Esperanto Language Blog

Measuring up in the USA Posted by on Aug 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

Are you soon planning to visit the USA? Perhaps you already live there, but don’t yet know how to talk about non-metric measurements in Esperanto. Well, believe it or not, sometimes the American customary units system is easier to use in practice. For example, if I’m riding in the car with someone heading to an Esperanto conference in America, I don’t tell the driver, “There’s 8 kilometers to our exit!” However, it can be fun to give metric measures to Americans in “inappropriate situations” to see the blank looks on their faces! Never forget The Onion, which reminds us that converting to the metric system starts with the individual. ­čÖé

Normally when you write or speak in Esperanto, you will want to use metric measurements, since the only countries not yet using metric are the United States, Liberia and Burma. Also, the United Kingdom officially uses metric, although there are still some cases where Brits still use the imperial system such as measuring body height and weight as well as distance and speed on the highway (ahem, motorway!).

In Esperanto, these units can sometimes be used in a literary manner to convey a local flavor to a text, but should almost always include the metric conversion in parenthesis behind it, such as “Mi mendis usonan pajnton (0,47 litrojn), ne britan pajnton (0,57 litrojn) da biero.” When translating English text to Esperanto, it’s even better to avoid using the units altogether if they’re not important. For example, Russ Williams convinced me to drop the units when translating the Esperanto subtitles for the board game documentary Going Cardboard in the following sentence (also note how we shortened the text to make it quicker to read):

English: About two weeks after I registered, I get an email message within the Geek from a local gamer, Mark Edwards, who ends up living two miles down the road from me.
Esperanto: Du semajnojn poste, mi ricevis retpo┼Łton en BGG de loka ludanto, Mark Edwards, kiu lo─Łas proksime de mi.

However, back to the USA, many people don’t realize that the metric system is really used there sometimes too! For example, there are two liter drink bottles, and nutritional information on food boxes is indicated in calories and grams. Also, all Americans calculate using the metric system studying science in school, such as in chemistry and physics classes. To learn more about other uses of the metric system there, I would highly recommend this incredibly detailed Wikipedia article: Metrication in the United States.

Finally, without further ado, here are some useful imperial Esperanto phrases:

[Remember that the Esperanto j is pronounced like the English consonant y.]

La grandeco de mia televidilo estas tridek du coloj.
My television is thirty-two inches large.

Mi altas kvin futojn.
I am five feet tall.

Usona piedpilka tereno havas cent jardojn.
An American football field has one hundred yards.

La terpeco de mia avino grandas dek sep akreojn.
My grandma’s land is seventeen acres large.

Kvin funtoj da terpomoj kostas 1,98 britajn pundojn.
Five pounds of potatoes cost 1.98 British Pounds.
(note that commas are typically used instead of periods to indicate decimals)

La distanco inter Novjorko kaj Losan─Łeleso estas 2464 mejloj.
The distance between New York and Los Angeles is 2464 miles.

Iru a─ëeti du galonojn da lakto.
Go buy two gallons of milk.

Ekstere estas malvarme: tridek gradoj farenhejtaj.
It is cold outside: thirty degrees Fahrenheit.

Estas dek ses uncoj en unu pajnto.
There are sixteen ounces in one pint.

Kiel mi povus rapide trovi tunon da tinusa─Áo?
How could I quickly find a ton of tuna (food)?

So, now you’re ready for an epic Esperanto road trip across the United States. Bonan voja─Łon, y’all!

Keep learning Esperanto with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

About the Author: Chuck Smith

I was born in the US, but Esperanto has led me all over the world. I started teaching myself Esperanto on a whim in 2001, not knowing how it would change my life. The timing couldnÔÇÖt have been better; around that same time I discovered Wikipedia in itÔÇÖs very early stages and launched the Esperanto version. When I decided to backpack through Europe, I found Esperanto speakers to host me. These connections led me to the Esperanto Youth Organization in Rotterdam, where I worked for a year, using Esperanto as my primary language. Though in recent years IÔÇÖve moved on to other endeavors like iOS development, I remain deeply engrained in the Esperanto community, and love keeping you informed of the latest news. The best thing that came from learning Esperanto has been the opportunity to connect with fellow speakers around the globe, so feel free to join in the conversation with a comment! I am now the founder and CTO of the social app Amikumu.


  1. Russ:

    Thanks for the mention! I remember that translation discussion about the miles! ­čÖé

    Interesting article. I get the impression that a lot of people in the US (at least those who haven’t traveled internationally) don’t quite truly grok that essentially the entire rest of the world uses the metric system, and perhaps they subconsciously assume that “but still, everyone at least understands quarts and inches and Fahrenheit etc, right?”

    It is perhaps analogous to knowing intellectually that not everyone in the world speaks English, but still unconsciously assuming in practice that everyone speaks English…) ­čÖé

  2. Kunar:

    You forgot to mention Persone, the Esperanto rock band from Sweden:
    Mejlojn for (lyrics)

    Everything’s better with pop culture!

  3. Marteno:

    Ni kutime diras “pajnto” anstata┼ş “pindo”.

    Mi havas interesan anekdoton pri la “konflikto de mezurunuoj”. Foje ni estis kun amiko en drinkejo (okazis en Britio). Mi mendis bieron kaj li oran─Łosukon. Mi ricevis unu pajnton da biero kaj li ricevis unu pajnton da oran─Łosuko.

    Kiam venis la dua rondo — mi ricevis mian duan pajnton da biero, sed li — nur tri kvaronojn de pajnto da oran─Łosuko!!


    ─łar 1 l = 1,75 pt (preska┼ş precize!)

    Biero venas en bareloj, sed oran─Łosuko venas en unulitraj kartonaj skatoloj. Por la unua mendo la kelnero malfermis skatolon kaj enver┼Łis la plenan pajntan glason. Por la dua mendo — li simple elver┼Łis ─ëion kio restis en la skatolo: tri kvaronoj de pajnto!

  4. Frith Ra:

    I used to live near Fairbanks, AK where the sign you have at the top of the page is situated. Actually I was 20 Kilometers southwest of the city in the town of North Pole. I know that the highway marker said 13 Miles, but I enjoyed bothering the Conservatives who refused to understand things metric. I’m still fairly decent at converting miles to Kilometers on the fly.

    Thanks for having this blog, I need to check in more often.