Partying with participles #1

There are so many little interesting details about participles, that I’m not going to try to talk about them in a single post. So this will be the first in a series of posts about participles. There’ll be different kinds of posts in between, to keep things varied, but you might find a post every week or so continuing in this series.

I’m also probably going to start from a more basic level than usual for two reasons:

  1. Participles are so expressive, that it can be complicated to understand how they work (this is certainly a learning experience for me). And,
  2. If there are interested readers who haven’t learnt much about participles up until now, I wouldn’t want to estrange them with a series of incomprehensible posts!

Anyway, there’s never any harm in cementing the fundamentals.

Generally speaking, participles are adjectives made from verbs. In Esperanto we have to be a little more precise to avoid confusion. Participles are not made by changing the verbal “i” suffix to the adjectival “a” suffix. Esperanto participles are like new quality roots made from what were once action roots (using suffixes like “at”,”it”,”ot”,”ant”,”int”,”ont”). For information on root types see my previous post.

So participles show some kind of action or state derived from the verb they come from. Let’s start out in English.

English has two different kinds of participle, the “present” participle and the “past” participle.

Take the verb “to shout”. We could simply use it as a verb:

  • The men like to shout

Or we could make it a participle:

  • I saw a shouting woman (present participle)
  • The shouted insults were unimaginative (past participle)

Notice how they are used like adjectives, they modify the nouns (woman and insults), just like how the adjectives “blue” or “nasty” would:

  • I saw a blue woman
  • The nasty insults were unimaginative

The present participle shows that the action is current and ongoing. The past participle shows that the action was in the past (surprise!).

Notice how in “shouting woman”, the woman is actually doing the shouting (she’s the subject of what was the verb “to shout”), but in “shouted insults”, we don’t know who did the shouting, but we do know what was shouted. The insults are the direct object of what was the verb “to shout”.

This difference is what we call active and passive participles. A participle is active, if the thing being described by it is actually doing the action. A participle is passive, if the thing it describes is on the receiving end of the action (the direct object). Note how this means that a verb can only be used as a passive participle if it is a transitive verb, because only transitive verbs can have direct objects.

In English we arbitrarily use the past participle as either active or passive, depending on the original verb:

  • The fallen leaf: past active participle of “to fall”; the leaf did the falling.
  • The smashed watch: past passive participle of “to smash”, the watch is the direct object. It didn’t do the smashing, it was on the receiving end of it.

Why is this important? Because things are a tad different in Esperanto! You need to know when to use active or passive!

There are six Esperanto participles!

Loosely, an Esperanto participle can be past, present or future, but at the same time, active or passive! That makes six choices!

So that’s it for now. But look out for next time, when I’m going to go into why Esperanto participles don’t quite have a tense (past,present,future), but rather more like something known as “aspect”. Then after that, we’ll get right down to some of the uses of participles, and what happens when we start to play around with grammatical endings and suffixes.

8 thoughts on “Partying with participles #1

  1. P.S. tion mi malkovris post la duoble jubilea jaro 2012, kaj la trioble jubilea konfeso de Zlatko Tiŝljar “Mia saĝo post 50 jaroj de instruado de Esperanto” . Tamen lia konkludo makabre similas tiun de Boxer el Animala Farmo de Georges Orwell.


  2. participles are adjectives* made from verbs. In Esperanto we have to be a little more precise to avoid confusion. Participles are not made by changing the verbal “i” suffix** to the adjectival “a” suffix**. Esperanto participles are like new quality roots*** made from what were once action roots (using suffixes**** like “at”,”it”,”ot”,”ant”,”int”,”ont”)

    *participoj estas nur participaj radikaloj, sed ne adjektivoj
    **sufiksoj estas leksikaj iloj por derivi el radiko novajn alisignifajn vortojn.
    Participaj kaj sufiksaj radikaloj por ekfunkcii en frazo bezonas uniformon – vortigan (O, A, E) aŭ verbigan (I, U. US.OS. AS, IS)
    *** participoj estas elverbaj radikaloj por prepari verbon al transiro al ajna vorto: substantivo, adjektivo, adverbo per vortiga uniformo (O, A, E)
    **** participaj radikaloj havas ne sufiksojn, sed tenso-markilojn por tenso kaj aktiveco-pasiveco. Per vortigo de participoj Esspranto ebligas fari 18 formojn el ĉiu verbo: po 6 substantivoj, adjektivoj kaj adverboj. Tiom povas nur du lingvoj – la juna Esperanto, kaj mia arkaika litova, senskriba ĝis la apero de Esperanto.
    Valdas Banairis
    hereza lernisto el Litvo,
    la patrujo de Zamenhof


  3. Excellent post!!

    I’m very happy to see you taking on the explanation of particles in Esperanto and you’ve already helped with some aspects I hadn’t considered previously.

    Very much looking forward to the next post!



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