Esperanto Adjectives – Love ’em, don’t leave ’em Posted by Tomaso on May 31, 2018 in Esperanto Language
What’s the best method for describing things in Esperanto?
All languages need a way to describe things. Is it big, small, fast, good, bad? These words are called adjectives. In Esperanto, adjectives end in –a. If you want to describe something in Esperanto, look for a word that ends in -a:
- granda – big
- malgranda – small
- rapida – fast
- bona – good
- malbona – bad
An easy way to use an adjective is just to put it in front of a noun.
- granda hundo – a big dog.
It can also go after a noun.
- hundo granda – a big dog.
If there’s more than one dog, then we need a -j on both the adjective and the noun to show this.
- grandaj hundoj, hundoj grandaj – big dogs.
We can also use adjectives a little further from the noun, using estas (is/are). Note that we still need the -j ending to show plural, if the thing we’re describing is plural (more than one).
- La hundo estas granda. – The dog is big.
- La hundoj estas grandaj. – The dogs are big.
Finally, adjectives are also “marked for case”. That is, if there’s an -n on the noun, there needs to be one on the adjective too.
- Mi vidas grandan hundon. – I see a big dog.
- Mia koramiko ne ŝatas grandajn hundojn.
What about turning adjectives into verbs?
The above method – that is, with adjectives, is the best way to describe things, but I see a lot of questions about turning adjectives into verbs. This is a misunderstanding of how Esperanto works. If you want to say something like “the lake is blue”, you need an adjective: La lago estas blua. This is the correct and normal way to describe the lake.
Esperanto does allow us to make verbs out of any kind of root. The resulting verb means to do the action associated with the root. What action is associated with the root? With some words, like martelo (hammer) it’s easy. We can form the verb marteli (to hammer). With other roots, such as blua, however, the meaning “to do the action associated with blue” isn’t so clear.
“Aha”, says the random learner on the internet who heard differently somewhere else, but Claude Piron listed this very sentence in “The Evolution of Esperanto” to describe a blue lake. He said “Kiel bluas la lago.” Isn’t this an example of someone using a verb to describe?
Well, yes, but only sort of. It’s meant to be a nuanced, poetic way of saying something similar to “how blue the lake is”. We’re still talking about an action. In fact, notice how Piron translated the sentence.
- Kiel bluas la lago! ‘what an impression of lively blue does the lake give out!’
It’s well-established in Esperanto that the adding a verb ending to an adjective means something more “active” than just “estas” plus an adjective. This can be clearly seen in words rapida/rapidi (fast, to hurry) and kuraĝa/kuraĝi (brave, to show bravery.) When it’s a verb, it’s more active.
My advice to learners is that if you want to say that the X is Y, always use estas: La X estas Y-a. Don’t try to turn Y into an action. It takes time to start getting a sense of what “action” is associated with a root.
Okay, there is indeed a short list of common verbs that are often translated as “is + adjective” in English. (Note: it is my intention to add to this list as examples come up, so this should eventually be more or less comprehensive.)
- Vi pravas. You are right.
- Mi feliĉas aŭdi tion. I am happy to hear that.
- Mi tre malsatas. I am very hungry.
- Li malsanis dum tri tagoj. He was sick for three days.
- Ne gravas! No big deal! (Literally “not important”.)
Beyond this short list, really, never. Use adjective to describe things, and verbs to express actions.