Should-a, Would-a, Could-a…

Three special words:

  • devus
  • volus
  • povus

A brief explanation of this “us” ending first! “Us” usually puts a word into the conditional mood. (Beware not to pronounce it like English “us”, it is pronounced “oos”)

  • Mi manĝas = I eat (present tense, from “manĝi” = “to eat”)
  • Mi manĝus = I would eat (conditional mood)
  • Mi kuras = I run (from “kuri” = “to run”)
  • Mi kurus = I would run

Notice how in English this corresponds to using “would” with the verb. Also notice that the conditional mood shows something that is conditional, or not true at the moment:

  • Mi kurus, sed mi lacas = I would run, but I’m tired. (The running won’t happen due to tiredness)
  • Mi ridus, se vi kurus = I would laugh if you’d run. (The running only might happen, therefore the laughing only might happen).

Similarly used for imaginary, unreal things:

  • Se mi estus sana, mi kurus = If I would be (were to be) healthy, I would run.

Why are “devus”, “volus” and “povus” special?

Because they each have a special meaning, that isn’t quite what you’d expect from the conditional mood. They certainly can be used in the normal way, but often with the help of other words.

Instead of showing that the concept is conditional, unreal, or imagined, they often show that it is in fact real, but might not (or probably won’t) happen.

Let’s start with “devi”, “voli” and “povi”:

  • devi = to have to, to must
  • voli = to want,wish for
  • povi = to be able to, to can

Some present tense examples:

  • Mi devas aĉeti melon = I must buy a badger.
  • Mi volas manĝi melon = I want/wish to eat a badger.
  • Mi povas manĝi melon = I can eat a badger.

The special meanings:

  1. Mi devus aĉeti melon = I should buy a badger.
  2. Mi volus manĝi melon = I would like to eat a badger.
  3. Mi povus manĝi melon = I could eat a badger.

Notice how in each case, the action/state is still true (must, want, or being able to), but there is some doubt as to whether they’ll be carried out:

  1. I should really buy a badger (must), but I may not.
  2. I’d still like to (want to) eat a badger, but I may not.
  3. I can eat that badger, but I may not.

If the conditional mood was acting as normal it would be more like this:

  1. I would have to buy a badger [e.g. if I had money.] (The must is not true, or only maybe true, given the money condition)
  2. I would like to buy a badger [e.g. if they weren’t so evil.] (The liking/wanting is not true)
  3. I would be able to eat a badger [e.g. if they weren’t so big.] (The “being able to” is not true)

Notice for 1 and 3 the distinction is obvious in English: the special meanings use “should” or “could”, whereas the proper conditional mood sentences go back to using “would”. However, in 2 we use the same word in English, “would”. Even in the special meaning of “volus” we say “would” like. But these are two different meanings:

  • I would like to eat a badger
  • I would like to eat a badger, if I were silly.

The first sentence uses the special meaning of “devus”, and the second uses the proper conditional. In the first sentence, the liking is true, but the liked thing (eating) may not happen. In the second sentence, the liking isn’t even true, it is conditional on me being silly. (Other than using the extra words to disambiguate these two meanings in English, we often use intonation. In the second sentence one would emphasis “would” (and often “if” too) far more than the other  words.)

Similarly in Esperanto, if we want the true conditional meaning of these words, instead of their special meanings, one should expand upon the sentence, by adding such a conditional statement, or introducing the verb with words that imply conditionals, e.g. “kvazaŭ” = “as if, as though”:

  • Kvazaŭ devus … = As though it would have to…

Check out the PMEG page.

Almighty Badgers

Time to cement the very important difference between the similarly spelt “pro” and “por”. They could easily be confused, because in some situations they are both translated as “for” in English.

Think of them like this:

  • pro = because of, on account of, for the sake of
  • por = for, in order to, meant for


  • Mi skribis la leteron pro vi = I wrote the letter for you (for your sake, on your account).
  • Mi skribis la leteron por vi = I wrote the letter for you (meant for you).

Pro expresses the cause,motive or reason for an action, feeling or state. In the format: <action/feeling/state> pro <reason/cause>. So:

  • Mi timas la mondon pro la meloj = I fear the world because of the badgers.

Pro can also be used before “tio, ke”. Literally “because of/on account of that thing, that…” Which is almost exactly equal to “ĉar” = “because”:

  • Meloj estas kruelaj pro tio, ke ili manĝas homoj = Badgers are cruel on account of the fact (thing) that (because) they eat people.

“Por” can show what something is meant for:

  • Mi aĉetis melon por vi = I bought a badger for you.

Or very similarly, what an action/feeling is in aid of:

  • Mi faris ĝin por mia sano = I did it for my health.

It works similarly before a verb infinitive (word ending with “i”), and like English, then becomes “in order to”:

  • Mi kuris por eskapi la melojn = I ran in order to escape the badgers.

Similarly to “meant for” is also shows what an action/feeling/thing affects:

  • Meloj estas agrablaj por la okuloj = Badgers are pleasing for the eyes.

“Por” can also show agreement for (in favour of) something, meaning the opposite of “kontraŭ” (against).

  • Mi estas por la propono = I am for (in favour of) the proposal.

In a similar way it can show a subjective viewpoint as in this example from the PMEG page on “por”:

  • Por patrino ne ekzistas infano malbela = For (from the viewpoint of) a mother, there doesn’t exist an ugly child

It can also be used before “ke”. “Por ke” = “in order that / so that”. This requires you to use the imperative (a “u” ending). I’ll leave this for a future post. Here’s an example:

  • Mi oferos min al la meloj, por ke vi povu (imperative) ilin eskapi = I will sacrifice myself to the badgers, so that you can escape them.

“Por” is also used in expressions of time:

  • Por momento = For a moment

And also shows what you are paying for:

  • Mi pagis por du meloj = I paid for two badgers.

It’s meaning kind of overlaps with “pro” when paying for things, or providing things (which is like paying with something other than money). This is especially the case with gratitude.

Because “pro” could be used as in this example from PMEG:

  • Kion vi postulas pro la poto? = What are you demanding (in terms of price) for (on account of the) the jug?

But the most overlap is here:

  • vi dankos min por tio = you will thank me for that
  • vi dankos min pro tio = you will thank me for that

The reason they can be both used to mean about the same thing, is because “pro” is saying “thanks on account of that” i.e. showing motive for the thanks. Whereas “por” is used in the sense of paying thanks for that (and we know that “por” can be used in paying expressions). I kinda prefer “pro” 🙂

(I took inspiration from all over the place for this post. There’s a bit on por and pro in “Being Colloquial in Esperanto“, and in the PMEG (por,pro), and in Kellerman’s Complete Grammar of Esperanto!)

Off to Edinburgh!

I’m afraid that I shall be away for a week! Going to Edinburgh. I shall endeavour to make some posts if I get time between events! However, there is indeed the chance that I will not have the time!

Today, I’ll leave you with an amusing colloquial word I came across reading some Esperanto material:

  • maltrinki = to pee

It is made up of: the prefix “mal” and the root word “trink-” and the verb ending. “Trinki” means “to drink”. “Mal” when attached to a word, renders the opposite meaning. Similar to “un-” in English. So if “bona” = “good” (which it does), then “malbona” = “bad”. So here “maltrinki” means “to un-drink”, therefore, “pee”!

Certainly made me giggle. And of course there are far more clinical terms for the action… but who needs those with gems like these? 🙂

Become out of bed

A simple little post today. I was charmed by a delightful combination of little words:

  • Ellitiĝi = to get out of bed / to get up (El-li-Ti-ji).
  • Mi ellitiĝis = I got out of bed.

Made from:

  • El = out of
  • Lito = bed
  • Iĝi = to become (though this suffix is important and interesting and will receive more attention in future posts!)

So “elliti” = “to be out of bed” (from ellit-: concept of out of bed). By adding “iĝi” one makes it “to become out of bed”, in other words, get up, get out of bed.

I thought it seemed quite neat!

Adjectives and their Antics

Thought I’d talk a little of the frolicking of adjectives today!

This post relies on you knowing what I mean by “quality-like” roots,”action-like” root words and “thing-like” root words. Luckily, you can find out in my previous post.

So today’s post answers the question: what happens when you make a root word into an adjective using the “a” suffix? If you want more examples than I give, go to the the PMEG page on the topic, the page which is the inspiration and main reference of this post.

Starting with the simple case: quality-like roots. These roots already show description or quality, so adding the “a” usually just expresses that quality:

  • blua = blue (from blu- exressing quality of blue)
  • bona = good (from bon- expresses quality of good)
  • bela = beautiful

There are some infrequent exceptions. They normally depend on context, and most could understand them without having had to learn the exceptions beforehand:

  • stulta demando = a stupid question. The question itself cannot be acting stupid (as one may interpret something which is stulta), it is rather that the question was made through stupidity.
  • laŭta ĉambro = a loud room. The room isn’t being loud (the usual interpretation of laŭta), instead, the room is full of loudness (the things inside it are being loud).

What happens when the root is a thing-like root?

It means something related to the root, the thing. Somehow a description that is typical of the thing. This will be different depending on the context.

An example used on the PMEG page is “reĝa” from the thing-like root “reĝ-” (Therefore it’s inherently an ‘o’ word “reĝo” = “king”).

  • reĝa konduto = kingly/regal conduct. Behaviour in the manner of a king, with the qualities of a king.
  • reĝa persono = kingly person, royal person, person characterised by royality/kingliness.
  • reĝa palaco = royal/kingly palace, a king’s palace.

And when the roots are action-like? 

They show a meaning related to (characterised by) the action in question. They are similar to the present/past active participles in Esperanto (future posts!). Present active shows that an action is happening, and past active shows that it happened.

From help- (and its action “helpi” = “to help”):

  • helpa hundo = a helpful dog, a dog that’s helping.
  • helpa diro = a helpful statement, a statement that helped.

From nutr- (and its action “nutri” = “to nourish”):

  • nutra problemo = nutritional problem
  • nutra manĝaĵo = nourishing/nutritional food, food which nourishes.

Adjectives made from action-like roots can have an additional possible meaning. For example, given the examples above and the word “korekt-” (action-like root, “korekti” = “to correct”), extending the examples above:

  • korekta X

“X” should be something that corrects, or is characterised by correcting.

But it is often far more useful as something much closer to passive participles (future posts!), these are things which have received an action instead of dishing it out (active).

So here, X could also be something that is correct, or corrected!

Same goes for others to:

  • kompliki = to complicate
  • komplika X: X can be complicating or complicated!
  • veki = to wake
  • veka X: X can be waking or awoken.

This shows that the adjectival “a” can be a very general description, sometimes relying on context to disambiguate. If you need a specific meaning, and the context doesn’t make this clear, then you must turn to the more precise participles!

Action, Quality, Thing.

For the sake of future posts, word roots types are the topic for today. This is an important concept in Esperanto for understanding how we build words.

Most words in Esperanto can be said to consist of a root and an ending. Where the root gives the word the core meaning, and the ending marks whether it’s a noun/adjective/verb etc. and its tense, mood, or plurality.

And these endings are productive! The verb form may not be in the dictionary, but we can just use a verbal ending to make it. We can even smoosh roots together for new core meanings before assigning the endings.

But the main point today, is one that has only been touched on in previous posts. That is, that roots are not these neutral creatures that have no properties or characteristics of their own until they receive their endings.

Don’t get me wrong, you’ll rarely see a root by itself twiddling its thumbs. They do in most cases need these endings in a sentence. However, they do have their own properties. There are different classifications of root word. And depending on which classification a root lies in, they act in different ways when different roots or endings are applied to them.

An example in the PMEG is the comparison between “brosi” (to brush) and “kombi” (to comb). Their roots are “bros-” and “komb-“. The “i” shows that they are being used as verb infinitives (as in “I want to comb/brush my hair”).

So what happens when we change them to nouns with our handy noun suffix “o”?

“broso” means “brush”. But “kombo” means… The action of combing!!! As in “My hair needs a combing”. What. The. Hell… Why? We did exactly the same thing, with very similar words!

It’s all because of the roots. “Komb-” is an action-like root. “Bros-” is a thing-like root. When you add the noun ending to a thing root (bros-) it just means the thing. But when you add it to an action root, it means “the action of <root>”. There are other ways to achieve what we want with these roots: knowing that “komb-” is an action root, but that we want the word for “comb” we can use the tool-like suffix “il”, “Kombilo” means “(a) comb”. Conversely, we can use the continual action suffix “ad” on “bros-” if we wanted “the action of brushing”, “brosado”.

This may seem unnecessarily complicated at first, but once the idea is internalised, it makes the process of word-building a lot more foolproof and interpret-able.

There are three main classes with respect to the the characteristics above: action-like, quality-like, and thing-like (like verb, adjective, noun).

Though we could define subcategories. Since within the class of thing-like words, for example, there are tool words, profession words, people words, animal words. All of these will have slightly different interactions (that are usually quite obvious don’t worry).

The point of this post is to create awareness of this fact rather than talk about all possible different interactions of these words (Or I’d be basically translating the PMEG). I’ll give you a few examples of the different roots, and in future posts I’ll talk about interesting things you can do with different roots. For example, it’s not always enough to say “oh this suffix changes the meaning of words to X”. Often one must say “When applied to quality-like roots the meaning is X, with thing-like roots Y…” (Check out this post, which shows how the verb ending interacts with a few different root classes).

Quality-like roots inherently show description, the quality or characteristics of something:

  • blu-: blua = blue
  • saĝ-: saĝa = wise
  • bel-: bela = beautiful

These words naturally lend themselves to the “a” ending of adjectives, describing words.

Action-like roots inherently show action, or state.

  • kur-: kuri = to run
  • rid-: ridi = to laugh
  • kant-: kanti = to sing

The words naturally lend themselves to the “i” ending of verb infinitives (and other verb endings). The “i” shows you the action you expect from the root, and then other affixes will derive meaning from the different interpretations of the action.

Thing-like roots are those that fit into neither of the above, being about either concrete things, or concepts.

  • tabl-: tablo = (a) table
  • hund-: hundo = (a) dog

They lend themselves to the noun ending “o”. They will action differently than the previous categories when participating in word building.

Continue to endure!

Possibly confusing words today! Following on from the theme of the last post; check it out if you don’t know what I mean by transitivity.

The word “daŭri” is often translated as “continue”, but this can be misleading. Your first defence is to think of it as “to endure/last”.

  • Li ne daŭros = He will not last/endure/continue

This is an intransitive use of the verb; there is no object. The action “lasting” is what the subject “he” is doing, it’s not doing anything to an object.

However, in English we use “continue” in the following way too:

  • He continued his speech

Notice here, that there’s an object! See how the object – the speech – is being continued, rather than the subject “he” as in “he will continue/endure”. This is a different meaning!

This is where the “ig” suffix comes in handy again! The easiest way to make a verb transitive (so it acts on an object) is to give it this suffix. Then a subject can cause an object to do something.

So “daŭrigi” means “to cause to continue/ to continue <something>”:

  • Li daŭrigis sian rakonton = he continued his story

Notice how it must have an object. He must be causing something to continue. So what happens if you don’t say anything after “daŭrigi”? An object is implied!

  • Li daŭrigis = He continued

This does not imply that he endured or lasted! Instead it implies he continued something, caused something to continue.

Conversely, if you see “daŭri” before words that are receiving the accusative “n” (so ordinarily they should be objects), despite the fact that daŭri is intransitive and so shouldn’t take a direct object, then this is something else…

In future posts, I will explain the different uses of the accusative “n”, just note that you may see such constructions as:

  • Mi daŭros du monatojn = I will last/endure [for] two months.

Notice how the amount of time is in the accusative. The amount of time isn’t an object of the verb, nothing is being done to the time, the accusative here is just showing a relation between the action and the duration of it. No doubt there’ll be more about this in future!