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Does the simplicity of Esperanto verb tenses make its verbs too imprecise?

by MarcDiaz, September 6, 2016

Messages: 88

Language: English

lagtendisto (User's profile) September 9, 2016, 11:35:37 AM

MarcDiaz:And, in any case, do you think the language will evolve over time, like all national languages have done, and new tenses and expressions will arise?
MarcDiaz:But if it did, would it not be against Zamenshof's intentions that the same language be spoken everywhere in the same way?
Internet communication networks enable supervision capabilities about written Esperanto. Regarding spoken Esperanto, well, at least in Europe, low budget travelling to participate at Esperanto events that enables to save Standard Esperanto according PMEG.

Duko (User's profile) September 10, 2016, 7:00:41 AM

To answer your question: no. It s futile to compare Esperanto to English, why should anyone care about how English treats its verbs? Why didnt you compare EO to my native language, which uses a different system? (retorical question, answer: because it doesnt matter).

Sorry bout the spelling, EN layout on a DE kezboard.

MarcDiaz (User's profile) September 10, 2016, 11:03:54 AM


You replied to me that there is no confusion or clarify or clear up. Yet, you start your first comment by saying that you're confused. When I try to clear up your confusion, then you tell me there you are not confused. I find that contradictory.

Yes, I found the compound verb tenses, which use the participles.

MarcDiaz (User's profile) September 10, 2016, 11:06:26 AM


Okay, although you don't provide examples or some reasoning to why the Esperanto verb system is precise enough other than your ten years of experience with the language, that is probably enough.

MarcDiaz (User's profile) September 10, 2016, 11:32:30 AM


You find the English tense system a bit muddy because you say it mixes tense, aspect and mood. It is true that each tense gives an indication of those grammatical features, but to me, it does it in a quite organized and precise way.

The only exception I could find right now, without analysing it very deeply, is the subjunctive mood, which sometimes uses verbs in the past tense. Thus, there could be some misunderstanding as to whether a verb in the past refers to the indicative ro the subjunctive mood. In real life, though, English-speakers rarely struggle to identify the mood of a verb in the past tense. Context is usually enough.

I am well aware that languages don't always reflect exactly the same patterns other languages have. That's why every language is considered different to another one. However, there are also similarities. I suppose you make this remark as a reply to my proposal of Esperanto using the structure "havi + object participle" to form the equivalent of the English present perfect. I just proposed taking it into consideration, because if Esperanto is meant to be simple and easy to learn, similarity to the living national languages would help. That is actually the way vocabulary is designed. Words are created with an intention that they are similar to those of (mainly) European languages, so their learning is easier. In the case of grammar, the same option would make sense. In Esperanto there are so many participles, that many of them don't have an equivalent in European languages, and therefore, their meaning is quite difficult to grasp to most people, I think.

We could see object participles as the English past participles. But in English, there is only one past participle, whereas in Esperanto there are three past participles: those with the affixes -it-, -at- and -ot. This makes it difficult for English-speakers or for speakers with a similar system of participles to understand the meaning of an Esperanto object participle in the future, the form which uses the "-ot-" affix, for example.

The same could be said about Esperanto subject participles. Those having the letter "n" in the affix. I think their closest equivalent in English would be the gerund (or the -ing form). But in English this -ing form has no reference to any time in itself. The word "singing" only shows a progressive aspect, but it doesn't show time. In Esperanto, however, these subject participles seem to have also a time reference, depending on if one uses -int-, -ant-, or -ont. Again, it will not be easy for most European speakers to understand the idea of a past or future gerund, for example. And even more complex, when this temporal gerund comes after the verb "esti" which seems to also have a time reference, which is independent ot the time of the gerund which comes afterwards.

So, I see two options here:

- Try to understand and use the complex system of Esperanto participles
- Propose a new system which is similar to that of most languages, and which would therefore be easier to learn. Esperanto's creator wanted it to be easy, so it is not such a crazy idea to take into consideration a possible change to the language which goes in line with its creator's original intention

I don't mind getting used to a new system, however, and thinking differently. When one wants to learn a new language, one has to accept and understand that new systems will probably be discovered, and that is also part of what makes language learning interesting. So in this point I agree with you. I just found it interesting to analyze the structure of the perfective aspect in Esperanto, how it differs from English, making it relatively hard to learn and how that might not be such in line with Zamenhof's original intentions.

Vestitor (User's profile) September 10, 2016, 11:36:11 AM


You replied to me that there is no confusion or clarify or clear up. Yet, you start your first comment by saying that you're confused. When I try to clear uo your confusion, then you tell me there you are not confused. I find that contradictory.

Yes, I found the compound verb tenses, which use the participles.
It's a turn of phrase used begin a reply with mock self-deprecation; as if error lies with the listener. Some variations include:

Maybe it's just me...
Perhaps I'm wrong but...
I don't think I understand...

Does that help to clear up your confusion?

opalo (User's profile) September 10, 2016, 11:44:32 AM

So, I see two options here:

- Try to understand and use the complex system of Esperanto participles
That sounds like an excellent idea.

MarcDiaz (User's profile) September 10, 2016, 11:56:37 AM


Your post makes sense to me. It is true that very often the context shows if a specific verb has a simple, a progressive or a perfective aspect. The difference between Esperanto and English in this respect seems to be that in English, the verb has to necessarily show its aspect. Even if one could guess it by the words which surround it (its context, in other words). In Esperanto, however, if the context makes the aspect of the verb already clear, then it is advised to use the simpler verb form, unlike English which needs to show it in the verb necessarily. This is an example of facultative precision, which a poster mentioned later, saying that Lidepla uses this concept of facultative precision a lot more.

I suppose the reason for the avoidance of compound verb tenses in Esperanto is, once again, simplicity. Compound verbs in Esperanto can be relatively difficult, its meaning can be opaque to those who still can't speak it well. Or maye it is seen as an unneccesary complication.

Let's see the examples you wrote:

La akcidento okazis dum mi promenis en la parko. (was walking)
In this sentence the word "dum" shows that the verb "promenis" is seen as taking place for an indefinite time. We don't know when it starts and when it ends. It does not matter. But we see it as action going on for some time, or a kind of framework during which the other action takes place. As mentioned before, in English it would not sound right to use the verb "walk" in the present simple, but in Esperanto this seems to be the preferred option, if a word such as "dum" makes its continuous aspect clear.

Laŭ mia 'fitbit', (paŝokalkulilo) mi jam promenis 2 kilometrojn hodiaŭ (have walked)
Here, it is the words "jam" and "hodiaŭ" which give us a clue that the verb "promenis" happened in the past up until the present. Therefore, it still has a connection to the present and the present perfect tense is required. In Esperanto, this word makes the contex clear and therefore the participle is not needed. However, if we leave out the word "jam" and "hodiaŭ", then we would not have this context and the sentence would be ambiguous.

Mi decidis ne preni la aŭtobuson, kaj anstataŭe marŝis (piediris) al la stacidomo (walked)
This is a good example of the use of the past simple. Two finished actions, which happen one after the other. In this case we can only use the past simple form. The form which is encouraged as the default one, is here the best option, so we do not need to look any further.

MarcDiaz (User's profile) September 10, 2016, 12:12:44 PM


The principle of facultative precision is interesting. I suppose it was meant to make things easier, but I think in the end it would have the opposite result.

It might seem easier not having to use to plural and accusative if the context gives enough information. But then one would have to ask oneself constantly whether the context gives enough information to skip the plural and accusative. I think that is actually more difficult and quite subjective.

I think it is better to have a clear rule that should always be applied. This way, by repeating this pattern over and over again, it becomes easily ingrained in your speech and you no longer have to think consciounsly when to use the plural and accusative, for example.

Like I said before, deciding whether the context is enough or not can be subjective. It also adds one step to your choice of words, which make it complex.

1st) Does the contex give enough information? Then use the simple form.

2nd) If it does not, choose number and case.

By using always a specific rule, we skip step 1, and we go straight to step 2, which, in my opinion, makes it simpler. That's the way Esperanto works.

MarcDiaz (User's profile) September 10, 2016, 12:25:33 PM


I do not think it is futile to compare Esperanto to English. My original intention was to discuss whether Esperanto verb tenses were too simple to be accurate and practical enough to talk about all areas of life, everywhere, all the time.

I think it is useful to see how other languages use other systems, because then you can see nuances which might not exist in Esperanto and which would enrich the language if they were present. Comparison of two different systems is useful in an analysis, since it enables you to see things you have, things you don't have, how you could improve a system, etc. Comaprisons often give good ideas. Ideas which would be much more difficult to get without such comparisons, just by thinking abstractly.

Then you ask me a supposed rhetorical question, but you answer it yourself. Well, I do not agree with your answer. I think it does matter comparing one language to another for the reasons I gave you in the paragraph above.

Your question was why I do not compare Esperanto to your native language. The truth is I do not know what your native language is. I did not even know of your existence before you posted here. I might be able to speak more or less your native language, depending on which one it is, but my thread was in English. Therefore, I chose the English grammar. Also, since nowadays English could be said to be the actual lingua franca of the world, and the one most people know, I thought most people would understand my point if I used a well-known and widespread language, rather than a smaller one, or a minority one.

However, your post gives me the impression of being quite sour or angry. Am I right in my perception? If I am, why are you angry?

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