Esperanto/Quick and dirty guide

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This quick guide will teach the basics of Esperanto grammar and vocabulary in two hours. As with any other language, you will need to practice, and this guide, as in its name, is quick and dirty. To really become fluent, extra vocabulary must be learnt. If you can memorize everything here, you will already have a better knowledge of Esperanto than of any language studied for two years at an average high school.

Esperanto is a language designed to be easy to learn and to talk. Esperanto is somewhat different than English, although many words in Esperanto have a similar equivalent in English or other language.

The alphabet[edit]

Uppercase A, B, C, Ĉ, D, E, F, G, Ĝ, H, Ĥ, I, J, Ĵ, K, L, M, N, O, P, R, S, Ŝ, T, U, Ŭ, V, Z
Lowercase a, b, c, ĉ, d, e, f, g, ĝ, h, ĥ, i, j, ĵ, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, ŝ, t, u, ŭ, v, z

If the letters did not display correctly just now, you may wish to download some free Esperanto fonts from here. You saw that the alphabet does not include the letters: "q," "w," "x," or "y." The alphabet also includes the accented letters: "ĉ," "ĝ," "ĥ," "ĵ," "ŝ," "ŭ."

Why the need for extra letters?[edit]

L. L. Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, wanted to have a 1:1 letter-to-sound correspondence, which would give learners the ability to correctly pronounce every new word they see written and to correctly write down every new word they hear, without ambiguity. (In English, spelling is very ambiguous. Only context can tell whether /tu/ should be spelled "two", "to" or "too", for example.) You will find that this lack of ambiguity makes the learning much easier.

Vowels and collation[edit]

As in english, "A," "E," "I," "O," and "U" are vowels and the rest are consonants. The letter "Ŭ" is a consonant, not a vowel. Collation in Esperanto is the same as for English, except that the accented characters are counted as separate characters and collated after their non-accented versions. Collation is as shown in the table above.

Inputting characters[edit]

Since the Esperanto-specific letters can be a hassle to input if you do not want to use their Unicode values, Esperantists have found ways to replace them so that they can be typed using a normal keyboard without special software, or typed on a type-writer. There are several ways of replacing them, the most common one being the "x method", which consists of putting an x after the letter. As an example: "cx" is "ĉ", and so on.

This looks weird at first, but it is unambiguous as Esperanto does not use the letter "x." Some esperantists prefer instead adding a "h," as the inventor of Esperanto did (except for "ŭ," of which he wanted to be written as "u.") The "h method" looks more neutral but is more ambiguous because the letter "h" is already used. In this wikibook, we will be using the unicode letters.

Pronunciation[edit]

A sound makes up communication, and so it is very important to learn to be able to talk. Pronunciation can make the difference between saying "ten" and "is." Consult this page for audio samples, paying particular attention to the vowels and the Esperanto-specific letters.

Letters that sound differently from the English equivalent are pronounced as follows:

  • "a" as in "far"
  • "c" as in "lots"
  • "ĉ" as in "chin"
  • "e" as in "bet"
  • "g" as in "go"
  • "ĝ" as in "gem"
  • "ĥ" as in "loch"
  • "i" as in "machine"
  • "j" as in "yes"
  • "ĵ" as in "pleasure"
  • "o" as in "troll"
  • "r" is a slightly rolled "r"
  • "s" as in "see"
  • "ŝ" as in "shine"
  • "u" as in "rude"
  • "ŭ" like a "w"

Stress[edit]

Esperanto was made to be easy and stress is no exception. Every word in Esperanto follows the next pattern, so the site from above also works well to practice listening for stress.

The stress in Esperanto is always on penultimate (second-to-last) syllable of a word, for example it's "esperanto" (Esperanto), "saluton" (Hello), "radio" (radio), "amiko" (friend), "ami" (to love), "respondo" (response), etc.

Exercises:

Present tense[edit]

Present tense in Esperanto is used to talk about something that happens now or that happens regularly. As with stress in pronunciation, the pattern here has no exception. For present tense, the verb's root ends with the suffix "-as." Knowing this, you can start to introduce yourself:

Saluton! Mi estas Judith kaj mi loĝas en Kanado.

Translation: Hello! I am Judith and I live in Canada.
  • estas is from the verb esti, to be.
  • loĝas is from the verb loĝi, to live or reside.

Infinitive verbs (to live, to breath, etc.) end instead with "-i."

Pronouns[edit]

Understanding that "mi" meant "I" in the sentence above, here are some more pronouns used in Esperanto.

Person Singular Plural
1st mi (I) ni (we)
2nd vi (you)
3rd li (he), ŝi (she), ĝi (it) ili (they)

With these pronouns, you can talk about others as well:

Ŝi estas Sarah kaj li estas Mark. Ili venas el Britio kaj loĝas en Usono. Ili laboras kune.

Translation: She is Sarah and he is Mark. They come from Britain and live in America. They work together.

Nouns[edit]

In any language, nouns are words that designate a person, place, thing, idea, or quality. Some examples of nouns in English are: "house," "friends," "cake," "John," "France," or "gardens." In Esperanto, all nouns end with the suffix "-o." "Domo" (house), "amikoj" (friends), "kuko" (cake), "Johano" (John), "Francio" (France) and "ĝardenoj" (gardens) are the translations of the examples above, and all of them end with "o."

Nouns are made plural by adding "-j" after "o," and when they are direct objects (grammatically) have a "-n" at the end of the word.

Sentences[edit]

Asking and answering questions[edit]

Sometimes you don't have anybody who could tell you who somebody is. Then you need to ask the people yourself. Here's a example question:

Saluton! Kiu vi estas? El kie vi venas? Kie vi loĝas? Kiu ŝi estas?

Translation: Who are you? Where are you from? Where do you live? Who is she?

In Esperanto, the word "do" does not appear, nor does the verb "is" change (am, are, is, …) In the example questions, the question words were either "kie" (where) or "kiu" (who). Now, let's use the question word "ĉu" ("whether") in this example:

Ĉu vi laboras kune? Ĉu vi aŭskultas?

Translation: Do you work together? Are you listening?

Here again, there is no difference between things that happen regularly or that are happening right now. As a whether question must be answered by a "yes" or "no," Esperanto uses "jes" for yes and "ne" for "no." You may also wish to be able to make a full answer sentence like "Mi ne loĝas en Kanado" (I don't live in Canada). This sentence works just like the sentence Mi loĝas en Kanado, which you learned before, except that the tiny word "ne" (not) is put in front of the verb. This is much easier than in English, because "ne" is used no matter whether the word used in the English sentence.

Describing people and things[edit]

In order to describe people, you need more than just verbs (though verbs can get you very far in Esperanto). You need nouns, for instance. Nouns in Esperanto always have the ending -o so that you can recognise them easily. To make vocabulary even easier to learn, you can easily make a noun out of a verb, or vice versa, e. g. "laboro," "amo," or "respondi."

Μark estas usonano. Sarah estas studentino. Tiu estas viro. Li laboras kiel instruisto.

Translation: Mark is an American. Sarah is a (female) student. That is a man. He works as a teacher.

Note that Esperanto does not have an equivalent for "a" or "an", it is just omitted. The word for "the" is "la" - always! It does not change as in Spanish, Italian or French. In order to make good descriptions, you will also need adjectives. Adjectives in Esperanto end in "-a".

  • Ĉu mi estas dika?
    Translation: Am I fat?
  • Ne, vi estas tre bela virino.
    Translation: No, you are a very beautiful woman.

Tiu filmo estas interesa kaj bona."

Translation: That film is interesting and good.

You can add -a to any word in order to convert it to an adjective. For example: "virina" for "female", "fina" meaning "final", from "fino" meaning "end."

This is particularly helpful for personal pronouns (words like I, you, he, she, ...): if you add -a to "mi"(I) for example, you get "mia"(my), which in grammar terms is called the possessive pronoun (= pronoun used to show possession). So all possessive pronouns are incredibly easy to make and memorise in Esperanto: mia (my), via (your), lia (his), ŝia (her), nia (our), via (your), ilia (their).

Mike estas mia frato. Nia patro nomiĝas Frank kaj lia edzino, nia patrino, nomiĝas Helen.

Translation: Mike is my brother. Our father is-called Frank and his wife, our mother, is-called Helen.

More interesting sentences[edit]

Now is the time to introduce more interesting sentences. For example:

Mi amas lin.

Translation: I love him.

Did you notice something strange? Suddenly, the word "li" (he) got an -n at the end. This -n ending marks that "li" is the one who is loved, not I. In English, this is reflected by saying "I love him" rather than "I love he". This change in words allows you to re-arrange words as you like, for example you could say "Lin mi amas" (Him I love) or even "Lin amas mi" in Esperanto without changing the meaning of the sentence. If however you add the -n to the word "mi" (I) instead, the sentence means "He loves me" - also no matter whether the word order is "Li amas min" or "Min amas li" or any way you want to arrange the words. Esperanto word order is incredibly flexible.

In English, there is no rule explaining why "he" becomes "him" but "I" becomes "me" and "we" becomes "us" and so on. Students have to learn each word by heart. In Esperanto, it's much easier: you just add -n to the end of the word. This works not just for pronouns but also nouns and even adjectives! Example: "Mi amas mian amikon." (I love my (boy)friend).

Side note: if you want to make sure that people understand you are more than just friends, you can say "koramiko" instead of "amiko". The added "kor-" is the stem of "koro"(heart).

Linguists refer to words with this -n ending as words "in the Accusative case", because if you say "I accuse him", you also use the Accusative case for "him". The Accusative case has a bad reputation of being hard to learn in German, Russian and other languages where you have several dozens of endings and changes to memorise; quite apart from the fact that these languages also have other cases that require yet more changes. Esperanto however knows only the Accusative case and even that case is dead easy because you only have to add -n to any word. Now, how about if you don't love somebody but hate him? Most languages would now make you learn another verb and maybe some exceptions to go with it, but in Esperanto you just need to know that if you add mal- to any word, it becomes its opposite. Try it out:

Mi malamas lin. Li estas mia malamiko. Li estas malinteresa, malbela, malbona homo.

Translation: I hate him. He is my enemy. He is an uninteresting, ugly, evil person.

The Accusative could also be used to inform people about the languages they could use to talk to you:

Mia denaska lingvo estas la angla. Mi lernas Esperanton. Mi ankaŭ parolas la francan.

Translation: My native language is the English [language]. I learn Esperanto. I also speak the French [language].

Note that "Esperanton" and "francan"(from the adjective "franca" meaning French) acquired the -n ending because they are the objects of the sentences. "angla"(English) did not get this ending because it is used in an equating sentence: the subject, "my native language" is the same as "English", whereas in the following sentence "I" is not the same as "Esperanto" or "French". Since Esperanto is a language without exceptions, you have to apply the -n in questions, too:

Ĉu vi parolas la hispanan? Kiun lingvon vi parolas?

Translation: Do you speak the Spanish [language]? Which language do you speak?

Talking about things you can do[edit]

In Esperanto, Ĉu vi parolas la hispanan? is ambiguous, it could mean Do you speak Spanish? or Are you speaking Spanish?. If you don't want to rely on context to make it clear and you want to know whether the person is able to speak the language of your choice, you have to phrase it Ĉu vi povas paroli la hispanan? (Can you speak Spanish?). The added "povas" means "can, be able to". It requires a slight change though: since the "speak" part is no longer about the present, it has reverted to the infinitive, the basic form of a verb, the one that you will also find in dictionaries. When several verbs work together, only the most important one of them, the highest-level one, may have the -as ending. This is reflected in English as well: compare Li rakontas historion (He is telling a story) to Li povas rakonti historion (He can tell a story). "is telling" is just the form for the present, whereas "tell" is more general. In a dictionary, you'd look for "tell" instead of "telling", too.

So if you want to look up an Esperanto verb or combine it with another verb like "povas", you first have to take off the -as and then add -i instead. Here are more examples using combined verbs:

Mi devas foriri nun.

Translation: I must leave now.

Mi volas scii pli pri vi. Ĉu vi volas iri al la festo kun mi? Ĉu vi rajtas iri?

Translation: I want to know more about you. Do you want to go to the party with me? Are you allowed to go?

This is also immensely helpful when talking about your hobbies. Of course you can make sentences like Mi ŝatas piedpilkon. (I like soccer.), but sentences like Mi ŝatas aŭskulti muzikon, rigardi la televidilon, skribi retpoŝton kaj ludi basketbalon. (I like listening to music, watching television, writing e-mail and playing basketball.) are so much more powerful.

Adjectives and adverbs[edit]

Adjectives are a part of speech used to describe a noun, such as "happy," or "tired." Nouns can also be made into adjectives by replacing "-o" with "-a," as every adjective ends that way, such as "feliĉa" (happy) and "laca" (tired) as written above. Adjectives are also marked with "-j" and if a noun is plural, the adjective must be as well. An example is "malfeliĉaj homoj," meaning "unhappy people," where the prefix "-mal" negates the adjective, so it means the opposite.

Adverbs, a part of speech to describe verbs and adjectives, are formed like adjectives but instead of ending with a "-a," ends with "-e."

Numbers[edit]

Digit Esperanto
0 nul
1 unu
2 du
3 tri
4 kvar
5 kvin
6 ses
7 sep
8 ok
9 naŭ

Numbers work the same way as in english, but use prefixes. The number ten (10) is "dek" and can be combined with other numbers such as "dek unu" as eleven (11). To increase the tens place, add the digit before "dek," so "dudek" is twenty (20), and so on. Here is an example of the use of numbers in a Esperanto sentence:

Mi havas du krajonojn.

Translation: I have two pencils.

Three place values above the tens place are "cent" for hundreds, "mil" for thousands, and "miliono" for millions. By knowing the names of numbers, you can form cardinal numbers by adding "-a" to the end of the word, so "unu" (one) becomes "unua" (first).