choose a language or topic »|Thursday, March 21, 2019
You are here: Home » Editors Picks » Sinhala
  • Follow Us!



Sinhala (සිංහල, Singhala, Singhalese, Sinhalese) belongs to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family. It is the majority language of Sri Lanka where it is spoken by 15.5 million people as a first language and by 2 million people as a second language (Ethnologue). Its closest relative is Maldivian (Diveh, Dhivehi), spoken by some 30,000 people in the Maldives.

Stone inscriptions suggest that Sinhala developed from the Prakrits, spoken vernaculars, brought to Sri Lanka by settlers from Northwestern and Northeastern India in the 5th century BCE. Because of its isolation from the other Indo-Aryan languages of mainland India, Sinhala’s development was somewhat independent. Since Tamil, the oldest of the Dravidian languages, and Sinhala have coexisted for generations, it strongly influenced Sinhala’s phonology, grammar, and vocabulary.


Sinhala is the official language of Sri Lanka, along with Tamil.


There are distinct differences between Literary and Spoken Sinhala. The most important difference between the two varieties is lack of inflected verb forms in Spoken Sinhala. Spoken Sinhala distinguishes between a formal and a colloquial variety (Rodiya). Literary Sinhala is used in all forms of writing. Formal Spoken Sinhala is used in speeches, lectures, and in the media. Colloquial Spoken Sinhala is used for informal everyday communication.


Sound system

A notable characteristic of Sinhala that distinguishes it from other Indo-Aryan languages, is the presence of prenasalized stops and lack of aspirated consonant series. The phoneme inventory of Sinhala consists of seven vowels and twenty-four consonants, depending on the analysis.

Sinhala has seven vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that distinguish word meaning. They can be short or long. Vowel length distinguishes word meaning. In the table below, vowel length is indicated by a colon. In transliteration, long vowels are normally written with a double vowel letter, e.g., aa, ee. There are also several diphthongs

i, i:
u, u:
e, e:


o, o:

æ, æ:

a, a:
  • /ə/ = a
  • /æ/ = a in cat 


A distinguishing feature of the Sinhala consonant system are prenasalized consonants /b/, /d/, /g/. Consonants may be geminated (doubled). Consonants in parentheses occur only in loanwords. There is a contrast between voiced, and prenasalized stops, such as between /b/ – /b/, /d/ – /d/, /ɖ/ – //, ɖ/, /g – /g/. Additionally, there is a contrast between and apical vs. retroflex consonants, e.g., /t/ – /ʈ/, /d/ – /ɖ/, /n/ – /ɳ/. Apical consonants are produced with the tip of the tongue touching the roof of the mouth, whereas retroflex consonants are produced with the tongue curled, so that its underside comes in contact with the roof of the mouth. They do not have equivalents in English.

Stops voiceless
Fricatives voiceless
Affricates voiceless
Nasals .
Laterals .
Flap .
Approximants .
  • /ʃ/ = sh in shop
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chop
  • /dʒ/ = j in job
  • /ɲ/ = first n in canyon
  • /ŋ/ = ng in song
  • /ɭ/ has no equivalent in English
  • /ʋ/ can be realized as /w/ or /v/.


Stress in Sinhala falls either on a long or heavy penultimate (one before last) syllable or on the ante-penultimate syllable.


Sinhala uses postpositions, rather than prepositions, e.g., English under the tree would be tree under in Sinhala.

Nouns are marked for the following categories:

  • Nouns are marked for animation. They are either inanimate or animate. Literary Sinhala distinguishes between masculine and feminine nouns within the animate category.
  • There are two numbers: singular and plural.
  • In some analyses, spoken Sinhala has eight cases cases: nominativegenitivedativegenitiveinstrumental, locativeablative, and vocative. Literary Sinhala and some dialects of the spoken language also have a marked accusative case.


There is a four-way distinction in demonstrative pronouns: (1) close to the speaker; (2) close to the addressee; (3) close to a third person who is present; (4) close to a third person who is not present.

Sinhala verbs are quite complex and express many tense and aspect distinctions.

  • Both Liiterary and Spoken Sinhala mark tense, voice, aspect, and mode.
  • There is no subject-verb agreement in spoken Sinhala.
  • The subject of the verb can be dropped if it is made clear by context.
  • The copula to be is usually dropped.
  • There is a three-way distinction involving active, causative, and involitive verbs.


Word order 
The normal word order in Sinhala is Subject-Object-Verb. This word order can be modified to suit pragmatic considerations such as emphasis. Modifiers, including modifying clauses, precede the words they modify. However, numerals follow nouns.


Sinhala has numerous loanwords from neighboring Dravidian languages, especially Tamil. As a result of colonial rule, Sinhala also has many borrowings from PortugueseDutch, and English, e.g., faamsiy ‘pharmacy.’ Words can be formed by reduplication.

Below are some common words and phrases in Sinhala.

Hello ආයුබෝවන් aa yu boo va n
Goodbye ආයුබෝවන් gihilla enam 
Thank you ස්තුතියි stutiy
Please කරුණාකර ka ru nnaa ka ra
Yes ඔව් o vu
No නෑ nae hae
Man මිනිසා mi ni saa
Woman කාන්තාවක් kanthawak


Below are the numerals 1-10 in Sinhala.

one එක eka
two දෙක deka
three තුන් tun
four හතර ha ta ra
five පහ pa ha
six හය ha ya
seven හත ha tha
eight අට a tta
nine නවය na va ya
ten දස da sa


The Sinhala alphabet, a descendent of the Brahmi script, was developed in the 2nd-3rd centuries BCE, and has been in continuous use since then. Like the orthographies of other Indo-Aryan languages, the consonants imply the vowel [a]. Various diacritics surrounding the consonant indicate other vowels or the absence of a vowel. Letters are written from left to right in horizontal lines. The rounded  appearance of the script is similar to that of Dravidian scripts. In addition, Sinhala orthography is distinguished by a number of features, including the following: (1) Vowels are written as independent letters at the beginning of syllables. (2) Special conjunct symbols are used for prenasalized consonants such as /b/. (3) There are extra letters for writing Sanskrit and Pali loanwords.


Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Sinhalese?
There is no data on the difficulty of Sinhala for speakers of English.

25 Responses to Sinhala

  1. Isuru Priyaranga

    to editor,

    I saw, there are some wrong sinhala spelings in “common words and phrases in Sinhala”.
    Please check them and correct soon.


    • Irene Thompson

      Can you help us out with that and give us the correct spellings?

  2. Dhanuka Thenuwara

    Thank you – ස්තුතියි ( not ඉස්තුති )

    But you may have to pronounce it as “istutiy”
    The real pronouncing is S + TU + TI + Y

    it’s somewhat difficult for other natives.

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for your comment. We appreciate your help. We made the correction.

  3. Rohan Weeraratne

    Re Introduction: There are thousands of Sinhalese speakers in Australia, New Zealand, USA, UK, Malaysia and Japan

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for the comment. Where does your data come from?

  4. Sandaruwan

    woman means not ‘Kella’, it is ‘gehaniya'(matured woman) and world for kella is ‘lass'(teenage femal) lassie is is somewhat similar to”small girl” in the other hand lad and laddie are the same way for boys.

  5. Ranil

    “Good Bye” is better said as “gi hi lla en nam” which is more commonly used.

    What is mentioned in the website “newa tha ha mu we mu” has the meaning of “I shall see you again”.

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you very much. We will make the correction.

  6. Prof. Suwanda H J Sugunasiri

    Thank you for your article. But, a couple of errors. Sinhala, you say, was ‘brought to Sri Lanka by settlers from Northwestern and Northeastern India in the 5th century AD’. It is actually 5th c. BCE (Before Common Era), making it about 10 centuries earlier!

    Likewise, ‘AD’ in ‘It [meaning writing] was developed in the 2nd-3rd centuries AD’ should be BCE.

    These comments are only meant for your eyes. You may make the corrections without giving any credit.

    And if you have any questions on Sinhala, pl feel free to contact me.

    Thank you.

    Wishing you the best in health and happiness!

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you very much for your helpful comments.

  7. lol

    Oh it is so helpful for my project

  8. Ahamed Mahees

    A good and usefull Article and Healthy discussion. 🙂
    Thanks for who write this article and who write comments.
    I expect more through this site.

  9. Bill Pinson

    Before reading your article I had only seen John 3:i6 in a small Gideon New Testament in the Sinhalese language years ago and was greatly impressed by the beauty of the round shaped letters.Thanks so much for a most informative read.

  10. Irene Thompson

    We assume that is part of the cultural rules for interaction.

  11. Dhanuja Jayasingha

    The article is a very systematic study. And I must thank you for that as a native speaker. But by the way, in saying that Singhales possesses only 7 vowels, I thinks you have ignored the existence of the diphtongs which are also used commonly.
    eg:- au (as in English ‘now’), and ai(as in ‘eye’).
    Also, at the school we were thought that Singhalese contains 9 cases. As I’m not a linguist I don’t know much about their counter-parts in modern linguistics. So please take note of it and see whether what I said was correct.

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for your input. It was most helpful.



  13. Kamalakirthi Dissanayake

    I Understand Singhala Language Has Only 41 Symbols.

    Please Tell Me This

  14. Eshani Hettiarachchi

    I am native Sinhalese speaker. This webpage comes with lots of errors!

    Good Bye = gihilla ennam is what usually oral sinhalese use. navatha hamuvemu (the one given) is just writing sinhala. you don’t speak it.

    For the man what you write in sinhala script should be ‘mi ni saa’ not mi ni haa though both them have same meaning. well not same. but pretty much same. Again mi ni haa is more oral sinhala type.
    For the woman , the correct spelling for the given sinhala script is ‘ kanthawak’ . ke lla means girl. not woman.

    in number three, තුන් = tun not tuna. How you write tuna is තුන.

    දස is not da ha ya, it is da sa. Again they have same meaning. but usage is different.

    and when you write 7, it is better to write as ha tha. because if you write 7 as ha ta, then when you write 60 it again will be ha ta.
    I still appreciate a lot about the effort taken for this page.

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for your help. We will make the necessary corrections.

  15. Wellawatte Seelagawesi Thero

    I have not much learnt Sinhala Language. But I find it is flowing when I use. People say that I am singing when I use this Language. I would bring my gratitude to ancestors for granting me this beautiful Language.


Add a Comment