Oh the possibilities

There’s a sneaky word that has the possibility of tripping you up when translating to Esperanto, especially coming from an English background!

However, instead of Esperanto being the playground bully waiting to trip up poor awkward English, Esperanto is once again helping us to be more concise.

Take a look at the suffix “-ebl”, here’s a post of mine on it.

Why talk about it again? Because this time, it’s about using it as fully fledged root word.

  • Ebla = possible

So here it is. How might you translate “possibility” into Esperanto? Here’s three possibilities:

  • Eblo = possibility
  • Eblaĵo = possibility
  • Ebleco = possibility

Other Esperanto words might set you up for trouble here:

  • Kulpa = guilty, culpable
  • Kulpo = blame, guilt
  • Kulpeco = culpability

Why does “eco” correspond to “-bility” (as with loads of other words too, I suspect), but we can get “possibility” from all three of those endings?

The answer is this. It’s quite helpful in a bunch of cases to think of Esperanto affixes to loosely correspond to common endings in English (at least when you’re starting out), like how “e” creates adverbs in Esperanto similarly to how “ly” creates them sometimes in English (rapida = quick; rapide = quickly), like how “-ness” or “-bility” in English are often similar to “-ec” in Esperanto. However, this is only a rule of thumb. One has to understand what you actually mean by adding “eco”.

In the case with “possibility”, we English use this word to cover the meaning of all three of those alternatives! It’s not like “blame” versus “culpability”.

“Eblaĵo” and “Ebleco” is where we really have to drive the difference:

  • “Eblaĵo” refers to a thing that is possible. “Aĵ” is a suffix, which usually denotes a concrete thing, so “eblaĵo” is “something which is possible, a possibility”.
    • Tio estas eblaĵo = That’s a possibility; that’s a possible-thing
    • La mondo estas plena de eblaĵoj = The world is full of possibilities/possible-things
  • “Ebleco” refers to the property of possible-ness: how possible something is. “Ec” is a suffix, which usually denotes a property or quality of something, not the something itself. You could therefore talk about the “ebleco” of an “eblaĵo”.
    • Tio havas fortan eblecon = That has a strong possibility (“tio” refers to an “eblaĵo”, and “ebleco” is talking about the level of possibility it has).
  • “Eblo” I think out of usage tends to refer to “eblaĵo”, but technically it is the generic noun form of “possible”, which can mean either “ebleco” or “eblaĵo”. So if you’re ever unsure, just use “eblo”.

Reading material on the subject from the PMEG: 1, 2

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