Trying to Understand Esperanto Grammar at Conversation Speed

I’ve started taking notes about things that I don’t understand in Esperanto. Last night, I was reading from a book called Fremdvortoj en Esperanto and came across a strange sentence that is a good example of my current hurdle in Esperanto. I’m trying to figure out how I can speed up this aspect of learning the language. Here is the sentence:

Necesas nur montri la danĝeran influon de la neraciaj, anarkie kreiĝintaj malnovaj lingvoj.

In the sentence above, it looks like an adjective (kreiĝintaj) has a tense, and that an adverb (anarkie) modifies the adjective. It is difficult for me to process the sentence structure without thinking about it for a while. I don’t understand the logic enough to create a sentence like that.

Quick Esperanto Background

If you aren’t familiar with Esperanto, you still might be able to understand the sentence with just these few grammar rules:

  • all nouns end with -o
  • all verb infinitives end with -i
  • all adverbs end with -e
  • all adjectives end with -a
  • to make a plural, add -j to the noun and adjective
  • the direct object and its adjectives get an -n suffix

Verb conjugations are very simple:

  • past tense: -is
  • present tense: -as
  • future tense: -os

To express continuous action, you can also use these suffixes with any type of word:

  • past tense: -int-
  • present tense: -ant-
  • future tense: -ont-

So if komenc- is the root for “begin”, then a beginner is komenc-ant-o — someone (-o) who is in the process (-ant-) of beginning (komenc-).

Verbs are either transitive or intransitive and you can switch them around.

  • causes action to something else: -ig-
  • acts on itself or becomes: -iĝ-

So if the root word for “create” is kre-, and the verb krei is transitive, then:

He created a picture. [“created” is transitive — krei]
Li kreis bildon.

A picture was created. [“created” is intransitive — kreiĝi]
Bildo kreiĝis.

This suffix, -iĝ-, appears in the word, kreiĝintaj.

There are more examples of how in/transitive verbs work in Esperanto here.

Analyzing the Sentence

Here is a breakdown of the sentence that shows where I am confused:

  • Necesas nur montri — [it is] necessary only to show
  • la danĝeran influon — the dangerous influence
  • de la — of the
  • neraciaj — irrational (adjective)
  • anarkie — anarch-ly? (this is an adverb, but it seems to modify the adjective, kreiĝintaj and not the verb, montri)
  • kreiĝintaj — kre-iĝ-int-a-j (“became created”)
  • malnovaj lingvoj — old languages

I think that I understand the meaning of the sentence, but I don’t understand the grammar enough to create a sentence with that structure. Why isn’t anarkie written as an adjective? Why is “created” written kreiĝintaj and not kreiĝa or even kreiĝantaj? I understand it a bit, but am missing something when it comes to forming sentences in this style.

For the moment, I will keep immersing myself in written and spoken Esperanto until it sinks in or I figure out a quicker way to understand it. 🙂

I’m spending about two hours per day on Esperanto at the moment: podcasts, reading, and Anki flashcards. I’ll continue to post updates about it here in the blog.

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    6 comments

    • The sentence structure is weird for an English speaker. This style of grammar here looks like it is heavily influenced by slavic languages such as Polish, the native language of the creator of Esperanto. In those languages, this sort of sentence structure is much more normal.

      “Anarkie kreigxintaj malnovaj lingvoj” is literally something like “Anarchicly created old languages”, but a much more natural English translation would be something like “Old languages that were created in an anarchic way”.

      For learning grammar points in Anki I usually aim to pick a short sentence fragment that illustrates the point – here I would create a card with “Translate: Languages that were created in an anarchic way” as the question and “Anarkie kreigxintaj lingvoj” as the answer. And look for other short sentence fragments that illustrate the point, to get used to the grammar with lots of repetition.

    • Great idea for internalizing the grammar… 🙂

      I might also ask in the Lernu forums if there is a specific rule about it. I’ve been looking through my Intro to Esperanto book, but haven’t found an answer yet.

      I wish I knew something about Slavic languages. Maybe I should learn some basics.

      I wonder if Slovak would be a good one to look at:

      Slovak is known as the “Esperanto” of Slavic languages, because it is regarded as the most comprehensible language for the speakers of other Slavic languages.

    • I just happened upon this site and had a couple comments. It’s a bit after the fact (nearly a month late), but I thought I’d add what I could.
      I think the problem you are having with this sentence is two-fold.
      1.) As I understand it, Esperanto grammar has much flexibility and freedom, allowing one to create words. By using Esperanto this way, you are able to build or make a word from those words you do know. The complication arises, as in this case, when you use participles.
      The word you identified was: kreiĝintaj — kre-iĝ-int-a-j (“became created”).
      You have, in my opinion, correctly separated the component parts that make up the word, kreiĝintaj, but then I think you make a critical mistake that has caused your confusion.
      When you identify anarkie, you say: “this is an adverb, but it seems to modify the adjective, kreiĝintaj and not the verb, montri”
      Therein lies the confusion. kreiĝintaj, as you have shown above, is not an adjective proper. This word is a participle. As you can see from your dissection, -int is an active participle that is past referring, which you seem to understand in your above translation “became created,” (which, in my opinion, seems strange because the idea of creation has intrinsically the idea of coming into existence, which would nullify the need for the iĝ, making this word seem strange to me in that respect. But I’m no expert). In Esperanto, participles, as I’m sure you already know, can have two main uses: 1. Adjectival, and 2. Substantival, depending on the ending affixed, -a or –o (or possibly in an adverbial sense –e, and they can be used in compound constructions with esti). So, the participle is much more than a form that “expresses continuous action.”
      I think the confusion arises because your word is not an adjective but a participle. As a participle, this word is a verbal and, therefore, must be modified with and adverb (anarkie) (because, of course, adverbs modify verbs and adjectives modify nouns). I think that’s the reason for anarkie rather than anarkia.
      This brings me to my next point…
      2.) Participles are actually relatively uncommon in Esperanto. I think this is so because they are confusing and complicated. The beauty of Esperanto is that it is a simple language that does not, or at least should not, need complicated participial forms often. It is my understanding that participles are more common in literature than in verbal communication (hence your encounter with it in a book). The only time participles need to be used in the spoken language is for high precision and specificity. Most of the time, the present tense is used to communicate current action as well as habitual action and general action. Spanish is similar in this respect. In English, we would say “I’m going to the store,” which incorporates a participial form to communicate current action. In Spanish, you would say, “Voy a la tienda” and in Esperanto it would be: “Mi iras al la vendejo.” “iras” is present tense to communicate ongoing action, as in Spanish’s “voy” (I go/ am going). You could be more precise in Spanish and say “Estoy yendo,” which is closer to the English periphrastic form.
      Well, that’s my two cents. Sorry for the long response, but I thought that I might be able to help with the confusion.
      I’m not 100% sure I am correct, but this is what makes sense to me.
      Also, my translation would be something like:
      Necesas nur montri la danĝeran influon de la neraciaj, anarkie kreiĝintaj malnovaj lingvoj.
      “It is only necessary to show the dangerous influence of the irrational, anarchically created old languages”
      OR I think the translation of the commenter above was a good translation as well (probably even better).

    • Thanks for the helpful explanation. I’ve been listening to Esperanto podcasts, and noticed that this doesn’t seem to come up in spoken language very often.

      As soon as I can get a copy of an interesting book like La Hobito I’ll try to read my way through it, and maybe it will become more clear. I understand the meaning when I read it, but I just wouldn’t know exactly how to use it if I were to try to create the same sentence. If I heard in a conversation, I don’t think I would understand it without stopping to think, which means I would miss the next sentence(s). 🙂

    • basion salman

      i love esperanto language,,cause it’s so easy

    • According to my dictionary–and my knowledge of Esperanto–adverbs quite legitimately modify adjectives.

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