Root problem

Recently I made a post about the word “surhavi” meaning “to wear” or literally, “to have on” (made up of the words “sur” = “on” and “havi” = “to have”). I mentioned that there is a good reason why “sur” appears before “havi”, even though in a literal translation “to have on” (in the other order) makes sense.

It’s for the sake of logic when building words in Esperanto. See, fundamentally, the word “surhavi” is about having in some way, it is the having of something on you. So “have” is the main concept, and “on” is modifying it, by saying that the having is done in a certain kind of way: “on”.

This is how it works when word building. The main concept is the last word, and the root which modifies this word goes before it. Longer words can be built by repeating the process.

Therefore, “mortodoro” is some kind of death smell, whereas “odormorto” is not… maybe it’s a death characterised mostly by smell? A smelly death?

It was already red!

So something about Esperanto that I don’t think I’ve mentioned, but is necessary to know for this post, is the fact that an adjective can appear either before or after the word it is describing. Esperanto is easy going like that. Thus:

  • La blua kato, is the same as:
  • La kato blua
Only possible difference could be that there is ever so slightly more emphasis on the one that comes first.
Okay, now we’ve established that, what’s the difference between these two:
  • Mi farbis la domon ruĝan (= Mi farbis la ruĝan domon)
  • Mi farbis la domon ruĝa

“farbis” = “painted” , “domo” = “house”, and “ruĝa” = “red”.The only difference is that in the second sentence, the word for “red” does not receive the accusative “n” (therefore isn’t attributed to “domon”, which does have the ending,  in the usual way).What effect does this elicit?

In the first sentence, the “red” adjective is describing the object “house”. It is describing what that object is, before it receives the action of the sentence (in this case a painting action). Whereas in the second sentence  the adjective is not attributed to the description of what the object was before the action. It says what the action did to the object.


Bearing this in mind, the first sentence states that I painted a house that was already red (but I didn’t state what colour I painted it), whereas the second sentence states that I painted a house the colour red (but I didn’t state what colour it was originally).Therefore, conceivably one could say:

  • Mi farbis la domon bluan ruĝa, or
  • Mi farbis la bluan domon ruĝa

In order to mean “I painted the (already) blue house (now) red.”

Time and Space

Some prepositions are just plain cool. Prepositions show the role of a noun phrase. So say we have a noun phrase like “the red man” (it’s a noun “man” modified by “the red”). A preposition shows the role in the sentence that noun phrase has, it could be “on the red man”, “by the red man”, “before the red man” etc.

Some prepositions have a general concept, and this concept can be applied to both time and space. Some of which are:

  • antaŭ = before, in front of
  • ĉirkaŭ = about, around
  • de = of, from, by
  • ĝis = until, up to
  • inter = between, among
  • post = behind, after
You should be able to see their different usages within spacial relations and temporal relations, by observing the the different alternative English translations I’ve given.

For example, “antaŭ”. You can be physically before (in front of) a person or thing. But something can also occur before something else in time (before you ate badgers in the afternoon). Antaŭ would be used in both cases.

To on-have!

I almost made a new category today… Yes, yes I know I already have failed to distribute my posts fairly among them… It was going to be for constructed Esperanto words I find in use that seem particularly cunning in their creation. But I think I’m going to use the “alluring words” category for them, and simply state the reason for their noteworthiness!

Today is “surhavi”. It mostly seems to be translated as “to wear” (clothing). It is made up of:

  • sur = on
  • havi = to have

So a vaguely sensible literal translation might be “to have on” (so why is the word made so that “on/sur” comes before “have/havi”? I know the answer, and will post about it in the near future 😀 EDIT: here) . I quite liked its simple yet obvious construction!

There is another word “porti” which means “to carry/wear”. I wonder whether “surhavi” would be used to emphasise that you mean you are actually wearing something, if that thing is usually carried rather than worn?

Joy of Numbers

Mmm numbers. So there are two angles to today’s post, but both concern numbers. Firstly take a gander at the numbers 1 to 10:

  1. unu
  2. du
  3. tri
  4. kvar
  5. kvin
  6. ses
  7. sep
  8. ok
  9. naŭ
  10. dek
The first angle falls under the “alluring words” category. I think they are so simple and cute. They seem like the bare minimum, and yet still smack of what makes me think “three” or “nine” or “eight” from the various languages I’ve looked at. This is exactly what numbers should be: not cumbersome.

Next, for what’s interesting. I think the Esperanto number system is very nicely laid out (in terms of making the numbers greater than ten), but that’s a story for another day. Today I’m marvelling at the ease with which one can construct the different types of number. I’ll explain.

The above numbers are “cardinal” numbers, the numbers we use to count things, to state how many things  there are:

  • Estas du kameloj = There are two camels
  • Estas kvar viroj = There are four men
In order to make the “ordinal” numbers (the numbers we use to order things in a list e.g. first, second, third, fourth…), we simply add “a” :
  • First = unua
  • Second = dua
  • Third = tria
  • Fourth = kvara
  • Fifth = kvina
You can also change these to other parts of speech like “unue” or “trie” = “firstly” or “thirdly” respectively.

In order to make multiples, we simply use “-obl-“. Then the correct part of speech ending. So, the multiple made from “two” is “double”. If used like an adjective in “double shot” we use “duobla” (“a” the adjective ending). If we use like an verb “The slime doubled in size” we would use “duoblis” (“is” the past tense verb ending).

  • Single = unuobla
  • Double = duobla
  • Triple = triobla
  • Quadruple = kvarobla
Note that you can easily use these endings on ANY number, unlike English where I start to not be able to think of what comes next…

In order to make fractions, we use the “-on-” suffix. Specifically, this makes the reciprocal of a number. So if you add it to 4, you get 1/4 (quarter), if you add it to 8 you get 1/8 (eighth).

  • (A) half = duono
  • (A) third = triono
  • (A) quarter = kvarono
In order to make repetitions, we use the root “foj” = “time,occasion”. Remember from the word “iufoje” = “sometimes”?
  • Once = unufoje
  • Twice = dufoje
  • Thrice = trifoje
And you can keep going: kvarfoje, kvinfoje… I have no idea if we have English equivalents, other than just saying “four times”, “five times”.

In order to make groups, we can play with the suffix “-op-“. Again, depending on the part of speech ending, we can get interesting different effects:

  • du = two
  • duopo = a group of two, duet
  • duopa = is an adjective that describes something that is made up of two members
  • duope = by/in (groups of) twos
Look at all the different English changes you have to learn for just a few (a,op,obl,foj etc.) simple Esperanto ones! And you can’t even reliably permute all different types of number with English! Esperanto saves us again.


I keep seeing this word around. For some reason, perhaps its tiny nature, I’ve just been skipping over it… Poor little word. But I looked it up today, turns out, it’s an interesting little thing!

The word is: ajn.

So simple! Pronounced like the “ine” in English “fine”.

The interesting thing, is that it adds a notion of indefiniteness or generality. It doesn’t seem to be used to attach to other words, but to follow them as its own little word (I imagine if you were to tack it onto the end of words, it could be easily confused with the adjectival plural accusative ending).

It’s mainly used after the correlatives that start with Ki- and i-, but looks like it can be used with those starting with Ĉi- and Neni-.

Here’s some before and after examples:

  • Kio = what
  • Nenie = nowhere
  • Kie = where
  • Kies = whose
  • Ia = some kind
  • Kiom = how much
  • Kiam = when
  • Kia = what kind
And now with ajn:
  • Kio ajn   = whatever
  • Nenie ajn = nowhere whatsoever/at all
  • Kie ajn = wherever
  • Kies ajn = whosesoever
  • Ia ajn = any kind whatsoever
  • Kiom ajn = however much
  • Kiam ajn = whenever
  • Kia ajn = whatever kind
Pretty interesting little word. Just look how many different constructions you’d have to learn to get the same expressiveness in English!

Revisiting an old flame

So, a while back I posted about a word “iafoje”, in the category of “alluring words”, because it is a very, very pretty word. But it’s also sneaky! It has a hidden depth that I did not quite notice at the time, when I translated it as “sometimes”. Which is fine! Don’t worry! There’s just a nuance to it beyond that.

So, in the time since that post I’ve found other words to mean “sometimes”, made by adding different words to the root “foj” meaning “time,occasion”. With also the “e” ending for adverbs (“sometimes” is an adverb because it describes verbs, action words, you do some action “sometimes”).

  • iufoje, which is made with “iu” meaning “some, any, someone”
  • kelkfoje, which is made with “kelk(a)” meaning “some,several”
Compared to:
  • iafoje, which is made with “ia” meaning “some kind (of)”
So can you start to see where the nuances might be? I wasn’t too sure about the differences myself at first, but chatted with a couple folks at to make sure they said the same things I was wondering:
  • iufoje: suggests some indefinite time(s), any times, some times. A good phrase used by one of the Lernu folks was “sporadic events”
  • kelkfoje: simply suggests some bunch of multiple events/times
  • iafoje: suggests definite types of events.
I think it’s so interesting how you can express these different nuances of meaning in such simple ways, by building with these blocks of meaning.So in the original post I was saying how I found the word used alot in the Plena Manlibro de Esperanta Gramatiko. So why do they use this kind of “sometimes” instead of the others?I’ll tell you what I think. It’s often used in the context of explaining the usage of a word, concept, affix or suchlike. “Sometimes X is used in this context… Here it conveys….” etc.

This “sometimes” is talking about specific occasions when X is used in a specific way. Therefore, the obvious choice is iafoje!