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Part I: Esperanto Grammar

Chapter 12: Verbs

Esperanto verbs have four moods ( modoj):

  1. indicative mood (with the endings -as, -is, and -os),
  2. conditional mood (with the ending -us),
  3. imperative (volitive) mood (with the ending -u),
  4. infinitive mood (with the ending -i).

To avoid both the formality of “grammar terms” and misleading understandings about these forms in other languages, many speakers prefer even in English to use their Esperanto names: the as-modo, us-modo, u-modo, and i-modo.

12.1. Four Moods of the Verb

12.1.1. The As-Mood (Indicative Mood)

The indicative mood (usually called the as-modo in Esperanto) is used to state a fact. Most verbs occur in the indicative mood. There are three tenses, each with a distinctive ending: present ( -as), past ( -is), and future ( -os).

Mi aĉetas ĝin. = I am buying it.
Mi aĉetis ĝin. = I bought it.
Mi aĉetos ĝin. = I’ll buy it. = I’m going to buy it .

12.1.1.1. The Present Tense

The present tense is marked by the ending -as and is used to refer to things going on at the time when the sentence is spoken or written:

Mi skribas ĉi tiun leteron en mia nova ruldomo.
= I am writing this letter in my new trailer.

It is also used when something is generally or constantly happening or true:

Mi malamas ajlon.
= I hate garlic.
La fatrasisto venas lunde.
= The garbage man comes on Mondays.
Ili ciam miskantas la himnon.
= They always sing the anthem wrong.

The Esperanto present tense corresponds with several English verb forms:

Mi aĉetas ajlon.
= I am buying garlic.
= I buy garlic
= I do buy garlic.

*-Foreign language teachers usually “explain” the custom by claiming that the narrative present tense is more “vivid” than a boring old past tense. Vivid or not, it is customary in some languages.

Many languages have a “narrative present tense.” This means that in long accounts of past events, the present tense is used as the basic form, as though the events were taking place at the time of the telling, and future and past tense forms are used only relative to that artificially “present” time.* Standard written English avoids this (although it occurs in some spoken English dialects), but you will occasionally encounter it in Esperanto, sometimes quite eloquently used. I recommend against it in most cases because it violates the basic definition of tense in Esperanto, which is linked to time.

12.1.1.2. The Past Tense

The past verb ending is -is. It is used to mark anything that happened in the past and corresponds to several different shades of meaning in English:

Ĉu vi decidis?
= Did you decide?
= Were you deciding?
= Have you decided?
= Have you been deciding?
= Had you decided?
= Had you been deciding?

In general, Esperanto is less fussy about exact time in the past than is English. (But see the appendix on participles.) Also in general, it works just fine that way. Finer shades of meaning, if necessary, can be indicated by adding appropriate but optional adverbs or affixes, using participial constructions, and the like:

Ĉu vi jam decidis? = Had/have you already decided?
Ĉu vi decidadis? = Were you deciding?
Ĉu vi ankoraŭ decidis? = Were you still deciding?
Ĉu vi estos decidinta? = Will you have decided?
Ĉu vi eldecidis? = Did you finish making your decision?
Ĉu vi findecidis? = Did you finish making your decision?
Ĉu vi fine decidis? = Did you finally decide?
Ĉu vi ekdecidis? = Did you start making your decision?

12.1.1.3. The Future Tense

The future tense is formed by adding the verbal ending -os. Again, it covers several shades of meaning that are differentiated in English:

Morgaŭ mi aĉetos multajn meblojn.
= Tomorrow I’ll buy a lot of furniture.
= Tomorrow I’ll have bought a lot of furniture.
= Tomorrow I’ll be buying a lot of furniture.
= Tomorrow I’m going to buy a lot of furniture.

*-So do the French. So do the Poles. Some Esperantists defend a similar usage in Esperanto, but most speakers in most countries regard it as substandard.

Caution: In English we sometimes use a present tense form for a future meaning.* This is much less common in Esperanto.

Mi foriros morgaŭ vespere.
= I leave tomorrow night.

12.1.1.4. Sequence of Tenses & Indirect Quotation

Some sentences have more than one verb, and one takes its time reference from the other. In a couple of cases, Esperanto usage does not correspond to what we say in English.

In English, when we discuss events in the future, we often use a present-tense verb in a subordinate clause:

When I am in Helsinki, I will need a coat.
She’ll be comin’ ’round the mountain when she comes.

In Esperanto similar sentences take a future tense for both verbs:

Kiam mi estos en Helsinki, mi bezonos mantelon.
= When I am in Helsinki, I will need a coat.
She’ll be comin’ ’round the mountain when she comes.
= Ĉirkaŭvenos ŝi la monton kiam ŝi venos.
La reĝo sentis, ke li baldaŭ mortos.
= The king sensed he was soon to die.
Daĉjeto detruos ĉiom kiom oni donos al li.
= Little Davey will destroy as much as they give him.

Indirect quotation occurs when we tell what someone else says, but do not necessarily use the exact words:

Direct quotation: He said, “I hate monkeys.”
Indirect quotation: He said that he hated monkeys.

In English, the verb form in the indirectly quoted material changes depending upon the time of the main verb:

Indirect quotation: He said that he hated monkeys.
Indirect quotation: He’ll say that he hates monkeys.

In Esperanto, the verb in the subordinate clause is that same as it would be if the quotation were direct:

Direct quotation: Li diris: “Mi malamas simiojn.” = He said, “I hate monkeys.”
Indirect quotation: Li diris, ke li malamas simiojn. = He said that he hated monkeys.
Indirect quotation: Li diros, ke li malamas simiojn. = He’ll say that he hates monkeys.

Here are some additional examples:

Ŝi diris, ke li venos.
= She said he would come.
Mi ne sciis, ĉu li venis.
= I didn’t know whether he had come or not.
Mi skribos, ĉu ŝi venis.
= I’ll write whether she’s come or not.
Ŝi diros, ke ŝi jam faris ĝin.
= She’ll say she already did it.
Ŝi diris, ke ŝi tuj faros ĝin.
= She said she’d do it immediately.
Ni afektis, ke li estas nobelo.
= We pretended he was a nobleman.
Mi insistis, ke mi iros morgaŭ.
= I insisted I would go tomorrow.
Mi insistis, ke mi iros la sekvan tagon.
= I insisted I would go the next day.
Ni ne sciis kiam vi venos.
= We didn’t know when you would come.
Ne gravas, ke ŝi eksciis.
= It doesn’t matter that she has found out.
Ne gravis, ke ŝi eksciis.
= It didn’t matter that she had found out.
Ne gravos, ke ŝi eksciis.
= It won’t matter that she’ll have found out.
Ne gravas, ke ŝi ekscios.
= It doesn’t matter that she’ll find out.
Ne gravis, ke ŝi ekscios.
= It didn’t matter that she would find out.
Ne gravos, ke ŝi ekscios.
= It won’t matter that she’ll find out.
Ne gravas, ke ŝi ekscias.
= It doesn’t matter that she’s finding out.
Ne gravis, ke ŝi ekscias.
= It didn’t matter that she was finding out.
Ne gravos, ke ŝi ekscias.
= It won’t matter that she’ll be finding out.

12.1.2. The Us-Mood (Conditional Mood)

The ending -us marks the conditional mood. It is used (1) in “if…then” sentences when what is indicated is a hypothetical condition rather than a fact, and (2) in polite queries and requests.

Se mi laborus ĉi tie, mi estus energia.
= If I worked here, I would be energetic.
Se ili estus hungaroj, ili ne estus kanadanoj!
= If they were Hungarians, they wouldn’t be Canadians!
7Ĉu vi volus korespondi kun mi?
= Would you like to correspond with me?
Mi volus scii vian nomon.
= I’d like to know your name.

Note that “if…then” sentences take -us only if the condition is hypothetical. When it is an established fact, the regular -as, -is, -os endings of the indicative mood ( as-modo) are used.

Se mi venos, ankaŭ ŝi venos.
= If I come, she will come.
Se mi venus, ankaŭ ŝi venus.
= If I were to come, she would come. = If I came, she would come.
Se li vivis en 1820, li jam mortis.
= If he was alive in 1820, he has already died.
Se li vivus en 1820, li jam mortus.
= If he had lived in 1820, he would already have died.
Se vi aĉetas ion, vi devas pagi.
= If you buy anything, you must pay for it.
Se vi aĉetus ion, vi devus pagi.
= If you had bought anything, you’d have to pay for it.

English differentiates between present and past time in the conditional, while Esperanto does not.

Se Zamenhof scius la ĉinan, Esperanto estus malsama.
= If Zamenhof had known Chinese, Esperanto would be different.
Se mi scius la ĉinan, mi legus la verkaron de Meng Xiangke.
= If I knew Chinese, I would read the works of Meng Xiangke.
Se aliplanedanoj vizitus Romon, la imperio ne falus.
= If space aliens had visited Rome, the empire would not have fallen.
Se vi aĉetus ion, vi devus pagi.
= If you bought anything, you’d have to pay for it. OR If you had bought anything, you’d have had to pay for it.
Kion vi farus, se vi scius ĝin?
= What would you do if you knew about it? OR What would you have done if you had known about it?

If it is critical to make such a distinction, the additional time information can be inserted with an adverb:

Kion vi farus nun, se vi scius ĝin?
= What would do now if you knew about it?
Kion vi farus pasintjare, se vi scius ĝin.
= What would you have done last year if you had known about it?

It is possible (but quite inelegant and rarely necessary) to use estus plus a participle, since the -i-, -a-, or -o- of the participles can be pressed into service:

Kion vi estus faranta, se ve scius ĝin?
OR Kion vi farus, se vi estus scianta ĝin?
OR Kion vi estus faranta, se vi estus scianta ĝin?
= What would you do if you knew about it?

Kion vi estus farinta, se vi scius ĝin?
OR Kion vi farus, se vi estus sciinta ĝin?
OR Kion vi estus farinta, se vi estus sciinta ĝin?
= What would you have done if you had known about it?

12.1.3. The U-Mood (Imperative/Volitive Mood)

Esperanto has a single form, with the ending -u, that does the work of the “imperative,” “volitive,” and “subjunctive” systems of the European languages. Beginning textbooks often call it the “imperative,” but it is better called the “U-mood” ( u-modo in Esperanto) because it does so many other jobs as well. The underlying idea expressed is that of necessity or desire, a statement about how things ought to be. When I want something done I use the U-mood, whether I am issuing a direct order to someone (“Eat it!”) or an indirect order (“Let’s eat!” “Let them eat cake!”).

12.1.3.1. The U-Mood in Direct Commands

Esperanto direct commands (imperatives) are expressed in the U-mood:
Iru! = Go!
Skribu! = Write!
Ne forgesu! = Don’t forget
Ne pafu! = Don’t shoot!
Aĉetu por mi cigaredojn. = Buy me cigarettes.
Ne aĉetu tiun stultan kravaton. = Don’t buy that stupid tie.

12.1.3.2. The U-Mood in Indirect Commands

Also in the U-mood are indirect commands (those in which the subject is expressed and is not necessarily “you”). The usage is quite broad and has no limit on the English translations that are possible:

Georgo faru ĝin!
= Let George do it!
Ili aĉetu multajn librojn!
= May they buy many books!
Li skribu al sia edzino. Min tio ne ĝenas.
= Let him write to his wife. That doesn’t bother me.
Plej bonas, ke ŝi skribu al sia edzo.
= It’s best that she write to her husband.
Vi plej bone ne trinku kafon.
= The best thing for you to do is not to drink coffee.
= It’s best for you not to drink coffee.
Mi iru tien.
= I guess I ought to go there.
Vivu vi mil jarojn!
= May you live a thousand years!
Ni iru al la kafejo.
= Let’s go to the café.
Vi ne iru sola vespere.
= You oughtn’t to go alone at night.
Reĝo estu pli militema.
= A king ought to be more war-like.
Mi plej bone aĉetu la grizan.
= I’d best buy the grey one.
Iru ili al Infero!
= They can go to Hell!
Li do aĉetu ĝin, se li tiom ĝin deziras!
= So let him buy it if he wants it that much!
Vi silentu pri ĉio ĉi!
= You keep quiet about all this!
Nun manĝu ni!
= Now let’s eat!
Envenu la klaŭnoj!
= Send in the clowns!
Envenigu la klaŭnojn!
= Send in the clowns!
Ŝi belu, kaj mi ŝin forgesu!
= Let her be beautiful and let me forget her!

In many of these cases the word “should” could well be used in the English equivalent. Another way of expressing “should-ness” is with devus. See devi in Part II.

12.1.3.3. The U-Mood After Verbs of Commanding and Desiring

*-Caution to students of Spanish: The Esperanto U-mood is less frequent than the Spanish subjunctive and is not used to express doubt or hope: Mi esperas, ke ŝi venos. = Espero que ella venga. Mi dubas ĉu ŝi venos. = Dudo que ella venga. Ne estis certe, ke ili venos. = No era cierto, que vinieron.

After a verb which expresses a strong wish, request, or command, the U-mood is usual in the subordinate clause. (This usage corresponds approximately to some uses of the subjunctive in some other languages you may have studied.* )

Ŝi petis, ke vi ne faru tion.
= She asked you not to do that.
Li postulos, ke vi skribu konfeson.
= He will require that you write a confession.
Mi volas, ke li venu morgaŭ.
= I want him to come tomorrow.

12.1.3.4. The U-Mood After por ke = “in order that,” “in order to”

Ŝi aĉetis donacon por ke li ŝin pardonu.
= She bought a present so he would forgive her.
Li verkis libron, por ke ili lernu Esperanton.
= He wrote a book so that they might learn Esperanto.

When the actor is the same in both halves of the sentence, “so that” or “in order to” can be translated by por plus the infinitive:

Ni iru al la magazeno por ke ni aĉetu pistolon.
= Let’s go to the store so that we can buy a pistol.
Ni iru al la magazeno por aĉeti pistolon.
= Let’s go to the store and/to buy a pistol.
Ni iru al la magazeno por ke vi aĉetu pistolon.
= Let’s go to the store so that you can buy a pistol.

Note that a few Esperantists routinely use an exclamation point after a sentence with a -u verb in the main clause.

12.1.4. The I-Mood (Infinitive Mood)

An infinitive is usually formed in English with the word “to” plus the simplest form of the verb: “To eat,” “to expire,” and “to imagine” are infinitives. (After helping verbs, we omit the “to.”) The Esperanto infinitive ends in -i. Hence the name i-modo. As in English, the Esperanto infinitive is most commonly used to complete the action of another verb.

Mi ne deziras vidi ŝin.
= I don’t want to see her.
Bonvolu helpi nin.
= Please help us.
Vi neniam lernos deklami!
= You’ll never learn to do recitations!
Li lernos kanti … finfine!
= He’s going to learn how to sing … at last!
Mi ne scias skii.
= I don’t know how to ski.
Mi ne povos vidi vin morgaŭ.
= I won’t be able to see you tomorrow.

The infinitive is used after a handful of prepositions, most notably por = “for,” krom = “besides,” and anstataŭ = “instead of”:

Ŝi ĉeestis la kunvenon nur por manĝi.
= She attended the meeting only to eat.
Li instruis Esperanton por lukri monon.
= He taught Esperanto in order to earn money.
Li emas paroli anstataŭ pensi. = He tends to talk rather than think.
Ŝi parolis anstataŭ pensi. = She talked instead of thinking.

In principle, there is no reason why an infinitive could not be used after any preposition. In practice, however, many combinations of preposition plus infinitive are experienced as confusing or jarring (depending upon the experience and temperament of the listener) and rarely occur.

Jarring: Li parolis sen pensi. = He spoke without thinking.
Colloquial: Li parolis sen pensado. = He spoke without
thinking. Best: Li parolis senpense. = He spoke without thinking.

Jarring: Ŝi manĝis dum paroli. = She ate “while to talk.”
Colloquial: Ŝi manĝis dum parolado. = She ate during the talking.
Colloquial: Ŝi manĝis dum ŝi parolis. = She ate while she talked.
Best: Ŝi manĝis parolante. = She ate while talking.

Jarring: Ŝi manĝis post paroli. = She ate “after to talk.”
Colloquial: Ŝi manĝis post kiam ŝi parolis. = She ate after she talked.
Best: Ŝi manĝis parolinte. = She ate after talking.

Jarring: Ŝi manĝis antaŭ paroli. = She ate “before to talk.”
Marginal: Ŝi manĝis antaŭ ol paroli. = She ate before talking.
* Colloquial: Ŝi manĝis antaŭ ol ŝi parolis. = She ate before she talked.
Best: Ŝi manĝis parolonte. = She ate before talking.

*-For reasons that have little to do with logic, ol is used with antaŭ = before (rarely with post = “after”) and changes the distribution of antaŭ somewhat. See the entry on ol in Part II.

The infinitive is the form of the verb one normally finds in lists and dictionaries (the “citation form”).

Serĉu “erudi” en la vortaro. = Look up “erudi” in the dictionary.

12.2. Impersonal Verbs (“Weather Verbs”)

Some sentences have no logical subject. In “it’s raining,” English provides the dummy subject “it.” Esperanto simply leaves the subject out in such cases:

Pluvis. = It was raining.
Estas varme. = Varmas. = It’s hot.
Estas egale. = It’s all the same.
Estus bone vojaĝi. = It would be nice to travel.

(Note that after esti in such a sentence an adverb is used where English would require an adjective. The logic is that there is no subject for an adjective to modify.)

English sentences beginning with “there is” tend to correspond with Esperanto sentences that start simply with estas.

Estas tri viroj tie. = There are three men there.

To call specific attention to the subject, however, use jen (with or without esti):

Jen [estas] tri francaj kokinoj! Tie!
= There are three French hens! Over there!

Some speakers also omit the subject when it is something already mentioned or is otherwise obvious. This strikes many as substandard (and is extremely rare in print), but it is not uncommon:

[Tio] estas tre bela. = That’s very pretty.
[Tio] estas ĉio. = That’s all.

12.3. Participles

A participle is an adjective formed from a verb. In English there are two forms (usually ending in “-ed” or “-en” and in “-ing”):

to fall fallen [tree] falling [tree]
to color colored [glass] coloring [matter]
to exhaust exhausted [funds] exhausting [work]
to grow grown [woman] growing [child]
to eat half-eaten [food] [they’re] eating

In Esperanto the participle endings are:

-anta -ata showing action in progress
-inta -ita showing action completed
-onta -ota showing action yet to come

The endings in the first column above belong to active Esperanto participles, showing action performed by the person or thing that the adjective modifies. Those in the second column belong to passive participles, showing action performed upon the person or thing that the adjective modifies. Many of the participles must be rendered into English by a phrase, since English has only two participles, compared with six in Esperanto.

kanti to sing Al ŝi plaĉas kanti ariojn. = She likes to sing arias.
= She likes singing arias.
kantanta singing La virino kantanta la arion estas mia filino.
= The woman singing the aria is my daughter.
kantinta who was singing before La virino kantinta la arion estas mia filino.
= The woman who sang the aria is my daughter.
kantonta who will sing, who is to sing La virino kantonta la arion estas mia filino.
= The woman who’s going to sing the aria is my daughter.
kantata being sung La plej kantata ario estas “Zamidiniĝo.”
= The most widely sung aria is “The Transfor-mation of Zamidina”.
kantita sung, which has been sung Ĉiu parolas pri la ario kantita hieraŭ.
= Everyone’s talking about the aria sung yesterday.
kantota to be sung La muziko kantota kuŝas sur la tablo.
= The music to be sung is lying on the table.

*-The de is used when the agent is a person or group of people. The means by which something is done is shown by per: letero verkita de ŝi per skribmaŝino = a letter composed by her with a typewriter.

The ability to form all these participles so easily out of verbs allows Esperanto compactness and precision, as well as elegant variation in expression, and contributes importantly to some of its most impressive stylistic triumphs.

**-I have the impression that over the mid years of the XXth century far established itself as moderately respectable, or at least unremarkable, but that by century’s turn its usage had begun falling off again.

Passive participles often require some indication of the agent who is responsible for the action. In English we use the word “by” with passive verb constructions for this. In Esperanto the job is usually done by de,* or by fare de if there are already a lot of de’s in the sentence. Some modern writers and occasional speakers also use the pseudo-preposition far, but there are purist arguments against it.**

Jen la porkaĵo manĝota de ni.
= Here is the pork to be eaten by us. Here is the pork we are to eat.
Jen letero skribita (fare) de ŝi. = Here is a letter that she wrote.
Leteron skribitan de la Prezidento ŝi vidis sur la muro de mia oficejo.
= On the wall of my office she saw a letter written by the President.
Donacoj senditaj en decembro ankoraŭ ne atingis Brition.
= Gifts sent in December still have not reached Britain.
Donacoj senditaj far Petro en decembro ankoraŭ ne atingis Britujon.
= Gifts that Peter sent in December still have not reached Britain.
Prezidento elektota en Kostariko eble estos virino.
= The president to be elected in Costa Rica will perhaps be a woman.
Prezidento elektota de la kostarikanoj eble estos virino.
= The president to be elected by the Costa Ricans may be a woman.
Mebloj produktataj de via entrepreno…
= Furniture being produced by your firm…
Meblo produktita de via entrepreno…
= A piece of furniture produced by your firm…
Meblo produktota de via entrepreno…
= A piece of furniture that your firm is going to be producing…
= A piece of furniture to be produced by your firm…

Especially in earlier Esperanto, the word order tended to put the de phrase between the adjective and its noun:

Mi ricevis la skribitan de via patrino leteron.
= I have received the letter written by your mother.

This still occurs, but it is less common today, when most people would write:

Mi ricevis la leteron skribitan de via patrino.
= I have received the letter written by your mother.

Like any other adjective, a participle can be used with the verb esti = “to be”:

La muro estas naŭze roza. = The wall is nauseatingly pink.
La muro estas roze farbita. = The wall is painted in pink.
Li estas farbanta la muron. = He is painting the wall.
La muro estas farbota hodiaŭ. = The wall is to be painted today.
La muro farbotas hodiaŭ. = The wall is to be painted today.

12.3.1. Participial Adverbs (Adverbial Participles)

By changing the ending -a to -e, a participle becomes an adverb and can modify a verb. (The literal English equivalents are less common and more formal than the Esperanto usage here.)

Tro rapide englutinte la bieron, ŝi ruktis triviale.
= Having guzzled the beer too fast, she let forth with a vulgar belch.
Vidite man’-en-mane kun ŝi, li devis edzinigi ŝin.
= Having been seen hand-in-hand with her, he had to marry her.
Ni vivas ĉiam esperante la helpon de Dio.
= We live always hoping for God’s help.
Enorme kreskinte, la tomato forvoris Sandiegon.
= Having grown enormously, the tomato devoured San Diego.

12.3.2. Participial Nouns

By changing the ending -a to -o, a participle becomes a noun, referring to the person who is involved with the action:

La vundito resaniĝis.
= The wounded person recovered.
Li nomis sin “Doktoro Esperanto”.
= He called himself “Dr. One-Who-Hopes.”
La ekzekutotinoj ne kulpas!
= The women they’re going to execute aren’t guilty!
Ŝi kunvenigis la prezidanton, prezidonton, kaj prezidinton.
= She convened the president, president-elect, and past president.
Jen Daĉjeto, Mortiginto de Monstroj!
= Here’s Little Davey, Slayer of Monsters!
Jen Daĉjeto, Mortigonto de Monstroj!
= Here’s Little Davey, Slayer-to-Be of Monsters!

12.3.3. The “Passive Voice”

*-Like other adjectives after esti, a participle can occasionally assimilate the tense ending of esti and drop the esti, as in the earlier example: estas farbota = farbotas. See the subsection on “Predicate Adjectives as Stative Verbs” in the section on adjectives link).

The above examples with estas farbita/ata/anta show that the combination of esti with the participles can produce so-called compound verbs.* Such compounds, when they use passive rather than active participles, are the principal way in which Esperanto produces the passive voice.

Given that there are forms with -iĝ- (discussed below) and expressions with oni as a subject (discussed with pronouns), passive verb forms made with participles are rarely necessary, and even more rarely elegant. Furthermore the fact that tense is shown both by the form of esti and by the ending of the participle leads to logical complexities that tend to distract attention from what you are trying to say.

That is all any ordinary mortal actually needs to know about passive verbs in order to speak perfectly fine Esperanto. However, since a good deal of ink has been spilt over them and passions have at times run high on the subject (!), a discussion of the details of that debate may be found in the appendix on participles. Here in summary is what it says:

12.3.4. Tense & Aspect (Summary of Appendix)

*-This point was the focus of the famous "ata-ita" dispute of the mid XXth century. There are still a few diehard (sorehead?) “atists” around, but basically the “itists” won. The position presented here is the “itist” one. If you actually want to know more about all this, see the appendix.

Most Esperanto grammarians now agree that what we think of as the “tense” shown in participles is not actually tense, but rather what is technically called “aspect.” That is, what is important in the participle itself is not so much the time of the action (which is shown by the form of esti) but rather whether the action is already completed ( -it-, -int-), in process ( -at-, -ant-), or planned ( -ot-, -ont- ).*

**-Note for the grammatically precise: Esperanto verb forms do not distinguish a past tense (“was built”) from a past perfect tense (“had been built”). Estis konstruita can mean either “was built” or “had been built.” To make it unambiguously past perfect, one uses the adverb jam, as in the example here.

La domo estis konstruita en 1938.
= The building was built in 1938.
La domo estis jam** konstruita en 1938.
= The building had already been built in 1938.
La domo estis konstruita ĝis 1938.
= The building had been built by 1938.
La domo estis konstruata en 1938.
= The building was under construction in 1938.
La domo estos konstruita en 2016.
= The building will be built in 2016.
La domo estos konstruota en 2016.
= The building will be yet to be built in 216.
La domo estos konstruata en 2016.
= The building will be under construction in 2016.

The use of “compound verbs” therefore always entails assumptions about the aspect as well as the time of an event.

12.4. Transitivity & Intransitivity: Verbs in -ig- and -iĝ-

A transitive verb is one which “transmits” action from a subject to an object:

She ate the geranium. (“Geranium” is the object.)
He wrote the opera. (“Opera” is the object.)
The sneeze blew him to bits. (“Him” is the object.)

An intransitive verb is one which does not have (or imply) an object:

He smiled shyly.
The beanstalk grew and grew.

In English (and Chinese and some other languages) most verbs can be transitive in some sentences and intransitive in others:

The beanstalk grew and grew. (Intransitive.)
She grew a huge beanstalk. (Transitive; “beanstalk” is the object.)
The water still isn’t boiling. (Intransitive.)
Go and boil some water. (Transitive; “water” is the object.)

*-A theoretical note: It will emerge by the end of this discussion that an Esperanto root which requires a grammatical ending to function as a word, and which takes its “part of speech” functions from the ending(s) applied, nevertheless does have a certain inherent “affinity” to one part of speech rather than another. For present purposes we may assume that roots requiring endings fall into the following “affinity” categories: (1) nouns (e.g., kat- = “cat”), (2) adjectives ( bel- = “beautiful”), (3) intransitive verbs ( sid- = “sit”), (4) transitive verbs ( bat- = “strike”), and (5) a very small number of adverbs ( nepr- = “necessarily”). The issue is important because the effects of various suffixes and endings differ depending upon the category to which the root itself belongs. (We exclude, of course, roots that can function as words without modification — mi, tamen, kial, nur, morgaŭ, and so on.) Since our English instincts mislead us only rarely, the point is ignored by most textbooks, but it emerges as a problem in the case of the distinction between transitive and intransitive verb roots, which is why it is included here.

In Esperanto the vast majority of verbs are either transitive or intransitive, but not both.* Thus the Esperanto verb boli is cognate with the English “boil,” but boli is always intransitive. It means “boil” in the sense of “boil and bubble.” One cannot boli anything. In Esperanto we can say La akvo bolas. = “The water is boiling.” But we need a different verb to say “I am boiling the water.”

Sometimes such a verb already exists. But often it must be created. This can be done by use of the suffixes -ig- and -iĝ-.

The basic device for turning an intransitive Esperanto verb root into a transitive one is the suffix -ig-.

La akvo bolas.
= The water is boiling (& bubbling).
Mi boligas la akvon.
= I am boiling the water (making it boil & bubble).
La infanoj staris ĉe la fenestro.
= The kids were standing at the window.
Starigu la infanaĉon en la angulo.
= Stand the brat in the corner.

*-Like other languages that form new words out of old ones, certain compounds come to have a life of their own and are not precisely the sum of their parts. For example, starigi continues to mean “make stand,” but is often used metaphorically to mean “found” or “establish,” much as we use “to set up” in English. Ŝi starigis la infanon. = “She stood the child up.” ;Ŝi starigis fonduson. = “She established a fund.”

The basic device for turning a transitive verb root into an intransitive verb is the suffix -iĝ-.

Ŝi movis la meblojn post la murdo.
= She moved the furniture after the murder.
Ŝi moviĝis post sia morto!
= She moved after her death!
Li devos ŝvabri la plankon.
= He’ll have to mop the floor.
Tiu ĉi planko facile ŝvabriĝas.
= This floor mops easily.

Both -ig- and -iĝ- do other jobs too. In this section we will examine these two suffixes in more detail, but first here are some of the verbs that give us English speakers most problems.

*-Arguably it is not Esperanto grammar as such that declares verbs to be transitive or intransitive, but rather this quality is part of the underlying concept represented by each verb. There are technical arguments for and against this position, but it suggests that one way to keep straight what is transitive and what is intransitive is to try to visualize the action rather than associating the Esperanto verb with a potentially confusing English translation. Unfortunately in the case of cognates, this takes an almost superhuman act of mental dissociation!

12.4.1. Common Transitive Verbs

All of the words in this list are transitive. The translations in parentheses try to stress their transitivity as clearly as possible. Use -iĝ- to make them intransitive.*

balanci = to swing, to rock (= to manipulate back and forth)
bani = to bathe (= to dump someone into water and scrub)
bukli = to curl (= to cause something to wind in circles)
dolori = to hurt (= for a body part to pain someone)
etendi = to extend (= to pull something out)
fendi = to split (= to smash something in two)
fermi = to close (= to seal something up)
fini = to finish (= to come to the end of something)
fleksi = to bend (= to squish into shape)
klini = to tilt (= to install something at an angle)
kolekti = to collect (= to gather something up)
komenci = to begin (= to set something in motion)
komuniki = to communicate (= to inform somebody about)
movi = to move (= to transport something)
naŭzi = to nauseate (= to make sick)
paŝti = to put out to pasture, to herd
profiti = to take advantage of, profit from
renkonti = to meet, encounter (= to run into somebody)
renversi = to knock something down, to turn something over
rompi = to break (= to knock something to bits)
ruli = to roll (= to push something along on wheels)
skui = to shake (= to yank something back and forth)
streĉi = to stretch (= to pull something longer), to wind (a watch)
sufoki = to suffocate (= to cut off air to somebody)
svingi = to swing (= to hurl something at the end of a rope)
ŝanĝi = to change (= to make something different)
ŝiri = to tear (= to separate something by pulling)
ŝuti = to pour (= to dump [a non-liquid] from a container)
tedi = to bore (Nobody bores himself!)
treni = to drag (= to tow something along behind)
turni = to turn (= to reposition something)
veki = to awaken (= to rouse somebody)
vendi = to sell (= to give something in exchange for money)
venĝi = to get even for something
verŝi = to pour (= to dump [a liquid] from a container)
vindi = to bandage

Transitive verbs, such as those in this list, require direct objects. If no direct object is mentioned, the listener either senses that the sentence is incomplete, or mentally supplies his own direct object.

Mi venĝos lin! Mi ĵuras, ke mi venĝegos!
= I’ll avenge him! I swear I’ll avenge [him]!
Ŝi vere povas tedi!
= She really can bore [people].

But by adding -iĝ- we can make intransitive verbs that do not require direct objects:

Vane li penis ŝin veki. = Vainly he tried to awaken her.
Mi vekiĝas nur tre malfacile. = I wake up only with great difficulty.
Ne rompu la ampolon! = Don’t break the light bulb.
Mi ne rompis la ampolon; ĝi mem rompiĝis.
= I didn’t break the light bulb; it broke by itself.

*-The verb daŭri should be avoided for almost all translations of the English “continue,” regardless of what your dictionary says. A sentence like “The professor continued” is construed in Esperanto as requiring a transitive verb: “The professor continued [his lecture],” “The professor continued [speaking],” or something of the kind. Accordingly the colloquial sentence would be La profesoro daŭrigis2 To say La profesoro daŭris means that he lasted to the end of his lecture, not that he continued his lecture.

12.4.2. Common Intransitive Verbs

All of the words in this list are intransitive. The looser translations in parentheses try to stress their intransitivity as clearly as possible. Use -ig- to make them transitive.

boli = to boil (= to boil & bubble)
bruli = to burn (= to produce flames, to snap & crackle in the flames)
ĉesi = to come to a stop
daŭri = to last, to endure *
degeli = to thaw, to melt (= to become liquid)
droni = to drown (= to die by trying to breathe under water)
eksplodi = to explode (= fly into bits)
grimpi = to climb upward, scramble upward
halti = come to a stop
kreski = to grow (= get bigger)
krevi = to burst (= come apart)
odori = to smell (= produce an odor)
pendi = to hang (= to be dangling by one’s toes, handle, or whatever)
sidi = to sit (= to be sitting)
stari = to stand (= to be standing)
ŝpruci = squirt out (= gush out)
ŝrumpi = to shrink (= grow smaller)
ŝveli = swell (= grow bigger)
velki = to wilt (= grow weak and droop)

Intransitive verbs, such as those in this list, do not take direct objects. But by adding -ig- we can make transitive verbs that do take direct objects:

La donaco pendis de la kristnaska arbo.
= The gift was hanging from the Christmas tree.
Ŝi pendigis la donacon sur la kristnaskan arbon.
= She hung the gift on the Christmas tree.

12.4.3. Verbs That Are Both Transitive & Intransitive

A few verbs are used both transitively and intransitively. Here are all the ones I have ever heard of:

afekti = (1) to pretend to have; (2) to put on airs, strike poses
Mi nur afektis intereson.
= I only pretended to have any interest.
Ni afektis antaŭ la spegulo.
= We used to strut before the mirror.
bati = to beat>/dd>
Li batis la hundon ĉar li ne kuraĝis bati la policiston.
= He beat the dog because he didn’t dare beat the policeman.
Ŝia koro batis pli rapide kiam ajn ŝi aŭdis lian voĉon.
= Her heart beat faster whenever she heard his voice.
blovi = to blow>/dd>
Daĉjo, ne blovu vian supon! = Davey, don’t blow on your soup!
La vento blovu la ŝipon rapide hejmen.
= May the wind blow the ship rapidly home.
Blovu, ventaĉ’! Cin ne timas mi. = Blow, terrible wind. I fear thee not!
cedi = to give up>/dd>
Neniam mi cedos mian tronon al li! = Never shall I cede my throne to him!
Hakilo estas tranĉa, sed la branĉo ne cedas.z
= The ax is sharp, but the branch does not give way.
fumi = to smoke
Ŝi fumis kiel fajro kiam ajn li fumis cigaredon.
= She smoked like a fire whenever he smoked a cigarette.
ludi = to play
Ĉu vi ludas violonon?z
= Do you play the violin?
Li ludis la reĝon en la teatraĵo … aĉe.
= He played the king in the play … badly.
Sur la strato ludis amaso da infanoj.z
= A bunch of children were playing in the street.
pasi = to pass
Pasis dek jaroj.
= Ten years went by.
Ŝi pas(ig)is tutan jaron en Kuvajto.
= She spent an entire year in Kuwait.
Ni ankoraŭ ne pasis la kastelon.
= We haven’t passed the castle yet.
Li ekamas ĉiun belulinon kiu pasas.
= He falls in love with every beautiful woman who passes.

12.4.4. Using -ig- and -iĝ- to Transform Verbs

*-I am indebted to Claude Gacond of the Kultura Centro Esperantista in La Chaux-de-Fonds for pointing out this unusual but compelling analysis.

One way to think about -ig- and -iĝ- in connection with verbs is to think of -ig- as adding an object to the clause and -iĝ- as subtracting one (unless there is none to subtract).*

Transitive Verbs:
Transitive Verb (Requires Direct Object)
manĝi = eat
Lia fratineto manĝis la insekton. = His little sister ate the bug.
Transitive Verb + -ig- (Adds Another object)
manĝigi = feed
La bubo manĝigis la fratineton per la insekto.
= The brat fed his little sister the bug.
Transitive Verb + -iĝ- (Subtracts an object)
manĝiĝi = be eaten
La insekto manĝiĝis. = The bug got eaten.
Intransitive Verbs:
Intransitive Verb (Requires No Direct Object)
sidi = sit
Mi sidos tie. = I’ll be sitting over there.
Intransitive Verb + -ig- (Adds an object)
sidigi = seat
Mi sidigos la gaston tie. = I’ll seat the guest over there.
Intransitive Verb + (Comparable to ek-)
sidiĝi = be seated, sit down
Mi sidiĝos tie. (Mi eksidos tie.) = I’ll sit down over there.

12.4.5. -ig- with Two Objects

When -ig- is added to a verb that is already transitive, the result is to add the idea of causing someone to perform the action of the verb. (In English this is usually expressed with the verb “make” or “have.”)

Li aĉetis domon. = He bought a house.
Ŝi aĉetigis al li domon. = She made him buy a house.
Ŝi aĉetigis al li jogurton de verda teo por ŝi.
= She had him buy her green tea yogurt.

In English we use two verbs in such sentences, and we have two objects:

She made him buy a house.
subject verb-object verb-object

“Him” is the object of the first verb (“made”) and “house” is the object of the second (“buy”). Since in Esperanto there is only one verb (aĉetigis), the two objects are usually handled by leaving one of them in the accusative (with -n) and attaching the other one by means of the preposition al (for people) or per (for objects):

Ŝi aĉetigis lin. = She made him buy [something].
Ŝi aĉetigis la domon. = She had the house bought [by someone].
Ŝi aĉetigis al li la domon. = She made him buy the house.
Ŝi aĉetigis lin per la domo. = She made him buy the house.
Lia fratineto manĝis la insekton. = His little sister ate the bug.
La bubo manĝigis la insekton al la fratineto.
= The brat made his little sister eat the bug.
OR The brat fed the bug to his little sister.
La bubo manĝigis la fratineton per la insekto.
= The brat fed his little sister [with] the bug.
La bubo manĝigis la insekton. = The brat had the bug eaten.
La bubo manĝigis la fratineton. = The brat fed his little sister.

*-Similar causative structures in other languages pose similar problems, and different conventions govern them. In Hungarian, for example, the interpretations with asterisks in the following examples are impossible, although in Esperanto they are theoretically possible.

It is the speaker’s choice which of the two objects will be attached by the preposition and which by the accusative case. When one object is a person and the other a thing, it is more usual for the person to be attached by al and the thing by the accusative.

When both objects are people, per is usually impossible, since it refers to instruments, and the sentence with -ig- becomes ambiguous:*

Ŝi amigis al li la infanon.
= She made him love the child.
OR She made the child love him.*
Ŝi amigis lin al la infano.
= She made the child love him.
OR She made him love the child.*

In such cases, it is perfectly ordinary (but not very elegant) to separate the -ig- and make it into a separate verb, just as we do in English:

Ŝi igis lin ami la infanon. = She made him love the child.
Ŝi igis la infanon ami lin. = She made the child love him.

All of this may seem pedantic and trivial, but double objects are found after -ig- quite routinely, and it is easiest to remember that al and per are the best way to deal with them.

12.4.5.1. Examples of -ig- and -iĝ- With Transitive Verbs

Ili fandis la orajn trezorojn. = They melted down the gold treasures.
En printempo la neĝo fandiĝas, t.e., akviĝas.
= In spring the snow melts, that is, turns into water.

*-It is arguable that -iĝ- when used with transitive verb roots constitutes an Esperanto equivalent of the ancient Greek “middle voice,” but I am not sure that that insight is very helpful except to ancient Greeks.

Some occurrences of -iĝ- are best translated by a passive verb in English:*

La argumento baziĝas sur faktoj. = The argument is based on the facts.
La libro vaste vendiĝas. = The book is widely sold.
Li naskiĝis en 1984. = He was born in 1984.

There is, of course, a “true” passive form in Esperanto made with a participle. It is used especially when we want to indicate an agent. (See the section on participles [link].)

La libro estas vendata de maljunulo.
= The book is being sold by an old man.

12.4.5.2. Examples of -ig- and -iĝ- With Intransitive Verbs

Ĉu la libroj ankoraŭ ne venis el Berlino?
= Haven’t the books arrived yet from Berlin?
Li venigis librojn el Berlino. = He had books sent from Berlin. (Literally: He caused books to come from Berlin.)
Staras vazo sur la piano. = A vase is standing on the piano.
Starigu la vazon sur la pianon.
= Set the vase over on the piano.

12.4.6. Verbs Made From Nouns and Adjectives With -ig- and -iĝ-

A root is not really a noun or adjective or verb until it ends in an -o or -a or one of the verbal endings. To make a noun or an adjective into a verb, it follows that one simply changes the -o or the -a to a verbal ending.

Is the result a transitive or an intransitive verb? Unfortunately there is no way to tell. It very much depends upon the particular case and the traditions that have grown up around it. Ĵaluza, for example, is essentially an adjective. Making it a verb, Zamenhof himself wrote:

Ĉu vi ĵaluzas pri mi?z = Are you jealous of me?
Li ĵaluzos sian edzinon.z = He will be jealous of his wife.

In the first example the verb is intransitive and the complement is attached with a preposition (pri), while in the second the verb seems to be transitive and takes a direct object. Or perhaps in the second case it is not a transitive verb, but rather sian edzinon is used to replace je sia edzino. How can we know whether a word like ĵaluza is going to become a transitive or an intransitive verb? This illustrates a problem that has attracted increasing interest among Esperanto-speaking grammarians in recent years.

The answer seems to lie in the inherent “affinity” that a root has for one or another part of speech, its “inherent grammaticality.” Usually, in the absence of traditional conventions about it, a noun root taking verbal endings means “to be an X” or “to use an X,” and an adjective root taking verbal endings means “to be X.” When in doubt one must usually look it up. Most of the time, though, making a noun or adjective root into a verb involves -ig- or -iĝ-, and that clarifies everything, as we shall now see.

12.4.7. Nouns and Adjectives With -ig-

The suffix -ig-, when used with non-verbal roots usually means “to make [something][adjective]”:

blua = blue bluigi = to make [something] blue
reĝo = king reĝigi = to make [someone] king
feliĉa = happy feliĉigi = to make [someone] happy
Elena penis trankviligi lin.
= Elena tried to calm him down.
Printempo akvigis la neĝon kaj rivelis la kadavron.
= Spring turned the snow to water and revealed the corpse.
Mi ne precize “edziĝis”; ŝi edzigis min!
= I didn’t exactly get married; she married me! (Literally: I didn’t exactly just become a husband; she made me a husband!)

12.4.8. Nouns and Adjectives With -iĝ-

The suffix -iĝ-, when used with non-verbal roots usually means “to become [adjective]”:

blua = blue bluiĝi = to turn blue
reĝo = king reĝiĝi = to become king
feliĉa = happy feliĉiĝi = to become happy
Kiam ŝi ruĝiĝis li paliĝis. = When she blushed, he turned pale.
Li ekesperantistiĝis en 1989. = He first became an Esperantist in 1989.
La argumento baziĝas sur la faktoj.
= The reasoning is based on the facts.

12.4.9. Summary of -ig- and -iĝ- With Different Kinds of Roots

12.4.9.1. Adjectival Roots (bela = beautiful)

*-See the subsection on “Adjectives as Stative Verbs” in the section on adjectives (link).

X-as usually means “is X”*
Ŝi belas. = She is beautiful.
X-iĝas means “gets X, becomes X”
Ŝi beliĝas. = She is becoming beautiful.
X-igas means “makes ___ X”
Kolero beligas ŝin. = Anger makes her beautiful.
12.4.9.2. Noun Roots (patro = father)

*-This usage is considered substandard by many Esperantists.

X-as usually means “is an X”* but may mean “uses an X [on]”
Li patras. = He is a father. but: broso = a brush hence brosi = to brush [something]
X-iĝas means “gets X, becomes an X”
Li patriĝas. = He is becoming a father.
X-igas means “makes ___ an X”
Ŝi patrigis lin. = She made him a father.
12.4.9.3. Transitive Verb Roots (ami = to love)
X-as means “X-s something”
Li amas ŝin. = He loves her.
X-iĝas means “X-s oneself,” “becomes X-ed,” “is X-ed”
Li amiĝas. = He is loved.
X-igas means “makes ___ X ___”
Li amigas ŝin al la hundo.
= He is making the dog love her/her love the dog.

12.4.9.4. Intransitive Verb Roots (sidi = to sit)

X-as means “X-s”
Ŝi sidas sur la trono. = She sits upon the throne.
X-iĝas means “begins to X,” “becomes X-ed”
Ŝi sidiĝis sur la tronon. = She sat down on the throne.
X-igas means “makes ___ X”
Ŝi sidigis la gastojn ĉirkaŭ la tablegon.
= She seated the guests around the great table.

12.4.10. Igi and Iĝi As Independent Verbs

Although, as we noted, both -ig- and -iĝ- can be used as independent verbs (igi = “cause” and iĝi = “become”), iĝi is not used as much as the longer compound fariĝi = “to become.” Logic will be on your side if you use iĝi, but you will be speaking more colloquial Esperanto if you use fariĝi.

Ŝi fariĝis reĝino de la majo. = She became Queen of the May.

When igi means not just “to make” but “to force,” the more common verb is devigi.

*-Deviga laboro = “compulsory work” stresses that one must (devas) do the work. In contrast, farenda laboro = “work which must be done,” stresses that the work must get done (-end-), whoever does it.

Oni nomumis lin reĝo de la majo.
= They named him King of the May.
Oni igis lin reĝo de la majo.
= They made him King of the May.
Oni faris lin reĝo de la majo.
= They made him King of the May.
Oni devigis lin esti reĝo de la majo.
= They made him be King of the May.
Ŝi devigis lin edzinigi ŝin.
She made him marry her.
Tio estas deviga laboro.
= That is compulsory work. (Literally: That is work which one is forced to do.)


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