- For Esperanto morphology, see also Esperanto vocabulary
Esperanto is a constructed auxiliary language. A highly regular grammar makes Esperanto much easier to learn than most other languages of the world, though particular features may be more or less advantageous or difficult depending on the language background of the learner. Parts of speech are immediately obvious, for example: Τhe suffix -o indicates a noun, -a an adjective, -as a present-tense verb, and so on for other grammatical functions. An extensive system of affixes may be freely combined with roots to generate vocabulary; and the rules of word formation are straightforward, allowing speakers to communicate with a much smaller root vocabulary than in most other languages. It is possible to communicate effectively with a vocabulary built upon 400 to 500 roots, though there are numerous specialized vocabularies for sciences, professions, and other activities.
Reference grammars of the language include the Plena Analiza Gramatiko (English: Complete Analytical Grammar) by Kálmán Kalocsay and Gaston Waringhien, and the Plena Manlibro de Esperanta Gramatiko (English: Complete Handbook of Esperanto Grammar) by Bertilo Wennergren.
- 1 Grammatical summary
- 2 Script and pronunciation
- 3 The article
- 4 Parts of speech
- 5 Nouns and adjectives
- 6 Pronouns
- 7 Prepositions
- 8 Verbs
- 9 Participles
- 10 Negatives
- 11 Questions
- 12 Conjunctions
- 13 Interjections
- 14 Word formation
- 15 Numbers
- 16 Comparisons
- 17 Word order
- 18 Non-Indo-European aspects
- 19 Sample text
- 20 See also
- 21 Notes
- 22 External links
Esperanto has an agglutinative morphology, no grammatical gender, and simple verbal and nominal inflections. Verbal suffixes indicate four moods, of which the indicative has three tenses, and are derived for several aspects, but do not agree with the grammatical person or number of their subjects. Nouns and adjectives have two cases, nominative/oblique and accusative/allative, and two numbers, singular and plural; the adjectival form of personal pronouns behaves like a genitive case. Adjectives generally agree with nouns in case and number. In addition to indicating direct objects, the accusative/allative case is used with nouns, adjectives and adverbs to show the destination of a motion, or to replace certain prepositions; the nominative/oblique is used in all other situations. The case system allows for a flexible word order that reflects information flow and other pragmatic concerns, as in Russian, Greek, and Latin.
These concepts are illustrated below.
Script and pronunciation
Esperanto uses the Latin alphabet. The orthography utilizes diacritics, which make digraphs such as English ch and sh unnecessary. (Alternatively, Esperanto may be written with English-like digraphs in h or, unofficially, x, rather than with diacritics, but this is seldom seen outside email.) Overall, the Esperanto alphabet resembles the Czech alphabet, but with circumflexes rather than háčeks on the letters ĉ, ŝ; Western-based ĝ, ĵ in place of Czech dž, ž; and ĥ for Czech ch. These letters are unique to Esperanto, though it also has a letter ŭ that is shared with the Belarusian Łacinka alphabet and has been dropped from the Romanian alphabet.
Esperanto has a single definite article, la, which is invariable. It is similar to English the.
La is used:
- For identifiable, countable objects:
- Mi trovis botelon kaj deprenis la fermilon.
- "I found a bottle and took off the lid."
- Mi trovis botelon kaj deprenis la fermilon.
- For representative individuals:
- La gepardo estas la plej rapida de la bestoj.
- "The cheetah is the fastest of the animals."
- La abeloj havas felon, sed ili ne taŭgas por karesi.
- "Bees have fur, but they're no good for petting."
- La gepardo estas la plej rapida de la bestoj.
- For adjectives used as nouns, such as ethnic adjectives used as the names of languages:
- la blua
- "the blue one"
- la angla
- "English" (i.e. "the English language")
- la blua
- For possessive pronouns, when definite:
- La mia bluas, la via ruĝas.
- "Mine is blue, yours is red".
- La mia bluas, la via ruĝas.
- Ili tranĉis la manon.
- "They cut their hands." [one hand each]
There is no grammatically required indefinite article: homo means either "human being" or "a human being", depending on the context, and similarly the plural homoj means "human beings" or "some human beings". The words iu and unu (or their plurals iuj and unuj) may be used somewhat like indefinite articles, but they're closer in meaning to "some" and "a certain" than to English "a". This use of unu corresponds to English "a" when the "a" indicates a specific individual. Consider, for example,
- Ŝi volas edziniĝi al svedo.
- "She wants to marry a Swede" (she wants the man she marries to be Swedish—no specific person in mind)
- Ŝi volas edziniĝi al unu svedo.
- "She wants to marry a Swede" (the man she wants to marry is Swedish—a specific person)
This use of unu plays the role of "there was" in the introduction of fairy tales (There was an old woman who ...) and in introducing new participants (A man came up to me and said ...).
Parts of speech
The suffixes -o, -a, -e, and -i indicate that a word is a noun, adjective, adverb, and infinitive verb, respectively. Many new words can be derived simply by changing these suffixes, just as -ly derives adverbs from adjectives in English: From vidi (to see), we get vida (visual), vide (visually), and vido (sight).
Each root word has an inherent part of speech: nominal, adjectival, verbal, or adverbial. These must be memorized explicitly and affect the use of the part-of-speech suffixes. With an adjectival or verbal root, the nominal suffix -o indicates an abstraction: parolo (an act of speech, one's word) from the verbal root paroli (to speak); belo (beauty) from the adjectival root bela (beautiful); whereas with a noun, the nominal suffix simply indicates the noun. Nominal or verbal roots may likewise be modified with the adjectival suffix -a: reĝa (royal), from the nominal root reĝo (a king); parola (spoken). The various verbal endings mean to be [__] when added to an adjectival root: beli (to be beautiful); and with a nominal root they mean to act as the noun, to use the noun, etc., depending on the semantics of the root: reĝi (to reign). There are relatively few adverbial roots, so most words ending in -e are derived: bele (beautifully). Often with a nominal or verbal root, the English equivalent is a prepositional phrase: parole (by speech, orally); vide (by sight, visually); reĝe (like a king, royally).
The meanings of part-of-speech affixes depend on the inherent part of speech of the root they are applied to. For example, brosi (to brush) is based on a nominal root (and therefore listed in modern dictionaries under the entry broso), whereas kombi (to comb) is based on a verbal root (and therefore listed under kombi). Change the suffix to -o, and the similar meanings of brosi and kombi diverge: broso is a brush, the name of an instrument, whereas kombo is a combing, the name of an action. That is, changing verbal kombi (to comb) to a noun simply creates the name for the action; for the name of the tool, the suffix -ilo is used, which derives words for instruments from verbal roots: kombilo (a comb). On the other hand, changing the nominal root broso (a brush) to a verb gives the action associated with that noun, brosi (to brush). For the name of the action, the suffix -ado will change a derived verb back to a noun: brosado (a brushing). Similarly, an abstraction of a nominal root (changing it to an adjective and then back to a noun) requires the suffix -eco, as in infaneco (childhood), but an abstraction of an adjectival or verbal root merely requires the nominal -o: belo (beauty). Nevertheless, redundantly affixed forms such as beleco are acceptable and widely used.
A limited number of basic adverbs do not end with -e, but with an undefined part-of-speech ending -aŭ. Not all words ending in -aŭ are adverbs, and most of the adverbs that end in -aŭ have other functions, such as hodiaŭ "today" [noun or adverb] or ankoraŭ "yet, still" [conjunction or adverb]. About a dozen other adverbs are bare roots, such as nun "now", tro "too, too much", not counting the adverbs among the correlatives. (See special Esperanto adverbs.)
Other parts of speech occur as bare roots, without special suffixes. These are the prepositions (al "to"), conjunctions (kaj "and"), interjections (ho "oh"), numerals (du "two"), and pronouns (mi "I"—The final -i found on pronouns is not a suffix, but part of the root). There are also several grammatical "particles" which don't fit neatly into any category, and which must generally precede the words they modify, such as ne (not), ankaŭ (also), nur (only), eĉ (even).
The part-of-speech endings may be iterated. With the -aŭ suffix, this is nearly universal, and the -aŭ is rarely dropped: anstataŭ 'instead of', anstataŭe 'instead', anstantaŭa 'substitute', anstataŭo 'a substitute', anstataŭi 'to replace', etc. (Rarely anstate, anstata, anstato, anstati.) In the case of prepositions and particles, there is nothing to drop: nea 'negative', nei 'to deny'. However, occasionally other endings double up. For example, vivu! "viva!" (the volitive of vivi 'to live') has a nominal form vivuo (a cry of 'viva!') and a doubly verbal form vivui (to cry 'viva!').
Nouns and adjectives
A suffix -j following the noun or adjective suffixes -o or -a makes a word plural. Without this suffix, a countable noun is understood to be singular. Direct objects take an accusative case suffix -n, which goes after any plural suffix. (The resulting sequence -ojn rhymes with English coin, and -ajn rhymes with fine.)
Adjectives agree with nouns. That is, they are plural if the nouns they modify are plural, and accusative if the nouns they modify are accusative. Compare bona tago; bonaj tagoj; bonan tagon; bonajn tagojn (good day/days). This requirement allows for free word orders of adjective-noun and noun-adjective, even when two noun phrases are adjacent in subject–object–verb or verb–subject–object clauses:
- la knabino feliĉan knabon kisis (the girl kissed a happy boy)
- la knabino feliĉa knabon kisis (the happy girl kissed a boy).
Agreement clarifies the syntax in other ways as well. Adjectives take the plural suffix when they modify more than one noun, even if those nouns are all singular:
- ruĝaj domo kaj aŭto (a red house and [a red] car)
- ruĝa domo kaj aŭto (a red house and a car).
A predicative adjective does not take the accusative case suffix even when the noun it modifies does:
- mi farbis la pordon ruĝan (I painted the red door)
- mi farbis la pordon ruĝa (I painted the door red).
There are three types of pronouns in Esperanto: personal (vi "you"), demonstrative (tio "that", iu "someone"), and relative/interrogative (kio "what").
|first person||mi (I)||ni (we)|
|second person||vi (you)|
|masculine||li (he)||ili (they)|
|ĝi (it, s/he)|
- *In colloquial English, generally translated "they" or "you".
Personal pronouns take the accusative suffix -n as nouns do: min (me), lin (him), ŝin (her). Possessive adjectives are formed with the adjectival suffix -a: mia (my), ĝia (its), nia (our). These agree with their noun like any other adjective: ni salutis liajn amikojn (we greeted his friends). Esperanto does not have separate forms for the possessive pronouns; this sense is generally (though not always) indicated with the definite article: la mia (mine).
The reflexive pronoun is used, in non-subject phrases only, to refer to back to the subject, usually only in the third and indefinite persons:
- li lavis sin "he washed" (himself)
- ili lavis sin "they washed" (themselves or each other)
- li lavis lin "he washed him" (someone else)
- li manĝis sian panon "he ate his bread" (his own bread)
- li manĝis lian panon "he ate his bread" (someone else's bread).
The indefinite pronoun is used when making general statements, and is often used where English would have the subject it with a passive verb,
- oni diras, ke ... "they say that ..." or "it's said that ..."
With impersonal verbs such as verbs of weather, however, no pronoun is used:
- pluvas "it's raining".
Zamenhof created an informal second-person singular pronoun ci (thou), and capitalized the formal singular pronoun Vi, following usage in most European languages, but these forms are rarely seen today.
Ĝi is used principally with animals and objects. Zamenhof also prescribed it to be the epicene (gender-neutral) third-person singular pronoun, for use when the gender of an individual is unknown, or to refer to an epicene noun such as persono (person). However, this use is generally only found with children:
- La infano ploras, ĉar ĝi volas manĝi "the child is crying, because it wants to eat".
When speaking of adults or people in general, it is much more common for the demonstrative adjective and pronoun tiu (that one) to be used in such situations. However, this remedy is not always available. For example, the sentence,
- Iu ĵus diris, ke tiu malsatas "Someone just said that tiu is hungry",
the pronoun tiu is understood to refer only to someone other than the person speaking, and so cannot be used in place of li or ŝi.
The demonstrative and relative pronouns form part of the correlative system, and are described in that article. The pronouns are the forms ending in -o (simple pronouns) and -u (adjectival pronouns). Their accusative case is formed in -n, but the genitive case ends in -es, which is the same for singular and plural and does not take accusative marking. Compare the nominative phases lia domo (his house) and ties domo (that one's house, those ones' house) with the plural liaj domoj (his houses) and ties domoj (that one's houses, those ones' houses), and with the accusative genitive lian domon and ties domon.
Although Esperanto word order is fairly free, prepositions must come at the beginning of a noun phrase. Whereas in languages such as German, prepositions may require a noun to be in various cases (accusative, dative, etc.), in Esperanto all prepositions govern the nominative: por Johano (for John). The only exception is when there are two or more prepositions and one is replaced by the accusative.
Prepositions should be used with a definite meaning. When no one preposition is clearly correct, the indefinite preposition je should be used:
- ili iros je la tria de majo (they'll go on the third of May: the "on" isn't literally true).
Alternatively, the accusative may be used without a preposition:
- ili iros la trian de majo.
Note that although la trian (the third) is in the accusative, de majo (of May) is still a prepositional phrase, and so the noun majo remains in the nominative case.
A frequent use of the accusative is in place of al (to) to indicate the direction or goal of motion (allative construction). It is especially common when there would otherwise be a double preposition:
- la kato ĉasis la muson en la domo (the cat chased the mouse in [inside of] the house)
- la kato ĉasis la muson en la domon (the cat chased the mouse into the house).
The accusative/allative may stand in for other prepositions as well, especially when they have vague meanings that don't add much to the clause. Adverbs, with or without the case suffix, are frequently used in place of prepositional phrases:
- li iris al sia hejmo (he went to his home)
- li iris hejmen (he went home)
Both por and pro often translate English 'for'. However, they distinguish for a goal (looking forward in time, or causing: por) and for a cause (looking back in time, or being caused by: pro): To vote por your friend means to cast a ballot with their name on it, whereas to vote pro your friend would mean to vote in their place or as they asked you to.
The preposition most distinct from English usage is perhaps de, which corresponds to English of, from, off, and (done) by:
- libro de Johano (John's book)
- li venis de la butiko (he came from the shop)
- mordita de hundo (bitten by a dog)
However, English of corresponds to several Esperanto prepositions as well: de, el (out of, made of), and da (quantity of, unity of form and contents):
- tablo el ligno (a table of wood)
- glaso da vino (a glass of wine)
- listo da kondiĉoj de la kandidatoj (a list of conditions from the candidates)
Occasionally a new preposition is coined. Because a bare root may indicate a preposition or interjection, removing the grammatical suffix from another part of speech can be used to derive a preposition or interjection. For example, from fari (to do, to make) we get the preposition far (done by).
All verbal inflection is regular. Three tenses together form what is called the indicative mood. The other moods are the infinitive, conditional, and jussive. No aspectual distinctions are required by the grammar, but derivational expressions of Aktionsart are common.
Verbs do not change form according to their subject. I am, we are, and he is are simply mi estas, ni estas, and li estas, respectively. Impersonal subjects are not used: pluvas (it is raining); estas muso en la domo (there's a mouse in the house).
Most verbs are inherently transitive or intransitive. As with the inherent part of speech of a root, this is not apparent from the shape of the verb and must simply be memorized. Transitivity is changed with the suffixes -igi (the transitivizer/causative) and -iĝi (the intransitivizer/middle voice):
- akvo bolas je cent gradoj (water boils at 100 degrees)
- ni boligas la akvon (we boil the water).
The verbal paradigm
The tenses have characteristic vowels. A indicates the present tense, i the past, and o the future.
|Indicative||Active participle||Passive participle||Infinitive||Jussive||Conditional|
The verbal forms may be illustrated with the root esper- (hope):
- esperi (to hope)
- esperas (hopes, is hoping)
- esperis (hoped, was hoping)
- esperos (shall hope, will hope)
- esperu (hope!; a command)
- esperus (were to hope, would hope)
A verb can be made emphatic with the particle ja (indeed): mi ja esperas (I do hope), mi ja esperis (I did hope).
As in English, Esperanto present tense may be used for generic statements such as "birds fly" (la birdoj flugas).
The Esperanto future is a true tense, used whenever future time is meant. For example, in English "(I'll give it to you) when I see you" the verb is in the present tense despite the time being in the future; in Esperanto, future tense is required: (Mi donos ĝin al vi) kiam mi vidos vin.
Esperanto tense is relative. This differs from English absolute tense, where the tense is past, present, or future of the moment of speaking: In Esperanto, the tense of a subordinate verb is instead anterior or posterior to the time of the main verb. For example, "John said that he would go" is in Esperanto Johano diris, ke li iros (lit., "John said that he will go"); this does not mean that he will go at some point in the future from now (as "John said that he will go" means in English), but that at the time he said this, his going was still in the future.
The conditional mood is used for such expressions as se mi povus, mi irus (if I could, I would go) and se mi estus vi, mi irus (if I were you, I'd go).
- Iru! (Go!)
- Mi petis, ke li venu. (I asked him to come.)
- Li parolu. (Let him speak.)
- Ni iru. (Let's go.)
- Benu ĉi tiun domaĉon. (Bless this mess.)
- Mia filino belu! (May my daughter be beautiful!)
Verbal aspect is not grammatically required in Esperanto. However, aspectual distinctions may be expressed via participles (see below), and the Slavic aspectual system survives in two aktionsart affixes, perfective (often inceptive) ek- and imperfective -adi. Compare,
- Tiu ĉi interesis min (This interested me)
- Tiu ĉi ekinteresis min kaj montris al mi, ke ... (This caught my interest and showed me that ...).
Various prepositions may also be used as aktionsart prefixes, such as el (out of), used to indicate that an action is performed to completion or at least to a considerable degree, also as in Slavic languages. In
- Germanan kaj francan lingvojn mi ellernis en infaneco (I learned French and German in childhood),
the verb el-lern-is is past tense (-is), and performed to significant completion (el-).
The verb esti (to be) is both the copula and the existential ("there is") verb. As a copula linking two noun phrases, it does not cause either to take the accusative case. Therefore, unlike the situation with other verbs, word order with esti can be semantically important: compare hundoj estas personoj (dogs are people) and personoj estas hundoj (people are dogs).
It is becoming increasingly common to replace esti-plus-adjective with a verb: la ĉielo estas blua or la ĉielo bluas (the sky is blue). This is a stylistic rather than grammatical change in the language, as the more economical verbal forms were always found in poetry.
Participles are verbal derivatives. In Esperanto, there are six forms:
- three aspects: past (or "perfective"), present (or "progressive"), and future (or "predictive")
The participles represent aspect by retaining the vowel of the related verbal tense: i, a, o. In addition to carrying aspect, participles are the principal means of representing voice, with either nt or t following the vowel (see next section).
The basic principle of the participles may be illustrated with the verb fali (to fall). Picture Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff. Before gravity kicks in (after all, this is a cartoon), he is falonta (about to fall). As he drops, he is falanta (falling). After he impacts the desert floor, he is falinta (fallen).
Active and passive pairs can be illustrated with the transitive verb haki (to chop). Picture a woodsman approaching a tree with an axe, intending to chop it down. He is hakonta (about to chop) and the tree is hakota (about to be chopped). While swinging the axe, he is hakanta (chopping) and the tree hakata (being chopped). After the tree has fallen, he is hakinta (having chopped) and the tree hakita (chopped).
Adjectival participles agree with nouns in number and case, just as other adjectives do:
- ili ŝparis la arbojn hakotajn (they spared the trees [that were] to be chopped down).
Compound tenses are formed with the adjectival participles plus esti (to be) as the auxiliary verb. The participle reflects aspect and voice, while the verb carries tense:
- Present progressive: mi estas kaptanta (I am catching [something]), mi estas kaptata (I am being caught)
- Present perfect: mi estas kaptinta (I have caught [something]), mi estas kaptita (I have been caught, I am caught)
- Present prospective: mi estas kaptonta (I am going to catch / about to catch), mi estas kaptota (I am going to be caught / about to be caught)
These are not used as often as their English equivalents. For "I am going to the store", you would normally use the simple present mi iras in Esperanto.
The tense and mood of esti can be changed in these compound tenses:
- mi estis kaptinta (I had caught)
- mi estus kaptonta (I would be about to catch)
- mi estos kaptanta (I will be catching).
Although such periphrastic constructions are familiar to speakers of most European languages, the option of contracting [esti + adjective] into a verb is often seen for adjectival participles:
- mi estas kaptinta or mi kaptintas (I have caught)
- mi estis kaptinta or mi kaptintis (I had caught)
The most common of these synthetic forms are:
|Present tense||mi kaptas
(I am catching)
(I have caught)
(I am about to catch)
|Past tense||mi kaptis
(I was catching)
(I had caught)
(I was about to catch)
|Future tense||mi kaptos
(I will catch)
(I will be catching)
(I will have caught)
(I will be about to catch)
|Conditional mood||mi kaptus
(I would catch)
(I would be catching)
(I would have caught)
(I would be about to catch)
Infinitive and jussive forms are also found. There is a parallel passive paradigm.
Participles may be turned into adverbs or nouns by replacing the adjectival suffix -a with -e or -o. This means that, in Esperanto, some nouns may be inflected for tense.
A nominal participle indicates one who participates in the action specified by the verbal root. For example, esperinto is a "hoper" (past tense), or one who had been hoping.
Adverbial participles are used with subjectless clauses:
- Kaptinte la pilkon, li ekkuris golen (Having caught the ball, he ran for the goal).
Conditional and tenseless participles (unofficial)
Occasionally, the participle paradigm will be extended to include conditional participles, with the vowel u (-unt-, -ut-). If, for example, in our tree-chopping example, the woodsman found that the tree had been spiked and so couldn't be cut down after all, he would be hakunta and the tree hakuta (he, the one "who would chop", and the tree, the one that "would be chopped").
This can also be illustrated with the verb prezidi (to preside). Just after the recount of the 2000 United States presidential election:
- then-president Bill Clinton was still prezidanto (current president) of the United States,
- president-elect George W. Bush was declared prezidonto (president-to-be),
- the previous president George H. W. Bush was a prezidinto (former president), and
- the contending candidate Al Gore was prezidunto (would-be president – that is, if the recount had gone differently).
The conditional forms are infrequent, but their regular derivation ensures that they can be readily understood, even if rarely needed. No European language has conditional participles; in English, words like prezidunto must be expressed periphrastically, as in the title of Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King.
The tense-neutral word prezidento is officially a separate root, not a derivative of the verb prezidi. The element -ento frequently occurs in words for occupations where one would not wish to specify tense, such as prezidento or studento (student). Because there is often a verb derived from the same Latin root, in these cases prezidi (to preside) and studi (to study), this -ento has occasionally been proposed[by whom?] as a tense-neutral active participle by analogy with the temporal participles -anto, -into, -onto. However, there is no analogous passive *-eto, because that already exists as the diminutive suffix. The nearest equivalent is the middle voice suffix -iĝi, which is commonly used as a generic passive. Unlike the active case, where a few new nouns like prezidento were sufficient to avoid making the language overly specific, a need for a neutral passive participle was felt early on. For example, there was heated debate for several decades as to whether "I was born in 19xx" should be mi estis naskita (I had been born) or mi estis naskata (literally 'I was being born'), with the French and Germans generally holding opposite opinions deriving from usage in their native languages. Today, people sidestep the issue with the aspectually neutral mi naskiĝis (I was born).
A statement is made negative by using ne or one of the negative (neni-) correlatives. Ordinarily, only one negative word is allowed per clause:
- Mi ne faris ion ajn. I didn't do anything.
Two negatives within a clause cancel each other out, with the result being a positive sentence.
- Mi ne faris nenion. Mi ja faris ion. It is not the case that I did nothing. I did do something.
The word ne comes before the word it negates, with the default position being before the verb:
- Mi ne skribis tion (I didn't write that)
- Ne mi skribis tion (It wasn't me who wrote that)
- Mi skribis ne tion (It wasn't that that I wrote)
The latter will frequently be reordered as ne tion mi skribis depending on the flow of information.
"Wh" questions are asked with one of the interrogative/relative (ki-) correlatives. They are commonly placed at the beginning of the sentence, but different word orders are allowed for stress:
- Li scias, kion vi faris (He knows what you did.)
- Kion vi faris? (What did you do?)
- Vi faris kion? (You did what?)
Yes/no questions are marked with the conjunction ĉu (whether):
- Mi ne scias, ĉu li venos (I don't know whether he'll come)
- Ĉu li venos? (Will he come?)
Such questions can be answered jes (yes) or ne (no) in the European fashion of aligning with the polarity of the answer, or ĝuste (correct) or malĝuste (incorrect) in the Japanese fashion of aligning with the polarity of the question:
- Ĉu vi ne iris? (Did you not go?)
- — Ne, mi ne iris (No, I didn't go); — Jes, mi iris (Yes, I went)
- — Ĝuste, mi ne iris (Correct, I didn't go); — Malĝuste, mi iris (Incorrect, I did go)
Note that Esperanto questions may have the same word order as statements.
Basic Esperanto conjunctions are kaj (both/and), aŭ (either/or), nek (neither/nor), se (if), ĉu (whether/or), sed (but), anstataŭ (instead of), krom (besides, in addition to), kiel (like, as), ke (that). Like prepositions, they precede the phrase or clause they modify:
- Mi vidis kaj lin kaj lian amikon (I saw both him and his friend)
- Estis nek hele nek agrable (it was neither clear [sunny] nor pleasant)
- ĉu pro kaprico, ĉu pro natura lingvo-evoluo (whether by whim, or by natural language development)
- Li volus, ke ni iru (he would like us to go)
However, unlike prepositions, they allow the accusative case, as in the following example from Don Harlow:
- Li traktis min kiel princon (He treated me like a prince: that is, as he would treat a prince)
- Li traktis min kiel princo (He treated me like a prince: that is, as a prince would treat me)
Interjections may be derived from bare affixes or roots: ek! (get going!), from the perfective prefix; um (um, er), from the indefinite/undefined suffix; fek! (shit!), from feki (to defecate).
- Main article: Esperanto word formation
Esperanto derivational morphology uses a large number of lexical and grammatical affixes (prefixes and suffixes). These, along with compounding, decrease the memory load of the language, as they allow for the expansion of a relatively small number of basic roots into a large vocabulary. For example, the Esperanto root vid- (see) regularly corresponds to several dozen English words: see (saw, seen), sight, blind, vision, visual, visible, nonvisual, invisible, unsightly, glance, view, vista, panorama, observant etc., though there are also separate Esperanto roots for a couple of these concepts.
The cardinal numerals are:
- nul (zero)
- unu (one)
- du (two)
- tri (three)
- kvar (four)
- kvin (five)
- ses (six)
- sep (seven)
- ok (eight)
- naŭ (nine)
- dek (ten)
- cent (one hundred)
- mil (one thousand)
These are grammatically numerals, not nouns, and as such do not take the accusative case suffix. However, unu (and only unu) is sometimes used adjectivally or demonstratively, meaning "a certain", and in such cases it may take the plural affix -j, just as the demonstrative pronoun tiu does:
- unuj homoj
- "certain people";
- ili kuris unuj post la aliaj
- "they ran some after others".
In such use unu is irregular in that it doesn't take the accusative affix -n in the singular, but does in the plural:
- ian unu ideon
- "some particular idea",
- unuj objektoj venis en unujn manojn, aliaj en aliajn manojn
- "some objects come into certain hands, others into other hands".
Additionally, when counting off, the final u of unu may be dropped, as if it were a part-of-speech suffix:
- Un'! Du! Tri! Kvar!
At numbers beyond the thousands, the international roots miliono (million) and miliardo (milliard) are used. Beyond this there are two systems: A billion in most English-speaking countries is different from a billion in most other countries (109 vs. 1012 respectively; that is, a thousand million vs. a million million). The international root biliono is likewise ambiguous in Esperanto, and is deprecated for this reason. An unambiguous system based on adding the Esperanto suffix -iliono to numerals is generally used instead, sometimes supplemented by a second suffix -iliardo:
- 106: miliono
- 109: miliardo (or mil milionoj)
- 1012: duiliono
- 1015: duiliardo (or mil duilionoj)
- 1018: triiliono
- 1021: triiliardo (or mil triilionoj)
Note that these forms are grammatically nouns, not numerals, and therefore cannot modify a noun directly: mil homojn (a thousand people [accusative]) but milionon da homoj (a million people [accusative]). An unambiguous international system is also provided by the metric prefixes, and the nonce numerals meg (miliono) and gig (miliardo) are occasionally derived from them: meg homojn (a million people).
Compound numerals and derivatives
Numerals are written together as one word when their values are multiplied, and separately when their values are added (dudek 20, dek du 12, dudek du 22). Ordinals are formed with the adjectival suffix -a, quantities with the nominal suffix -o, multiples with -obl-, fractions with -on-, collectives with -op-, and repetitions with the root -foj-.
- sescent sepdek kvin (675)
- tria (third [as in first, second, third])
- trie (thirdly)
- dudeko (a score )
- duobla (double)
- kvarono (one fourth, a quarter)
- duope (by twos)
- dufoje (twice)
The particle po is used to mark distributive numbers, that is, the idea of distributing a certain number of items to each member of a group. Consequently the logogram @ is not used (except in email addresses, of course):
- mi donis al ili po tri pomojn or pomojn mi donis al ili po tri (I gave [to] them three apples each).
Note that particle po forms a phrase with the numeral tri and is not a preposition for the noun phrase tri pomojn, so it does not prevent a grammatical object from taking the accusative case.
Comparisons are made with the adverbial correlatives tiel ... kiel (as ... as), the adverbial roots pli (more) and plej (most), the antonym prefix mal-, and the preposition ol (than):
- mi skribas tiel bone kiel vi (I write as well as you)
- tiu estas pli bona ol tiu (this one is better than that one)
- tio estas la plej bona (that's the best)
- la mia estas malpli multekosta ol la via (mine is less expensive than yours)
Implied comparisons are made with tre (very) and tro (too [much]).
Phrases like "The more people, the smaller the portions" and "All the better!" are translated using ju and des in place of "the":
- Ju pli da homoj, des malpli grandaj la porcioj (The more people, the smaller the portions)
- Des pli bone! (All the better!)
Esperanto has a fairly flexible word order. However, word order does play a role in Esperanto grammar, even if a much lesser role than it does in English. For example, the negative particle ne generally comes before the element being negated; negating the verb has the effect of negating the entire clause (or rather, there is ambiguity between negating the verb alone and negating the clause):
- mi ne iris 'I didn't go'
- mi ne iris, mi revenis 'I didn't go, I came back'
- ne mi iris or iris ne mi 'it wasn't me who went'
- mi iris ne al la butiko sed hejmen 'I went not to the shop but home'.
However, when the entire clause is negated, the ne may be left till last:
- mi iris ne 'I went not'.
The last order reflects a typical topic–comment (or theme–rheme) order: Known information, the topic under discussion, is introduced first, and what one has to say about it follows. (I went not: As for my going, there was none.) For example, yet another order, ne iris mi, would suggest that the possibility of not having gone was under discussion, and mi is given as an example of one who did not go.
- Pasintjare mi feriis en Italujo
- 'Last year I vacationed in Italy' (Italy was the place I went on holiday)
- En Italujo mi feriis pasintjare
- 'I vacationed in Italy last year' (last year was when I went)
- En Italujo pasintjare mi feriis
- 'In Italy last year I went on vacation' (a vacation is why I went)
- En Italujo pasintjare feriis mi
- (I am the one who went)
The noun phrase
Within a noun phrase, either the order adjective–noun or noun–adjective may occur, though the former is somewhat more common. Less flexibility occurs with numerals and demonstratives, with numeral–noun and demonstrative–noun being the norm, as in English.
- blua ĉielo ~ ĉielo blua 'a blue sky'
- tiu ĉielo ~ ĉielo tiu 'that sky'
- tiu blua ĉielo ~ tiu ĉielo blua ~ blua ĉielo tiu 'that blue sky'
- sep bluaj ĉieloj ~ sep ĉieloj bluaj ~ ĉieloj bluaj sep 'seven blue heavens'
The last (numeral after noun) is practically unheard of outside poetry. Demonstratives such as tiu are rather uncommon after a noun as well, used there primarily for emphasis (plumo tiu 'that pen'). Even possessive pronouns strongly favor initial position, though the opposite is well known from Patro nia 'Our Father' in the Lord's Prayer.
Adjective–noun order is much freer. With simple adjectives, adjective–noun order predominates, especially if the noun is long or complex. However, a long or complex adjective typically comes after the noun, in some cases parallel to structures in English, as in the second example below:
- homo malgrandanima kaj ege avara 'a petty and extremely greedy person'
- vizaĝo plena de cikatroj 'a face full of scars'
- ideo fantazia sed tamen interesa 'a fantastic but still interesting idea'
Adjectives also normally occur after correlative nouns. Again, this is one of the situations where adjectives come after nouns in English:
- okazis io stranga 'something strange happened'
- ne ĉio brilanta estas diamanto 'not everything shiny is a diamond'
Changing the word order here can change the meaning, at least with the correlative nenio 'nothing':
- li manĝis nenion etan 'he ate nothing little'
- li manĝis etan nenion 'he ate a little nothing'
With multiple words in a phrase, the order is typically demonstrative/pronoun–numeral–(adjective/noun):
- miaj du grandaj amikoj ~ miaj du amikoj grandaj 'my two great friends'.
However, the article la comes almost exclusively at the front of the noun phrase except, rarely, in poetry:
- la ĉielo blua, la blua ĉielo, la blua 'the blue sky'; rarely blua la ĉielo, ĉielo blua la, blua la.
Because of adjectival agreement, an adjective may be separated from the rest of the noun phrase without confusion. For example, in
- Mi estas certa, ke brilan vi havos sukceson 'I am certain that you will have a brilliant success',
the subject and verb, vi havos, interrupt the noun phrase brilan sukceson. However, though occasionally found in poetry, such constructions are generally foreign to the language.
In prepositional phrases, the preposition is required to come at the front of the noun phrase (that is, even before the article la), though it is commonly replaced by turning the noun into an adverb:
- al la ĉielo 'to the sky' or ĉielen 'skywards', never *ĉielo al
Constituent order within a clause is generally free, apart from copular clauses.
The default order is subject–verb–object, though any order may occur, with subject and object distinguished by case, and other constituents distinguished by prepositions:
- la hundo ĉasis la katon 'the dog chased/hunted the cat'
- la katon ĉasis la hundo
- ĉasis la hundo la katon
- ĉasis la katon la hundo
- la hundo la katon ĉasis
- la katon la hundo ĉasis
The expectation of a topic–comment (theme–rheme) order apply here, so the context will influence word order: in la katon ĉasis la hundo, the cat is the topic of the conversation, and the dog is the news; in la hundo la katon ĉasis, the dog is the topic of the conversation, and it is the action of chasing that is the news; and in ĉasis la hundo la katon, the action of chasing is already the topic of discussion.
Context is required to tell whether
- la hundo ĉasis la katon en la ĝardeno
means the dog chased a cat which was in the garden, or there, in the garden, the dog chased the cat. These may be disambiguated with
- la hundo ĉasis la katon, kiu estis en la ĝardeno
- 'The dog chased the cat, which was in the garden'
- en la ĝardeno, la hundo ĉasis la katon
- 'In the garden, the dog chased the cat'.
Of course, if it chases the cat into the garden, the case of 'garden' would change:
- la hundo ĉasis la katon en la ĝardenon, en la ĝardenon la hundo ĉasis la katon, etc.
Within copulative clauses, however, there are restrictions. Copulas are words such as esti 'be', iĝi 'become', resti 'remain', and ŝajni 'seem', for which neither noun phrase takes the accusative case. In such cases only two orders are generally found: noun-copula-predicate and, much less commonly, predicate-copula-noun.
(That is, the copula intervenes between the two noun phrases, unless context or punctuation/intonation disambiguate:
- Homo, mi estas. Anĝelo, mi estas ne. 'A man/human I am. An angel I am not.')
Generally, if a characteristic of the noun is being described, the choice between the two orders is not important:
- sovaĝa estas la vento 'wild is the wind', la vento estas sovaĝa 'the wind is wild'
However, la vento sovaĝa estas is unclear, at least in writing, as it could be interpreted as 'the wild wind is', leaving the reader to ask, 'is what?'.
With two nouns, complications can arise. Sometimes context makes clear; demonstratives and articles, for example, usually occur only in the subject:
- tiu viro estas bruto ~ bruto estas tiu viro 'that man is a brute'.
However, as noted above, there is a huge difference between saying generically 'dogs are people' and 'people are dogs'. In such cases the first noun is read as the subject, as in English. Similarly,
- glavoj iĝu plugiloj 'let swords become ploughs'
is the opposite sentiment of
- plugiloj iĝu glavoj 'let ploughs become swords'
Attributive phrases and clauses
In the sentence above, la hundo ĉasis la katon, kiu estis en la ĝardeno 'the dog chased the cat, which was in the garden', the relative pronoun kiu 'which' is restricted to a position after the noun 'cat'. In general, relative clauses and attributive prepositional phrases follow the noun they modify.
Attributive prepositional phrases, which are dependent on nouns, include genitives (la libro de Johano 'John's book') as well as la kato en la ĝardeno 'the cat in the garden' in the example above. Their order cannot be reversed: neither *la de Johano libro nor *la en la ĝardeno kato is possible. This behavior is more restrictive than prepositional phrases which are dependent on verbs, and which can be moved around: both ĉasis en la ĝardeno and en la ĝardeno ĉasis are acceptable for 'chased in the garden'.
Relative clauses are similar, in that they are attributive and are subject to the same word-order constraint, except that rather than being linked by a preposition, the two elements are linked by a relative pronoun such as kiu 'which':
- fuĝis la kato, kiun ĝi ĉasis 'the cat which it chased fled'
- mi vidis la hundon, kiu ĉasis la katon 'I saw the dog which chased the cat'
Note that the noun and its adjacent relative pronoun do not agree in case. Rather, their cases depend on their relationships with their respective verbs. However, they do agree in number:
- fuĝis la katoj, kiujn ĝi ĉasis 'the cats which it chased fled'
Other word orders are possible, as long as the relative pronoun remains adjacent to the noun it depends on:
- fuĝis la kato, kiun ĉasis ĝi 'the cat which it chased fled'
- vidis mi la hundon, kiu la katon ĉasis 'I saw the dog which chased the cat'
Because of this word-order constraint, Esperanto is restricted to an SVO order in relative clauses when the linking noun is the subject of the verb, but to an OVS order when it is the object. Compare
- Jen la kato, kiu manĝis la raton, kiu manĝis la muson, kiu manĝis la fromaĝon, kiu estis en la domo konstruita de Ĝak
- 'Here is the cat which ate the rat which ate the mouse which ate the cheese which was in the house that Jack built'
- Putra estis la fromaĝo, kiun manĝis la rato, kiun mortigis la kato, kiun vidis Johano
(also la fromaĝo, kiun manĝis la rato, kiun mortigis la kato, kiun vidis Johano, estis putra)
- 'The cheese, which was eaten by the rat, which was killed by the cat, which John saw, was rotten'.
In the latter, English requires passive verb constructions, but this is not necessary in Esperanto.
- la hundo ĉasis la katon kaj la kato fuĝis 'the dog chased the cat and the cat fled',
the inference is that the cat fled after the dog started to chase it, not that the dog chased a cat which was already fleeing. For the latter reading, the clause order would be reversed:
- la kato fuĝis, kaj la hundo ĉasis ĝin 'the cat fled, and the dog chased it'
This distinction is lost in subordinate clauses such as the relative clauses in the previous section:
- la hundo ĉasis la katon, kiu fuĝis 'the dog chased the cat(,) which fled'
In written English, a comma disambiguates the two readings, but both require a comma in Esperanto.
Non-relative subordinate clauses are similarly restricted. They follow the conjunction ke 'that', as in,
- Me estas certa, ke vi havos brilan sukceson 'I am certain that you will have a brilliant success'.
There is very little about Esperanto that is not Indo-European in origin. Although it is billed as a neutral international language, its vocabulary, syntax, and semantics derive predominantly from Indo-European national languages. Roots are typically Romance or Germanic in origin. The semantics shows a significant Slavic influence.
It is often claimed that there are elements of the grammar which are not found in these language families. Frequently mentioned is Esperanto's agglutinative morphology based on invariant morphemes, and the subsequent lack of ablaut (internal inflection of its roots), which Zamenhof himself thought would prove alien to Indo-European language speakers. Ablaut is an element of all the source languages; an English example is song sing sang sung. However, the majority of words in all Indo-European languages inflect without ablaut, as cat, cats and walk, walked do in English. (This is the so-called strong–weak dichotomy.) Historically, many Indo-European languages have expanded the range of their 'weak' inflections, and Esperanto has merely taken this development closer to its logical conclusion, with the only remaining ablaut being frozen in a few sets of semantically related roots such as pli, plej, plu (more, most, further), tre, tro (very, too much), and in the verbal morphemes -as, -anta, -ata; -is, -inta, -ita; -os, -onta, -ota; and -us.
Other features often cited as being nonstandard for an Indo-European language, such as the dedicated suffixes for different parts of speech, or the -o suffix for singular nouns, actually do occur in Indo-European languages such as Russian. More pertinent is the accusative plural in -jn, which is derived through leveling of standard Indo-European grammatical structures. The Esperanto nominal–adjectival paradigm as a whole is taken from Greek: Esperanto nominative singular muzo (muse) vs. Greek mousa, nominative plural muzoj vs. Greek mousai, and accusative singular muzon vs. Greek mousan. (Latin and Lithuanian had very similar setups, with [j] in the plural and a nasal in the accusative.) However, Esperanto does not have a discrete accusative plural suffix analogous with Greek mous-ās; rather, it compounds the simple accusative and plural suffixes: muz-o-j-n. This morphology does not occur as more than a marginal element in any of Esperanto's source language families, and is formally similar to European but not Indo-European Hungarian and Turkish—that is, it is similar in its mechanics, but not in use. None of these proposed "non-European" elements of the original Esperanto proposal were actually taken from non-European or non-Indo-European languages, and any similarities with those languages are accidental.
East Asian languages may have had some influence on the development of Esperanto grammar after its creation. The principally cited candidate is the replacement of predicate adjectives with verbs, such as la ĉielo bluas (the sky is blue) for la ĉielo estas blua and mia filino belu! (may my daughter be beautiful!) for the mia filino estu bela! mentioned above. This is a regularization of existing grammatical forms and was always found in poetry; if there has been an influence of an East Asian language, it has only been in the spread of such forms, not in their origin. Such usage is not entirely unknown in Europe: Latin has an analogous folium viret for folium viride est (the leaf is green) and avis rubet for avis rubra est (the bird is red).
Perhaps the best candidate for a "non-Indo-European" feature is the blurred distinction between roots and affixes. Esperanto derivational affixes may be used as independent root words and inflect for part of speech like other roots. This occurs only sporadically in other languages of the world, Indo-European or not. For example, ismo has an English equivalent in "an ism", but English has no adjectival form ("ismic"?) equivalent to Esperanto isma. For most such affixes, natural languages familiar to Europeans must use a separate root, such as English "member" for Esperanto ano, "quality" for eco, "tendency" for emo, etc.
- Patro nia, kiu estas en la ĉieloj,
- sanktigata estu Via nomo.
- Venu Via regno,
- fariĝu Via volo,
- kiel en la ĉielo, tiel ankaŭ sur la tero.
- Nian panon ĉiutagan donu al ni hodiaŭ.
- Kaj pardonu al ni niajn ŝuldojn,
- kiel ankaŭ ni pardonas al niaj ŝuldantoj.
- Kaj ne konduku nin en tenton,
- sed liberigu nin de la malbono.
- (Ĉar Via estas la regno kaj la potenco
- kaj la gloro eterne.)
The morphologically complex words (see Esperanto word formation) are:
sanktigata sankt- -ig- -at- -a holy causative passive
adjective "being made holy"
fariĝu far- -iĝ- -u do middle
jussive "be done"
ĉiutagan ĉiu- tag- -a -n every day adjective accusative "daily"
ŝuldantoj ŝuld- -ant- -o -j owe active
noun plural "debtors"
liberigu nin liber- -ig- -u ni -n free causative jussive we accusative "free us"
la malbono la mal- bon- -o definite
antonym good noun "evil"
- Sergio Pokrovskij (2007) 'La artikolo', in Lingva Kritiko: Studoj kaj notoj pri la Internacia Lingvo
- An unofficial but widely recognized accusative preposition na has become popular with some Esperantists on the internet and may be used in such situations, especially when there is no following noun (ties, accusative na ties). The purposefully ambiguous preposition je may be so used as well (accusative je ties), though normally the -es words are simply not inflected for case.
- Sergio Pokrovskij, 2007. "La artikolo", in Lingva Kritiko: Studoj kaj notoj pri la Internacia Lingvo.
See the entry for da at Wiktionary.
- However, the reverse is not true, as this does not change the inherent part of speech: Morti (to die) does not have the same meaning as esti morta (to be dead).
- Timothy Reagan (2009) Language Matters: Reflections on Educational Linguistics, p. 167
- This example is somewhat artificial, because the customary word for 'president' (of a country) is the tense-neutral word prezidento. Prezidanto is however typically used for the presidents of organizations other than sovereign countries, and prezidinto is used for former presidents in such contexts.
- “biliono” at ReVo
- For example, Don Harlow commenting on them here.
- Sergio Pokrovskij (2007) 'La artikolo', in Lingva Kritiko: Studoj kaj notoj pri la Internacia Lingvo
- John Wells, 1978, Lingvistikaj aspektoj de Esperanto, p 42 ff
- In English, an adjective–noun word order requires breaking up the correlative: 'Not every shiny thing is a diamond'.
- The only common example of the latter order is in titles such as Reĝo Luizo la Dekkvara 'King Louis the Fourteenth'. This is an example of an appositional phrase, Reĝo Luizo + la Dekkvara; see below.
- This is parallel to the rather archaic distinction in English between 'who' and 'whom'. Other sequences of case are possible, though with different readings: fuĝis la hundo, kiu ĉasis ĝin 'the dog which chased it fled'; mi vidis la katon, kiun la hundo ĉasis 'I saw the cat, which the dog chased'.
- For example, Russian neuter and feminine nouns end in singular -o and -a, adjectives in -oje and -aja, adverbs in -o and -e, etc.; cf. also Provençal la fenestro (the window), which is identical to Esperanto la fenestro.
- Lithuanian, which Zamenhof identified with, does have an analogous setup in one declension. Didelė upė [didæleː upeː] "a big river", for example, is plural didelės upės [didæleːs upeːs], accusative didelę upę [didælæː upæː], and plural accusative dideles upes [didælæs upæs]. That is, disregarding vowel length, the accusative is marked by a change from [e] to [æ] (historically nasal) in both singular and plural, and the plural is marked by an [s] in both nominative and accusative.
A fairly good overview of Esperanto's grammar and word-building system can be gained by viewing:
- "The Sixteen Rules of Esperanto"
- "The Esperanto Correlatives"
- "Word Building With Esperanto Affixes"
- "Esperanto Grammar", by Jirka Hana
- The Esperanto Teacher by Helen Fryer (on Project Gutenberg)
- An Elementary Esperanto Primer (by Daniel M. Albro) and Grammar and Dictionary at MIT
- Plena Manlibro de Esperanta Gramatiko ("A Complete Handbook of Esperanto Grammar"), by Bertilo Wennergren
- "Esperanto – Introduction to the Language" (brief grammar of Esperanto with sounds)
- Concise Grammar of Esperanto (lernu!'s English-language grammar guide)
- Detailed Grammar of Esperanto (in Esperanto, written by Bertilo Wennergren)
- Dr. Esperanto's international language introduction and complete grammar, by L. L. Zamenhof (Alternative link)