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Bengali language

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বাংলা Bangla
Bangla script.png
The word "Bangla" in Bengali script
Native to Bangladesh, India (mainly in West Bengal); significant communities in United Kingdom, United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Burma, Canada
Native speakers 205 million  (2010)
Language family
  • Indo-Iranian
    • Indo-Aryan
      • Eastern
        • Assamese–Bengali
          • Bangla
Writing system Bengali alphabet ( Brahmic)
Bengali Braille
Official status
Official language in  Bangladesh,
 India ( West Bengal, Tripura and Barak Valley) (comprising districts of south Assam- Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi)
Regulated by Bangla Academy (Bangladesh)
Paschimbanga Bangla Akademi ( West Bengal)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 bn
ISO 639-2 ben
ISO 639-3 ben
Linguasphere 59-AAF-u (including Sylheti etc), 30 varieties: 59-AAF-ua...59-AAF-uk
Bengalispeaking region.png
Bengali-speaking area
Indic script
This page contains Indic text. Without rendering support you may see irregular vowel positioning and a lack of conjuncts. More...

Bengali (বাংলা Bangla [ˈbaŋla]) is an eastern Indo-Aryan language. It is native to the region of eastern South Asia known as Bengal, which comprises present day Bangladesh, the Indian state of West Bengal, and parts of the Indian states of Tripura and Assam. It is written using the Bengali script. With about 193 million native and about 230 million total speakers, Bengali is one of the most spoken languages (ranked sixth) in the world. The National song and the national anthem of India, and the national anthem of Bangladesh were composed in Bengali.

Along with other Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, Bengali evolved circa 1000–1200 CE from eastern Middle Indo-Aryan dialects such as the Magadhi Prakrit and Pali, which developed from a dialect or group of dialects that were close, but not identical to, Vedic and Classical Sanskrit. Literary Bengali saw borrowings from Classical Sanskrit, preserving spelling while adapting pronunciation to that of Bengali, during the period of Middle Bengali and the Bengali Renaissance. The modern literary form of Bengali was developed during the 19th and early 20th centuries based on the dialect spoken in the Nadia region, a west-central Bengali dialect. Today, literary form and dialects of Bengali constitute the primary language spoken in Bangladesh and the second most commonly spoken language in India.

With a rich literary tradition arising from the Bengali Renaissance, Bengali binds together a culturally diverse region and is an important contributor to Bengali nationalism. In former East Bengal (today Bangladesh), the strong linguistic consciousness led to the Bengali Language Movement, during which on 21 February 1952, several people were killed during protests to gain its recognition as a state language of the then Dominion of Pakistan and to maintain its writing in the Bengali script. The day has since been observed as Language Movement Day in Bangladesh, and was proclaimed the International Mother Language Day by UNESCO on 17 November 1999.


Shaheed Minar, or the Martyr's monument, in Dhaka, commemorates the struggle for the Bengali language.
Pages from the Charyapada.
Bengali belongs to the eastern group of the Indo-Aryan languages, here marked in yellow.

Like other Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, Bengali arose from eastern Middle Indo-Aryan dialects of the Indian subcontinent. Magadhi Prakrit and Pali, the earliest recorded spoken languages in the region and the language of Gautama Buddha, evolved into the Jain Prakrit or Ardhamagadhi "Half Magadhi" in the early part of the first millennium CE. Ardhamagadhi, as with all of the Prakrits of North India, began to give way to what are called Apabhraṃśa ("Corrupted grammar") languages just before the turn of the first millennium. The local Apabhraṃśa language of the eastern subcontinent, Purvi Apabhraṃśa or Abahatta ("Meaningless Sounds"), eventually evolved into regional dialects, which in turn formed three groups: the Bihari languages, the Oriya languages, and the Assamese-Bengali languages. Some argue that the points of divergence occurred much earlier—going back to even 500 but the language was not static: different varieties coexisted and authors often wrote in multiple dialects. For example, Magadhi Prakrit is believed to have evolved into Abahatta around the 6th century which competed with the ancestor of Bengali for a period of time.

Usually three periods are identified in the history of Bengali:

  1. Old Bengali (900/1000–1400)—texts include Charyapada, devotional songs; emergence of pronouns Ami, tumi, etc.; verb inflections -ila, -iba, etc. Assamese (Ahomiya) branches out in this period and Oriya just before this period (8th century-1300). The scripts and languages during this period were mainly influenced by the Kamrupi language (script-Kamrupa Prakrit) as the entire region- Assam, Bengal and parts of Bihar and Orissa was under the Kamrupa kingdom (now known as Assam).
  2. Middle Bengali (1400–1800)—major texts of the period include Chandidas's Shreekrishna Kirtana; elision of word-final ô sound; spread of compound verbs; Persian influence. Some scholars further divide this period into early and late middle periods.
  3. New Bengali (since 1800)—shortening of verbs and pronouns, among other changes (e.g. tahartar "his"/"her"; koriyachilôkorechilo he/she had done).

Historically closer to Pali, Bengali saw an increase in Sanskrit influence during the Middle Bengali ( Chaitanya Mahaprabhu era) and also during the Bengal Renaissance. Of the modern Indo-European languages in South Asia, Bengali and its neighbors, Oriya and Assamese (Ahomiya), in the east maintain a largely Pali/Sanskrit vocabulary base, as does Marathi in the centre-west.

One should note that spoken Hindi and spoken Urdu are identical at base. However, the current standard literary form of Hindi employs a great deal of imported Sanskrit vocabulary, while the literary form of Urdu is replete with borrowings from Arabic and Persian.

Until the 18th century, there was no attempt to document Bengali grammar. The first written Bengali dictionary/grammar, Vocabolario em idioma Bengalla, e Portuguez dividido em duas partes, was written by the Portuguese missionary Manuel da Assumpção between 1734 and 1742 while he was serving in Bhawal Estate. Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, a British grammarian, wrote a modern Bengali grammar (A Grammar of the Bengal Language (1778)) that used Bengali types in print for the first time. Ram Mohan Roy, the great Bengali reformer, also wrote a "Grammar of the Bengali Language" (1832).

During this period, the Choltibhasha form, using simplified inflections and other changes, was emerging from Shadhubhasha (older form) as the form of choice for written Bengali.

Bengali was the focus, in 1951–52, of the Bengali Language Movement (Bhasha Andolon) in what was then East Bengal (today Bangladesh). Although the Bengali language was spoken by the majority of East Bengal's population, Urdu was legislated as the sole national language of the Dominion of Pakistan. On 21 February 1952, protesting students and activists were fired upon by military and police in the University of Dhaka and three young students and several other people were killed. Later in 1999, UNESCO declared 21 February as the International Mother Language Day in recognition of the deaths. In a separate event on 19 May 1961, police in Silchar, India, killed eleven people who were demonstrating against legislation that mandated the use of the Assamese language.

Geographical distribution

The extent of Bengali inside Bangladesh.

Bengali is native to the region of eastern South Asia known as Bengal, which comprises Bangladesh, the Indian state of West Bengal and parts of Assam and Tripura. Besides this region it is also spoken by majority of the population in the union territory Andaman and Nicobar Islands. There are also significant Bengali-speaking communities in:

Official status

Bengali is the national and official language of Bangladesh, and one of the 23 official languages recognised by the Republic of India. It is the official language of the states of West Bengal and Tripura. It is also a major language in the Indian union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It is also the co-official language of Assam, which has three predominantly Sylheti-speaking districts of southern Assam, Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi Bengali is a second official language of the Indian state of Jharkhand from September 2011. It is also a recognized secondary language in the City of Karachi in Pakistan. In December 2002, Sierra Leone’s President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah also named Bengali as an "official language" in recognition of the work of 5,300 troops from Bangladesh in the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone peacekeeping force. The national anthems of both India and Bangladesh were written in Bengali by the Bengali Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. In 2009, elected representatives in both Bangladesh and West Bengal called for Bengali to be made an official language of the United Nations.


Regional variation in spoken Bengali constitutes a dialect continuum. Linguist Suniti Kumar Chatterjee grouped these dialects into four large clusters—Rarh, Banga, Kamarupa and Varendra; but many alternative grouping schemes have also been proposed. The south-western dialects (Rarh) form the basis of standard colloquial Bengali, while Bangal is the dominant dialect group in Bangladesh. In the dialects prevalent in much of eastern and south-eastern Bangladesh ( Barisal, Chittagong, Dhaka and Sylhet divisions of Bangladesh), many of the stops and affricates heard in West Bengal are pronounced as fricatives. Western alveolo-palatal affricates চ [ tɕ], ছ [ tɕʰ], জ [ dʑ] correspond to eastern চʻ [ts], ছ় [s], জʻ [dz]~[z]. The influence of Tibeto-Burman languages on the phonology of Eastern Bengali is seen through the lack of nasalized vowels. Some variants of Bengali, particularly Chittagonian and Chakma Bangla, have contrastive tone; differences in the pitch of the speaker's voice can distinguish words. Rajbangsi, Kharia Thar and Mal Paharia are closely related to Western Bengali dialects, but are typically classified as separate languages. Similarly, Hajong is considered a separate language, although it shares similarities to Northern Bengali dialects.

During the standardization of Bengali in the 19th century and early 20th century, the cultural centre of Bengal was in the city of Calcutta (now Kolkata), founded by the British. What is accepted as the standard form today in both West Bengal and Bangladesh is based on the West-Central dialect of Nadia, an Indian district located on the border of Bangladesh. There are cases where speakers of Standard Bengali in West Bengal will use a different word from a speaker of Standard Bengali in Bangladesh, even though both words are of native Bengali descent. For example, noon (salt) in the west corresponds to lôbon in the east.

Spoken and literary varieties

Bengali exhibits diglossia, though largely contested notion as some scholars proposed triglossia or even n-glossia or heteroglossia between the written and spoken forms of the language. Two styles of writing, involving somewhat different vocabularies and syntax, have emerged:

  1. Shadhu bhasha (সাধু shadhu='chaste' or 'sage'; ভাষা bhasha='language') was the written language with longer verb inflections and more of a Pali/Sanskrit-derived (তৎসম tôtshômo) vocabulary. Songs such as India's national anthem Jana Gana Mana (by Rabindranath Tagore) and national song Vande Mātaram (by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay) were composed in Shadhubhasha. However, use of Shadhubhasha in modern writing is uncommon, restricted to some official signs and documents in Bangladesh as well as for achieving particular literary effects.
  2. Cholito bhasha (Bengali: চলিত ভাষা) (চলিত cholito='current' or 'running'), known by linguists as Manno Cholit Bangla (Standard Colloquial Bengali), is a written Bengali style exhibiting a preponderance of colloquial idiom and shortened verb forms, and is the standard for written Bengali now. This form came into vogue towards the turn of the 19th century, promoted by the writings of Peary Chand Mitra ( Alaler Gharer Dulal, 1857), Pramatha Chowdhury (Sabujpatra, 1914) and in the later writings of Rabindranath Tagore. It is modeled on the dialect spoken in the Shantipur region in Nadia district, West Bengal. This form of Bengali is often referred to as the "Nadia standard" or "Shantipuri bangla".

While most writing is in Standard Colloquial Bengali, spoken dialects (defeated language of the captive speaker exhibit a greater variety. South-eastern West Bengal, including Kolkata, speak in Standard Colloquial Bengali. Other parts of West Bengal and western Bangladesh speak in dialects that are minor variations, such as the Medinipur dialect characterised by some unique words and constructions. However, a majority in Bangladesh speak in dialects notably different from Standard Colloquial Bengali. Some dialects, particularly those of the Chittagong region, bear only a superficial resemblance to Standard Colloquial Bengali. The dialect in the Chattagram region is least widely understood by the general body of Bengalis. The majority of Bengalis are able to communicate in more than one variety—often, speakers are fluent in colitobhasha (Standard Colloquial Bengali) and one or more regional dialects. For some counter-views, one may browse some different articles.

Even in Standard Colloquial Bengali, Muslims and Hindu use different words. Due to cultural and religious traditions, Hindus and Muslims might use, respectively, Pali/Sanskrit-derived and Perso-Arabic words. Some examples of lexical alternation between these two forms are:

  • hello: nômoshkar (S) corresponds to assalamualaikum/slamalikum (A)
  • invitation: nimontron/nimontonno (S) corresponds to daoat (A)
  • water : jol (S) corresponds to paani (S)
  • father : baba (P) corresponds to abbu/abba (A)

(here S=derived from Sanskrit and/or Pali, P=derived from Persian, A=derived from Arabic)


The phonemic inventory of standard Bengali consists of 28 consonants and 13 vowels, including 6 nasalized vowels. The inventory is set out below in International Phonetic Alphabet (upper grapheme in each box) and romanization (lower grapheme).

  Front Central Back
Close i ĩ   u ũ
Close-mid e ẽ   o õ
Near-open æ æ̃   ɔ
Open   a ã  
  Labial Dental/
Retroflex Palatoalveolar Velar Glottal
Nasal m
Plosive voiceless p


aspirated pʰ ~ ɸ

voiced b


aspirated bʱ ~ β
Fricative ʃ
Approximant   l
Rhotic   r

Bengali is known for its wide variety of diphthongs, combinations of vowels occurring within the same syllable.


In standard jarif, stress is predominantly initial. Bengali words are virtually all trochaic; the primary stress falls on the initial syllable of the word, while secondary stress often falls on all odd-numbered syllables thereafter, giving strings such as shô-ho-jo-gi-ta "cooperation", where the boldface represents primary and secondary stress.

Consonant clusters

Native Bengali (tôdbhôbo) words do not allow initial consonant clusters; the maximum syllabic structure is CVC (i.e. one vowel flanked by a consonant on each side). Many speakers of Bengali restrict their phonology to this pattern, even when using Sanskrit or English borrowings, such as গেরাম geram (CV.CVC) for গ্রাম gram (CCVC) "village" or ইস্কুল iskul (VC.CVC) for স্কুল skul (CCVC) "school".

Writing system

The Bengali script is an abugida, a script with letters for consonants, diacritics for vowels, and in which an "inherent" vowel is assumed if none is written. The script is a variant of the Assamese/Bengali Script used throughout Bangladesh and eastern India ( Assam, West Bengal and the Mithila region of Bihar). The Assamese/Bengali Script is believed to have evolved from a modified Brahmic script around 1000 CE and is similar to the Devanagari abugida used for Sanskrit and many modern Indic languages (e.g. Hindi, Marathi and Nepali). The Bengali script has particularly close historical relationships with the Assamese script, and Mithilakshar (the native script for Maithili language) and some resemblance with the Oriya script (although this relationship is not strongly evident in appearance).

The Bengali script is a cursive script with eleven graphemes or signs denoting nine vowels and two diphthongs, and thirty-nine graphemes representing consonants and other modifiers. There are no distinct upper and lower case letter forms. The letters run from left to right and spaces are used to separate orthographic words. Like Devanagari, Bengali script has a distinctive horizontal line running along the tops of the graphemes that links them together called মাত্রা matra (not to be confused with its Hindi cognate matra, which denotes the dependent forms of Hindi vowels).

Since the Bengali script is an abugida, its consonant graphemes usually do not represent phonetic segments, but carry an "inherent" vowel and thus are syllabic in nature. The inherent vowel is usually a back vowel, either [ɔ] as in মত [mɔt̪] "opinion" or [o], as in মন [mon] "mind", with variants like the more open [ɒ]. To emphatically represent a consonant sound without any inherent vowel attached to it, a special diacritic, called the hôshonto (্) (cf. Arabic sukūn), may be added below the basic consonant grapheme (as in ম্ [m]). This diacritic, however, is not common, and is chiefly employed as a guide to pronunciation. The abugida nature of Bengali consonant graphemes is not consistent, however. Often, syllable-final consonant graphemes, though not marked by a hôshonto, may carry no inherent vowel sound (as in the final ন in মন [mon] or the medial ম in গামলা [ɡamla]).

A consonant sound followed by some vowel sound other than the inherent [ɔ] is orthographically realized by using a variety of vowel allographs above, below, before, after, or around the consonant sign, thus forming the ubiquitous consonant-vowel ligature. These allographs, called kars (cf. Hindi matras) are dependent, diacritical vowel forms and cannot stand on their own. For example, the graph মি [mi] represents the consonant [m] followed by the vowel [i], where [i] is represented as the diacritical allograph ি (called i-kar) and is placed before the default consonant sign. Similarly, the graphs মা [ma], মী [mi], মু [mu], মূ [mu], মৃ [mri], মে [me]~[mæ], মৈ [moj], মো [mo] and মৌ [mow] represent the same consonant ম combined with seven other vowels and two diphthongs. It should be noted that in these consonant-vowel ligatures, the so-called "inherent" vowel [ɔ] is first expunged from the consonant before adding the vowel, but this intermediate expulsion of the inherent vowel is not indicated in any visual manner on the basic consonant sign ম.

The vowel graphemes in Bengali can take two forms: the independent form found in the basic inventory of the script and the dependent, abridged, allograph form (as discussed above). To represent a vowel in isolation from any preceding or following consonant, the independent form of the vowel is used. For example, in মই [moj] "ladder" and in ইলিশ [iliɕ] "Hilsa fish", the independent form of the vowel ই is used (cf. the dependent form ি). A vowel at the beginning of a word is always realized using its independent form.

In addition to the inherent-vowel-suppressing hôshonto, three more diacritics are commonly used in Bengali. These are the superposed côndrobindu (ঁ), denoting a suprasegmental for nasalization of vowels (as in চাঁদ [tɕãd] "moon"), the postposed onushshôr (ং) indicating the velar nasal [ŋ] (as in বাংলা [baŋla] "Bengali") and the postposed bishôrgo (ঃ) indicating the voiceless glottal fricative [h] (as in উঃ! [uh] "ouch!") or the gemination of the following consonant (as in দুঃখ [dukʰːo] "sorrow").

The Bengali consonant clusters (যুক্তব্যঞ্জন juktobênjon in Bengali) are usually realized as ligatures (যুক্তাক্ষর juktakkhor), where the consonant which comes first is put on top of or to the left of the one that immediately follows. In these ligatures, the shapes of the constituent consonant signs are often contracted and sometimes even distorted beyond recognition. In Bengali writing system, there are nearly 285 such ligatures denoting consonant clusters. Although there exist a few visual formulas to construct some of these ligatures, many of them have to be learned by rote. Recently, in a bid to lessen this burden on young learners, efforts have been made by educational institutions in the two main Bengali-speaking regions (West Bengal and Bangladesh) to address the opaque nature of many consonant clusters, and as a result, modern Bengali textbooks are beginning to contain more and more "transparent" graphical forms of consonant clusters, in which the constituent consonants of a cluster are readily apparent from the graphical form. However, since this change is not as widespread and is not being followed as uniformly in the rest of the Bengali printed literature, today's Bengali-learning children will possibly have to learn to recognize both the new "transparent" and the old "opaque" forms, which ultimately amounts to an increase in learning burden.

Bengali punctuation marks, apart from the downstroke daŗi (|), the Bengali equivalent of a full stop, have been adopted from western scripts and their usage is similar.

Whereas in western scripts (Latin, Cyrillic, etc.) the letter-forms stand on an invisible baseline, the Bengali letter-forms hang from a visible horizontal headstroke called the matra (not to be confused with its Hindi cognate matra, which denotes the dependent forms of Hindi vowels). The presence and absence of this matra can be important. For example, the letter ত [tɔ] and the numeral ৩ "3" are distinguishable only by the presence or absence of the matra, as is the case between the consonant cluster ত্র [trɔ] and the independent vowel এ [e]. The letter-forms also employ the concepts of letter-width and letter-height (the vertical space between the visible matra and an invisible baseline).

There is yet to be a uniform standard collating sequence (sorting order) of Bengali graphemes. Experts in both India and Bangladesh are currently working towards a common solution for this problem.

Signature of Rabindranath Tagore—an example of penmanship in Bengali.

Orthographic depth

The Bengali script in general has a comparatively shallow orthography, i.e., in most cases there is a one-to-one correspondence between the sounds (phonemes) and the letters (graphemes) of Bengali. But grapheme-phoneme inconsistencies do occur in certain cases.

One kind of inconsistency is due to the presence of several letters in the script for the same sound. In spite of some modifications in the 19th century, the Bengali spelling system continues to be based on the one used for Sanskrit, and thus does not take into account some sound mergers that have occurred in the spoken language. For example, there are three letters (শ, ষ, and স) for the voiceless alveolo-palatal fricative [ɕ], although the letter স does retain the voiceless alveolar fricative [s] sound when used in certain consonant conjuncts as in স্খলন [kɔlon] "fall", স্পন্দন [spɔndon] "beat", etc. The letter ষ also does retain the voiceless retroflex fricative [ʂ] sound when used in certain consonant conjuncts as in কষ্ট [kɔʂʈo] "suffering", গোষ্ঠী [ɡoʂʈʰi] "clan", etc. Similarly, there are two letters (জ and য) for the Voiced alveolo-palatal affricate [dʑ]. Moreover, what was once pronounced and written as a retroflex nasal ণ [ɳ] is now pronounced as an alveolar [n] when in conversation (the difference is seen heard when reading) (unless conjoined with another retroflex consonant such as ট, ঠ, ড and ঢ), although the spelling does not reflect this change. The near-open front unrounded vowel [æ] is orthographically realized by multiple means, as seen in the following examples: এত [æt̪o] "so much", এ্যাকাডেমী [ækademi] "academy", অ্যামিবা [æmiba] "amoeba", দেখা [d̪ækʰa] "to see", ব্যস্ত [bæst̪o] "busy", ব্যাকরণ [bækɔron] "grammar".

Another kind of inconsistency is concerned with the incomplete coverage of phonological information in the script. The inherent vowel attached to every consonant can be either [ɔ] or [o] depending on the Vowel Harmony (স্বরসঙ্গতি) with the preceding or following vowel or on the context, but this phonological information is not captured by the script, creating ambiguity for the reader. Furthermore, the inherent vowel is often not pronounced at the end of a syllable, as in কম [kɔm] "less", but this omission is not generally reflected in the script, making it difficult for the new reader.

Many consonant clusters have different sounds than their constituent consonants. For example, the combination of the consonants ক্ [k] and ষ [ʂɔ] is graphically realized as ক্ষ and is pronounced [kʰːo] (as in রুক্ষ [rukʰːo] "rugged") or [kʰo] (as in ক্ষতি [kʰot̪i] "loss") or even [kʰɔ] (as in ক্ষমতা [kʰɔmot̪a] "power"), depending on the position of the cluster in a word. The Bengali writing system is, therefore, not always a true guide to pronunciation.

For a detailed list of these inconsistencies, consult Bengali script.


The Bengali script, with a few small modifications, is also used for writing Assamese. Other related languages in the region also make use of the Bengali alphabet. Meitei, a Sino-Tibetan language used in the Indian state of Manipur, has been written in the Bengali abugida for centuries, though Meitei Mayek (the Meitei abugida) has been promoted in recent times. The Bengali script has been adopted for writing the Sylheti language as well, replacing the use of the old Sylheti Nagori script.


Several conventions exist for writing Indic languages including Bengali in the Latin script, including "International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration" or IAST (based on diacritics), "Indian languages Transliteration" or ITRANS (uses upper case alphabets suited for ASCII keyboards), and the National Library at Calcutta romanization.

In the context of Bengali Romanization, it is important to distinguish transliteration from transcription. Transliteration is orthographically accurate (i.e. the original spelling can be recovered), whereas transcription is phonetically accurate (the pronunciation can be reproduced). Since English does not have the sounds of Bengali, and since pronunciation does not completely reflect the spellings, being faithful to both is not possible.

Although it might be desirable to use a transliteration scheme where the original Bengali orthography is recoverable from the Latin text, Bengali words are currently Romanized on Wikipedia using a phonemic transcription, where the pronunciation is represented with no reference to how it is written. The Wikipedia Romanization scheme is given in the table below, with the IPA transcriptions as used above.


Bengali nouns are not assigned gender, which leads to minimal changing of adjectives ( inflection). However, nouns and pronouns are highly declined (altered depending on their function in a sentence) into four cases while verbs are heavily conjugated.

As a consequence, unlike Hindi, Bengali verbs do not change form depending on the gender of the nouns.

Word order

As a head-final language, Bengali follows subject–object–verb word order, although variations to this theme are common. Bengali makes use of postpositions, as opposed to the prepositions used in English and other European languages. Determiners follow the noun, while numerals, adjectives, and possessors precede the noun.

Yes-no questions do not require any change to the basic word order; instead, the low (L) tone of the final syllable in the utterance is replaced with a falling (HL) tone. Additionally optional particles (e.g. কি -ki, না -na, etc.) are often encliticized onto the first or last word of a yes-no question.

Wh-questions are formed by fronting the wh-word to focus position, which is typically the first or second word in the utterance.


Nouns and pronouns 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. When a definite article such as -টা -ţa (singular) or -গুলা -gula (plural) is added, as in the tables below, nouns are also inflected for number.

Singular noun inflection
Animate Inanimate
Nominative ছাত্রটা
the student
the shoe
Objective ছাত্রটাকে
the student
the shoe
Genitive ছাত্রটা
the student's
the shoe's
Locative - জুতাটায়
on/in the shoe
Plural noun inflection
Animate Inanimate
Nominative ছাত্ররা
the students
the shoes
Objective ছাত্রদের(কে)
the students
the shoes
Genitive ছাত্রদের
the students'
the shoes'
Locative - জুতাগুলা/জুতোগুলোতে
on/in the shoes

When counted, nouns take one of a small set of measure words. As in many East Asian languages (e.g. Chinese, Japanese, Thai, etc.), nouns in Bengali cannot be counted by adding the numeral directly adjacent to the noun. The noun's measure word (MW) must be used between the numeral and the noun. Most nouns take the generic measure word -টা -ţa, though other measure words indicate semantic classes (e.g. -জন -jon for humans).

Measure words
Bengali Bengali transliteration Literal translation English translation
নয়টা গরু Nôe-ţa goru Nine-MW cow Nine cows
কয়টা বালিশ Kôe-ţa balish How many-MW pillow How many pillows
অনেকজন লোক Ônek-jon lok Many-MW person Many people
চার-পাঁচজন শিক্ষক Car-pãc-jon shikkhôk Four-five-MW teacher Four or five teachers

Measuring nouns in Bengali without their corresponding measure words (e.g. আট বিড়াল aţ biŗal instead of আটটা বিড়াল aţ-ţa biŗal "eight cats") would typically be considered ungrammatical. However, when the semantic class of the noun is understood from the measure word, the noun is often omitted and only the measure word is used, e.g. শুধু একজন থাকবে। Shudhu êk-jon thakbe. (lit. "Only one-MW will remain.") would be understood to mean "Only one person will remain.", given the semantic class implicit in -জন -jon.

In this sense, all nouns in Bengali, unlike most other Indo-European languages, are similar to mass nouns.


Verbs divide into two classes: 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 honour (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.

Inflectional suffixes in the morphology of Bengali vary from region to region, along with minor differences in syntax.

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 she shikkhôk, (literally "he teacher"). In this respect, Bengali is similar to Russian and Hungarian.


Sources of modern Bengali words
  Tôdbhôbo (native)
  Tôtshômo (Sanskrit reborrowings)
  Deshi (indigenous loans) and Bideshi (foreign loans)

Bengali has as many as 100,000 separate words, of which 50,000 are considered tôtshômo (direct reborrowings from Sanskrit), 21,100 are tôdbhôbo (native words with Sanskrit cognates), and the rest being bideshi (foreign borrowings) and deshi ( Austroasiatic borrowings) words.

However, these figures do not take into account the fact that a large proportion of these words are archaic or highly technical, minimizing their actual usage. The productive vocabulary used in modern literary works, in fact, is made up mostly (67%) of tôdbhôbo words, while tôtshômo only make up 25% of the total. Deshi and Bideshi words together make up the remaining 8% of the vocabulary used in modern Bengali literature.

Due to centuries of contact with Europeans, Mughals, Arabs, Turks, Persians, Afghans, and East Asians, Bengali has incorporated many words from foreign languages. The most common borrowings from foreign languages come from three different kinds of contact. Close contact with neighboring peoples facilitated the borrowing of words from Hindi, Assamese and several indigenous Austroasiatic languages (like Santali). of Bengal. After centuries of invasions from Persia and the Middle East, numerous Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and Pashtun words were absorbed into Bengali. Portuguese, French, Dutch and English words were later additions during the colonial period.

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