Can someone help explain the concept of "ĉu"; what exactly it means, how it's used, etc?
I can translate it fine, and can usually understand what is being said when it's used, but for some reason it's just not clicking and I have a bit of trouble really comprehending its use and why it's needed.
Let's take a simple sentence like:
- Dogs love you.
Let's turn this into a question. (Specifically, a yes/no question.) How would we do it?
Well, different languages have their own way of turning this sentence into a question. And before we look at how Esperanto does it, let's explore a few ways other languages do this.
Method 1: Some languages (like Spanish, Italian, (informal) French) turn it into a question simply by putting a question mark at the end. (They may also inflect the sentence when spoken, but we won't worry about that, since that's represented by the question mark.) So they would say:
- Dogs love you? (This is also valid informal English, even if it does sound a bit awkward.)
Method 2: Some languages (like (formal) French and (I think) German) invert part of the sentence, putting the subject after the verb, like this:
- Love you dogs? or:
- Love dogs you?
Note that we do something similar in English if we phrase the original sentence as "Dogs are fond of you." Then the question can be formed by inverting, like this:
- Are dogs fond of you? (Note that this uses the same order as "Dogs are fond of you" except that "dogs" and "are" are swapped.)
Method 3: Some languages form a question by adding one or more special words at the beginning or end of the sentence. Polish does it by adding "Czy" at the start of the sentence. French can do it by adding "Est-ce que" at the start of the sentence. Japanese does it by adding "ka" at the end of the sentence. Mandarin Chinese does it by adding "ma" at the end of the sentence. And English can do that as well by adding "Do" (or sometimes "Does") at the beginning, like this:
- Do dogs love you?
(Please realize that I'm not trying to say that one method is the correct method, and that all the others are incorrect. Instead, understand that every language has its own method(s) of turning a sentence into a yes/no question, and that those methods must be learned when learning a new language.)
Note that English supports, in some form, all three methods. (The same can be said for French.) I won't explain the cases where English supports some methods over others, since it's not English you're trying to learn, but Esperanto.
So, back to Esperanto: Which method does Esperanto support?
It supports Method 3 in that to turn a sentence into a question, you add "Ĉu" at the beginning of a sentence, like this:
- Original sentence: Hundoj amas vin. (Dogs love you.)
- Question: Ĉu hundoj aman vin? (Do dogs love you?)
Whereas in English, sometimes you use Method 1, or Method 2, or Method 3, in Esperanto all you have to do is add "Ĉu" at the beginning of the sentence to turn it into a question.
Let's go over these three examples in English, and see how Esperanto handles them:
- Turn this into a question: Li estas ĉi tie. (He is here.)
- English: He is here? (we simply put "?" at the end)
Esperanto: Ĉu li estas ĉi tie? (we added "Ĉu" at the beginning)
Turn this into a question: Hundoj manĝas. (Dogs are eating.)
- English: Are dogs eating? (we swapped "dogs" and "are")
Esperanto: Ĉu hundoj manĝas? (we added "Ĉu" at the beginning)
Turn this into a question: Vi amas min. (You love me.)
- English: Do you love me? (we added "Do" at the beginning)
- Esperanto: Ĉu vi amas min? (we added "Ĉu" at the beginning)
Notice that in these examples, we did something different in English, but in Esperanto we always added "Ĉu" at the beginning.
Since English employs several different methods of forming yes/no questions, it can sometimes be tricky for us native-English speakers to remember to use "Ĉu" at the beginning of yes/no questions in Esperanto.
I know that I often forgot to use "Ĉu" when I was first learning Esperanto. But the more I practiced using "Ĉu", the easier it became for me.