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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.


"Estas" has no "+n" to object? Is it the main problem for this word? Why can't this word have "+n"? You can say this is the main word of human being. But for cold logic it is an average word, I see no reason to include it in the special group, except only to make rules more complicated.
Mi estas birdo.
Birdo estas mi.
They are not the same, bacause we can't mark where an subject and an object are.(only the words order can help).
Mi havas birdon.
Birdon havas mi.
Can I say?:
Cxu havas mi birdon?
Cxu havas birdon mi?
Cxu birdon havas mi?
Cxu birdon mi havas?
I think there is a one problem of Esperanto. I can see it as a learner. They say "there are not exceptions", but actually exceptions do exist.
I know there is a balance among logic, comfort and simplicity. It is a balanced language, but not only the one of those 3 quantitys. But sometimes some things are not handy for me. For other people may be there are other ones.(for example hats above the some letters are familiar for french, but not for english) I decide that it is an average or normalized lingvo. After that I can sleep well, I am not selfish.


"Estas" has no "+n" to object?

Correct - but that wasn't really the topic for this thread.

Why can't this word have "+n"?

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.

Mi estas birdo.
Birdo estas mi.
They are not the same

Correct. Word order matters.

Can I say?:
Cxu havas mi birdon?

I refer you to the comment in the OP. If you can say Havas mi birdon then you can add cxu up front and form a legitimate yes/no question.

They say "there are not exceptions",

Have I ever said that to you? I try really hard NOT to say that.

In this case, though, I don't agree that its an exception, as I explained above in this reply.


This is how I explain this exact concept to my Latin students:

Tomaso estas viro

There is no direct object here. We are not speaking about two people, we are equating Tomaso and viro.

Tomaso havas filon

The son is the direct object. The subject is not the same as the object here :)


Of course you're correct, but I'm trying to see how that's different from what I said. I do usually avoid saying "same person" because it's possible to do things to yourself - mi sentas min tiel feliĉa - and all that.


I wasn't contradicting you, I was agreeing. Sorry if that wasn't clear :)

And your right, many times the complement isn't a noun and it's not a person.


actually, "estas" does follow the rule, just not the one you're thinking of. "mi estas birdo" is a predicative, where the noun phrase is decribed through the verb. "I painted the house green" is a predicative, where "green" is used to describe "the house" by means of the verb "painted". "The house seems green"; again, "green" describes "the house", by means of the verb "seems". And "The house is green" is doing the exact same thing, even though the verb is an unexciting "is".

In esperanto, each of these follows the same rule and puts the predicative in the nominative case, following the predicate (verb and it's object):

  • "Mi farbis la domon verda" - "I painted the house green"
  • "La domo ŝajnas verda" - "The house seems green"
  • "La domo estas verda" - "The house is green"

This rule isn't that hard, I think; but it's a mite advanced for people who are still trying to put together simple "I am happy"-level sentences, and so isn't taught early.

(ETA: some discussion here: https://lernu.net/en/gramatiko/nominativo#objekta-predikativo)


Yh1723, thanks a lot for giving me that link. I know "lernu" and I actaully did some studying there (1/3 of course) but I never used the theory base. My be it was a mistake. I read that theme and I need time to think about.
At least, I am not convinced yet, I think I just need some time to get used to it.


These might also help you my friend:



Some verbs don't allow an object. They're called Intransitive verbs, and the verb 'esti' is one of them.


But what does prevent to make an agreement for everyone that "esti"is a transitive word? Just make this word like others? It would be more systematic and more order. There would be no need to remember that "esti" is different and has its own rule. Just do the same for the all words to construct a sentence.
As said Salivanto many people have problems with that.
PS. For example in russian we have a word "являться". It has the same meaning like "be". And after this word you have to use the case ending.
"Я являюсь человекОМ".
I am a human


Because a noun following 'esti' is definitely not an object of the sentence. "Mi estas homon" is simply wrong.

Transitive verbs imply 'A doing something to B'. Intransitive verbs don't. For example, in your sentence, "I am a human", the subject 'I' is doing nothing to the 'seemingly-object' 'the human'. They're just a same thing but in different words. its 'I = a human', not 'I => a human'. Therefore, 'a human' here is not the object of the sentence; they are called complements, if you're curious.

In my language, one can even make a sentence something like this:

"Mi viras kaj vi virinas" (I a male and you a female).

This wouldn't be possible if 'vir-o' and 'virin-o' in the sentence were objects.

Other intransitive verbs are (but not limited to):

  • She GOES to a hospital (S+V)

  • He RUNS to his school (S+V)

  • She SLEEPS in her dorm room (S+V)

  • He WORKS in his office (S+V)

  • It LOOKS beautiful (S+V+C)

  • It TASTES good (S+V+C)

and finally,

  • They ARE animals (S+V+C)

Some more info about this: https://www.grammarly.com/blog/transitive-and-intransitive-verbs/


Mate, I know about existence of tr. and intr. verbs. My point is this is not the absolute quality of words. It is an agreement among the people how they can separate words.
Mi vidas arbon.
How can this sentence have an object? I am doing nothing to the tree. The tree does not even "know" that I exist.
Mi atendas vin. (Is the "vin" a properly object? Is it taken an action in this sentence? I don't think so)
In English you can't just say, "I am waiting you" it is incorrect. You have to add preposition "for". It is how brain works, you hear the sentence here and there, make a pattern and then structure this knowing as it is a logic true. My point is that for the same case you can give many logic different explanations. And thats why some verbs can be tr. or intr. at the same time in English.
And that is why you can change the experience about using words.


Seeing is catching something with eyes.

In Latin attendere means stretching (tendere) to (ad) something. How did it become associated with staying in a place, I don't know.

English is not good to explain the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs because English verbs are not inherently transitive or intransitive: you may walk somewhere or walk a dog, for example.


The thing is, that case ending is not the accusative (which marks direct objects), but the instrumental. I don't know Russian, but I speak Czech, which is related. I can either say "Já jsem člověk" (nominative) or "Já jsem člověkem" (instrumental), but definitely not "Já jsem člověka" (accusative).


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


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


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


Pardonu sed cxu cxu estas estas?


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.

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