṉaibig elephantசிறிய வீடுciṟiya vīṭusmall house

Apart from the few regular adjectives, there is another way to get an adjective. You can add an -ஆன-āṉa to some abstract nouns to make them adjectives (derived adjectives).


அழகுaḻaku beauty + ஆனāṉa = அழகானaḻakāṉa beautiful

உயரம்uyaram height + ஆனāṉa = உயரமானuyaramāṉa tall

முக்கியம்mukkiyam importance + ஆனāṉa = முக்கியமானmukkiyamāṉa important

Adjectives are generally not declined with the noun it describes. You simply add the adjective in front of the noun without any changes.

நல்ல படம்nalla paṭamnice pictureநல்ல படத்தைnalla paṭattainice picture (in accusative)

In both cases, the adjective நல்லnalla hasn't changed at all.

Adjectives as nouns

In English, adjectives can also work as a predicate replacing the verb. So something like This house is big is a valid sentence.

In Tamil, this is not allowed. You can only have verbs or nouns as predicates but not adjectives. So if you want to use the adjective to form a sentence as above, you have to nominalize it. Then the adjective gets the status of a noun and can be used as the predicate.

The derived adjectives are already derived from nouns so we can simply remove the suffix and get the nominalised version that way.

இந்த படம் அழகுinta paṭam aḻakuThis picture is beauty → This picture is beautifulஅவன் உயரம்avaṉ uyaramHe height → He is tall.

For the few non-derived adjectives that Tamil has, you add the third person pronouns to the adjective. It is based on what the adjective actually describes. So if you describe a woman, you use the 3rd person singular female pronoun, if it's a man the male version and so on.

இந்த பையன் நல்லவன்inta paiyaṉ nallavaṉThis boy is good.அவள் நல்லவள்avaḷ nallavaḷShe is good.

Actually, you only use the 3rd person suffixes, not the whole pronoun. So


You will recognize these suffixes later when you learn about verbs and then these suffixes will make more sense.