No need to resort to that!

If you’ve been lurking around here for a while, you may have read my series on Esperanto’s participles. If you haven’t and you have no idea what I’m talking about, why not take a stroll over there now?

They are incredibly useful things. You can even use them to create complicated verb tenses. However, one of those old posts shows why resorting to participles for complicated tenses can be a little on the inelegant side.

In today’s post I’ll be sharing a few PMEG tips on how to avoid resorting to complex tenses.

Take the following sentence:

  • When you phoned me, I was eating.

This implies that when I received your call, I was in the middle of eating. How might we say this in Esperanto?

  • Kiam vi telefonis al mi, mi manĝis.

Using the simple past tense, we’re in a little trouble. Because this could mean any of:

  • When you phoned me, I was eating
  • When you phoned me, I ate (i.e. I started eating when you called)
  • When you phoned me I had eaten (already)

Does this mean we have to resort to complex tenses?

  • Kiam vi telefonis al mi, mi estis manĝanta (I was in the middle of eating)
  • Kiam vi telefonis al mi, mi estis manĝonta (I was about to eat)
  • Kiam vi telefonis al mi, mi estis manĝinta (I had already eaten)

All those different meanings by changing a single vowel! In speech this is a little mean on your listener, no?

How about these instead:

  • Kiam vi telefonis al mi, ĝuste tiam mi manĝis (I was eating exactly when you called)
  • Kiam vi telefonis al mi, mi jam antaŭe manĝis (I had already previously eaten)
  • Kiam vi telefonis al mi, mi ankoraŭ ne manĝis (I hadn’t yet eaten)
  • Kiam vi telefonis al mi, mi ĵus manĝis (I had only just eaten)
  • Kiam vi telefonis al mi, mi intencis/planis manĝi [baldaŭ] (I intended/planned to eat [soon])

Simple ways to stick to the simple tenses!

Read more here, and here.

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!

Verse 33

Just for fun, I decided to translate one of my favourite verses of the Tao Te Ching (a Taoist text). I have a book with a few different English translations, and the characters used in the ancient chinese text, with explanations about their shades of meaning and how they go together. So first, I translated my favourite English version into Esperanto, and then I produced a translation from the explanations of the chinese characters (Because my chinese is awful, and I know even less about more ancient forms of it!).

Turns out that (if I haven’t made grave errors), Esperanto can get much closer to the format of the original characters in a nice way, than English can.

So here’s what I got from translating the chinese characters directly:

Konante aliajn, oni inteligentas.
Konante sin, oni saĝas.

Venkante aliajn, oni fortas.
Venkante sin, oni ĉiopovas.

Forte alpaŝante vivon, oni ja akiras ion.
Kontentante pri sia vivo, oni ja akiras ĉion.

Dediĉante sin al sia vivejo, oni vivas longe.
Mortante tamen ne forgesote, oni ja vivas eterne.

So, making quite a literal English translation of this, you get:

In knowing others, one is intelligent.
In knowing oneself, one is wise.

In conquering others, one is strong.
In conquering oneself, one is all-powerful.

Approaching life forcefully, one surely gets something.
In being content in one’s life, one surely gets everything.

In being dedicated to one’s place, one lives long.
In dying but not being forgotten, on surely lives forever.

In my opinion, the English version in this style looks stunted and not flowing, it needs more gumpf to make it sound nice (I already had to add all those “in”s!). This is the style that the book I have goes for:

One who knows others is intelligent
One who knows onself is enlightened

And even here, most lines have to be prefixed with “one who”. It kinda helps it flow, and sometimes repetition is part of rhythm, but I think I’m beginning to prefer Esperanto here!

My Esperanto version is much closer to the ordering and use of the chinese characters than this English version (especially given that the Esperanto words mostly map one-to-one with the characters). I just found this interesting!

I also found the following interesting whilst translating:

  • ĉiopova = all-powerful, omnipotent. Literally “everything-able” or like “able to do everything”. I thought this was a nice construction. Not my own, I stumbled across it.
  • alpaŝi = to approach, to tackle, to deal with. “paŝi” means “to tread, to stride, to stalk”, and “al” means “to, toward”. I thought that was another neat construction to stumble across!

Some things I was unsure about:

  • I use “ejo” on the penultimate line. I use it because I’m not talking about any old place “loko”. I’m talking about the place one has in the world, ones own path through the universe. EDIT: changed to “vivejo” (vivo = life),see comments below. I love the idea of a “life-place”.
  • “Ne forgesote” = “not going to be forgotten, not being forgotten” on the last line. “Forgesi” = “to forget”. Here we want “to be forgotten” so we use a passive participle (-ot suffix rather than -ont), I’m sure of this. But I wasn’t sure if it should be “ne forgesate” = “not being forgotten” (present tense), however I felt that this implied that one need only not be forgotten in the present, whereas the true meaning is to never be forgotten, so future tense “ne forgesote”.Another alternative was “ne forgesiĝante” = “not becoming forgotten”, or “ne forgesiĝonte” = “not going to become forgotten. But after I thought of using the future tense “forgesote”, the “become” bit of these alternatives seemed to be unnecessary extra baggage.

An open question:

  • I use “Kontentante pri sia vivon…” = “Being content with one’s life…”. Could this be entirely replaced by “viv-kontentante” does that make sense? From the verb “vivkontenti” = “to be content with life, to be life-content”.Similarly, I use “Dediĉante sin al sia ejo” = “Dedicating oneself to one’s place”. Could I replace this with “Ej-dediĉante sin” = “place-dedicating oneself”.

Do comment if there are any errors! Or if you wish to ask about any of it.

Partying with Participles #5

Yet another participles post! Read the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th.

This time, I’m talking about using the noun ending “o” on the end of the participles.

  • Ami = to love
  • Amanta = loving
  • Amanto = one who is loving, one who loves (amanta persono)

So notice that with the noun ending, the participle usually describes a person characterised by the action of the participle.

You choose between active or passive participles depending on whether the person is doing the action or receiving it (respectively):

  • Amanto = one who is loving, one who loves (amanta persono)
  • Amato = one who is loved (amata persono)

Note that you don’t use the “-ul” suffix to make it about a person (timi=to fear, timulo = coward), it’s already about a person.

If you wanted to be talking about a thing, not a person, then it usually suffices to note bother with the participle and instead use the “aĵ” ending.

  • Amaĵo = loved thing

Though this could also mean a thing that loves. But since that’s a less likely interpretation, and context helps, you’re normally fine. Though conceivably you could add this ending onto the participles (amantaĵo = loving thing), if you really needed to be specific to stop people misunderstanding.

Also for those few who didn’t already know, doesn’t the ending of “Esperanto” look familiar? It should do.

  • esperi = to hope
  • esperanta = hoping
  • esperanto = one who is hoping, one who hopes (esperanta persono)

Bear in mind that “Esperanto” (with a capital letter) is now recognised as a noun referring to the language. If you want the old meaning, you have to use a non capital letter. For example, Esperanta means relating to Esperanto the language, as in Esperanta kurso (Esperanto course). An “esperanta kurso” is a course that is hoping…

This concludes the bulk of material about the participles! I’m sure they’ll crop up here and there again though! You’re welcome to ask about anything I’ve missed, and if it’s a substantial amount, I may form my answer in a post!

Partying with Participles #4

Now here’s the fourth in the series concerning participles and their antics. Check out the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.

Today’s post is about using the various participles with the “e” ending, the ending for adverbs as in:

  • Amiko = Friend
  • Amika = Friendly
  • Amike = Friendlily / In a friendly way

So what does doing this to a participle achieve?

Quite a bit. It’s almost like making two phrases in one!

So here’s two phrases connected with “and”:

  • La melo manĝis kamelon, kaj pensis samtempe pri la sekvonta manĝo = The badger ate a camel, and at the same time was thinking about the next meal.
How can they be joined? E-participle!
  • Manĝante kamelon la melo pensis pri la sekvonta manĝo = (while) eating a camel the badger thought about the next meal.

(Note how “pensis” the simple past tense was translated as both “was thinking” and “thought”. The simple tenses are flexible, which is why Esperanto uses them more. Future post!)

So instead of having two separate main verbs “manĝis” and “pensis” and the surrounding goop, we have “X was thinking about Y” plus the extra information that X was eating something. So they allow you to provide additional context in the same phrase.

Notice now that because “manĝ-” has become a participial adverb (not a main verb), it cannot have it’s own subject. That is, the thing that is doing the eating, will always be the subject of the main verb (here, pensi). So whatever is doing the thinking, must be doing the eating (or whatever the adverb is about).

If you want the subject to be on the receiving end of the action, you must use a passive participle (so that you’re being eaten, rather than eating. Check out the comments on this post for further explanation!):

  • Manĝote de la kamelo, la melo pensis pri feliĉaj aferoj = About to be eaten by a camel, the badger thought about happy things.

Notice the differences you can get with the different aspects of participles too. In the first example the eating was ongoing, in this example, the eating is anticipated.

This allows you to be very succinct with expression. This is one of my favourite examples from “Being Colloquial in Esperanto”:

  • Eĉ pafote silentadus li = Even about to be shot he would remain silent

“Li” is the subject of the main verb “silentadus” = “would remain silent”. So the adverb describes “li”. And the adverb means “about to be shot” because it’s an anticipated action, and a passive one (so “li” is anticipated to receive the action).

Obviously when things get really compact, you should probably reserve those gorgeous sentences for written communication.

Check out the PMEG for more examples.

Next time, I’ll be discussing what happens if you use the “o” ending for participles, instead of “a”, “e” or the verbal endings (that I’ve already talked about)!