For example, when searching up how to say to scoff in Esperanto, Neta Vortaro told me that it was moki, but I know that to mock is also moki. This troubles me, since in my mind, I associated scoffing with the action of turning one's nose up at someone and making a "skuff" noise whenever they pass by, a more "passive" version of mocking, where you verbally make fun of someone or something, which is more "active".

I do notice that there are many redundant words in Esperanto due to the word creation system (E.g. afero and aĵo both mean thing), but with others, there are no synonyms. Is there no way to express these subtle differences through just a verb and if so, should I just express these subtle differences with adverbs?

  • 1
    It seems you're asking two questions. First - a general question about the absolute number of synonyms in both languages. (I answered this question below.) Second, your example of "scoff" calls out for its own answer which I have posted as a new question here: esperanto.stackexchange.com/questions/1976/… – Tomaso Alexander Nov 4 '16 at 12:35

Most online dictionaries are put together by teams of anonymous volunteers, and you may notice patchiness. Only a few English-Esperanto dictionaries have been published; the most commonly encountered, Wells's, is a pocket-dictionary, and for some words only the most basic translation is given.

The English word scoff is intransitive, but otherwise it is almost a synonym of mock in the sense of expressing laughing contempt. Scoff doesn't specify anything about noises or the nature of the ridicule. However, whatever concept you have in mind, it should be fairly straightforward to find a way to express it.

Esperanto is a constructed language in more ways than one. The basic idea is that, if you are stuck, you figure out the essence of what you mean, and then construct a word that captures it using the components you know. The last major component in the word is the governing idea. If it is hard to cram it all into one word without making it ambiguous, put the rest in an adverb, or just spell the whole idea out.

Here are some components that may be useful for your example: ridi (laugh), moki (mock), imiti (imitate), snufi (sniff), tusi (cough), rikani (sneer), ronki (snort, snore), sin deturni (turn away), eviti (avoid).

For example, while rikani appears in the dictionary under sneer, that concept might also be expressed as subridaĉi (to laugh unpleasantly beneath [the surface]). Similarly, moki itself could be expressed as ridindigi (to make worthy of laughter).

So you could consider ridtusi (laughingly cough), tusridi (coughingly laugh) snufmoki (sniff-mock), ridetaĉi sin deturnante (snicker turning away), mokeviti (mockingly avoid), and so on. Constructing expressive words takes some practice, so checking the dictionary first is always a good idea, as it will show examples of others' solutions. (Remember that these are not really "coinages" or "neologisms" any more than gooseberry-flavoured is a neologism in English simply because you have never seen it before.)

  • With over 28 000 entries, I'm not sure it's fair to call Wells a "pocket dictionary". It certainly wouldn't fit in any of my pockets. The best the dictionaries on line are either actual copies of published dictionaries or based directly on published dictionaries. It doesn't make sense to blame the dictionaries here. – Tomaso Alexander Nov 4 '16 at 12:49
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    Well, my copy of the 1st edition is pocket-sized. Obviously the compilation was a lot of work for one person, but both editions give minimal definitions and disambiguations and are essentially vocab lists. There simply isn't any really good and up-to-date English-Esperanto dictionary. – Andrew Woods Nov 4 '16 at 15:35
  • From the Foreword of the most recent edition of the Wells dictionary: “[This dictionary] assumes that users have enough knowledge of both languages to work out for themselves most derived and inflected forms of words, given the base forms. Entries are as far as possible one-word equivalents. Polysemy is treated very summarily, and the number of prefixed, suffixed, and compound words recorded is quite limited.” – Mike Jones Nov 5 '16 at 15:48

No, there aren't as many synonyms in Esperanto as there are in English. That's one way to put it.

What we shouldn't forget is that Esperanto is different from other languages. In our pride over the versatility of the language - the kunmetaĵoj and the sheer brilliance of the affix system - it can be easy to forget that we don't need to "match" English, or any other language.

There are ways to express every word from every language in Esperanto (maybe going out on a limb here, but bear with me), just as there is in any other language. The brilliance of Esperanto lies in the simplicity and conciseness of the vocabulary.

Does Esperanto need 100+ words for snow? Does it need 75 different ways of saying "angry"? (Choleric, apoplectic, ballistic, infuriated, exasperated, hostile, acrid, aggravated, annoyed, antagonistic, bellicose, boiling, belligerent, caustic, enraged, churlish, bristling, fuming, frustrated, inflamed, incensed, indignant...)

Yes and no.

Elegant simplicity.

This is what makes translation a profession, because finding the right expression in another language while keeping the poetry, the elegance and mellifluousness of the original.

What is the easiest, simplest, most understandable and most international way of expressing this?

I think this lies at the heart of Esperanto. We would be remiss if we forgot that in a competition with English about the most words and the most synonyms.


I don't think any language has as many synonyms (or more precisely: near-synonyms) as English does. The English vocabulary has been built up over the last several thousand years, with new waves of invaders and immigrants bringing their respective languages with them. So we have (probably not much Celtic), Latin, Saxon, Norse, Norman French, some German, Dutch, words from Indian languages (through colonialism) etc. In many cases these words denote the same thing, but then, because it would be pointless to have words with the exact same meaning, slightly changed, mostly in terms of style and register. For example, we have begin, start, commence, which all mean the same (though commence is more 'posh' than the others). Road, street, and way denote slightly different kinds of paths.

This vast vocabulary makes it hard to learn which word is the appropriate one in a given situation (balancing the somewhat more rudimentary morphology and syntax of the English language), so non-native speakers can easily be spotted by having perfect grammar, but using the 'wrong' words.

Esperanto, on the other hand, does not have this problem at all. There are some words which have a similar meaning, but as far as I can see the variation that in English would be a separate word can mostly be covered by affixes or different phrasing.

So no, Esperanto does not have as many synonyms as English does.


Yes and no.

The Plena Ilustrita Vortaro possesses about 16,000 root words. This source (page 15) assumes that each root word as about 10 derivatives, so there are approximately 160,000 words that are regularly used in Esperanto.

English, however, is a very old and unusual language with both Germanic and Romantic roots, as well as a potpourri of many other languages. With all that together, estimates, such as those by the Oxford English Dictionary guess around 250,000 words. The highest I've found is at a staggering 1,000,000, provided by this Telegraph article.

However, Esperanto is a very mutable language, and since roots can be agglutinated together, we could have an infinite number of infinitely long words. Due to this, Esperanto might actually have a larger potential lexicon full of never-used words. However, their lack of usage may just make them not a word.

What the answer is really depends on what you use to measure the size of a lexicon.

  • but that's the problem. When I started learning Esperanto, I read that you only need to know about 600 unique words, but when you consider that many of them may have synonyms, that really becomes untrue, because regardless of which words you intend to use, you really should know all of the synonyms, in case you are talking to someone who uses one of them & are not in a situation where you can pull out your phone & look it up, which you likely won't be. – jastako Sep 5 '20 at 21:37

There are a few ways to look at this.

My first stop would be to check a better dictionary. Benson (CEED) lists three different Esperanto words for "to scoff" and one for "to mock." I can think of a few more. From this one data point, one might be tempted to conclude that Esperanto has more synonyms.

Another thing to consider is whether having multiple synonyms actually enriches the language. English is not better than Esperanto simply because it needs two words to express the notions that Esperanto expresses with profunda, for example.

Keep in mind, though, that in many ways, this is by design. Esperanto is easier to learn than the national languages because it has cast off a lot of the ballast. This does not make it less expressive, though. Think always in terms of expressing ideas and not translating words. When you're thinking about mocking and scoffing, what is the idea you are trying to express? How can you express these ideas in Esperanto? These are the questions you should be asking yourself.

As for the second part of your question:

I do notice that there are many redundant words in Esperanto due to the word creation system (E.g. afero and aĵo both mean thing), but with others, there are no synonyms. Is there no way to express these subtle differences though just a verb and if so, should I just express these subtle differences with adverbs?

Afero and aĵo actually have slightly different meanings, but that aside - yes, using additional words - including adverbs - is always a good way to add shade to your meaning. The best way to get a sense for this is to read a lot of model Esperanto.


This is one thing about Esperanto that really irritates me. there seems to be plenty of synonyms where there's no need for them, like plaĝo/strando, razeno/gazono/herbotapiŝo, & sablohorloĝo/klepsidro but there isn't always different words when it is actually necessary. The word 'alko' is translated as both Elk & Moose. Europeans didn't (maybe still don't) seem to differentiate between the 2. That seems to be the issue with Esperanto. See Oliver Mason's comment above. English does have a much larger number of synonyms than other languages. To answer the question there is also hui but both it & moki are translated as either 'scoff' or 'mock'.

  • First the French speakers wanted to romanize Esperanto with their words, now the English speakers want to anglize with theirs. This has created some synonyms, but way less than what are in English. You might take a look at the site of La bona lingvo which lists some common "unnecessary" words. When it comes to alko, it actually denotes a deer subfamily. If need be, you can specify, whether you are talking about eŭropa alko or amerika alko. Use attributes and compound words to reduce the synonym clutter. – Juha Metsäkallas Aug 23 '20 at 8:02
  • Are you saying that sablohorloĝo and klepsidro are synonyms? Because one is a hourglass and the other is a clepsydra, one works on sand (sablo) and the other on water (idro comes from ὕδωρ hydor, 'water). And Moose vs Elk is just cultural. English doesn't use a different name for each species of tortoises or mares, or a lot of other animals. While for a single species of bigger cultural relevance, like the horse, there are a lot of different words. – fede s. Aug 27 '20 at 18:07
  • I wasn't aware of where klepsidro came from, because the dictionary I generally use (glosbe.com/en/eo/hourglass) lists both sablohorloĝo & klepsidro as "hourglass" along with several other words like 'akvohorloĝo' without explaining where they come from etymologically. Klepsidro in turn is translated as 'hourglass', 'sandglass', & 'water clock', but Moose & Elk are different animals & should absolutely have seperate words just as horse & donkey have different words, but as far as I'm aware they don't. – jastako Sep 5 '20 at 22:02

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