Can I? Should I? and Shall I?…in Sinhala (Part 1/3)

Can Shall Should -P1-1What if I told you, that by the end of this 3-part blog post series, you’ll know how to structure each of the following 8 types of sentences?

  1. Can I…?
  2. Could I….?
  3. May I…?
  4. Should I…?
  5. Must I…?
  6. Do I have to…?
  7. Do I need to…?
  8. Shall I…?

…and what if I told you that with the short-cuts and tips I’ll give you, it’s going be a walk in the (Viharamahadevi) park for you?

Oh boy, have I got your attention now… :)


It all comes down to what I’ve already told you on my About Page:

By deconstructing spoken Sinhala into its most important bits, we can discover common patterns across different areas that we can then group together.

Whoop-dee-doo, but what’s the point of doing this?

Because by grouping different areas based a common set of rules, we minimize the amount of “new” rules we need to learn. No point taxing your brain unnecessarily, right?

So to come back to the above 8 sentence types, the great news is that when expressing them in Sinhala, some of them use the SAME words and SAME sentence structure, making our lives much easier.

Based on these common set of rules, I’ve bunched them into the 3 following groups;

Can I Should I Shall I Groups-1


So although there are 8 types of sentences above, by putting them into 3 groups, we only have to learn 3 sets of rules!


So relax, stay focused, and I’ll show you the simplest way to learn all 3.


1. The “Can I?” Group

This group consists of:

  1. “Can I…?”
  2. “Could I…?”
  3. “May I…?”

As mentioned above, in spoken Sinhala, we use the same words and sentence structure to express the above 3.

Let’s learn what these words are:


Learning to ask “Can I?”, “Could I?”, and “May I?”

Let’s first learn how to say the positive statements, “I can”, “I could”, and “I may”:

“I can” / “I could” / “I may”

ma∙tȧ   pu∙lu∙wan


(Note that this literally reads as “for me, can”)

Now, if you remember from Episode 3 of the Sinhala Video Tutorials, I gave you a simple rule to convert a positive statement into a question, which I have reproduced below:


To convert a positive statement into a question, we simply add dhȧ? to the end:

[Positive Statement] + dhȧ? = [Question]

Using the above grammar rule, we can now convert the previous positive statements into the question form, which will be “Can I?”, “Could I?”, and “May I?”

“Can I?” / “Could ?” / “May I?”

ma∙tȧ   pu∙lu∙wan∙dhȧ?


(Note that this literally reads as “for me, can?”)




Example: Learning to ask “Can I eat?”, “Could I eat?”, and “May I eat?”

The relevant grammar rule for asking these type of questions is as follows:


Whenever we ask “Can I…?”, “Could I…?”, and “May I…?” type of questions we will take the infinitive of the verb and place it between ma∙tȧ and pu∙lu∙wan∙dhȧ?:

ma∙tȧ + [infinitive of the verb] + pu∙lu∙wan∙dhȧ?

The infinitive of “eat” (which in English is “to eat”) is kan∙nȧ in Sinhala. Therefore…

“Can I / Could I / May I eat?”ma∙tȧ   kan∙nȧ   pu∙lu∙wan∙dhȧ?      


Et voila! That’s all for the “Can I?” Group.

But before we end Part 1 of this blog-post series, let’s look at some other similar examples that you can already start using.

Here are more infinitives of some common verbs:

  • “to drink”: bon∙nȧ
  • “to come”: én∙nȧ
  • “to go”: yan∙nȧ
  • “to help”: u∙dhauw kȧ∙ran∙nȧ
  • “to ask”: a∙han∙nȧ

Using these infinitives, we can now construct the following sentences using the exact same guidelines as above:


“Can I / Could I / May I…

…eat something?”ma∙tȧ   mo∙nȧ∙va∙ha∙ri   kan∙nȧ   pu∙lu∙wan∙dhȧ?      
…drink some water?”ma∙tȧ   va∙thu∙rȧ   pod∙dak   bon∙nȧ   pu∙lu∙wan∙dhȧ?      
…come in?”ma∙tȧ   ae∙thu∙lȧ∙tȧ   én∙nȧ   pu∙lu∙wan∙dhȧ?      
…go?ma∙tȧ   yan∙nȧ   pu∙lu∙wan∙dhȧ?      
…go with you?”ma∙tȧ   o∙yaath   ék∙kȧ   yan∙nȧ   pu∙lu∙wan∙dhȧ?      
…help you?”ma∙tȧ   o∙yaa∙tȧ   u∙dhauw   kȧ∙ran∙nȧ   pu∙lu∙wan∙dhȧ?      
…ask you a question?”ma∙tȧ   o∙yaa∙gén   prash∙nȧ∙yak   a∙han∙nȧ   pu∙lu∙wan∙dhȧ?      


And that’s the end of Part 1.

If you’ve understood everything so far, take a short break and then go ahead to Part 2.

If not, leave your questions below and I’ll get back to you with an answer.

Enroll for free in my new Sinhala email course!

Click below to begin a personalized 8-lesson course that'll teach you the most useful concepts to get you started on your Sinhala adventure.

17 Responses to Can I? Should I? and Shall I?…in Sinhala (Part 1/3)

  1. Wendy July 13, 2013 at 11:39 #

    Oyaath – with you.
    Oyaagen – from you.
    Oyaata – ?

    I’m trying to compile a list of the conjugations of the personal pronouns.
    Maybe an idea for a post? Or am I requesting to much grammar? :)

    I love these three posts, by the way. I’ve read them three times now, they’re very helpful!

    • Dilshan Jayasinha July 13, 2013 at 12:26 #

      Hi Wendy,

      Nice to hear from you again.

      Here is quick breakdown for you (with an easy example for each):

      o∙yaa = informal “you”
      (Example: o∙yaa ‘Wendy’ = “You are Wendy”)

      o∙yaath = “you also” or “you too”
      (Example: o∙yaath ‘Wendy’ = “You are also Wendy”)

      o∙yaath ék∙kȧ = “with you”
      (Example: ma∙mȧ o∙yaath ék∙kȧ ya∙nȧ∙va = “I am going with you”)

      o∙yaa∙gé = “your”
      (Example: mḗ∙kȧ o∙yaa∙gé = “This is yours”)

      o∙yaa∙gén = “from you”
      (Example: mḗ∙kȧ o∙yaa∙gén = “This is from you”)

      o∙yaa∙tȧ = “to you” or “for you”
      (Example: me∙kȧ o∙yaa∙tȧ = “This is to you” or “This is for you”)

      Actually, this is not a bad idea for blog post. Thanks!

      Let me know if it’s more clear now?

  2. Wendy July 13, 2013 at 13:24 #

    Okay! This is much better. I’m assuming I can just do this with the other personal pronouns?

    Eyaath Dilshan. You are also Dilshan.

    Eka oyaalata. That is for you(pl).

    With the exception of api?

    • Dilshan Jayasinha July 13, 2013 at 15:19 #

      ḗ∙kȧ o∙yaa∙la∙tȧ is indeed “That is for you(pl)” – Well done!


      é∙yaath ‘Dilshan’ means “He/she is also Dilshan” (not “You are also Dilshan”). You came very close.

      a∙pi is exactly like with o∙yaa for most of cases. For example:

      a∙pith = “We also” or “We too”
      (Example: a∙pith bél∙ji∙yȧ∙mén = “We are also from Belgium”)

      a∙pith ék∙kȧ = “With us”
      (Example: ‘Wendy’ a∙pith ék∙kȧ ya∙nȧ∙va = “Wendy is going with us”)

      a∙pi∙tȧ = “to us” or “for us”
      (Example: me∙kȧ a∙pi∙tȧ = “This is to us” or “This is for us”)

      Here’ what I’m going to do this weekend. I’ll make a table of all the main pronouns with the variations of gén, tȧ, ith, etc. and send it out by email to all subscribers. Thanks for inspiring the idea.

      • Laurence August 30, 2015 at 10:21 #

        Hi Dilshan,

        I’ve just been reading through this blog post, and was wondering if you could send me that table you talked about above ? I know it dates back a while, bu maybe you still have it ? Thanks !

        • Dilshan Jayasinha September 1, 2015 at 18:29 #

          I honestly can’t find it! And I can’t remember doing it either. Maybe it’s a sign that I’ve done too many of these. Can’t keep track. I’ll keep searching.

  3. abrar December 12, 2013 at 19:47 #

    hi Dilshan thanks for your effort to help in learning Sinhala I need your help in above sentences In Sinhala “mama” is used for I but in above sentences “mata” is used for I i.e 8 – “I don’t feel well” ma∙tȧ sa∙nee∙pȧ nǣ I don’t understand” ma∙tȧ thḗ∙rén∙né nǣ please explane it

    • eranya January 25, 2016 at 11:48 #

      I too have the same doubt…how mama becomes mata? pl clarify,Jay.this is Eranya…with regards.

  4. abrar December 23, 2013 at 13:46 #

    please send me too the table of main pronouns with the variations of gén, tȧ, ith, etc

  5. Ravi May 25, 2015 at 16:01 #

    Good Job Dilshan. – Ravi

  6. wesley November 28, 2015 at 19:36 #

    A question about the pronounciation of V versus W.

    In the above example about drinking some water, in the “slow” version vatura sounds as a V.

    In the fast version however, it sounds as a W.

    Which is it? Can both be used? Does it depend on the previous word or something like that?


    • Dilshan Jayasinha November 30, 2015 at 07:37 #

      I know I know, the truth is I don’t have a hard & fast rule about the ‘v’ & ‘w’. I wouldn’t get hung up on it too much though, most Sinhala words use a sound almost in between a ‘v’ and ‘w’. Will think about this further and come back to you with a more clear answer.

  7. Sabine May 16, 2016 at 10:06 #

    Dear Dilshan,

    I don’t understand the different between o∙yaa∙tȧ and o∙yaa∙gén in the sentences
    ‘ma∙tȧ o∙yaa∙tȧ u∙dhauw kȧ∙ran∙nȧ pu∙lu∙wan∙dhȧ?’ and ‘ma∙tȧ o∙yaa∙gén prash∙nȧ∙yak a∙han∙nȧ pu∙lu∙wan∙dhȧ?’

    I know o∙yaa∙tȧ=to you/for you and o∙yaa∙gén=from me

    Kind regards,

    • Dilshan Jayasinha May 16, 2016 at 10:43 #

      Sabine, o∙yaa∙gén = from you (not “me”). Does that clear it up for you? Or let me know if there’s still something unclear.

  8. AB November 26, 2017 at 17:59 #

    Hi Dilshan,

    Sadhu for another great post. Was wondering how to tell the difference between the imperative form and the infinitive forms? For example, ‘to come’ seems to be given as ‘én∙nȧ’ and ‘come’ also seems to use the same word.

    Much appreciation for any clarification.


    • Dilshan Jayasinha December 12, 2017 at 23:59 #

      Hi AB, in spoken Sinhala, the infinitive and the imperative are the same. You’ll see this happening in my verb posts starting with this one:

Leave a Reply