Badger vs. Squirrel

Ello again!

Mostly due to the wormy accusative “n”, Esperanto has quite flexible word order. The following phrases mean pretty much the same thing, “a badger frightened a squirrel”:

  • melo timigis sciuron
  • melo sciuron timigis
  • sciuron timigis melo
  • sciuron melo timigis
  • timigis melo sciuron
  • timigis sciuron melo

Are there any differences at all between these alternatives? Subtle ones, yes. The difference is one of emphasis.

I’ve had a read of the topic in the PMEG, and have distilled a few rough rules that’ll get you making use of this subtle emphasis change.

Firstly some terms:

  • The “subject” is the thing doing the action. In our case, the subject is “melo” : the badger.
  • The “direct object” is the thing receiving the action. In our case, the direct object is “sciuro”: the squirrel.
  • Our action here is “timigi” = “to frighten”.

The usual word ordering is “subject – action – direct object”. So anything that departs from this ordering generates emphasis in some way.

Here’s the rules:

  1. If the subject is moved to the end (everything else remaining same), then the emphasis is on the subject:
    • timigis sciuron melo : a badger did the frightening, not anything else.
  2. If the action is moved to the front (everything else remaining same), then the emphasis is on the action:
    • timigis melo sciuron : a badger frightened a squirrel, it didn’t e.g. kiss it.
  3. If the direct object is moved to the front (everything else remaining same), then the emphasis is on the direct object:
    • sciuron melo timigis : a squirrel was frightened, not e.g. a vole.

Next, let’s look at a phrase that has a prepositional relationship (e.g. inside/on/under/with/against):

  • La melo loĝis en truo = The badger lived in a hole

Two rules here:

  1. Move the prepositional relationship to the front, and the prepositional relation is emphasised:
    • en truo la melo loĝis : the badger lived in a hole, not e.g. in a box.
  2. Move also the subject to the end and then the subject is emphasised:
    • en truo loĝis la melo : the badger lived in a hole, not e.g. the squirrel.

There are exceptions, and particular words that act in different ways. These are generally quite obvious when you come across them. One of the key exceptions is “ki-” correlatives (kiu, kie, kia, kiel, kiam, kiom, kio). These are usually at the front of their part of the phrase. You can read more in this PMEG section.


The accusative is a worm

It slithers its way into every corner of the language. I found a use of it today that I’ve not seen previously, whilst browsing through PMEG.

It sort of indicates position of a part, though usually a body part. Here’s one of the PMEG examples:

  • Li haltis dum momento, la kapon klinita iom flanken. = He stopped for a moment, his head inclined a little to the side.

Notice how the sentence is quite short and sharp in English too. One way of understanding it, is to imagine it a little fuller with e.g. “tenante”:

  • Li haltis dum momento, tenante la kapon klinita iom flanken. = He stopped for a moment, holding his head inclined a little to the side.

This also shows why the “N” might be suitable here, it’s because you’re implying a “tenante”, “havante” or “metinte” (holding, having, or having put), of which the “kapo” is the direct object.

A sneaky, slimy worm.

Ways of working with one another

Art thou enjoying the new banner and neater sidebar? A little easier on the eyes!

This post explores ways of expressing “one another” / “each other”, as in examples below:

  1. They hugged each other
  2. They worked with one another
  3. They fought against each other
  4. They gave a present to each other

The simplest way is to use some configuration of “unu” (“one”) and “alia” (“other/another”).

  1. Ili ĉirkaŭbrakis unu la alian
  2. Ili laboris unu kun la alia
  3. Ili batalis unu kontraŭ la alia
  4. Ili donis donacon unu al alia

Notice the main difference with how it’s constructed in english. You don’t say “with one another”, you say “one with the other”. Also note that if there is no relation like “to/against/with” (because instead it’s a direct object relation), then you take up the accusative “N” (1).

But what other tools do we have in our tool-belt?

We could use “reciproke” = “reciprocally”:

  • Everyone understood each other = Ĉiuj komprenis sin reciproke

Or we could use “inter” (“among/between”) as a prefix to the action word. Or even “inter si” (roughly “among themselves”):

  • They fought each other (amongst themselves) = Ili interbatalis = Ili batalis inter si

I love how simple but complete “ili interbatalis” is!

Wanna read about “si”? I’ve got previous posts on it: 1, 2

Dank’ al the PMEG for this information!

Can anyone think of other ways to express this?

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!

Bloodthirsty as a squirrel


Hello Duolingo-folk, 9+ years after I wrote this!  Let me know if you need further clarification in the comments below!

A neat use of “kiel” today. “Kiel” is one of the correlatives, a ton of really useful words that are built via a system of meaningful syllables. Take a look at my previous post introducing them briefly, it points you to a full table of all of them that you can make.

In general “kiel” means “in what way”, or “how”.

  • Kiel vi fartas? = How are you doing?

In it’s other use, “kiel” is often translated as “as”.

  • La melo estas murdema kiel sciuro = The badger is bloodthirsty as a squirrel (The badger is bloodthirsty in what way a squirrel [is bloodthirsty])

It can also be used in combination with the correlative “tiel” (“in that way”) in order to get a “as…as…” construction:

  • Mi estas tiel ekscitiĝa kiel ŝi = I am as excited as she (is). (I am in that way excited (as) in what way she (is excited))
  • Vi estas tiel inteligenta kiel bela = You are as intelligent as (you are) beautful.

It can also be used to introduce a phrase (relative clause) with “tiel”, as in this example from PMEG:

  • Mi zorgas pri ŝi tiel, kiel mi zorgas pri mi mem. = I care about her in the way in which (way) I care about myself.

Imagine here that “tiel” is a placeholder for the whole relative phrase that follows. It’s like:

  • I care about her [in that way]

Then, in order to elaborate on which way you mean (fill in the square brackets), “kiel” introduces a phrase:

  • [In what way?] (in the way) I care about myself.

Oddly, this was all sparked by me coming across an Esperanto song called “Glimanta kiel oro” = “Shining/Gleaming like/as gold”.
Look at the funky thing you can do with “kiel” and the accusative “n” (you’ll see these sentences all over Esperanto learning material):

  1. Li traktis min kiel princon = He treated me like (I was) a prince
  2. Li traktis min kiel princo = He treated me like a prince (would treat me)

I love this. It makes perfect sense. So we have “li” = “he”, always doing the treating (the subject of the verb). And we have “min” = “me” always receiving the treatment (the direct object of the verb). Then, in order to decide whether “kiel” is comparing a prince to the subject or the object, we just match it’s ending:

  1. Leave the ending without the “n” to match “li”, so “kiel” is comparing prince to “li”.
  2. Add the “n” on the end to match “min”, so “kiel” is comparing prince to “min”!

Greetings human!

Spent a little while learning the aspect of Esperanto I’ve been neglecting: how to ask how someone is, general conversational phrases and such like.

One thing that confused me, was why greetings are presented in the accusative case (they have an ‘n’ on the end).

So at first, one might expect (coming from a language that has only remnants of an accusative case), that in order to say “Good day!” to someone, you might say:

  • Bona tago = (a) good day.
But this is not how things are done! This is how you say it:
  • Bonan tagon! = Good day!
A word with this accusative ‘n’ normally has said ‘n’ because it is on the receiving end of the action of a verb:
  • Kamelo manĝis la kamelon = A camel ate the camel.
The second camel is on the receiving end of being eaten, so Esperanto uses the ‘n’ to show this. Which means I could have written it:
  • La kamelon kamelo manĝis = A camel ate the camel.
And it’d mean the same thing! But in English we rely on word order to tell who’s doing what.
So why are greetings (including phrases like “good night” and “good morning” etc.) put in the accusative??
It’s because a phrase is implied, in which the greeting is in fact on the receiving end (the object of) an action:
  • I wish you a <greeting>
The greeting is the object of the verb “to wish” (without the “n”, you’re just saying “a good day”… a good day what?)

Resolving Ambiguity

Having studied language (especially English) with the intention of finding all of the little aspects of natural language that break the poor computer programs that try to understand it, in order to better said programs, I’m particularly delighted when I find Esperanto features that help to eliminate these problems.

Here’s one such feature. Pretend I said to you:

“I like fishes more than cats.”

There are two fairly obvious, starkly different interpretations of this sentence:

1. I like fishes more than (I like) cats.

2. I like fishes more than cats (like fishes).

With such English sentences, one interpretation may sometimes be more likely than the other, but it’s still ambiguous.

Not with Esperanto though! Here are the corresponding sentences in Esperanto:

1. Mi ŝatas fiŝojn pli multe ol katojn.

2. Mi ŝatas fiŝojn pli multe ol katoj.

Notice that the only difference is the “n” on the end of “katoj” (“cats”). This “n” is used to point out the objects of verbs (as opposed to subjects).

We know that in both these sentences, “I” is the subject of the verb, because I am doing the liking. “Fishes” is an object (marked with “n”) because it is receiving the liking. However, it’s up to us to choose whether the cat also receiving the liking like an object (sentence 1), or whether it is doing the liking like a subject (sentence 2)

Neat huh?