Grammatical Number


Many languages across the world express distinction in counting. In English, words that can be counted are either singular or plural; in other languages such as Sanskrit, words can be dual as well (indicating a count of two). Some languages such as Japanese may have optional number marking as well! The category of nouns, pronouns, adjectives and verb conjugations that expresses count distinctions is called grammatical number. In English, counts are distinguished between singular (apple) and plural (apples), thus we say English only distinguishes between singular and plural. Nepali also does the same, distinguishing between singular and plural only.

Grammatical number is called वचन (vacan) in Nepali. Words other than verbs are very easy to decline for number in Nepali. The rules are very simple, even more so for nominal cases.


In English, we express a singular noun subject by not inflecting it at all. For example:

Now, if it were plural, we need to inflect it to show its number. We usually do it by adding ‘s’ after the word:

Some words in English may have irregular plural forms, such as mouse (mice), deer (deer) and radius (radii). Fortunately, Nepali does this a bit simpler, by adding only one suffix to every word that can be pluralised. This suffix is called the pluraliser.

In order to turn a singular noun into plural, we add हरू (harū) after the word (without spaces). 

For example, let’s take the Nepali word for hand i.e. हात (hāt):
हात (hāt) [singular] + हरू (harū) [pluraliser]
= हातहरू (hāt-harū)

Very simple, right? Let’s now take the Nepali word for iron (device) i.e. इस्तिरी (istirī):
इस्तिरी (istirī) + हरू (harū)
=  इस्तिरीहरू (istirīharū

The above works for every singular word, except for singular words that end in an ओ (o) sound. For such words, we need to convert the respective sound into an आ (ā) sound. Then, we add the pluraliser (optional).

There are some singular words that end in an ओ (o) sound. For example:
केटो /boy/ = keṭo 
चरो /bird/ = caro

The rule is to first convert the respective sound into an आ (ā) sound. For example:

केटो (keṭo) > केटा (keṭā) /boys/
चरो (caro) > चरा (carā) /birds/

The next step is optional. We can also add a pluraliser, or leave it out altogether. For example, the below is also equally valid:

केटा (keṭā) + हरू (harū) = केटाहरू (keṭāharū) /boys/

Note that uncountable nouns such as water and rice do not have singular and plural versions. In everyday Nepali, the converted form of some o-sound singulars (i.e. ā-sound) are also used as singular words. For example, you will hear people use ‘keṭā’ to refer to one boy, instead of using the slightly more correct ‘keṭo’. When this happens, the plural is usually the one with the pluraliser.

Pronouns follow the same rule as nouns. ऊ (ū) does not have a plural form, so you must use the plural form of उनी (unī) instead i.e. उनीहरू (unīharū). Also, you cannot pluralise first person pronouns as they cannot be declined for number. The reason why is because the words themselves are already declined for it! Generally speaking, if a pronoun already has a plural form, you do not normally decline it with the pluraliser.


Adjectives are also declined for number, though not all adjectives can be declined. The only ones you can decline are the ones that end in ओ (o) sound. Do we see where we are going with this?

Indeed, the rule is almost the same as for nouns. You convert the respective sound into an आ (ā) sound and that’s about it! Unlike nouns, you do not add the pluraliser to adjectives nor do you have the option to if you want to sound correct.

Let’s take a few examples:
रातो /red/ = rāto 
गोरो /fair-skinned/ = goro
नरम /soft/ = naram

When declined for number, you get the following. Notice the sound changes (and the lack of the pluraliser harū):
रातो (rāto) = राता (rātā)
गोरो (goro) =  गोरा (gorā)
नरम (naram) =  नरम (naram) [not declined because it does not end with the sound required]


Declining verbs for number is very complicated, such that it is beyond the scope of this lesson. We shall rather look at in verb conjugations, from where we will learn more on subject-verb agreement and other grammar titbits.


Adverbs are not declined for number. In fact, adverbs, conjunctions and a few other categories of words are called अव्यय (avyaya) in Nepali, which means ‘Indeclinable’. In simple words, they are not declined for any properties the subject may have. If you might have guessed, words that can be declined are called ‘व्यय’ (vyaya) in Nepali. 


In Nepali, it is not important to mark grammatical number in nouns, pronouns and adjectives if the quantity is already expressed in the context. In other words, number marking is not obligatory and you can do fine without it if you have already expressed the number sometime before. It is almost like saying ‘two eye’ in English, but in Nepali such would be a valid sentence as the number has already been told.

You must obligatorily mark number in verbs. This is because often, the verb is the one that carries the ‘context’ of number thus is very important to express it clearly.


  • Adding -हरू(harū) after a countable noun or pronoun that does not end in an o-sound pluralises it. Adjectives cannot take it.
  • Singular nouns and adjectives that end in an o-sound can be converted by changing the o-sound into an ā-sound. One may also add -हरू(harū) for added emphasis (again, noting it does not apply for adjectives).
  • Adverbs and some adjectives cannot be pluralised. 
  • It is not obligatory to mark number if it is clear from the context or expressed somewhere else before.



1. hand
2. विद्यार्थी (vidyārthī) /student/
3. सेतो (seto) /white/
4. पानी (pānī) /water/
5. दयालु (dayālu) /kind/
6. बाटो (bāṭo) /road/


1. मुसाहरू (musā-harū) /mice/
2. जहाजहरू (jahāj-harū) /ships/
3. छोराहरू (chorā-harū) /sons/
4. अग्ला (aglā) /tall/
5. सुन (sun) /gold/


A.1. हातहरू (hāt-harū)
A.2. विद्यार्थीहरू (vidyārthī-harū)
A.3. सेता (setā)
A.4. पानी (pānī) [Does not change because water is uncountable]
A.5. दयालु (dayālu) [Does not change because it not an o-adjective]
A.6. बाटा (bāṭā)
B.1. मुसो (muso)
B.2. जहाज (jahāj)
B.3. छोरो (choro)
B.4. अग्लो (aglo)
B.5. सुन (sun) [Does not change because gold is uncountable]

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