INTRODUCTION

The 3000 languages in the world today were originated by our ancient ancestors and morphed over several millennia. These languages are full of inconsistencies and irregularities. It is a tribute to the capacity of the human mind that it can handle such difficult material. In 1887, a new language, free from irregularities, was introduced. By speaking this relatively easy-to-learn bridge language, people from all backgrounds are able to overcome the language barrier. Today, Esperanto is the only planned human language in widespread use. Use an Esperanto-English dictionary and refer to this "key" while reading texts in Esperanto to help you unlock the meaning of Esperanto according to the grammatical rules.

CONTENTS

Jump to the following topic:

· Alphabet

· Structure

· Pronouns

· Affixes

· Adverbs

·   Numbers

·   Correlatives

·   Participles

·   Accusative

·   Prepositions

Esperanto-English Glossary  |  English-Esperanto Glossary


ALPHABET

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

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

 

Every Esperanto word is pronounced as it is spelt, without exception. The five vowels are a as in father, e as in set, i as in machine, o as in bone, u as in tune. (These guides are for U.S. English speakers.)

 

The six letters unique to Esperanto, ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ and ŭ, were introduced so that every sound could be represented by just one letter (unlike combinations such as "ch" in "church" or "sh" as in "shoe"). In Esperanto, q, w, x and y are absent, but appear in foreign names, and are treated like ç, ñ, ð, ø, ß etc.

The consonants are pronounced pretty much the same as in English, but those that differ from English are as follows: 

 

c

ts as in dance

ĉ

ch as in chop

g

'hard' g as in go

ĝ

'soft' g as in age

ĥ

'hard' like j in Andalusean Spanish jota

or ch in Scottish loch

j

y as in year

ĵ

is like s in pleasure

s

always like s in sip

ŝ

sh as in shoe

ŭ

w as in west

 

All of the other consonants are like in English, except note that r is slightly trilled, like in Spanish. The dot over the j is lost in ĵ.

Combinations involving vowels:

 

aj

like y in sky

ej

like ay in day

oj

like oy in boy

uj

like ouy in bouy, but as one syllable

like ow in cow

say eh+w as one syllable

 

The stress in Esperanto always falls on the second-to-last vowel. Be careful with words like radio and familio, in which the last i is stressed. Also, be aware that there are no "silent" letters in Esperanto. So in words with combinations such as kn or sc at the beginning, both consonants must be sounded out. The sc combination may be tricky, but in reality it is common in English, in words such as chests. This combination appears on the beginning of some common Esperanto words.

STRUCTURE
(NOUNS, ADJECTIVES & VERBS)

Esperanto words consist of an assembly of parts put together in a logical fashion. Their function in a sentence is signaled by their grammatical endings. The ability to make words by combination greatly reduces the need for memorization. This principle is found in nature, where, from approximately 110 elements, millions of substances can be created by various combinations.

 

Root words, or base words, give the general idea, but they lack a definite meaning until they receive a grammatical ending. Take the root akv-, for example, which means “water.” Adding -o makes the singular noun akvo, a thing, “water." Adding -j makes it plural, so that akvoj means “waters.” Alternatively, adding -a to akv- makes akva, an adjective, “watery.”

 

The Guinness Book of World Records lists Esperanto as the only language in which there are no irregular verbs to learn. By comparison, French has 2238, and Spanish and German have about 700 apiece. There is only one pattern in Esperanto, which consists of just 6 endings for verbs. The present, past and future are shown by the endings -as, -is and -os, respectively. The infinitive is shown by -i, the imperative by -u, and the conditional by -us. So, from the root for “speak,” parol-, and mi (meaning "I") we make:

 

mi parolas

I speak, I am speaking

mi parolis

I spoke, I was speaking

mi parolos

I will speak

paroli

to speak

parolu!

speak!

mi parolu

I should speak

mi parolus

I would speak

To ask a yes/no question in Esperanto, the word ĉu is used. Any sentence that begins with ĉu is saying, “Is it true that…?” Ĉu li parolis? Means “Did you speak?” In non-interrogatory, contexts, ĉu means “whether.”

PRONOUNS

mi

I, me

ni

we, us

vi

you (whether one or many)

li
ŝi
ĝi

he, him
she, her
it

ili

they, them

 

 

si

reflexive pronoun for when the actor
of a verb is also the recipient of the action.

oni

one/they

Example: Oni diras ke... They say that...

 

Adding -a to a pronoun makes it possessive. mia = my. These possessive pronouns behave in the same manner as adjectives, in that they can go before or after the noun, and they will be in the plural (and accusative, see below) if the noun is also. “My house” could be mia domo or domo mia.

AFFIXES

Affixes are the elements which are most often used to modify the meanings of root words, although they can stand as root words if logic permits. Those affixes which come at the beginnings of words are called prefixes, those found at the ends of roots are called suffixes. The very last part of a complete Esperanto word is the grammatical ending, for example, one of the endings used above to create verbs.

Prefixes

bo-

in-law

filo

son

bofilo

son-in-law

dis-

separation

doni

to give

disdoni

to distribute

eks-

former

edzo

husband

eksedzo

ex-husband

ek-

start

vidi

to see

ekvidi

to catch a glimpse of

fi-

immoral

libro

book

filibro

dirty book

ge-

both sexes

patro

father/parent

gepatroj

parents

mal-

opposite (note: not "bad")

varma

warm

malvarma

cold

pra-

long ago

historio

history

prahistorio

prehistory

re-

again

legi

to read

relegi

to read again

Suffixes

-aĉ

filthy

vetero

weather

veteraĉo

foul weather

-ad

continuation

studi

to study

studado

act of studying

-aĵ

thing

manĝi

to eat

manĝaĵo

food

-an

member

klubo

club

klubano

club member

-ar

collection

arbo

tree

arbaro

forest

-ebl

possible

vidi

to see

videbla

visible

-ec

quality

libera

free

libereco

freedom

-eg

increases

domo

house

domego

mansion

-ej

place

kuiri

to cook

kuirejo

kitchen

-em

tendency

paroli

speak

parolema

talkative

-er

piece of

polvo

dust

polvero

dust mote

-estr

boss

lernejo

school

lernejestro

principal

-et

reduces

domo

house

dometo

cottage

-id

offspring

kato

cat

katido

kitten

-iĝ

become

naski
verda

to bear
green

naskiĝi
verdiĝi

to be born
to become green

-ig

causation

dormi

to sleep

dormigi

to put to sleep

-il

tool

tranĉi

to cut

tranĉilo

knife

-ind

worthy

laŭdi

to praise

laŭdinda

praiseworthy

-ing

socket

kandelo

candle

kandelingo

candlestick

-ĉj

male diminutive

patro

father

paĉjo

papa

-in

female

avo
leono

grandfather
lion

avino
leonino

grandmother
leonino

-ism

ideology

Markso

Marx (Karl)

marksismo

Marxism

-ist

professional

baki

to bake

bakisto

baker

-nj

female diminutive

patrino

mother

panjo

mama

-op

group

tri

3

triopo

threesome

-uj

container

cigaro

cigar

cigarujo

cigar box

-ul

guy

nova

new

novulo

newbie/novice

 

 

-um

(wild card)

 

um is an affix with no definite meaning that you can use when no others are appropriate.

 

folio

leaf

foliumi

to leaf through (a book, for example)

cerbo

brain

cerbumi

to brainstorm

 

Whole words can be built from the affixes. ilo tool, ilaro a set of tools, ilarujo a toolbox. See how creative you can be!

ADVERBS

Adverbs are words that modify a verb, adjective or another adverb and describe how some action is done. They are formed by adding -e to the root. So Li rapide kuras means "he quickly runs." -e can be attached to almost any root, so a sentence such as Kata kato kate katas meaning "a catlike cat cattishly behaves as a cat," is entirely possible. Note there is no Esperanto word for "a or an." There is only one word, la, for "the."

 

There is a separate class of adverbs, marked by -aŭ. When a word has this ending, it is incorporated into the root. For example, "soon" is baldaŭ, but there is no root bald-. You can, however, add affixes and grammatical endings to make words such as baldaŭa, which would mean "forthcoming."

NUMBERS

The numerals are completely regular, and are built with a small number of elements.

 

0

nul

1

unu

2

du

3

tri

4

kvar

5

kvin

6

ses

7

sep

8

ok

9

naŭ

10

dek

100

cent

1000

mil

 

From these thirteen root words, you can make any number under a million

 

11

dek unu

12

dek du

13

dek tri

20

dudek

21

dudek unu

39

tridek naŭ

140

cent kvardek

1999

mil naŭcent naŭdek naŭ

2000

du mil

 

The numbers listed above are called cardinal numbers. Ordinal numbers, which are used to put things in their order, (such as "first," "second," "third", etc.), are formed by putting -a at the end. So, "the 7th father" is la sepa patro. But "7 fathers" would be sep patroj.

CORRELATIVES

The idea behind correlative words is that certain words like where, there, nowhere, everywhere and somewhere are related, as are whose, that person's, no one's, everyone's and someone’s.

 

Each correlative word consists of three parts, with i being in the middle of every word (it is also the accented syllable in every correlative word).

The last part of each word shows the topic. Here are the nine in alphabetical order:

 

a

kind

al

motive or reason

am

time

e

place

el

manner

es

possession

o

object

om

amount

u

individuality

 

At the beginning comes the five ways to think about the topics. These parts are:

 

k

question

t

definite answer

(blank)

indefinite

nen

negation

ĉ

universality

 

After assembling the nine endings and five beginnings, we can logically create 45 words, although some meanings would have to be stretched in precise English translation.

 

kia

what kind of?

tia

that kind of

ia

some kind of

nenia

no kind of

ĉia

every kind of

 

 

kial

for what reason? why?

tial

for that reason, therefore

ial

for some reason

nenial

for no reason

ĉial

for every reason

 

 

kiam

at what time? when?

tiam

at that time, then

iam

at some time, sometime

neniam

at no time, never

ĉiam

at every time, always

 

 

kie

at what place? where?

tie

at that place, there

ie

at some place, somewhere

nenie

at no place, nowhere

ĉie

at every place, everywhere

 

 

kiel

in what manner? how?

tiel

in that manner, thus

iel

in some manner

neniel

in no manner

ĉiel

in every manner

 

 

kies

belonging to whom? whose?

ties

that one's

ies

someone's

nenies

nobody's

ĉies

everybody's

 

 

kio

what thing? what?

tio

that thing

io

something

nenio

nothing

ĉio

everything

 

 

kiom

what quantity? how much/many?

tiom

that much/many

iom

some of

neniom

none of

ĉiom

all of

 

 

kiu

who/which person?

tiu

that person

iu

someone

neniu

no one

ĉiu

each person

 

The table in a more concise format looks like:

 

-i- in the middle

k- question

t- definite answer

(blank) indefinite

nen- negation

ĉ- universality

-a kind

kia what kind?

tia kind

ia some kind of

nenia no kind of

ĉia every kind of

-al motive, reason

kial why?
for what reason?

tial
for that reason

ial
for some reason

nenial
for no reason

ĉial
for every reason

-am time

kiam when?
at what time?

tiam then
at that time

iam sometime
at some time

neniam never
at no time

ĉiam always
at every time

-e place

kie where?
at what place?

tie there
at that place

ie somewhere
at some place

nenie nowhere
at no place

ĉie everywhere
at that place

-el manner

kiel how?
in what way?

tiel thus
in that way

tiel
in some way

neniel
in no way

ĉiel
in every way

-es possession

kies whose?
belonging to whom?

ties
that person's

ies
somebody's

nenies
nobody's

ĉies
everybody's

-o object

kio what thing?

tio that thing

io something

nenio nothing

ĉio everything

-om quantity

kiom how much?

tiom that much

iom some amount

neniom no amount

ĉiom all of

-u individuality

kiu who?
which person

tiu
that person

iu
somebody

neniu
nobody

ĉiu
each person

 

The correlatives ending with -u can be pluralized into kiuj, tiuj, iuj, neniuj and ĉiuj, which mean which people?, those people, some people, (neniuj is possible, but not logical), and everyone.

 

kiu fenestro

which window?

tiu fenestro

that window

iu fenestro

some window

neniu fenestro

no window

ĉiu fenestro

every window

 

Correlatives can serve as root words and be built upon. Esperantists ask Kioma estas la horo? meaning "What time is it," or more precisely, “how many is the hour?" Another example is the word kialo which means "a reason."

 

Notice how the correlatives save time by reducing the amount of memorization. From 14 parts (9 + 5), you get 45 words (9 × 5).

 

Adding one more word, ajn, to the ki- words and the i- words, you give it uncertainty. kie means where, so kie ajn means wherever and ie means somewhere, and ie ajn means anywhere. This pattern applies to all of the correlatives that start with ki- and i-.

 

Also, the particle ĉi added to the t- correlatives indicates nearness. ĉi tie means "here," and ĉi tiam means "at this time." It can come before or after the correlative.

PARTICIPLES

Participles are usually based on verbs. If we say, "he is dividing the cake, now the cake is divided," we use one active participle (dividing) and one passive participle (divided).

 

Esperanto participles are very precise. They not only indicate whether a participle is active or passive, they also tell whether they are taking place in the past, present or future, using i, a, or o, matching the letters for the simple tenses.

 

A falonta botelo is a bottle which will fall. A falanta botelo is one that is falling through the air. After it hits the floor, it is a falinta botelo. This illustrates the active participle's three forms.

 

The passive participle is analogous. A cake that is going to be divided is a dividota kuko. When it is in the process of being divided, it is a dividata kuko. Having been cut, it is now a dividita kuko.

 

These participles can be combined with the three tenses of esti ("to be") to form 9 compound tenses with the active participle and 9 with the passive. This requires some memorization and should be avoided in original expression. They may, however, become necessary for rigorous translation from English. As an example, we can say that in the future, the bottle will have fallen by saying La botelo estos falinta.

 

If the noun ending o is used instead of the adjectival a, the participle becomes a person. A vidanto is a person who sees. A person who did see is a vidinto. A person who will see is called a vidonto. In the passive, a vidato is a person who is being seen right now, a vidito is one who has been seen and a vidoto is one who will be seen in the future.

 

All these facts apply to every single verb in the language, without exception.

ACCUSATIVE

Esperanto words contain more information than do English words. Esperanto words clearly show what function they fulfill in a sentence, while English words require placement within a sentence in order to determine what function it fulfills. This structure requires a bit more precision on the part of the Esperanto speaker, but the payoff is that the listener can understand the ideas more clearly, and the speaker can take great liberty with the order in which he speaks his words.

 

The letter n marks nouns and their adjectives which receive the direct action of the verb. In order to say the dog saw the big cat, you would say, la hundo vidis la grandan katon. English requires rigid word order, so that "man bites dog" and "dog bites man" mean two completely different things, even though the only difference is the order in which the words are written. But la grandan katon vidis la hundo has will have the same meaning, regardless of word order.

 

Notice that the adjective grandan takes the accusative because it agrees with the noun katon. This is true of the plural as well. Esperanto speakers say grandaj katoj if there are more than one. The plural is used together with the accusative. "The dog saw the big cats" would be la hundo vidis la grandajn katojn.

The use of the accusative is extended to motion toward. For instance, la kato kuras sub la tablo means that the cat is under the table, running around. La kato kuras sub la tablon, however, means that the cat ran from somewhere else to underneath the table.

 

Expressions of time take the accusative ending as well. Instead of saying "I will come on Sunday," Esperantists say Mi venos dimanĉon. Notice that there is no equivalent to "on" in the Esperanto expression of time.

 

The accusative is used to show measurement, too. In English, we say "I weigh 100 kilograms." In Esperanto, one would say Mi pezas cent kilogramojn, which literally means "I am heavy 100 kilograms." (Note that in international speech, relatively few will know how much a pound weighs). The accusative will be applied to the unit of measurement for cost, periods of time, length, width, height, distance, temperature, mass, weight, volume, density, speed etc.

 

Pronouns (mi, vi, ili...) and correlatives ending in vowels do take the accusative when necessary. Ordinal numbers (first, second, third… ending in Esperanto in -a) take the accusative, but cardinal numbers (one, two, three…) never do.

PREPOSTITIONS

Prepositions are particles placed before a noun or adjective/noun to form a clause. In English, an example would be "at the beach." In that prepositional phrase, the preposition is "at." Esperanto forms these type of phrases similarly, so "at the beach" would be ĉe la plaĝo. In that sentence, ĉe is the preposition. Some Esperanto prepositions are more concise than English prepositions, for example, "according to me" would be laŭ mi, since laŭ means "according to." Prepositions are often used as affixes, like ĉe-esti means “to attend,” or “to be at.” Where logic permits, most can also stand as root words that can be built upon, such as ekstera, which means “external.”

 

al

to

anstataŭ

instead of

antaŭ

before, in front of

apud

near

ĉe

at

ĉirkaŭ

around

de

of, from, by

dum

during

ekster

outside

el

out from

en

in

ĝis

until

inter

among

kontraŭ

against

krom

besides

kun

with

kvazaŭ

as if

laŭ

according to, along

malantaŭ

after, behind  (mal+antaŭ to make

the opposite of ‘before/in front of’) 

malgraŭ

in spite of

ol

than (in comparison)

per

by means of

po

at a rate of, @

por

in order to

post

after

preter

beyond

pri

about, concerning

pro

on account of

sen

without

sub

under

super

above

sur

on

tra

through

trans

across

 

Like the -um suffix, there is a similar "wild card" preposition: je. It is useful in certain phrases such as "I bet money on the horse." The preposition sur ("on top of") does not accurately capture the meaning, so to mean “on” you can use the preposition je, which has no definite meaning. This is commonly used with expressions of time. “At 3 o’clock” is not a place, so ĉe to mean “at” does not work. For that purpose, je is used.  

 

 


Go to the Esperanto-English Glossary.
Go to the English-Esperanto Glossary.
Practice with the Esperanto Phrase Book.

Learn a few Common Esperanto Phrases.
Questions? E-mail Christopher Zervic.

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Last updated 6 December 2002
Copyright © 2002 Christopher Zervic
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