What to do? Infinitive weirdness.

Hello Duolingo-folk, 8+ years after I wrote this! Let me know if you need further clarification in the comments below.

I happened across an interesting little paragraph in the PMEG! Scroll down to the paragraph that starts:

Ĉefverbecaj I-verboj aperas ankaŭ en iaj mallongigitaj esprimoj de dubo aŭ hezito. 

Which means: mainverb-like I-verbs also appear in some shortened expressions of doubt or hesitation.

So normally the “i” form of a verb isn’t used as the main verb in a sentence; it doesn’t have any mood or tense of its own. The “i” form, is the infinitive, the base form:

  • ami = to love
  • kuri = to run
  • fajfi = to whistle

And when you want to use them in an appropriate tense/mood, you alter them:

  • Mi amas Esperanton = I love Esperanto
  • Kuru! = Run!
  • Li fajfis la tutan tagon = He whistled the entire day

But one of the ways in which I-verbs do occur as the main verb is in these expressions of doubt or hesitation. And they’re normally shortened versions of what you could express, say with a “u-verb” (see previous post). Take the example from that PMEG page:

  • Kion fari? = What to do?
Which is like a short form of:
  • Kion mi faru? = What should I do?

See how we kinda do it in English too in the translations? The usage is very conversational. So:

  • “Savu nin!”, “Sed la meloj estas nevenkeblaj! Kiel mi povas savi vin? Peti ilin ĝentile?” = “Save us!”, “But the badgers are invincible! How can I save you? Ask them nicely?”

So “peti” would be a main verb there, all by itself.

Rather than “ĉu mi petu ilin ĝentile?” = “Should I ask them nicely?”, the full version.

And that’s how I understand the usage… You can see how it changes in English too.