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Part I: Esperanto Grammar

Chapter 7: Questions.

Questions which anticipate an answer of “yes” or “no” are easily formed by simply adding ĉu to the front of the sentence:

Teresa estas hejme. = Teresa is home.
Ĉu Teresa estas hejme? = Is Theresa home?
Ili ofte trinkas japanan brandon. = They often drink Japanese brandy.
Ĉu ili ofte trinkas japanan brandon? = Do they often drink Japanese brandy?

Questions which ask for some specific kind of information, such as English questions with “who,” “what,” “where,” etc., are formed by adding one of the correlative question words (those beginning with ki-) to the beginning of the sentence. (See the section on Correlatives [link].)

Kiu vi estas? = Who are you?
Kion vi faras?! = What are you doing?!

English normally reverses the subject and verb for a question with forms of “to be.” (“He is a violinist.” “Is he a violinist?”) Esperanto does not make such a change. Quite aside from this, both languages can vary word order for emphasis. Accordingly, it does not work at all to depend on word order for information about whether something is a question or not!

Kiu vi estas? = Who are you?
Vi estas kiu?! = Who are you?!
Kion faras vi? = What are you doing?
Vi faras kion?! = You are doing what?!
Ĉu ŝi amas lin? = Does she love him?
Ĉu ŝi lin amas? = Does she love him?

Another type of question can be created by adding ĉu or ĉu ne to the end of a statement, comparable to English expressions like “isn’t it,” “doesn’t he,” and “wouldn’t they.”

Bela vetero, ĉu ne? = Nice weather, isn’t it?
Sed vi nun resaniĝis, ĉu? = But now you’ve got better, haven’t you?
Teresa estas hejme, ĉu ne? = Theresa is home, isn’t she?

*-Most speakers maintain that ĉu alone is appropriately added at the end of a sentence only if the verb is already negative, and that ĉu ne is added only to positive sentences. Logically, a ĉu with either a ne nor a jes simply creates a question, regardless whether the sentence is positive or negative. Accordingly for other speakers, ĉu and ĉu ne seem to be close to interchangeable, even though ĉu ne is much commoner.

The use of ĉu alone is especially common in negative sentences, which sometimes (rarely) even add ĉu jes:*

Vi ne estas brua studento de la universitato Hartford, ĉu (jes)?
= You’re not a noisy Hartford University student, are you?

As a practical matter, a question may also be indicated merely by raising the pitch of the voice at the end of a statement, but be cautious. Nothing in “official” Esperanto defines a question this way. This intonation is not universal in human languages, and some speakers may not recognize it as a question!

Li donis al vi sian monon?
= He give you his money?
Vi eraras. Mi ne havas lian monon.
= You’re in error. I don’t have his money.
Mi volis diri, “Ĉu li donis al vi sian monon?”
= I meant, “Did he give you his money?”
Mi jam diris, ke ne!
= I already said he didn’t!

Ĉu is also used to introduce an indirect question, corresponding with the English term “whether.” (Some editors prefer a comma before the ĉu.)

Mi tute ne scias, ĉu ŝi venos.
= I don’t know at all whether she will come.
Mi dubas, ĉu ŝi kuraĝos veni.
= I doubt whether she will dare to come.

Note that the tense of the verb in the ĉu clause reflects the perspective of the actor in the main clause:

Ni ne scias ĉu ŝi venos.
= We don’t know whether she’ll come.
Neniu diris ĉu ŝi venos.
= Nobody said whether she would come.
Nur lastmomente ni scios, ĉu ŝi venos.
= We’ll know only at the last minute whether she’ll be coming.
Nur lastmomente ni scios, ĉu ŝi venis.
= We’ll know only at the last minute whether she’s come.
Ne gravis al mi, ĉu ŝi venis.
= It didn’t matter to me whether she had come.
Ne gravas al mi, ĉu ŝi venis.
= It doesn’t matter to me whether she came.

Sometimes the rising intonation or careful attention to placement of pauses is necessary to clarify whether the question is direct or indirect:

Mi volis demandi, “Ĉu li donis al vi sian monon?”
= I wanted to ask, “Did he give you his money?”
Mi volis demandi ĉu li donis al vi sian monon.
= I wanted to ask whether he had given you his money.

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