This is the 3rd in a series of posts about Esperanto’s participles! Don’t know what they are? Don’t even know what a participle is? Then take a look at the 1st and 2nd posts.
The last post showed how we form Esperanto’s six different participles, and what they mean in their adjectival (quality-like, a-word) form. This is the form that is used when the participles are describing nouns (words like “camel”).
The post stated a important distinction. It showed that participles show the state of completion of an action, which is slightly different than simply showing tense (past,present,future). If you don’t remember, take a look at the previous post.We will find out why this is an important distinction after a brief talk about passive phrases and how to make them with the passive participles, which are the ones formed with “at/it/ot” suffixes.
So what’s a passive phrase? It’s a phrase that appears in the passive voice rather than the active voice. In English, this is really quite common:
- The elf greeted the dwarf = active voice
- The dwarf was greeted (by the elf) = passive voice
It all centres around how the verb “to greet” is used. In the simplest case (active voice), the subject of the action (the one doing it), the elf, is performing the action (a greeting), to the direct object (the one receiving the action,the dwarf).
However, we can move around the sentence so that the object (dwarf) is mentioned first (so that it’s actually the subject!), and we combine the “to greet” verb, with a form of the verb “to be” (is,are,was,will be), to show that the dwarf isn’t doing the action (even though we mention it first as a subject), it is actually receiving the action. The passive is useful especially if we don’t know who did the action, because the “by the elf” bit is optional.
We can do the same thing in Esperanto, using a form of the verb “esti” = “to be”, plus a passive participle:
- La elfo salutis la gnomon = The elf greeted the dwarf (note: I’m using the word for dwarf from “The Hobbit”, because it’s better! :))
- La gnomo estis salutita (de la elfo) = The dwarf was greeted (by the elf)
Notice this gives us many choices! When reading the examples below, bear in mind the “Esti” bit describes when in time something occurred (past,present,future), and the different participles show whether in that time the action was ongoing, completed, or going to be completed:
- Estas salutata = is being greeted
- Estas salutita = is greeted (the greeting finished)
- Estas salutota = is about to be greeted
- Estis salutata = was being greeted
- Estis salutita = was greeted (greeting finished)
- Estis salutota = was about to be greeted
- Estos salutata = will be being greeted
- Estos salutita = will be greeted (at some point in the future, the greeting will be complete)
- Estos salutota = will be about to be greeted
It’s possible to stretch things further by using more forms of “Esti”, i.e. “Estu” or “Estus”, but you’ll be lucky if you see that around!
So why is the idea of completion rather than tense an important distinction?
- The camel was found a few years ago
How do we use participles to render this phrase in Esperanto? Let’s imagine that the participles show tense not completion. Now we have two sources of tense, “esti” will be in a tense, and “trovi” = “to find” will be in some kind of tense. So using past, present and future, we’ve got 9 choices again like above. But instead of being examples like:
- Action in past, and completed = Estis trovita
- Action in present, and completed = Estas trovita
- Action in present, and ongoing = Estas trovata
We have a set of two tenses, like these examples:
- Action in past, and occurring around then (present tense relative to the past), whether completed or not = Estis trovata
- Action in past, and occurred in the past relative to this past = Estis trovita
Notice how this might affect your translation of the example sentence?
Using the idea of aspect we’d do it this way:
- La kamelo estis trovita antaŭ kelkaj jaroj
“Estis trovita”: At some point in the past, the camel was found (the finding was complete).
Using the idea of tense, so we have two tenses (the second happening relative to the first) we’d have:
- La kamelo estis trovata antaŭ kelkaj jaroj
“Estis trovata”: At some point in the past, in the present relative to this past, the camel was found or being found
Turns out these two styles were apparently either side of a big argument about passive participles in Esperanto (it-ists versus at-ists) ! According to “Being Colloquial in Esperanto”, the aspect camp won! So stick with the first version!
So why can this strategy of rendering passive phrases using passive participles be inelegant?
Notice the following things about the camel sentence:
- The entity who did the finding is totally irrelevant, so we don’t need to saying “was found by somebody”, which you might do with “de <somebody>” after the passive participle.
- We had to decide whether the action was completed or in the process of happening (-ita or -ata suffixes), when neither are especially important; we are just trying to convey that the camel was found a number of years ago.
So it’s not very succinct in this case, is it? There are alternatives.
- Using the pronounce “Oni” = “one, they, people”
- Using the suffix “-iĝ” = “become <root>”
- Oni trovis la kamelon antaŭ kelkaj jaroj = They/People found the camel a few years ago/The camel was found a few years ago
- La kamelo troviĝis antaŭ kelkaj jaroj = The camel became-found a few years ago/The camel was found a few years ago
This expresses the same idea, with simple tenses, no resorting to “esti”. The “oni” makes it clear that that the finders are unimportant. And the “iĝ” suffix leaves less room for mentioning who did the finding, because it brings all the emphasis to the action happening to the camel.
So in speech, they’ll usually be less call for using passive participles in this fashion. In writing, if you really wish to be absolutely certain about the state of completion of actions you might use them. The state of completion should be an important and necessary fact in this case.
The most readily understood participle in speech is probably the one ending in “-ita”, so perhaps you’d use it in speech in this situation:
- In “The elf greeted the dwarf”, you want to emphasise the dwarf, so you want passive
- You still want the elf to be present, so you don’t want to use “Oni”
- “de <somebody>” is a little strange when using the “iĝ” suffix, because it gives the feeling of the action just happening, it really downplays the cause of the action
So you say “La gnomo estis salutita de la elfo”.
However, you can achieve emphasis in other ways. Esperanto has very flexible word order, so “The elf greeted the dwarf” could be written:
- La elfo salutis la gnomon
- La gnomon elfo salutis
- La gnomon salutis elfo
- La elfo gnomon salutis
Style 1 is most common, so the others show some kind of emphasis. Notice how you can move the dwarf to the front without changing the meaning, because it has the accusative “n”.
Lastly, there is a short form of these passive constructions with “esti”. Most adjectives can be turned into a verb which means “to be <adjective>”:
- Blua = blue
- Blui = to be blue
- Mi bluas = I am blue
- Mi bluis = I was blue
- Mi estas blua = I am blue
- Mi estis blua = I was blue
You can do the same with participles:
- La gnomo salutitis = The dwarf was greeted
I think it’s really neat, and I like the getting rid of this “esti” in the way. However, that’s a lot of meaning packed into a tight space, when people already try to avoid passive forms with participles. So perhaps stick to it only in writing!
Next time I’ll talk about using participles in an adverbial form (with the -e ending instead of -a), and why they allow you to be very expressive in a compact and neat way. While you wait, you can take a look at a past post on adverbs in Esperanto!