Did you see him running too?

Here’s a little treat that is floating around the internet in all sorts of nooks and crannies:

  1. Mi vidis la knabon kuri
  2. Mi vidis la knabon kuranta
  3. Mi vidis la knabon kurantan

What’s the difference between them?

The explanation is usually in Esperanto, or buried in discussions in the Lernu forums. So good ole me has done the digging, and here’s my impression!


  • Knabo = boy
  • Vidi = to see
  • Kuri = to run / running
  • -anta = Present participle ending (see series on participles), it shows that an action is ongoing.

So in all of the examples, I saw a boy, and my seeing of him involved him running.

The difference between -i and -anta(n)

The verb with just “i” (kuri), simply states the action in general. It is the base form of the verb. The action was seen, and you could have seen the action finish. Because it gives no information about tense or completed-ness about the action.

Whereas “-anta(n)” specifically treats the action as an ongoing or repeated process. Using “-anta(n)” says nothing about the action being completed, or what happened subsequently; I simply saw the ongoing action.

The difference between -anta and -antan

The “knabo” is the direct object here. The boy is being seen (the object of “vidis”). When we’re describing an object we have a choice to add the “n” or not. This well known example shows the difference this “n” can make:

  • Li farbis la domon ruĝa = He painted the house red
  • Li farbis la domon ruĝan = Li farbis la ruĝan domon = He painted the red house

If the “n” is present, then the a-word is matching the o-word’s “n”, and is therefore just an attribute of the o-word. In other words, the house was already red when he began painting it. The house that he painted, just happened to be red.

If the “n” is not present, then the a-word is not an attribute, it is the result of the action or something that happens during the action. So the a-word is now emphasised; he painted something red, and the house happened to be what he painted. See my previous post for more explanation on this.

So here’s the three translations. Notice how in practice 1 and 2 will probably translate the same. I’ve included the nuance in brackets:

  1. I saw the boy running (I may have seen him finish running)
  2. I saw the boy running (I am only saying I saw the ongoing running)
  3. I saw the running boy (He was running when I saw him)

See how 1 and 2 emphasise the running because it’s not just an attribute of the boy. What we saw was the running, and the boy happened to be doing it.

In 3, the emphasis is with the boy, the running is just what he happened to be doing when I saw him (it was just an attribute of the boy).

Even more fun:

What happens if we up and do this?

  • Mi vidis la knabon kurante

An adverbial participle! If you know the difference between adverbs and adjectives (e-words and a-words in Esperanto) the answer may well be obvious!

Here’s the key bit of info:

  • Adjectives (a-words) describe nouns (o-words), but
  • Adverbs (e-words) describe anything BUT nouns. In this sentence, a verb.

So, before, “kurant-a(n)” was describing the o-word (knabo), the boy. “kurant-e” now describes the main verb, the “seeing”.

In other words, the seeing was done while running.

Does this making it clearer?

  • Kurante mi vidis la knabon = While running, I saw the boy
The person doing the seeing is doing the running now!

Thanks to the commenter guleblanc (below) for reminding me of this extra fun!

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.