Lesson 1: The Web Esperanto Course

Shortest Sentences

The easiest and shortest sentences in Esperanto are those that consist of only one word. Usually these have to do with the weather; they always describe some impersonal condition. Examples:
   Pluvas.  = It's raining.
   Hajlas.  = It's hailing.
   Negxas.  = It's snowing.
   Bruas.   = It's noisy.
   Tondras. = It's thundering.
   Fulmas.  = There's lightning.
   Ventas.  = The wind is blowing.
   Brilas.  = It's bright.
   Frostas. = It's freezing cold.
   Falas.   = It's falling.
The ending -AS always shows that something is happening right now. Technically, this is called the present tense of the verb.

Roots and Words

English is based around words. Most Esperanto words are based around on an even shorter unit, the root.

Roots are basic units of meaning in Esperanto. The meanings contained in roots can refer to objects, actions, or attributes. Grammarians often call these nouns, verbs, and adjectives; but these words really refer to the role that a word plays in a sentence, not to the basic meaning in the root. Obviously, an action root can be used as a noun when you need a word to name the action rather than simply showing it; an attribute can be a noun when you want to name it; and so forth. In Esperanto, we show the use of a word in a sentence with a grammatical ending. By changing the endings we change the word's use without changing the root's inherent meaning.

In the examples above, for instance, when we say "Pluvas!" we are describing a process that is making us get wet. What is that stuff that makes us wet? Well, we could say akvo (water), but, more specifically, when it falls from the sky it is called pluvo. See the difference between "pluvas" (what is happening) and "pluvo" (the name of what is happening)? Names (nouns) in Esperanto always end in -O, just like things going on right now always end in -AS.

What do you think is the word for hail? What about ? Noise? Thunder? Lightning? Wind? Brightness? Icy cold? A fall? (Not the season, the name of the occurrence!)

What about when things do something?

The second shortest type of sentence is the one that shows something doing something, or something happening to something. The name of the thing doing something or having something happen to it is the subject. What it's doing, or what's happening to it, is called the verb. Since the first part is the name, it always has the same ending ... which is what? Since the second part is what's happening right now, it, too, always has the same ending ... which is what?

These are two word sentences -- noun plus verb. Here are some examples:

   Pluvo falas.  = Rain is falling.
   Negxo falas.  = Snow is falling.
   Vento blovas. = Wind is blowing.
   Fulmo brilas. = Lightning is shining.
   Tondro bruas. = Thunder is being noisy.

How would you say

   "Hail is falling"?

Word order

In English, words don't (usually) have endings to tell you how they're being used in a sentence. We need a different way to figure this out. The rule in English is that the subject always comes before the verb -- that's how you tell which is which. In Esperanto, words have endings to tell you how they're being used in the sentence. What this means is that, in many cases, you don't need to put them in a specific order -- and, indeed, when it comes to subjects and their verbs, Esperanto, unlike English, has no such rule. The last group of sentences can just as easily be spoken:
Falas pluvo.
Falas negxo.
Blovas vento.
Brilas fulmo.
Bruas tondro.
What's a second way to say "Hail is falling"?

Names for people around you

You might find it useful, at this point, to find the names used for those people around you. Here's a short list, which it would be wise to memorize.
viro  = man
edzo  = husband
patro = father
filo  = son
knabo = boy
avo   = grandfather
nepo  = grandson
nevo  = nephew
kuzo  = cousin
onklo = uncle

Again, since these are names of things (nouns), they all end in -O.


In English, we have something called "articles". We have an indefinite article "a" ("an" before a word starting with a vowel) and a definite article "the". We won't go into the question of the indefinite article, because Esperanto doesn't have one -- where we would say "a boy" in English, in Esperanto we simply say "knabo". How would you say "a man"? "A husband"? "A father"? "A son"? "A grandfather"? "A grandson"? "A nephew"? "A cousin"? "An uncle"? On the other hand, Esperanto does have (more or less) an equivalent to "the". This is the word LA. ĂLike the English word, it is always the same -- it takes no endings. Since it doesn't have an ending, it does need to go in a specific location; it always comes before the noun it defines. For instance, "the boy" is "la knabo". How would you say "the man"? "The husband"? "The father"? "The son"? "The grandfather"? "The grandson"? "The nephew"? "The cousin"? "The uncle"? How about "the thunder"? "The lightning"? "The snow"?


Our second simplest sentences consisted of a subject doing something, or having something happen to it. But when a subject does something, it often does it to something else. This something else -- the object of the subject's action -- is, of course, called the object. In English, we show the subject by putting it before the verb and the object by putting it after the verb. In Esperanto we show the object by attaching an -N to its ending. Since the object is a thing, the basic ending is, of course, -O; so the whole ending is -ON. Examples:
La viro vidas fulmon.      = The man sees lightning.
La knabo auxdas tondron.   = The boy hears thunder.
La patro sentas la venton. = The man feels the wind.
How would you say: The cousin hears noise. The uncle sees snow. The grandfather feels rain.

Rotating sentences

If you remember, in Esperanto we can (and do) interchange the order of verb and subject, since they're distinguished not by their positions but by their endings. Since the object is also distinguished from the subject and the verb by its ending, we are free to move all three of these items around and put them in any order whatever. For instance, the following all mean "The man sees lightning":
La viro vidas fulmon.
La viro fulmon vidas.
Fulmon la viro vidas.
Fulmon vidas la viro.
Vidas la viro fulmon.
Vidas fulmon la viro.
Speakers of different native languages may tend to choose different word orders. For instance, an English speaker or a Chinese speaker might find the first sentence most natural; a Latin speaker or a Japanese speaker might find the second more natural; and a Welsh speaker or a Gaelic speaker might find the fifth more natural. How would you say, in an order different from the way you said them above, and different from each other: The cousin hears noise. The uncle sees snow. The grandfather feels rain.

Relating two things

Sometimes we want to more closely define an action or a thing as they relate to something else. For example, I might want to go beyond "I saw the book" and specify which book I'm talking about in terms of its relation to something else -- "I saw the book on the table", "I saw the book beside the wall", "I saw John's book", "I saw the book under the salami sandwich". As you can see, in English we (mostly) use prepositions to show such relationships. In Esperanto, too, we (always) use prepositions to show such relationships. One such preposition is DE. Examples:
La viro vidas la brilon de fulmo.    = The man sees the shining of lightning.
La knabo auxdas la bruon de tondro.  = The boy hears the noise of thunder.
La patro sentas la froston de vento. = The father feels the icy cold of wind.
The PRE- in "preposition" is a Latin term meaning "before". This is one case in Esperanto where word order is important; the preposition always comes before the word which is known as the "object" of the preposition -- in the above examples, fulmo, tondro and vento respectively. Also, since prepositional phrases can play several different roles, it is best to put them directly after the word to which they relate. How would you say: The cousin hears the noise of the wind. The grandfather feels the fall of the rain.

Enter the ladies

You may have noticed that all the words relating to people I gave above describe men (with the possible exception of cousin). Zamenhof, in his eternally vigilant struggle to keep the necessary root vocabulary as small as possible, decided to use basic roots for men and to form their feminine counterparts by adding a suffix, -IN-. His idea was that this would cut the number of separate forms to be learned in half. Esperanto's vocabulary depends to a very great extent on a process called agglutination, by which words are built up from roots and affixes. For instance, many words consist of a root with a suffix and a grammatical ending. In such words, the suffix comes immediately before the grammatical ending, as follows:
 viro = man                  virino = woman
knabo = boy                 knabino = girl
  avo = grandfather           avino = mother
How would you say: aunt (woman) cousin wife The word for "Mr." or "gentleman" is "sinjoro". How would you say "Mrs."? The word for "bachelor" is "frauxlo". How would you say "MIss"? The word for "widower" is "vidvo". How would you say "widow"? The word for "concubine" is "konkubino". How would you say "male concubine"? How would you say: The woman sees the brightness of the lightning. The girl hears the noise of the thunder. The mother feels the icy cold of the wind.


Sometimes it is nice to combine two different things into a single unit. We do this in English with the word AND. The Esperanto equivalent is the word "kaj". Examples:
La viro kaj la virino vidas la fulmon. 
            = The man and the woman see the lightning.
La knabo kaj la knabino auxdas la tondron. 
            = The boy and the girl hear the thunder.
La patrino kaj la patro sentas la froston. 
            = The mother and the father feel the icy cold.
How would you say: The widow and the bachelor feel the rain. The gentle-lady and the male concubine see the snow. You've now reached the end of lesson 1.
Send questions and suggestions to
DonHarlow <donh1@netcom.com>
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