Verb Conjugation: Hunu


To be or not to be, that is the lesson: whether it is nobler in the mind to decipher an important verb in Nepali, or skip it altogether. While I am no Shakespeare, the verb we are about to discuss is of utmost importance, because it helps us define or describe an entity’s properties.

The verb is ‘to be’, which in Nepali is हुनु (hunu). Why is it important? Basically speaking, hunu is what linguists call a ‘copula’. A copula is a word that helps link a subject with its complement (with an ‘e’ and not an ‘i’), such that the subject is the word used. In this case, since our copula is a verb, we can also call it a copulative verb. Copula helps us connect two things in a sentence, either defining or describing the subject in question. Take the following sentences that use the copula ‘to be’:

The sky is blue. [Of the sky, its description is blue]
am John. [About myself, that person is John]

The verb is extremely irregular, as in the case of copulas in many languages. While English and Nepali both have only one copulative verb, Nepali has two forms of the copula for the past tense, three for present and one for future, whose meanings change according to the tense used. Nepali also inflects the verb heavily, so please do take care while conjugating verbs. Before we learn the different types of copula, it is important to learn the factors that Nepali considers before using the copula.


As discussed in Sentence Structure, a sentence that employs a copula in Nepali appears in the following order:

Subject + Subject Complement + Copula
ऊ जन हो (ū jan ho)
[he + John + is]
He is John.

The subject complement (can also be called as the predicate) is the word that either renames or subject or describes now. When you dig in deeper, you will see that renaming or describing something are actions that talk more about the fundamental nature of the subject. In other words, what you want to address is either the essence or the state of the subject.

Take the following statements:

  1. He is John.
  2. He is tall.

In statement 1, what you want to talk about is that the person ‘he’ is actually John, or that ‘he’ and ‘John’ are the same people. In the first statement, you do not introduce two different ideas, but rather show that the two seemingly different ideas are really just the same thing. The subject and subject complement are identical. If you look at it in this way, you may also call it as renaming the subject, as you are presenting the same thing in just another word.

In statement 2, what you want to talk about is that the person introduced ‘he’ has an associated property, that being ‘tall’. These two can exist independently and thus can be mutually exclusive to each other; they are two vastly different ideas. The subject and subject complement are not identical, but rather that the subject currently has a property that is conveyed by the subject complement. If you look at it in this way, you may call the whole process as describing the subject. 

Thus, we come to the definitions of essence and state; statement 1 conveys the essence of the subject, while statement 2 conveys the state of the subject. In short, the essence is the immutable description of the subject so that it has a one-one correspondence, while the state is the description of the subject’s features that do not have a one-one correspondence. Mind you that while it is somewhat similar to Romance languages (sum– vs sto-), it is not exactly identical and thus should not be applied as such. 


हो (ho)

I know what you are all thinking; the word is rather eerily similar to an English word of the same spelling. While the English word does carry a negative connotation, this one does not because it is a rather fundamental part of a sentence. So, please bear with me and understand that Nepali people are not really degrading people after every other sentence, but rather expressing a statement.

हो (ho) is the definer. It renames things to show that in essence, the subject and the subject complement are really the same thing. It is defining the subject, such that one can be familiar with it with another namesake. Take the following statements:

  1. am John.
  2. She is (the) doctor.
  3. You are (a) student.
  4. My name is Sarah.

In each of the above cases, you are making a statement by introducing two elements, namely the subject (leftmost word) and the subject complement (rightmost word). Now, by using the copula ‘to be’ (or its various forms), you are showing that the two concepts are essentially the same. You are renaming the subject, such that you show the subject complement is really the subject as well. In Nepali, the statements would be:

  1. म जन हुँ (ma jan hum̐) [Note that using ho is also acceptable]
  2. ऊ चिकित्सक हो (ū cikitsak ho)
  3. तिमी विद्यार्थी हौ (timī vidyārthī hau)
  4. मेरो नाम सारा हो (mero nām sārā ho)

In simple terms, when you say that A B ho, then you are saying that A is in essence, B, and thus can be said that A and B are the same objects. In the first statement, you are renaming ‘I’ as ‘John’. In the second statement, you are saying that ‘She’ is essentially the same as ‘(the) doctor’. In the third statement, you are saying that ‘you’ and ‘student’ are in essence, same. In the fourth statement, you are saying that ‘your name’ and ‘Sarah’ are essentially identical concepts.

Care must be taken that the verb does conjugate according to the subject as well, like all the other Nepali verbs. 

म जन हुँ (ma jan hum̐) [first person]
= I am John.

तिमी जन हौ (timī jan hau) [second person, medium respect]
= You are John.

You can find out the various forms of the conjugation in the spreadsheet here.

छ (cha)

छ (cha) is the describer. It describes an object’s characteristics, states, location, or possession. Aside from showing characteristics, it is also used to show that an object exists. Thus it can be said that it shows the state and existence of an object. Note that the characteristics and states an object can take vary; factors include temperature, size, weight, shape, colour etc.

When used with appropriate case markers or postpositions, it can also be used to show existence. Chief among these case markers are सँग (sam̐ga), which is the Nepali equivalent of with, and मा () which is the Nepali equivalent of on. When used this way, the first can also mean ‘to have’ in the sense of ‘I am in possession of an object’ and the second can mean ‘An object is on another object’.

  1. House is red. [describing colour]
  2. You are tall. [describing size]
  3. Here is (a) house. [describing location, or showing that the house exists ‘here’]
  4. Today is hot. [describing temperature/ state of weather]
  5. With me is (a) pen. [displaying possession] = I have (a) pen.
  6. Pen is on (the) book. [showing location]

In each of the sentences above, you are describing some property of the subject. For example, the first statement is describing the house as having the property of being ‘red’. In each of the sentences, the subject and the subject complement are related, but they are not exactly identical. Rather, the subject has the property of the subject complement but at the same time, are not the complement. They are independent of each other. Word for word, the Nepali statements that lead to the above sentences are below:

  1. घर रातो छ (ghar rāto cha)
  2. तिमी अग्लो छौ (timī aglo chau)
  3. यहाँ घर छ (yahām̐ ghar cha)
  4. आज गर्मी छ (āja garmī cha)
  5. मसँग कलम छ (ma-sam̐ga kalam cha)
  6. कलम किताबमा छ (kalam kitāb-mā cha)

When you say that A B cha, you are saying that A has the property of being ‘B’-like, or that B is the description of A. It can also mean that A has B in its existence, or that A has the possession of B. In the first statement, the ‘house’ has the property of being ‘red’. In the second statement, ‘you’ have the property of being ‘tall’. In the third statement, ‘here’ has a ‘house’ in its existence, or that the ‘house’ exists in a location called ‘here’. In the fourth statement, ‘today’ has the property of being ‘hot’. In the fifth statement, ‘with you’ is the possession of a ‘pen’. In the sixth statement, the ‘pen’ exists on the ‘book’, or that the ‘pen’ is on the ‘book’.

You should take care of the conjugation according to the subject, but when you use the postposition sam̐ga, the perspective will always be in third person thus takes up third-person conjugation. That is because sam̐ga does not take a nominative case and thus, cannot determine the verb conjugation.

हुन्छ (huncha)

हुन्छ (huncha) is the weird one here; although it is a conjugation of hunu, it does not always connote the meaning of ‘to be’. It could also mean ‘to become’ or ‘to happen’. It is also used to state facts or ideas that are generally known or holds for the given subject. When you are describing facts this way, the complement will always be a quality-describing word, sending a meaning of ‘Generally speaking, X is Y’. It is also used to affirm a statement, indicating whether the subject is okay or not.  

In Nepali, the present tense can also be used to denote the future. Although we have dedicated future tense, it is more likely for people to state the general future with the present tense. This is especially true with ‘huncha’, as it is also used to describe things that will ‘become’ or ‘happen’. This is why translations often include ‘will’ to provide some context behind the translation. Now, let’s look at a few sentences in English where ‘huncha’ will be used in Nepali:

  1. He (will) become(s) (a) doctor. [to become]
  2. (The) eclipse happens today. [to happen]
  3. In cold (temperatures), water becomes / is cold. [stating facts]
  4. Houses of this village are red. [stating claims that applies in a general sense to the entity being talked about here]
  5. Blue (item) is right/fine. [describing affirmation]

In each of the sentences above, you are either describing events that will happen, become or stating general claims. It has also been used to describe affirmation, as to indicate whether something ‘belongs’ well or not to your ideals. 

  1. ऊ डाक्टर हुन्छ (ū ḍākṭar huncha)
  2. आज ग्रहण हुन्छ (āja grahaṇ huncha)
  3. चिसोमा पानी चिसो हुन्छ (ciso-mā pānī ciso huncha)
  4. यो गाउँका घरहरू रातो हुन्छन् (yo gāum̐-kā ghar-harū rāto hunchan)
  5. निलो ठीक हुन्छ (nilo ṭhīk huncha)

In the first statement, ‘he’ becomes a ‘doctor’, indicating he is not a doctor yet will soon will become one. In the second statement, the ‘eclipse’ will occur ‘today’, describing an event that occurs. In the third statement, ‘water’ is described as ‘cold’, along with a condition ‘in cold (weather)’. This describes a fact that cannot be negated, or denotes some property that occurs when certain conditions are met. In the fourth statement, ‘houses’ are ‘red’ along with the condition ‘in this village’. Huncha can also be used to describe the habits or features of something like a group (or an individual) in general. By using so, you describe that the quality is a ‘feature’ and not only a state it currently possesses. This also indicates a type of habitual existence in this sense. In the fifth statement, ‘blue’ is being ‘fine’, indicating an affirmation to your thoughts currently. Note that apart from statement 1, the complement is almost always an adjective or an adverb.


With both cha and huncha seem to do the same thing as describing, what is the difference then? The difference is that, huncha always denotes an internal quality that cha does not describe. Cha can only describe what you can observe. Huncha on the other hand, applies that description to the species in question in a general matter-of-fact sense. For example, if I looked at a cup and was asked to describe it, I would say that it looks green and small to me. These are described using cha. However, after that I wanted to comment how cups are made of ceramic as a general matter-of-fact, so I’d say that the cup is ceramic in nature. This description of an individual trait vs. a general trait is one difference between cha and huncha. Here is an example of the subtle difference, although both sentences translate into ‘water is cold’:

पानी चिसो छ (pānī ciso cha
An observation that the water is cold currently. It could have been hot before, and might be hot later, but as of now this particular water is cold. This is an individual trait, and other water(s) may be in some other state like hot or jelly-like.

पानी चिसो हुन्छ (pānī ciso huncha)
Stating that coldness is a general trait of water. It is a persistent trait such that coldness and water have a correlation that cannot be changed otherwise. It won’t turn into something else and will remain cold as it is something the water will always be. This is a very general trait, and it applies to all water(s) out there. This is akin to describing that all stars are bigger than an atom. 

Of course, water is not always ‘cold’ through experience, so the statement is pragmatically incorrect (despite being grammatically correct). Contextually, statements such as this could describe water of a particular place instead, such as water in the Arctic sea, but it requires more supporting evidence than just a simple ‘water is cold’.


हुनेछ (hunecha)

The future form of both हो (ho), छ (cha) and हुन्छ (huncha) is हुनेछ (hunecha). This will be quite simple, as the three present forms all collapse into one word in the future (although huncha itself denotes some sense of future). In its meaning, हुनेछ (hunecha) usually means ‘will be’. Take these examples:

ऊ बाह्र वर्ष हुनेछ (ū bāhra varṣa hunecha)
= He will be twelve year(s). 

घर रातो हुनेछ (ghar rāto hunecha)
= House will be red.

लुगा ठीक हुनेछ (lugā ṭhīk hunecha)
= Clothe(s) will be fine.

In the first statement, the present form would use ho while the second would use cha. In both cases, they indicate the future and the distinction between ho and cha is lost. The third statement uses huncha, but needs more context because huncha already displays some sort of future action.

What does it mean by that? Since huncha carries a meaning of ‘to become/ to happen’, using the present tense suffices enough to indicate that one will become something or someone in the future. Using the future tense will thus indicate a very strong future, something that will happen by obligation rather than a casual statement.

Furthermore, Nepali uses present tense as if it were future tense, because all future tense conjugations denote a strong obligatory action that occurs in the future. The casual sense of a future time is thus denoted by the present tense instead, making future tenses quite obsolete compared to other two tenses. 

Personally, I would suggest not learning the future tense until much later, because it is not frequently used to denote a future action. Instead, the present tense is used.


थियो (thiyo)

Like huncha, the past form of हो (ho), छ (cha) and हुन्छ (huncha) is थियो (thiyo). However, huncha uses some other form that we will look at later. In terms of use, thiyo is basically the past form of the copula, thus denotes actions that occured in the past. Look at the following statements in English:

  1. He was John.
  2. You were (a) student.
  3. House was red.
  4. Pen was on (the) book.
  5. Blue (item) was right/fine. 

The sentences above describes locations, identities that were present in the past but is perhaps no longer the case today. 

  1. ऊ जन थियो (ū jan thiyo)
  2. तिमी विद्यार्थी थियौ (timī vidyārthī thiyau)
  3. घर रातो थियो (ghar rāto thiyo)
  4. कलम किताबमा थियो (kalam kitāb-mā thiyo)
  5. निलो ठीक थियो (nilo ṭhīk thiyo)

In the first statement, ‘he’ was ‘John’ but perhaps he’s someone else today. In the second statement, ‘you’ were a student, but you are no longer one now. In the third statement, the ‘house’ used to be red, but now it is in a different colour. In the fourth statement, the ‘pen’ was on the ‘book’ but now it is no longer there. The fifth statement finally describes an earlier affirmation, one that was given some time ago but not now. The first two statements use ‘ho’ in the present tense and the last two use ‘cha’. The last one would use ‘huncha’.

One note is that the only function of huncha carried by thiyo is when it is describing an earlier affirmation. The rest is covered up by bhayo with a caveat.

भयो (bhayo)

भयो (bhayo) is the past for of huncha, so it must follow the same rules as huncha does, except in the past. However, since huncha is also used to describe facts, general descriptions and universal truths as well, bhayo cannot be used to that respect because it would be self-contradictory.

  1. He became (a) doctor.
  2. (The) eclipse happened today.

The two properties properly carried by bhayo are that, something either happened, or became. Thus:

  1. ऊ डाक्टर भयो (ū ḍākṭar bhayo)
  2. आज ग्रहण भयो (āja grahaṇ bhayo)

The first statement covers the event of ‘he’ becoming a ‘doctor’ in the past. The second statement describes the ‘eclipse’ that happened ‘today’. In some sense, bhayo either only means ‘became’ or ‘happened’ or ‘finished’ (finished describes an action that was completed, or happened). Why can’t it be used to describe past facts, then? 

The reason why is because, just because the general statement held true in the past and now it doesn’t, does NOT mean that the past statement suddenly became false. Rather, it became a property that was something habitual to it, but is not currently. This is thus described by the past habitual conjugation of hunu, which we will view later when we learn about past conjugation. Yes, hunu as a verb be conjugated like any other verb as well! It is only that it has different forms in different tenses. 


This is a word I throw around a lot, but not really explained in depth. Basically, a universal fact is a statement which corresponds to reality regardless of time and space. For example, fire is always hot, so it is a universal fact since it corresponds to reality. Thus, you can say “आगो तातो हुन्छ (āgo tāto huncha)” to mean “Fire is hot” in a general sense but never “आगो तातो भयो (āgo tāto bhayo)” or “आगो तातो थियो (āgo tāto thiyo)” to say “Fire was hot” in contraction to the general sense established before. 

Not that both sentences above are grammatically correct. Use of the latter is acceptable, but only when you describe “Fire is hot” in the sense of an observation (thus, using cha) and not a general sense (which uses huncha). The former is also correct, but sounds very weird to a native speaker, because it would imply the fire was initially not hot, which does not correspond to reality. In this sense, it implies that the fire became hot.


  • copula is a word that helps link a subject with its complement.
  • The essence is the immutable description of the subject so that it has a one-one correspondence.
  • The state is the description of the subject’s features that do not have a one-one correspondence. 
  • हो (ho) is the definer. It renames things to show that in essence, the subject and the subject complement are really the same thing.
  • छ (cha) is the describer. It describes an object’s characteristics, states, location, or possession. Aside from showing characteristics, it is also used to show that an object exists
  • हुन्छ (huncha) is used to show actions that become or happen, and to state universal facts or statements that apply to the subject in general.
  • The past form of हो (ho), छ (cha) and हुन्छ (huncha) is थियो (thiyo). 
  • भयो (bhayo) is the past form of huncha in the sense of ‘became’ or ‘happened’. It cannot be used to negate universal facts.
  • universal fact is a statement which corresponds to reality regardless of time and space.
  • Like all verbs, every form of hunu must be conjugated so it matches the status of the subject.



0. I, John = Yes, since “I am John” is a statement linked by a copula
1. Today, Mary 
2. Mary, tall
3. House, red
4. Party, yesterday



[hochahuncha, thiyobhayo]

1. asti nayām̐ varṣa __. (day before yesterday was New year)
2. kām __. (work is completed)
3. kitāb kālo __. (book is black) 
4. ū rām __. (he is Ram) 
5. himāl aglo __. (mountain is tall)


1. She is Mary.
2. The water is blue.
3. Leaf is green. (general fact)
4. Paper was white.
5. Feast happened yesterday.



म शिशिर हो । म ७ वर्ष हुँ । मेरो किताब कालो छ । मेरो किताब घरमा छ । हिजो विदा थियो । म पछि डाक्टर हुन्छु । 
Ma śiśir ho. Ma sāt varṣa hum̐. Mero kitāb kālo cha. Mero kitāb ghar-mā cha. Hijo vidā thiyo. Ma pachi ḍākṭar hunchu 

ANSWERS (translations are purely illustrative only)

A.1. No
A.2. Yes
A.3. Yes
A.4. Yes
B.(A.2.). cha
B.(A.3.). cha
B.(2.4.). bhayo/thiyo (depends on if you want to say happened or was, respectively)
C.1. thiyo
C.2. bhayo
C.3. cha
C.4. ho
C.5. huncha
D.1. ho
D.2. cha
D.3. huncha
D.4. thiyo cha 
D.5. bhayo huncha
E.(D.1.). ऊ मेरी हो (ū merī ho)
E.(D.2.). पानी निलो छ (pānī nilo cha)
E.(D.3.). पत्ता हरियो हुन्छ (pattā hariyo huncha)
E.(D.4.). कागज सेतो थियो (kāgaj seto thiyo)
E.(D.5.). भोज हियो भयो (bhoj hiyo bhayo)
F.  I am Shishir. I am 7 years (old). My book is black. My book is at home. Yesterday was (a) holiday. I (will) later become (a) doctor.

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