Does Esperanto really
have 16 rules?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 sketchy rules.
You should be capable of finding out the
grammar rules by yourself, based on the
This is the most natural way to learn a
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
In summary, the grammar of Esperanto written in
English is quite simple, but written in
Esperanto for all possible languages, it is
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 under Mozilla/Firefox
(#151) Esperanto has
needs an accusative case? Who needs plural
marking? Who needs adjectival agreement in
number and case?
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
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
adjective.Example from the eurojargon
EEC: This is the abbreviation for the
European Economic Community –
one of three European Communities (see
below) set up in 1957
to bring about economic integration in
translated to :
In some languages (French, Dutch) they
translated set up
to starigitaj which
- EEK: Mallongigo por
Ekonomia Komunumo - unu el tri
Eŭropaj Komunumoj (vidu sube)
en 1957 por faciligi la ekonomian integrigon
In other (German, Polish) they translated
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
BTW isn't it even more irritating to mark
the singular with an s : the horse eats an
See other similar problems in Piron's
(#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
To supplement the grammar, there is a basic
vocabulary and a set of exercises and
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
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
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"
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 following
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, Polish, etc...).
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 words.
(#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
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
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
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
Studying [PAGE ] would not help you as much as
reading good authors. Who ever learned a
language by just studying the grammar,
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
So, Zamenhof did consider this subject
properly, the real question is: why didn't he
say so in his grammar?
I think I answered.
(#026) Esperanto grammar contains many
grammatical usages which are non obvious,
unstated, inconsistent or
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
la knabinon per binoklo. Ili
binoklo knabinon. Ili vidis la
binoklo knabinon. Ili segis la knabinon
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
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
Classical grammar has nothing to do with it. I
doubt credibility was one of Zamenhof concerns.
This is unsupported speculation as the ?
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
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 else.
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
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
-N is just a mark for a complement
without preposition. People knowing Latin,
Greek, polish, Russian, German, etc... would
call this -n: accusative 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 prepositions.Rule 2:
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
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
- 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
- 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 thought
through;See previous note :
"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
The -n is replacing al:
mi iras al la domo (French: je vais à la
maison), mi iras al Londono (je vais à
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
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
For the moment, follow the rule, you will not
get into trouble.
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 object.
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 situations).
(#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
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
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
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
akv/o (water), akvi: to give
ali/a (other) : alii: be
different; aliigi=to change (to modify,
to make different); aliiĝi: to change
(to become different);
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
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 in
Esperanto?There isn't a correct
word order, but a most common word
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
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
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
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 el la urbo, is one
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
ke God's love havas nur unu senson? Kio
signifas "the love of God"?
You could use: la Dia amo (God's love for his
creatures) and la amo al Dio (the love
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
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
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
(#061) Esperanto propaganda and teaching
guides place great importance on the principle
of marking a word's part of speech by its
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
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 something similar.
" komb/i (tr) means to comb";
combilo would mean a comb or something
" raz/i (tr) means to shave";
razilo means a razor or sth
" 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
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, -ec, etc...
- 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
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 languages.
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
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
(#069) Articles are actually pretty rare in the world's
To name but a few,
Finnish, Swahili, Japanese, Chinese, and most
Slavic languages all do
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
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
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 is
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 "mies".)
(#071) Which part of speech do numbers
belong to, exactly?They belong to
the cardinal numerals. Why do you ask?
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, „firstly”, etc.
(#073) The numbers 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
This is because
Zamenhof never made up his mind whether or not
numbers should be nouns, adjectives or
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
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 thin air.
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
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 = 106Even 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 sepdek du=1072.
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 to NPIV, 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
This is far too
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,
„they do”.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,
The present participle active ends in ant,
e. g. far'ant'a, „he who is doing”;
far'ant'e, „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,
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
This, incidentally, is why Esperanto does not
use "havi" with participles,
which is also confusing to some
(#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 ŝtelata: is being stolenThe 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
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
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).
Ĉu [TYE] estas tiom
konfusa? Kion mi povas konsili al komencanto
anstataŭ denove [PAGE ] ?
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
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
(#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.Rule
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
than I”.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
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.
"something 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",
"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 _commonly_
Are you sure that the word "kavaĵa"
isn't "kavaĵo" (something hollow, a
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
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 for him.
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
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
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 beginner.
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 the language.
If you say I did better in language x, it's
only because the word know is different for you
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
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 "farm
worker".I don't understand what you
mean by nineteenth century mechanistic
ideology. Please clarify.
What you say after looks largely correct.
However read about elasticity of words.
Note also that words were allowed to evolve
unpredictably when there was no writing, no
dictionaries, no grammar books, no
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
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 wood
floats.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 explanation.
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
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
say...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
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
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 already have.
Your reference to auxlang mailing list is too
vague. I cannot verify what was said
My advice to learn faster : don't learn words,
learn whole sentences. What does that
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
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 years
(#084) Virgulino means maiden,
but has several other possible incorrect
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
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
vir'gulo : vira gulo (male
gul'ino : ina gulo (female
vir'gul'ino has no meaning to my
knowledge, but an artist could probably draw
something like that.
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
There are a few similar examples solved the
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 not easy.
Note that a coma is said komo in
Esperanto (not virgulo as some French's
seem to think)
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
(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
(#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
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.
Read [PAGE ]-436 on this subject.
Don Harlow: 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 is 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
According to 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
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 ...