“About” working hard

I saw some, what I perceived to be, odd uses of the word “pri” today.

Loosely, by itself “pri” means “about/concerning”, but it turns out this little word is a hard worker! You can do some interesting things with it in word building.

So, drawing mostly from what I understand of the PMEG pages (a, b, c) on the topic:

Firstly, when used by itself, it’s simple enough!

  • Mi parolas pri kameloj = I’m talking about camels
  • Mi legas libron pri la urbo = I’m reading a book about the city

When used to prefix a noun or adjective, the meaning is also simple enough! It then relates to a concept about the root:

  • priama = that which concerns love, about love (from amo = love)

When use to prefix a verb, things get a little more interesting! It always makes the verb transitive (means that the verb takes an object). If the verb is already transitive, it makes the verb’s object about something else!

“silenti” = “to be quiet”. It is intransitive, it cannot have an object. Being quiet doesn’t happen to anything, only the subject of the verb is doing something (being quiet). So you might say:

  • Mi silentas pri la hundo = I’m being quiet about the dog.

Notice how the dog has to be introduced by a preposition “pri” because it is not the direct object of the verb. See this though:

  • Mi prisilentas la hundon = I’m being quiet about the dog.

So, often by prefixing “pri” you allow whatever would normally follow “pri” in this context, to become the object of the verb (now it’s got the “n” ending). So an intransitive verb is made transitive. So what happens when you prefix a transitive verb?

  • Li pensis maldecajn pensojn pri ŝi = He was thinking dirty thoughts about her
  • Li pripensis ŝin per maldecaj pensoj = He was thinking about her with dirty thoughts.

Notice that the original object switches its grammatical role as the direct object, with what, again, normally comes after “pri”. Now “her” is the direct object!

I like this, it allows stylistic variants that are easily understood. I like there being a simple way for the object to be something else. What if I like the sound of “maldecaj” a little more than “maldecajn” in this context? It can be done!

Sometimes when used as a verb prefix, the changes are a little harder to get (there’s some trickier usages basically) it serves to change the role of the object of that verb still, but sometimes doesn’t change it with what normally follows “pri”:

An example the PMEG gives is the verb “semi” = “to sow”.

When using “semi” the object of the verb is whatever (seeds) you’re sowing. So:

  • Li semas tritikon en la kampo = He is sowing wheat (object) in the field

Notice how the wheat is the object of the action, but the place in which seeds are sown (about) is introduced with the preposition “en” = “in”.


  • Li prisemas la kampon per tritiko = He is sowing (about) the field with wheat

Notice now that the place is the direct object (receiving the “n” ending), and the seeds must be introduced with a preposition!

Interesting huh? An entirely different slant on the verb with a simple prefix. Love it.

There are a few slightly more sneaky examples on the PMEG pages if you’re interested in knowing what the usages are!