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Part I: Esperanto Grammar

Chapter 8: The Article

English makes use of a definite article (“the”) and an indefinite article (“a/an”). Some grammarians include “some” with the other two articles. Esperanto has only one article: la. (La never changes for the plural or the accusative. It remains la.)

domo = house, a house
la domo = the house
domoj = houses, some houses
la domoj = the houses

*-An American is “in the hospital” while an Englishman is “in hospital.”

Some languages do and some do not have a definite article. Of those that do, usage varies from language to language. Within the same language, usage sometimes varies by dialect* and from situation to situation.**

**-We say “in school” to mean someone is a student, but “in church” means attending a service right now; we go “to church” but “to the opera” and “to a baseball game.”

There is less standardization in the use of la in Esperanto than in some other languages, and what there is tends to correspond with the least-common-denominator usage of Western European languages. You should be prepared for la to turn up where it would not appear in English or to be missing where we would use it.

That said, the easiest rule is to use la like English “the” except for the following common differences:

  1. Esperanto la often occurs before abstract nouns where “the” would never occur:
    la libereco = liberty
    la bona sano = good health
  2. Esperanto uses la before a possessive adjective when there is no noun with it. (See the section on possessive adjectives.)
    La granda libro estas la mia. = The big book is mine.
    La via estas malgranda. = Yours is little.
  3. Esperanto uses la before an adjective when the noun is not explicitly stated, but rather understood (where English would also use the dummy noun “one” or “ones”):
    Vi ricevos la malgrandan. = You’ll get the little one.
    Al mi plaĉas la grandega! = I like the huge one!
    Jen la vere belaj! = Here are the really pretty ones!
  4. Esperanto often uses la where English would use a possessive adjective, especially for kinship relations, for body parts, and for clothes and other objects intimately connected with the speaker:
    Ŝi diris tion al la patro. = She said that to her father.
    Li faligis farbon sur la pantolonon. = He dropped paint on his pants.
    Li falis kaj vundis la brakon. = He fell and hurt his arm.
    Ŝi deprenis kaj la ĉapelon kaj la harojn. = She took off both her hat and her

*-Since the name Esperanto does not derive from the name of an ethnic group, Esperanto is just Esperanto, not usually la Esperanta! The same goes for other deliberately created languages: Volapuko = Volapük, Interlingvo = Interlingua, etc.

  1. Esperanto uses la with the adjective name of an ethnic group to produce names for languages:
    la rusa (lingvo) = Russian/the Russian language
    la persa (lingvo) = Persian/the Persian language
    la navaha (lingvo) = Navajo/the Navajo language

*-Actually both languages use both forms. It is fine, but less common, to say in English “The aspidistra is no longer a fashionable house plant” or in Esperanto, Aspidistroj ne plu estas modaj ĉambroplantoj. It is a matter of comparative frequency.

  1. Esperanto often uses la before a singular category name where in English we would use a plural without an article:
    La aspidistro ne plu estas moda ĉambroplanto.
    = Aspidistras are no longer fashionable house plants. *
  2. Esperanto uses la before a generic noun that is followed by a proper noun naming a unique item:
    Ili loĝas en la ŝtato Florido.
    = They live in [the state of] Florida.
    Li instruas ĉe la gimnazio George Washington.
    = He teaches at George Washington High School.
    Refoje la prezidanto “oficiale” vizitos la urbojn Monte Carlo, Reno kaj Makao.
    = The president will again make “state” visits to Monte Carlo, Reno, and Macao.
    Ŝi kondukis nin per la stelŝipo Enterprise.
    = She took us in the Starship Enterprise.
    Ŝi kondukis nin per aŭtomobilo Volkswagen.
    = She took us in a Volkswagen.
    (No la because there are lots of Volkswagens in the world.)

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