Time and Space

Some prepositions are just plain cool. Prepositions show the role of a noun phrase. So say we have a noun phrase like “the red man” (it’s a noun “man” modified by “the red”). A preposition shows the role in the sentence that noun phrase has, it could be “on the red man”, “by the red man”, “before the red man” etc.

Some prepositions have a general concept, and this concept can be applied to both time and space. Some of which are:

  • antaŭ = before, in front of
  • ĉirkaŭ = about, around
  • de = of, from, by
  • ĝis = until, up to
  • inter = between, among
  • post = behind, after
You should be able to see their different usages within spacial relations and temporal relations, by observing the the different alternative English translations I’ve given.

For example, “antaŭ”. You can be physically before (in front of) a person or thing. But something can also occur before something else in time (before you ate badgers in the afternoon). Antaŭ would be used in both cases.


I keep seeing this word around. For some reason, perhaps its tiny nature, I’ve just been skipping over it… Poor little word. But I looked it up today, turns out, it’s an interesting little thing!

The word is: ajn.

So simple! Pronounced like the “ine” in English “fine”.

The interesting thing, is that it adds a notion of indefiniteness or generality. It doesn’t seem to be used to attach to other words, but to follow them as its own little word (I imagine if you were to tack it onto the end of words, it could be easily confused with the adjectival plural accusative ending).

It’s mainly used after the correlatives that start with Ki- and i-, but looks like it can be used with those starting with Ĉi- and Neni-.

Here’s some before and after examples:

  • Kio = what
  • Nenie = nowhere
  • Kie = where
  • Kies = whose
  • Ia = some kind
  • Kiom = how much
  • Kiam = when
  • Kia = what kind
And now with ajn:
  • Kio ajn   = whatever
  • Nenie ajn = nowhere whatsoever/at all
  • Kie ajn = wherever
  • Kies ajn = whosesoever
  • Ia ajn = any kind whatsoever
  • Kiom ajn = however much
  • Kiam ajn = whenever
  • Kia ajn = whatever kind
Pretty interesting little word. Just look how many different constructions you’d have to learn to get the same expressiveness in English!

Revisiting an old flame

So, a while back I posted about a word “iafoje”, in the category of “alluring words”, because it is a very, very pretty word. But it’s also sneaky! It has a hidden depth that I did not quite notice at the time, when I translated it as “sometimes”. Which is fine! Don’t worry! There’s just a nuance to it beyond that.

So, in the time since that post I’ve found other words to mean “sometimes”, made by adding different words to the root “foj” meaning “time,occasion”. With also the “e” ending for adverbs (“sometimes” is an adverb because it describes verbs, action words, you do some action “sometimes”).

  • iufoje, which is made with “iu” meaning “some, any, someone”
  • kelkfoje, which is made with “kelk(a)” meaning “some,several”
Compared to:
  • iafoje, which is made with “ia” meaning “some kind (of)”
So can you start to see where the nuances might be? I wasn’t too sure about the differences myself at first, but chatted with a couple folks at Lernu.net to make sure they said the same things I was wondering:
  • iufoje: suggests some indefinite time(s), any times, some times. A good phrase used by one of the Lernu folks was “sporadic events”
  • kelkfoje: simply suggests some bunch of multiple events/times
  • iafoje: suggests definite types of events.
I think it’s so interesting how you can express these different nuances of meaning in such simple ways, by building with these blocks of meaning.So in the original post I was saying how I found the word used alot in the Plena Manlibro de Esperanta Gramatiko. So why do they use this kind of “sometimes” instead of the others?I’ll tell you what I think. It’s often used in the context of explaining the usage of a word, concept, affix or suchlike. “Sometimes X is used in this context… Here it conveys….” etc.

This “sometimes” is talking about specific occasions when X is used in a specific way. Therefore, the obvious choice is iafoje!

Speaking very Esperantily

Adverbs make me giggle in Esperanto. I find myself enjoying them immensely, then I feel weird about getting so excited about a feature of a language! But so what?

An adverb is a word that describes verbs (action words like “speak”), adjectives (describing word like “blue” or other adverbs. In English you can make a lot of words into adverbs by adding “-ly”:

  • I ran quickly
Notice how “quickly” modifies the “run” action, telling you that it was particularly fast.
The thing about Esperanto, is that you can make any word into an adverb, by just changing the ending to an “e”!
  • Mi ŝatas paroli Esperante = I like to speak in Esperanto.
“Esperante” is an adverb, so it modifies the “paroli” verb meaning “to speak”, telling you that the speaking is done in an Esperanto way! I like to think of it as speaking “Esperantily”!
In English, when we can’t make a legal adverb with “-ly” or use some irregular form (the adverb of “good” is “well”), we have to resort to prepositions like “in” as in the sentence above, or “by” in the sentence below:
  • Ni iras aŭte = We go by car
The word for “car” is “aŭto”, the “o” was simply changed to “e” to get the adverb. So we are travelling “car-ily”!

Simple but Expressive

For the most part, it seems that Esperanto tries to ensure that there is only one word for one particular sense, instead of having endless synonyms for words.

A friend, having discovered this trend declared that Esperanto must be the most dull language, with only one way to express things. They said it’s too simple.

But this is not the case! Yes, while there may only be one listed canonical form, there are many ways the same or similar idea can be expressed, through word building. It can also often introduce subtleties of meanings or emphasis to further enhance the text.

I’ll give you a simple example. The word for “pen” is “plumo”, plain and simple. However, I also know that the verb “skribi” means “to write”. And that the suffix “-il” added to a root word means “tool for <root>ing”. So “skribilo” as tool for writing, also means “pen”!

Keep it simple.

No unnecessary complications. Complexity should be the result of complex expression, not arbitrary forced complexity. I love the idea of a language being a simple set of tools, but that can be combined in infinitely different simple and complex ways.

Esperanto is just that. With a base vocabulary far smaller than any language I can think of, it provides tools in the form of a few suffixes and prefixes (and the ability to stick word roots together) in order to build words in a sensible regular way.

For example, “-il” is a suffix that adds the meaning of a tool to perform the root word. So given the word “razi” which means “to shave”, without knowing beforehand, I can determine that “razilo” means “razor” i.e. a tool for which one can shave.

The prefix “mal-” when applied to a word, reverses it’s meaning! So if I know the word “bela” (meaning “beautiful”) I also know the word “malbela”, which means the opposite: ugly!

So if you can master the prefixes and suffixes, then every new word you learn isn’t just one new word, its a new word for every suffix and prefix you know! Efficient huh?