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Ĉu is not Estas

Ĉu is not Estas

This comes up a lot on the forum. I've seen it a lot in over 21 years of teaching Esperanto on line - but it seems that the inductive "grammar free" approach of Duolingo has deepend the confusion. I now see a question like this several times per week.

Given the sentence and translation:

  • Is bread brown?
  • Ĉu pano estas bruna?

A learner asks - Why do I need estas if I already put ĉu?

When you see all sorts of questions starting with "is" and the translation starts with ĉu, it's reasonable to conclude that ĉu actually means "is" -- but it doesn't. Estas means is. If your sentence has "is" in it, it needs estas

So what is ĉu then?

Ĉu turns a statement into a yes/no question (or and either/or question.)


  • Pano estas bruna
  • Bread is brown


  • Ĉu pano estas bruna?
  • Is bread brown?

Ĉu is not Do

Another common mistake is to think that ĉu means "do". Consider:

  • Do you have money?
  • Ĉu vi havas monon?

It would be natural since vi, havas and monon means "you", "have", and "money" - that ĉu means "do" - but it doesn't. Again, it just turns a statement into a question.


  • Vi havas monon.
  • You have money.


  • Ĉu vi havas monon?
  • Do you have money?

The problem becomes more obvious when we want to ask a question like:

  • How much money do you have?
  • Kiom da mono vi havas?

For some people it's tempting to throw ĉu in there - but kiom is already the question word and you don't need another.

Ĉu does not change the word order of a sentence

It's very tempting when translating a sentence like "Is bread brown?" by copying the word order you see in English.

  • Is bread brown?
  • Ĉu pano estas bruna?

A learner asks - can I say: Ĉu estas pano bruna?

No, you can't. Word order matters in Esperanto, and remember that "ĉu" changes a statement into a question. Remove "ĉu" and you get the statement back.

  • Ĉu estas pano bruna?


  • Estas pano bruna = There is brown bread.

Which means

  • Ĉu estas pano bruna? = Is there brown bread?

I thought Ĉu was only for yes/no questions!

Originally, the Duolingo Tips and Notes said that ĉu was for yes/no questions. Then for a while they changed it to "yes/no or either/or questions." Apparently they changed it back.

It's basically used in for the kind of closed questions that we make in English by changing the order of the subject and verb.

  • Is it a dog?
  • Is it a dog or a cat?
  • Is it a dog, a cat, or a mouse?

The first is a yes/no question. The second is probably an either/or question. The third is a multiple choice question. You can think of it as a series of yes/no questions, if you want.

  • Is it a dog (yes/no), a cat (yes/no), or a mouse (yes/no)?

While we're here - Why don't we put an -n on the words after estas?

Briefly, because when I say Mi estas alta - I'm not doing anything to alta, I'm saying that alta is a quality that describes me. When I say Mi estas Tomaso, I'm not doing anything to Tomaso. I'm saying that Tomaso and "mi" are the same person. When I say Mi estas instruisto, I'm not doing anything to the teacher, I'm saying that "teacher" is a category that I belong to.

This is yet another case where word order matters in Esperanto.

I have read all this and have something funny to add in the comments.

Please don't.
Remember that this is a common question - asked by real people who really want to know how this works. If you never had a problem with it - or once had a problem with it and have learned how it works, good for you. May all your efforts in learning Esperanto be so easy for you as well. In the meanwhile, I am talking to the people who do have a question about this.

November 21, 2019



Mi ne parolas la anglan denaske, kaj la 'ĉu' sistemo estis pli facila ol la angla por mi.


Tio estas tre bona. Klare mi parolas al personoj kiuj ja havas demandon/problemon pri "ĉu".


se oni scias iom da hebrea, araba aŭ turka, ĉu = هَلْ ,הַאִם aŭ mı/i/u/ü.


Mi kredas, ke estas ankaŭ simila vorto en la ĉinia.


Tiu vorto estas "吗" (ma) kaj ĝi aperas fine de frazo anstataŭ komence. Plie, malkiel "ĉu", oni markas nur jes/ne-demandojn per "吗", ne A-aŭ-B-demandojn.


  • Ĉu vi havas katon?
  • 你有猫


Thanks for this. I was getting confused in the course.


All right, that makes sense! Then one more question, where do I place the estas?


It depends on what you're trying to say. To use salivanto's example, if you were asking if bread is brown ("Is bread brown?), you would say "Ĉu pano estas bruna?" But if you were inquiring into whether or not there was any brown bread around, you would say "Ĉu estas pano bruna?"


Coitado de vocês anglo saxões, fazem confusão com coisas tão simples.

  • 1965

O português também não tem equivalente a "ĉu".


Another reason to LEARN ESPERANTO THROUGHT LERNU.NET, AND NOT DUOLINGUO. LERNU.NET HAS AROUND COURSES IN AROUND 23 LANGUAGES (at least, and only for the courses with more than 95% suitable). www.lernu.net !


I completed the Lernu course some time ago, and it was quite good for getting the hang of the grammar, however I started it after about 1/2 of my tree was at crown level one, and I was able to mostly understand the first lesson, except having to lookup specific words like vestosxranko, which I had not yet encountered in duolingo. The lernu course ramps a bit faster, and throws quite a bit of vocabulary early, it also tends to introduce nouns a bit haphazardly, and the drag-and-drop test don't work well on mobile.

Duo introduces vocabulary in related groups, and as such, I find it better for building vocab that lernu.

Kial ne ambaux?


Duolinguo is great for vocabulary (as "Drops-learning Esperanto, which actually only teaches words), but not really for grammar. And if I well understood, duolinguo is not 100% such as lernu.net. Lernu has a really good English-Esperanto dictionary, and there are almost all the "afiksoj" (is this "affixes" in English? "affixs"?) in lernu.net. In fact, lernu.net has a really cool forum (which is almost always in Esperanto, not like here) where beginners can ask what they want to know about grammar for instance, and I guess that's great. That way the seasoned guys can correct their mistakes.


how about the idea that ču could basically be translated as whether, everywhere?

like in "mi ne memoris, ĉu mi ŝlosis mian vestaro" ("i don't remember whether i locked my locker")

or a sentence like: "the question is whether the café is very big?" could be shortened to: "whether the café is very big?" which could be directly translated "ču la kafejo estas tre granda?"

thanks to p_azul and yh1723 for the examples: https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/28896868?comment_id=35314920


Referred here by https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/35774086

Ĉu vi havas dubojn, aŭ ĉu vi certas? The second ĉu is not optional.

This is confusing to me because we say Ĉu vi trinkas teon aŭ kafon? expecting …teo(n)…/…kafo(n)…/…nek… rather than jes/ne. So, it’s short for Ĉu vi trinkas teon aŭ ĉu vi trinkas kafon?, right?

Would any other forms be possible? Ĉu vi trinkas teon aŭ (ĉu?) trinkas kafon? Ĉu vi trinkas teon aŭ ĉu kafon?

Or is it a bit like ke (vs. nothing), post kiam (vs. post), or antaŭ ol (vs antaŭ) where you must use the longer form whenever a subject is required?

This sort of confusion is where I’d usually turn to PMEG, so it really astounds me that “aŭ ĉu” never appears in the entire book.


And how about: “Would you like to take (gluti) the medicine, or drink (trinki) it?” do you need ĉu twice?


Once - similar to how there's only one inversion in the English example.


Thanks, I think I get it now! Here are some examples to show my understanding. A check mark means it's correct and a question mark means I think it may be grammatically correct, but ambiguous or hard to understand:

  1. Ĉu oni manĝas aŭ trinkas pilolojn? Do you eat or drink pills? ← You (do) eat or drink pills. One inversion, one ĉu. aŭ ĉu would be just ungrammatical here. A whether question, not a yes/no.

  2. Ĉu oni manĝas pilolojn aŭ trinkas ilin? Do you eat pills, or drink them? ← You (do) eat pills, or drink them. One inversion, one ĉu. I actually don't know if this is a yes/no or a whether question, but guess it's probably like when that's ambiguous in English--answering ne rather than ne, oni glutas ilin (or jes rather than manĝas, depending on your opinion of what we do with pills) would sound snarky. But aŭ ĉu? I'm not sure:

  3. ? Ĉu oni manĝas pilolojn aŭ ĉu trinkas ilin? Do you eat pills, or (do you) drink them? ← You (do) eat pills, or (you do) drink them. Another way of looking at the previous sentence. Since the second you/oni is unstated here, you can't see the inversion, but it's still there, so two ĉu are maybe acceptable too? I'm pretty sure using just is okay as in the previous one. But if this version is grammatical, it’s definitely asking the whether question and not the yes/no.

  4. Ĉu vi glutas tion pilolojn, aŭ ĉu ŝi? Do you take those pills, or does she? ← You do take those pills, or she does. Two inversions, so two ĉu. A whether question asking vi, aŭ ŝi?

  5. ? Ĉu vi glutas tion pilolojn, aŭ ŝi? Do (one of) you or she take those pills? ← You or she (do) take those pills. A weird way to do it, but if it's allowed at all, it means something different than 4: here, you're asking a yes/no question of whether either person takes those pills, not inquiring which. But in any case, one inversion, so one ĉu.

  6. Ĉu vi aŭ ŝi glutas tion pilolojn? Do (one of) you or she take those pills? ← You or she (do) take those pills. A better way, but perhaps, flipping it all around to Ĉu tion pilolojn glutas vi aŭ ŝi? makes it easier to understand as a yes/no question by putting the emphasis on the pills? In any case, cannot be asking which of vi or ŝi, since that would be two inversions.

Finally, I think this trio best encapsulates my understanding:

  1. Ĉu vi ekmalsanas aŭ nur lacas? Are you sickening or just tiring? ← You are (either) sickening or just tiring. One inversion, one ĉu. Asking whether you are getting sick, or just tired.

  2. Ĉu vi estas malsana aŭ ĉu nur laca? Are you sick or (are you) just tired? ← You are sick, or you are just tired. Asking whether you are sick, or just tired. Two inversions, two ĉu.

  3. Ĉu vi estas malsana aŭ nur laca? Are you sick or just tired? ← You are sick or just tired. Asking yes/no if you are sick or just tired. One inversion, one ĉu.


1 ✔ *Ĉu oni manĝas aŭ trinkas pilolojn?


2 ✔ *Ĉu oni manĝas pilolojn aŭ trinkas ilin?


3 ? *Ĉu oni manĝas pilolojn aŭ ĉu trinkas ilin?

This strikes me as odd.

4 ✔ *Ĉu vi glutas tion pilolojn, aŭ ĉu ŝi?

Tion sxould be tiujn...

Whoops - and sxould should be "should".

I would prefer Ĉu vi aŭ ŝi glutas tiujn pilolojn?. You could also say Ĉu vi glutas tiujn pilolojn... aŭ ŝi?.

Also notice there's no inversion in "or does she" because there's no verb to invert with the subject!

5 ? *Ĉu vi glutas tion pilolojn, aŭ ŝi?


6 ✔ *Ĉu vi aŭ ŝi glutas tion pilolojn?

... tiujn ...

7 ✔ *Ĉu vi ekmalsanas aŭ nur lacas?

Right - just one Ĉu.

8 ✔ *Ĉu vi estas malsana aŭ ĉu nur laca?

Sounds good to me.

9 ✔ *Ĉu vi estas malsana aŭ nur laca?

To be honest, I didn't quite study your explanations of 7, 8, and 9 - but they all look like good use of Ĉu to me.

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