Oh the possibilities

There’s a sneaky word that has the possibility of tripping you up when translating to Esperanto, especially coming from an English background!

However, instead of Esperanto being the playground bully waiting to trip up poor awkward English, Esperanto is once again helping us to be more concise.

Take a look at the suffix “-ebl”, here’s a post of mine on it.

Why talk about it again? Because this time, it’s about using it as fully fledged root word.

  • Ebla = possible

So here it is. How might you translate “possibility” into Esperanto? Here’s three possibilities:

  • Eblo = possibility
  • Eblaĵo = possibility
  • Ebleco = possibility

Other Esperanto words might set you up for trouble here:

  • Kulpa = guilty, culpable
  • Kulpo = blame, guilt
  • Kulpeco = culpability

Why does “eco” correspond to “-bility” (as with loads of other words too, I suspect), but we can get “possibility” from all three of those endings?

The answer is this. It’s quite helpful in a bunch of cases to think of Esperanto affixes to loosely correspond to common endings in English (at least when you’re starting out), like how “e” creates adverbs in Esperanto similarly to how “ly” creates them sometimes in English (rapida = quick; rapide = quickly), like how “-ness” or “-bility” in English are often similar to “-ec” in Esperanto. However, this is only a rule of thumb. One has to understand what you actually mean by adding “eco”.

In the case with “possibility”, we English use this word to cover the meaning of all three of those alternatives! It’s not like “blame” versus “culpability”.

“Eblaĵo” and “Ebleco” is where we really have to drive the difference:

  • “Eblaĵo” refers to a thing that is possible. “Aĵ” is a suffix, which usually denotes a concrete thing, so “eblaĵo” is “something which is possible, a possibility”.
    • Tio estas eblaĵo = That’s a possibility; that’s a possible-thing
    • La mondo estas plena de eblaĵoj = The world is full of possibilities/possible-things
  • “Ebleco” refers to the property of possible-ness: how possible something is. “Ec” is a suffix, which usually denotes a property or quality of something, not the something itself. You could therefore talk about the “ebleco” of an “eblaĵo”.
    • Tio havas fortan eblecon = That has a strong possibility (“tio” refers to an “eblaĵo”, and “ebleco” is talking about the level of possibility it has).
  • “Eblo” I think out of usage tends to refer to “eblaĵo”, but technically it is the generic noun form of “possible”, which can mean either “ebleco” or “eblaĵo”. So if you’re ever unsure, just use “eblo”.

Reading material on the subject from the PMEG: 1, 2

Quality-ness

Today’s post is about the suffix “-ec” (which is pronounced “ets”, e.g. “boneco” is pronounced “bonetso”).

This post relies on knowing about the different kinds of roots in Esperanto (quality, object, and action roots). I’ve written a post about this.

This suffix makes words that are the quality of or state of being in the root word. It always shows an abstract concept/quality. This contrasts with the “-aĵ’ suffix, which always shows a concrete thing.

If the root that you attach the suffix to already has a quality-like meaning, like “bona” = “good” then the new word is the property or state of that word. So here, “good” (bona) becomes “goodness” (boneco), which is the property of something that is good. You can talk about the “goodness” of something.

How is this different from the noun form of “bona”, i.e. “bono”. The noun form alone is the concept itself of “good”.

When added to a non-quality root, “ec” adds the idea of the quality, property or state related to that root, what it is like to be that root.

  • homo = human, person
  • homeco = human-ness (the quality of being human)
  • ŝtono = stone
  • ŝtoneco = stoniness (the quality of being (hard) like stone)
  • vivi = to live
  • vivo = life
  • viveco = life-ness? The quality of being full of life.
  • unu = one
  • unueco = one-ness, the quality of being as one.

When a noun form has many different types of meaning, adding the “ec” suffix can serve to disambiguate, and select only the quality meaning:

  • belo = A beautiful thing, abstract idea of beauty, or beautifulness (the beauty quality of something)
  • beleco = Beautifulness

Which I think is cool, so you can be specific when you need to but vague when not. This sort of thing can be done with “-aĵ” and “-ad” too.

You can use “ec” with endings other than “o” too! With “a” or “e” (adjective or adverb respectively), the meaning is something like “of similar quality/type as <root>”

  • ŝtoneca koro = Heart as hard as stone (without feeling)

I particularly like this usage, it seems to have a simple elegance to it!

These examples are courtesy of the PMEG! The page also briefly mentions a couple more minor usages of “ec”, but these were my favourite bits 😛