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Where are you from? Are you one of us? De vs El Posted by on Jun 25, 2018 in Esperanto Language

A big thanks to my student Ŝano for this question. When do you use el and when do you use de?

Where are you from? Gulls image from pixabay.com

Where are you from? Gulls image from pixabay.com

De vs El — different kinds of “from” in Esperanto

Prepositions are very much the heart of a language. To master a language, it is essential to know both how to use them and which one to use when. This is true of Esperanto as well. I’ve written about prepositions here before: Keys to understanding Esperanto pepositions, Je the “wildcard” preposition, How to say a glass of water. This last one touched on confusion between de and da… but what about de and el?

If you look up “from” in a bilingual dictionary, you’ll see both de and el. So, which one do you use? The confusion doesn’t seem to be limited to native English speakers, but there are differences.

De – attachment or belonging

First, let’s recap what we learned about de in our discussion about glass of water.

It can show attachment or belonging.

  • La ideo de Karlo – Karlo’s idea
  • La pinto de la monto – the peak of the mountain
  • La prezo de pano – the price of bread

It can also show who did something.

  • Libro legata de Panjo – a book read by Mom.
  • Ronkado de Avo – Grandpa’s snoring. (It belongs to him / He’s doing it.)

It can also show a starting place or time (“from” in contrast to “to”).

  • Li kuris de la banko al la superbazaro – He ran from the bank to the supermarket.
  • Mi restis sendorma de noktomezo ĝis tagiĝo – I was up from midnight till dawn.

El – out of, made out of, out from inside of

The basic meaning of “el”, in contrast is “out of” — that is, starting inside something and moving out.

  • Mi venas el Hispanujo – I am from Spain.
  • forpeli iun el la domo — to drive someone out of the house.
  • ne gutas mielo el la ĉielo – honey doesn’t drip from the sky (money doesn’t grow on trees)

It can also mean “out of” in the sense of “made out of.”

  • kruro el ligno – a wooden leg (a leg made out of wood.)

There are many examples where you could use either. Sometimes the meaning is subtly different. Sometimes there isn’t a great difference.

  • flago pendas de/el la fenestro – a flag is hanging (from)/(out of) the window
  • trinki el glaso – to drink from a glass
  • trinki de apuda fontano – to drink from a nearby fountain.
  • De kiu lando vi estas? What country are you from?
  • El kiu lando vi estas? What country are you from?

In these cases, there may be a right answer (I’m not telling!) but you’ll see both and it’s not really a big deal.

Where are you from?

I’ve run this question by several fluent speakers and have received various answers. I’ve always seen this as a question of attachment. (“What country do you belong to?”) Others see it as coming “out of” a place. (You started out inside your country of origin.) Others still say it doesn’t make a big difference and in conversation they probably wouldn’t notice which preposition was used. I’m starting to agree with this third group. My sense is that de is more logical here but el is more traditional (and certainly makes logical sense to the people who use or have used it.) You’ll see it both ways so don’t stress about that.

  • Where are you from? De/El kie vi estas?

Are you one of us?

In other cases, it’s more clear which answer is correct, even if we’re tempted to use the wrong one.

  • du el la plej bonaj ideoj – two of the best ideas
  • ŝi kantas plej bone el ĉiuj – she sang the best (out) of all of them.

It’s tempting to say “de” here (of) but “el” is the right choice. You’re selecting “out of” the list. They’re in the list and you’re pulling them out to talk about.

What do you think?

Thanks so much for reading and please comment to let me know what you think. Which prepositions cause you trouble?

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About the Author:Tomaso

An Esperanto teacher since 1998, Tomaso (known in various corners of the online Esperanto world as "Salivanto") has been answering questions about Esperanto for almost two decades. He has been a regular contributor to Radio Verda, Esperanto Stack Exchange, Duolingo forums, and most recently his own YouTube Channel Esperanto Variety Show. Tomaso lives in upstate NY with four of the coolest Esperanto speakers in North America - his wife and kids.


Comments:

  1. Margaret Loyon:

    Thank you for this very helpful and easily understood discussion of the differences between de and el.


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