What to do? Infinitive weirdness.

Came 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). 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? It seems like the usage is often conversational shortening. So maybe:

  • “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 the “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!


6 thoughts on “What to do? Infinitive weirdness.

  1. O.k. Quick question: Isn’t fajfi an intransitive verb? Logically, it seems that the usage (using your sentence above) would be:

    Li fajfis la tuta tago.
    Or (what I would probably say)
    Li fajfis dum la tuta tago.

    Using the accusative as you do above with fajfi for the time period he was whistling doesn’t seem right to me. However, I am an admitted komencanto and am probably missing something.

    Thanks for any insight or explanation.


    • So there’s two weirdnesses at play here!

      1. I think fajfi is both transitive and intransitive, or at the very least transitive.

      2. This is the use of ‘N por mezuro’ (to use the words of the PMEG)

      I’ll explain!


      Sounds like various dictionaries have been confused over ‘fajfi’, see here:

      Also, if you wanna know how a few special verbs can be both transitive and intransitive, check out my previous post:

      In the case of fajfi, this is the example I give:
      – a kettle whistles (intransitive) and I whistle a tune (transitive)!

      The reason why both of these would require just the verb ‘fajfi’ rather than ‘fajfigxi’ or ‘fajfigi’, is because in both cases, the subject (kettle in the first and me in the second) is the one doing the whistling.

      Compare this with ‘boli’ which is intransitive through and through:

      a) The water boils = la akvo bolas
      b) I boiled the water = mi boligas la akvon

      The use in ‘b’ is transitive, and the reason I can’t use ‘boli’ for this, is because look how the subject of boil in ‘b’ is no longer boiling, but in fact causing something else to boil!


      However, just because fajfi can indeed be used transitively, doesn’t mean the ‘n’ necessarily implies that I’m providing the direct object. The ‘tuta tago’ is not the direct object here. Here, the direct object is implied only (the tune he whistled).

      ‘n’ can be used to show the duration of something, so long as it won’t be confused with the direct object. Your use of ‘dum’ is fine, but the accusative case can cover this function.

      It’s like the difference between these two in English I guess:
      1. He whistled for the entire day
      2. He whistled the entire day

      See the PMEG page on this, I’d be happy to clarify the stuff on this page:


      A couple of key examples from there:

      Mi veturis du tagojn kaj unu nokton. = …dum du tagoj kaj unu nokto.
      Mi saltadis la tutan tagon de loko al loko

      All that make sense?

      • Ah, yep, I knew about the use of -n to show measure and movement. Mental block I guess because it just never occurred to me when reading your post (well, honeslty the movement function of the accusative did but that was obviously not valid).

        As always, thanks for the thought provoking post, the clarification, and thanks for straightening me out. 🙂


  2. Saluton, sercxante lernadajn rimedojn mi trovis vian blog (…blogon) kaj mi gxuas gxin! Mi volas ke vi scias, cxi tio estas tre helpema. Dankon!

    Sorry for any mistakes, mi jus eklernas Esperanton.

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