Don’t use the past to talk about the future!

Just noticed a sneaky little note at the end of this PMEG page. Thought I’d bring it up!

Now keep in mind that the simple past, present, and future tenses in Esperanto (words ending in “is”,”as”,”os” respectively) actually do quite a bit of work (and now that I know much more about them, I’m considering writing a few posts talking about their interesting bits). For example, past tense “legis” from “legi” (to read) can mean any of the following depending on context:

  • read (past tense)
  • was reading
  • have read
  • have been reading
  • had read
  • had been reading

Most commonly it will either be “read” or “was reading”, and maybe helper words will stress the other meanings. E.g. “jam” literally meaning “already”:

  • Ĉu vi jam legis tiun libron? = Have you (already) read that book?

The note on that PMEG page explains what you do in Esperanto when talking about having done something in the future. In English we might say:

  • I will hunt the badger as soon as I have read this book

“I will hunt” is simple future tense. But look at the weirdness we’re doing with the “read” verb. “I have read” is the perfect tense! It describes an already completed action/state! This is a bit odd, since we wouldn’t use “as soon as” if the action was already complete! I should already be hunting the badger if the reading was done!

Fear not, Esperanto makes sense. You’ve got two options. The first and most simple is to use the simple future tense:

  • Mi ĉasos la melon tuj kiam mi legos ĉi tiun libron

Notice “legos” is just the simple future tense (will read). Since all it’s doing is describing a future event!

Your second option, is to be deadly precise using participles (see my series on the things):

  • Mi ĉasos la melon tuj kiam mi estos leginta ĉi tiun libron

“mi estos leginta” is literally “I will be having-read” (“estos” is future tense of “esti” = “to be”), corresponding to “will have read” (=at some point in the future the reading will be completed), in the more clunky English rendering:

  • I will hunt the badger as soon as I will have read this book

Partying with Participles #3

This is the 3rd in a series of posts about Esperanto’s participles! Don’t know what they are? Don’t even know what a participle is? Then take a look at the 1st and 2nd posts.

The last post showed how we form Esperanto’s six different participles, and what they mean in their adjectival (quality-like, a-word) form. This is the form that is used when the participles are describing nouns (words like “camel”).

The post stated a important distinction. It showed that participles show the state of completion of an action, which is slightly different than simply showing tense (past,present,future). If you don’t remember, take a look at the previous post.We will find out why this is an important distinction after a brief talk about passive phrases and how to make them with the passive participles, which are the ones formed with “at/it/ot” suffixes.

So what’s a passive phrase? It’s a phrase that appears in the passive voice rather than the active voice. In English, this is really quite common:

  • The elf greeted the dwarf = active voice
  • The dwarf was greeted (by the elf) = passive voice
It all centres around how the verb “to greet” is used. In the simplest case (active voice), the subject of the action (the one doing it), the elf, is performing the action (a greeting), to the direct object (the one receiving the action,the dwarf).
However, we can move around the sentence so that the object (dwarf) is mentioned first (so that it’s actually the subject!), and we combine the “to greet” verb, with a form of the verb “to be” (is,are,was,will be), to show that the dwarf isn’t doing the action (even though we mention it first as a subject), it is actually receiving the action. The passive is useful especially if we don’t know who did the action, because the “by the elf” bit is optional.
We can do the same thing in Esperanto, using a form of the verb “esti” = “to be”, plus a passive participle:
  • La elfo salutis la gnomon = The elf greeted the dwarf (note: I’m using the word for dwarf from “The Hobbit”, because it’s better! :))
  • La gnomo estis salutita (de la elfo) = The dwarf was greeted (by the elf)
Notice this gives us many choices! When reading the examples below, bear in mind the “Esti” bit describes when in time something occurred (past,present,future), and the different participles show whether in that time the action was ongoing, completed, or going to be completed:
  • Estas salutata = is being greeted
  • Estas salutita = is greeted (the greeting finished)
  • Estas salutota = is about to be greeted
  • Estis salutata = was being greeted
  • Estis salutita = was greeted (greeting finished)
  • Estis salutota = was about to be greeted
  • Estos salutata = will be being greeted
  • Estos salutita = will be greeted (at some point in the future, the greeting will be complete)
  • Estos salutota = will be about to be greeted

It’s possible to stretch things further by using more forms of “Esti”, i.e. “Estu” or “Estus”, but you’ll be lucky if you see that around!

So why is the idea of completion rather than tense an important distinction?

  • The camel was found a few years ago
How do we use participles to render this phrase in Esperanto? Let’s imagine that the participles show tense not completion. Now we have two sources of tense, “esti” will be in a tense, and “trovi” = “to find” will be in some kind of tense. So using past, present and future, we’ve got 9 choices again like above. But instead of being examples like:
  • Action in past, and completed = Estis trovita
  • Action in present, and completed = Estas trovita
  • Action in present, and ongoing = Estas trovata
We have a set of two tenses, like these examples:
  • Action in past, and occurring around then (present tense relative to the past), whether completed or not = Estis trovata
  • Action in past, and occurred in the past relative to this past = Estis trovita

Notice how this might affect your translation of the example sentence?

Using the idea of aspect we’d do it this way:

  • La kamelo estis trovita antaŭ kelkaj jaroj
“Estis trovita”: At some point in the past, the camel was found (the finding was complete).

Using the idea of tense, so we have two tenses (the second happening relative to the first) we’d have:

  • La kamelo estis trovata antaŭ kelkaj jaroj

“Estis trovata”: At some point in the past, in the present relative to this past, the camel was found or being found

Turns out these two styles were apparently either side of a big argument about passive participles in Esperanto (it-ists versus at-ists) ! According to “Being Colloquial in Esperanto”, the aspect camp won! So stick with the first version!

So why can this strategy of rendering passive phrases using passive participles be inelegant?

Notice the following things about the camel sentence:

  1. The entity who did the finding is totally irrelevant, so we don’t need to saying “was found by somebody”, which you might do with “de <somebody>” after the passive participle.
  2. We had to decide whether the action was completed or in the process of happening (-ita or -ata suffixes), when neither are especially important; we are just trying to convey that the camel was found a number of years ago.

So it’s not very succinct  in this case, is it? There are alternatives.

  1. Using the pronounce “Oni” = “one, they, people”
  2. Using the suffix “-iĝ” = “become <root>”
  1. Oni trovis la kamelon antaŭ kelkaj jaroj = They/People found the camel a few years ago/The camel was found a few years ago
  2. La kamelo troviĝis antaŭ kelkaj jaroj = The camel became-found a few years ago/The camel was found a few years ago

This expresses the same idea, with simple tenses, no resorting to “esti”. The “oni” makes it clear that that the finders are unimportant. And the “iĝ” suffix leaves less room for mentioning who did the finding, because it brings all the emphasis to the action happening to the camel.

So in speech, they’ll usually be less call for using passive participles in this fashion. In writing, if you really wish to be absolutely certain about the state of completion of actions you might use them. The state of completion should be an important and necessary fact in this case.

The most readily understood participle in speech is probably the one ending in “-ita”, so perhaps you’d use it in speech in this situation:

  1. In “The elf greeted the dwarf”, you want to emphasise the dwarf, so you want passive
  2. You still want the elf to be present, so you don’t want to use “Oni”
  3. “de <somebody>” is a little strange when using the “iĝ” suffix, because it gives the feeling of the action just happening, it really downplays the cause of the action
So you say “La gnomo estis salutita de la elfo”.
However, you can achieve emphasis in other ways. Esperanto has very flexible word order, so “The elf greeted the dwarf” could be written:
  1. La elfo salutis la gnomon
  2. La gnomon elfo salutis
  3. La gnomon salutis elfo
  4. La elfo gnomon salutis
Style 1 is most common, so the others show some kind of emphasis. Notice how you can move the dwarf to the front without changing the meaning, because it has the accusative “n”.
Lastly, there is a short form of these passive constructions with “esti”. Most adjectives can be turned into a verb which means “to be <adjective>”:
  • Blua = blue
  • Blui = to be blue
  • Mi bluas = I am blue
  • Mi bluis = I was blue
  • Mi estas blua = I am blue
  • Mi estis blua = I was blue
You can do the same with participles:
  • La gnomo salutitis = The dwarf was greeted

I think it’s really neat, and I like the getting rid of this “esti” in the way. However, that’s a lot of meaning packed into a tight space, when people already try to avoid passive forms with participles. So perhaps stick to it only in writing!

Next time I’ll talk about using participles in an adverbial form (with the -e ending instead of -a), and why they allow you to be very expressive in a compact and neat way. While you wait, you can take a look at a past post on adverbs in Esperanto!

Partying with Participles #2

This is the second in a series of posts about participles. Click here to go to the first in the series. 

I finished the last post saying that participles can be defined along two dimensions:

  1. The timeframe the action occurs in.
  2. Whether it is active or passive.

It’s important to remember what the difference between active and passive is for this post, so look back at the previous post if you don’t remember!

Unlike English, Esperanto doesn’t have just past and present participles, it has something like past, present and future participles.

Where more specifically:

  • Past refers to an action that has been completed, finished and fulfilled.
  • Present refers to an action beginning/continuing/unfinished.
  • Future refers to an action not yet begun, but intended.

This shows that Esperanto’s participles don’t quite have the idea of tense, but more like “aspect”, which considers the state of completion of an action, rather than the time (tense) it occurs in.

This is a very important distinction to remember when we start talking about one of the ways in which to create a passive phrase in Esperanto (next participle post).

For now, it’s time to introduce how we form the participles.

Here’s how to make the three active participles for the verb “to sing” = “kanti”:

  • La kantanta kamelo = The singing camel (The singing is happening,ongoing)
  • La kantinta kamelo = The camel that sang (Lit. The having-sung camel. The singing has stopped)
  • La kantonta kamelo = The camel about to sing (Lit. The going-to-sing camel. The singing is anticipated, but not yet begun)

Note why they’re active: the camel is doing the singing.

Here’s how to make the three passive participles for the verb “to sing” = “kanti”:

  • La kantata melodio = The tune being sung (Lit. the being-sung tune. The singing is currently happening)
  • La kantita melodio = The tune that was sung (Lit. the sung tune. The tune was sung, it’s not being sung now)
  • La kantota melodio = The tune about to be sung (Lit. the going-to-be-sung tune. The tune hasn’t begun yet, but will do)

Note why they’re passive: the tune is sung (it would be the direct object of “to sing”), the tune isn’t doing the singing (like the camel was)

An easy way to remember which aspect (or phase of completion) each suffix means, is to look at the vowel before the “t” (passive) or “nt” (active). Compare them to the simple verb forms:

  • Mi kantas = I sing (present)
  • Mi kantis = I sung (past)
  • Mi kantos = I will sing (future)
  • -ant and -at are present/ongoing, just like “as” is present
  • -int and -it are past/completed, just like “is” is past
  • -ont and -ot are future/not started, just like “os” is future

As mentioned above, the next post will discuss creating passive phrases using “esti” = “to be” and the passive participle. E.g.

  • La kamelo estis trovita antaŭ kelkaj jaroj = The camel was found a few years ago.

It will discuss why it’s important in this instance to think of “aspect” rather than “tense”, and also why there can be more elegant ways of creating this phrase than using participles (despite the English-speaker’s temptation!).

And there is plenty more to talk about after that!

I should also mention that my learning of the intriguing details about participles is being greatly helped by the book “Being Colloquial in Esperanto”. There is an appendix devoted to the finer points about participles.

Partying with participles #1

There are so many little interesting details about participles, that I’m not going to try to talk about them in a single post. So this will be the first in a series of posts about participles. There’ll be different kinds of posts in between, to keep things varied, but you might find a post every week or so continuing in this series.

I’m also probably going to start from a more basic level than usual for two reasons:

  1. Participles are so expressive, that it can be complicated to understand how they work (this is certainly a learning experience for me). And,
  2. If there are interested readers who haven’t learnt much about participles up until now, I wouldn’t want to estrange them with a series of incomprehensible posts!

Anyway, there’s never any harm in cementing the fundamentals.

Generally speaking, participles are adjectives made from verbs. In Esperanto we have to be a little more precise to avoid confusion. Participles are not made by changing the verbal “i” suffix to the adjectival “a” suffix. Esperanto participles are like new quality roots made from what were once action roots (using suffixes like “at”,”it”,”ot”,”ant”,”int”,”ont”). For information on root types see my previous post.

So participles show some kind of action or state derived from the verb they come from. Let’s start out in English.

English has two different kinds of participle, the “present” participle and the “past” participle.

Take the verb “to shout”. We could simply use it as a verb:

  • The men like to shout

Or we could make it a participle:

  • I saw a shouting woman (present participle)
  • The shouted insults were unimaginative (past participle)

Notice how they are used like adjectives, they modify the nouns (woman and insults), just like how the adjectives “blue” or “nasty” would:

  • I saw a blue woman
  • The nasty insults were unimaginative

The present participle shows that the action is current and ongoing. The past participle shows that the action was in the past (surprise!).

Notice how in “shouting woman”, the woman is actually doing the shouting (she’s the subject of what was the verb “to shout”), but in “shouted insults”, we don’t know who did the shouting, but we do know what was shouted. The insults are the direct object of what was the verb “to shout”.

This difference is what we call active and passive participles. A participle is active, if the thing being described by it is actually doing the action. A participle is passive, if the thing it describes is on the receiving end of the action (the direct object). Note how this means that a verb can only be used as a passive participle if it is a transitive verb, because only transitive verbs can have direct objects.

In English we arbitrarily use the past participle as either active or passive, depending on the original verb:

  • The fallen leaf: past active participle of “to fall”; the leaf did the falling.
  • The smashed watch: past passive participle of “to smash”, the watch is the direct object. It didn’t do the smashing, it was on the receiving end of it.

Why is this important? Because things are a tad different in Esperanto! You need to know when to use active or passive!

There are six Esperanto participles!

Loosely, an Esperanto participle can be past, present or future, but at the same time, active or passive! That makes six choices!

So that’s it for now. But look out for next time, when I’m going to go into why Esperanto participles don’t quite have a tense (past,present,future), but rather more like something known as “aspect”. Then after that, we’ll get right down to some of the uses of participles, and what happens when we start to play around with grammatical endings and suffixes.