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Hua karta tha vs hotatha

In the movie 3 idiots, Aamir Khan is talking about the chowkidar that used to be in his neighbourhood. Essentially he says "there was this one watchman in the neighbourhood." But instead of saying "ekk chowkidar hotatha" he says "ekk chowkidar hua karta tha." Is there a grammatical reasoning behind this?

I'm fairly fluent in Hindi but I'm trying to brush up and fine tune my grammar. Any insight is appreciated.

October 28, 2019



It is common in Hindi to use compound verbs to introduce subtle changes in meaning.

करना, as an auxiliary verb, is used to indicate that an action was habitual. In this sentence, there isn't really a huge difference in meaning between the two sentences though the one with 'hua karta tha' sounds more natural.

I'll give another sentence to explain the difference- बचपन में राज मुर्गी खता था and बचपन में राज मुर्गी खाया करता था
Both sentences can be translated as 'Raj used to eat chicken in his childhood' but given the first sentence in the absence of context, I would take it to mean that he used to eat chicken but doesn't anymore (maybe he turned vegetarian?). On the other hand, the second sentence implies that he regularly ate chicken as a kid. Given this sentence, I wouldn't infer that he doesn't eat chicken now. It was just a childhood habit of his to eat chicken.


Thanks for the precise explanation. Could you elaborate more on the grammar: does खाया agree in gender and number with राज or with मुर्गी? In the past tense (if खाया were alone) the verb agrees with the object and the subject is followed by ने, but this is not the case here: what tense is this and how are compound verbs conjugated in general?


Since करना, when used as an auxiliary verb, indicates a habitual action, it is only used in imperfective tenses - Eg: बचपन में राज मुर्गी खाया करता था, नेहा अक्सर उनसे मिला करती है (Neha meets them often), मैं कल से रोज़ दो बार ब्रश किया करूँगा (From tomorrow, I will brush twice a day) etc. In all these tenses, the verb tends to always agree in gender and number with the subject (so राज rather than मुर्गी). But note that in compound verbs only the auxiliary verb needs to be conjugated (as you see, we use करता था, करती है, करूँगा in our examples). The main verb remains as it is (so, खाया, मिला, किया)

To answer your second question, राज मुर्गी खता था and राज मुर्गी खाया करता था (Raj used to eat chicken) are in the past imperfect tense. This tense is formally absent in English so, it is usually translated with 'used to'.

Not all past tenses conjugate transitive verbs with their objects. It's only the simple past (राज ने मुर्गी खायी-Raj ate chicken) and past perfect (राज ने मुर्गी खायी थी -Raj had eaten chicken) that do. Some other tenses like the present perfect (राज ने मुर्गी खायी है - Raj has eaten chicken) also conjugate transitive verbs with their objects.


Thanks a lot for this high level of detail.

I have a follow-up question to "The main verb remains as it is (so, खाया, मिला, किया)". Does it not depend on which auxiliary verb is used?

For example with the forms खाना takes with various auxiliary verbs:

राज मुर्गी खाता है Raj eats chicken (खाता)

राज को मुर्गी खाना है Raj has to eat chicken (खाना)

राज मुर्गी खा सकता है Raj can eat chicken (खा)

राज गुर्गी खाना चाहता है Raj wants to eat chicken (खाना)

राज गुर्गी खाया (?) करता है Raj has the habit of eating chicken (खाया)

Are there other forms than that? Are there established names for all these forms, besides the infinitive form?

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