Don’t use the past to talk about the future!

Just noticed a sneaky little note at the end of this PMEG page. Thought I’d bring it up!

Now keep in mind that the simple past, present, and future tenses in Esperanto (words ending in “is”,”as”,”os” respectively) actually do quite a bit of work (and now that I know much more about them, I’m considering writing a few posts talking about their interesting bits). For example, past tense “legis” from “legi” (to read) can mean any of the following depending on context:

  • read (past tense)
  • was reading
  • have read
  • have been reading
  • had read
  • had been reading

Most commonly it will either be “read” or “was reading”, and maybe helper words will stress the other meanings. E.g. “jam” literally meaning “already”:

  • Ĉu vi jam legis tiun libron? = Have you (already) read that book?

The note on that PMEG page explains what you do in Esperanto when talking about having done something in the future. In English we might say:

  • I will hunt the badger as soon as I have read this book

“I will hunt” is simple future tense. But look at the weirdness we’re doing with the “read” verb. “I have read” is the perfect tense! It describes an already completed action/state! This is a bit odd, since we wouldn’t use “as soon as” if the action was already complete! I should already be hunting the badger if the reading was done!

Fear not, Esperanto makes sense. You’ve got two options. The first and most simple is to use the simple future tense:

  • Mi ĉasos la melon tuj kiam mi legos ĉi tiun libron

Notice “legos” is just the simple future tense (will read). Since all it’s doing is describing a future event!

Your second option, is to be deadly precise using participles (see my series on the things):

  • Mi ĉasos la melon tuj kiam mi estos leginta ĉi tiun libron

“mi estos leginta” is literally “I will be having-read” (“estos” is future tense of “esti” = “to be”), corresponding to “will have read” (=at some point in the future the reading will be completed), in the more clunky English rendering:

  • I will hunt the badger as soon as I will have read this book

2 thoughts on “Don’t use the past to talk about the future!

  1. Thanks for an interesting read in verb tenses. I have wanted to investigate using the subjunctive tense, if there is one, in Esperanto for quite awhile.

    As a student of Spanish, I learned how to express in the subjunctive when an action could possibly have an undeisred outcome. For example, in English I say “I hope that you have the book.” I am expressing an emotion with hoping that something may be true (that the other indeed has the book) without knowing the outcome, which may be negative and fail to produce the book.

    In Spanish, the verb “tener” is changed from a regular tense to the subjunctive tense, example “Espero que tengas el libro.” Bad Spanish speakers (English-speaking natives trying to communicate in Spanish is familiar to me) would tend to incorrectly say “Espero que tienes el libro.” They would use the correct conjugation of “tener” by correctly using “tienes” for you, but by using the correct conjugation, the subjunctive should have been used as the correct tense because the speaker truly doesn’t know if the other person has the book and they *hope* the other one does. The concept of using the subjunctive is very confusing to many students of the Spanish language.

    So what I want to research more is if there is a subjective tense in Esperanto that is to be used when expressing emotion, doubt or uncertainty, and if so how it is expressed.

    • Ya welcome!

      There is indeed a verb mood in Esperanto that corresponds to (among other things) some of the uses of the subjunctive. I find it quite interesting, so perhaps next week I shall talk about this verb mood! It’s usually used when expressing desire or aiming for something, or expressing an opinion about something.

      It’s possible, but not mandatory to use it after “esperi” for example. It adds an interesting nuance if you do. Because you don’t need it after expressing doubt or emotion in that way. I’ll talk about this in my post, hopefully next week! 🙂

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