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Word-Building with Esperanto Affixes by Don Harlow


Copyright Notice This material is copyright 1995 by Donald J. Harlow. Hard copies may be made for personal use only. Any user may make one electronic copy for personal use only. All copies must contain this copyright notice, including the date given below. No electronic copy may be located elsewhere for public access. Links to this original copy on the World Wide Web are encouraged. Please respect the conditions of this copyright notice; I simply don't want to have various unofficial (and perhaps not up-to-date) copies floating around elsewhere. Date: 1995.11.26.


Table of Contents Participial Suffixes Category Suffixes Noun Suffixes Adjective Suffixes Verb Suffixes Quasi Suffixes Pseudosuffixes Adverb Prefixes Root Prefixes Prepositional Prefixes Pseudoprefixes

True Suffixes True Prefixes Quasi Prefixes

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Supersigned letters are shown by a following '^'. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------Herewith follows a short and somewhat idiosyncratic discussion of the theory of Esperanto wordformation. If you think this is going to bore you, click here to bypass it. Zamenhof invented the Esperanto word-formation system without bothering to attempt to justify it except by pointing out that ... it works! Couturat, the prime mover behind the Ido conspiracy, felt that this was a major failing in the Esperanto word-formation system -- that it had no supporting theory to justify it. (Though Ido's derivational system did not work as well in practice as Esperanto's, it at least had a theory...)

To answer Couturat, Ren de Saussure, a member of the Lingva Komitato, began to put together a theoretical basis for the Esperanto word- formation system. His basic theory was expanded by Klmn Kalocsay, included by Kalocsay and Gaston Waringhien in their Plena Gramatiko de Esperanto, and eventually adopted by the Academy of Esperanto.

The basic idea behind this theory is that every root in Esperanto -- the root, not the word, is the basic unit of Esperanto -- has an inherent grammatical quality. For example, the root ton' ("stone") is a noun, the root kur' ("run") is a verb, and the root ru' ("red") is an adjective. Grammatical endings of -O, -I and -A respectively are therefore redundant.

Not all Esperanto speakers were particularly happy with this essential "westernizing" of the wordformation system; some (particularly Kalocsay's countryman Istvn Szerdahlyi) continued to insist that, in fact, roots have no grammatical category whatsoever.

As usual, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. It is possible to categorize Esperanto roots in a number of ways, but one of these is into the categories of object roots (ton'), action roots (kur') and attribute roots (ru'). This leaves some questions floating around -- for instance, where do we put roots that describe states, and which might either fall into the attribute category or be linked together, as we

often do in the west, with actions? For the nonce, let's leave them hanging loose -- something we could not do with the rather rigid grammatical-category description.

Still, there seems to be a nice correlation between our three categories and the three grammatical categories of the Academy, and we can continue to speak, if we wish, of noun roots, verb roots and adjective roots -- remembering, however, that we are not talking of word categories but simply using a shorthand for how certain roots describe the universe. Don't forget, however, that all of these things can be nouns (that's how we're describing them -- as objects, actions, attributes!), verbs or adjectives -- no grammatical endings are redundant, they are necessary to determine in what grammatical function the root is being used.

So we have O-roots, I-roots and A-roots (for convenience). What role does this play in word formation using affixes?

Most affixes take a certain type of stem (a root or root with affixes) and convert it to another type of stem. The argument has been made, in fact, that certain affixes cannot be attached to certain types of stem because they simply don't take a stem of that grammatical type. But remember from above that the grammatical type is determined not by the content of the stem but by the grammatical ending attached to it. This means that, in fact, every stem is of potentially every grammatical type. Consequently, when you add an affix to a stem it automatically converts that stem to the needed grammatical type just as a grammatical ending would.

Let's try an example. The suffix -EC (a characteristic described by the root) wants to take as input a stem that is an attribute and output something tangible, an object -- in other words A-stem -> O-stem. When we create the word rueco ("redness"), the use is obvious. On the other hand, consider the word toneco. Here we have input an object word ... or is it? No, we have simply treated the root as an attribute (represented in English by the adjective "stony"), and have created the Esperanto equivalent of "stoniness". Or what about kureco? Here I encounter a problem -- there's no English equivalent that I know of. But the meaning should be obvious -- the characteristic associated with "to run".

With each affix given below I show what kind of input it wants and what kind of output it provides, as A>0 = attribute->object (I = action). X-> means that it will accept any kind of input, while ->X means that it will accept any kind of output; X->X means that it will be transparent to the input.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Good tables of affixes are to be found in Teach Yourself Esperanto and in Wells' Esperanto Dictionary. The following list is culled from Kalocsay and Waringhien's Plena Analiza Gramatiko de Esperanto, 4th edition (1980). Affixes marked with a star (*) are unofficial and need not be learned; though I would recommend that the student learn to recognize at least -iv and -esk. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Participial suffixes -ant (I->A): present active participle. fali = to fall falanta = falling.

-int (I->A): past active participle. fali = to fall falinta = fallen.

-ont (I->A): future active participle. fali = to fall falonta = going to fall.

-at (I->A): present passive participle. mani = to eat manata = being eaten.

-it (I->A): past passive participle. mani = to eat manita = (having been) eaten.

-ot (I->A): future passive participle. mani = to eat, manota = going to be eaten.

In English, the past participle indicates only something that has already occurred; it may be active ("fallen") or passive ("eaten") depending on the category of the verb; in the latter case, it may be treated as active (in compounds) by preceding it with the helping verb "to have" instead of "to be." In Esperanto, there are separate active and passive participles (though the latter exist only for transitive verbs). EXAMPLES La arbo estis falinta = The tree was fallen (had fallen). La arbo estis falanta = The tree was falling.

La arbo estis falonta = the tree was going to fall. La arbo estas falinta = The tree is (has) fallen. La arbo estas falanta = The tree is falling. La arbo estas falonta = The tree is going to fall. La arbo estos falinta = The tree will have fallen. La arbo estos falanta = The tree will be falling. La arbo estos falonta = The tree will be going to fall.

La viando estis manita = The meat was (had been) eaten. La viando estis manata = The meat was (being) eaten. La viando estis manota = the meat was going to be eaten. La viando estas manita = The meat is (has been) eaten. La viando estas manata = The meat is being eaten. La viando estas manota = The meat is going to be eaten. La viando estos manita = The meat will have been eaten. La viando estos manata = The meat will be being eaten. La viando estos manota = The meat will be going to be eaten.

Please watch out for one annoying idiosyncracy of the participial affixes. When used with adjective, adverb and (occasionally) verb endings, they describe a situation; when used with the noun ending, they describe a person.

manata = (which is) being eaten manate = while being eaten manati = to be in a state of being eaten but

manato = a person who is being eaten. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Category suffixes -ad (I->O): shows an action or process defined by the root. marteli = to hammer, boji = to bark (like a dog) martelado = hammering bojado = barking

ada = continual, ongoing

-a (A->O): shows a concrete, tangible manifestation of the root. ria = rich, havi = to have ao = a thing riaoj = riches havaoj = possessions

-ec (A->O): shows a quality or characteristic defined by the root. ria = rich, blua = blue rieco = richness blueco = blue (of something)

eco = a characteristic, quality

The noun formed by simply changing an adjective -a to a noun -o ending is slightly different from that formed by inserting the suffix -ec; the former refers to an abstraction, the latter to a quality associated with something. rua = red, ruo = (the color) red, rueco = redness, e.g. of paint. -ul (A->O): shows a person characterized by the root. ria = rich, bona = good ulo = a guy, dude riulo = a rich person bonulo = a good person


Noun suffixes -an (O->O): member, adherent, participant of the root. komitato = committee Budho = the Buddha ano = a member komitatano = a committee-member budhano = a Buddhist

-ar (O->O): a collection of things defined by the root. arbo = tree afo = a sheep arbaro = a forest afaro = a flock of sheep

aro = a bunch, group, array

-ej(O->O): a place intended for the thing(s) or action(s) defined by the root. kuiri = to cook prei = to pray ejo = a place kuirejo = a kitchen preejo = a church

-er (O->O): the smallest part or element of a collective defined by the root. sablo = sand neo = snow ero = a unit sablero = a grain of sand neero = a snowflake

-estr (O->O): the boss of whatever is defined by the root.

komitato = committee

komitatestro = chairmain of the committee

urbo = town estro = a boss

urbestro = mayor

-id (O->O): the offspring of the creature defined in the root. kato = cat arbo = tree katido = akitten arbido = a sapling ido = an offspring

This suffix is often used in a very metaphorical fashion. For instance, Israelites in Esperanto is Izraelidoj; and it is also used to show the salt produced by a halogenic acid (e.g. klorido). -il (I->O): a tool for doing whatever is defined by the root. komputi = to compute trani = to cut ilo = a tool komputilo = a computer tranilo = a knife

-in (O->O): the specifically female version of whatever is defined by the root. filo = son viro = man filino = daughter virino = woman ino = a woman, female

These days this suffix is used: (1) with the words viro and knabo; (2) with honorifics; (3) with family relationships; (4) with animals (see also vir- below). It is rarely used with professional titles, though it has been in the past. -ing (O->O): a holder or sheath for an object defined by the root. kandelo = candle cigaro = cigar kandelingo = candle-holder cigaringo = cigar-holder

ingo = a holder

-ism (O->O): a doctrine, movement, system, etc., for the idea defined by the root. Budho = Buddha Markso = Karl Marx budhismo = Buddhism marksismo = Marxism

isma = having to do with doctrine

-ist (I->O): an individual professionally or avocationally occupied with the idea or activity defined by the root. urnalo = newspaper urnalisto = newspaperman, reporter lingvo = language lingvisto = a linguist

isto = a professional

There is an unfortunate tendency to use -ist where -an should be used, probably because -ist has this additional meaning in many Western languages; probably the most egregious such misuse is *esperantisto instead of esperantano for a speaker of Esperanto. Similarly, we have *marksisto for marksano (Marxist), *budhisto instead of budhano (Buddhist), etc. Fortunately, the word for a follower of Christ in English (with cognates in other languages such as French) is Christian; so no one has ever had any trouble saying kristano instead of *krististo. -uj (O->O): a container for objects described by the root. salo = salt mono = money ujo = a container salujo = salt-shaker monujo = a purse

Traditionally, -uj has been used to form the names of countries occupied completely or mainly by a single ethnic group: anglo = Englishman, Anglujo = England. Recently the unofficial or pseudo suffix -i has been replacing -uj in common parlance. There is a good discussion of the question of country names in Teach Yourself Esperanto, as well as in the Plena Analiza Gramatiko (the latter is, of course, more

complete). *-i (O->O): an unofficial suffix with four different uses:

(1) to form the name of a country from a capitol or river of the same name. Meksiko = Mexico City Alero = Algiers Meksikio = Mexico Alerio = Algeria

(2) to form the name of a country from its inhabitants. See note with -uj.

(3) to form the name of a science, etc., from its practitioner. astronomo = astronomer toksikologo = toxicologist astronomio = astronomy toksikologio = toxicology

(4) to form the name of a flower from that of its inventor or the person to whom it was dedicated. fuksio = fuchsia, from Fuchs

*-ik (O->O): an unofficial suffix to form the name of a science, etc., from its practitioner. poeto = poet lingvo = language poetiko = poetics lingviko = linguistics

This is identical, and interchangeable, with use (3) of -i. -ik is also used to show the higher of two valences with which a metal can combine. In this it contrasts with one use of -oz.

*-it (O->O): an unofficial suffix to describe an inflamation of the organ described by the root. laringo = larynx hepato = liver laringito = laryngitis hepatito = hepatitis

-it and -at are used as special chemical suffixes to show salts produced by non-halogenic acids (see also -id).


Adjective suffixes

-ebl (I->A): suitable for having whatever is described by the root done to it. legi = to read fari = to do ebla = possible ebli = to be possible legebla = readable, legible farebla = doable

-ebl (able to be done) should not be confused with -iv (able to do), which is essentially a synonym for the root pov'. Many English-speaking beginners tend to make this mistake and substitute the verb eblas (is possible) for povas (is able to). -em (I->A): having an inclination or tendency towards whatever is described by the root. ami = to love labori = to work amema = loving laborema = industrious

emi = to have a tendency to

-end (I->A): must have whatever is described by the root done to it. fari = to do sendi = to send enda = mandatory farenda = must be done sendenda = must be sent

-ind (I->A): worth having whatever is described by the root done to it. ami = to love fari = to do aminda = loveable farinda = worth doing indi = to be worthwhile

*-al (O->A): used to create the adjective form of a noun formed directly from an adjective. varma = hot rua = red varmo = heat varmala = thermal

ruo = red (color) ruala = having to do with the color red

*-esk (O->A): similar to, or in the manner of, whatever is described by the root. japano = a Japanese statuo = a statue japaneska = Japanesque statueska = statuesque

*-iv (I->A): capable of doing whatever is described by the root. pagi = to pay fari = to do pagiva = solvent fariva = able to do

See the note with the description of -ebl. *-oid (O->A): with the form of whatever is described by the root. homo = human being urso = a bear homoida = humanoid ursoida = ursoid

*-oz (O->A): used with noun roots to show the presence of a large quantity of whatever is described by the root. poro = pore sablo = sand poroza = porous sabloza = full of sand

-oz is also used in a medical sense for several different types of pathology, where it usually corresponds to the suffix osis in English medical terminology. It need not, however, be used only with Greek roots; see the Esperanto horzonozo, jet lag. In chemistry it is used in contrast with -ik to show the lower of two valences with which a metal can combine.


Verb suffixes -ig (A->I): to cause something to be in the state described by the root. rua = red ruigi = to (cause to) turn red farigi = to have (something) done

fari = to do (something) igi = to cause to

-i (A->I): to become in the state described by the root. rua = red fari = to do ruii = to become red farii = to become (done) ii = to become

-ig and -i are probably the two most important affixes in Esperanto. It behooves you, as a student, to devote a lot of time to making sure that you understand their uses perfectly. *-iz (O->I): to apply something (physically or metaphorically) to an object. plumo = feather stano = tin plumizi = to fletch stanizi = to tin (as in soldering)


Quasi suffixes These are common Esperanto roots which are relatively short and used so often as the second part of a two-part conjoined word that they may be treated almost as suffixes. -art (I->O): the art of whatever is described by the root. kuiri = to cook navigi = to navigate kuirarto = cuisine navigarto = navigation (the art)

-am (O->A): loving whatever is described by the root. gasto = guest mono = money gastama = hospitable monama = avaricious

-hav (O->A): possessing whatever is described by the root. flugilo = wing oro = gold flugilhava = winged orhava = possessing gold

-plen (O->A): full of whatever is described by the root. oro = gold orplena = full of gold.

humila = humble

humilplena = full of humility

See *-oz. -pov (I->A): capable of whatever is described by the root. esprimi = to express pagi = to pay esprimpova = expressive pagipova = solvent

This is essentially the same as *-iv. -ri (O->A): rich with whatever is described by the root. karbo = coal grasa = fat karbria = rich in coal grasria = fatty

See *-oz. -ajn (A->A): seeming to be whatever is described by the root. vera = true blua = blue verajne = apparently bluajna = blue-seeming

-aspekt (O->A): having the appearance of whatever is described by the root. reo = king reaspekta = with the seeming of a king, kingly hundo = large hundaspekta = looking like a dog

See *-oid. -simil (O->A): being similar to whatever is described by the root. floro = flower tono = stone florsimila = like a flower tonsimila = like a stone

See *-esk. -manier (O->A): with the manner of whatever is described by the root. besto = animal bestmaniera = with the manner of an animal hundo = dog hundmaniera = dog-like

See *-esk. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Pseudosuffixes For etymological reasons (i.e., having to do with the origins of words in Latin and Greek), we often find what appear to be identical suffixes on the ends of several Esperanto roots. Since the parts before these "pseudosuffixes" are not themselves Esperanto roots, these are not real suffixes. However, it happens from time to time that the detached "pseudosuffixes" are attached to real Esperanto words, by analogy, and therefore they occasionally act like real suffixes. Kalocsay and Waringhien list a number of possible pseudosuffixes, of which only -logi (showing a science) seems to have any chance at all of being more widely used. Kalocsay and Waringhien also point out, under this rubric, the interesting tendency of the pseudosuffixes -ci, -aci and -ici in nouns taken by Zamenhof from Latin's third declension to disappear in favor of simpler, more purely Esperanto verb forms as time goes on. For instance, Zamenhof's navigacio = navigation has largely yielded to navigi = to navigate, from which we get the purely Esperanto form navigado = navigation.


Adverb prefixes dis- (I->I): having to do with separation, in all possible directions. sendi = to send dissendi = to broadcast

semi = to sow (seeds) disaj = scattered

dissemi = to scatter (seeds)

ek- (I->I): the beginning of an action described by the root. iri = to go vidi = to see ekiri = to set out ekvidi = to catch sight of

ek! = move it! get the lead out!

for- (I->I): away. iri = to go lasi = to leave fora = distant foriri = to depart, leave forlasi = to abandon

mis- (I->I): wrongly, incorrectly, off the mark. kompreni = to understand eti = to throw miskompreni = to misunderstand

miseti = to throw wide of the mark

misi = to miss, to err

A Japanese friend of mine once told me that she hoped I was right in my use of the word misiloj to describe nuclear-armed missiles. See also the suffix -il. re- (I->I): back to the beginning again. veni = to come vidi = to see venki = to conquer ree = again reveni = to return revidi = to see again revenki = to reconquer

*retro- (I->I): in the opposite direction. iri = to go retroiri = to go in the opposite direction pai = to step retropai = to step back


Root prefixes ef- (O->O): greatest or most important. ministro = minister (cabinet type) efministro = Prime Minister, Premier urbo = city efa = main efurbo = capitol

vir- (O->O): male equivalent of -in for beings whose sex is usually not considered important (except, of course, to themselves...), and whose root form is therefore considered neuter. kato = cat blato = cockroach virkato = tomcat virblato = buck cockroach

viro = man, male human


Prepositional prefixes

Most prepositions can be used as prefixes, and commonly are. For example, veni = to come, enveni = to enter; diri = to say, antadiri = to foretell. Worth mentioning here only because it is unofficial and rarely used: *cis- (O->A): on this side of. luno = moon limo = border cisluna = cislunar, between earth and moon cislima = on this side of the border


Pseudoprefixes In this category we find, occasionally, ato- (equivalent of mem-, self-) and pre-. pre- is sometimes (rarely) used instead of the temporal meaning of anta-.


True suffixes Kalocsay and Waringhien distinguish between suffixoids and prefixoids (which is what, up to now, I've called suffixes and prefixes) and genuine suffixes and prefixes. This is, I am sure, a very important grammatical distinction for the professional linguist, but not one that an ordinary speaker will be called upon to worry about. -a (X->X): gives the word a shading of contempt, detestation. evalo = horse domo = house evalao = nag domao = hovel

aa = contemptible, disgusting

This is the affix that may be used to create pejoratives, as nigra = black, nigrulo = a black person, nigrulao = nigger. Since such words are very uncommon in Esperanto, you will have to create them as you go along, and accept 100% responsibility for your use of them, not blame them on your upbringing or

your teachers. -eg (X->X): augments or strengthens the idea shown by the root. domo = house varma = hot ega = huge domego = mansion varmega = boiling hot

-et (X->X): the opposite of -eg, it diminishes the idea shown by the root. domo = house varma = hot eta = tiny dometo = cottage varmeta = warm

-um (Any to any): the affix equivalent of the preposition je, it has no definite meaning; words with -um must almost be learned separately. vento = wind aminda = lovable ventumi = to ventilate amindumi = to pitch woo

umo = doohicky

*-if (O->I): to turn something into the root. varma = hot varmifi = to thermalize

-j (O->O): takes a man's name and turns it into an intimate form. frato = brother Johano = John frajo = little brother Jojo = Jack

-nj (O->O): the female equivalent of the above. frato = brother franjo = little sister

Johana = Joan

Jonjo = Joanie

Note that these two forms do not function like ordinary suffixes, but are usually attached after one of the first five letters of the name or word. The Japanese Esperantist author Miyamoto Masao once described the "beautiful people" as the jo-njo-popolo -- an interesting use of these affixes.


True prefixes bo- (O->O): related through marriage. patro = father kuzo = cousin bopatro = father-in-law bokuzo = cousin-in-law

boa = related by marriage

eks- (O->O): former. reo = king Sovetio = Soviet Union eksa = former eksreo = former (abdicated) king ekssovetio = former USSR

ge- (O->O): both sexes taken together. patro = father Sinjoro = Mr. gepatroj = parents gesinjoroj = Mr. and Mrs.

gea = male+female

Although this is not sanctioned by any grammatical rule, ge- is also used with the singular to show a human relative of unspecified gender: gepatro = parent. mal- (X->X): turns a word into its opposite.

bela = beautiful amiko = friend

malbela = ugly malamiko = enemy

mala = opposite

pra- (X->X): distant in time (usually in the past) or relationship. arbaro = forest nepo = grandson patro = father praarbaro = forest primeval pranepo = great-grandson prapatroj = forefathers

praa = before the dawn of...

*psedo- (O->O): false. scienco = science nomo = name psedoscienco = pseudoscience psedonomo = pseudonym


Quasi prefixes Many roots can be used as prefixes. This is particularly true of adjectives; Kalocsay and Waringhien list 34 of these. I will not repeat this list here, being tired of typing, but will simply give two examples of how an adjective can be used as a prefix, and how its use as a prefix differs from its use as an adjective. nov-: has to do with newness. edzino = wife nova edzino = new wife novedzino = bride.

The difference between nova edzino and novedzino is that, in the first, the most important idea is that of wife; the newness is simply a descriptor. In novedzino, however, the idea of newness has come to have almost equal importance with the idea of wife; a bride is not just a new wife, she is someone who has just become a wife, who has crossed the threshhold from maidenhood (?) to marriage. In effect, the newness of her wifehood is so great that it distinguishes her, for the moment, from all other wives, even novaj

edzinoj. dik-: thick. fingro = finger dika fingro = thick finger dikfingro = thumb

Again, the thickness has become so important that it serves to distinguish the thumb from all other fingers, no matter how thick they may be; it is the thumb's distinguishing characteristic. Kalocsay and Waringhien also point out that fractions (reciprocals) can be used as prefixes, e.g.

duon-: half. frato = brother duonfrato = half-brother

In addition to adjective and fractional quasi prefixes, we have the following four: fi- (X->X): expressing indignation or disgust. virino = woman bildo = picture fia = shameful fivirino = slut fibildo = pornographic picture

fu- (X->X): screwed up. verki = to write (to compose a work of art) fui = to screw up fuverki = to make it come out all wrong

ne- (X->X): creates the negative (not, however, the opposite) of the root. bona = good nebona = ungood malbona = bad

Many people believed for a long time that George Orwell based his Newspeak -- the thought-control language of Oceania in the novel 1984 -- on Esperanto, based largely on Esperanto's use of the prefix mal- to create opposites. The above list should indicate that the spectrum between a word and its opposite

is not totally empty in Esperanto, as it is in Newspeak; we might, for instance, add boneta and malboneta. Recent evidence indicates that Newspeak was in fact a parody of Basic English, which Orwell apparently despised as a corruption of real English. vic- (O->O): second in rank, acting as regent for. reo = king prezidento = president vicreo = viceroy vicprezidento = vice-president

vico = line, place in line

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------This list is, I think, more complete than the ones mentioned in Teach Yourself Esperanto and The Esperanto Dictionary; but you may find those easier to use, since they are completely alphabetized and don't go into quite as much detail. There are also a number of specialized technical affixes which are not covered here.