In learning about the three Buddhist marks of existence - referred to by the Sanskrit words anatman (lack of permanent self), anitya (impermanence) and dukkha (suffering) - I was interested to learn that "anatman" comes from an- as in "not" and "atman" as in "soul". Literally "no soul" - it seems like a similar morphological construction to words in English prefaced with a- or an-.

I was wondering if "anitya" shared a similarly interesting etymology, but I wasn't able to find one on Wiktionary or through Googling.

Does anyone know where the Sanskrit word "anitya" comes from?

  • I have edited the title to bring out the comparativist content of this interesting question.
    – fdb
    Jul 13, 2021 at 18:07
  • I'm not sure why - was the question as it stood OT? The title now doesn't make sense in relation to the answer you've provided.
    – Lou
    Jul 14, 2021 at 8:26
  • 1
    Feel free to change it back. I was only trying to discourage further "close" votes.
    – fdb
    Jul 14, 2021 at 8:46

1 Answer 1


anitya is a compound of the negative prefix a- and nitya- “lasting, permanent”.

As you point out, the negative particle is an- before a vowel and a- before a consonant (as here). English words with negative a- and an- are all borrowings from Greek, and those with in- (im- etc.) are from Latin (like "impermanence"). The authentic English cognate is un-.

  • 1
    But Greek and Sanskrit a(n)-, Latin in-, and Germanic un- (and Slavonic ne-) all derive from the same Indo-European privative prefix ṇ-
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 13, 2021 at 18:23
  • @ColinFine. Yes. Did I say anything different?
    – fdb
    Jul 13, 2021 at 20:00
  • I see that my But could be read as disagreeing with you - I didn't mean it that way. I meant "And, further,"
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 13, 2021 at 20:03
  • No, the negative particle" is *ne > Skr. *ni. *.n is it's binding form, but devanagari has a habbit of contracting phrases into words, so that invariant reduplication with -ni- should be expected, right?
    – vectory
    Aug 12, 2021 at 5:54

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