Adjectives and their Antics

Thought I’d talk a little of the frolicking of adjectives today!

This post relies on you knowing what I mean by “quality-like” roots,”action-like” root words and “thing-like” root words. Luckily, you can find out in my previous post.

So today’s post answers the question: what happens when you make a root word into an adjective using the “a” suffix? If you want more examples than I give, go to the the PMEG page on the topic, the page which is the inspiration and main reference of this post.

Starting with the simple case: quality-like roots. These roots already show description or quality, so adding the “a” usually just expresses that quality:

  • blua = blue (from blu- exressing quality of blue)
  • bona = good (from bon- expresses quality of good)
  • bela = beautiful

There are some infrequent exceptions. They normally depend on context, and most could understand them without having had to learn the exceptions beforehand:

  • stulta demando = a stupid question. The question itself cannot be acting stupid (as one may interpret something which is stulta), it is rather that the question was made through stupidity.
  • laŭta ĉambro = a loud room. The room isn’t being loud (the usual interpretation of laŭta), instead, the room is full of loudness (the things inside it are being loud).

What happens when the root is a thing-like root?

It means something related to the root, the thing. Somehow a description that is typical of the thing. This will be different depending on the context.

An example used on the PMEG page is “reĝa” from the thing-like root “reĝ-” (Therefore it’s inherently an ‘o’ word “reĝo” = “king”).

  • reĝa konduto = kingly/regal conduct. Behaviour in the manner of a king, with the qualities of a king.
  • reĝa persono = kingly person, royal person, person characterised by royality/kingliness.
  • reĝa palaco = royal/kingly palace, a king’s palace.

And when the roots are action-like? 

They show a meaning related to (characterised by) the action in question. They are similar to the present/past active participles in Esperanto (future posts!). Present active shows that an action is happening, and past active shows that it happened.

From help- (and its action “helpi” = “to help”):

  • helpa hundo = a helpful dog, a dog that’s helping.
  • helpa diro = a helpful statement, a statement that helped.

From nutr- (and its action “nutri” = “to nourish”):

  • nutra problemo = nutritional problem
  • nutra manĝaĵo = nourishing/nutritional food, food which nourishes.

Adjectives made from action-like roots can have an additional possible meaning. For example, given the examples above and the word “korekt-” (action-like root, “korekti” = “to correct”), extending the examples above:

  • korekta X

“X” should be something that corrects, or is characterised by correcting.

But it is often far more useful as something much closer to passive participles (future posts!), these are things which have received an action instead of dishing it out (active).

So here, X could also be something that is correct, or corrected!

Same goes for others to:

  • kompliki = to complicate
  • komplika X: X can be complicating or complicated!
  • veki = to wake
  • veka X: X can be waking or awoken.

This shows that the adjectival “a” can be a very general description, sometimes relying on context to disambiguate. If you need a specific meaning, and the context doesn’t make this clear, then you must turn to the more precise participles!

Action, Quality, Thing.

For the sake of future posts, word roots types are the topic for today. This is an important concept in Esperanto for understanding how we build words.

Most words in Esperanto can be said to consist of a root and an ending. Where the root gives the word the core meaning, and the ending marks whether it’s a noun/adjective/verb etc. and its tense, mood, or plurality.

And these endings are productive! The verb form may not be in the dictionary, but we can just use a verbal ending to make it. We can even smoosh roots together for new core meanings before assigning the endings.

But the main point today, is one that has only been touched on in previous posts. That is, that roots are not these neutral creatures that have no properties or characteristics of their own until they receive their endings.

Don’t get me wrong, you’ll rarely see a root by itself twiddling its thumbs. They do in most cases need these endings in a sentence. However, they do have their own properties. There are different classifications of root word. And depending on which classification a root lies in, they act in different ways when different roots or endings are applied to them.

An example in the PMEG is the comparison between “brosi” (to brush) and “kombi” (to comb). Their roots are “bros-” and “komb-“. The “i” shows that they are being used as verb infinitives (as in “I want to comb/brush my hair”).

So what happens when we change them to nouns with our handy noun suffix “o”?

“broso” means “brush”. But “kombo” means… The action of combing!!! As in “My hair needs a combing”. What. The. Hell… Why? We did exactly the same thing, with very similar words!

It’s all because of the roots. “Komb-” is an action-like root. “Bros-” is a thing-like root. When you add the noun ending to a thing root (bros-) it just means the thing. But when you add it to an action root, it means “the action of <root>”. There are other ways to achieve what we want with these roots: knowing that “komb-” is an action root, but that we want the word for “comb” we can use the tool-like suffix “il”, “Kombilo” means “(a) comb”. Conversely, we can use the continual action suffix “ad” on “bros-” if we wanted “the action of brushing”, “brosado”.

This may seem unnecessarily complicated at first, but once the idea is internalised, it makes the process of word-building a lot more foolproof and interpret-able.

There are three main classes with respect to the the characteristics above: action-like, quality-like, and thing-like (like verb, adjective, noun).

Though we could define subcategories. Since within the class of thing-like words, for example, there are tool words, profession words, people words, animal words. All of these will have slightly different interactions (that are usually quite obvious don’t worry).

The point of this post is to create awareness of this fact rather than talk about all possible different interactions of these words (Or I’d be basically translating the PMEG). I’ll give you a few examples of the different roots, and in future posts I’ll talk about interesting things you can do with different roots. For example, it’s not always enough to say “oh this suffix changes the meaning of words to X”. Often one must say “When applied to quality-like roots the meaning is X, with thing-like roots Y…” (Check out this post, which shows how the verb ending interacts with a few different root classes).

Quality-like roots inherently show description, the quality or characteristics of something:

  • blu-: blua = blue
  • saĝ-: saĝa = wise
  • bel-: bela = beautiful

These words naturally lend themselves to the “a” ending of adjectives, describing words.

Action-like roots inherently show action, or state.

  • kur-: kuri = to run
  • rid-: ridi = to laugh
  • kant-: kanti = to sing

The words naturally lend themselves to the “i” ending of verb infinitives (and other verb endings). The “i” shows you the action you expect from the root, and then other affixes will derive meaning from the different interpretations of the action.

Thing-like roots are those that fit into neither of the above, being about either concrete things, or concepts.

  • tabl-: tablo = (a) table
  • hund-: hundo = (a) dog

They lend themselves to the noun ending “o”. They will action differently than the previous categories when participating in word building.