I found this link which lists 12 compound tenses like future perfect, along with some other outlandish forms like perfect imperative (brr), further to the normal as–is–os. Are they used in anything than perhaps literal translations of texts from other languages? It feels like they are defeating the simplicity principle which makes Esperanto so elegant. To my best knowledge (and background from my own language), it's possible to express any other tense than present or future or past by words like ĵus, I have yet to see a counterexample.

  • The compound imperatives, and the future-future (for example) are quite rare, but the system is entirely regular. Can you say a bit more about which ones are confusing? Oct 23, 2016 at 11:15
  • @AndrewWoods Sorry for the bad phrasing: I did not find them confusing, just superfluous.
    – La Vo-o
    Oct 23, 2016 at 11:29
  • @AndrewWoods What I meant to imply about the perfect imperative is that it would feel strange to be ordered to have done something – quite restricting, at least. Maybe a very uncompromising way of putting a deadline, if accompanied by a time in the same sentence, that's all use cases I can imagine. But I don't know if that would actually work in Esperanto.
    – La Vo-o
    Oct 23, 2016 at 11:33
  • 1
    Interesting thinking, I agree about the orders. But the -u form can be used in more ways than the English imperative. For example to express should/ought to or Let's. Maybe then those tenses make a little more sense. Oct 23, 2016 at 12:25
  • The rejection of compound tenses in favour of simple tenses and adverbs is one of the main contributions Kabe (Kazimierz Bein) made to the language; it does not really originate with Zamenhof. As a stylistic preference, it has stuck. Jul 4, 2018 at 1:12

3 Answers 3


Even though it may seem like the compound tenses only add difficulty to the language, they do have many advantages. They are useful in literature, like you mention, but not only translated works, also originals. Below I listed some quotes from a magazine. I'd say that compound tenses are less common in spoken Esperanto, but far from non-existing.

One can use the compound tenses to express complex situations and also add variety to the writing. It might be possible to rewrite such sentences using the simple verb forms and other words like ĵus, but I think it is simpler to use the compound tenses.

The passive participle is often used in a way that leaves out a subject otherwise necessary. This is very common also in when speaking.

  • La pordo estas ŝlosita.

  • Post 30 jaroj televidiloj ne plu estos uzataj.

  • Ŝi estis tre konata en Brazilio.

In the last issue of the online magazine Umujo compound tenses appear 13 times.


  • Perfect: 1
  • Progressive present: 1


  • Perfect: 5
  • Progressive present: 4
  • Future perfect: 1
  • Perfect infinitive: 1

I picked out some examples:

Ni volas helpi ĉiujn lingvojn, sendepende ĉu ili estas gigantaj, minoritataj aŭ kreitaj.

Italoj estas multe konataj eksterlande por esti tre gestemaj.

Li estas preskaŭ mortinta, kaj ne diros ion plu.

Ni seniluziigos nian ĉefaron kaj estos maldungitaj.

Ĝis nun mi estas laboranta, konsiderante ĉiujn filmetojn parto de sama rakonto.

  • 1
    Thanks for going through the magazine to collect real examples for me, wow! But I would say that participles alone just work like adjectives with a plain present/future/past, don't they? To me la pordo estas ŝlosita sounds no different from la pordo estas ferma, certainly not a tense of its own. It's particularly striking in the first example quoted from the magazine that we're staying within one tense. In English one could hardly imagine saying for example "I am tired and washing my hands", despite that superficially the second part has the same grammatical structure as the first.
    – La Vo-o
    Oct 23, 2016 at 11:43
  • Or maybe I'm missing what a tense is, in the first place. I usually only think of the active forms as passive is so close to adjectives.
    – La Vo-o
    Oct 23, 2016 at 11:50
  • @LaVo Ah, I get it. You were going for the active ones only. Luckily I posted the two I found. Well, I agree that the passive participles are used as adjectives. That might explain why they are so common in speach. But if you think of it that way... the active ones are adjectives too, aren't they? Oct 23, 2016 at 12:11
  • Besides, I thought you wanted information about the tenses and not the participles themselves. The frequency of participles is much higher than the frequency of compound tenses. Oct 23, 2016 at 12:16
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    Notice that ReVo recommends to avoid “morta” meaning “dead”, its main meaning is supposed to be “mortal, fatal, deadly”. reta-vortaro.de/revo/art/mort.html#mort.0a.zamenhofe That would explain the choice of mortinta in the citation.
    – marcus
    Oct 24, 2016 at 13:57

You will find people who stand by the "complex tenses." (It's likely that a few will answer here.) The point of Esperanto is to be simple, and it's possible (and encouraged) to express any thought with the basic -as, -is, and -os. If the timing of the event needs to be clarified, it can be clarified by additional words.

Participles are best thought of as adjectives. Adjectives can be combined with estas like this.

  • Jen verda arbo.
  • La arbo estas verda.

Participles can be treated the same way.

  • Jen falinta arbo.
  • La arbo estas falinta.

It's very tempting to see this last sentence as "the tree has fallen", but I like to encourage people to see it as "the tree is a fallen one" (it is a tree in the state of being fallen.)

So, yes, the "complex tenses" are used, but it's worth considering whether the people are using them are really embracing how Esperanto works or just carrying over bias from their national language.


The compound tenses follow directly from allowing participles to bear tenses. The names that are shown on that website are borrowed from the grammars of other languages (and some of them are not just dubiously chosen, but misspelt).

You are not obliged to use compounds, but they aren't any more conceptually complicated than relative time itself. Without them, one would just have to express the same ideas in a haphazard way with adverbs and particles. In other words, a regular system would be replaced with an irregular system, without any gain other than a very superficial simplification in appearances.

(Concerning the compounds with -u)

The names given are misleading; the -u ending is not just used for the imperative; it is a "general deontic mood" expressing wishes and ideals. So, it is possible to construct examples in which it makes sense:

  • Estu travivinta tian malagrablaĵon por la lasta fojo! May you have experienced such unpleasantness for the last time!
  • Ne estu malvenkinta... [muttered, opening the sports section of the newspaper] Don't have lost...

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