Word-building Formula

Today we play with a neat little formula for building certain types of word!

If you aren’t familiar with viewing Esperanto root words as having an inherent type (“object”,”quality”, or “action”), then have a quick read of my previous post.


Imagine you are talking about a word: W. Let’s say that W is “virino” (“woman”).

And imagine you don’t just want to say “a woman”. You want to call attention to a particular aspect of W (the woman). We’ll call the aspect: A.

Let’s say A (the aspect) is “haro” (“hair”); we want to make reference to the woman’s hair.

Now, there’s some property of A (her hair), which distinguishes her from some other people. We’ll call this property: P, and let’s say that P is “bruna” (“brown”).

So, we want to call attention to the fact that the woman has brown hair.

In other words: we want to refer to W, making a reference to A, which is distinguished by being P.

In English, we’d say:

  • The brown-haired woman

In Esperanto, we’d say:

  • La brunhara virino

In general, this is:

  • P-A-a W-o

This is simply saying that we make the aspect A into one word with its property P, and give it the adjective ending “a” (so it can describe a noun), and we put W after it with the noun ending “o”.

This will always be talking about some word W, which has an aspect A, the distinguishing feature of which is P.

  • P should be a “quality” root (it describes a property of something)
  • A should be an “object” root (it is a particular thing with a property P)
  • W should be an “object” root (it is a particular thing, with a distinguishing aspect A)

Here’s some examples of “P-A-a”:

  • Saĝokula = wise-eyed
  • Ruĝlipa = red-lipped
  • Rapidlanga = quick-tongued

Isn’t that nice?

Sometime soon I show you what happens if P is an object root!

(2018 edit: wow didn’t expect it to take 6 years to give an example with an object root!)

Whichth hour is it?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Hello Duolingo-folk, 8+ years after I wrote this!  Let me know if you need further clarification in the comments below.

In Esperanto this is how you’d say it’s 3 o’clock:

  • Estas la tria (horo)

Which is literally:

  • It’s the third (hour)

Which I think is nice and simple.

The little interesting thing today, is in asking the question “what time is it?”

  • Kioma horo estas? = What time is it?

Specifically “kioma” is the cool bit. It comes from “kiom” which is a correlative word (see previous post), meaning “how much/many”. I just like the simplicity of why the “a” is there:

I think the PMEG’s explanation is pretty neat:

You use “kiom” to ask for:

  • Unu, du, tri… = One, two, three…

And you use “kioma” to ask for:

  • Unua, dua, tria... = First, second, third…
So “kioma horo estas” is like “which-th (or even “how many-th”) hour is it?”, to which you reply with “the fourth”! 😀

I just found why “which-th” was so natural to my brain. I had indeed read it before. Check out this page of “Being Colloquial in Esperanto”. It has a neat little sentence that is ambiguous in English:

  • Which of his sons are you?

Is the answer “the third” or “charles”?

But in Esperanto “kioma” asks for “whichth” (the third): which one are you in order?

And “kiu” asks for “which” (charles): which son are you?

Did you see him running too?

Here’s a little treat that is floating around the internet in all sorts of nooks and crannies:

  1. Mi vidis la knabon kuri
  2. Mi vidis la knabon kuranta
  3. Mi vidis la knabon kurantan

What’s the difference between them?

The explanation is usually in Esperanto, or buried in discussions in the Lernu forums. So good ole me has done the digging, and here’s my impression!


  • Knabo = boy
  • Vidi = to see
  • Kuri = to run / running
  • -anta = Present participle ending (see series on participles), it shows that an action is ongoing.

So in all of the examples, I saw a boy, and my seeing of him involved him running.

The difference between -i and -anta(n)

The verb with just “i” (kuri), simply states the action in general. It is the base form of the verb. The action was seen, and you could have seen the action finish. Because it gives no information about tense or completed-ness about the action.

Whereas “-anta(n)” specifically treats the action as an ongoing or repeated process. Using “-anta(n)” says nothing about the action being completed, or what happened subsequently; I simply saw the ongoing action.

The difference between -anta and -antan

The “knabo” is the direct object here. The boy is being seen (the object of “vidis”). When we’re describing an object we have a choice to add the “n” or not. This well known example shows the difference this “n” can make:

  • Li farbis la domon ruĝa = He painted the house red
  • Li farbis la domon ruĝan = Li farbis la ruĝan domon = He painted the red house

If the “n” is present, then the a-word is matching the o-word’s “n”, and is therefore just an attribute of the o-word. In other words, the house was already red when he began painting it. The house that he painted, just happened to be red.

If the “n” is not present, then the a-word is not an attribute, it is the result of the action or something that happens during the action. So the a-word is now emphasised; he painted something red, and the house happened to be what he painted. See my previous post for more explanation on this.

So here’s the three translations. Notice how in practice 1 and 2 will probably translate the same. I’ve included the nuance in brackets:

  1. I saw the boy running (I may have seen him finish running)
  2. I saw the boy running (I am only saying I saw the ongoing running)
  3. I saw the running boy (He was running when I saw him)

See how 1 and 2 emphasise the running because it’s not just an attribute of the boy. What we saw was the running, and the boy happened to be doing it.

In 3, the emphasis is with the boy, the running is just what he happened to be doing when I saw him (it was just an attribute of the boy).

Even more fun:

What happens if we up and do this?

  • Mi vidis la knabon kurante

An adverbial participle! If you know the difference between adverbs and adjectives (e-words and a-words in Esperanto) the answer may well be obvious!

Here’s the key bit of info:

  • Adjectives (a-words) describe nouns (o-words), but
  • Adverbs (e-words) describe anything BUT nouns. In this sentence, a verb.

So, before, “kurant-a(n)” was describing the o-word (knabo), the boy. “kurant-e” now describes the main verb, the “seeing”.

In other words, the seeing was done while running.

Does this making it clearer?

  • Kurante mi vidis la knabon = While running, I saw the boy
The person doing the seeing is doing the running now!

Thanks to the commenter guleblanc (below) for reminding me of this extra fun!

Yes and no – with your head

Two fantastic verbs today: kapjesi and kapnei (pronounced respectively “kap-YES-ee” and “kap-NEH-ee”).

So for us English folk and many others, “kapjesi” means “to nod” and “kapnei” means “to shake ones head”.


These words are both awesome for two related reasons:

1. What a perfect and to the point construction they have!

  • “kapjesi” is “kapo” (head) and “jesi” is “to say yes” or “to assent”.
  • “kapnei” is “kapo” (head) and “nei” is “to say no” or “to deny”.
  • So you are saying “yes” or “no”, using your head! 😀
  • Ŝi konsentas, do ŝi kapjesas = She agreed, so she nodded.

2. These words seem to reflect the true spirit of how Esperanto spans cultures. No matter what your culture does with their head to indicate “no” or “yes”, these words have you covered! For example… I’ve heard that in Bulgaria for instance they shake their head for “yes” and nod it for “no”. But you always know that “kapjesi” is to agree with a head gesture!

Outsmart the Badgers

Another couple words I like today! One sneaked in at the last minute; I discovered it a second ago whilst looking for something else!

I just love to pronounce this first one: “superruzi”. It’s pronounced “soo-pehr-ROO-zee” (IPA: super’ruzi). Remember to trill those “r”s and pronounce them as two distinct “r”s! Pronounce every letter in Esperanto words! If you find this a smidgin troubleful, try pronouncing separately the components “super” then “ruzi” and speed up as you get used to it!

It means “to outsmart/outwit”. “Ruzi”‘s definition on Lernu.net gives “to deal subtly, dodge, shuffle, to be cunning, tricky”. And “super” is like “over, above”. In verb form “superi” is like “to exceed/surpass”. And RetaVortaro explains “superruzi” as “superi per ruzo”: “to surpass by means of subterfuge/trickery/cunning”. Pretty cool construction too really!

Ni superruzos la melojn!

Next, I just like the construction of this word: “Aliiĝi”. Okay… I kinda like the overabundance of “i”s too :D. It’s pronounced “al-ee-EE-jee” (IPA: ali’idʒi).

It means “to change/alter”.

It’s talking about the subject altering. e.g.

  • hieraŭ, mi aliiĝis = yesterday, I changed (as in, it was me that changed)

You can’t use it to say “I altered the colours” (that would be “aliigi”!). This is clear in its literal meaning:

  • It’s made from “alia” = “another/other”; “alio” is like “something else”.
  • The ending “iĝ” is like “to become <root>”.
  • So “aliiĝi” means “to become something else”.

So using it to say “I altered the colours” will actually come out as “I became something else… the colours” HUH? Because no matter what object (e.g. colours) you try to tack onto it, “aliiĝi” is always referring to the subject as being the thing that changes.

The suffix “ig” means “to cause <root>”, so “aliigi” is like “to cause to be something else”. See why you’d use this word instead to alter the colours?


What to do? Infinitive weirdness.

Hello Duolingo-folk, 8+ years after I wrote this! Let me know if you need further clarification in the comments below.

I happened across an interesting little paragraph in the PMEG! Scroll down to the paragraph that starts:

Ĉefverbecaj I-verboj aperas ankaŭ en iaj mallongigitaj esprimoj de dubo aŭ hezito. 

Which means: mainverb-like I-verbs also appear in some shortened expressions of doubt or hesitation.

So normally the “i” form of a verb isn’t used as the main verb in a sentence; it doesn’t have any mood or tense of its own. The “i” form, is the infinitive, the base form:

  • ami = to love
  • kuri = to run
  • fajfi = to whistle

And when you want to use them in an appropriate tense/mood, you alter them:

  • Mi amas Esperanton = I love Esperanto
  • Kuru! = Run!
  • Li fajfis la tutan tagon = He whistled the entire day

But one of the ways in which I-verbs do occur as the main verb is in these expressions of doubt or hesitation. And they’re normally shortened versions of what you could express, say with a “u-verb” (see previous post). Take the example from that PMEG page:

  • Kion fari? = What to do?
Which is like a short form of:
  • Kion mi faru? = What should I do?

See how we kinda do it in English too in the translations? The usage is very conversational. So:

  • “Savu nin!”, “Sed la meloj estas nevenkeblaj! Kiel mi povas savi vin? Peti ilin ĝentile?” = “Save us!”, “But the badgers are invincible! How can I save you? Ask them nicely?”

So “peti” would be a main verb there, all by itself.

Rather than “ĉu mi petu ilin ĝentile?” = “Should I ask them nicely?”, the full version.

And that’s how I understand the usage… You can see how it changes in English too.