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Purpose of da/de

So, I've largely grasped the meanings of de and da.

e.g. taso da teo vs. la patrino de la instruisto

but I'm not clear on the purpose of this distinction. Are there situations where using da to uniquely specify a quantity instead of ownership is relevant?

"taso de teo" seems hard to misinterpret.

April 30, 2018



Hard to misinterpret? It's not clear to me what you think it should mean.

I'm not 100% sure I understand your question. What are you suggesting as an alternative? That da and de be combined into one word? One problem with that (if this is what you're suggesting) is that de is already overworked in Esperanto, being used to show:

  • Possession (La bovlo de Karlo)
  • Source/belonging (La viro de la vila─Ło)
  • Beginning in time (de la unua tago)
  • Agent (La libro legata de Patro)

The main thing is that da and de are different words with different meanings. They are what they are and we need to learn to use them as what they are - regardless of what the "purpose" is. I can't say for sure that I know what the purpose is - but I can say that we do similar things in English. We just don't notice because we do them automatically.

I was totally serious above when I said it's not clear to me what you are suggesting "taso de teo" should mean. My first guess is that you're trying to suggest that it's obvious that it would mean "taso da teo." Well, the intention might be clear, but it's not obvious. Try spending a few weeks offering people "a cup tea" and see their reaction. The meaning is arguably clear (that's how German does it, by the way) -- but I'm sure at least a few people will be confused, and many will wonder what's up with you.

Let's call this hypothetical combined pronoun dx. If "taso dx teo" means "a cup of tea", then what does "taso dx Karlo" mean? Is it Karlo's cup, or some sort of metaphorical cupful of Karlo.

I wrote about these words in some detail in my blog - pay special attention to "three days of learning" vs "three days worth of learning" - explained in further detail in the comments.



Hi Salivanto,

Edit: I read the blog post. Very helpful! Many thanks.

thanks for the extensive answer. Indeed I intended to imply that "taso de teo" is interchangable with "taso da teo."

Your example of Karlo's cup or a cup of Karlo is what I was looking for. However, it is a somewhat exaggerated example. In context, it should be pretty clear what is meant.

I'll read your blog post and see if it clarifies the issue for me any further.

As far as not understanding the question: Is the distinction between "da" and "de" a necessary or useful one in Esperanto?

I know you're not a fan of these kinds of questions. I've seen your responses on the forums here. :-) Coming to the language from an optimization perspective makes me constantly question the various parts of the system. Does this make sense? Is this necessary? Is there a better way? It's just an instinctive process. I do the same thing with German and English (e.g. conjugation of "essen." Why is it "ich esse" and "er isst"? What a disaster.)

I get the impression that you are more a proscriptivist, which makes sense if you're speaking the language more organically/natively.


I would like if Esperanto used "par" for the agent, like in Elefen.

"La libro legata par Paulo". "Monalisa, par Leonardo Da Vinci".


The purpose of the distinction is that they have different meaning, so they deserve to have their own word, except if you want to force meaning-associations.

Every language has its own way to join different meaning in the same words. Look at the English language which words are very polysemic. How can one expect "labori" and "funkcii" to be the same word in English? That is basically something that one must learn if their native language does not do that.

For language learners, it makes sense to have a word for each unit of meaning. They can look at each word individually, and find out the meaning. Polysemic words are context-dependant. People can not skim word after word, they have to look at the words at the left and at the right in order to understand (can the left word be divided? can the right word possess something?). Sometimes, it is not possible to be sure and you have to "assume" what the meaning is.

Maybe you don't understand how hard is the "assuming" part. This is only acquired by a lot of context exposure, where the same word is used, but the words around it are different. Learning a new word that always means the same thing is much easier.

I think you don't like the idea of the possibility of an error. The people who come from a language which uses the same word for "da" and "de" can confuse the two. But what actually happens when someone uses "da" instead of "de"? Probably nothing. It is just an error, that does not hinder communication, because even if the word is wrong, there is still the context (on which a unique "de" would rely).

I think people need to go past the fear of errors, and focus on effective communication. Using the same word for "da" and "de" adds nothing, while "da" adds clear meaning. I don't really care if I write wrong if I have more possibilities to be well understood.


Good point about "assuming."

It's natural to see "cup" +"of"+ "tea" and assume that it means the same as "cup" + "of" + "tea" without pausing to ask why "cup of tea" means something to you in the first place. That is, it's hard to tell when you're using the rules of your native language to understand a new language which has its own rules and is spoken by people who might not know your native language.

At times when reading text from a new English-native Esperanto learner, I literally have to read messages out loud translating each Esperanto word into English before I understand what the intention was because reading it as Esperanto (which has its own rules) doesn't work.


"I think you don't like the idea of the possibility of an error."

Thank you for this insight. I hadn't really considered it, but since my primary source of Esperanto is Duolingo, and Duolingo functions on a binary success/failure system, it was irritating me that I couldn't comprehend when to apply da/de.

The system is ruthless in that regard.

I think I am at the point where I need to augment Duolingo with additional content like the 3ZZZ podcast.

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