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Part I: Esperanto Grammar

Chapter 4 (Part 1): Nouns

The ending -o makes a stem into a noun. The ending -a makes a stem into an adjective. The ending -e makes a stem into an adverb:

Nouns Adjectives Adverbs
energio = energy energia = energetic energie = energetically
diskreto = discretion diskreta = discreet diskrete = with discretion
vespero = evening vespera = evening vespere = in the evening
hejmo = home hejma = domestic hejme = at home
nokto = night nokta = nocturnal nokte = at night
tagmezo = noon tagmeza = midday tagmeze = at noon
posttagmezo = afternoon posttagmeza = afternoon posttagmeze = in the afternoon
fanatiko = fanaticism fanatika = fanatical fanatike = fanatically
kunulo = companion kunula = companionable kunule = companionably

4.1. Nouns & Pronouns

A noun is, in general, the word used to name a person, animal, place, thing, idea, or abstraction. Words like “house,” “Gerald,” “militarism,” “Connecticut,” and “hypochondria” are nouns. A pronoun is used in a sentence to take the place of a noun. Words like “she,” “it,” and “myself” are pronouns.

4.1.1. The Plural of Nouns

Esperanto nouns (and their associated adjectives) form plurals by adding -j, producing a pleasant-sounding diphthong modeled on Greek.

bienisto = farmer bienistoj = farmers
elefanto = elephant elefantoj = elephants
koloro = color koloroj = colors
trogo = manger, trough trogoj = mangers, troughs
granda hundo = big dog grandaj hundoj = big dogs

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4.1.2. Compound Nouns

The meaning of a noun may be amplified with a prepositional phrase, nearly always following the noun:

minejo de oro = gold mine
forko por fojno = fork for hay
leviĝo de la suno = rising of the sun

Such structures can be converted to compound words by attaching the object of the preposition (with or without its final -o) as a prefix to the noun and omitting the preposition. The -o is usually omitted unless its presence eases pronunciation (in the opinion of the speaker).

or(o)minejo = gold mine
fojn(o)forko = hay fork
sun(o)leviĝo = sunrise

More examples:

sofolito = sofa bed
monsumo = sum of money
skribotablo = writing table
radiodissendo = radio broadcast
Esperanto-klubo = Esperanto club
dormsako = sleeping bag
vinglaso = wineglass

This is possible only if context still makes the meaning clear.

skatolo da oro = boxful of gold
skatolo por oro = box for gold
skatolo el oro = box made of gold
orskatolo = box for gold or box made of gold

Note that the result is not necessarily the same as that of an adjective-noun compound:

ora skatolo = golden box
ora minejo = golden mine
suna leviĝo = sunny rise

As long as the meaning remains clear, the compound can of course become an adjective (ending in a) or adverb (ending in e), just as any other stem can:

ormineja enirejo = gold mine entrance
fojnoforkaj prezoj = prices of hay forks
sunleviĝa beleco = sunrise beauty

Just as the linking -o- is optional, a hyphen may optionally be placed between the joined elements:

sun(o)-leviĝa belo = sunrise beauty

Since the word esperanta means “hoping,” the language name Esperanto tends to be compounded this way in preference to using the adjective Esperanta, although Esperanta does occur as well.

Universala Esperanto-Asocio = Universal Esperanto Association
Esperanto-kurso = Esperanto course
Esperanto-Kursaro de Sanfrancisko = Esperanto Workshop of San Francisco

When two noun roots are linked, the linking vowel, if it is included, is -o-, but sometimes elements are linked that are not both nouns. Usually nothing special needs to be done to show the precise relationship between them because it is obvious:

de diversaj koloroj = of various colors diverskolora = multicolored
kiu donas profiton = which gives a profit profitdona = profitable
de alta nivelo = of a high level altnivela = high-level
nenion fari = to do nothing nenifarulo = a do-nothing

Occasionally the two elements have an original grammatical relationship between them that requires a different ending on the first element:

unua rango = first rate unuaranga = first-rate
bele kantinta = having sung well belekantinto = person who sang well
lasta tempo = recent time lastatempe = recently
parolantaj angle = speaking English angleparolantoj = English speakers
nenion fari = do nothing nenionfarulo = a do-nothing

(Notice that “a do-nothing” is in this list as nenionfarulo and in the previous list as nenifarulo. Both were suggested by readers of earlier drafts of this book. And both are colloquial. Although the guiding logic must be observed, it is often the case that there is more than one “correct” form. Some stylists regard the shortest correct form as slightly preferable.)

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4.1.3. Word Order With Nouns

Note that a structure is possible in English but not in Esperanto: the piling up of a series of nouns each of which modifies one or more of the ones that follow: “Orange County gun control activist hater” is meaningful in English, but consists entirely of nouns. The relationships among the elements are shown entirely by word order. In Esperanto it is also essential to show the relationships, but differently, since no free-standing noun ever modifies the noun that follows it.

Rio Grande Valley Esperanto League
Wrong: Rio Grande Valo Esperanto Ligo
Right: Esperanto-Ligo de la Valo “Rio Grande”
San Francisco State University:
Wrong: San Francisco Ŝtata Universitato
Right: Ŝtata Universitato de San Francisco (or Sanfrancisko)
Right: Sanfranciska Ŝtata Universitato
Orange County gun control activist hater
Wrong: Oranĝo kantono pafilo limigo aktivulo malamanto
Right: Oranĝkantona malamanto de aktivuloj pri limigo de pafiloj
Right: Oranĝkantona malamanto de aktivuloj por limigo de pafiloj
“Right” but silly: Oranĝ-kanton-pafil-limig-aktivul-malamanto

(The last, "silly" line is the same as the "wrong" one, but it is technically possible because it is a single noun; the first was a string of nouns, each with its own final -o.)

It is usual for proper names used as titles of things to follow the nouns they refer to. The article la is usually used when the named item is unique. Some writers put quotation marks around the proper name, especially if it does not follow standard Esperanto spelling:

knabino de la kantono “Cook” = a Cook County girl
la universitato “Cornell” = Cornell University
la lago Ĝenevo = Lake Geneva
la lago Barney = Barney Lake
la monto Sankta Heleno = Mount St. Helens
la urbo “Saskatoon” = Saskatoon
aŭtomobilo Nissan = a Nissan automobile
la restoracio Esperanto = the Esperanto Restaurant
la hotelo U.S. Grant = the U.S. Grant Hotel
la ŝtato Vaŝingtono = Washington State
komputilo IBM = an IBM computer
la insulo Fajro = Fire Island
la ŝoseo Ventura = the Ventura Freeway
la kolegio Bennington = Bennington College
la provinco Ŝanŝji = Shanxi Province

*-The hyphenated usages (Tang-dinastio, etc.) are not particularly graceful Esperanto, but they are common to virtually all publications from China and have become more or less standard when speaking of China. I recommend against extending this to any other part of the world. It makes less jarring Esperanto to live in la ŝtato Connecticut than in Connecticut-ŝtato (or in Kanetikat-ŝtato!).

A minority usage links the proper name with a hyphen as a prefix: Cornell-universitato. People who speak languages with a modifier-before-modified word order (like English or Chinese) tend to create more compounds of this kind than is normal in Esperanto. Thus Chinese dynasties and provinces are routinely referred to in Chinese publications as, for example, Hunan-provinco or Tang-dinastio, where more international usage would say la provinco Hunan and la dinastio Tang.*

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4.1.4. Word Order With Personal Names

In Western Europe and America the family name follows the given name: Adelle Hanson is Ms. Hanson. In East Asia the family name comes first: Wang Delu is Mr. Wang. In other regions usage also varies. To simplify identifying the surname, it is common (although not yet universal) to write the surname all in capital letters: WANG Delu, Adelle HANSON, Yoram BILU, HUĜIMOTO Tacuo. I recommend this procedure. (In Japan some Esperantists capitalize the first name but not the given name: Huĝimoto tacuo. This usage is limited, so far as I know, to Japan and Korea.)

4.1.5. Deleting -O in Poetry

The original rules of Esperanto permit one to omit the final -o of a noun (never a final -oj or -on!). The missing -o is replaced with an apostrophe. The stress remains where it was, so the effect is to have the noun end with a stressed syllable. This is common in poetry. Notice what a mess it would make of the following translation of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” if we could not omit the final -o’s on two nouns.

Sur la ŝafido de Meri’ On Mary’s lamb
ŝaflano neĝe blankis; the fleece was snowy white;
ne gravis kien iris ŝi, it didn’t matter where she went,
ŝafid’ neniam mankis. the lamb was never lacking.
—Derek Roff (Literal translation)

The omission of the final -o of a noun is most common in poetry, but it occasionally occurs in other contexts, sometimes humorously:

Dank’ al Dio! = Thank God!
Venu la manĝ’! = Bring on the food! (Literally: Let the meal come!)
Kaj nun estas ĉio en ord’. = And now everything is in order.

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4.1.6. The Accusative Case.

The so-called accusative case is marked in Esperanto with the letter -n at the end of adjectives, nouns, or pronouns. When there is a -j to show the plural, the -n follows the -j:

Mi deziras kukojn. = I want cakes.
Ĉu kafon vi deziras? = Do you want coffee?
Ŝi min ĉiam batas! = She always hits me!

Some grammarians regard the expression “accusative case” as referring to a relationship between a noun and a verb; others consider it to refer to a distinctive form of a word (in Esperanto, any form to which the ending -n has been added). This second is the definition we will use here. In Esperanto the accusative ending may be added to nouns, pronouns, adjectives, or adverbs of location. The Accusative of Direct Object

The direct object of a verb in Esperanto is always in the accusative case. In English, the subject and direct object of a verb are shown by word order. In Esperanto, they are shown by the presence or absence of the accusative ending -n. For this reason, word order is much more flexible in Esperanto.

Viro mordas hundon.
= Man bites dog.
Hundo mordas viron.
= Dog bites man.
Hundon mordas viro.
= Man bites dog.
Viron mordas hundo.
= Dog bites man.
Viro hundon mordas.
= Man bites dog.
Viron hundo mordas.
= Dog bites man.

Although in principle the subject, verb, and object may occur in any order, in fact, there is a tendency for Esperanto word order to be very similar to English word order, although this is by no means inevitably the case. Since grammatical information is shown in Esperanto word endings, fluent speakers feel free to vary word order for emphasis or stylistic effect. If you assume the word order of an Esperanto phrase parallels English, you will be right some of the time, but you will be misled sooner or later. I suggest making it a practice to try to create Esperanto sentences in which the word order does not follow the English pattern in order to try to break the habit of depending on word order for grammatical information. Instead of saying Ĉu vi deziras kukon? = “Do you want cake?” try to remember to say Ĉu vi kukon deziras? or Ĉu deziras vi kukon? or Ĉu kukon vi deziras?

The fact that there is a clearly marked accusative form leads to some efficiencies not shared with English. For example, sometimes we do not need to repeat a verb for a second clause:

Ŝi amas blondulojn, sed mi brunulojn.
= She likes blonds, but I [like] brunets.
Riĉaĵojn li havas; mi nur “psikan enspezon”.
= He has riches; I [have] only “psychic income”.
Hieraŭ Daĉjeto mordis la hundon, hodiaŭ la katon.
= Yesterday Little Davey bit the dog, today [he bit] the cat.
Hieraŭ Daĉjeto mordis la hundon, hodiaŭ la kato.
= Yesterday Little Davey bit the dog, today the cat [did so].

Return to top. Other uses of the Accusative The Accusative of “Movement Toward”

When a preposition indicates location, the accusative of movement is used to shift its meaning to location toward which the action proceeds.

Li paŝis en la salono.
= He paced about in the living room.
Li paŝis en la salonon.
= He paced into the living room.
La kato sidis sur la tablo.
= The cat was sitting on the table.
La kato saltis sur la tablon.
= The cat jumped onto the table.
La muso kuris sub la planko.
= The mouse ran around under the floor.
La muso kuris sub la plankon.
= The mouse ran [to] under the floor.

The movement away from a place, by the way, is expressed by adding the preposition de before the preposition. No accusative is necessary:

La kato saltis de sur la tablo.
= The cat jumped off of the table.
La supo de Daĉjeto iel fluis de sur lia telero sur lian pantalonon.
= Little Davey’s soup somehow leaked off of his plate onto his trousers.
What constitutes “motion towards” is not always clear, particularly in metaphorical cases, although it seems as though more and more speakers are sensing “motion” in cases where their grandparents might not have. Esperanto speakers have differing instincts about usages like the following examples. The capitalized Ns would be omitted by some, included by others.
Mi serĉos en ŝiajN komputilajN dosierojN.
= I’ll look into her comptuter files.
Li elspezas sian monon en ludojN.
= He spends his money on games.
Eŭropanoj investas tro da tempo en la lernadoN de lingvoj.
= Europeans invest too much time in the study of languages.

The accusative is not used after the prepositions al = “to,” el = “from,” or ĝis when it means “as far as,” since these prepositions already show motion:

La kantistino vojaĝis al Vinipego.
= The singer travelled to Winnipeg.
La bubaĉo kuris el la domo.
= The urchin ran out of [or from] the house.
La muso kuris el sub la planko.
= The mouse ran out from under the floor.
Ŝi kuniros nur ĝis la montopiedo.
= She will go along only as far as the foot of the mountain. The Accusative of Movement With Adverbs

Since some adverbs also indicate location, the same -n device is used to indicate “motion toward” expressed by adverbs:

Ŝi nur staris tie.
= She just stood there.
Ŝi rapide kuris tien.
= She quickly ran [to] there.
Li kuris de tie.
= He ran from there.
Venu ĉi tien!
= Come here.
Li nun estas hejme.
= He’s at home now.
Li ĵus iris hejmen.
= He just went home.

*-Older English sensibly had “there,” “thither” (= “to there”), and “thence” (= “from there”) and “where,” “whither,” and “whence,” but that was about the extent of it.

In modern English this distinction between “place where” and “place to which” is not often shown in the words themselves* We must depend upon the verb and the context to tell us whether “there” means “at that place” or “to that place” (= “thither”). In Esperanto the -n is always used in adverbs showing motion towards a place, so that tien and hejmen always indicate “place to which” while tie and hejme always show “place where.”

Return to top. The Accusative Replacing a Preposition

In his original publication of Esperanto, Zamenhof provided (as rule 14) that when no other preposition was clearly applicable, the “generic” preposition je could be used. Alternatively, the accusative case could be used. This must have been the result of some very deep thinking on his part. Many times it is difficult to decide what the “natural” relationship is between a verb and its complement. Why do we “see” something but we “look at” it? Why do we “hear” something but “listen to” it? Why do we “thank” somebody but “speak to” the same person? Why the “at” and the “to”? How should we expect Esperanto verbs to act?

*-Although Zamenhof probably intended the preposition/accusative alternation to be confined to je, it was early extended to other prepositions, most conspicuously to al in actual practice.

Zamenhof’s ingenious solution allowed great flexibility, and several intransitive verbs are found just as often with an accusative as with a preposition.*

Demandu al ŝi; ne demandu min!
= Ask her; don’t ask me!
Ne danku min; danku al Marko!
=Don’t thank me; thank Mark.

Even so-called travel verbs, though more rarely, sometimes undergo this change:

iri la kinejon = iri al la kinejo = to go to the movies
veturi Novjorkon = veturi al Novjorko = to travel to New York

*-Readers of early drafts of this book universally condemned such forms, although I have heard some of them use them in unguarded moments, as I do myself. The use of -n instead of al to show an indirect object may be the Esperanto equivalent of the English illiteracy “ain’t.” Everybody seems ashamed of it, but it ain’t easy to stamp out. For pronouns it corresponds of course with a common turn of phrase in Romance languages.

Some speakers even use the accusative as a way to express the indirect object, although this usage is considered substandard:*

Wrong: Ŝi donis min belan portreton. = She gave me a beautiful portrait.
Right: Ŝi donis al mi belan portreton. = She gave me a beautiful portrait.
Wrong: Li min kantadis kaj kantadis. = He sang and sang to me.
Right: Li al mi kantadis kaj kantadis. = He sang and sang to me. The Accusative With Intransitive Verbs

The opposite process also occurs, and a direct object becomes the object of the preposition al. This happens when a causative verb with the suffix -ig- takes two objects, one for the root, and the other for the causative suffix. This is treated in detail in Section 12.4.5, but we can anticipate it here.

Ni aĉetos kolbason. = We shall buy a sausage.
Ni aĉetigos ŝin. = We’ll make her buy [something].

*-It is also possible, if uncommon, to separate the -ig- and make it a separate word, as in English: Mi igos ŝin aĉeti la kolbason. This is not actually bad Esperanto, so long as it is not overused. More than once a month counts as overuse.

Note that aĉet-ig-os has two objects, one for aĉet- (she is buying a sausage) and one for -ig- (we are making her do it). It is usual to convert whichever of these is the person into a prepositional phrase with al:*

Wrong: Ni aĉetigos ŝin la kolbason. = We’ll make her buy the sausage.
Right: Ni aĉetigos la kolbason al ŝi. = We’ll make her buy the sausage.
Right: Ni aĉetigos al ŝi la kolbason. = We’ll make her buy the sausage.
Right but Rare: Ni aĉetigos ŝin je la kolbaso. = We’ll make her buy the sausage.

Poetry, often pushing grammar to its limits, is another area in which occasionally a direct object turns into a prepositional phrase, usually with al:

*-E. Mieželaitis (1971) 1986 Homo. Trad. Petras Čeliauskas. Vilnius: Vaga.

Kaj la steloj tuŝintaj per flam’ / La flugilojn brulvundis al mi.
= “And the stars that had touched their / Wings with flame, burned [to] me.”* The Accusative of Exclamation.

The accusative ending -n is generally used in greetings consisting of a single noun phrase:

*-The related verb is dankas. One thanks someone or “to” (al) someone “for” (pro or por) something: Mi dankas al vi por/pro ĝi. = “Thanks for that.” (Pro is generally preferred over por in thanks.) Zamenhof used the expression Dank’ al to mean “thanks to.” It is apparently a short form of [Estu] danko al … = “[Let] thanks be to …” A common expression is Dank’ al Dio, ke … = “Thank God that…”

Saluton! = Hello!
Gratulon! = Congratulations!
Bonan matenon! = Good morning!
Bonan Tagon! = Hello! (used anytime during daylight hours)
Feliĉan Novan Jaron! = Happy New Year!
Dankon! = Thanks!*

One explanation for the accusative in these expressions is that these forms are shortened from full sentences beginning Mi deziras al vi … This helps the usage seem logical, but the hypothetical “full” forms are virtually never used. The Accusative in Days and Dates

*-In the case of names of holidays or of days of the week, I believe I see a new distinction observed, perhaps unconsciously, by some speakers between accusative (one time) and adverb (many times). But most speakers use both expressions in both meanings. If you really want to stress, say, every Christmas, it is clearer to say ĉiun Kristnaskon than to depend upon your hearer interpreting the -e that way.

Names of days (including names of days of the week, which, by the way, are not capitalized) are normally used with the -n ending to mean on such and such a day or to mean every such-and-such a day. An alternative to this is the adverb ending -e.*

lundon ~ lunde = on Monday, Mondays, every Monday
Kristnaskon ~Kristnaske = on Christmas, every Christmas
iun tagon ~ iutage = one day, some day
ĉiun tagon ~ ĉiutage = every day

*-With the element foj- = “time,” it is common for the form foje to mean “once” (= unufoje = unu fojon) rather than “sometimes” (= kelkfoje = kelkajn fojojn). This is a matter of comparative frequency, however: some speakers do in fact use foje for “sometimes” or “a few times,” so you should be prepared for such a usage. Foje never means “every time” (which is ĉiufoje or ĉiun fojon).

With months and years, it is slightly commoner to use a preposition: en februaro = “in February.” *

Dates are usually given with an ordinal number:

Hodiaŭ estas la 7-a de julio. = Today is the 7th of July.

To indicate the date of an action, the preposition je or (much more commonly) the accusative is used:

Ŝi mortis je la 4-a de septembro, 1979.
= Ŝi mortis la 4-an de septembro, 1979.
= She died September 4th, 1979. The Accusative with Measurements

In measurements of time, distance, or quantity of anything, the unit of measure often functions to complement the verb, and tells us how much of something is involved. In this circumstance, the accusative is usual in Esperanto, substituting for dum, je, and other prepositions.

Li parolis tri horojn.
= He talked for three hours. (= dum tri horoj)
Li studis teologion dekkvar jarojn kaj ne plu kredas je Dio.
= He studied theology for fourteen years and no longer believes in God. (= dum dekkvar jaroj)
Ŝi ŝoforis 200 kilometrojn hore.
= She drove 125 miles an hour. (= je rapideco de 200 kilometroj hore)
Li estas du metrojn alta.
= He’s 6 feet 7 inches tall! (= alta ĝis du metroj)
Ili loĝas plurajn kilometrojn for.
= They live several kilometers away. (= for je pluraj kilometroj)

4.1.7. Personal Names

Personal names are nouns, and can reasonably be expected to end in -o , like other Esperanto nouns. But there is a wide latitude in this, since people’s names already exist in other forms in their home languages. There is no strong need for proper names to end in any particular letter. Many Esperantists over the years have preferred that even Esperantized names end in -a for women and -o for men (Paŭla and Paŭlo, for example). Many common European names have more or less standardized Esperanto forms: Johano, Miĥaelo, Maria, Ana, Ludoviko, etc.

Some people prefer to retain the national-language pronunciation but respell the name in Esperanto orthography. For example, “Mike” = Majk, “Jane” = Ĝejn.

Others keep the original spelling but change the pronunciation to match it. For example, I pronounce my last name, Jordan, “Yordahn” in Esperanto; people can still find me in the telephone book that way.

Still others translate their names into Esperanto words with the same meanings. Thus “Hope” becomes Espero, “June” becomes Junio, and so on. This is reasonable only when the result is not silly. “David” is derived from a Hebrew word meaning “beloved,” but I have never met a David who went around calling himself Amata in Esperanto!

Some people leave the original spelling but give a figured pronunciation in parentheses after it and expect people to learn to pronounce it despite the non-Esperanto original spelling. If I did that I would spell the name Jordan (Ĝordn) and pronounce it as I do in English.

Finally (and least helpfully), some people write and pronounce their name exactly as they do in their native language, leaving it to the listener or reader to “wing it.” That only works if both parties already speak the same language, which defeats the point of Esperanto in the first place. Obviously this is to be avoided!

Recommendation: Dealing with foreign names is a problem in any language, and there is no perfect solution. Remember that for at least some Esperanto speakers, your name, no matter how simple it seems to you to be, is potentially difficult. Furthermore, names that cannot be pronounced can seldom be remembered. Here are some ways to try to make life easier for your fellow speakers:

  1. Use the established Esperanto name if there is one corresponding to yours (Johano for John, for example).
  2. If your name is fairly simple to spell and pronounce for people of other language backgrounds, leave it alone.
  3. If it is difficult for others to spell, but not pronounce, give figured pronunciation (in regular Esperanto spelling) after the normal spelling.
  4. If it contains sounds that are difficult for non-English speakers, repro-nounce it following Esperanto rules or adopt a more Esperantized nickname to use in Esperanto circles. There is nothing wrong with having an Esperanto nickname, especially if your “regular” name is found difficult for people to pronounce. If your name is Thaddeus Auchinleck, consider calling yourself Johano among foreign Esperantists.
  5. Provide your name in writing wherever possible.
  6. Don’t be a stickler about the pronunciation of your name. If you can recognize it well enough to come to dinner when called, that’s good enough.

4.1.8. Place Names

From the name of a place, one can use the suffix -an- to create the name of a person who is associated with the place:

Novjorko = New York novjorkano = New Yorker
Berlino = Berlin berlinano = Berliner
Amazono = Amazon River amazonano = Amazonian
Peruo = Peru peruano = Peruvian
Kongo = Congo Kongano = Congolese
Usono = USA usonano = American
Hongkongo = Hong Kong Hongkongano = Hongkonger
Irano = Iran iranano = Iranian
Tunizo = Tunis tunizano = person from Tunis

(This is not the only use of the suffix -an-. See the section on affixes.)

From the name of an ethnic group, one can use the suffix -uj- to create the name of a place that is associated with that group:

franco = a Frenchman Francujo = France
polo = a Pole Polujo = Poland
ĉino = a Chinese Ĉinujo = China
kurdo = a Kurd Kurdujo = Kurdistan
heleno = an ancient Greek Helenujo = ancient Greece
berbero = a Berber Berberujo = land of the Berbers

When the place associated with the ethnicity roughly corresponds with a modern state, the form in -uj- is usually used as the name of the country (such as Francujo = “France”). Other -uj- forms have nothing on modern political maps that exactly corresponds to them (such as Kurdujo = “Kurdistan”). The geographically dispersed world of Esperanto speakers, by the way, is often affectionately designated Esperantujo, which defies graceful translation into English, since “Esperantoland” sounds like a theme park. The Use of -uj- and -i- in Place Names

The basic meaning of -uj- is “container” or “producer” of something, and it is used for baskets and boxes, as well as (especially in early Esperanto) fruit trees. (See the section on affixes.) Thus Francujo is literally a “container of Frenchmen.” There is something slightly silly about the idea of containers of Frenchmen, however. Further, many names for countries end in -ia in several European languages, and some people feel that -io is therefore most appropriate in Esperanto. To make things more complex, the word lando = “country” early came into use to make compound names for countries (as in Skotlando = “Scotland” or Pollando = “Poland”). Thus Francujo and Francio are in use, and Franclando is not by any means impossible. If there is a trend, it is for -i- to replace -uj- most of the time in modern Esperanto.

Since-i- was not originally designated for this usage, nouns ending in -io are not always country names.

Svedio = Sweden
Bulgario = Bulgaria
fantazio = fantasy
kalumnio = slander

Furthermore, unlike -uj-, -i- often cannot be removed to make the name of a resident.

Francio (= Francujo) = France
franco = a French national
Kalifornio (the place) ) = California
kaliforniano (NOT kaliforno!) = a Californian

Unfortunately, in some countries (especially in Spain and Latin America) the name of the capital is the same as or closely similar to the name of the country. Examples are Guatemala and Mexico (with capitals also called Guatemala and Mexico). Some Esperantists have experimented with using the base form for the name of the capital and the -i- suffix for the name of the country. (Thus Meksiko is the capital, populated by meksikanoj; and Meksikio is the country, inhabited by meksikianoj.)

There are two problems with this. First, it flies in the face of already ingrained international custom if Mexico is Meksikio in Esperanto when it is simply “México” in Spanish and most other languages. The same goes for Mexicans being meksikianoj rather than simply meksikanoj. More importantly, however, it would logically also apply to subordinate levels of administration, changing province and region names all over the Spanish-speaking world, and possibly in other regions as well, often for terms that lack established Esperanto names anyway. (Albacete is both a city and a province in Spain. Must we create Albateto and Albatetio as contrasting Esperanto names?)

It gets worse. Brazil has its capital at Brazilia. Should Brazilo be the country and Brazilio the capital, following Brazilian usage in Portuguese? That would offend our growing Esperanto sense that country names should end in -io, especially when contrasting with names of capitals. But if one makes Brazilio the country and Brazilo the capital, one reverses Portuguese usage, which has been borrowed into most other languages and has become international usage. This leaves Esperanto high and dry as “odd man out” against ingrained habits around the world.

Note that when the root designates a member of an ethnic group (such as franco), the country is the derived form (Francujo), but when the root designates a region (such as Kanado), it is the resident of the region that is designated by the derived form (kanadano).

It was probably a mistake from the beginning to allow regional names derived from ethnic group names to do secondary service as names of political entities, since it produces a division between national states that seem to be conceived of as monoethnic and those that seem to be seen as polyethnic.

“Polyethnic” “Monoethnic”
Kanado = land of kanadanoj Britujo = land of britoj
Usono = land of usonanoj Francujo = land of francoj
Irano = land of irananoj Japanujo = land of japanoj
Venezuelo = land of venezuelanoj Egiptujo = land of egiptoj
Tibeto = land of tibetanoj  

*- -The traditional Esperanto name for India, Hindujo, was derived from the (ethnic) name of the inhabitants, hindoj = “Indians.” Fascinatingly, Hindujo is rapidly being replaced today by the country name Bharato. Citizens of that land are therefore bharatanoj, a citizenship category rather than an ethnic one.

Zamenhof probably did not really think of nations this way. But European languages generally agreed in making approximately such a distinction, and Zamenhof, seeking internationality, generally followed them. Thus Rusujo (Russia) was the land of the Russians; never mind that non-Russians lived there too. But Usono (USA) was a root in itself, and a resident of it took his national identity from the name of the country, whatever his ethnic identity might be. Norvegujo took its name from its residing norvegoj, while Tibeto gave its name to the tibetanoj who dwelt there. Whether the unmodified root named a person or a place was, in the end, the result of the historical evolution of the European languages that contributed to it.*

There are three practical results for Esperanto usage:

  1. If a dictionary form ends in -lando or -ujo and names a country (such as Pollando or Britujo), then dropping these endings and substituting a final -o gives the name of a citizen (polo, brito). This is true for some country names that end in -io, but not for all. Italio is inhabited by italoj, but Kolombio by kolombianoj, who should not be referred to as kolomboj = “pigeons.”
  2. If the country name ends any other way, replacing the final -o with -ano will produce the name for a person living there. (Kanado is inhabited by kanadanoj, Usono by usonanoj.)
  3. For a few countries, usage varies and may be hotly contested:*
-o &-ano -io/-ujo & -o English
Koreo : koreanoj Koreio : koreoj Korea(ns)
Brazilo : brazilanoj Brazilio : braziloj Brazil(ians)
Meksiko : meksikanoj Meksikio : meksikoj Mexico, Mexicans
Egipto : egiptanoj Egiptio : egiptoj Egypt(ians)

*-One of the most acrimonious recent discussions has been over the name for Korea. Using the form Koreo/koreano (just as in English we say “Korea” and “Korean”) has been traditional in Esperanto and still has support. However it seems to imply that Koreans are not also an ethnic group, which some Koreans find offensive. Most (not all!) Koreans now use the form koreo for a Korean and Koreujo or Koreio for the country.

An interesting aspect of this problem is differing opinions about where authority ought to lie to make a decision. One position argues that Esperanto speakers in the country concerned should establish the usage that pleases them. The opposite position argues that the Esperanto Academy possesses both the moral authority and the view of the overall system to make the best decision. There is room for honest disagreement on this, as well as for considerable hot-headedness.

My prediction is that usage will eventually decide that each country has an invariant name (often but not always including the emergent suffix -i-) to which -an- is added to name a citizen. We will see the appearance of such forms as franciano for a citizen of France. Names of ethnic groups will then emerge as a separate, often similar, set of roots, to which the suffix -uj- will be added to designate the “community” of the people designated by the root. Thus Ĉinio will mean China (as it already does); ĉiniano will be a citizen of China; ĉino will be an ethnic Chinese anywhere in the world; and Ĉinujo will refer to the international “Chinese community” or “Greater China.” When the name of the country does not have any strong historical relationship to any particular ethnic name, there will, as now, be no corresponding (and confusing) ethnic group term.

Nation Citizen Ethnic Person Community

This evolution of the language has not yet fully taken place, even though hints of it exist, so it is best to stick with ordinary usage.

Esperanto is not alone in facing such problems. In English we find such spelling doublets as Peking and Beijing, Ceylon and Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and Hongkong (and Xianggang for that matter), Moldova and Moldavia, or alternative names like Falklands and Malvinas. English too is unclear about whether a “Chinese businessman” is of Chinese nationality or Chinese ethnicity (or whether a “Chinese specialist” is even Chinese). On the whole, Esperanto has approached the problem more methodically than English has and shows better signs of evolving real clarity in this area.

Recommendation: (1) Follow the usage of your hosts when traveling or of your guests when you are the host; some of them may feel strongly on the matter. (2) Prefer forms ending in -land when they are already common (Skotlando, Pollando). (3) use -i- in preference to -uj- most of the rest of the time. (4) Given a choice, I tend to resist forms that introduce the -i- into country names like Mexico and Brazil. It seems clearer to designate the capital of Mexico as Meksikurbo and simply to let the city of Brazilia remain Brazilio. I find I am almost never misunderstood this way. Table of Nation Names

Here is a table of nation names in Experanto as presented by the Universal Esperanto Association in its 2010 yearbook (p. 278), together with their official two-letter abbreviations as developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO 3166), and their English names. It is here organized in Esperanto alphabetical order.

AF Afgano Afghanistan
AL Albanio Albania
DZ Alĝerio Algeria
AO Angolo Angola
AG Antigvo k Barbuda Antigua & Barbuda
AR Argentino Argentina
AM Armenio Armenia
AU Aŭstralio Australia
AT Aŭstrio Austria
AZ Azerbajĝano Azerbaijan
BD Bangladeŝo Bangladesh
BB Barbado Barbados
BH Barejno Bahrain
BE Belgio Belgium
BZ Belizo Belize
BJ Benino Benin
BM Bermudoj Bermuda
MM Birmo Myanmar (Birma)
BY Bjelorusio Belarus
BW Bocvano Botswana
BO Bolivio Bolivia
BA Bosnio k Hercegovino Bosnia-Herzegovina
BR Brazilo Brazil
GB Britio Britain
BN Brunejo Brunei
BG Bulgario Bulgaria
BI Burundo Burundi
BT Butano Bhutan
TD Ĉado Chad
CZ Ĉeĥio Czech Rep.
CF Centrafriko Central African Republic
CL Ĉilio Chile
CN Ĉinio China
DK Danio Denmark
DO Dominika Respubliko Dominica
CI Ebur-Bordo Cote D'Ivoire
EG Egiptio Egypt
EC Ekvadoro Equador
ISO Esperanto English
EE Estonio Estonia
ET Etiopio Ethiopia
FO Feroio Feroe Islands
FJ Fiĝio Fiji
PH Filipinoj Philippines
FI Finnlando Finland
FR Francio France
GA Gabono Gabon
GM Gambio Gambia
GH Ganao Ghana
DE Germanio Germany
DJ Ĝibujtio Djibouti
GR Grekio Greece
GD Grenado Granada
GL Grenlando Greenland
GY Gujano Guinea
GY Gvajano Guyana
GT Gvatemalo Guatemala
GN Gvineo Guinea
GQ Gvineo Ekvatora Equatorial Guinea
GW Gvineo-Bisaŭo Guinea-Bissau
HT Haitio Haiti
IN Hinda Unio India
ES Hispanio Spain
HN Honduro Honduras
HK Honkongo Hong Kong
HU Hungario Hungary
ID Indonezio Indonesia
IQ Irako Iraq
IR Irano Iran
IE Irlando Ireland
IS Islando Iceland
IL Israelo Israel
IT Italio Italy
JM Jamajko Jamaica
JP Japanio Japan
YE Jemeno Yemen
JO Jordanio Jordan
YU Jugoslavio Yugoslavia
KV Kaboverdo Cape Verde
KH Kamboĝo Cambodia
CM Kamerunio Cameroon
CA Kanado Canada
GE Kartvelio Georgia
QA Kataro Qatar
KZ Kazaĥio Kazakhstan
KE Kenjo Kenya
CY Kipro Cyprus
KG Kirgizio Kyrgyzstan
KI Kiribato Kiribati
CO Kolombio Colombia
KM Komoroj Comorro Islands
CG Kongo (Rep.) Congo (Rep.)
CD Kongo DR (Kinŝaso) Congo (Zaire)
KP Korea PR (Pjongjango) North Korea
KR Korea Respubliko (Brazavilo) Korea (Rep.)
KR Korea Respubliko (Seŭlo) South Korea
CR Kostariko Costa Rica
HR Kroatio Croatia
CU Kubo Cuba
KW Kuvajto Kuwait
LS Laoso Laos
LV Latvio Latvia
LS Lesoto Lesotho
LB Libano Lebanon
LR Liberio Liberia
LY Libio Libya
LI Liĥtenŝtejno Lichtenstein
LT Litovio Lithuania
LU Luksemburgio Luxembourg
MG Madagaskaro Madagascar
MK Makedonio Macedonia
MY Malajzio Malaysia
MW Malavio Malawi
MV Maldivoj Maldive Islands
ML Malio Mali
MT Malto Malta
MA Maroko Morocco
MH Marŝaloj Marshall Islands
MU Maŭricio Mauritius
MR Maŭritanio Mauritania
MX Meksiko Mexico
FM Mikronezio Micronesia
MD Moldavio Moldova
MC Monako Monacco
MN Mongolio Mongolia
MS Monserato Monserrat
ME Montenegro Montenegro
MZ Mozambiko Mozambique
NA Namibio Namibia
NR Nauro Nauru
NL Nederlando Netherlands
NP Nepalo Nepal
NG Niĝerio Nigeria
NE Niĝero Niger
NI Nikaragvo Nicaragua
NO Norvegio Norway
NC Nov-Kaledonio New Caledonia
NZ Nov-Zelando New Zealand
OM Omano Oman
TL Orienta Timoro East Timor
PK Pakistano Pakistan
PW Palaŭo Palau
PS Palestino Palestine
PA Panamo Panama
PG Papuo-Nov-Gvineo Papua New-Guinea
PY Paragvajo Paraguay
PE Peruo Peru
PL Pollando Poland
PR Porto-Riko Puerto Rico
PT Portugalio Portugal
RE Reunio Reunion
RW Ruando Rwanda
RO Rumanio Romania
RU Rusio Russia
SB Salomonoj Solomon Islands
SV Salvadoro El Salvador
WS Samoo Samoa
KN Sankta Kristoforo k Neviso St. Kitts and Nevis
LC Sankta Lucio Santa Lucia
VC Sankta Vincento k Grenadinoj S. Vincent & Grenedines
SM Sanmarino San Marino
ST Santomeo k Principeo Sao Tome and Principe
SA Saŭda Arabio Saudi Arabia
SN Senegalio Senegal
RS Serbio Serbia
SL Sieraleono Sierra Leone
SG Singapuro Singapore
SY Sirio Syria
SK Slovakio Slovakia
SI Slovenio Slovenia
SO Somalio Somalia
LK Srilanko Sri Lanka
ZA Sud-Afriko South Africa
SD Sudano Sudan
SR Surinamo Surinam
SZ Svazilando Swaziland
SE Svedio Sweden
CH Svislando Switzerland
TJ Taĝikio Tajikistan
TJ Taĝikio Tajikistan
PF Tahitio Tahiti
TH Tajlando Tailand
TW Tajvano Taiwan
TZ Tanzanio Tanzanio
TG Togolando Togo
TO Tongo Tonga
TT Trinidado k Tobago Trinidad & Tobago
TN Tunizio Tunisia
TR Turkio Turkey
TM Turkmenio Turkmenistan
TV Tuvalo Tuvalu
UG Ugando Uganda
UA Ukrainio Ukraine
AE Unuiĝintaj Arabaj Emirlandoj United Arab Emirates
UY Urugvajo Uruguay
US Usono United States
UZ Uzbekio Uzbekistan
VU Vanuatuo Vanuatu
VA Vatikano Vatican City
VE Venezuelo Venezuela
VN Vjetnamio Vietnam
ZM Zambio Zambia
ZW Zimbabvo Zimbabwe

4.1.8..3. Names of American States

*-Other considerations sometimes enter in. In the Plena Ilustrita Vortaro, for example, Oregonio as a state name contrasts with Oregono as a river name. The same device distinguishes Koloradio, the state, from Kolorado, the river.

Note that a few American state names already end in -io, based on their English forms in “-ia” (e.g., Kalifornio). Some speakers tend to extend this also to other states (Floridio and Alaskio, for example), although even more people say Florido and Alasko, letting the Esperanto follow along after the English.* If we were to decide consistently to use -io for all US state names, the world would probably honor (and possibly even applaud) our preference, but what would we do about some of the less obvious cases? (Maryland = Mario? Mariio? Marilando? Marilandio? Illinois = Ilinio? Ilinojio? Ilinojzio?* )

*-The Plena Ilustrita Vortaro gives Ilinojso, by the way, ignoring the state-river distinction.

Recommendation: State names should probably remain as close as practical to the English original, consistent with being pronounceable in Esperanto. Sometimes it may be best even to leave a name un-Esperantized (Illinois). At least a foreign friend can find the state on a map that way! A resident of a state is named with -an- whatever the root: kaliforniano, ilinojsano, Illinois-ano, etc.

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