Learning Esperanto: Accusative Case and that Pesky -n


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.



Why I’m Learning Esperanto & Resources

This post is a video blog I made today about my reasons for learning Esperanto, a ‘made up’ language. I’ve also talked a little about the resources I’ve chosen to help me learn.

Resources Mentioned:

Esperanto: My Summer Language Project

200px-Flag_of_Esperanto.svgMost people have rather mundane goals for summer:

  • Relax by the sea/river with friends/family and consume mountains of food and drink
  • Relax by the sea/river avoiding everyone, but still consuming mountains of food and drink
  • Develop diabetes and heart disease as a result of abovementioned
  • Make New Year’s resolutions on January 1
  • Break New Year’s resolutions on January 2
  • Lose weight
  • Read a book. Preferably with words in it, but a coffee table book with pictures of exotic foodstuffs from a celebrity chef is probably more like it. After all, we are Australians, and we must cringe at all attempts at intellectualism, i.e., books with words in them and no pictures of food or Balinese temples. Or pictures of food in Balinese temples.

Not me.

I am not ‘normal’.

Instead of any of those goals, I decided to learn a new language. And not just any language.

I’m learning a language that is:

  • not spoken as an official/national language anywhere
  • not taught in ‘normal’ schools
  • did not develop naturally (it was invented by a Russian in the 19th Century).

Yes, Esperanto is my summer project.

(Before you shriek at me for having the seasons ‘wrong’ (i.e. it’s WINTER in December), let me correct you. I live in Australia. Summer ‘officially’ runs from December to March.)

The Language of Clubbies

In the course of improving my Arrernte vocab, I voraciously consumed podcasts and blog posts written by other language learning geeks, and rediscovered Esperanto.

I say ‘rediscovered’ because I’ve been aware of Esperanto since my childhood.

photo(10)Esperanto was a language I stumbled across as a child whilst browsing at our very well-stocked local library. At one stage, I was obsessed with Dutton Speedwords –a neat version of shorthand that uses the Latin alphabet rather than the squiggles that Pitman Shorthand uses. I recall learning Dutton Speedwords in 6th Grade so well, I could write stories and take extensive notes. I was also obsessed with learning PNG Pidgin English  – I’m not sure why, but it appealed to me at the time.

(Another aside – sorry. Imagine my delight when I discovered an old copy of ‘Teach Yourself Dutton Speedwords’ at the local secondhand bookshop here in Alice Springs a couple of years ago. Needless to say that it’s sitting on my shelf now).

I was aware of Esperanto because of the sheer number of books in my local library on the subject. Perhaps there was a secret colony of Esperantists in the Sutherland Shire in the 1970s and 80s, trying to add cultural diversity to the largely white Anglo-Celtic population? Who knows?

Whatever the reason, thanks to Sutherland Central Library and the ratepayers of the Shire, I was aware of Esperanto as both an invented language and as an attempt at to be an international language of peace and understanding. I was also aware of it as a number of my Amateur Radio operator friends (Ham radio operators – GOD I HATE THAT TERM –“HAM RADIO”. Radio made out of smoked pig meat. Really?), were Esperantists as well.

The impression that I formed of Esperanto during the 1980s was that it attracted people who were slightly ‘off’: happy-clappy Christians drunk on Jesus-lurve, old ladies who volunteered in refugee aid organisations and ‘clubbies’. I really don’t know how to explain the word, ‘clubbies’, other than to say it’s an Australian expression for the kinds of people who hang out together in stamp collecting and pylon appreciation clubs.

(Aside#3: As I was one of those strange people who was in a DX club – a shortwave radio listeners’ club, and later, an Amateur Radio operator- it never occurred to me that I was also a ‘clubby’!).

All this knowledge I filed away in my brain in a handy neuron box called ‘Esperanto: the language of clubbies. This neuron box is located beside the one marked ‘embarrassing ability to recall the names of capital cities’, and is situated just behind the one called ‘frequency range of the 19m shortwave band*’.

*(15000-15800khz – I knew you were wondering).

This all brings me back to the present: lots of language geeks learn Esperanto, and the logical question: why?

Arriving at Esperanto

I discovered that the contemporary gamut of A-list polyglots (Benny, Laoshu50500, Professor Arguelles, LinQ Steve, Luca etc, etc) all learn Esperanto.

They also all learn Spanish and German, and a lot of other languages, but I digress…


Apparently, Esperanto is easier to learn than just about any other language for English speakers. It takes, on average, 150 hours of study to get to a conversational level.

Many of the A-list polyglots suggest that you learn Esperanto before you learn another language, as it teaches you how to learn a language. Whilst I can’t say that this is true for me, it does seem to have merits.

Here’s a TED talk that might inspire you:

However, it wasn’t any of these A-list polyglots or even the TED talk which actually inspired me to undertake this project. In fact, I have my suspicions that many of the A-list polyglots collect languages in the same way that others collect stamps, twitchers tick of ‘lifers’ and pylon admirers salivate on pylons or whatever it is that pylon enthusiasts do.

What convinced me to learn Esperanto was a lesser-known (but very impressive) polyglot by the name of Peter Browne, and his interview with David Mansaray and Claude Cartaginese (part of the Polyglot Project Podcast). Listen to the episode here.

You see, Peter Browne writes prose and poetry in Esperanto, delights in Esperanto translations of the classics and writes for an Esperanto literary magazine.

It was this evidence of creativity, of culture in the anthropological sense that got me interested in learning the language.

Some people argue against learning Esperanto because it’s an invented language. They substitute ‘invented’ for dead or useless:

The difficulty of learning Esperanto is that you will have wasted your time. Esperanto is like Klingon. The only place you can use it is at Esperanto conventions. No country recognizes Esperanto as an official language, no town has signs written in Esperanto, no human population uses Esperanto to converse on a daily basis. Don’t waste your time with Esperanto. If you really want to learn a useless language, learn Klingon. It was invented by an American linguist, not a European one :p

This quote is taken from the Bible of teenage troll wisdom, Yahoo Answers. It’s typical of the reasons people give for not learning Esperanto.

However, it’s incorrect on two counts:

  1. Esperanto is alive and well, thanks to the internet and A-list polyglots
  2. The fact that a European rather than an American invented it ensures its superiority (IMHO).

A quick search, and the utter wealth and richness of Esperanto resources available on the internets and I was hooked.

Anthropologasms: An Esperanto Culture!

 As if the wealth of free resources wasn’t enough, it becomes apparent when you explore these resources that this is no mere invented, useless language maintained by a few sad clubbies.

It’s actually alive – at least in the sense that a massive number and variety of resources are available online.

There’s music. Funky, quirky world music-type music.

There’s zines.

There’s idioms (albeit, not many), slang and lots of colloquialisms.

And books. Lots of books written in Esperanto.

And I was in: Books. More books.

I do note, however, a large number of Esperanto websites that were clearly made using 1998’s best internet graphics – which look decidedly lame in 2013.

So now, my punning clan – eh- cunning plan to spend 3 months over summer learning Esperanto.  I’d like to be able to have a basic conversation in Esperanto by March.

And maybe know about 500 words.

Wish me luck!