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Verbs

Words that express any sort of action, state, or occurrence are called “verbs”, and there’s usually at least one in any complete sentence:

Ĉi tiuj brecoj igas min soifa! These pretzels are making me thirsty!
Mi ne havis seksajn rilatojn kun tiu virino! I did not have sexual relations with that woman!
Kion vi faros sen libero? What will you do without freedom?
Mi drapirus min per veluro se estus socie akcepteble. I would drape myself in velvet if it were socially acceptable.
Vi deprenu tiun bebtukon de la kapo, vi remetu ĝin sur la fratinon! You take that diaper off your head, you put it back on your sister!

Past, Present, and Future Action

There are three basic “tenses” available to Esperanto verbs — past, present, and future — each expressing action happening at different times relative to the speaker:

The Present Tense

Verbs that express action that one has begun but not yet completed (those in the present tense) are marked by the suffix -as:

Ne ekzistas kulero. There is no spoon.
Dingo manĝas ŝian bebon (nun). A dingo is eating her baby (right now).
Mi legas La nesubtenebla leĝereco de esti. I’m reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being (right now, or these days).

Note that the form of the verb does not change depending on who is performing it, as it does in English:

Mi butikumas, do mi estas. I shop, therefore I am.
Vi butikumas, do vi estas. You shop, therefore you are.
Li butikumas, do li estas. He shops, therefore he is.

The Past Tense

Verbs that express something that happened prior to the moment one is speaking (those in the past tense) are marked by the suffix -is:

Ne ekzistis kulero. There was no spoon.
Hieraŭ dingo manĝis ŝian bebon. Yesterday a dingo ate her baby.

The Future Tense

Verbs that express something that will happen after the moment one is speaking (those in the future tense) are marked by the suffix -os:

Ne ekzistos kulero. There will be no spoon.
Morgaŭ dingo manĝos ŝian bebon. Tomorrow a dingo will eat her baby.

Hypothetical Action

The past, present, and future tenses all express actions that actually did, do, or will take place, and collectively make up what grammarians call the “indicative mood”. But there’s also a way to express hypothetical action that probably won’t take place, called the “conditional mood”, which in Esperanto is expressed by -us:

Klare, se ne ekzistus kuleroj, ankaŭ ne ekzistus “sporks”. Obviously, if there were no spoons, there would be no sporks, either.
Tion mi aĉetus po unu dolaro! I’d buy that for a dollar!
Dingo manĝus ŝian bebon se ŝi ne manĝus ĝin unue. A dingo would have eaten her baby if she had not eaten it first.

Desired Action

Verbs expressing something requested are marked by the suffix -u:

Forprenu viajn fetorajn manaĉojn de mi, malbenita malpura simio! Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!
Ne rigardu min! Don’t look at me!
Vi ne rigardu min! Don’t you look at me!
Vi ne rigardas min! You’re not looking at me!
Ili manĝu brioĉon!! Let them eat cake!
Ili manĝas brioĉon! They’re eating cake!
Iu mortu por ke la ceteraj ni pli ŝatu la vivon. Someone has to die in order that the rest of us should value life more.

Reported Action: The Sequence of Tenses

In English, when one reports what someone else says or feels, the tense of the quoted action changes depending on the tense of the main verb:

Direct quote: He said, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for”.
Indirect quote: He said that these weren’t the droids we were looking for.
Indirect quote: He’ll say that these aren’t the droids we’re looking for.

In Esperanto, the tense of the quoted material stays the same as if it were quoted directly:

Direct quote: Li diris, “Ĉi tiuj ne estas la droidoj, kiujn vi serĉas”.
Indirect quote: Li diris ke ĉi tiuj ne estas la droidoj, kiujn ni serĉas.
Indirect quote: Li diros ke ĉi tiuj ne estas la droidoj, kiujn ni serĉas.

Infinitives

When expressing the basic idea of an action without binding it to any particular tense or subject, English either uses the word to followed by the simple form of the verb or attaches -ing to it, as in “I like to dance” or “I like dancing”. In Esperanto, the same idea is expressed by adding -i to the root of the verb:

Vidi estas kredi. Seeing is believing.
Ne fumi. No smoking.
Ŝajnas ke mi elektis la malĝustan semajnon por ĉesi snufi gluon. Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.
Tanko, mi devas lerni piloti FireFox T-1000. Tank, I need to learn how to fly a T-1000 FireFox.
Unu Ringo por ilin regi, Unu por ilin preni, Unu Ringo por en tenebron ilin gvidi kaj kateni! One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them!

While there’s nothing technically wrong with using infinitives after prepositions, it may be less jarring for some to express the same idea as an adverb instead:

Neniu eliru ĉi tiun lokon sen kanti la bluson. Nobody leaves this place without singing the blues.
Neniu eliru ĉi tiun lokon nekantinte la bluson.

Impersonal Action

English often uses the pronoun it when there’s no obvious subject for a sentence, as in “It is freezing in here” and “It would be great if you could come in on Saturday”. Esperanto expresses the same idea by using no pronoun at all:

Dio diris “Pluvu!”, kaj pluvis. God said, “Rain!”, and it rained.
Estas bone* esti la reĝo. It’s good to be the king.
Se Dio ne ekzistus, estus necese lin inventi. If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him.
*Adjectives describing an impersonal “it” in an English sentence are adverbs in Esperanto, since they describe only the verb.

English “there is”, “there are”, “here is”, etc., is rendered the same way:

Ne ekzistos Provinco, Pippin. There won’t be a Shire, Pippin.
Estas nenia registaro kiel nenia registaro. There’s no government like no government.

except when one wants to call attention to the subject, in which case Esperanto uses jen:

Nu, jen la unu perfektaĵo, kion mi kolektis: mineralakvo. Alright, now here’s the one perfecto thing I picked up: mineral water.
Jen mi. Here I am.
Jen via reĝo! Behold your king!

Participles

Adjectives created from verbs are called “participles”. Most modern European languages, including English, recognize two kinds of participle — those expressing action currently being performed by the nouns they modify, and those expressing completed action, whether being performed by or on the nouns they modify:

In Progress Completed
a revealing dress a revealed truth
living relatives dearly departed
a winning smile a defeated sigh
a rising star a fallen star

In Esperanto, too, there are two basic types of participle: “active” (those being performed by the nouns they modify) and “passive” (those being performed on the nouns they modify by someone or something else). However, both types come in three distinct forms — one to express completed action, one for action in progress, and one for action yet to come:

Active Passive
manĝinta dingo
a dingo that has eaten
manĝita bebo
a baby that was eaten
manĝanta dingo
a dingo currently eating
manĝata bebo
a baby being eaten
manĝonta dingo
a dingo about to eat
manĝota bebo
a baby about to be eaten

Participles as Adverbs

A participle can also be used as an adverb by changing the final -a to -e. In this form it tells when or why something happens:

Vidante la malsatan dingon aliri, la bebo ploriĝis. Seeing the hungry dingo approach, the baby began to cry.
Manĝinte bebon, la dingo dormiĝis. Having eaten a baby, the dingo went to sleep.

Participles as Nouns

By changing the final -a to -o, a participle can be used as a noun. In this form it expresses a person or thing that performs an action, or on whom it is performed:

Ŝi vivis timante la revenon de la vivantaj mortintoj. She lived in fear of the return of the living dead.
Ni mortontoj salutas vin! We who are about to die salute you!
La ĉasantoj kaj la ĉasatoj The hunters and the hunted

Compound Verbs

Simple verbs in English and Esperanto show not only when the action took place (tense), but the degree of the action’s completion (aspect). For example, the simple past tense generally shows completed action (mi skribis leteron), the present tense action in progress (mi skribas leteron), and the future tense action that will be completed later on (mi skribos leteron). With compound verbs, one can express any degree of completion in any tense:

La dingo estis manĝinta la bebon kiam mi eniris. The dingo had (already) eaten the baby when I went in.
La dingo estis manĝanta la bebon kiam mi eniris. The dingo was eating the baby when I went in.
La dingo estis manĝonta la bebon kiam mi eniris. The dingo was about to eat the baby when I went in.
Etc.
La bebo estos manĝita kiam mi eniros. The baby will have been eaten when I go in.
La bebo estos manĝata kiam mi eniros. The baby will be being eaten when I go in.
La bebo estos manĝota kiam mi eniros. The baby will be about to be eaten when I go in.
Etc.

Note that there is no pluperfect tense in Esperanto, so to convey that one of two actions in the past precedes the other, one needs to use adverbs of time like jam antaŭe (jam alone, usually translated as “already”, can also mean “starting now” or “starting then”):

La dingo jam antaŭe estis manĝinta la bebon kiam mi eniris. The dingo had already eaten the baby when I went in.

Compound tenses are much more common in English than in Esperanto, which generally uses them only to underscore the time and completeness of one action in relation to another (manĝi and eniri in the previous example) or to emphasize the agent of a passive action (dingo in manĝata far dingo). Otherwise, where English uses a compound verb, Esperanto uses a simple one.

La dingo manĝis la bebon antaŭ ol mi eniris. The dingo had eaten the baby before I went in.
(action in the past)
La dingo jam antaŭe manĝis la bebon kiam mi eniris. The dingo had already eaten the baby when I went in.
(action in the past)
Mi scias ke vi kaj Franko projektis malkonekti min... I know you and Frank were planning to disconnect me...
(action in the past)
Vi kaj Franko estis projektanta malkonekti min, kiam grandega feto subite aperis el nenie. You and Frank were planning to disconnect me when, suddenly, a giant fetus appeared out of nowhere.
(action in the past occuring during an action in progress)
Ĉi tie supre, mi jam foriris. Up here, I’m already gone.
VI interferis en la fundamentaj fortoj de NATURO! YOU have meddled with the primal forces of NATURE!
Venas la vintro. Winter is coming.
Mi prenos ĉi tiujn Huggies, kaj kiom ajn da mono vi havas. I’ll be taking these Huggies, and whatever cash you got.
Mi diras tiun merdon de antaŭ jaroj. Kaj se oni aŭdis ĝin, tio signifis onian morton. I’ve been saying that shit for years. And if you heard it, it meant your ass.

Note that when action in the past continues into the present, the simple present is used, usually in conjunction with a start time.

Mi loĝas en prizono el timo de post tiu tago. I have been living in a prison of fear since that day.
Cady, ĉio, kion mi manĝas nuntempe estas ĉi tiuj tabuletoj de Kälteen. Ili aĉas. Cady, all I’ve been eating are these Kälteen bars. They suck.

Transitive and Intransitive Action

When a person or thing directs action toward another person or thing, the action is said to be “transitive” (i.e., it transits its action onto something else). For example, pay (a fee), watch (a movie), say (the truth). The person or thing being acted on (in the previous examples, fee, movie, and truth) is called the “direct object”.

When the action is not directed toward something else, like be, sit, and recline, it is said to be “intransitive”.

In English, many verbs are both transitive and intransitive, depending on the context:

Intransitive Transitive
The ball rolled into the street. The boy rolled the ball into the street.
The water is boiling. The cook is boiling the water.
The snow will melt. The sun will melt the snow.

In Esperanto, a verb is either transitive or intransitive, never both. To make an intransitive verb transitive, one can add -ig- to the root; to make a transitive verb intransitive, one can add -iĝ- to the root:

Intransitive Transitive
La pilko rulis en la straton. La knabo rulis la pilkon en la straton.
La akvo bolas. La kuiristo boligas la akvon.
La neĝo fandos. La suno fandos la neĝon.

However, some intransitive verbs can have an object if that object is a noun version of the verb:

danci la dancon malpermesatan to dance the forbidden dance
vivi la dolĉan vivon to live the good life
paroli la paroladon de la italoj to speak the speech of the Italians

or a specific example of the same:

danci la lambadon to dance the Lambada
paroli la italan to speak Italian

Note, too, that one can use a transitive verb without an object, so as to emphasize only the idea of the action itself:

Hieraŭ mi legis libron. Yesterday I read a book.
Hieraŭ mi legis dum la tuta tago. Yesterday I read all day.