Esperanto vocabulary

Esperanto vocabulary

The word base of Esperanto was originally defined by "Lingvo internacia," published by Zamenhof in 1887. It contained some 900 root words. However, the rules of the language allowed speakers to borrow words as needed, recommending only that they look for the most international words, and that they borrow one basic word and derive others from it, rather than borrowing many words with related meanings. In 1894, Zamenhof published the first Esperanto dictionary, "Universala Vortaro," which was written in five languages and supplied a larger set of root words.

Since then many words have been borrowed from other languages, primarily but not solely from western European languages. Not all such words catch on and come into general use. In recent decades, most of the new borrowings or coinages have been technical or scientific terms; terms in everyday use are more likely to be derived from existing words (for example "komputilo" [a computer] , from "komputi" [to compute] ), or extending them to cover new meanings (for example "muso" [a mouse] , now also signifies a computer input device, as in English). There are frequent debates among Esperanto speakers about whether a particular new borrowing is justified or whether the need can be met by derivation or extending the meaning of existing words.


Esperanto occupies a middle ground between "naturalistic" constructed languages such as Interlingua, which borrow words "en masse" from their source languages with little internal derivation, and "a priori" conlangs such as Solresol, in which the words have no historical connection to other languages. In Esperanto, root words are borrowed and retain much of the form of their source language, whether the phonetic form "(eks-" from "ex-)" or orthographic form "(teamo" from "team)." However, each root can then form dozens of derivations which may bear little resemblance to equivalent words in the source languages, such as "registaro" (government), which is derived from the Latinate root "reg" (to rule).

Word formation

One of the ways Zamenhof made Esperanto easier to learn than ethnic languages was by creating a regular and highly productive derivational morphology. Through the judicious use of lexical affixes (prefixes and suffixes), the core vocabulary needed for communication was greatly reduced. It has been estimated that on average one root in Esperanto is the communicative equivalent of ten words in English.

However, a contrary tendency is apparent in cultured and Greco-Latin technical vocabulary, which most Europeans see as "international" and therefore take into Esperanto "en masse," despite the fact they are not truly universal. Many Asians consider this to be an onerous and unnecessary burden on the memory, when it is so easy to derive equivalent words internally (for example by calquing them, which is what Chinese often does). This sparks frequent debates as to whether a particular root is justified, and sometimes results in duplicates of native and borrowed vocabulary. An example is "calligraphy", which occurs both as a calqued "belskribo" ('writing of beauty') and as the direct borrowing "kaligrafio." Something similar has also happened in English "(brotherly" vs "fraternal)," German "(Ornithologie" vs "Vogelkunde" for "ornithology)," Japanese "(beesubooru" vs "yakyuu" for "baseball)," French "(le week-end" vs. "la fin de semaine), etc." However, while the debates in ethnic languages are motivated by nationalism or issues of cultural identity, in Esperanto the debates are largely motivated by differing views on how to make the language practical and accessible.


One of the most immediately useful derivational affixes for the beginner is the prefix "mal-," which derives antonyms: "peza" (heavy), "malpeza" (light); "supren" (upwards), "malsupren" (downwards); "ami" (to love), "malami" (to hate); "lumo" (light), "mallumo" (darkness). However, except in jokes, this prefix is not used when an antonym exists in the basic vocabulary: "suda" (south), not "malnorda" from 'north'; "manki" (to lack, intr.), not "malesti" from 'to be'.

The creation of new words through the use of grammatical "(i.e." inflectional) suffixes, such as "nura" (mere) from "nur" (only), "tiama" (contemporary) from "tiam" (then), or "vido" (sight) from "vidi" (to see), was mentioned in the article on Esperanto grammar. What follows is a list of the main lexical affixes.

When a root receives more than one affix, the order does matter, as affixes modify the entire stem they're attached to. That is, the outer ones modify the inner ones. Most affixes, like roots, have an inherent part of speech, and this is indicated by the final part-of-speech vowel in the suffix list below. A few affixes do not affect the part of speech of the root; for the suffixes listed in the tables below, this is indicated by a hyphen in place of the final vowel.

List of lexical suffixes

Correlative particles

Several adverbial particles are used primarily with the correlatives: "ajn" indicates generality, "ĉi" proximity, and "for" distance. (Without these particles, demonstratives such as "tiu" and "tio" are not specific about distance, though they are usually translated as "that".)

:"kio ajn" (whatever):"io ajn" (anything):"tio" (that [general] ) [cannot modify a noun] :"tiu" (that one) [can modify a noun: "tiu knabo" (that boy)] :"tiuj" (those):"tiu ĉi" (this one):"tiu for" (that one yonder):"tien ĉi" (hither [to here] ):"ĉiu hundo" (each/every dog):"ĉiuj hundoj" (all dogs)

An extension of the original paradigm

Sometimes the correlative system is extended to the root "ali-" (other), at least when the resulting word is unambiguous, :"aliel" (in another way), "alies" (someone else's)."Alie," however, would be ambiguous as to whether the original meaning "otherwise" or the correlative "elsewhere" were intended, so "aliloke" (from "loko" "place") is used for "elsewhere".

As a practical matter, only "aliel" and "alies" are seen with any frequency, and all of these forms are strongly condemned by many speakers.

Interrogative "vs" relative pronouns

Examples of the interrogative versus relative uses of the "ki-" words:

: "Kiu ŝtelis mian ringon?" (Who stole my ring?): "La polico ne kaptis la ŝtelistojn, kiuj ŝtelis mian ringon." (The police haven't caught the thieves who [plural] stole my ring.)

: "Kiel vi faris tion?" (How did you do that [accusative] ?): "Mi ne scias, kiel fari tion." (I don't know how to do that.)


: "Kia viro li estas?" (What kind of man is he?): "Kia viro!" (What a man!)

Note that standard Esperanto punctuation puts a comma before the relative word (a correlative in "ki-" or the conjunction "ke," "that").


Various parts of speech may be derived from the correlatives, just as from any other roots: "ĉiama" (eternal), "ĉiea" (ubiquitous), "tiama" (contemporary), "kialo" (a reason), "iomete" (a little bit), "kioma etaĝo?" (which floor?) [This last requests a quantified answer of how many floors up, like "la dek-sesa" (the 16th), rather than asking someone to simply point out which floor, which would be asked with "kiu etaĝo?." The same form is used for asking time: "Kioma horo estas?," literally "How-manyeth hour is it?"]

Although the initial and final elements of the correlatives are not roots or affixes, in that they cannot normally be independently combined with other words (for instance, there is no genitive case in "-es" for nouns), the initial element of the "neni-" correlatives is an exception, as seen in "neniulo" (a nobody), from "neni-" plus "-ulo," or "neniigi," to nullify or destroy, from "neni-" plus the causative "-ig."


Some Esperanto roots are semantically masculine or feminine. In general, feminine words are derived from their masculine equivalent.

Masculine roots

A small (and decreasing) number of noun roots, mostly titles and kinship terms, are inherently masculine unless the feminine suffix "-ino" is added. For example, there are "patro" (father) and "patrino" (mother), while there is no proper word for "parent" (as explained below).

The original setup

In the early twentieth century, members of a profession were assumed to be masculine unless specified otherwise with "-ino," reflecting the expectations of most industrial societies. That is, "sekretario" was a male secretary, and "instruisto" was a male teacher. This was the case for all words ending in "-isto," as well as "-ulo (riĉulo" "a rich "man"), "-ano" and ethnicities "(kristano" "a male Christian", "anglo" "an English"man"), -estro (urbestro" "a male mayor"), and the participles "-into, -anto, -onto, -ito, -ato, -oto (komencanto" "a male beginner"). Many domestic animals were also masculine "(bovo" "bull", "kapro" "billygoat"). These generally became gender-neutral over the course of the century, as many similar words did in English, because of social transformation.

The current situation

There is still variation in many of the above words, depending on the social expectations and language background of the speaker. Many of the words are not clearly either masculine or epicene today. For example, the plural "bovoj" is generally understood to mean "cattle", not "bulls", and similarly the plurals "angloj" (Englishpeople) and "komencantoj" (students); but a masculine meaning reappears in "bovo kaj bovino" "a bull & cow", "anglo kaj anglino" (an Englishman & Englishwoman), "komencanto kaj komencantino" (a male & female beginner).

We are left with several dozen fairly clearly masculine roots::Words for boys and men: "bubo" (brat), "eŭnuko" (eunuch), "fraŭlo" (bachelor - the feminine "fraŭlino" is used for "miss), knabo" (boy), "masklo" (a male), "viro" (man), etc.;:Kin terms: "avo" (grandfather), "edzo" (husband), "fianĉo" (fiance), "filo" (son), "frato" (brother), "kuzo" (cousin), "nepo" (grandson), "nevo" (nephew), "onklo" (uncle), "patro" (father), "vidvo" (widower);:Nobility: "barono" (baron), "caro" (czar), "emiro" (emir), "grafo" (count), "mikado" (mikado), "princo" (prince), "reĝo" (king), "sinjoro" (lord, sir), "ŝaho" (shah), etc.;:Religious orders: "abato" (abbot), "monaĥo" (monk), "papo" (Pope), "rabeno" (rabbi), "imamo" (imam), etc. :Basic words for domestic animals: "koko" (rooster);:Dedicated masculine words for domestic animals that already have a separate epicene root: "boko" (buck), "kapono" (castrated rooster), "okso" (castrated bull), "stalono" (stallion), "taŭro" (bull), etc.;:The word for friend: "amiko."

A few of these, such as "masklo" and the words dedicated for male animals, are essentially masculine and are never used with the feminine suffix. The others remain masculine mainly because, officially at least, Esperanto has no good way of indicating masculine gender. One work-around, using "vir-" (man) as a prefix, is used with animals, but it's ambiguous: "virbovo" can mean either "a bull" or "a minotaur," and therefore both "taŭro" and "minotaŭro" have been borrowed into the language to disambiguate.

Not all of these words are stably masculine. Native English speakers, among others, tend to treat "kuzo" (a cousin) and "amiko" (a friend) as gender-neutral, and "nepo" (a grandson/grandchild), "bubo" (a brat), and "koko" (a rooster/chicken) are often ambiguous as well. Once such a word is used ambiguously by a significant number of speakers or writers, it can no longer be assumed to be masculine. Language guides suggest using all ambiguous words neutrally, and many people find this the least confusing approach—and so the ranks of masculine words gradually dwindle.

Feminine roots

Besides the suffix "-ino," there are several dozen feminine roots::Words for women: "femalo" (a female), "hetajro" (concubine), "matrono" (married woman), "megero" (shrew/bitch);:Professions: "almeo" (dancing girl), "gejŝo" (geisha), "meretrico" (prostitute), "primadono" (prima donna), "subreto" (soubrette);:Titles: "damo" (lady, queen), "madono" (Madonna);:Mythological figures: "amazono" (Amazon), "furio" (Fury), "muzo" (Muse), "nimfo" (nymph), etc. Unlike their masculine counterparts, feminine words have not generally been reinterpreted as epicene.

Gendered pronouns

Esperanto personal pronouns distinguish gender in the third-person singular: "li" (he), "ŝi" (she); but not in the plural: "ili" (they). There are two practical epicene third-person singular pronouns: expanding the use of the demonstrative pronoun "tiu" (that one), and Zamenhof's suggestion, "ĝi."

See the discussions at Esperanto personal pronouns and gender reform in Esperanto.


People sometimes object to using the prefix "mal-" to derive highly frequent antonyms, especially when they're as long as "malproksima" (far). There are a few alternative roots in poetry, such as "turpa" for "malbela" (ugly) and "pigra" for "mallaborema" (lazy) — some of which originated in Ido, — that find their way into prose. However, they are rarely used in conversation.This is a combination of two factors: the great ease and familiarity of using the "mal-" prefix, and the relative obscurity of most of the alternatives, which would hamper communication. This results in English borrowings such as "ĉipa" (cheap), for "malmultekosta" (inexpensive), failing to find favor even among native English speakers.

Two root antonyms are frequently encountered: "eta" (little), and "dura" (hard [not soft] ). However, their popularity is due to their iconicity. "Eta" is derived from the diminutive suffix and more properly means "slight," but it's a little word, and its use for "malgranda" (little) is quite common. The reason for the popularity of "dura" is similar: official "malmola" simply sounds too soft to mean "hard"!

Other antonymic words tend to have a different scope. For example, instead of "malbona" (bad) we may see "aĉa" (of poor quality) or "fia" (shameful), but these are not strict antonyms.

Idioms and slang

There's not as much slang in Esperanto as in many ethnic languages, as slang tends to make international communication difficult, thereby working against Esperanto's main purpose. However, some slang, as well as a fair amount of derivational wordplay, is used to spice up the language, and some idiomatic expressions have either been borrowed from Esperanto's source languages, or developed naturally over the course of Esperanto's history. There are also various expletives based on body functions and religion, as in English.


In addition to the root words and the rules for combining them, a learner of Esperanto must learn some idiomatic compounds that are not entirely straightforward. For example, "eldoni," literally "to give out", means "to publish", and "vortaro," literally "a compilation of words", means "a glossary" or "a dictionary". Almost all of these compounds, however, are modeled after equivalent compounds in native European languages: "eldoni" after the German "herausgeben," and "vortaro" from the Russian словарь "slovar."


"Saluton" (hello) is sometimes clipped to "sal" or even "sa," and "saluĝis" (from "saluton – ĝis la revido)" is seen as a quick hello-goodbye on internet chatrooms. Similarly, there's:

:"espo" (Esperanto):"kaŭ" (from "kaj/aŭ" 'and/or'):"ŝli" (from "li/ŝi" 'he/she' and "ŝ/li" 's/he'):"’stas" (from "estas" 'to be') In the contraction "’stas" the stress shifts to the temporal suffix, which makes the tenses easier to distinguish than they are in formal "estas," and effectively recapturing some of the stress patterns of Proto-Esperanto (see below).

Word play

Sometimes Esperanto derivational morphology is used to create humorous alternatives to existing roots. For instance, with the antonym prefix "mal-," one gets,:"maltrinki" (from "trinki" to drink) to urinate (normally "urini)":"malmanĝi" (from "manĝi" to eat) to vomit (normally "vomi)."As in English, some slang is intentionally offensive, such as substituting the suffix "-ingo" (a sheath) for the feminine "-ino" in "virino" (a woman), for "viringo" (a cunt [a woman as a sexual object] ). However, such terms are usually coined to translate from English or other languages, and are rarely heard in conversation.

Cultural "in" words

Esperanto has some slang in the sense of being in-group talk as well. Some of this is borrowed; for example, "fajfi pri io" (to whistle about something) means not to care about it, as in German. Other expressions deriving from Esperanto history or dealing with specifically Esperantist concerns have arisen over the years. A "volapukaĵo," for example, is something needlessly incomprehensible, derived from the name of the more complex and less at-sight readable constructed language Volapük, which preceded Esperanto by a few years and was replaced by it.

Words and phrases reflect what speakers of a language talk about. Tellingly, Esperanto has "five" expressions for speaking a language other than Esperanto when Esperanto would be regarded as more appropriate, as at an Esperanto convention, whereas there is nothing equivalent in English::"krokodili" (to crocodile) to speak one's native language instead of Esperanto;:"kajmani" (to caiman) as above, but where the language is not native to all of the interlocutors;:"aligatori" (to alligator) where the language used is native to no one;:"lacerti" (to lizard) to speak another conlang, such as Ido.These words are sometimes subsumed under the general term "reptilumi" (from "reptilo," reptile, plus the undefined suffix "-um)," though this is rare and "krokodili" is generally used instead as the generic term. There is even a term "gaviali" (to gharial), for speaking Esperanto in situations where another language would be more appropriate. The oldest of these expressions, "krokodili," may come from the legend of crocodile tears (in that to come to an Esperanto function yet choose to speak one's native language might be viewed as hypocritical); the others were coined by analogy with it.


Technical jargon exists in Esperanto as it does in English, and this is a major source of debate in the language.

However, the normal wordplay people use for amusement is occasionally carried to the extreme of being jargon. One such style is called " [ Esperant’] ," found in chat rooms and occasionally used at Esperanto conventions. "(See Esperantido.)"

Artificial variants

There's one line of verse, taken from the sole surviving example of the original "Lingwe uniwersala" of 1878, that's used idiomatically,:"jam temp’ está" (it's time).If this stage of Esperanto had been preserved, it would presumably be used to occasionally give a novel the archaic flavor that Latin provides in the modern European languages.

Various approaches have been taken to represent deviant language in Esperanto literature. One play, for example, originally written in two dialects of Italian, was translated with Esperanto representing one dialect, and Ido representing the other. Other approaches are to attempt to reconstruct proto-Esperanto, and to create "de novo" variants of the language.


With so little data available, various attempts have been made to reconstruct what proto-Esperanto may have been like. However, these reconstructions rely heavily on material from the intermediate period of Esperanto development, between the original "Lingwe Uniwersala" of 1878 and the "Unua Libro" of 1887. "(See Proto-Esperanto.)"

"De novo" creations

There are various "dialects" and pseudo-historical forms that have been created for Esperanto. Two of the more notable are the substandard "dialect" "Popido," and a fictitious "archaic" version of Esperanto called "Arcaicam Esperantom." Neither are used in conversation. "(See Esperantido.)"


"La Plena Ilustrita Vortaro de Esperanto" (English: "The Complete Illustrated Dictionary of Esperanto," abbreviated as PIV) is a monolingual dictionary of the language Esperanto, generally regarded as the standard despite criticisms. The older "Plena Vortaro de Esperanto," originally published in 1930 and extensively revised in 1953, is still widely used as, though less ample than PIV and slightly outdated, it's far more portable and less expensive. The "Etimologia vortaro de Esperanto" (five volumes, 1989-2001) gives source-language etymologies (tentative and uncertain in a few cases) of all fundamental and official root words, along with comparisons of equivalent words in four other constructed international auxiliary languages.

External links

* [ Reta Vortaro] , an XML-based online dictionary of Esperanto with definitions in Esperanto and various other languages
* [ "PV kaj PIV"] , Anna Lowenstein. Discussion of the "Plena Vortaro" and "Plena Ilustrita Vortaro", and criticism of the latter.

See also

*Most common words in Esperanto

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