"La homoj demandis ĉu la leĝoj estas justaj."

Translation:The people asked whether the laws are just.

September 3, 2015

This discussion is locked.


"La homoj demandis ĉu la leĝoj ESTAS justaj" is THE ONLY correct answer.

Translation: People asked whether the laws are just.

The use of ESTU would give the answer another meaning.


Could one use 'estis' instead of estas, obeying tense concordance, like in Spanish, or is everything Present-centric? Would using 'estis' mean that they asked if the laws were just, before the time that they were asking?


Depending on what one is trying to ask, yes, one could. Duo is asking us to think of laws in the present tense; but somewhere else the question may well be about the justness of past laws (estis). One could also ponder on the justness of future laws (estos), but again, that is not what Duo wants us to translate here. One can also wonder on whether laws should be just, or if injustice is inherent in the question of laws; that would be estus.

I hope that this helps.


I am not talking about the expressive part of the language so much as its grammar. What I mean is that, in some languages like Spanish, it is grammatically wrong to say e.g. 'I thought you are 20', you are forced to say 'I thought you were 20', because your main clause with the verb 'thought' is already in a past tense. In this example the verb 'demanded' is in the past, but then 'are' is in the present, so it seems to not use tense concordance. I am asking though, because there were a couple of sentences from a previous unit that seemed to obey tense concordance, but maybe they were talking about a past thing like you said? Btw thanks a lot for the help I appreciate it! (and sorry for the long explanation)


Ne problemo! I answered the question which I thought you were asking, and, being human, I erred a bit. English also seems to have a similar quirk to the one you are identifying as being a Spanish thing. But, since I grew up with that, I don't normally think about it until it is called to my attention. The sample sentence above is what people in the past were asking.

Esperanto tends to be a bit more literal than other languages. So, to use your example, Mi kredas, ke vi havas 20 jarojn, would be: "I think that you are 20 (years old)." The verbs all agree in time. Mi kredis, ke vi havis 20 jarojn = "I thought that you were 20(yo)." Again, the verbs all agree in time. One could say "I thought that you are 20" but one might have to bend a few customs, or one would need to be real clear about the timing. If the two verbs we are discussing are in the same time period, they have to agree.

This still allows for "I think that you will be…" or "I think that you were…" (Mi kredas, ke vi estos/havos kaj Mi kredas, ke vi estis/havis) I don't know the term "tense concordance" but it does seem to be the same thing that we are talking about.

All of this typing and I just realized that I used kredas which actually = believe not think. But that is the way that I learned to say this type of sentence. You may plug in pensi if you'd prefer, they are both understood equally.

And it's late, and I'm tired and I'll probably edit this thing again, in the morning. (If I can find it.)


Wow, thanks for the long reply! Yeah, English does this as well, though Spanish is what comes first in my mind because it's a little more strict about it. (e.g. I heard you study German would be wrong in Spanish, you can only say I heard you were studying German even if the person's still studying it now). So according to what you say in the example "Mi kredis, ke vi havis 20 jarojn.", which is exactly what I was thinking, should we report the sentence "La homoj demandis ĉu la leĝoj estas justaj." as wrong? Shouldn't it be "La homoj demandis ĉu la leĝoj estis justaj."? Or maybe I'm missing something cause it happens to be real late here too (or early.. it's almost 6am) and I'm awfully sleepy as well :P We'll see tomorrow! ^^


That would really depend upon the context. If people in the past were asking the question then it is possible to get just this construct. But yeah, I think that I'm going to have a short, sweet, e-mail barrage with some of the Duo staff here.

Further details if/when I find out what they were thinking.



Exactly. Your questions already contain the answers within themselves. This is because you understood perfectly the idea contained in the grammar of verb tenses in Esperanto. Congratulations!



In fact, everything is centered on the present, in Esperanto-Grammar.

You should use the past only when the present is not applicable at all.


(tl;dr: You can jump down to the bottom where there are two numbered questions if you don’t want to read why it’s not “obvious” that this sentence is right or wrong, or why it’s not “obvious” how Esperanto should do the verb tenses here.)

From FredCapp’s comments here 5 years ago ending with

But yeah, I think that I'm going to have a short, sweet, e-mail barrage with some of the Duo staff here.

Further details if/when I find out what they were thinking.

One may assume FredCapp didn’t get a (satisfactory) response.

I happened to get this sentence 10 minutes before getting the reverse-translation of "When my mother was young, television didn't exist." → Kiam mia patrino estis juna, televido ne ekzistis.—which I translated incorrectly, because this sentence primed me the wrong way.

Because either way could be correct: Let’s assume for a moment that in both cases, the main and subordinate verbs are meant to describe simultaneous moments.

Here, it would mean, at the time the people asked, they were asking about the laws of their own time, not the laws today at the time this sentence is being uttered. The subordinate present-tense estas is relative to the main verb’s past-tense demandis. (As FredCapp describes it, this should be wrong, and reflects an error in the Duolingo course.)

But in the other sentence, you definitely were not saying, “even when my mother was young, television not existing was in the past, so my mother was young when television did exist”; you’re actually saying the opposite! This is wrong, and not what the Esperanto means. The estis juna and the televidilo ekzistis both are in the past from today’s perspective. At the time your mother was young, television didn’t exist.

I’ve gone to the trouble of mapping out both of these because it’s not necessarily obvious, without knowing Esperanto, which sentence is wrong—I’ve studied languages that do both! (Or rather, languages that do the “subordinate verb’s tense is relative to the main verb’s”, and other languages that do the “subordinate verb’s tense is absolute, just like the main verb’s”.)

For that reason, one version of relative tense agreement vs. absolute tense agreement isn’t “more logical” than the other—you just have to know which kind Esperanto uses. And when I haven’t seen this particular construction in a way that made me think about it in a while, I can forget. So this sentence, apparently using relative tense agreement, primed me to temporarily, and incorrectly, think Esperanto was the relative-tense kind of language.

So I translated the other sentence into

✗ Kiam mia patrino estis juna, televido ne ekzistas.

That sentence is technically totally unintelligible in Esperanto, because it would literally mean “When my mother was young, television will not have existed by today”. (“Technically” because anyone would understand what you were trying to say since the alternative is so bizarre.)

So: the other sentence is unquestionably correct. Kiam mia patrino estis juna, televidilo ne ekzistis.** No controversy there.

So that makes this sentence wrong, and FredCapp and other people who have reported this sentence over the years have been ignored or the course contributor is confused, right?

Well... the only way I can see to thread the needle so that both of these Duolingo sentences are correct is if it means

  1. The people asked recently, so the laws they asked about are still the laws now. If you were talking about, say, Ancient Roman history, you would have written «…demandis ĉu la leĝoj estis justaj».
  2. The people asked about their constitution (in the general sense), one that the speaker of this sentence is still living under today. So estas isn’t “present”, it’s “timeless”. It’s something like the difference between

    In 1933, the US ratified the Twenty-First Amendment, which made alcohol legal for sale.

    In 1933, the US ratified the Twenty-First Amendment, which makes alcohol legal for sale.

Both sentences are valid in English now, but, if we had re-enacted Prohibition and it was in effect today, the second one would not be.

So: am I right that these two readings are possible? Are they plausible? One more or less than the other?

Or would this sentence unquestionably be understood to either be a mistake (in the same way my anachronism with my mother above was), or to be expressing the weird idea, “The people asked whether the laws would/will [by today] be just?”


I sent a number of e-mails and received no replies.



SE is a word in the Portuguese language.

I think you wanted to ask, "Why not IF", correct?

IF expresses an assumption: IF I were rich...

WEATHER expresses an implicit question: WEATHER is this true or not.


Well said, but a few suggestions, WEATHER is a word used to describe if it is raining or not. WHETHER is more of a question word.
keep working on that English, whether or not you like my reply.

Learn Esperanto in just 5 minutes a day. For free.