Esperanto grammar

Esperanto grammar

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 speaker. 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" (Complete Analytical Grammar) by Kálmán Kalocsay and Gaston Waringhien, and the "Plena Manlibro de Esperanta Gramatiko" (Complete Handbook of Esperanto Grammar) by Bertilo Wennergren.

Grammatical summary

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.

cript 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" rather than with diacritics, but this is seldom seen outside email.) Over all, 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.

Zamenhof suggested Italian as a model for Esperanto pronunciation.

The article

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.":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.":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] "):For possessive pronouns, when definite:::"La mia bluas, la via ruĝas.":::"Mine is blue, yours is red".

The article is also used for inalienable possession of body parts and kin terms, where English would use a possessive adjective::"Ili tranĉis la manon." ::"They cut their hands." [one hand each]

The article "la," like the demonstrative adjective "tiu" (this, that), nearly always occurs at the beginning of the noun phrase, but this is not required by the grammar, and exceptions occur in poetry.

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".

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" (visually, by sight); "reĝe" (like a king, royally).

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).

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.

In addition, most verbs are inherently transitive or intransitive. As with the inherent part of speech, 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).

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 pronouns "(mi" "I"), prepositions "(al" "to"), conjunctions "(kaj" "and"), interjections "(ho" "oh"), and numerals "(du" "two"). (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).


There are three types of pronouns in Esperanto: personal "(vi" "you"), demonstrative "(tio" "that", "iu" "someone"), and relative/interrogative "(kio" "what").

Personal pronouns

The Esperanto personal pronoun system is similar to that of English, but with the addition of a reflexive pronoun.

Infinitive and jussive forms are also found. There is a parallel passive paradigm.

Nominal participles

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." (In the early years of the language, such forms were assumed to be masculine, but that is no longer the case.)

Adverbial participles

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." (These don't translate well into English.)

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).

Note that this example is somewhat artificial, since the customary word for 'president' (of a country) is the tense-neutral word "prezidento," which is officially a separate root, not a derivative of the verb "prezidi." However, "prezidanto" is typically used for the presidents of organizations other than sovereign countries, and "prezidinto" is used for former presidents in such contexts.

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.

Likewise, some Esperantists have proposed a tenseless participle, though only for active-participle role. The element "-ento" is not officially a participle or even a separate morpheme, but it is very common and is sometimes regarded as a suffix. It frequently occurs in words for occupations where one would not wish to specify tense, such as "prezidento" or "studento" (student). Since 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 as a tense-neutral active participle by analogy with the temporal participles "-anto, -into, -onto."

However, even if the participial paradigm were to be extended in this way, it would be asymmetric in that there can be no direct passive counterpart to *"-ento" because the expected "-eto" 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 in the verbs. 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 temporally neutral "mi naskiĝis" (I was born).


A statement is made negative by using "ne" or one of the negative "(neni-)" correlatives. Only one negative word is allowed per clause:

: "Mi ne faris ion ajn." I didn't do anything.

"*Mi ne faris nenion ajn" (I didn't do nothing) is considered ungrammatical.

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.


"Main article: Interrogatives in Esperanto"

"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).

Word formation

:"Main article:" Esperanto word formationEsperanto 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", but :"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!"

Higher numbers

As in other languages, there are several systems for numbers above a million. 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), and the Esperanto word "biliono" is likewise ambiguous. However, there is a more commonly used unambiguous system:

:106: "miliono" :109: "miliardo" (or "mil milionoj"):1012: "duiliono":1015: "duiliardo" (or "mil duilionoj"):1018: "triiliono":1021: "triiliardo" (or "mil triilionoj"):"etc."

Note that these are not numerals but nouns, and behave as such. An unambiguous international system is provided by the metric prefixes, and the nonce numerals "meg" (miliono) and "gig" (miliardo) are occasionally derived from them.

Compound numbers 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 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!)

Non-(Indo-)European aspects

There is very little about Esperanto that is not European in origin. Although it is billed as a neutral international language, its vocabulary, syntax, and semantics derive predominantly from European national languages. Roots are typically Romance or Germanic in origin, with a bit of Slavic and Classical Greek. The semantics shows a heavier 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 and subsequent lack of ablaut (internal inflection of its roots). Ablaut is an element of all the source languages; an English example is "song sing sang sung." However, the majority of words in all European languages inflect without ablaut, as "cat, cats" and "walk, walked" do in English. (This is the so-called strong-weak dichotomy.) Historically, many 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, plu, plej" (more, more, most), "tre, tro" (very, too much), and in the verbal morphemes "-as, -anta, -ata; -is, -inta, -ita; -os, -onta, -ota;" and "-us." (This system can be extended further, with conditional participles "-unta" and "-uta" derived from the conditional mood in "-us.")

Other features often cited as being nonstandard for a European language, such as the dedicated suffixes for different parts of speech, or the "-o" suffix for singular nouns, actually do occur in some European languages, with similar systems found especially in Russian feminine and neuter nouns.

Perhaps the best candidate for a "non-European" feature, the accusative plural in "-jn," is derived through leveling of standard European grammatical structures. The Esperanto nominal-adjectival paradigm as a whole is taken from Greek: Esperanto nominative singular "muso" (mouse) vs. Greek "mousa" (muse), nominative plural "musoj" vs. Greek "mousai," and accusative singular "muson" vs. Greek "mousan." (Latin had a very similar setup.) However, Esperanto does not have a discrete accusative plural suffix analogous with Greek "mous-ās;" rather, it compounds the simple accusative and plural suffixes: "mus-o-j-n." This morphology does not occur in any of Esperanto's source language families, but it is "formally" similar to Hungarian and Turkish grammar—that is, it is similar in its mechanics, but not in the details. However, none of these proposed "non-European" elements of the original Esperanto proposal were actually taken from non-European or non-Indo-European languages.

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 Asian influence, it has only been in the spread of such forms, not in their origin.

= Sample text =

The Pater noster, from the first Esperanto publication in 1887, illustrates many of the grammatical points presented above, and should be readable without translation:

:"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 hodiaǔ. :"Kaj pardonu al ni niajn ŝuldojn, :"kiel ankaǔ 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.) :"Amen."

The morphologically complex words (see Esperanto word formation) are:::


External links

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 Jiří Hana]

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