This is a book long overdue, as my first Pali teacher, the late
Mr. Julius Berugoda wished me to compile such a one, or
translate the work he did into English, many years ago. I
am sorry I was not able to bring forth this Pali Primer during his
lifetime, but I feel I am discharging a great obligation even at this
I take no credit for the method used in this book as it was
thought out by my revered Guru. When I first met him in 1949,
I asked him how many cases there are in Pali, as I feared that I
would have to memorise declensions as in Latin. He very
tactfully said that there are no cases. I was surprised and curious,
and requested him to start lessons immediately. Straight away we
got down to making sentences which, lesson after lesson, became
longer, more interesting and complex. These exercises were such
fun that I thoroughly enjoyed learning Pali. Mr. Berugoda
compiled a Pali Grammar in Sinhala called Pali Subodhini, to
teach me and it was later published in the early 1950’s. Ithas long
been out of print and even I do not possess a copy.
In the early 1980s Mr. Berugoda compiled another Pali
Grammar in Sinhala which he said was an improvement on Pali
Subodhini, and wished me to translate it into English. Though it
was translated with the help of Prof. P.B. Meegaskumbura of the
Department of Sinhala, I was not satisfied with the arrangement
of the lessons. I felt that the improvements he made in his
enthusiasm were counter-productive, but I did not have the heart
to tell him my frank opinion. The book however could not be
published for lack of funds.
The present work is an entirely new effort based on the
same principle of teaching grammar through composition, using
a gradually expanding controlled vocabulary, selected on the
basis of types frequently occurring in the language. Cases are
introduced one by one using only masculine nouns ending in -a
at the beginning, with exercises in sentence formation with
present tense, third person, singular and plural verbs whose bases
end in -a. Grammatical forms such as the gerund / absolutive and
the infinitive, which are very frequent in the language, are soon
introduced to enable the student to form longer and more com-
plex sentences. Once the student has mastered the basic struc-
ture, other grammatical and syntactical forms are taught one by
one, following the principle of introducing forms which bear a
similarity / affinity in morphology to those already learnt.
Translations from and into Pali form an integral part of each
This book is meant for beginners and gives only an introduction
to Pali grammar. It is designed as a convenient stepping stone
to more advanced works such as A.K. Warder’s Introduction to Pali.
I have freely drawn from the vocabulary collected by Ven.
A.P. Buddhadatta in The New Pali Course Part I, for which I
acknowledge my indebtedness.
I place on record my sincere thanks to my University Guru
Prof. N.A. Jayawickrema for going through the first draft of this
text with meticulous care and making valuable suggestions.
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