Sneaky nuance

I’ve talked before about using the verb form of a normally a-word instead of using “estas <adjective>”, for example:

  • Vi estas kuraĝa = You are courageous
  • Vi kuraĝas = You are courageous

For a long while, I’ve kept my eye open for any information about whether these phrases have different nuances, or whether they are strict equivalents. And this week I found something.

Firstly, it makes sense that if everyone uses these alternatives interchangeably then nuances in difference will slowly be lost. And this has happened with many words, e.g.

  • Vi estas prava = you’re right
  • Vi pravas = you’re right

No one would notice a nuance if you chose one of these in particular over the other, since they’ve become so interchangeable.

However, to use an example of Claude Piron’s:

  • La lago estas blua = the lake is blue
  • La lago bluas = the lake radiates blueness/glows blue

The idea here is that given that ‘estas blua’ is by far the more common construction, the other form feels intentionally different.

The possible nuance that arises when a word which is normally an a-word is made into a verb is a more action-like, verby meaning. So in the example above, the a-word only describes a static state of being blue, but the verb form (bluas) instead describes a blue-ness that is actually happening.

I think this nuance allows for some really interesting writing! Though I wonder how well it would come across in speech.

  • This page of the PMEG gives advice on making verbs, see the section “Verboj el ne-agaj radikoj” for information specifically about this idea of making verbs from a-words
  • This page of the PMEG gives advice on what I’ve been talking about, the loss of “esti”, under the section “Verbigo de perverba priskribo”

12 thoughts on “Sneaky nuance

  1. About Zamenhof’s sources and inspirations for Esperanto, see his “Letero pri la deveno de Esperanto”, available in the ePub eBooks collection “Lingvaj Respondoj”. Also known as “Letero al Borovko”.

    “…kiam, estante en la 5-a klaso de gimnazio, mi komencis ellernadi la lingvon anglan, la simpleco de la angla gramatiko jxetigxis en miajn okulojn, precipe dank’ al la kruta transiro al gxi de la gramatikoj latina kaj greka.” – Z


  2. I find Esperanto verbs very good. I cannot say in English or in Swedish with one word to tell you that I sit and look at the television, I follow the programs.
    En esperanto “Mi televidas” or “Mi televidumas”
    In Swedish “Jag ser på TV” using 4 words.
    If I use the Spanish way to take away the pronoun I could even say
    “Televidas” or “Televidumas” But then I don´t show, who is watching the TV
    as the esperanto verb don´t show if I, You or We do this action.


    • I love that “å”, that’s such a pretty letter!

      But yes I agree! Esperanto (especially it’s verbs and adverbs) often feels to me much neater and more succinct when compared to the equivalent English.

      Indeed, it’s Spanish’s complicated conjugations of verbs that allow you to know who’s doing that action. Though I think I’m happy enough to sacrifice that advantage in favour of simpler verbs 😛


      • English: I am, you are, he is, we are, you are, they are
        French: je suis, tu es, il est, nous sommes, vous êtes, ils sont
        Spanish:Yo soy, tú eres, él es, somos, que son, lo son (according to Google Translate)
        German: ich bin, du bist, er ist, wir sind, Sie sind, sind si (again according to Google Translate
        Esperanto: mi estas, vi estas, li estas, ni estas, ili estas
        Chu ne facilas?


        • Jes ja!

          Kvankam, la avantaĝo de la Hispana estas ke oni nur necesas diri:

          soy, eres, es, somos, sois, son


          Yes indeed!

          Although the advantage of Spanish, is that you need only to say:

          soy, eres, es, somos, sois, son


        • Spanish requires memorization of complex verb conjugation so you can omit the pronoun. French requires memorization of complex verb conjugation, too (REGULAR verbs have forty-two to forty-five forms), and you have to include the pronoun anyway!

          I am very grateful for English’s near-lack and Esperanto’s total lack of conjugation. However impossible this may seem, I read once (maybe on Wikipedia) that it was English’s near-lack of conjugation that inspired Esperanto’s simple system!


        • Interesting! I had not heard that about English and Esperanto. Though I guess it makes sense, I’ve not encountered a european language that has simpler conjugation than us, have you? Though I guess we do nightmarish things with auxiliary verbs 😀


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