Case Marker: Le


Now that we have gone over what case markers are, we shall now look at them one by one and see how they function in a Nepali sentence. As a reminder, case markers appear after the case and are adjoined to the case itself, so instead of saying “in Rome”, you would say “Romein”. The first case we shall be looking over is the nominative case, or more precisely, looking at the case marker ले (le), which serves many functions more than the nominative. 

Now comes the step where we begin to unlearn and learn the things previously said. Wait, what? Isn’t ले (le) a nominative case marker? Well, not so simple. Nepali isn’t strictly Nominative-Accusative as languages like English or German, but not quite Ergative-Absolutive like Basque. It is somewhere in the middle, having feature of both while not being part of either. In precise terms,  ले (le) would be considered to be somewhat of an ergative marker, but I shall not be bothering you as to why and when, but rather show you how it functions in a sentence.

To understand how it works, however, we need to understand a few key properties of a verb, namely, what constitutes an action, or in specific terms, define what transitivity is.


भात (bhāt) = Rice
खानु (khānu) = To eat
सुत्नु (sutnu) = To sleep
लेखक (lekhak) = Writer
किताब (kitāb) = Book
लेख्नु (lekhnu) = To write
माछा मार्नु (māchā mārnu) = To catch fish [lit. to kill fish]
खीर (khīr) = Porridge
पकाउनु (pakāunu) = To cook
स्याउ (syāu) = Apple
छुरी (churī) = Knife
काट्नु (kāṭnu) = To cut
कलम (kalam) = Pen
युद्ध (yuddha) = War
चलाख (calākh) = Clever
सोच (soc) = Thought
जित्नु (jitnu) = To win
कागज (kāgaj) = Paper
बन्नु (bannu) = To be made
पानी (pānī) = Water
भिज्नु (bhijnu) = To be made wet
छाला (chālā) = Skin
घाम (ghām) = Sun
पोल्नु (polnu) = To burn
गर्नु (garnu) = To do
कविता (kavitā) = Poem
मात्र (mātra) = Only
राम्रो (rāmro) = Good


Verbs come in many different shapes and sizes, and by this point, I am sure you know what a subject is. In the following sentence:
Benedict eats cake.
[Subject + Verb + Object]

The subject is the doer of an action. This last part, about “”doing something”, is very important thing to realise because when you indicate an action being done, you are using a verb. Mostly, you have the action “being done” on something, which in this case is the “cake”, which is called the object. Now, there are some sentences that indicate you doing something, but it does not quite take up an object:
Benedict sleeps.
[Subject + Verb]

What is important here to realise is that even though the subject (Benedict) is doing something (sleeps), the verb does not take up an object. The verb “sleep” is not acting upon anything, unlike the verb “eat” which was acting on “cake”. So, you cannot say something like:
Benedict sleeps (?)cake.
[Subject + Verb + (?)Object]

What you have just witnessed in all glory is the concept of transitivity, or the property of verbs which determines if they can take up an object or not to make sense. When referring to an object here, it usually refers to something more strictly known as direct object, which we shall be looking at later. For now, object should do fine.

Verbs which need or can take up an object, just like the first one, are called transitive verbs, while verbs which do not take up an object, like the second one, are called intransitive verbs

Transitive verbs include (but not limited to): eat, write, hit, drink, cut
Intransitive verbs include (but not limited to): sleep, laugh, flow, run, die

A trick to differentiate between them is to ask the question “what?”. For example, “what do I cut?” can be answered with an object “paper”, making it a transitive verb, while intransitive verbs do not give an answer, “what do I flow?”.


The most common function of ले (le) is to mark the subject in certain time aspects, thus functions as the subject marker. What is a subject again? A subject is the doer of an action, so it is vital that something needs to be done, at least in Nepali terms:
Benedict eats cake.
[Subject + verb + object]

Why is it vital that something needs to be done? That is because ले (le) only marks subjects if the verb is transitive. Remember that transitive verbs take up an object, so that the action is being done on something.

Now, if only life were that simple, and I can wrap up and say “Well, that’s all about ले (le), pack up your bags” because it isn’t. The truth is much greasier, as in it marks the subject of a transitive verb-having sentence about 50:50-ish. This is because not every time aspect can be marked, and time is very important to help you tell what event happened when. What does this imply?

This means that ले (le) is not used every time the subject pops up. Namely, the only “time” (pun intended) you can use ले (le) to mark your subject are these:

  • Past Indefinite Tense
  • Past Perfect Tense
  • Past Unknown Tense
  • Present Perfect Tense
  • Future Perfect Tense

As you can see, not every subject of every tense is marked, so you do not mark the subject in, let’s say, present indefinite tense. For the ones listed above however, you have to use ले (le) to mark the subject, otherwise it goes unmarked. Take the following examples:
बेनेडिक्ट भात खान्छ (beneḍikṭ bhāt khāncha)
Benedict eats rice
[Benedict + rice + eats]

The above sentence is in present indefinite tense, so the subject “Benedict” (in bold) is unmarked by ले (le). Now, what if you wanted to say that in past indefinite tense? 
बेनेडिक्टले भात खायो (beneḍikṭ-le bhāt khāyo)
Benedict ate rice
[Benedict (+) le-case marker + rice + ate]

As you can see, the subject is marked with the case marker ले (le) to indicate that it is doing something in that regard in transitive cases. This cannot however be done with intransitive verbs, as mentioned earlier. Take the following sentence:
बेनेडिक्ट सुत्छ (beneḍikṭ sutcha)
Benedict sleeps
[Benedict + sleeps]

The verb sleep (sutcha) is intransitive and the sentence is in present indefinite tense, which does not take on the subject marker ले (le). However, since the verb is intransitive, you still say the following in past indefinite tense:
बेनेडिक्ट सुत्यो (beneḍikṭ sutyo
Benedict slept
[Benedict + slept] 

Instead of saying the following:
बेनेडिक्टले सुत्यो (beneḍikṭ-le sutyo
Benedict slept (?)
[Benedict (+) le-case marker + slept] 

Which would be completely incorrect because ले (le) is not used in intransitive aspects. Here are some more examples to illustrate how ले (le) is used as a subject marker:
लेखकले किताब लेख्यो (lekhak-le kitāb lekhyo) [past indefinite]
Writer wrote (a) book
[writer (+) le-case marker + book + wrote]

उसले माछा मारेको छ (us-le māchā māreko cha) [present perfect]
He has killed (a) fish (literal, figuratively would be “caught a fish”)
[he (+) le-case marker + fish +killed + has]

Wait, wait, why is it उसले (us-le) and not ऊले (ū-le)? This is a phenomenon called pronoun oblique case, which we will be looking at later. For short now, it is just like how “he” and “him” works. Basically, adding certain case markers to certain pronouns change the base form of the pronoun, as how adding ले (le) changed the ऊ (ū) into an उस (us). Adding ले (le) to म (ma) turns it into मै (mai):
मैले खीर पकाएछु (mai-le khīr pakāechu) [past unknown]
cooked porridge, I didn’t know that
[I (+) le-case marker + porridge + cooked, I didn’t know that]


The second function of ले (le) is to show the instrument, not as in a piano or a guitar, but as in showing how the action being done is achieved by. In simple terms, an instrument marker marks the instrument in a sentence, which is basically anything that achieves or accomplishes an action, whether this be a real or an abstract concept. For example:
I cut (the) apple with (a) knife.
[Subject + verb + object + instrument]

In the sentence above, the subject (I) is doing something (cut) to an object (the apple) with an instrument (a knife). It is important to notice that the action is done solely with the help of the instrument, so it is necessary for you to mark this with ले (le). Note that the sentence is in present indefinite tense so the subject (I) is not being marked with ले (le):
म स्याउ छुरीले काट्छु (ma syāu churī-le kāṭchu)
[I + apple + knife (+) le-case marker + cut]

Here is another sentence:
बेनेडिक्टले किताब कलमले लेख्यो (beneḍikṭ-le kitāb kalam-le lekhyo)
= Benedict wrote (a) book with (a) pen
[Benedict (+) le-case marker + book + pen (+) le-case marker + wrote]

Note the two ले (le) in the sentence, the first being the subject marker as the tense is past indefinite, while the second is to show the instrument of the action. When there are two ले (le), it is always important to keep the subject first and the instrument after the first or elsewhere, otherwise it will be hard to understand the pragmatic meaning without mentally clarifying the otherwise eccentric sentence structure.

The instrument does not necessarily need to be an actual object. It can be an abstract concept, for example:
म यो युद्ध चलाख सोचले जित्छु (ma yo yuddha calākh soc-le jitchu)
= I win this war with clever thought
[I + this + war + clever + thought (+) le-case marker + win]


There are other functions of ले (le), which are often a part of a bigger verbal construction. The following far more advanced that the scope of this lesson, so you may wish to skip this out, but just for a general idea in the future, you can proceed to read further. This is an expansion of the instrumental marker function of ले (le), as an instrument can mean many things.

Use with verb-eko to denote composition or framework

When a word marked by ले (le) is followed by a verb in its –eko form, it usually denotes the composition of the subject, or the action of the word marked by ले (le) affecting the subject in some way (like a framework). For example:
कागजले बनेको (kāgaj-le baneko
= Made of paper
[paper (+) le-case marker + made]

यो किताब पानीले भिजेको हो (yo kitāb pānī-le bhijeko ho)
= This book is (made) wet by water
[this + book + water (+) le-case marker + wet + is]

Use with verb-dā to denote cause or reason

When a word marked by ले (le) is followed by a verb in its – form, it usually denotes a cause or a reason for something that happened or happens. The verb choice for denoting such a cause is usually गर्नु (garnu), although other verbs also denote some form of reason or action. For example:
मेरो छाला घामले गर्दा पोल्यो (mero chālā ghām-le gardā polyo)
= My skin (got) burnt by (the) doing of (the) sun [literal]
= My skin was burnt due to the sun
 [my + skin + sun (+) le-case marker + doing + burnt]

कविता जनले मात्र लेख्दा राम्रो हुन्छ (kavitā jan-le mātra lekhdā rāmro huncha)
= Poem is nice only (if) John writes (it)
[poem + John (+) le-case marker + only + writes + good + is]

In the statement above, the reason for goodness of the poem can be seen as a product of John’s action, such that its outcome is determined by whether John undertakes an action or not.


  • Case marker ले (le) serves primarily as the subject marker in certain aspects and as the instrument marker.
  • Transitivity is the property of verbs which determines if they can take up an object or not to make sense.
  • Verbs which need or can take up an object are called transitive verbs.
  • Verbs which do not take up an object are called intransitive verbs.
  • The most common function of ले (le) is to mark the subject in certain time aspects, thus functions as the subject marker.
  • ले (le) can mark the subject in the following tenses: Past Indefinite Tense, Past Perfect Tense, Past Unknown Tense, Present Perfect Tense, Future Perfect Tense
  • Sometimes, when pronouns are marked with case markers, the base form changes. This is called the pronoun oblique case
  • The other function is to act as an instrument marker, which marks the instrument in a sentence, which is basically anything that achieves or accomplishes an action.
  • When a word marked by ले (le) is followed by a verb in its –eko form, it usually denotes the composition of the subject.
  • When a word marked by ले (le) is followed by a verb in its – form, it usually denotes a cause or a reason for something that happened or happens.


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