Learning Esperanto: Accusative Case and that Pesky -n

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Note: Due to the fact that a number of twats have left ridiculous, confusing and INCORRECT comments on this post, I am TURNING OFF the comments. Don’t email me. I am not dealing with your issues. Deal with them yourself.

Whilst I’m not finding Esperanto difficult so far, there is one aspect of the grammar that is tripping me up: the use of the –n which marks the direct object of a sentence, and, as I’ve recently discovered, all manner of other things.

Given that I’m having this problem, I thought others might be too, so I’ve created this post to help us all understand this.

Please note that I am NOT a grammarian or a linguist and I’m sure that there are other ways to explain or use the terms I’m about to talk about (so if I have made a mistake EMAIL ME rather than commenting. Comments go to spam on this post.). This is just a brief guide written for a VERY specific purpose: a quick and dirty, plain English guide to understanding these terms.

What is a Direct Object?

The direct object actually isn’t that difficult to get your head around.

Unlike many other English-speaking learners of Esperanto, I’m not going to launch into a tirade about needing to learn how to show the direct object of a sentence. After all, you do something similar in Arrernte and Pitjantjatjara, except you mark the subject of the sentence.

So here’s the gist of it:

In a sentence, the direct object is thing that’s getting something done to it. In other words, the direct object is the receiver of a verb’s action (a verb is a ‘doing’ word: twerked, smelling, nosepicking).

I promise not to go all technical on you, so I’ll give you some examples:

I gave the cat some food.                                                                    

I (subject) gave (verb) the cat (direct object) some food (indirect object).

The cat ate the food.

In this sentence, the food is the direct object because it’s the thing that’s being eaten – eat, of course, being the verb (action word) here.

Here’s another example:

The dog bites the cat.

‘Cat’ is the direct object in this sentence. It’s the receiver of the verb ‘bites’.

A simple way to figure out the direct object of a sentence:

  1. Find the verb
  2. Then ask: ‘Who or what is being (insert verb)?’

Your answer is the direct object.

What is the Accusative Case?

Here is Wikipedia’s definition of the accusative case:

The accusative case (abbreviated acc) of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. …The syntactic functions of the accusative consist of designating the immediate object of an action, the intended result, the goal of a motion, and the extent of an action.[1]

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t find that explanation very helpful!

So let’s decipher what the Wikipedia bods are trying tell us.

Let’s start with grammatical cases.

A ‘grammatical case’ is a fancy way of saying:

  1. Nouns perform certain roles in sentences
  2. These roles are called ‘cases’
  3. In some languages, the form of the noun changes when its role in a sentence changes.

In English, nouns don’t change their forms when they perform different roles in sentences, with the exception of personal pronouns (I/me, he/him, she/her etc).

So that’s a grammatical case… I’ve explained above what the direct object is, which leaves us with ‘transitive verbs’.

Thankfully, transitive verbs are easy peasy to explain.

Transitive verbs are those verbs that need a noun or pronoun to inflict their dastardly work upon:

  • The dog pees on the lounge.
  • Amanda smacks him.
  • He bites Amanda.
  • Amanda needs stitches.

These are all transitive verbs because they appear in sentences where SOMEONE/SOMETHING is doing (verbing) SOMETHING/SOMEONE else.

You can’t really say: the dog pees in English and have a completely sensible sentence. Well, I guess you can, but it doesn’t sound quite right.

Likewise, Amanda needs doesn’t make much sense either. It leaves you hanging, wondering exactly what it is that I need!

You can, however, say:

  • He peed
  • She swam
  • It barked
  • I choked

… And make perfectly understandable sentences.

The verbs in these sentences are called intransitive verbs and I won’t go into detail about them right now. However, I’m sure you can see that the noun/pronoun at the beginning of the sentence acts as both the doer (the subject) and the suffer (the direct object) of the verb.

So, back to translating the Wikipedia definition of the accusative case into plain English:

The accusative case:

  1. Is a noun category which describes the shape or form that a noun takes when it’s the direct object in a sentence, and its purpose is to;
  2. Show what/who the direct object is in a sentence, the motion, and the result and extent of a verb’s action.

Showing the Accusative Case in Esperanto

Yay! Finally, we get to Esperanto!

And this is where it got a little tricky for me.

You see, Esperanto uses the accusative case in a number of ways which I am still getting my head around.

So I’ll baby-step us all through these in the rest of this post and the next post.

Showing the Direct Object

Unlike English, which generally uses word order to mark the direct object in a sentence, Esperanto uses a marker suffix to show the direct object in a sentence.

In plain English, this means that you have to put an –n on the end of nouns to show that they’re the direct object:

La hundo mordis la knabon.

Amanda ne parolas Esperanton.

So far so good? Adding the –n suffix to the direct object in a simple sentence … no sweat!

But things get trickier…

If you have an adjective (a word like ‘big’, fat’, ‘ugly’ which tells you what a noun is like) describing a noun in a sentence in Esperanto, the adjective also takes the –n suffix.

Good boys will have good dogs

Bonaj knaboj havos bonajn hundojn.

(I am assuming here that you know that adding –j to a noun in Esperanto makes it a plural, and that you also know that adjectives need the plural marker, -j, as well).

Really, marking the direct object in Esperanto is easy, and if you’re an English speaker learning Esperanto, I’m going to tell you now to quit whinging and get on with it.

The really tricky bits I found in learning about the accusative are the next ones – which I’m going to talk about in the next post.

Summing Up.

In this post, I’ve talked about:

  • the direct object
  • the accusative case
  • transitive verbs, and of course;
  • how to mark the direct object in Esperanto sentences.

In the next post, I’m going to talk about the parts of the accusative which I’ve found a little more difficult, and which, in fact, have tripped me up completely in my Ana Pana course on Lernu.net.

 

 

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