Pronunciation of Sanskrit words

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Since the Sanskrit alphabet consists of a number of letters and sounds that do not exist in the Latin alphabet, certain additional signs, so-called diacritics are required in the Latin script for the representation and transliteration of these sounds. In Sanskrit each letter represents one and only one sound. In English the letter a for example may indicate many sounds (e.g. fat, fate, fare, far) but not so in Sanskrit.

There are five different kinds of diacritical signs:

  • a horizontal line on top of a vowel which prolongs the vocal length, like with ā. E.g. as in harm or drama.
  • a dot underneath for reflection. In the case of the letters , , , , , the difference is too subtle, so we can neglect this and pronounce the letter as if there was no dot.
  • A change in pronunciation occurs with the following letters: The equals a sh-sound, like in shade. The sound of is a combination of r followed by a short ee-sound, e.g. as in rich, unlike reef. The is an unvoiced breath following a vowel.
  • a dot on top for the guttural nasal sound . E.g. like in wrong.
  • an accent for the palatal sibilant ś. The sound is basically the same as for , i.e. a sh-sound, like in fresh.
  • a tilde for the palatal nasal sound ñ. This sounds equals ny, like in canyon.
  • consonants followed by an h are slightly more aspirated, but the difference is subtle.

A few common appearances: kṣa like in kshatriya (the Buddha's caste), kṛṣṇa like in krishna, and jñā like in jñāna (primordial wisdom).


a but not bat
ā harm not ham
i pink
ī peep
u put
ū boot
e mess
ai aisle or pie
o beau
au down or hound


  • Source: This presentation is partially based on Charles Wikner's A practical Sanskrit Introductory and Sanskrit für Anfänger by Thomas Lehman.)

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