Overview of Esperanto

  • Intro
  • Verbs
  • Nouns
  • Letters
  • Adjectives
  • Adverbs
  • Accusatives
  • Participles
  • Word Building
  • Prepositions

Page 2 of 10

VERBS   -AS,  -IS,  -OS,  -I,  -U,  -US

Esperanto verbs (action words) are always in the active form and have one of only six possible endings:-

Ending and role    
Example              
Meaning     
 -as present  Mi studas en Irlando I study in Ireland / I am studying in Ireland
 -is  past  Vi estis tre kontenta tiam
You were very content then
 -os future  Ni iros al lia domo We shall go to his house
 -i    infinitive 
Ridi kaj vivi kune To laugh and (to) live together
 -u   imperative Prenu mian manon, mi petas Take my hand please
 -us conditional Se vi vidus lin, vi amus lin If you saw / were to see him, you would love him

Footnote

In Esperanto the emphasis is always on the second last vowel.  In the first two examples above, the emphasised bits are shown in red:-    Say: Eer-lan-do; Vee es-tis treh kon-ten-tah tee-am.  There is more on the sound of letters under the Letters, Adjectives and Accusatives pages, and on pronunciation on the Adverbs and Word Building pages.


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Page 3 of 10

NOUNS  - O,  -OJ

All singular nouns (names for objects) in Esperanto end in the letter "o".  All plural nouns add "j" (sounds like 'y') making their ending "-oj", pronounced "-oy" as in the word "boy".

Examples:-

Esperanto
English
Esperanto
English
domo house           domoj houses
mano hand manoj hands
viro man viroj men
fenestro window fenestroj windows
infano child infanoj children
bovo bull bovoj bulls
muso mouse musoj mice

Footnote

Pronunciation note for column 3 above.  Say:-  'daw-moy', 'ma-noy', 'vee-roj', 'fe-nes-troy', 'een-fa-noy', 'bo-voy', 'moo-soy'!   In Esperanto the emphasis is always on the second last vowel, shown here in red.


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Page 4 of 10

LETTERS OF THE ALPHABET

The Esperanto alphabet has 28 letters which give it 28 sounds:-

a  b  c  ĉ    d  e  f  g    ĝ  h  ĥ  i    j  ĵ  k  l    m  n  o  p    r  s  ŝ  t    u  ŭ  v  z

Esperanto letters are pronounced the same way no matter where they occur in a word.  Five letters have a 'hat' above them and a sixth a 'saucer'.  These six (marked above in red ) are pronounced as follows:

Esperanto Letter      Closest English sound
  ĉ 'ch' in church
  ĝ 'g' in gentle, 'dg' in lodge, 'j' in job
  ĥ 'ch' in Scots loch, or in Welsh bach
  ĵ 's' in pleasure, leisure, vision
  ŝ 'sh' in shall, 's' in 'surely', 'ch' in chagrin
  ŭ 'w' in now

Where 'hatted' letters are not available, ch, gh, hh, jh, sh and u can be used instead.  Nowadays cx, gx, hx, jx, sx, and ux are used in informal communications such as email and instant messaging.  This keeps words in alphabetical order!  As 'hatted' letters become increasingly available, the preference is to use them.  They look more elegant.  The letter ĥ is very rare.  The letter ŭ (a 'saucer' rather than a 'hat') comes most often with an 'a' in front - as in '' in the table below.  There is no need for English's q, w, x or y.

Remaining Letters

The remaining letters are pronounced much as they are in English, BUT

Esperanto Letter(s)    Closest English sound
  c 'ts' in tsunami, tsar, bits
  e 'e' in get
  i 'ee' in feet, 'ei' in receive, 'ie' in grief
  j 'y' in yellow
  o 'aw' in awl, 'ou' in bought
  r 'rr' in barred (rolled tongue)
  u 'oo' in boot
  aj 'y' in my, 'ye' in dye, 'ie' in die, 'igh' in sigh
   'ow' in how, 'ough' in bough
  ej 'ay' in day, 'eigh' in heigh
  oj 'oy' in toy
  uj 'ui' in ruin (said quickly)

Footnote

If the English langauge represented its sounds as well as Esperanto does, it would need at least 43 letters!   The Initial Teaching Alphabet of the 1960's showed how such an alphabet would work.  The five Esperanto vowels are pronounced the way an Italian, Greek or Spaniard would.  They are medium-length, open, pure and clear - as in singing: ah, eh, ee, awe, oo!   If speakers want an accent to imitate, Italian is often recommended, but not necessarily spoken as fast as Italians do!  Esperanto may aim at 28 sounds, but in practice its sounds vary both from individual to individual and according to mother languages just as the shape of written letters vary.  However with only five distinct vowels variant accents in Esperanto matter less than in many languages.

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Page 5 of 10

ADJECTIVES  - A,  -AJ

All singular adjectives (describing words) end in "a".  Copying the nouns they describe, plural adjectives are built by adding "j" (sounds like 'y').  Adjectives can come in front or after their noun.  Examples:-

Singular Adjective(s)
Plural Adjective(s)
granda viro
a big man grandaj viroj  
big men
virino bela
a beautiful woman belaj virinoj
beautiful women
blua ŝuo svedleda
a blue suede shoe bluaj ŝuoj svedledaj
blue suede shoes
ĉielarko multkolora
a multicoloured rainbow du ĉielarkoj multkoloraj
two multicoloured rainbows

Footnotes

Esperanto does not have an equivalent for English 'a' or 'an'.  For pronunciation see page 4 on letters. Hints: say 'gran-dye vee-roy', 'be-lie vee-ree-noy', chee-e-lar-koy, mult-ko-lo-rye etc.

In the examples above there are a number of longer words built from two shorter ones.  Thus "sveda" means 'Swedish' and "ledo" means 'leather', so "svedledo" is 'suede leather' or just 'suede'.  It is changed into an adjective by making the ending "-a".  "Multa" means 'much' (or many) and "koloro" means 'colour', so "multkolora" means 'many-coloured'.  Finally "ĉielo" means 'sky' or 'heaven' and "arko" means 'arc' or 'bow', so 'sky-arc' or 'skybow' is a 'rainbow'.  Esperanto is constructed to encourage word-building like this.  It is quite possible for a beginner to create a word that no-one has used before!  Provided their newly minted word is built correctly they will be easily understood and congratulated.

The red portions are included only as a reminder that the emphasis is always on the second last vowel.  In no way do they show how a word is built!  The pages Word Building and Prepositions give many more details about word building as a very important feature of Esperanto.

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Page 6 of 10

ADVERBS - E

In Esperanto adverbs (words describing actions rather than objects) are most formed from adjectives (or other words) by changing the ending to "-e".  They can come in front or after the verb, but not necessarily closely.

Adjective Adverb 
la rapida aŭto   
the fast car  La aŭto iras rapide
The car goes quickly
bela ĉielo
a beautiful sky La ĉielo bele brilas
The sky shines beautifully
mola kuseno
a soft cushion Mole li tuŝis ŝian vangon
Softly he touched her cheek
efika parolo
an effective speech Ŝi parolis efike
She spoke effectively
forta biero
strong beer La biero forte odoros de vinagro 
The beer will smell strongly of vinegar
bona kantistino
a good singer Ŝi povas tre bone kanti
She can sing very well

Besides adverbs made from other words, Esperanto has some 'pure' adverbs, a few of which appear on the Participles page. Adverbs are used much more freely and widely in Esperanto than in English.  An adverb can be used to pack into one word what may take two or more words in English.  For example, "La malsata viro voris la bifstekon kiel hundo" means 'The hungry man devoured the steak like a dog', but "La malsata viro voris hunde la bifstekon " means the same thing but because it is unusual and more creative it is more expressive and surprising.  In Esperanto you can say "Ŝi manĝetis la panon birde" but in English you would have to say 'She nibbled the bread like a bird' or something similar.  You might experiment with 'bird-wise'!"

You may have noticed in the fourth example above that the word "parolo" (speech) was changed into a verb, "parolis" (spoke), by simply substituting the 'o' noun-ending for the 'is' past-ending of a verb. This is a very powerful feature of Esperanto - the ability to change a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb into any of the other three - and is thoroughly exploited by the speakers of the language.

Footnote

The red portions are included only as a reminder that the emphasis is always on the second last vowel.  In no way do they show how a word is built!   All sounds and syllables need to be clearly spoken - not slurred as often in English.   Fika parolo is a very rude expression.   La biero fote odoros means the beer will 'smell like a photo' or 'as in a photo' - both unlikely.

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Page 7 of 10

ACCUSATIVES   - N

For English speakers probably the t r i c k i e s t aspect of Esperanto is adding the "n" ending, often called the accusative ending.   A better name might be the 'clarity' ending but that term is unknown to grammarians!  The "n" ending is added to a word following any other ending it might have (see footnote below).  It can play three1 separate roles but this page deals with only one of them - the one used for clarifying who or what is directly affected by an action (the direct object of the verb) in contrast to who or what carries it out (the subject of the verb).

English makes the distinction between who or what acts (subject) and who or what is acted upon (object) by fixing the order of words.  First the actor (subject of the action) is named, secondly comes the action (verb) and thirdly the direct object of the action.  So in 'Man bites dog!' the 'man' is the actor (subject), 'bites' is the action (verb) and 'dog' (object) gets bitten!  Change the word order for yourself to test different meanings.

bitten

Esperanto shows the distinction by the endings of the words.  So in "Viro mordas hundon" the bare "o" shows who acts, the added "n" shows who suffers from the action.  For sake of effect one could say "Hundon mordas viro" - probably with a special tone of voice to draw attention to this less than usual event!.  The dog would still suffer.

Because 'endings' are not the way such distinctions are done in English, English speakers of Esperanto often experience initial difficulties.  However Esperanto's method does appear in English personal pronouns.  English says 'I helped him', not 'I helped he' - "Mi helpis lin" in Esperanto.   So 'him' is the accusative form of 'he' in English.  

The table below shows the changes in the pronouns in red:-

English Pronouns - Subject / Object
Esperanto Pronouns - Subject / Object
I help Peter
Peter helps me mi helpas Petron
Petro helpas min
You help Peter
Peter helps you vi helpas Petron
Petro helpas vin
He helps Peter
Peter helps him li helpas Petron
Petro helpas lin
She helps Peter
Peter helps her ŝi helpas Petron
Petro helpas ŝin
It helps Peter
Peter helps it ĝi helpas Petron
Petro helpas ĝin
We help Peter
Peter helps us ni helpas Petron
Petro helpas nin
They help Peter
Peter helps them ili helpas Petron
Petro helpas ilin

Observe Esperanto's consistent system for nouns and pronouns.

Freedom of word order in Esperanto allows much flexibility - "Mi lin helpis", "Lin mi helpis", "Lin helpis mi", "Helpis mi lin".   All these mean "I helped him" but with differences in rhythm and nuance.  These 'twists' can be expressed in English by using special wording, such as "It was him I helped".- or maybe it should be "It was he I helped"?   Similarly, 'It was me who helped him'.

Because of the insistent regularity of Esperanto the "n" ending is applied to all direct objects, whether pronouns, nouns or adjectives (see below).  "Ŝi portis sakon" - "She carried a bag" - is unambigous Esperanto.  Nevertheless "Ŝi portis sako", although possibly confusing in some contexts, would in practice be understood by most Esperanto speakers!

Footnote

As stated on the page on Adjectives they copy noun endings: "Mi manĝis verdan pomon" - "I ate a green apple" and "Ni havas du ruĝajn pomojn" - "We have two red apples".  These examples show what is called 'agreement' between adjectives and nouns.  Once English speakers get the idea and remember their 'n's, this feature of Esperanto usually causes few difficulties.  It adds considerably to the clarity, rhythm and musicality of Esperanto - essential qualities in a language designed to be spoken by people with different first languages.  Compare Esperanto's use of only five clear musical vowels, all medium in length (see Letters page).

The red portions on this page are NOT used to show emphasis, just different endings.  

Pronounce ruĝajn pomojn 'roo-jeye-n paw-moyn'.   1You can find out the other two roles where the -n ending gives Esperanto increased clarity in any good textbook.

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Page 8 of 10

PARTICIPLES   -ANT-,   -INT-,   -ONT-,  -AT-,   -IT-,  -OT-

Esperanto can make participles or verbal adjectives from verbs (action words) which include both when the action happens and whether the person or thing described carries it out or is on the receiving end.  English often uses a phrase for the same job or finds a totally different expression.   In the example below the basic idea is 'manĝ' - eat.  The participle idea is added first, then the adjective ending.


Active - source of action
English version
Passive - receiving the action
English version
Present    
manĝanta    
eating manĝata  
being eaten
Past
manĝinta
having eaten manĝita
(having been) eaten
Future    
manĝonta
going to eat     manĝota
going to be eaten

Grammarians call verbal adjectives 'participles' as these forms are part verb and part adjective. Here are some more examples:-

Esperanto      English
 Kantantaj birdoj sorĉas min Singing birds enchant me
 Mi vidis la brulintan arbon I saw the (having) burnt tree
 La irontaj birdoj malgajigis min The (about to be) departing bird saddened me.
 Manĝataj kukoj rapide malaperas Cakes (being) eaten quickly disappear
 La batitaj tamburoj estas nun silentaj The (have been) beaten drums are now silent
 Rigardu al la kuirotaj ingrediencoj! Look at the ingredients about to be cooked.

Esperanto, like English, has not got simple words for passive actions, i.e. where the person or thing is passively acted upon.  So like in English, participles have been used for this purpose: for example "Li estas vidita de la knabino" - "He has (just) been seen by the girl" and "Li estos vidita de la knabino" - "He will be (just) seen by the girl".   However Esperanto speakers generally prefer to avoid these "compound verbs" and say directly "La knabino ĵus vidis lin" or for special effect "Lin la knabino ĵus vidis" - 'The girl has / had just seen him'.  Esperanto uses "oni" to avoid naming an actor, for example: "Oni ne rajtas sidi tie" - 'You may not (have no right to) sit there'.  This is not considered rude, but clear and elegant.

Verbal adjectives are very often changed to adverbs, i.e. the ending "e" replacing the ending "a".  Like all adverbs these forms describe the actions.  They always relate to the subject of the action.  Examples:-

Esperanto      English
Vidinte la knabinon, li ekamis ŝin Having seen (on seeing) the girl, he fell in love with her
Alveninte en la urbo, mi decidis viziti vin Having arrived in town, I decided to visit you

When a verbal adjective is changed into a noun, i.e. the ending "o" replacing the ending "e", it normally refers to a person. Examples:-

Esperanto      English
La amanto The lover
La amato The loved one
Ŝia aminto Her past lover (the one who used to love her, i.e. her ex-lover
Ŝia amito Her past loved one (the one she used to love)
La prezidanto the presiding one, i.e. the president
la prezidintoj the former presidents, the ex-presidents

Verbal adjectives are a very common type of word in Esperanto.

Footnotes

Unfortunately verbal adjectives have been often mis-used in Esperanto by English speakers - and speakers of some other languages.  People try to mimic the compound tenses of English or their own first language.  Some older text books recommended expressions such as "Mi estas leganta la novan libron" - 'I am reading the book, "Mi estas leginta la novan libron" - 'I have read (am having-ready) the new book' and many such like.  However Esperanto speakers generally prefer to avoid compound verbs in favour of simple ones, adding where helpful an adverb like "jam" - 'already', "nun" - 'now', or "baldaŭ" - 'soon', to emphasise timing where necessary.  For example "Mi nun legas la novan libron" - 'I am (now) reading the new book', "Mi jam legis la novan libron" - 'I have (already) read the new book' .

The red portions are included only as a reminder that the emphasis is always on the second last vowel.  In no way do they show how a word is built!

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Page 9 of 10

WORD BUILDERS - AFFIXES

As has been shown on the Adjectives page Esperanto encourages joining words together to build new ones.  However it also has a specially designed set of word builders known collectively as affixes.  These can be attached to the front of a word (prefix) or added at its end (suffix) - before any grammatical ending is added. The placing of the hyphen in the list below shows whether the affix is added to the front or rear of the word.  The spoken emphasis always stays on the second last vowel in the total word.

Examples of affixes:-

Affix
Meaning
Example
Meaning
mal-
precise opposite, contrary of malami
to hate (ami - to love)

  malplena
empty (plena - full)
re-
again, once more, repeat, re- reveni
to return, come back (veni - to come)
-aĉ in a very poor state domaĉo hovel (domo - house)
-aĵ object, stuff, material related to manĝaĵo meal, food[stuff] (manĝi - to eat)
    ditto heredaĵo heritage (heredi - to inherit)
-ar
collective of, group of arbaro
wood (arbo - tree)

  ditto adresaro
directory (adreso - address)
-ebl possible, capable of, -ble portebla portable (porti - to carry)
    ditto rompebla fragile, breakable (rompi - to break)
-ec
quality of, -ness, -ity, -ship amikeco
friendship, friendliness (amiko - friend)
-eg
augmentative of, super-sized bonega
excellent (bona - good)

  ditto domego
a mansion (domo - house)
-ej
place for tejo
garage (aŭto - car)

  ditto kuirejo
kitchen, cookhouse (kuiri - cook)
-em tending to, inclined to parolema talkative (paroli - to talk, speak)
-er
small part of, bit of panero
breadcrumb (pano - bread)
-et
diminutive of         libreto
booklet (libro - book)
-id
offspring of hundido
puppy (hundo - dog)
-ig
cause to, render, -ify unuigi
unify (unu - one)

  ditto blankigi
whiten (blanka - white)
-iĝ
become, come to be flaviĝi
turn yellow (flava - yellow)
-il
a tool, instrument for ŝlosilo
key (ŝlosi - to lock)
-in
female of ŝafino
ewe (ŝafo - sheep in general)
-ind
worth of, -worthy vidinda
worth seeing (vidi - to see)
-ul person (sometimes animal) bonulo a good fellow

The use of affixes in this regular and creative way is a very powerful feature of Esperanto, allowing a relatively small stock of words to express a great many ideas.  You may observe some affixes express an emotional content.  Like other modern languages Esperanto has also a special set of affixes for scientific and technical terminology, which you can find in any good dictionary.

Footnote

The red portions are shown here only as a reminder that the emphasis is always on the second last vowel.  In no way do they show how a word is built!  Indeed compound words are not pronounced according to their substructure but according to their syllables, using open syllables where possible.  So 'malami' is pronounced 'ma-la-mi' and 'vidinda' as 'vi-din-da'.  The emphasis is on 'la' and 'din' even though these words are each built from three smaller units, 'mal' + 'am' + 'i' and 'vid' + 'ind' + 'a'.  

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Page 10 of 10

PREPOSITIONS - POSITION WORDS PLUS MORE WORD BUILDING

Esperanto defines prepositions precisely and narrowly, insisting that they are used logically wherever possible.  It even possesses a special preposition for use when no clear logical relationship seems available.  

al - to, towards
ekster - outside laŭ - according to, along sen - without
anstataŭ - instead of el - out of malgraŭ - notwithstanding sub - under, beneath
antaŭ - in front of, before, ago en - in per - by means of super - above
apud - near, close by ĝis - until, as far as po - at the rate of sur - on, upon
ĉe - at, next to inter - between por - for, in order to tra - through
ĉirkaŭ - (a)round, about je - not defined post - after, behind trans - across
da - quantity of kontraŭ - against, opposite preter - beyond, past  
de - of, by, from krom - except, apart from pri - concerning, about  
dum - during kun - with pro - because of, owing to  

A preposition makes the role of its accompanying noun unmistakable.  An additional ending is not needed in Esperanto - unlike in many languages (including sometimes English).

Examples:-

La kato lekis la lakton per sia lango the cat licked the milk with its tongue
La aglo flugis super la arbarego The eagle flew over the forest
Mi sidis apud li I sat beside him

Note English changed from 'he' to him' in the third example.

More Word Building

The Word Building page shows how to build words using affixes.  However affixes are also words in their own right.  You can use them to make adjectives, nouns, adverbs, verbs and so on.  Examples:-  

Eta birdo A tiny bird
Ŝiaj idoj Her offspring
Tiu ulo That fellow
Ni manĝos kune We shall eat together (i.e. withly!)
Por ili vino anstataŭas akvon For them wine replaces water
La vento senigis lin de lia preferata ĉapelo The wind deprived him of his favourite hat

Prepositions can also be used in word building.  Examples:-  

Envenu! Come in!
Surportu la ruĝan jakon Carry on (yourself) the red jacket, i.e. Wear the red jacket
Eligilo An extractor (see footnote)

In the tables of examples above 'sen+ig+as' and 'eligilo' are words built entirely out of prepositions, affixes and endings. There is not what you might have considered an 'ordinary' word among them.  Everything in Esperanto is a potential building block.  It is this power, flexibility, creativity and simplicity which make Esperanto such an endearing language to its speakers.  

Esperanto indeed 'does what it says on the tin!' - "Ĝi plenumas la skatolan promeson!" (It fulfils the tin's promise).  Why Esperanto has not been enthusiastically adopted by the world at large is probably not because of its intrinsic qualities (although some have argued so) but because of a multitude of other factors in the equation - economic and political power, international jealousies, fear of loss of influence, willingness to accept the status quo, (more recently) faith in technological solutions, etc.  These are issues beyond the scope of this overview.

Footnotes

'Eligilo' is 'a device or tool (il) for causing (ig) something to be out of (el) something else'.  While this may seem a bit contrived, it is in fact no worse than the English word 'extractor' itself.  'Ex-tract-or' is built from 'ex' ('out of' in Latin), 'tract' ('dragged' in Latin) and '-or' ('something which does something' in Old French).  At times in English we might dare to say 'an outgetter' or ' a getter-outer'.  No?  We would probably be understood, but mocked.  In Esperanto we would more likely be congratulated. 

The red portions are included only as a reminder that the emphasis is always on the second last vowel.  In no way do they show how a word is built!

This overview is indebted to the Scottish Esperanto Association.

Other references:
Omniglot, Wikipedia

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