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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.

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 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), (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.
Personal pronouns
singular plural
first person mi (I) ni (we)
second person vi (you)
masculine li (he) ili (they)
feminine ŝi (she)
epicene ĝi (it, s/he)
indefinite oni (one)*
reflexive si (self)
*In colloquial English, generally translated "they" or "you".

Personal pronouns take the accusative suffix -n like 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 ..."

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 sex of an individual is unknown, or to refer to an epicene noun such as persono (person). However, it is generally only used for 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.

Other pronouns

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)

Occasionally a new preposition is coined. As 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), a more precise substitute for de (of, by, from).


All verbs are 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).

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
Past -is -inta -ita -i -u -us
Present -as -anta -ata
Future -os -onta -ota

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!)
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).


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).

The jussive mood, called the volitive in Esperanto, is used for wishing and requesting, and serves as the imperative. It covers some of the uses of the subjunctive in European languages:

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 ekinteresis min kaj montris al mi, ke ... (This caught my interest and showed me that ...)
Tiu ĉi interesis min (This interested me).
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. In,
Germanan kaj francan lingvojn mi ellernadis en infaneco (I learned French and German in childhood),
the verb el-lern-ad-is is past tense (-is), on-going/imperfective (-ad-), and performed to significant completion (el-). Such distinctions are notoriously difficult to render in English, but perhaps a circumlocution may help: In childhood, I spent time soaking up German and French. Here spend time —ing corresponds roughly to -adi, and the up of soak up [originally also a preposition] conveys some of the meaning of el-.

The copula

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 half a dozen forms, which retain the vowel of the related verbal tense. In addition to carrying aspect, participles are the principal means of conveying voice, with two paradigms, active (performing an action) and passive (receiving an action).

Adjectival participles

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 tense

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)
  • Present prospective: mi estas kaptonta (I am going to/about to catch), mi estas kaptota (I am going to be/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:

Synthetic compound tenses (active voice)
Simple verb Progressive aspect Perfect aspect Prospective aspect
Present tense mi kaptas
(I catch)
mi kaptantas
(I am catching)
mi kaptintas
(I have caught)
mi kaptontas
(I am about to catch)
Past tense mi kaptis
(I caught)
mi kaptantis
(I was catching)
mi kaptintis
(I had caught)
mi kaptontis
(I was about to catch)
Future tense mi kaptos
(I will catch)
mi kaptantos
(I will be catching)
mi kaptintos
(I will have caught)
mi kaptontos
(I will be about to catch)
Conditional mood mi kaptus
(I would catch)
mi kaptantus
(I would be catching)
mi kaptintus
(I would have caught)
mi kaptontus
(I would be about to catch)

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), (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 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!

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)

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.)

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

sankt- -ig- -at- -a
holy causative passive
"made holy"
far- -iĝ- -u
do middle
"be done"
ĉiu- tag- -a -n
every day adjective accusative
ŝuld- -ant- -o -j
owe active
noun plural
liberigu nin
liber- -ig- -u ni -n
free causative jussive we accusative
"free us"
la malbono
la mal- bon- -o
antonym good noun


External links

A fairly good overview of Esperanto's grammar and word-building system can be gained by viewing:

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