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.

Continue to endure!

Possibly confusing words today! Following on from the theme of the last post; check it out if you don’t know what I mean by transitivity.

The word “daŭri” is often translated as “continue”, but this can be misleading. Your first defence is to think of it as “to endure/last”.

  • Li ne daŭros = He will not last/endure/continue

This is an intransitive use of the verb; there is no object. The action “lasting” is what the subject “he” is doing, it’s not doing anything to an object.

However, in English we use “continue” in the following way too:

  • He continued his speech

Notice here, that there’s an object! See how the object – the speech – is being continued, rather than the subject “he” as in “he will continue/endure”. This is a different meaning!

This is where the “ig” suffix comes in handy again! The easiest way to make a verb transitive (so it acts on an object) is to give it this suffix. Then a subject can cause an object to do something.

So “daŭrigi” means “to cause to continue/ to continue <something>”:

  • Li daŭrigis sian rakonton = he continued his story

Notice how it must have an object. He must be causing something to continue. So what happens if you don’t say anything after “daŭrigi”? An object is implied!

  • Li daŭrigis = He continued

This does not imply that he endured or lasted! Instead it implies he continued something, caused something to continue.

Conversely, if you see “daŭri” before words that are receiving the accusative “n” (so ordinarily they should be objects), despite the fact that daŭri is intransitive and so shouldn’t take a direct object, then this is something else…

In future posts, I will explain the different uses of the accusative “n”, just note that you may see such constructions as:

  • Mi daŭros du monatojn = I will last/endure [for] two months.

Notice how the amount of time is in the accusative. The amount of time isn’t an object of the verb, nothing is being done to the time, the accusative here is just showing a relation between the action and the duration of it. No doubt there’ll be more about this in future!

The 7 and a guest

Following from the last post, and the comment of curiosity, here’s a little post to share what I’ve seen of verbs that can be both transitive and intransitive. First I’ll number the words, then I’ll talk a little about the corresponding numbers!

(Alphabetical order)

  1. Afekti = To pretend to have / put on airs / feign / strike poses / attitudinise
  2. Bati = To beat
  3. Blovi = To blow
  4. Cedi = To give up / cede / relinquish / give away
  5. Fumi = To smoke
  6. Ludi = To play
  7. Pasi = To pass

1. Using “afekti” one can “feign an interest” (afekti intereson). Here the verb is taking an object, or one can simply “afekti” or “put on airs, strike poses”, be altogether fake. Here there is no object. Notice in both cases that the subject will always be the one feigning or pretending, but sometimes that isn’t enough information and sometimes the person is feigning a particular thing (like interest or friendship).

This shows that it makes sense to be both intransitive and transitive unlike the “boil” (boli) example in the previous post. Where in English when we use “boil” with an object, the object is being boiled (the subject is making it do so), and without an object, the subject itself is boiling. This complete and utter change of meaning doesn’t fly in Esperanto, and we must choose between “boli” or “boligi” instead.

2. One may beat something, or something may be beating (like your pulse). In the first example the “something” is an object (therefore transitive) and in the later there is no object (intransitive): your heart doesn’t beat on anything, it is just beating according to its own schedule. Again, the meaning is the same, in both cases the subject is doing the beating, so there shouldn’t be a separate word.

3. You can blow a sore finger or hot soup (transitive), or the wind can just be blowing (intransitive).

4. You could give up chocolate (transitive) “oni povas cedi ĉokoladon”, or a faulty bridge could just give way (intransitive).

5. A chimney can smoke (no object, therefore intransitive), or one can smoke a cigarette (transitive). Again the meaning doesn’t change, although the cigarette is on fire it is the person who is smoking. Therefore, in both cases, the subject of the verb is smoking. So the meaning doesn’t change, so it shouldn’t be two separate words.

6. One can play a role in a film (oni povas ludi rolon), or play an instrument/game (oni povas ludi violonon/ludon): all transitive uses. Alternately, a child (or fun loving adult!) could simply play! (oni povas ludi). No object! Intransitive.

7. One can pass something by (ni pasis la melon), or something can just pass by (like time): jaroj pasis.

Sometimes it might look like a normally transitive verb is without an object, but usually the object is implied or replaced by a sub-phrase acting as an object. And conversely, sometimes it looks like an intransitive verb has an object, but there are more reasons why something might receive the accusative “n”!

Also I think it might be debatable whether “fajfi” (to whistle) is also both intransitive and transitive or not. Or even one or the other…

E.g. a kettle could whistle (intransitive) or I could whistle a tune (transitive)!

You can find the first seven in “Being Colloquial in Esperanto” along with more examples!

Interesting thoughts

I thought I’d share with everyone, someone’s interesting advice about learning Esperanto. I can’t remember where I got the advice, so it could be from the forums, or one of the books I’ve been reading. At the time I read it, I thought it was pretty interesting, but only as I continue to bear it in mind does it become more and more helpful.

It’s easy to fall into a trap when learning a new language (at least for me it is!), whereby as you learn, you map each new word to a particular word in your native language. Often this can work out okay, like memorising “kato = cat”, but often it doesn’t. Sometimes one word in English will have far more different uses than is sensible with the “equivalent” word in Esperanto, and vice versa.

Coming from English (and certainly other languages) to Esperanto, one of the biggest problems where this style of learning gets you into bother is with verb transitivity. The idea that some verbs describe actions that happen between a subject and object(s), and others describe things that happen to the subject, unrelated to anything else.

  • “She ran”. In this phrase, “she” is the subject and running is the action. “To run” is intransitive here: it is an action that the subject performs, it is not performed on/to an object.
  • “She hit him”. In this phrase, “she” is the subject, and is performing a hitting action on the object “him”. “Hit” is therefore transitive.

But English is a spaghetti mess of a language, and as such, tonnes of its verbs can have entirely different meanings depending on whether or not you give them an object; you can just arbitrarily use the same word as intransitive or transitive.

  • “The water boiled”. Intransitive! The subject is water, and it is hot and bubbling, the boiling is happening to the subject.
  • “She boiled the water”. Transitive! So… what?! If we were to take “boil” to mean the same thing as the first phrase, then “she” (the subject) would be boiling, and how is “the water” then to be interpreted? But that’s not the case, “boil” now means “to cause to boil”!

A problem arises because Esperanto isn’t a mess, it’s really quite neat.

I’ve only come across 7 verbs in Esperanto that can be both transitive and intransitive, and in these cases it made sense to do so, the meaning didn’t shift like in “boil”, the subject was always performing the same action, but it just happened to be possible to do it with or without a recipient of the action (You’ll have to make noises like you’re interested if you want to know which ones, and get me to justify my view here! :D).

So let’s take “boli” = “to boil”

  • La akvo bolis = The water boiled.

Here, the water is bubbling and boiling itself. It didn’t cause anything to boil; the verb “boli” is intransitive, it cannot take an object!

  • *Ŝi bolis la akvon* makes as little sense as the English interpretation above where “she” is bubbling and boiling, and we don’t know what the water is doing. In Esperanto “boli” can only be used about the thing that is bubbling.

In order to get the other meaning we must change the word. Verbs in Esperanto can be made transitive by adding “ig” to the end. It’s like saying “to cause to <root>”, so “boligi” = “to cause to boil”:

  • Mi boligis la akvon = I boiled the water / I caused the water to boil.

So, the problem we often have is remembering what’s intransitive and what’s transitive, so we know how to use a word, for which there is perhaps just a single word in English.

So here comes the simple advice. Do not learn words by their English equivalents, learn them by picturing the concepts, imagining the actions, then you’ll never mistake them.

Which makes complete sense. If you imagine the scene of bubbling and boiling of the subject for “boli”, you’ll never mistakenly put “ŝi” in front of it unless she herself is actually bubbling and boiling! So I’ve been trying not to translate sentences or words, but capture their meaning and what thoughts and feelings they evoke. It certainly feels like it’s allowing me to progress faster!

Word Building

Esperanto is a wonderful language for building words. So many neat little ways of making words, words that can represent concepts that often require a much longer explanation in another language.

I’ve decided to start recording interesting words that sprout from my thoughts. They are all obviously going to be of utmost importance when communicating with other Esperantists!

I thought I’d share with you the first one I’ve come up with. Hmm… Perhaps I will keep record of them on here from time to time! Yes… They shall have their own category “Constructed Esperanto Words” so that they can be filtered out.

Without further delay… Mortigodoro! It means “A smell that causes one to die” or simply: a killing odour.

Here’s your explanation:

The verb “morti” means “to die”. There is a special suffix “-ig” that one can apply, which loosely translates to “cause <root>”. “Mortigi” means “to cause to die” (i.e. “to kill”). The adjective (mortiga) of which would loosely mean “killer” as in “killer ants”

The word “odoro” means “odour/smell”, slap them together and you get mortigodoro! I would appreciate any feedback if I have got the construction process of any words incorrect.