Grammar of Esperanto
(#187) Does Esperanto really have 16
It is true that you have to assimilate the 16 rules to speak
Esperanto at the beginner's level, but it's
far from enough to be considered an expert
in the language.
It's the purpose of the Exercises ("La Ekzercaro"),
to enable you to better understand the somewhat
You should be capable of finding out the grammar
rules by yourself, based on the Exercises.
This is the most natural way to learn a language.
Most people dislike learning grammar, and writing
a grammar for a language is particularly difficult
when this grammar must be understood by all people
of the planet. The complexity is not coming so
much from the target language, as from
the source language.
In summary, the grammar of Esperanto written in
English is quite simple, but written in Esperanto
for all possible languages, it is huge.
See online at http://www.bertilow.com/pmeg/
You are welcome to try if it's too hard for you to
"guess" the grammar at memoru
(this was tested
(#151) Esperanto has
an accusative case? Who needs plural marking?
Who needs adjectival agreement in number and
needs verbal tenses? If the time when
something happens is important, why not use
To understand the advantages of the accusative
(-n added to a complement without preposition),
to the agreement in number and case of the
adjective, to verbal tenses, you have to learn
Esperanto, and start translating from English to
Esperanto. You will then realise that these
features can be used to avoid lots of
ambiguities more efficiently than in English,
which needs more words to do the same.
An Esperanto translation of an English text is
shorter than the original. Read
(#276) Several points of the
grammatical system have been particularly
irritating to English linguists. In particular,
many are troubled by agreement between noun and
Example from the eurojargon
EEC: This is the abbreviation for the European
Economic Community – one of three
European Communities (see
up in 1957 to bring about economic
integration in Europe.
translated to :
In some languages (French, Dutch) they
up to starigitaj which is wrong.
- EEK: Mallongigo por Eŭropa Ekonomia
Komunumo - unu el tri Eŭropaj
Komunumoj (vidu sube) starigita(j)
1957 por faciligi la ekonomian integrigon en
In other (German, Polish) they translated to starigita which
is correct, because starigita relates to "one ...",
relates to "three ...".
Obviously the author writing in English did not
notice the ambiguity. Had he written in Esperanto
(or in other languages using those markers) he
would not have had to worry. A foreigner would
even have more difficulties to spot all possible
ambiguities in English, and find a way to make his
sentence unambiguous. When one sees professional
translators falling into such traps, one can only
approve the solution adopted in Esperanto (and
many many other languages).
BTW isn't it even more irritating to mark the
singular with an s : the horse eats an apple ?
See other similar problems in Piron's article
(#162) Rules saying
all nouns end in for example o and all verbs
i, etc. What a ridiculous concept, or is that
it is easier to remember the difference
between verbs, and nouns, which would assist
people of limited intelligence.
May I point out that the majority of languages are
distinguishing verbs from nouns, adjectives and
adverbs by their endings, but I must agree that it
is probably due to their inferior intelligence.
Note that in English some assistance is
occasionally also required.
Compare the noun/verb pairs advice/advise,
(#035) I would like to learn more
about the Esperanto grammar. Where can I buy a
book about it?
No need to buy a book for just one page. The
fundamental rules can be read at http://www.akademio-de-esperanto.org/fundamento/gramatiko_angla.html.
To supplement the grammar, there is a basic
vocabulary and a set of exercises and examples.
A little common sense is necessary to build
correct phrases. You will be amazed by what you
will already understand in a normal conversation,
and by what you will be able to write.
If you want to make a presentation in front of 100
people, and answer their questions or refute their
objections, you will have to reach another level.
That may take as long as it took you to do in
English (or at least 6 months).
To become an expert of the Esperanto language,
understand why it is what it is, you could read
"Plena analiza gramatiko de Esperanto" [PAGE ].
Actually very few esperantists read this book, but
if you have to teach Esperanto in a University or
if you want to make intelligent comments on
Esperanto, it is a very valuable book, even if
questionable in certain aspects. Don't speak about
reforming the language until then: it's pathetic.
(#021) What is the principle that
Zamenhof followed to define the grammar of Esperanto?
The grammar rules are built according to the
If a natural language uses a simple
grammatical structure to express something, then
this structure has proven to be valid and is a
possible candidate for the constructed language.
For more information about the grammar, use [PAGE ].
For instance: English proves there is no
need to have the verb vary according to the
person (I can, you can, he can (or may, must
etc... There is no such example in French,
If the English language was allowed to evolve
naturally, the added -s in "he walks" would
surely disappear. Many foreigners forget it. The
past tense is almost always regular in English.
Esperanto generalises this to all tenses without
exception. What the majority of the languages is
doing is not relevant for the grammatical
structures, it is relevant only for the new
(#022) Nowhere, are you told how to
form questions and relative clauses, use
capital letters and other punctuation, and so
on; you're supposed to know that by intuition
(or perhaps a classical education?).
Zamenhof's failed to
consider this important subject properly.
Reread "La Fundamento". There are examples and
exercises to complement the grammar.
Don Harlow: More
specifically read the "Ekzercaro", which
implicitly defines and describes such matters as
questions and relative clauses.
The sixteen rules are the strict minimum speakers
of the language must follow. So, you could decide
(as a Japanese Esperantist already did) not
to use capital letters; your text (like his) will
still be understandable in writing, as in
Capital letters and punctuation are not part of
the language but part of the writing system
associated with the language, and so are
essentially irrelevant (again, Z, unlike most
designers, was aiming for a spoken language).
Zamenhof's idea was that it was a good base on
which on which one could extend.
He trusted the first users of the language to
define better what he left undecided. That is what
I would call the real genius part of his work, and
what no creator of artificial languages did
understand: the users have also their say.
Zamenhof left a certain amount of works as an
example to follow.
Nowadays there is a huge amount of well written
books you could read, not only those from
] would not help you as much as reading good
authors. Who ever learned a language by just
studying the grammar, anyway?
Did Luther wrote a preface to his Bible explaining
what was the grammar of the language he invented?
He constructed modern German on the base of a few
dialects he knew, without feeling the necessity of
even explaining what he was doing.
Zamenhof could have done the same. Just publish
his translation of the Bible and let us find the
rules. Well, he decided to help us a little and
gave 16 rules that are the framework of Esperanto.
So, Zamenhof did consider this subject properly,
the real question is: why didn't he say so in his
I think I answered.
(#026) Esperanto grammar contains
many grammatical usages which are non obvious,
unstated, inconsistent or illogical.
These provide plenty of
opportunities for ambiguity or unnecessarily
fine subtleties of meaning, and there are
aspects of the grammar which Esperantists
I could probably give more examples of phrases
that are ambiguous in English than in Esperanto.
French is less ambiguous than English as well. It
was used very long in diplomatic relations because
of its accuracy. However, somebody who masters his
own language well, is capable of expressing
anything unambiguously, if he wants to.
When you learn Esperanto, you acquire another view
of what is logical or not in a language. Compared
to Eo, the natural languages are totally
illogical. Esperanto is very logical relatively to
Indo-European languages. It contains enough
features and constructions to remove the undesired
ambiguities when you wish to be precise.
Give me a phrase in any language that is
ambiguous, I am sure that somebody will be able to
make it unambiguous. Example : "They saw the girl
with binoculars." You could use the Esperanto
translation to make things clear (Ili vidis la
knabinon per binoklo.
Ili segis la
knabinon. Ili vidis
la kun binoklo
knabinon. Ili segis
la knabinon per binoklo).
There are two meanings that you could easily
eliminate, but a computer would have
difficulties to do it.
I would like to know how often an ambiguity is
found in an English document during the
translation process, and how often the original
text has to be corrected. How often does it happen
in French or German?
One should not confuse the language with the
skills of the person using it.
(#051) The accusative case is without
doubt one of Esperanto's least necessary
and thus one of the most
heavily .criticised It seems to exist
principally as a concession to classical
grammar (and thus to boost Zamenhof's
credibility with nineteenth century
academics?), but the language would be far
better off without it. It's supposed to free
up word order which according to apologists is
important for poetry and literature; but
surely basic ease of communication, without
having to worry about the finer points of
grammar, matters more? Distinct accusative
inflections have disappeared from many
languages in the past; even in German, only
masculine singular nouns have them; and
neither the Chinese poets nor Shakespeare had
any problems without them
Criticised it was indeed, but nevertheless it held
up. It is now more interesting to analyse why is
was kept, in spite of all attacks, than why it
should be removed. This discussion is over.
Classical grammar has nothing to do with it. I
doubt credibility was one of Zamenhof concerns.
This is unsupported speculation as the ? rightly
About free order : hundo mordis viro (a
dog bit a man). It looks obvious that the -n
could be removed.
If one need to say: Viro mordas hundon,
one could remove the -n as well. Hundon
mordas viro: here the -n would be
mandatory. Don't say the example is silly, on
Dutch television there is a program full of
strange things named like that (Man bijt hond).
So the new rule would be : when the direct object
is in front of the subject (or when the subject is
left out) you must put the -n, otherwise you do
what you want. It reminds me of such a rule in
French, when the direct object is after this, you
must do that, when before you must do something
I fail to see the simplification compare with :
you must always do that.
Free word order is essential. A language like
Dutch is difficult because the word order is not
the same as in English. If you put the words in
some other order than in English, it is still
unlikely that you sentence will be correct.
Esperanto word order is not totally free, but much
more flexible, just because of this -n. A speaker
can start a sentence as he wants, and go on
putting words as needed. To be totally flexible
would require cases. This was a choice that
Zamenhof rejected. So there are no cases in
-N is just a mark for a complement without
preposition. People knowing Latin, Greek, polish,
Russian, German, etc... would call this -n:
case, but it is not used at all like in those
Don Harlow: The -N
ending (which is far more than a simple Latin
accusative) is one of the features in Esperanto
most criticised by beginners and those who have
not even begun. It has, however, expanded its
role in the hundred years the language has been
around, through simple evolution (e.g. nowadays
we say "paŝon post paŝo" where Z would
have said "paŝo post paŝo"; you will also
often find it used after the prepositions "krom"
and "anstataŭ", which Zamenhof would
never have done -- at least in those cases where
they actually function as coordinating
conjunctions rather than prepositions.
Obviously, speakers of Esperanto like it. And
that's what matters.
(#052) What are "the other cases"
referred to in rule 2, how are they used, and
why are they important enough to deserve a
The usual answers ("the
genitive is expressed with de", etc.) betray
what seems to have been a nineteenth-century
assumption that classical grammar is a
constant of nature, rather than a fluid and
more or less accidental convention;
grammatical case is no more necessary than
Don Harlow: "Case"
appears to be a fundamental description of the
usage of nouns. How it is expressed
grammatically is something else. In English we
use Esperanto's method for a few of our pronouns
in the accusative, and fix word order for nouns;
for other cases, we -- like Esperanto -- use
Substantives are formed by adding o to the root.
For the plural, the letter j must be added to the
singular. There are two cases: the nominative and
the objective (accusative). The root with the
added o is the nominative, the objective adds an n
after the o. Other cases are formed by
prepositions; thus, the possessive (genitive) by
de, „of”; the dative by al, „to”, the
instrumental (ablative) by kun, „with”, or
other preposition as the sense demands. E. g.
root patr, „father”; la patr'o,
„the father”; la patr'o'n, „the father”
(objective), de la patr'o, „of
the father”; al la patr'o, „to the
father”; kun la patr'o, „with the
father”; la patr'o'j, „the fathers”; la
patr'o'j'n, „the fathers” (obj.), por la patr'o'j,
„for the fathers”.
When Zamenhof wrote his book, he assumed that
educated people would be able to understand this
rule. Latin was still important in those days. So
references to cases are just there to make things
simpler to understand. Nowadays, we would have to
rephrase that rule so that everybody understands
it. It is useless to speak of cases, because this
is what Zamenhof wanted to avoid.
I could say : in Esperanto , there are no cases.
but people would wonder what cases are. I would
have to explain that in English in a phrase like :
I gave him (or her) a book, him/her is a case of
he/she. I can't say I gave he a book, to give
people an idea. Why not? Because it is like that.
Nowadays we would say that in Esperanto when you
have a complement without preposition, you must
add -n to the complement. To avoid confusion, you
can only have one such complement.
In other words : In Esperanto all the complements
must be preceded by a preposition. You may
suppress one and only one preposition (if the
meaning is clear without it), but you have to add
an -n to the complement. Why? Because! You'll
understand when you grow up!
- I gave him a book: mi donis je libro al
li; mi donis libron al li. mi donis
lin je libro. Do not forget je
or -n or other preposition and keep
the same word order as in English (or French).
- The mouse jumped on the table. La muso
saltis sur la tablo. (it was on the
table already). You cannot remove sur
because people could guess wrongly.
- The mouse jumped on the table. La muso
saltis al sur la tablo; la muso saltis sur
la tablon (from the ground, in the
direction of the table, with movement
towards the table). Note in this example
that al was replaced by -n and
the meaning is still clear (what is not the
case in English)
(#053) Rule 13 would be unnecessary
if the uses of prepositions had been better
See previous note : What are "the other cases"
In phrases answering the question
„where?” (meaning direction), the words take the
termination of the objective case; e. g. kie'n
vi ir'as? „where are you going?”; dom'o'n,
„home”; London'o'n, „to London”, etc.
Don Harlow: -N
simply shows the target of an action or the
destination of a motion. When you add the
-N to a noun after a preposition (of location),
you're simply showing that that phrase is no
longer a place in which something happens, but a
place towards which something is happening.
Nothing could be simpler.
The -n is replacing al: mi iras al la
domo (French: je vais à la maison), mi
iras al Londono (je vais à Londres).
Note that in French as in Esperanto domo
(maison) means house (Spanish casa) but if not
specified otherwise, it means home, in this
The correct word would be hejmo.
So: mi iras hejmon is more clear.
Or even mi iras hejmen, mi hejmen
iras, mi hejmeniras (this is for languages
that have one word to say it).
(#054) You can't say both la domo
brulas "the house burns" and mi
brulas la domon "I burn the house",
since the verb is
intransitive (i.e. taking no object) in the
first sentence and transitive in the second.
Instead, since the root brul- is
intransitive, you have to make it transitive
by adding the suffix -ig-, regardless
of the fact that the very presence of an
object - marked, moreover, with the mandatory
accusative suffix - is doing just the same: mi
bruligas la domon.
Exactly: you have to say like that. You should
always do what a good teacher says when you learn,
later you'll understand why.
Later, you'll write a story for children in which
objects speak and have a personality. You also
will master what you don't understand very well
now: the "accusative" (replacing a preposition).
For the moment, follow the rule, you will not get
Note that it would be better for you not to use
the word accusative, you seem quite
confused by it (probably due to your classic
education): simply use the -n grammatical
suffix. This has nothing to do with the direct
Don Harlow: The reason
for the complaint is that in English (and some
other languages) many words have two
meanings, one transitive and one intransitive.
If the student learns that "bruli" means
"to burn", he will immediately assume that both
the quoted sentences should be correct,
and there is something wrong with Esperanto
because one of them isn't. (If, of course, he
learns the real meaning of bruli,
i.e. "to become converted to a gaseous substance
through oxidation", the problem will be less
likely to arise.)
"The very presence of an object"? There is no
rule that I know of that insists that an object
even has to be present. "Kion vi ŝatas fari
en la vespero?" "Mi bruligas." If
no object is present, you can't add an -N
to it ...
English is very inconsistent about its own use
of double-meaning forms. You can say "The wood
burns" and "I burn the wood", or "The cats
drowned" and "I drowned the cats", but you can't
then go and say "The cats died" and "I died the
cats" or "The tree falls" and "I fall the tree"
(though you can say "I fell the tree" in the
present tense -- "fell" is sort of a transitive
equivalent for "fall", usable in some
(#055) Mi blankas la domon
is perfectly intelligible as it is; why must I
say mi blankigas la domon?
What is the difference
between blanki, blankiĝi and blankigi?
Liaj haroj blankas = liaj haroj estas blankaj:
his hair is white.
Liaj haroj blankiĝas : his hair is
whitening (suffix -iĝ means to
Li blankigas siajn harojn : he whitens his
hair. (suffix -ig means to make)
The root very often indicates what the word means
exactly, but in some cases (depending on the
language you speak), you could guess
wrongly. So, you should learn what the three forms
mean (if they exist) for every word. This is the biggest
difficulty of Esperanto. Be careful, some
dictionaries are not indicating this.
aer/o (air); aeri: to pump air into (a
ag/i (to act); agigi : make
fum/o : fume; fumi : means to smoke
(both senses); fumiĝi : start smoking
(leave out smoke).
aktiv/a : active; aktivi: to be
active; aktiviĝi: to become active.
akv/o (water), akvi: to give water.
ali/a (other) : alii: be different;
aliigi=to change (to modify, to make
different); aliiĝi: to change (to become
Estus bone ĉi tie doni liston da vortoj kiuj
estas problemaj, sed mi ne regas sufiĉe la
Anglan. Ĉu iu povas helpi?.
Don Harlow: The
problem, again, has to do with learning equivalent
national-language words instead of meanings.
Once you've learned that "ag'" refers to
some kind of action, that "aer'", "fum'" and
"akv'" are things, and that "aktiv'"
and "ali'" describe those things, you
shouldn't have any problem.
(#058) What is the correct word order
There isn't a correct word order, but a most
common word order.
Subject verb complements
complements = object without preposition,
objects with preposition
adjective in front of substantives.
adverb in front of verbs
subjects, verbs, objects, adjectives, adverbs are
Others are perfectly permissible, and far from
uncommon. Also, adjectives may either precede or
follow nouns, or (primarily in poetry) be
separated from them by other words.
I could go on detailing the common word order, and
what other order is possible, but examples are
easier to remember and imitate. This is precisely
what Zamenhof decided to do, and by watching the
results, it looks sufficient.
Read "La Fundamento".
For those who want to cut hair in four along their
length, read [PAGE ]
(#059) What does malamikoj de
la urbo mean : "enemies of the
city" or "enemies from the city"?
Without context, it's undecided. Could also be
that the enemies of the city are coming from
inside the city a well. It is not clear if the
enemies are enemies of each other living in the
same city, or together enemies of the same city
either. Nor does it say how many they are. Or
whether they are male, female or a mixture of
both. So it's totally imprecise.
The context could force one interpretation. If one
wants to be clear, one has to use the right words.
It is often while translating that ambiguities are
exposed. Usually the translated text is longer
than the original.
Malamikoj venante el la urbo, or just malamikoj
la urbo, is one possibility.
Malamikoj al la urbo, is another one, if
you are happy with these two.
(#060) What does la amo de Dio
mean? Is it "God's love" or "some entity's
love of God"?
Ĉu veras ke God's love
havas nur unu senson? Kio signifas "the love of
You could use: la Dia amo (God's love for his
creatures) and la amo al Dio (the love towards
I don't think anybody has tried la amo Dion.
It's an interesting use of -n as genitive (for
those freaks who know what that is). There is no
copyright on this expression.
Not so good as la Dia amo, you could say la
amo fare de Dio. It would literally mean
"the love produced by God", the love on behalf of
God. This expression fare de is more and
more often reduced to far : la amo far
Dio. This is a case of retrocreation of a
preposition that did not exist from a verbal
radical. This is not contradicting any rule of "La
Note that la amo de Dio al Liaj kreaĵoj
(God's love for His creatures) and la amo de
Dio far de Liaj kreaĵoj (from His creatures)
are not ambiguous due to the context.
So if I understood well, la amo de Dio al Liaj
kreaĵoj must be translated by: "God's
love for His creatures", and la amo de Dio far
Liaj kreaĵoj must be translated "creatures's
love of God". Well English is your language and
surely you can correct my mistakes.
(#061) Esperanto propaganda and
teaching guides place great importance on the
principle of marking a word's part of speech
by its ending,
even though it isn't
followed consistently; for example, numbers
and prepositions have no consistent endings,
while pronouns take the same termination as
verb infinitives, and the correlatives have a
system all of their own.
One should not confuses Ido with Esperanto. There
is no "principle of reversibility" in Esperanto,
and there will never be. That means that rules
work in one direction and not the other.
in the dictionary [NPIV ] you find "tranĉ/i
(tr) meaning to cut". This is what you must
remember to build words like tranĉilo, -ilo
meaning an instrument to cut, like a knife or
" komb/i (tr) means to comb"; combilo
would mean a comb or something similar.
" raz/i (tr) means to shave"; razilo
means a razor or sth similar.
" paf/i (tr) : to shoot"; pafilo
means a gun.
" bros/o : means a brush"; brosilo is a
pleonasm, because the term broso already includes
the idea of instrument; I would not be shocked if
you used brosilo, but I won't use it
myself, nor the majority of Esperanto speakers.
Rules (because some people like rules even
when not necessary):
The suffix -i and all the others function
the same way, one direction; so nowhere is it said
that all words finishing by -i are infinitives.
The same for all suffixes like -in, -ul, -et, -eg,
- There is a rule that says how the suffix
-ilo modifies the meaning of a root. (La
- there is no rule that says that all
instruments must finish by -ilo.
- there is no rule that says that all words
finishing by -ilo are instruments.
- There is an implicit rule that says that you
should make the meaning of a word clear by
adding suffixes or prefixes or concatenate
- There is an implicit rule that says
everybody is lazy, and there is no advantage
to add more than is needed to make a word
clear, only risk a typing error.
Numbers, pronouns, correlatives are handled the
same way as any root: you can modify their meaning
using the same tools.
Don Harlow: the
"endings" relate specifically to nouns,
adjectives, verbs and and adverbs. Numerals,
correlatives and pronouns are separate
subsystems which reuse some of these endings in
"reasonable" ways but don't necessarily imitate
them. Note: the -i on the pronouns is not an
ending (as it is on verbs), but simply a vowel
stuck in to make the pronoun pronounceable.
There is little possible for confusion, since
while all verbs ending in -I are polysyllabic,
all but two of the pronouns are monosyllabic.
(Theoretically, one could confuse "ili" and
"oni" with verbs, if there were no such thing as
Prepositions are particles, which have
no endings of themselves, but can take the usual
endings to turn them into nouns, adjectives,
adverbs, even verbs.
The correlative system is moderately well
matched up with the noun-verb-adjective-adverb
system, since -O refers to the name of something
(a noun), -A refers to a description of
something (an adjective). Unfortunately (or
fortunately) when it comes to adverbs the
correlatives have a finer sense of
discrimination than ordinary adverbs, so as well
as the -E ending (adverb of place in the
correlatives) you have -EL (manner), -AL
(reason), -OM (amount), -AM (time).
(#068) Millidge's dictionary claims
that "the use of the article is the same as in
the other languages", which is complete
nonsense since the uses of articles differ from
language to language.
Not necessarily. One must be careful when claiming
this or this is nonsense, when speaking of
I don't have the exact wording of the Millidge's
dictionary. It should say something like : if you
use the definite article as you do usually in your
language, it will be OK. I know it is like that in
English, French and Dutch.
Polish does not use articles.
Don Harlow: Zamenhof
explicitly allows beginners from countries where
the article is not used to ignore it.
Also, remember Millidge's dictionary was aimed
at English speakers (more specifically, English
speakers in England), so when he says "the same
as in the other languages" he is really telling
his readers "the same as in English" (which is
also not quite correct).
The language, of course, cannot be blamed for
anything that its speakers care to write about
(#069) Articles are actually pretty rare in the
To name but a few,
Finnish, Swahili, Japanese, Chinese, and most
Slavic languages all do without.
This is an interesting remark. As Zamenhof knew
Russian and Polish, it is indeed surprising that
he decided to use a definite article and that he
could do without the indefinite article.
If he had applied his system, he should have
avoided all articles, so it seems at least. It is
probable that he found the definite article the
most elegant way to achieve clarity.
What was his system is explained in What is the
principle that Zamenhof followed to define the
grammar of Esperanto?
Anybody knows of a serious study about the way
other languages are able to avoid the definite
article and still are able to convey the same
Don Harlow: The article
is a relatively recent invention, one which
tends to be incorporated into languages that
don't have it.
For the use of word-order in Russian to
determine definiteness, see Pokrovskij, "Lingvaj
respondoj", first chapter.
In Japanese, if I remember correctly, the
particles "ga" and "wa" tend to make this
(#070) No less an authority than
Zamenhof himself is on record as conceding
that agreement between the adjective and noun
ballast", in his own words in 1894), and
indeed there's no good reason why you should
have to say grandaj hundoj "big dogs",
la hundoj estas grandaj "the dogs are
big", and mi vidas la grandajn hundojn
"I see the big dogs".
You are well documented. Zamenhof knew English
enough to know it was possible to avoid that. I
would like to know why he first decided to do
that, and why his proposal to remove that rule was
rejected (if he indeed proposed so). Does
anybody have the answer? I know there are
many phrases that are clearer with this rule, but
it does not look a satisfactory explanation. I
have the feeling that -aj could be avoided, but
-an not so easily. I guess Zamenhof decided first
to say the cases are the same as in
substantives but decided that numbers
and cases would be easier to use. I'll look
in my [PAGE
] when I come back home; I don't travel with it.
Now it's too late to change that.
Adjectives are formed by adding a to the
root. The numbers and cases are the same as in
substantives. The comparative degree is
formed by prefixing pli (more); the
superlative by plej (most). The word
„than” is rendered by ol, e. g. pli
blanka ol neĝo, „whiter than snow”.
Zamenhof's comments at that time were associated
with the proposed "reform" of Esperanto of 1894,
which he devised (and publicly supported) under
financial pressure; his private letters indicate
that he had no great faith in the proposed
changes or desire to make them. As far as
English is concerned, the lack of adjective
agreement is to a great extent replaced by the
distinction between the third person singular
and plural of the present-tense verb, which adds
a certain amount of redundancy to the language
missing due to the absence of noun-adjective
agreement. In fact, some authors have
experimented with removing adjective agreement
from the possessive pronouns, by using the
correlative ending -ES instead of the adjective
ending -A for the possessives; the results have
not been shown particularly popular among
speakers. (The freedom of word-order also
militates against such a change; a sentence, for
instance, such as "Mies gepatroj donis al
fratino mies monon" would be totally, and
perhaps painfully, ambiguous in the second
(#071) Which part of speech do
numbers belong to, exactly?
They belong to the cardinal numerals. Why do you
The cardinal numerals do not change
their forms for the different cases. They are:
unu (1), du (2), tri (3), kvar (4), kvin (5),
ses (6), sep (7), ok (8), naŭ (9), dek (10),
cent (100), mil (1000). The tens and hundreds
are formed by simple junction of the numerals,
e. g. 533 = kvin'cent tri'dek tri. Ordinals are
formed by adding the adjectival a to the
cardinals, e. g. unu'a, „first”; du'a, „second”,
etc. Multiplicatives (as „threefold”,
„fourfold”, etc.) add obl, e. g. tri'obl'a,
„threefold”. Fractionals add on, as du'on'o, „a
half”; kvar'on'o, „a quarter”. Collective
numerals add op, as kvar'op'e, „four together”.
Distributive prefix po, e. g., po kvin, „five
apiece”. Adverbials take e, e. g., unu'e,
up to 1000s are numbers. After that they are
nouns. For no obvious reasons, the syntax of
numbers allows the inconsistency of mil bestoj
for "a thousand animals" versus miliono da
bestoj for "a million animals".
This is because Zamenhof
never made up his mind whether or not numbers
should be nouns, adjectives or something else.
In English you can't say a ten animals,
but you can say a hundred animals. Note
the difference in meaning between I have thousand
cows, and I have a thousand cows.
In Esperanto you can say: deko da bestoj or
dek bestoj; cent bestoj, cento da bestoj, mil
bestoj, milo da bestoj: it does not mean the
same; it could mean I have exactly so many, or I
have around so many.
Zamenhof models that work in one language,
according to the principle that it should work for
Esperanto as well. He did not invent rules from
In this case he took French (fairly close to
English and others). If you know French I don't
need to explain more. If you don't know
French, bad luck, somebody will have to
explain it to you.
I don't think anybody would complain if you say dumilion
tricent kvardek kvinmil sescent septdek ok
bestoj (2345678). Se
jes, korektu min.
Tiu ĉi urbo havas milionon da loĝantoj, by
the way does not mean that this town has precisely
106 inhabitants, could have 10
thousands more or less.
miliono = 106
Even if Zamenhof did not made up his mind about it
(what he did in this case), he never felt obliged
to have an definite meaning about everything, as
he could trust the Esperanto community. Stop
blaming the poor guy for all the sins in the
world, blame the 8 million (more or less 1 or 2
million) who followed as well. We are all solider.
If you need more use a notation like dek al
etc... until dekmiliardo=1063
Don Harlow: Actually,
it's because Zamenhof followed the Western
systems, in which the numbering system is also
broken. In English, of course, it's broken after
99, rather than 999,999; "hundred", "thousand",
etc. are nouns, while all numbers before a
hundred are numerals (hence you say "ten" but
have to say "a hundred"). Some Esperanto authors
have suggested the numeral "meg" as a
replacement for the noun "miliono", but this
hasn't caught on; and in any case it would still
leave the system broken, though at a higher
There's also the problem that for the larger,
less commonly used numbers, using a noun system
allows a certain amount of regularity (according
a common way of expressing these larger numbers
is by using the numerals and adding the
unofficial suffixes -ILION- and -ILIARD- them,
e.g. "kvariliono", "kvariliardo"). Numerals
would be far less regularly formed.
(#075) The verbal system may look
straightforward, but the grammar doesn't
mention that you can form no less than 36
compound tenses with the various tenses of esti
"to be" and the participles.
This is far too many.
The verb does not change its form for
numbers or persons, e. g. mi far'as, „I do”; la
patr'o far'as, „the father does”; ili far'as,
If you add the other 6 forms, you have 41
possibilities. Still too many? If you need more
detail read [PAGE ]
Forms of the Verb:
The present tense ends in as, e. g.
mi far'as, „I do”.
There are two forms of the participle in the
international language, the changeable or
adjectival, and the unchangeable or adverbial.
The past tense ends in is, e. g. li far'is,
The future tense ends in os, e. g. ili far'os,
„they will do”.
The subjunctive mood ends in us, e. g. ŝi
far'us, „she may do”.
The imperative mood ends in u, e. g. ni far'u,
„let us do”.
The infinitive mood ends in i, e. g. fari, „to
The present participle active ends
in ant, e. g. far'ant'a, „he who is doing”;
All forms of the passive are rendered by the
respective forms of the verb est (to be) and the
participle passive of the required verb; the
preposition used is de, „by”. E. g. ŝi est'as
am'at'a de ĉiu'j, „she is loved by every one”.
The past participle active ends in int, e. g.
far'int'a, „he who has done”; far'int'e,
The future participle active ends in ont, e.
g. far'ont'a, „he who will do”; far'ont'e,
„about to do”.
The present participle passive ends in at, e.
g. far'at'e, „being done”.
The past participle passive ends in it, e. g.
far'it'a, „that which has been done”;
far'it'e, „having been done”.
The future participle passive ends in ot, e.
g. far'ot'a, „that which will be done”;
far'ot'e, „about to be done”.
Don Harlow: there are
only three "tenses" in Esperanto: -IS, -AS, -OS.
To a European, obsessed with the rather peculiar
verb systems of the Western European languages
(and it was for Europeans that Z wrote the above
descriptions), it may appear that Esperanto has
many tenses. This is not the case. In the
Western languages, such "compound verbs" consist
of a helping verb ("esti" or "havi") + another
part of the verb (the participle). In Esperanto,
the "compound verbs" are not really verbs at
all: they are a verb, "esti", followed
by an adjective (Esperanto's "participles" are
really adjectives formed from action roots). If
you understand the (regular) meaning of the
affixes used to form them, you simply use them
as you use any other adjective:
Georgo Vaŝingtono estis alta, blankhara,
lingodenta, kaj naskita.
This, incidentally, is why Esperanto does not
use "havi" with participles,
which is also confusing to some Europeans.
(#076) Consider the sentence estas
ŝtelata la hundo de la viro,
literally "is stolen the dog by/of/from the
man". Not only is the meaning of the
preposition de ambiguous in
several ways [TYE 176], but it's not obvious
whether the first two words mean "is being
stolen" or "has been stolen and still is".
Thus this innocent-looking sentence can mean
at least six completely different things.
Your are confusing estas ŝtelata with estas
estas ŝtelata: is being
The common word order would be : La hundo de
la viro estas ŝtelita. Or la hundo estas
ŝtelita de la viro.
estas ŝtelita: has been stolen and still
estis ŝtelata : was stolen at that moment
I am speaking about
estis ŝtelita : had been stolen at that
time (but may be it was found back now)
To avoid confusion, you could say: La viro
ŝtelis la hundon, or oni ŝtelis de la viro la hundon (which did not pertain to him),
or if you prefer to speak
according to the word order of your mother tongue
: ŝtelita estas la hundo far'de la viro
(very poetic language).
Refer to http://www.akademio-de-esperanto.org/decidoj/participoj.html
Ĉu [TYE] estas tiom konfusa?
Kion mi povas konsili al komencanto anstataŭ
denove [PAGE ] ?
Harlow: ŝtelata" and "ŝtelita" are two
different things -- it is the English (which has
only one passive form) which is here ambiguous,
not Esperanto. This reduces the number of
ambiguities to three.
Well, sorry, you can't erase "all" ambiguity
from language (and you wouldn't want to -- how
then would you make puns?). True enough, the
sentence as written can mean any of the
The man's dog is being stolen.
The dog is being stolen from the man.
The dog is being stolen by the man.
One solution is to invent additional
prepositions to take over some of the meanings
of "de", which is, indeed,
overloaded. Such prepositions have been proposed
in the past. Only one has proven moderately
popular -- "far". It was rarely but occasionally
used back in the fifties, sixties and seventies;
but today it, too, seems to have gone out of
favour. Why? Because there are other ways of
disambiguating these sentences. For instance,
most people would use, for the third,
La hundon ŝtelas la viro.
This leaves the first two possibilities, which
can be expressed as, for example (there
are other possibilities):
Estas ŝtelata la hundo apartenanta al la viro.
La hundo estas ŝtelata forde la viro.
The fallacy in the criticism is that the critic
deliberately chooses, for his purposes, a
sentence which he considers ambiguous, and then
leaves unstated the implication that there
is no other way to express oneself on this
matter within the language. This may not
be deliberate; I've noticed that many people,
well aware that in their own language it's
possible to express a thought in many different
ways, nevertheless expect that in any other
language there will be one and only one
correct way to express that thought. (Hence the
common question from the student: "What's the
correct way of saying that in Esperanto?")
(#078) If subjunctives, future tenses
and participles are really necessary, why are
there no "subjunctive participles" like vidunta?
And is it a subjunctive mood, a conditional
tense, or something else?
-as -is -os -u -us -i -ant -int -ont -at - it -ot
are necessary and sufficient. The proof : it works
for more than hundred years already. It's amazing
what you can do with that.
Don Harlow: There is no
subjunctive in Esperanto: you are thinking of
the conditional (-US: something that might
happen but probably won't). The "conditional
participles" have been reinvented by writers
perhaps a thousand times in the last century,
but unfortunately nobody seems to feel a real
need for them.
(#079) Dutch and German get along
fine without worrying about the distinction
between adjectives and adverbs.
Adverbs are formed by adding e to the
root. The degrees of comparison are the same as
in adjectives, e. g., mi'a frat'o kant'as pli
bon'e ol mi, „my brother sings better
German and Dutch distinguish between adjectives
and adverbs. It looks like there is a common form,
but adjectives vary, and adverbs don't.
Ex: Hij rijdt snel. Het rijdt met een snel
voertuig. Hij is een snelle rijder.
(#080) In Esperanto there are some
affixes with unnecessarily vague meanings
-ar- creates arb'ar'o
for "forest" ("tree-collection"), which could
also mean a line of Lombardy Poplars. Less
forgivable is the misleading word ov'ar'o
"collection of eggs", which pointlessly
duplicates the meaning of nesto
Don Harlow: sorry, "nesto"
is not a collection of eggs but a collection
of twigs glued together to make a receptacle for
eggs and a place to keep a bird's belly warm.
"container" really shouldn't be used to make
names of countries such as Skot'ujo
"Scotland", nor is -ej- "place"
justified in words like lern'ejo
"school" and pregh'ejo
"church". These last two words are literally
"learn-place" and "pray-place", which are too
general in meaning; they could equally well
refer to many other things such as "classroom"
and "prayer room" in a school building.
Don Harlow: Again (as
with "pafilo"), these words in -EJ- generally
suffice. That they don't always suffice is why
there are words in (unofficial) Esperanto such
as "kirko", "katedralo", "kapelo", "templo",
"sinagogo", "moskeo", not to mention such more
official possibilities as "predikejo" (where you
can sleep if you wish), "adorejo", etc.
made from or possessing the quality of", is
possibly the vaguest; it gives rise to
idiomatic oddities like akr'aĵo "edge"
from akra "sharp", ov'aĵho
"omelet", ter'aĵo "soil" from tero
"the Earth", korp'aĵo,
"flesh" fromkorpo "body", and
others in [TYE 77-8]. It also creates pairs of
words which pretend to have different meanings
but don't; thus both kava and kav'aĵa
are given as "hollow" in my dictionary.
Don Harlow: "edge" is "rando";
"omelette" is "omleto"; "soil" is "grundo";
"flesh" is "karno". The words you
give could be used in special cases
(e.g. "Aĉulo, mi disskulptos vin per la
akraĵo de mia klingo!", in which the
speaker wants to characterise the "edge"
primarily by sharpness), but they are not
Are you sure that the word "kavaĵa" isn't
"kavaĵo" (something hollow, a hollow)?
What are the affixes with necessarily
As a qualified linguist, didn't you hear of
the theory of the elasticity of words? What do
you make of it?
Words are elastic. They fill in some space
between other words. Suffixes like -ar -uj -ej
-aĵ add some more elasticity to the root in one
The main problem in language leaning, is to know
till what point a word can stretch.
When you speak a language from your young age,
you do not realise that. You imagine that all
words have a very precise and fixed meaning,
that they cover a very precise surface. Not so,
they don't, in no language (except perhaps in
If this is not understood, there is no use to
answer in more detail to the rest of the comments.
If you understand, you can answer yourself.
Let's imagine the next situation:
You must cross a mountain river. There are
stones here and there that you could use. You
must plan yours jumps to be able to cross over
to the other side. Perhaps you won't choose the
easiest sequence, and you might fall in the
A guy living in the mountain knows where to
start and what is the right path. In some places
he goes sideways and back, to be able to choose
the safer path. He would cross the river without
thinking, as if it were a solid bridge. For him
the stones touch each other. Stones are elastic
There are experts in river crossing. It's
astonishing what they do; they make impossible
jumps you wouldn't dare to do. They are skilful
poets in jumping. You can appreciate the
results, it's efficient and nice;
In any dictionary, specially in an Esperanto
dictionary, they describe the surface of a word,
what it covers, but don't give the elasticity
coefficient. The meaning of a word depends on
the context, and the skill of the author who
makes a sentence look as a boulevard. The
breaking point is when the listener doesn't
understand, that's as far you can stretch
a word. You must learn to speak as good guide
would let you cross a river. Some places, he
would stop, pause for a while so you catch your
breath, and go on. He is easy to follow.
Speaking a language is learning to be a guide,
not measure surfaces.
To appreciate the story, it's better to have
some experience of the situation.
Another example for those knowing C++. There are
several meanings for * or &. Is the language
ambiguous because of that? No, the context would
define the interpretation unambiguously. You can
even give additional meanings to these signs. But
it should not be too far from the original
meaning, otherwise the reader might be confused.
I give that example to show that even in computer
languages; that are supposed to be the summit of
logic, there are ambiguous notations for the
The true question is: how long are you a beginner:
C++, Java, Esperanto, when can you say I know
the language : 2 years, then you think and speak
If you say I did better in language x, it's only
because the word know is different for you than
Nothing is unambiguous. In fact, you never stop
learning Esperanto, to be honest. Depends on what
you want to do with it?
(#081) Esperanto's vocabulary
displays nineteenth-century mechanistic
ideology in full flourish.
assumption - inspired by Esperanto's
predecessor Volapük, as Zamenhof openly
admitted - is that every word ever spoken in
every language can be converted to an
unambiguous and unique combination of "roots",
which express basic meanings, and "affixes",
which modify them; and by keeping the number
of roots to a minimum, the memory-load is kept
down, and a careful choice of affixes
compensates by adding expressive power to the
system. However, neither Zamenhof nor
Volapük's creator appreciated that meaning -
like grammar - is in practice fluid and
largely unpredictable, and unsuitable for
shoehorning into such a rigid system. The
English words "silly" and "villain", for
example, once respectively meant "happy" and
I don't understand what you mean by nineteenth
century mechanistic ideology. Please
What you say after looks largely correct.
However read about elasticity
Note also that words were allowed to evolve
unpredictably when there was no writing, no
dictionaries, no grammar books, no education.
Tell me when -s will disappear in he
speaks (as it already did in he can,
he must, he may)?
(#082) A problem with Esperanto's
affix system is that, like the choices of
parts of speech and roots, it is based upon an
essentially arbitrary set of criteria.
It's debatable whether
it is possible to choose a universally useful
set of affixes on purely objective grounds;
Zamenhof's affixes are idiosyncratic and all
questionable in one way or another.
Moreover, a logical system of
derivational suffixing is only really possible
with verbs; most of Esperanto's affixes, by
contrast, are principally nominal.
Everything is debatable and questionable or
could be more or less logical. The fact that
Esperanto works, proves that this type of
discussion is sterile.
This kind of reasoning is comparable to the
Boats made of wood can float, because
It is sufficient to have been once on a boat made
of iron to know that there has to be a flaw in the
reasoning. It's then easy to find a better
Boats made of zinc cannot float, because zinc
Esperanto floats for 100 years, and didn't sink in
spite of all the tempests against it.
(#083) There's a fundamental problem
with such a vocabulary-building system: any
potential gain in the reduction of the
memory-load is offset by the necessity of
having to work out what the words are supposed
to mean, even without considering all the
exceptions, irregularities and idiosyncrasies
A communication on the
auxlang mailing list to a learner a while ago
gave it away: "Don't learn the roots, learn
the words". The proof of the pudding, as they
This is the view of an Idist. Ido was an attempt
to go further than Esperanto in the logic of the
language. A big difference between Ido and
Esperanto is the principle of reversibility.
Yes, Ido looks more logical than
Esperanto. And Esperanto is more logical than
English (and a lot of others).
It is possible that Esperanto is gaining ground on
Ido because our brains like some elasticity, some
imprecision, some ambiguity. We like to play with
words and double meanings.
Esperanto would certainly not be more attractive
if it was harnessed by some more rules. Read If
Ido is better than Esperanto, how come that it has
fewer speakers than Esperanto?
A logical mind, if interested in this question,
would try to find an explanation for this paradox.
Unfortunately, we are all full of passion, and use
the logic as reinforcement for the biases we
Your reference to auxlang mailing list is too
vague. I cannot verify what was said there.
My advice to learn faster : don't learn words,
learn whole sentences. What does that prove?
Don Harlow: I don't
remember reading that particular piece of advice
on the Auxlang list, but then I don't read every
message there, I'm afraid. It's certainly not
one I would have given.
For more information, read http://denizo.opia.dk/la.trezorejo/tekstoj/libroj.pdf/Saussure-Fundamentaj.reguloj.de.la.vort-teorio.en.Esperanto.pdf
by René Saussure
In my experience, learning the roots and affixes
-- and, of course, how to use them -- expands
one's vocabulary tremendously. It is a
remarkable fact that Esperanto, unlike other
"foreign" (i.e., non-native) languages, can
potentially give the speaker a larger active
vocabulary than he has in his own native
language, though it may take some time to reach
this point. This, incidentally, is why so many
people find it easier to translated from their
native language into Esperanto than in the
opposite direction, a situation completely the
opposite from what we find with other languages.
Re the Idist opinion: it seems to be based on
that which Couturat had, i.e. that the Esperanto
word-formation system actually had no
system -- in Ido he attempted to correct that
lack. Unfortunately, as de Saussure showed,
Esperanto indeed had a very functional system;
it just hadn't been well codified. The situation
was something like that with electricity; de
Saussure played the role of Esperanto's James
Clerk Maxwell, but that didn't prevent
Esperanto's Ben Franklin (Zamenhof) from getting
sparks off a key during a thunderstorm many
(#084) Virgulino means
maiden, but has several other possible
such as a male gulino
(by analogy with virbovo
"bull"), or a hermaphrodite gulo.
It's actually formed from the adjective virga
"unspoiled" - which is also used of, for
example, unploughed fields.
virg/a : first meaning: virgin (for
person); unploughed (field), unexplored (land)
virg'ulo : virga viro.
virg'ul'ino : virga virino.
gulo : small bear living in the Arctic
vir'gulo : vira gulo (male gulo)
gul'ino : ina gulo (female gulo)
vir'gul'ino has no meaning to my knowledge,
but an artist could probably draw something like
virgino could be used instead of virg'ul'ino
because ino already has the idea of ulo.
So vir'gulo and virg'ulo are
ambiguous taken out of context.
What to do to disambiguate them?
In writing vir'gulo, virg'ulo
in speaking : vira gulo, virga ulo.
There are a few similar examples solved the same
If you are interested in such word play, you
should read Raymond Schwatz. He sets up situations
where the words could be understood both way. It's
Note that a coma is said komo in Esperanto
(not virgulo as some French's seem to
Don Harlow: There are
quite a number of such possible "ambiguities" in
Esperanto; I remember some discussion in
Auxlang, years ago, about the word "sakstrato",
which could be a cul-de-sac ("sak'strat'o") or a
bill delivered to your door by a guy with a long
blond beard and a helmet with horns
("saks'trat'o"). This is the stuff of puns.
Unfortunately, you still have to really work
hard to make a pun out such words as
"virgulino", since "vir'gul'in'o" is not likely
ever to occur in ordinary, or even
literary, discourse, while "virg'ul'in'o" is far
from impossible or even uncommon.
(Another exchange, probably in another list, had
some argument from a proponent of Interlingua
about "insulino", which, according to him, could
be "insulin'o", "insul'in'o" or "ins'ul'in'o".
Another toughie for a pun, since the root "ins'"
doesn't exist, and it is not clear what type of
insulo would be an "insul'in'o".)
Again, this sort of criticism is something that
somebody simply invented to attack Esperanto,
and has no bearing on the real world.
(#086) The dictionaries give many
words which aren't built up from Esperantine
roots at all; many of these words are Latin or
Greek compounds with elements which would be
more recognisable than their Esperanto
"Astronomy" is thus astronomio
- a form reasonably obvious to everybody - and
not the rather ugly Esperanto compound stelscienco,
Unfortunately the tendency is going towards words
like steloscienco. This is due to our
Chinese friends. Chinese (and many others) don't
find steloscienco ugly.
]-436 on this subject.
this is an ongoing argument in the Esperanto
world. There is an occasional tendency
toward regularity as opposed to historicity;
e.g., Akiko Woessink-Nagata's "lingviko" seems
to be becoming more popular at the expense of
the "international" "lingvistiko" (which
more properly a subscience of psychology which
studies linguists). However, the argument here
is that there already exists an international
scientific terminology (though in fact
"international" generally means either
"European" or "I speak English") and that
Esperanto should make use of it so that fully
accredited scientists (most of whom don't really
care) can read articles written in Esperanto.
a recent BBC program, the meteorological
phenomenon known as the "jet stream" was
discovered in the thirties by a Chinese
scientist, who wrote a paper on it in
Esperanto, which nobody read, and so the actual
discovery was put off until the forties,
when the Japanese "discovered" it and used it,
e.g. to float incendiary balloons across the
Pacific Ocean to my home state of Oregon.
However, there may be some indications that,
while Western scientists of that time
ignored papers in Esperanto, the Japanese
weren't quite so finicky, and that their
"discovery" of the jet stream may have been
predicated on that paper ...
In any case, check out the currently available
Esperanto dictionary of physics. It is in
Esperanto, English and Japanese, and if you look
at the Japanese equivalents for the various terms
used in the science of physics, you can see just
how "international" the "international" scientific
terminology really is ...