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https://www.duolingo.com/otsogutxi

Esperanto Word Order:

otsogutxi
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Hi,

Recently I have restarted learning Esperanto after focusing on other things. It seems to be much easier than I remember.

One thing that still confuses me is the word order. Is Esperanto a free word order language? I have learned there are multiple ways to write a sentence, all of which are correct. See this example:

La esperanta libro estas bona ~ the Esperanto book is good

La libro esperanta estas bona ~ the Esperanto book is good

I'm sure there is another way or two to say this too. My main question is, which word order/sentence would be better to use?

Your help is greatly appreciated. Dankon!

2 years ago

16 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/salivanto
salivanto
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Lots of factors go into making word-order decisions. In many cases certain word orders are even required (for example, word order with "la" and with prepositions is not at all free.) The best way to get a sense for this is to read a lot of good Esperanto.

To answer your immediate question, your first sentence is better. Your second sentence is less common but not unheard of.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/otsogutxi
otsogutxi
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Dankon!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Fantomius
Fantomius
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Your second sentence is less common but not unheard of.

Actually, the first sentence is more common among native-English speakers, and English tends to put its adjectives before their nouns.

The second sentence (with libro esperanta) is more common with native speakers of certain other languages (like Italian and Spanish, I would guess), because in those languages the adjective tends to come after the noun.

(Edit: Okay, after reading this comment's replies, I'm not so sure if my claim that "...is more common with native speakers of certain other languages" is correct.)

Because this particular Duolingo Esperanto course is geared towards English speakers, it readily accepts answers where the adjective comes before the noun, whereas sometimes rejects the answer where the adjective comes after the noun.

However, this does not mean that the adjective cannot come after the noun. It simply means that the course's moderators have not gotten around to validating every possible correct form of the translation.

Since I speak Italian (as well as English), I often find myself putting the adjective after the noun, unlike how many English speakers would normally do it. And when Duolingo rejects my answer, I use Duolingo's feature to submit it as a correct answer. As a result, most of my e-mails from Duolingo are feedback from moderators stating that they now accept my translation.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Evildea

Esperanto word order trends follow a historical precedent set by Esperantists themselves not native languages. For instance, although in most cases the adjective comes before the noun there are also other cases defined by custom, proverbs, and just consistent use which dictate it should come second. You'll only learn these by using the language.

For instance, in nearly ever case you'd say "lingvo internacia" because this style of use has a consistent historical precedent.

However, this doesn't mean you're wrong if you decide to use Esperanto's free word-order. For instance, poetry and songs have a tendency to follow whatever order they want.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/johmue

I cannot confirm that at all out of my practical experience. There is a clear tendency to put adjectives before a noun, independent of the native language of the speaker. However personally I do not give a recommendation on this. Both possibilities are good Esperanto. I mostly put adjectives before the noun but often I use the after noun possibility. When I use two adjectives with a noun, I sometimes put one in before and one after. This gives a lot of room for rhetorical tricks.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/salivanto
salivanto
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I stand by my original comment. "Esperanta libro" is objectively more common than "libro Esperanta." There really is such a thing as "good Esperanto" and it does not depend on the native language of the speaker. I would encourage you to follow my advice above and spend some time reading good Esperanto from speakers of many different native languages. You will begin to develop a sense for this.

Certainly I never said that the adjective cannot come after the noun. Alec asked a question and I answered it. He asked which is better to use. Of course, it depends on context, but with what context that was given, the answer is clear. "Esperanta libro" is more common (and more colloquial) in Esperanto than the other way around.

Keep in mind, too, that just because a translation you submitted is accepted now as a "possible" translation, it doesn't mean it's the "best" translation. (As a random example, throughout the course, "breath" is accepted as an alternate spelling for "breathe" because the course authors don't want to frustrate learners.")

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Fantomius
Fantomius
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I'm curious to see, when Duolingo launches the Esperanto course for Spanish-speakers, whether the course favors the adjective before or after the noun.

I would have thought that it favors the adjective after the noun (while of course mistakenly rejecting many instances of the adjective coming before the noun). But now, having read your comment, I'm not so sure about that.

To be honest, before this thread I'd never heard nor read that Esperanto culture recommends putting the adjective before the noun. I have heard, however, that it recommends using SVO (Subject-Verb-Object) word order, though by no means is that a required rule to follow.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Mutusen
Mutusen
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It will favor the adjective before the noun. My native language is French, I have spoken Esperanto with Italian and Spanish speakers; all these languages put the adjective after the noun, but for everyone, putting the adjective before the noun is the usual order in Esperanto. You can put the adjective after the noun, but it will sound unusual because it mostly happens in poetry or for special emphasis.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/salivanto
salivanto
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Why wait for the duolingo course? Order some books by a Spanish Esperantist or check out a Spanish-language course like Sabe Usted Esperanto. You'll see that it's the same Esperanto that's taught in this course.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/wardgian
wardgian
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Word order is very free in Eo by design. You already see that the adj-noun order is flexible, so is the sub-vb-obj order. Advanced grammars usually teach a style that puts emphasis on the earlier elements. So if I say Bona la esperanta libro estas, that construction emphasizes the goodness first, as in contrast to some other quality. But that is a very fine point and definitely comes down to the written or spoken style you are seeking. Mi esperas ke cxi tio helpas.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Fantomius
Fantomius
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My main question is, which word order/sentence would be better to use?

To tell the truth, I'm reluctant to say that one way is better than the other.

I used to think that one way was just as common as the other, but after reading salivanto's post (about the adjective usually being placed before the noun), I paid attention to the word order in the Esperanto literature I read, and I discovered that he was indeed correct.

However, I found that the adjective-then-noun word order only happened about 80 to 85% of the time. There is still a significant amount of times that the adjective is placed after the noun. (You can chalk some of those instances to emphasis, creative literature, or even for teaching purposes, but there are still quite a few instances remaining where it seems to happen for no other reason than the author's personal preference..)

Something curious I found was that when a noun has more than one adjective, more often than not the adjectives were split around the noun, where some were placed before the noun and some placed after.

Zamenhof designed Esperanto to allow for speakers to choose whether they wanted the adjective to come before or after the noun. As far as I know, he never advised against either option. (Contrast this to the use of je, which he advised against overusing).

Now, every living language (Esperanto included) has preferences for certain words and orders. (For example, in English we tend to say "a black and white newspaper" and almost never "a white and black newspaper." And we'll probably say "a big blue house" instead of "a blue big house.") What's funny about these examples is that whether they sound right isn't dictated by grammar and syntax, but more by how we've heard it in the past.

I once was asked by a non-native English speaker the difference between some English synonyms. (I don't remember the exact set, so let's just say that the words were "strange," "weird," and "bizarre.") I told him that they meant pretty much the same thing, but that "strange" is used the most often (at least in the region of the world I live in), followed by "weird," followed by "bizarre." So unless he wants to stand out, he should favor the word "strange," use the word "weird" every once in a while, and only use "bizarre" just a few times.

But it's not that using the words "weird" and "bizarre" is wrong, or less correct than using the word "strange." It's that they are all used, but not in the same quantity. Using one exclusively while completely avoiding the others sounds, ironically, rather bizarre. ;)

I think that learners new to English (or any language, really) deserve to know which words/combinations are most frequently used, while knowing that the uses of the rarer words/combinations are not necessarily wrong.

So if you really want to fit in, you should probably favor putting the adjective before the noun, but you should consider times when it makes good sense to reverse the order. Whichever way you choose, keep in mind that both ways are technically correct; it's just that one way is more common than the other.

And by all means, remember that, due to their backgrounds and native tongues, some people on Earth will favor a different order than the one you favor. That does not make them wrong, so be prepared to accept different word-order choices as valid Esperanto.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/salivanto
salivanto
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This is a great note. I am honored that not only did you read what I wrote, but that you thought about it as you were reading Esperanto. You made some great observations above, and I would encourage people to read your lines above all the way through. Great stuff!

One thing I would add - for people who are interested in such things - that there are a lot of factors which go into word order, and many of them happen without us even thinking about them. I suspect there is a linguistics paper out there explaining why we say "black and white" and not "white and black" - I and I know there are reasons we say "the big white dog" and not "the white big dog" and that countless papers have been written about this. I suspect a good chunk of these have to do with how the human brain processes languages, and has nothing to do with arbitrary convention.

2 years ago