I know Esperanto is constructed on the basis of Romance languages; but what are the main differences and similarities between English and Esperanto?

Especially from the following aspects:

  • grammar (how are words constructed and orderly connected? what classifications / parts of speech does English / Esperanto have?)
  • vocabulary (from what languages does English / Esperanto borrow terms / derived words?)
  • semantics (words in what languages share similar connotations and implications with English / Esperanto words?)

What books / resources about analysis on Esperanto (and English) are recommended to get me started on such comparison?

  • 1
    Crystal's Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language is a good start. And then you need to learn something about the grammar of English; the questions you've asked don't really signify because you're looking for the wrong things.
    – jlawler
    Feb 20, 2014 at 16:00
  • 1
    Esperanto is constructed based also on Germanic languages, and to a much lesser extent on Slavic ones. Birdo, hundo and plenty other words are derived from Germanic languages, not Romance ones.
    – Joe Pineda
    Feb 20, 2014 at 23:47
  • You may also want to take into account native vs esperanto as a 2nd language. Among the language learners there are Esperantos where, say a French Esperanto speaker will have a French influence syntax. As an example, in Esperanto it is legal to have adjective precede or follow a noun (according to the spec) but I imagine it would be different for native vs french vs english speakers. Feb 21, 2014 at 19:46
  • @MatthewMartin I see. The use of Esperanto differs among speakers with different native languages.
    – hello all
    Feb 22, 2014 at 10:05
  • 1
    One could write a book about how English borrows words. There are whole books that describe Esperanto grammar, and some very long books that describe English grammar. One could write some very long books about semantics in almost any natural language or artificial proposed lingua franca. That's why I consider this question too broad. Though I am voting to close, I hope that you will consider a narrower question on a related topic. Aug 14, 2014 at 23:15

2 Answers 2


Esperanto is not based on Romance languages – though a lot of the vocabulary comes from Romance languages, many ways in which words are used and some of the grammar are derived from Slavic languages (of which Zamenhof was a native speaker): for example the Esperanto word en, though borrowed from French en, actually behaves like the Polish v; plus features like having "k" and "t" words (kiel/tiel, kia/tia etc.) are loosely inspired by Russian (как/так, какой/такой). Though things like its agglutinative system were largely imagined with only marginal inspiration from living languages, and a lot of Esperanto grammar (like the ability to use any root to form any part of speech by changing the endings) were completely new and not based on any language at all.

Now to answer your specific questions regards comparisons with English:

English is a non pro-drop language with slight inflection of verbs for both person and tense: most verbs are "weak" and so their conjugation can be determined from the root (for example, I climb, you climb, he climbs, I climbed, you climbed). Some verbs however are "strong" (for example, "be") and their conjugations must be learnt (I am, you are, it is, I was, you were etc.). In English, the future tense, the conditional and the subjunctive mood are expressed using auxhiliary verbs (I will climb, I would climb, I should climb).
Esperanto is a non pro-drop language whose verbs do not decline for person (mi grimpas, vi grimpas, li grimpas) but do for tense and mood (mi grimpas, mi grimpis, mi grimpos, mi grimpus, mi grimpu). Every verb is regular, like everything else in Esperanto. The future tense and the conditional are expressed by conjugating the verb differently; Esperanto has no specific subjunctive, but the u-mood (often thought of as the imperative) can be used to convey the same meaning (mi pensas ke vi foriru).
English has two participles: the past active and the present active (done, doing). It has four aspects: simple (do), perfective (done), progressive (doing) and the peculiar-to-English perfect progressive using the past participle of be (been doing). Using auxiliary verbs (have/be) in the past and present tense and prepending them with will to form the future tense, there are 12 tense-aspect pairs in which a verb can be expressed in the active voice and indicative mood. Another 4 each in the active-conditional, active-subjunctive, active-infinitive and theoretically in the active-imperative making 28 in the active voice. In the passive voice there is no simple aspect, so there are 9 tense-aspect pairs in the indicative mood and 3 each in the other four moods making 21 in total, or 49 tense-mood-aspect-voice quadruples in the English language, only 35 of which exist in Esperanto.
Esperanto has six participles: past, present and future active, and the past, present and future passive (farinta, faranta, faronta, farita, farata, farota) (=done, doing, going to do, had done to, having done to, going to have done to). It has four aspects: simple (faras), perfective (farinta), progressive (faranta) and prospective (faronta). Using estas in one of the three tenses as an auxiliary verb, or simply by replacing the final "a" of the participle by "-is", "-as" or "-os", a verb can be expressed in 12 tense-aspect pairs (including the simple) in the active voice and indicative mood, only 9 of which exist in English. 4 each in the other four moods in the active voice, making 28 in the active voice. In the passive voice (disregarding the ability to expressive some verbs in the simple passive using -iĝ-) their are 9 in the indicative and 3 in each of the other four moods, making a total of 21 in the passive voice or 49 tense-mood-aspect-voice quadruples in Esperanto, only 35 of which exist in English. Unlike in English, every single one of these constructions can be expressed as a single verb.
English has (virtually) no case system left, with all nouns being written in the nominative case and word order being a determining factor in interpreting the relationship between words in a sentence (specifically what is the subject and what is the object of a verb), along with prepositions. Some remnants of the genitive case remain in pronouns: whose, mine, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs.
Esperanto has two cases: nominative and accusative. Having only two cases it is a lot more dependent on prepositions than other cased languages like German or Russian, and is probably equally dependent on prepositions as English, but is not reliant on word order to determine the subject and object of a verb like in English. It too has some traces of the genitive case left over from Zamenhof's early experiments in creating the langauge, in pronouns such as kies, ties and ies.

vocabulary –
I won't list examples, but much of the vocabulary comes from Romance languages, some from German and some from English itself (plus some from Slavic languages, Greek and Latin). English is a cognate language to German, and Romance languages like Norman French and Latin had a massive influence on our English vocabulary, so a native English speaker is in a fairly privileged position when it comes to learning Esperanto vocabulary.

semantics –
As I said earlier, the majority of Esperanto words derive their functional roles from the Slavic languages (though for many words that role is a simple one and common across European languages), although I suppose the cultural connotations of some words would be different depending on the mother tongue of the person speaking Esperanto.

If you would like to know more your best (and quickest) bet is probably just to learn the basics of Esperanto. Try the beginner courses on Lernu! – you can pick up the entire grammar of the language in just a few hours. And once you know a bit of Esperanto, you can read the many discussions about grammar in the forums there or check out the Esperanto Wikipedia which has many detailed articles on Esperanto grammatical concepts. Also this article in the English Wikipedia should be a good start for grammar, and this one for vocabulary.

  • I think you meant Polish "w", not "v" - "v" isn't used in Polish at all.
    – michau
    Oct 16, 2016 at 19:22

Grammar (how are words constructed and orderly connected? what classifications / parts of speech does English / Esperanto have?):

It is extremely like Japanese, where there is a root word (that has no stem-change) which simply changes in ending or prefix according to which role in grammar it is playing, and where verbs can (and often do) compound onto each other. Also it's the same in where there are very very few exceptions. This basic concept is modernly very different in English, as for example, we have many mismatching pairs like "city, urban", "rain, pluvial", "fear, coward/poltroon, scary" and so on. In Esperanto every single pair stems from the same root, and there are a few more suffixes than in English, ex. one for "to cause" and one for "to become" (this was present in Old English and we have remnants of it today, ex. in bedazzled). For example:

  1. There is no "famous, red, blue, wet, dry, lethargic, celestial", as in Esperanto they're "fama, ruĝa, blua, malseka, seka, letargia, ĉiela". All are adjectives in both languages.
  2. "angrily, wetly, very, lethargically, on Mondays" are "kolere, malseke, tre, letargie, lunde". All are adverbs.
  3. "sincerity, hound (dog), dilapidation, epoch, eczema, shoulder-blade" are "sincereco, hundo, ruinigo, epoko, ekzemo, skapolo". All are nouns.
  4. "pony, puppy, kitten, duckling" are "ĉevalido, hundido, katido, anasido" (ido means "an offspring", so it's like "baby horse").

And so on and so forth. Changing the prefix or suffix is the way to get the corresponding related pair (unless you want to use a synonym, but this is the normal way). Kolere is angrily, kolero is anger. Ĉiela is celestial, ĉielo is sky. That sort of logic is the basis of the entire language. Patro is father, bopatro is father-in-law.

Words are basically constructed in the same way as English - the starting word of a compound modifies the ending word of the compound (an oft-cited example is "songbird and birdsong"). Most of the prefixes and suffixes have some sort of equivalent in English too. The difference is that in Esperanto, practically any word can be compounded — this includes prepositions being compounded to each other, or prepositions being prefixed to verbs etc. (as is done in Swedish, among other languages).

For example, "to pick out" can be said in exactly that word order, but "to outpick" can also be said. Prefixes and suffixes can also be compounded to each other, for an easy example pra-avo (great-grandfather), pra-pra-avo (great-great-grandfather). Numbers can also be compounded into words, ex. unu-op-ulo ("one-collective-being/person", meaning "individual").

As for word order in general, it has very little rules. The definite article and the word "no" have to come before the word they describe (but the adjective that describes the noun, can come either before or after the noun, for example). Words marking questions (like "does" in "Doesn't he want to eat?") have to be the very first word in the sentence or clause that introduces the question. The rest of the so-called word-order rules are basically just trends, people have decided that one trend or another gives a certain flavour and so on. The same is true for compounds, in that it's just usually a trend as to whether a word is written as a compound or written separately, both are allowed in the language.

So in Esperanto it's perfectly acceptable to have sentences just as in English, with "I eat apples on Monday", but also perfectly acceptable is as in Swedish, "On Monday eat I apples", or even bigger variations like "I apples on monday eat". This is thanks to an accusative case existing, but even then, the rule is that "the accusative doesn't have to be used if the meaning is obvious".

As for verb tenses and moods, everything that can be said in English is perfectly able to be said in Esperanto. The difference is that Esperanto speakers tend to not use all of the more precise forms. For example, Esperanto can easily say "I had been going", but instead people will simply say "I went". This mirrors Japanese, Swedish, etc. In a similar vein, Esperanto verbs do not conjugate according to number or gender, so it essentially looks like "I am, he am, they am".

The parts of speech are just the same as in English if you ignore that it has the accusative case, and there are a few items that are simply more clarified than English. There are nouns, adjectives, adverbs, exclamations, prepositions, conjunctions and "particles" (I forget what they're called - words that aren't really any of these categories). There's present, future, and past tense, also the subjunctive and command form; other forms like "I want to go" are expressed with compounds or prepositions etc. The more clarified parts are that Esperanto has a distinct word for reflexive pronouns, like "I did it to myself", versus "I don't like it, myself". The only cases are nominative and accusative, but there is effectively a genitive because the same ending for adjectives is also the possessive ending (though we can also denote a posession using "of", as in English "the hair of the dog"). There is no indefinite artcle in Esperanto (which mirrors Icelandic, Japanese, etc) but if necessary we can say "one dog", for example.

Vocabulary (from what languages does English / Esperanto borrow terms / derived words?): Originally, most words were from Latin and German. This branches into similarities with languages such as French, Yiddish, English, and Danish.

Modernly, Esperanto borrows either the most international word, or the only word that can be borrowed (ex. "geisha" is of course only available from Japanese). In some cases, authors took words from languages they knew and so even if there were more international words, those words became the common ones (some vulgar words are like that). So, just as with where most of English's loanwords come from, most of Esperanto's new/loanwords nowadays come from Latin or Greek. Most technology words are therefore basically the same in both languages, such as "television" or "internet", where there's just one or two letters in difference between the languages. The Esperanto is "televidilo" (a compound of "tele- + see + tool"), as the Latin roots themselves are tele- and videre (to see); for internet it's "interreto". Medical and botanical/animal words however are pretty much always borrowed from Latin. There are a few trends like that how most time words (day, month, year, minute - tago, monato, jaro) were all originally borrowed from German.

When Esperanto doesn't borrow words, it simply makes them up from existing roots. For example, bildliteraturo means comics, and bild is picture in German, Swedish, etc. Of course, literature comes from French and Latin (in Latin it's literatura, apparently). The same word in Swedish would be "drawn series", and in Japanese for example the compound includes "picture/painting" instead of "literature", so as you can see Esperanto creates the word from its most logical form instead of directly borrowing the way another language created it.

Semantics (words in what languages share similar connotations and implications with English / Esperanto words?) There are a great many of these in base/root words, thanks to English's large vocabulary and the fact that, of course, no language uses words completely literally and everything can be a metaphor or implication anytime one wishes. For example: pluvial - pluvia hound (dog) - hundo paper - papero to comprehend - kompreni

The main difference is that, once a word becomes a compound word, it usually ceases to look the same as English. Also there are cultural implications of certain words that are different from country to country, so they aren't always the same in Esperanto. This is especially true because Esperanto is least known about in the English-speaking world, and English's effect on Esperanto is actually very minimal compared to most other languages (ex. only 20% of translations into Esperanto come from English; other languages tend to be more like 60-80%). But here are synonyms with shades of meaning in Esperanto that correspond to synonyms with shades of meaning in English, yes.

You didn't ask about it, but I figure you're probably wondering - Esperanto has made "neologisms", slang, and sometimes has its own special implications on words. For example, a "green pope" is someone who talks about Esperanto constantly (green is the "colour of Esperanto"). A "necessary-place" is a toilet/bathroom. There are also verbs and so on named after people, this is equivalent to saying "he's a Marxist", or "a McCarthy-ism", where the name of a certain famous person has taken on a particular meaning; only of course Esperanto has its own famous Esperanto speakers it takes the names from. Outright slang words are relatively few as it would complicate the language too much, but there are also unique meanings strongly implied with certain words that are only known to people who know Esperanto and/or its history (which, frankly, is most Esperanto speakers).

As mentioned by the other person who replied, if you really want to know it you have to learn it (you don't have to become fluent even). It's honestly very fast to learn, all you need to do is get a dictionary like this one which has a list of prefixes and suffixes, then look up words on the online dictionary on lernu.net (which often breaks them into their compounds too).

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