Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Let's Learn Sinhalese in English 1

I have been asked about my mother tongue, Sinhala (or Sinhalese) by many foreign friends so many times. I also had written some not-so-big grammar lessons for them. However, I thought of writing some lessons to teach spoken Sinhala in English medium, for lack of (free) resources on the Internet so interested people may find useful. If you have a good understanding of English language, I am sure you will easily and quickly learn my lessons because I base my teaching of Sinhala sentence structures on English grammar/structures.

Sinhala language is used and spoken by Sri Lankans, and it is the native language of the Sinhalese, the majority race (more 70% of the population) in Sri Lanka. It is more or less the lingua franca in the country. Tamil which is the native language of southern India is also spoken by around 20% in the country.

However, due to racist and antagonistic attitudes of some factions in the society and naive personality of most rulers and policy makers in power, and subservience of the so-called intellectuals, now all the Sri Lankans (initiating from school system) are compelled to learn both the languages – Sinhala and Tamil. What is the purpose of knowing a language? Have they assessed objectively how multilingualism would affect mass media, education system, etc in a small geographic area/country like Sri Lanka? Being multi-lingual is in fact a good thing, but that importance or passion should have been felt by each individual. This is lame politics, so I put it aside at the moment.

Sinhala has two distinct varieties – Spoken and Written. Spoken Sinhala is much easier and has less grammar. I am going to write about it.

To successfully learn Sinhala or any other language for that matter, you have to do a few things regularly.

1. Learn some vocabulary regularly. The more you know the common words, the more productive your language skill will be.

2. Learn the fundamental grammar points well. There will be always a little bit more however much and long you have been learning. That’s not a problem at all.

3. Practice regularly what you have learned.

In a later post, I will show how to write Sinhala letters. It’s not difficult at all because Sinhala is phonetic – that is, there is one-to-one association/map between a sound and a letter. There are 60 letters altogether (but my opinion is only around 40 letters are needed).

Until you learn Sinhala letters (alphabet), I will be using English letters to write Sinhala (this way of writing Sinhala in English alphabet is called “Singlish”). However, to match with the Sinhala phonetically, I am using the following English letters and combinations thereof (I am not using the standard phonetic alphabet for that). I have not given all the sounds below, and the ones that I have not listed are obvious.

A – as in Up
A: – as in Alms
AE – as in At
AE: – as in Anne
I – as in India
I: – as in EAst
U – as in pUt
U: – as in bOOt
E – as in pEn
E: – as in lAne
O – as in bOss
O: – as in phOne
G – as in Game
CH – as in CHair
J – as in Jar
T – as in Ten
D – as in David
TH – as in THought
DH – as in THe
NG – as in viGNette

In Sinhala, there are three special sounds called “sa’ngaka”. They are shown below. These sounds are not familiar to the English. Let’s use the following letter combinations for that, but I don’t know English words that I can give as examples. You have to listen to those sounds yourself. To sound these letters, try this - “Don’t pronounce “m” strongly; just weakly pronounce it while strongly pronouncing the letter after m”.

’mg – as in
’mb – as in
’md – as in

You know what NOUNS and VERBS are. Nouns denote something/somebody, and Verbs denote some action. First, you should learn the following Sinhala verbs and nouns. Regularly learn more words. We will be constructing Sinhala sentences mostly using them.

Noun Meaning
Amma: The mother
Tha:ththa: The father
Ayya: The elder brother
Malli The younger brother
Akka: The elder sister
Nangi: The younger sister
Gedhara The house
Pa:ra The road
Potha The book
Pae:na The pen
Bath Rice
Gasa The tree
Ka:maraya The room
Kussiya The kitchen
Lamaya: The child
Miniha: The man
Gaehaeni The woman
Pa:n bread
Si:ni Sugar
Vathura Water
Ae’mda The bed
Vaththa The garden
Kurulla: The bird
Ira The sun
Sa’mda The moon
A:dharaya The love

You should learn Sinhala nouns in its singular form as much as possible. Singular Sinahala nouns are definite automatically (that’s why I have put “the” above). Let’s see about plural nouns later.

Verb Meaning
Yanava: go
Enava: come
Kanava: eat
Dhenava: give
Gannava: take
Kiyanava: Tell/say
Ahanava: ask
Balanava: look
Karanava: do
Thiyenava: have
Liyanava: write
Kiyavanava: read
Uyanava: cook
Venava: Become, happen
Laebenava: get
Yavanava: send
Maranava: kill
Maerenava: die
Naginava: Climb up
Bahinava: Descend, get off, get down
Baninava: scold
Natanava: dance
Uganvanava: teach
Bonava: drink
A:dharaya karanava: love

Constructing a Sinhala sentence is very easy. There is no active or passive voice. You use the same sentence pattern. You don’t vary the verb to agree with the subject (doesn’t matter gender; doesn’t matter singular/plural). Here is the general sentence pattern.

Doer + Object + Verb

The doer is the agent, the noun that does the verb. You already know what object and verb are.

Amma: bath uyanava: (the mother cooks rice).
Lamaya: potha kiyavanava: (the child reads the book).

Now, you can omit either or both doer and object. Usually you can’t omit the verb. If it is a sentence, there has to be some action (verb). Hasn’t it?

Amma: uyanava: (the mother cooks).
Lamaya: kiyavanava: (the child reads).

Above as you can see we don’t have objects. Likewise, we can omit the agents instead of the objects as follows.

Bath uyanava: (rice is cooked).
Potha liyanava: (the book is read).

As you can clearly see, when the agent/doer is missing, you have to use passive voice in English. However, in Sinhala it is still the same sentence pattern – no difference between active and passive voices structurally. You may even omit both the agent and the object as follows too. I don’t know how to write it in English without both of them (so I have used a trick when giving the English meaning).

Uyanava: (‘somebody’ Cooks ‘something’).
Liyanava: (‘somebody’ Reads ‘something’).

You know when expressing an idea (or constructing a sentence), there are two levels. First level is just using the tenses (simple, continuous, perfect, and perfect continuous). You have three times of them too – past, present, and future. The second level is formed on top of the first level. Here helping verbs like can, could, must, need are used. Generally, these two levels will enable you to express most if not all ideas. In Sinhala too, you can find and follow this same method to grasp the grammar productively.

Therefore, what we have already learned is both simple and continuous tense (in present time). Verbs (as listed above) like karanava: , balanava: , natanava: are both simple and continuous in tense meaning.

You know (in English), continuous tense is used when you want to say something/action that is happening at a particular moment. And, you use simple tense to say something that happens “NOT at a particular moment”, but that happens everyday, regularly, naturally, customarily, etc.

Amma: bath uyanava: = the mother cooks rice.
= the mother is cooking rice.

Bath uyanava: = rice is cooked.
= rice is being cooked.

Uyanava: = “someone” cooks “something”.
= “someone” is cooking “something”.

As you can see, the present time verbs having both continuous and simple tense meaning end with “-nava:” . Now make some sentences using the verbs and nouns given in the above lists.

Read the Second Lesson


  1. https://thamalu.blogspot.com/2017/06/blog-post_81.html

    1. what are you trying to say with this link?

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Wow.. a marvelous idea Tek 👍. Hat off for your valuable dedication to the world..😇