The 7 and a guest

Following from the last post, and the comment of curiosity, here’s a little post to share what I’ve seen of verbs that can be both transitive and intransitive. First I’ll number the words, then I’ll talk a little about the corresponding numbers!

(Alphabetical order)

  1. Afekti = To pretend to have / put on airs / feign / strike poses / attitudinise
  2. Bati = To beat
  3. Blovi = To blow
  4. Cedi = To give up / cede / relinquish / give away
  5. Fumi = To smoke
  6. Ludi = To play
  7. Pasi = To pass

1. Using “afekti” one can “feign an interest” (afekti intereson). Here the verb is taking an object, or one can simply “afekti” or “put on airs, strike poses”, be altogether fake. Here there is no object. Notice in both cases that the subject will always be the one feigning or pretending, but sometimes that isn’t enough information and sometimes the person is feigning a particular thing (like interest or friendship).

This shows that it makes sense to be both intransitive and transitive unlike the “boil” (boli) example in the previous post. Where in English when we use “boil” with an object, the object is being boiled (the subject is making it do so), and without an object, the subject itself is boiling. This complete and utter change of meaning doesn’t fly in Esperanto, and we must choose between “boli” or “boligi” instead.

2. One may beat something, or something may be beating (like your pulse). In the first example the “something” is an object (therefore transitive) and in the later there is no object (intransitive): your heart doesn’t beat on anything, it is just beating according to its own schedule. Again, the meaning is the same, in both cases the subject is doing the beating, so there shouldn’t be a separate word.

3. You can blow a sore finger or hot soup (transitive), or the wind can just be blowing (intransitive).

4. You could give up chocolate (transitive) “oni povas cedi ĉokoladon”, or a faulty bridge could just give way (intransitive).

5. A chimney can smoke (no object, therefore intransitive), or one can smoke a cigarette (transitive). Again the meaning doesn’t change, although the cigarette is on fire it is the person who is smoking. Therefore, in both cases, the subject of the verb is smoking. So the meaning doesn’t change, so it shouldn’t be two separate words.

6. One can play a role in a film (oni povas ludi rolon), or play an instrument/game (oni povas ludi violonon/ludon): all transitive uses. Alternately, a child (or fun loving adult!) could simply play! (oni povas ludi). No object! Intransitive.

7. One can pass something by (ni pasis la melon), or something can just pass by (like time): jaroj pasis.

Sometimes it might look like a normally transitive verb is without an object, but usually the object is implied or replaced by a sub-phrase acting as an object. And conversely, sometimes it looks like an intransitive verb has an object, but there are more reasons why something might receive the accusative “n”!

Also I think it might be debatable whether “fajfi” (to whistle) is also both intransitive and transitive or not. Or even one or the other…

E.g. a kettle could whistle (intransitive) or I could whistle a tune (transitive)!

You can find the first seven in “Being Colloquial in Esperanto” along with more examples!

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Interesting thoughts

I thought I’d share with everyone, someone’s interesting advice about learning Esperanto. I can’t remember where I got the advice, so it could be from the Lernu.net forums, or one of the books I’ve been reading. At the time I read it, I thought it was pretty interesting, but only as I continue to bear it in mind does it become more and more helpful.

It’s easy to fall into a trap when learning a new language (at least for me it is!), whereby as you learn, you map each new word to a particular word in your native language. Often this can work out okay, like memorising “kato = cat”, but often it doesn’t. Sometimes one word in English will have far more different uses than is sensible with the “equivalent” word in Esperanto, and vice versa.

Coming from English (and certainly other languages) to Esperanto, one of the biggest problems where this style of learning gets you into bother is with verb transitivity. The idea that some verbs describe actions that happen between a subject and object(s), and others describe things that happen to the subject, unrelated to anything else.

  • “She ran”. In this phrase, “she” is the subject and running is the action. “To run” is intransitive here: it is an action that the subject performs, it is not performed on/to an object.
  • “She hit him”. In this phrase, “she” is the subject, and is performing a hitting action on the object “him”. “Hit” is therefore transitive.

But English is a spaghetti mess of a language, and as such, tonnes of its verbs can have entirely different meanings depending on whether or not you give them an object; you can just arbitrarily use the same word as intransitive or transitive.

  • “The water boiled”. Intransitive! The subject is water, and it is hot and bubbling, the boiling is happening to the subject.
  • “She boiled the water”. Transitive! So… what?! If we were to take “boil” to mean the same thing as the first phrase, then “she” (the subject) would be boiling, and how is “the water” then to be interpreted? But that’s not the case, “boil” now means “to cause to boil”!

A problem arises because Esperanto isn’t a mess, it’s really quite neat.

I’ve only come across 7 verbs in Esperanto that can be both transitive and intransitive, and in these cases it made sense to do so, the meaning didn’t shift like in “boil”, the subject was always performing the same action, but it just happened to be possible to do it with or without a recipient of the action (You’ll have to make noises like you’re interested if you want to know which ones, and get me to justify my view here! :D).

So let’s take “boli” = “to boil”

  • La akvo bolis = The water boiled.

Here, the water is bubbling and boiling itself. It didn’t cause anything to boil; the verb “boli” is intransitive, it cannot take an object!

  • *Ŝi bolis la akvon* makes as little sense as the English interpretation above where “she” is bubbling and boiling, and we don’t know what the water is doing. In Esperanto “boli” can only be used about the thing that is bubbling.

In order to get the other meaning we must change the word. Verbs in Esperanto can be made transitive by adding “ig” to the end. It’s like saying “to cause to <root>”, so “boligi” = “to cause to boil”:

  • Mi boligis la akvon = I boiled the water / I caused the water to boil.

So, the problem we often have is remembering what’s intransitive and what’s transitive, so we know how to use a word, for which there is perhaps just a single word in English.

So here comes the simple advice. Do not learn words by their English equivalents, learn them by picturing the concepts, imagining the actions, then you’ll never mistake them.

Which makes complete sense. If you imagine the scene of bubbling and boiling of the subject for “boli”, you’ll never mistakenly put “ŝi” in front of it unless she herself is actually bubbling and boiling! So I’ve been trying not to translate sentences or words, but capture their meaning and what thoughts and feelings they evoke. It certainly feels like it’s allowing me to progress faster!

More is not necessarily more.

I realised after a while that I’ve been reading sentences with “pli” and “plu” in for a while now without any problem. But I translate them most often as “more” (both of them). Then it occurred to me that Esperanto usually has a good reason for having more than one of these little words despite there being a single English translation. So I realised I had no idea what the difference was, so went on a mission to find out!

Pli versus Plu!

Abstractly, the difference is this: “plu” is “further/additionally/more” in relation to time or space. “Pli” means “more” but in relation to size, grade or degree.

So while “plu” is used for something that is continuing or ongoing, “pli” means “more than a certain amount” and as such is used for comparisons.

  • La melo ne plu aŭskultas al mi = The badger no longer [/more] listens to me
  • La melo estas pli bela ol la kato = The badger is more beautiful than the cat.

This shows that obviously if you use “ne” in conjunction with “plu” is means to not continue etc.

Something a little harder? I found this example on the PMEG page about “plu” using the word “rakonti” = “to relate/tell/narrate”

  • Li rakontis plu = He continued his narration (narrated more)
  • Li rakontis pli = He related more things (than previously/up until now/than others do/did)

Isn’t that awesome? With the change of a single character you get a whole different feel of the word “more”.

“Being Colloquial in Esperanto” also has a bunch of example sentences of the two words (alternatively p.184 of the paper copy).

Edit: Bonus fun!

As pointed out below, sometimes another word can act as “more”. This word is “ankoraŭ” which most often is translated as “still/yet”. It describes a past action/state that is still in effect.

However it also means something else. I’ll give you an example from the PMEG page:

  • Poste mi ankoraŭ parolos pri ĝi ~ Afterwards I will still [more] talk about it. (I will add to what I’ve said)
  • Poste mi plu parolos pri ĝi ~ Afterwards I will talk more about it. (I will resume the same talk)

In these cases, “ankoraŭ” shows repetition or more of the same type of thing. “Plu” shows continuation of the same thing.

Adjectives making solo careers

When an adjective (word ending in “a”) is directly describing a noun (words ending in “o”), and when the context clearly shows what the noun should be, it’s often possible to just omit the noun:

  • Mia melo estas la plej bela [melo] en la mondo = My badger is the most beautiful [badger] in the world (see how the second “melo” is unnecessary because we know what’s being discussed).
  • Ili estas la unuaj [personaj] kiuj manĝas melojn = They are the first people who eat badgers. *
  • Granda melo estas pli forta ol malgranda [melo] = A big badger is stronger than a small [badger] (Again the second “melo” is unnecessary).
Understanding that this is what you mean is facilitated by using a word like “la”  (or “ol”, something that sufficiently narrows the meaning) in front of the adjective, to show that you are talking of a specific thing.This is also why telling the time looks the way that it does:
  • Estas la naŭa [horo] = It’s nine o’clock (literally: It’s the ninth [hour])
Here “horo” is obviously implied and therefore not necessary. The same occurs in phrases like “The ninth day of september”, you can simply say “The ninth of september”.
Also worthy of note is the word “alia” = “other/another” (remember not to stress it like the person name [AH-lia], instead make sure that stress is on the penultimate syllable: a-LI-a ). “Alia” is often used in the manner described above (only implying a noun rather than explicitly stating it), because the implied noun is usually very obvious.
Think about it, if I’m talking about X, then go on to speak about “another” Y, the word “another” suggests that Y is of the same type as X:
  • Mi amis tiun melon, trovu por mi alian [melon] = I loved that badger, find [for] me another [badger].
There are also words that mean quantities (e.g. some, several) that perform similar functions often. You can find these, more examples and my main resource for this post on this PMEG page.
I always find it handy to know these little things about a language, just so you know that such constructions are recognised. I find it gives me more confidence using the language!
*Thanks to folks at Lernu.net forums for helping me with the translation of the second half of this sentence, I was unsure about using “ke/kiu” or using nothing at all with “manĝi”.

Replace, or replace?

I was momentarily confused by something today, but after looking into it, things looked a lot clearer, and then very useful. It involves the word “anstataŭ”, which means “instead of”:

  • Mi trinkis teon anstataŭ kafon = I drank tea instead of coffee.
Specifically, my confusion was over two words related  to “anstataŭ”: “anstataŭi” versus “anstataŭigi”. Two verbs derived from the original preposition. Adequate translations of both could be “to replace” (because it is the action of being instead of something). But there is a very important difference between them.

Look at the following sentences:
  1. The badger replaced the rabbit (The badger itself is now there instead of the rabbit).
  2. The badger replaced the rabbit with a cat (The badger exchanged the rabbit for a cat).
Here the badger is the subject of the verb “to replace”, and there is either one or two objects (rabbit and cat). In the first sentence the badger (the subject) replaces the rabbit (the object) with itself. However, in the second sentence the badger doesn’t replace anything itself, it replaces one object with the other. Clearly there are two different functions of the word “replace”.

This may not be confusing for English people that are used to it, but imagine a student of English learns the meaning of “replace” as in the first sentence. Then sees the second sentence and may think:

“Okay… So the badger replaces the rabbit (exchanges it for itself like in the first sentence)… with a cat? Does that mean “by means of a cat”? So the badger replaces the rabbit using the cat in some way? (Maybe the badger throws the cat at the rabbit, so that it can replace it?).” – Incorrect! And confusing.

This shows that having only a single word for both of these cases is ambiguous. But Esperanto has you covered.
  1. La melo anstataŭis la kuniklon per la kato
  2. La melo anstataŭigis la kuniklon per la kato
The first sentence is like the silly meaning described above: “The badger replaced the rabbit (with itself) by means of the cat”. The second sentence says that the badger replaced the rabbit with the cat (exchanged the rabbit for the cat). Furthermore:
  1. La melo anstataŭis la kuniklon
  2. La melo anstataŭigis la kuniklon
The first sentence means that the badger replaced the rabbit with itself. The second sentence means that the badger replaced the rabbit with something else (unspecified), a much more useful distinction than the previous examples.

How are we to remember this? Why is this the case? The answer is fairly simple.

When making “anstataŭ” into a simple verb “anstataŭi” we are calling on the simple act or state of being “instead of” something: replacing something. Therefore, the subject replaces the object. Adding the ending “ig” is like saying “to cause <root>” (I will eventually get round to blogging about “ig” in more detail!), so “anstataŭigi” could be thought of  as causing a replacement (instead of participating in it); the subject is causing one object to be replaced by (means of) the other.

The collection begins.

My collection of Esperanto books has begun. Thanks to the Esperanto Association of Britain (EAB). They have a fair amount in their bookstore. I can’t believe I didn’t notice before.

I now have “La Hobito” (Esperanto version of “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, one of my favourite authors) and the Plena Manlibro de Esperanta Gramatiko (linked to the online version). Despite it being free to read online, the amount that I just browse it led me to desire a paper copy to sift through. Also on its way is Being Colloquial in Esperanto (link to online version) by David K. Jordan, not written in Esperanto, but sounded like an interesting read and the EAB had some in stock (The UK Amazon attempted to charge me £40 for it)!

So I’m going to curl up in my very cushioned chair with a cup of tea and the PMEG and come up with the next few posts!

Anyone who can suggest some interesting sci-fi/fantasy Esperanto (translation or original) books that I might move onto next, comment below!

Both neutral to last

Got a few pretty words for you today. They’re simple enough in meaning, but I find them pretty enough to mention. So without further delay:

  1. Ambaŭ = both
  2. Neŭtrala = neutral/impartial
  3. Daŭri = to continue/last/endure
The “aŭ” bits are pronounced like “ow” in “however”. The “eŭ” bit is a bit weirder. It’s often described as the “ayw” in “wayward”. Everything else is how you’d expect.I think perhaps I have a liking for the “ŭ” letter. It just seems to go nicely with things.


My favourite in the list is “ambaŭ”. I was always a fan of the English word “amber” but the thing that let it down ever so slightly, was the mildly dull “er” sound at the end. Here, it’s replaced with a wide-mouthed sound that just complements the first syllable perfectly!


A word of caution though! If you have a sentence that contains “both A and B”, ambaŭ is not used in this context, one would say instead “kaj A kaj B”.


Ambaŭ is used in situations like “I want both animals!”