Learning Esperanto

Experience shows that those who learn Esperanto learn other languages more quickly, in part thanks to the good understanding of grammar given by learning the logical and regular Esperanto grammar and in part because Esperanto is predominantly built from international words. 80% of the word-stems are taken from Latin and Romance languages, but Esperanto has also taken words from Greek, Russian, German and English. An additional reason behind why learning Esperanto helps learning other languages, is probably that the swiftness with which it is acquired (allowing students to hold simple conversations after only a few weeks of learning), giving the students a positive attitude towards learning languages. Esperanto with its clarity and logic gives a feeling for language and a good basis for learning other languages.

There are at least 1000 families around the world who use Esperanto at home. These families have in general been created from a man and woman with different first languages, whom have met in an Esperanto conference.


Due to the construction of Esperanto it is not necessary to learn as many words as you have to when learning other languages. One word-stem gives rise to several words through adding prefixes or suffixes. For example, if you put mal in front of a word, you get its antonym (= word with the opposite meaning).

Warm is varma.
Cold is malvarma.
Light is lumo.
Dark is mallumo.

Take for instance the word “countryman”. In Esperanto it is constructed accordingly:

sam(a) same all adjectives end in a
land(o) country, land all nouns end in o
ano inhabitant
samlandano countryman
samurbano a person from the same town, urbo = town
saminsulano a person from the same island, insulo = island
samlingvano a person who speaks the same language, lingvo = languages
script is skribo, nouns end in -o
to write is skribi verbs end in -i
in writing, skribe adverbs end in -e
written, skriba adjectives end in -a

Nouns always end in -o

domo house
knabo boy
muziko music
skribo a written document
hundo dog

Adjectives always end in -a

granda big
juna young
skriba written

La is the definite article. It is never conjugated.

La hundo the dog. La hundo estas blanka (The dog is white).
La domo the house
La knabo the boy
La tablo the table
La floro the flower

There is no indefinite article.

hundo dog, a dog
domo house, a house


ronda ringo a round ring
rapida biciklo a fast bicycle
forta kafo strong coffee
varma akvo warm water

Verbs in the infinitive end in -i

esti to be
vidi to see
skribi to write


0 nul
1 unu
2 du
3 tri
4 kvar
5 kvin
6 ses
7 sep
8 ok
9 naux (Concerning ux, please see The Alphabet below.)
10 dek
11 dek unu
12 dek du
20 dudek
25 dudek kvin
100 cent
237 ducent tridek sep
1000 mil
1780 mil sepcent okdek

Can you translate these words to English? The stress is always on the penultimate (=next to the last) syllable. Cover the right column.

adreso address
biciklo bicycle
biero beer
doktoro doctor
floro flower
karoto carrot
mono money
radio radio
sukero sugar
tablo table
trajno train

More about how to form words: New words are formed by adding prefixes or suffixes to word-stems. Example of prefixes; mal- creates an antonym.

bona good
malbona bad
longa long
mallonga short
fermi close
malfermi open
pli more
malpli less
varma warm
malvarma cold
varmo heat
malvarmo cold (The noun.)

Every word-stem in Esperanto can give rise to several new words, sometimes up to fifty, simply by combining different prefixes and suffixes. The suffix –eg denotes an enlargement or reinforcement and –et a decrease or weakening. Thus you can form from domo (house), domoj=houses (-j denotes plural), dometo = a small house or cabin, domego = a large house, pordo = door and pordego= a big door, pordeto= a small door. Varma = warm, varmega = hot, varmeta = lukewarm.

The prefix re- gives the meaning again, back.

relegi re-read (legi - read)
reveni return (veni - come)

Example of suffix, -id, that denotes child

birdido nestling (birdo - bird)
hundido puppy (hundo - dog)
katido kitten (kato - cat)

Suffix -in, denotes female gender.

hundino bitch
bovino cow (virbovo - bull)

Ami means “to love”. Having learned some prefixes and suffixes it is easy to form new words.

Amo love (nouns end in -o)
Amego passion (-eg denotes larger, greater)
Amas loves (-as denotes present tense)
Ekamas fall in love (ek- denotes beginning or short term action)
Ametas loves a little, likes (-et denotes reduction, weakening)
Amegas loves a lot, adores (-eg denotes increase, enlargement)
Malamas hates (mal- denotes opposite)
Malametas hates a little, dislikes (mal- for opposite and -et for reduction)
Mi amas vin. I love you.

The consequent use of prefixes and suffixes is one of the most prominent features of Esperanto. The number of words that you have to learn is drastically reduced as a result of this, at the same time as it is easy to understand how to make new words.

Personal pronouns:

mi I
vi you
li he
sxi she
gxi that, it
ni we
vi you
ili they

With the suffix –a we get possessive pronouns,

mia my
via your
lia his
sxia her
gxia its
nia our / ours
via your / yours
ilia theirs


mia dentisto my dentist
via letero your letter
La granda tablo estas ronda The big table is round.
Estas varma kafo en la taso. There is warm coffee in the cup.
En florvazo estas bela floro. There is a pretty flower in a vase.

Verb forms, tenses:

-i infinitive skribi to write
-as present skribas writes
-is past skribis wrote, has written, would have written
-os future skribos will write, going to write
-us conditional skribus would write
-u imperative skribu write!


Mi sidas en komforta fotelo. I am sitting in a comfortable chair.
Mi skribos I am going to write

Adverbs are made with the suffix -e

rapide quickly (rapida - fast)
skribe in writing (skribi - to write)

Plural: The ending –j denotes plurals and is added to both nouns and adjectives.

bela hundo a beautiful dog
belaj hundoj beautiful dogs
la knaboj estas junaj the boys are young

Objekt (the noun an action is directed towards or is performed on.) The suffix –n gives the direct object.

La knabo vidas la hundon the boy sees the dog
La knabo vidas la hundojn the boy sees the dogs
La hundo vidas la knabon the dog sees the boy (also: la knabon vidas la hundo)


pli more
plej most
bela pretty
pli bela prettier
plej bela prettiest

Adverbs are also compared with pli and plej

Rapide quickly
Pli rapide more quickly
plej rapide most quickly

Than is ol

La domo estas pli granda ol la hundo. The house is bigger than the dog.

Possession is expressed with de.

La hundo de la knabo. The boy’s dog.

Questions: All questions contain a question word, for example

kio what
kiel how
kiam when
cxu used for yes or no questions.


Ne no, not.

Ne is placed in front of the word that is negated.

Mi ne estas juna I am not young.

It is not as important to pay attention to the sequence of words in Esperanto as it is in other languages, where often the word sequence may indicate the posing of a question. Questions in Esperanto are introduced by a question-word.

Li estas knabo. He is a boy.
Cxu li estas knabo? Is he a boy?

The object of an action is given the suffix –n.


La knabo amas la hundon. The boy loves the dog. (ami = love. –as denotes present tense).
La knabon amas la hundo. The dog loves the boy. (-n indicates that the boy is the object of the action). Of course you can also say: La hundo amas la knabon.

The above examples show that the word sequence is of lesser importance in Esperanto.

There are only two cases, nominative and accusative, which latter are denoted by -n. Marking accusatives with –n gives Esperanto its relatively free word sequencing. Counting words are not conjugated. Verbs are not changed with regard to person or numbers.

The Alphabet

Unfortunately there is a tricky aspect of Esperanto; the alphabet. It contains six letters that have a sign above them, a circumflex. But different phonetic signs are used in many languages, e. g. in French ç, ê, é, è, in German ü, ä and in Spanish ñ.

A, B, C, Ĉ, D, E, F, G, Ĝ, H, Ĥ, I, J, Ĵ, K, L, M, N, O, P, R, S, Ŝ, T, U, Ŭ, V, Z.

a b c ĉ d e f g ĝ h ĥ i j ĵ k l m n o p r s ŝ t u ŭ v z.

The letters q, w, x and y are not used in Esperanto.

However I do not support the use of a mark over certain letters. I consider it would be wrong to choose as an international language one that could not be written with an ordinary keyboard. Amongst lots of users on the Internet there have been a custom that instead of a mark over the letter, put an x after the letter. E g instead of writing seĝo (=chair), the word will be spelled segxo. This is in fact more simple.

The letter x is not otherwise used in Esperanto and carries the advantage that an alphabetical sorting by the computer works if x is used in place of the circumflex. This is not the case if h is used, as it is by some.

The Esperanto alphabet will then read:

a b c cx d e f g gx h hx i j jx k l m n o p r s sx t u ux v z,

where the x denotes a different pronunciation.

Unfortunately this disadvantage (the only one) with Esperanto does exist, but the advantages are so great that we will have to accept this. The alternative would be to choose an international language that does not contain sur-typed letters (such as Interlingua), which is another good and easily learned language where the roots are taken from the international vocabulary. Keep in mind that there are 28 letters in Esperanto and that each letter is always pronounced in the same way. If you can read the alphabet correctly, you can pronounce every word.

This improved version of the alphabet will not cause any difficulties in the reading or writing of Esperanto. If Esperanto becomes the single working language of the EU, it should be agreed that x become the only indicator of pronunciation.

Ludvig Zamenhof himself wrote that “When our language has been officially accepted by the governments of the most important countries and these governments have through a special law ensured Esperanto an absolutely secure future as well as usefulness and a complete protection against every personal fancy or dispute, then an authorised committee, unanimously appointed by said governments, shall be given the right to once and for all introduce the changes in the desired parts of the language’s foundation, if such changes should prove to be necessary, but until this point in time Fundamento de Esperanto must remain absolutely unchanged…” (The only imperative rules for Esperanto are found in the small volume Fundamento de Esperanto).

The new additions of words to Esperanto have two main sources. One source is national words that have been spread around the world and the other is Esperanto itself.

Before a new word-root or –stem is accepted by Lingva Komitato the root has existed in as well newspapers as in other literature, and has begun to be used in everyday speech.

Today, the largest Esperanto dictionaries contain between 15 000 and 20 000 roots, from which over 150 000 words can be formed.

There are more than 125 dictionaries centred on terminology from a total of fifty areas of specialisation such as philosophy, crafts and technology.

Sister and sister–in–law

Thanks to the system of adding prefixes or suffixes to the words, it is easy to form a significantly larger number of words. For example bo- denotes relatedness through marriage. Brother = frato. Sister = fratino. Mother = patrino. Brother-in-law then becomes bofrato, sister-in-law bofratino, mother-in-law bopatrino, etc.

© Hans Malv, 2004