The consonant letters in Nepali constitute a consonant plus an inherent vowel /a/, e.g., the consonant letter /ka/ represents the consonant /k/ and the inherent vowel /a/. The inherent vowel may be canceled by a Hal or may be overridden by a dependent vowel sign. See The Nepali writing system
for more details.
When the consonant letter has its inherent vowel intact, i.e., when the inherent vowel has not been canceled or overridden, the inherent vowel may or may not be pronounced. When the inherent vowel is not pronounced, the phenomenon is also called schwa deletion or schwa syncope.
This section presents a guide to pronouncing inherent vowel in Nepali.
Rules based on orthography
The following rules are based on orthography.
Scenarios when inherent vowel is pronounced
First letter of a word
Inherent vowel in the first letter of a word is pronounced. e.g., स /sa/ in समय /samaya/, प in पटक, म in the one-letter word म, etc.
छ, य, ह
Inherent vowel in छ, य, ह is pronounced, e.g., छ is pronounced as छ /chha/ in छत /chhaṭ/, लाञ्छना /lāñ·chha·nā/, रहेछ /rahechha/ and not as छ् /chh/. Similarly, य as य /ya/ in समय /samaya/, यस्तो /yas·ṭo/ and ह as ह /ha/ in सहयोग /sahayog/, समूह /samuha/.
Consonant letter succeeded by a dead consonant, Shirbindu or Chandrabindu
When a consonant letter loses its inherent vowel by the application of ् /hal/, it is known as a dead consonant, e.g., the presence of /hal/ after the consonant letter /ka/ results in the dead consonant क् /k/. When a consonant letter is succeeded by a dead consonant, the inherent vowel in the preceding consonant letter is pronounced.
For example, in the word कस्तो, the consonant letter क /ka/ is succeeded by the dead consonant स् /s/. In this case, the inherent vowel in /ka/ is pronounced, i.e., कस् is pronounced as कस् /kas/ and not as क्स् /ks/. Similarly, the inherent vowel in च, द and झ in the words चर्चा, सदस्य and झन् is pronounced.
Inherent vowel is pronounced also when a consonant letter is succeeded by Shirbindu or Chandrabindu, e.g., ह /ha/ in महँगो /mahaṅ·go/, स in सँग, त in तँ, स /sa/ in संयोजक /samyojak/, श in प्रशंसा, etc.
Inherent vowel in ङ्ग is pronounced, e.g., ग is pronounced as ग /ga/ and not as ग् /g/ in सङ्गठन and अङ्ग.
Inherent vowel in consonant conjuncts with त, द, ध, न, र, व and ह as the live consonant is pronounced, e.g., त in परिवर्तन and उक्त, द in सुन्दर and बन्द, ध in बन्धन and सम्बन्ध, न in जर्नल and संलग्न, र in प्रयोग and मात्र, व in स्वर and पूर्व and ह in चिन्ह.
When the dead consonant and the live consonant are the same, the inherent vowel is pronounced, e.g., म /ma/ in सम्म /sam·ma/ and प /pa/ in टिप्पणी /tip·pa·ṇi/.
When a word does not end in a consonant conjunct, the inherent vowel in the live consonant is pronounced, e.g., ण /ṇa/ in निर्णय /nir·ṇaya/ and ब /ba/ in नम्बर /nam·bar/.
Consonant letters ञ, ण, श and ष are used only in writing Sanskrit loanwords. When a word ends in a consonant conjunct and when these letters are present in the consonant conjunct, either as a dead or a live consonant, the inherent vowel is pronounced, e.g., ठ in कण्ठ, ड in खण्ड, ण in पूर्ण and उत्तीर्ण, न in प्रश्न, व in विश्व, श in आदर्श and स्पर्श, ट in कष्ट, प in पुष्प, ष in वर्ष and हर्ष. Similarly, the inherent vowel in च in पञ्च and ज in कुञ्ज is also pronounced; the only exception is the word मञ्च where the inherent vowel in च is not pronounced.
Scenarios when inherent vowel is not pronounced
Inherent vowel in ङ is not pronounced, e.g., ङ is pronounced as ङ् /ŋ/ in गुरुङ /gu·ruŋ/, रङ /raŋ/ and not as ङ /ŋa/.
घ, ण, थ, फ, व, श, ष
When a word ends in consonant letters घ, ण, थ, फ, व, श, ष and the consonant letter is not the live consonant of a consonant conjunct, the inherent vowel in the consonant letter is not pronounced, e.g., घ् /gh/ in माघ /māgh/, ण् in कारण, थ् in साथ, फ् in जवाफ, व् in मानव, श् in देश, ष् in विशेष.
Rules based on grammar
The following rules are based on grammar.
Last letter of a pronoun
Inherent vowel in the last letter of a pronoun is not pronounced. e.g., स /sa/ in यस /yas/, न /na/ in जुन /jun/, र /ra/ in हजुर /hajur/, etc. (Even though म is a pronoun, its inherent vowel is still pronounced because of the rule where inherent vowel in the first letter of a word is pronounced.)
When a word ends in a consonant conjunct, the inherent vowel in the live consonant may or may not be pronounced.
When a word ends in a consonant conjunct, the inherent vowel in the consonant conjunct is not pronounced if the word is a non-Sanskrit loanwords, e.g., क in पार्क (English), च in मार्च (English), ट in पोस्ट (English) and सिर्फ (Arabic).
In all other cases, the inherent vowel in the consonant conjunct at the end of the word is pronounced, e.g., म in जन्म, फ in तर्फ, प in भूकम्प, etc.
Inherent vowels in a conjugation (inflection of verbs) is pronounced, e.g., the inherent vowel in all three consonant letters in the word रहन /rahana/ is pronounced. बनाउन /banāuna/, भएर /bhaera/ and नभएको /nabhaeko/ are a few other examples.
When ण does not occur at the end of a root word, the inherent vowel in ण is pronounced, e.g., गणना, परिणत.