Esperanto: A Complete and Comprehensive Grammar/Nouns

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Nouns[edit]

In Esperanto, all singular nouns end in "o," regardless of gender, and all plural nouns end in "oj." Nouns are turned feminine by the insertion of "in" between the word root and the "o" or "oj" suffix. For example:

  • Hundo (dog)
  • Hundoj (dogs)
  • Hundino (she-dog)
  • Hundinoj (she-dogs)

Proper names, including exonyms[edit]

Just as in English and other languages, names of persons and specific places in Esperanto are capitalized regardless of where they occur in the sentence. (Names of months and days of the week are only capitalized if they begin a sentence.)

To fully assimilate an exonym into Esperanto, an "o" is added at the end and the writing is made to conform to the standards of Esperanto: for example, "Novjorko" refers to New York.

Pronouns[edit]

Riismo[edit]

Some Esperanto enthusiasts feel Esperanto is somewhat sexist in its use of nouns and pronouns, and have proposed a reform called Riismo.

According to the Prezento de Riismo, in Riism:

  • The pronoun ri replaces the pronouns li and ŝi. One does not use the pronouns li or ŝi.
  • The suffix -iĉ- is used symmetrically with the suffix -in-. These are used in order to emphasize the sex of a noun, or to specify it when necessary.
  • All nouns without the suffixes -iĉ- or -in- are epicene (have no gender). However, if there is danger of confusion, one may specifically indicate the lack of gender with the prefix ge-.
For example, a dentisto can be a dentistiĉo (masculine) or a dentistino (feminine); a (ge)patro (parent) is either a patriĉo (father) or a patrino (mother).

Use of the pronoun ri parallels usage in many natural languages, such as Finnish, Swahili and Chinese, in which the third-person pronouns have no distinction between feminine and masculine. Esperanto has a gender-neutral (or epicene) third-person pronoun, ĝi, but this has been dispreferred because it translates English it, and is often thought to be inanimate.

The masculine suffix -iĉ- has been independently invented many times, by symmetrically leveling out the three gendered suffixes to four: -nj- (affectionate feminine), -ĉj- (affectionate masculine), -in- (feminine), therefore -iĉ- (masculine).

The suffix and radical changes of riism do not increase the number of basic forms of the language. Both riist and non-riist (standard) Esperanto have three relevant forms: one morphologically unmarked and two marked. The difference lies in the assignment of gender:

  • Standard: The unmarked form of the 20 or so gendered nouns is masculine, and the two marked forms are the feminine and the inclusive/epicene. E.g. patro (father) versus patrino (mother) and gepatroj (parents [of both sexes]), the latter extended by some speakers to an epicene singular gepatro (parent).
  • Riist: The unmarked form is epicene, and the two marked forms are the feminine and the masculine. E.g. patro, (parent), versus patrino (mother) and patriĉo (father).

Riism does not eliminate the prefix ge-. In order for a riist and a speaker of standard Esperanto to communicate without confusion, the riist can add the prefix ge-, when in standard Esperanto usage the noun would be masculine.

However, for all but a couple dozen words, the standard Esperanto word is epicene, and ge- is not required. For example, dentisto is a dentist of unspecified sex in both riist and in modern standard Esperanto. The main words where the prefix ge- can be useful are:

Some critics of Riism consider the elimination of li and ŝi to be a major fault. They contend that the gendered pronouns are useful for the very same reasons of emphasis and precision that the suffixes -iĉ- and -in- are; and that while Riism eliminates a sexual inconsistency for nouns, its requirement that li and ŝi be wholly eliminated (as opposed to being relegated to those uses where sex is specifically implied) introduces an inconsistency in gender between nouns and pronouns. (Ido has solved this problem by using four gendered pronouns: masculine, feminine, epicene, and inanimate.)

Indeed, several languages with epicene pronouns have introduced gender distinctions in order to more easily translate from gendered European languages, supporting the argument that the he-she distinction is worth maintaining. For instance, Japanese has two nouns, kare and kanojo, that can be used as masculine and feminine third-person singular pronouns, and Chinese has introduced a graphic distinction for the feminine when writing the epicene pronoun , with the old grapheme now assumed to be masculine.

The pronoun ri would also cause problems with comprehension, a common flaw with proposals made on paper but not used much in actual conversation. Many verbs begin with ri-, to avoid confusion with verbs having the prefix re-. Since personal pronouns are most commonly used immediately before a verb, the pronoun ri would cause similar ambiguity: ri gardas (s/he keeps) vs. rigardas (looks), ri petas (s/he asks) vs. ripetas (repeats), etc. Critics making this objection often propose that the epicene pronoun should be gi, by analogy with the prefix ge-.

Other critics argue that the alleged lack of an epicene pronoun is spurious, because Zamenhof himself specified that ĝi should be used when the sex of an individual is unknown, and that the idea that ĝi cannot be used for people is due to interference from English. In Zamenhof's day it was customary to specify gender whenever it was known, and indeed in many European languages this is grammatically required. A shift from li and ŝi to ĝi could be argued to be a stylistic change similar to the ongoing shift from copula-plus-adjective to verb (such as bluas for estas blua), and that nothing so radical as the creation of a new pronoun is required.

A similar semantic change has taken place with gender of Esperanto nouns. In the early days of the language, members of a profession were assumed to be masculine unless specified otherwise with -in-, reflecting the expectations of most industrial societies. That is, dentisto was a male dentist, and instruisto was a male teacher. These became gender neutral in the mid-to-late 20th century in Esperanto, just as actor and author did in English, because of social transformation. The list above shows the gendered nouns that are left today; they remain masculine only because, officially at least, Esperanto has no other way of indicating masculine gender.

Meanwhile, many Esperantists use the work-around of the demonstrative pronoun tiu (this/that) as an epicene personal pronoun, but only when li or ŝi would be inappropriate.