I read in an article some time ago that people had let go of the idea that Esperanto words have a root that is free of word type, believing instead that there is a 'default' word type (a base form), such that perhaps grand/a is first and foremost an adjective, and vid/i, a verb. I saw a similar suggestion about ĝoj/i here on Stack Exchange recently. The entries in Vortaro would also suggest such a thing. However, when first learning Esperanto, I did learn that you can, in principle, make most any word type out of any root, which would suggest a linguistic analysis with a neutral root makes sense. (Subjectively, this also 'feels' more pleasing and elegant, to me.)

So, what is the truth? Are roots neutral with regards to part of speech, or do they have an inherent/predominant type? Do people, be it Esperantologists or just Esperantists overall, generally agree on this, or is this an open issue that is still debated?

Thank you in advance for your inputs.


Mi legis antaŭ iom da tempo en artikolo ke homoj forlasis la ideon ke esperantaj vortoj havas radikon, kiu estas libera de vortotipo, anstataŭe kredante ke estas implicita vortotipo (baza formo), laŭ kiu eble grand/a estas unue kaj plejparte adjektivo, kaj vid/i estas verbo. Mi vidis similan sugeston pri ĝoj/i ĉi tie en Stack Exchange lastatempe. Ankaŭ la eroj en Vortaro sugestas tian aferon. Tamen, kiam mi unue eklernis Esperanton, mi ja lernis ke oni povas, principe, faru pli-malpli ajnan vortotipon el ajna radiko, kiu sugestas ke lingvistika analizo kiel neŭtrala radiko havas senson. (Subjektive, tio krome al mi ŝajnas pli agrabla kaj eleganta.)

Do, kio estas la vero? Ĉu radikoj estas neŭtralaj je parolpartoj, aŭ ĉu ili havas 'radikan', precipan tipon? Ĉu homoj, aŭ esperantologoj aŭ entute esperantistoj, ĝenerale konsentas pri ĉi tio, aŭ ĉu estas nedecidita afero, kiun oni ankoraŭ pridiskutas?

Antaŭdankon pro viaj ideoj.

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    I can see you mention a recent answer by me. You may be interested I only wrote that part after asking a question very similar to yours: esperanto.stackexchange.com/questions/2181/…
    – La Vo-o
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 16:31
  • Ah, so it was there after all? I did a search, but I must not have used the right terms. I apologize for that. Regardless, thank you for linking me there! Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 0:44
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    No worries. The new question generated more discussion than the old, so it's good it was not flagged as a duplicate.
    – La Vo-o
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 15:11

7 Answers 7


You'll see people argue this back and forth, but there is no question that that roots have a basic quality. Some people treat this as some mystical or mysterious thing - and perhaps that is a source of some of the disagreement. It's not mysterious, but follows naturally from the meaning of the root.

  • The meaning of grand' has to do with size, so naturally it's best to think of the basic form of the word as granda.

  • The meaning of kur' has to do with motion, so it's natural to think of the basic form of the word as kuri.

  • The meaning of tabl' has to do with a piece of furniture, so it's best to think of it as tablo in its basic form.

The meaning of the roots impact how the work in compounds, and often various rules of thumbs can be drawn up that require us to speak of "adjective roots", "noun roots", and so on. In the real world that's not always the whole story, but it's a very good start.

  • Right, that's more or less what I figured, although for some of these others (notably the ĝoj/i I mentioned before) it seems less obvious that the base form should be what it is. It feels like from word to word there would be a spectrum of arbitrariness, which makes it an unappealing model to me. I still wonder whether the matter is just that people naturally interpret one word type as the most obvious for any given root, or whether there are actual linguistic underpinnings to this analysis (or the other). I suppose your last paragraph speaks to that a little. Thanks for your reply :) Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 19:06
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    Well, again, it comes down to the meaning. Martelo, sxraubo, and pomo are primarily nouns, but there are actions associated with the first two objects that make it natural to form verbs out of them. I would treat ĝoj' in the same way. There are adjectives, nouns, verbs, and so forth associated with ĝoj' that makes it natural to form ĝoja, ĝoje, ĝoji, and ĝojo with their customary meanings. Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 19:20
  • Alright, okay. I recognize such tendencies for roots to be associated with a most salient form—a verb when an action is salient, an adjective when a quality is salient, etc.—but personally I prefer to think of these as inherent not to the root form itself (which after all lacks any morpheme characterizing such parts of speech, and in some cases it may well be less than wholly obvious) but as something on discourse/usage level. It just seems more elegant of an analysis to me, that way. However, I do understand your point with regards to such salience, and I appreciate that input. Thanks again. Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 19:29
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    I'm familiar with the article you just referenced. My take is that too much fuss about this either way ultimately comes down to hair splitting. Language is not math, and often times the rules of thumb do not apply to all cases. To speak of "adjective roots", "verb roots", and so on is very common in Esperanto and also very helpful. Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 19:35
  • I agree with Tomaso on this. I think that what "base word" means to you is much less important than how it is actually applied. In Spanish, the root word is pretty much the same as I described it above, but with many more exceptions. Whereas Esperanto has no exceptions....
    – Karlomanio
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 20:11

There is no doubt that the roots can be classified. To take a classic and slightly annoying example: komb' refers to an action, while bros' refers to a thing; thus oni brosas per broso, sed kombas per kombilo. The act of brushing must be brosado, but the act of combing (if brief, or a single pass) could just be kombo.

There is, however, disagreement about what form the classification should take. In the late 1960s, the Academy of Esperanto accepted the traditional divisions of noun, adjective, verb, and other, and over the next few years developed the Baza Radikaro Oficiala using those categories. Several esperantologists have challenged this procedure: for example, Wim Jansen has argued in favour of a system of ten semantic categories, better preserving the neutrality of the roots. The explanation is fairly complicated but you can find it here (in the sixth issue of Esperantologio).

Sendube oni povas klasifiki la radikojn. Jen tipa kaj iomete agacanta ekzemplo: komb' aludas agon, sed bros' aludas aĵon; do oni brosas per broso, sed kombas per kombilo. La unua ago devas esti brosado, sed la alia (se mallonga, aŭ unumova) povus esti simple kombo.

Ekzistas, tamen, malkonsento pri la ideala naturo de la klasifikado. Fine de la 1960-aj, la Akademio akceptis la tradician dividon: substantivo, adjektivo, verbo, kaj aliaj, kaj dum la sekvaj jaroj disvolvis la Bazan Radikaron Oficialan per ĝi. Pluraj esperantologoj kontestis la metodon: ekzemple, Wim Jansen prezentas sistemon de dek semantikaj kategorioj, por pli bone konservi la neŭtrecon de la radikoj. La klarigado estas certe komplika, sed vi povas trovi ĝin ĉi tie (en la sesa kajero de Esperantologio).

  • I must admit the evidence for classifications of roots seems convincing, which bugs me slightly because I would find it a very inelegant and unappealing aspect of the language, and I want to like Esperanto as much as possible. That said, I must of course follow the evidence. That said again, if I have a chance later on I will investigate some of the analyses people have come up with—such as Wim Jensen, perhaps, whom you mentioned—to see if those seem more pleasing while still making sense and being convincing. Thank you very much for your reply. Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 0:51
  • You can look at Ido, which tried to get rid of the lexem classes: They have to use a plethora of affixes in order to compensate the semantic fuzziness of the root. This may be appealing for a logical-minded person, but still is a certain hindrance for language production. Commented May 18, 2017 at 8:44
  • Without looking at all this analyzes, you can be sure that all roots have some etymologies where they do pertain more likely to some category. Also even there, this is all a question of habit, people will match a root to a category (if they do, afterall you don't need grammar theory to use a language) because they more often encounter it with this or that role in language constructions. Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 8:19

Roots aren't classified as nouns, adjectives or any other class. Instead, I'd say that they have a certain characher, a certain tendency. The first word on each page of vortaro.net represents whether a root is of the noun-, adjective- or verb-type etc. This comes very handy when dealing with compunds, like Tomaso mentioned, but also in general conjugation. Here's an example:

  • Verbs can be derived from adjectives: beli means "esti bela". Grava, gravi, necesa, necesi follows the same pattern. Many are confused by the correlation between veka and veki. The important difference here is that vek is a verb root, and that the adjective is actually derived from the verb, not the other way around. Therefore veki doesn't equal esti veka.
  • It's an oversimplification to say that beli means esti bela. It is well established that verbs have to do with actions associated with the root. This is true for adjective-roots too. So, rapida gives us rapidi which means to hurry (not simply "to be fast.") There is no obvious action associated with bel-, so if we contrived a word like beli the only plausible meaning would be "to exude beauty" - an unusual thing to say, but useful in some contexts for special effect. (PMEG says similar). Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 12:37
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    Vek- is a tricky example because it doesn't fit the verb pattern either, and I think is what Vincent was getting at. The rule of thumb would tell us that that veka, formed from a transitive verb, would mean "related to waking someone up." This is exactly parallel to korekti except people debate whether korekta means "correct" or "correctional" and "veka" is not debated because everybody uses it to mean "awake." Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 12:44
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    @TomasoAlexander PIV begs to differ: “veka. Rilata al la veko, kapabla veki: la veka trumpetado; amorveka sinteno.”. Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 22:45
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    Which, really, is exactly my point. The rules of thumb (and, it seems, PIV as well) says that expressions like veka kaj freŝa or veka kaj konscia are wrong - and yet any fluent user of the language knows that they are common - which is why vek- is a tricky example, as I said. Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 16:54

I'm not quite sure what you are referring to as the base form of a word in Esperanto. All words in a Esperanto have a base form. That is the form without an ending.

Base form
ĝoj- refers to happiness, joy

Adjective form
ĝoja- La homo estas ĝoja- The person is happy.

Adverb form
ĝoje- Li laboras ĝoje. He works happily.
ĝoji- to be happy.

Verb form
ĝojis- Ni ĝojis- We were happy.
ĝojas- La homo ĝojas- The person is happy.

From what I understand of your question, I believe you misunderstand what is the base form of the word. Let me know if you need more examples or I misunderstood your question.

  • I understand that each word has a root the way you describe it. However, I have often heard it suggested that the root plus one particular ending (perhaps the adjectival -a ending or the nominal -o ending or the verbal -i ending) forms what is the 'base form' that goes with a root. So kur- would be analyzed as being the root, but kuri would be somehow the default or basic form that goes with that root. I do prefer the way you describe it here, but again, I'm just relaying what I've heard and read. I wonder specifically about the interpretation of linguists/Esperantologists. Thank you :) Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 18:57
  • The article I reference in the question may be found here, and it may clarify what I am talking about: www4.ncsu.edu/~basherwo/docs/EsperantoParolata.pdf. The relevant paragraph is the last one of section 2, to be found on page 2. Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 19:04


A root is not really a noun or adjective or verb until it ends in an -o or -a or one of the verbal endings.

If we change a noun or adjective into a verb, is the verb transitive or intransitive?

Ĉu vi ĵaluzas pri mi?z = Are you jealous of me? Li ĵaluzos sian edzinon.z = He will be jealous of his wife.

  • Mi bluas = ????
  • Mi bluigas = I am making something blue.
  • Mi bluiĝas = I am becoming blue.

For more information, read http://denizo.opia.dk/la.trezorejo/tekstoj/libroj.pdf/Saussure-Fundamentaj.reguloj.de.la.vort-teorio.en.Esperanto.pdf by René Saussure


As Zamenhof explained both in the opening text (intro) to "Unua Libro" as well as in more detail in the book "Lingvaj Respondoj", there is no distinction.

A quote from Lingvaj Respondoj:

"La formoj “amatas”, “amitas” k. t. p., anstataŭ “estas amata”, “estas amita”, per si mem ne prezentus ian rompon en nia lingvo / "The forms "is-beloved", "was-beloved" etc instead of "is beloved", "was beloved" by themselves would not be a breakage of our language."

A quote from the official 1889 English edition of Unua Libro:

"I introduced a complete dismemberment of ideas into independent words, so that the whole language consists, not of words in different states of grammatical inflexion, but of unchangeable words...But the structure of such a synthetic language being altogether strange to the chief European nations...will never perceive that the structure of the language differs in any respect from that of his mother-tongue. So, for example, the derivation of frat'in'o, which is in reality a compound of frat “child of the same parents as one’s self”, in “female”, o “an entity”, “that which exists”, i.e., “that which exists as a female child of the same parents as one’s self” = “a sister”..."

The English Unua Libro is available here: https://www.genekeyes.com/Dr_Esperanto.html

Lingvaj Respondoj is available here: https://tekstaro.com/t?nomo=lingvaj-respondoj

Zamenhof's ideas about linguistic context, taken from those two books and applied to adjective and verb "roots", can be summarized as follows:

  • A root (like "hund", "blu") only shows an "idea". It does not show anything about if that idea is a noun, verb, adjective or otherwise.
  • "Mi manĝis kuko" is correct even without the accusative, because the kuko cannot logically eat a person. Likewise "Mi blankis la domon" is correct even without "ig" in "blankigis", as it cannot possibly be misunderstood in any way thanks to using the accusative.
  • "Mi iriĝas kafejon" is, while not incorrect, not advised, because "I become in a walking state" can be inferred by context, so only "Mi iris - I walk" needs to be used. Likewise "La maro bluas" does not need "blua estas" or "bluiĝas" because no one would misunderstand from context.
  • Most people have an easier time reading "blua estas" than "bluestas" or "bluas" but this is just a matter of habit. It does not mean you can't use those forms.
  • You are supposed to write Esperanto according to what is most comfortable to both you and the recipient of your Esperanto. Two Greeks can write Esperanto just like Greek, but a Greek writing to a Frenchman should make some adjustments and attempt to write in a way a Frenchman easily understands.

Most modern Esperantists who don't have an Indo-European language as their mother tongue still typically have one as the first second language taught in school. This creates a cognitive bias (linguistic transfer) towards all subsequent foreign language learning - "I learned French in school, so Greenlandic must be like French!". You can read about that in various academic articles. Linguistic transfer is coupled with that Esperanto has spread more rapidly in Indo-European countries. For example, Chinese and Inuktitut can use many words as both adjectives and verbs with no change at all required except for word order:

  1. 愛 - love (noun). 愛犬 beloved dog (adjective), 我愛你 I love you (verb).
  2. qakuqtuq - white. qimmiq qakuqtuq - a white dog (adjective) / the dog is white (verb).

Today in 2024 the majority of people in the world speak English, French or Spanish as a second language if not a first one. A lot of Chinese people are hidden to the outside world due to China's firewall, and there is still no Unua Libro or Esperanto dictionary for any of the Eskimo-Aleut languages. So a lot of what we see in Esperanto is simply cognitive bias without much interference from speakers of dissimilar languages.

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