As a casual speaker of Esperanto, I’m used to constructions where ”al la X-o” or ”sur la X-on” is replaced by ”-en”:

Ni iru aŭten! (Ni iru al la aŭto.)

Via poŝtelefono falis teren. (Via poŝtelefono falis sur la teron.)

Yes, I know, according to classical analysis, the highlighted words are adverbs (even if they are modified and don’t end ind -e as other adverbs).

However, some languages do have an allative case, which expresses movement to(wards) something. An example would be the Basque word Bilbora, meaning ”to(wards) Bilb(a)o”.

Would it be possible to re-analyse some -en words as allatives rather than adverbs?


2 Answers 2


This question is ultimately unanswerable because Esperanto has an -en ending and it works exactly the way the -en ending works, regardless of what we ultimately end up calling it. Note for example the PMEG avoids traditional grammatical terminology all together - largely for this reason.

The -en ending may or may not be similar to the allative case in some languages. My opinion is that given that relatively few people are familiar with the allative case, comparing Esperanto's -en ending to it would not be constructive. It would be less constructive if (as seems to be the case) it were necessary to describe how the usages differ between the languages.

My understanding of adverbs (taken verbatim from a School House Rock song) is that adverbs answer questions such as how, where, when, condition, or reason. So, Esperanto's tendency to use adverbs to describe a location is not unusual. Also note that English words like "whither" (kien) are also defined as adverbs.

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    I like both answers but I think your first sentence answers my question best: That it is actually unanswerable. Thank you.
    – Bjørn
    Commented Aug 25, 2017 at 11:31
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    Re. ”how, where, when”: Such questions are indeed often answered by nouns in languages like Finnish or Basque – that have special cases where English (and Esperanto) would use prepositions. To answer ”Where are you?”, we could say ”in Helsinki” in English. In Finnish, the answer would be ”Helsinkissä”, locative case of Helsinki. :-) At a deep level, maybe, adverbs and locative nouns are the same thing.
    – Bjørn
    Commented Aug 25, 2017 at 11:42
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    Sometimes there also seems to be a lot of overlap between prepositional phrases and adverbs in Esperanto: ”Kie vi estas?” – ”En Helsinko.” However, a creative Esperantist might answer ”Helsinke”. :-)
    – Bjørn
    Commented Aug 25, 2017 at 11:45
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    Good observation on the seemingly very similar function of adverbs and bounds they take certain cases. Reinspecting the wikipedia article on the elative, I see that it even refers to the remaining nouns in the Baltic languages that use the allative as adverbs: "In the modern languages the remains of the allative can be found in certain fixed expressions that have become adverbs".
    – crayondraw
    Commented Aug 25, 2017 at 15:46
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    That is very interesting – and somehow confirms a ”fluctuation” between adverbs, case-inflected nouns and prepositional phrases. I’m sure most languages with the instrumental case would translate the Esperanto adverb with a noun in phrases such as: Ili venis piede.
    – Bjørn
    Commented Aug 25, 2017 at 21:38

Strictly speaking, the allative (or lative) case denotes motion towards a location, and in this case not only "-en" but "-n" itself could be reanalyzed as allative. Grammatical markers, cases, declensions and conjunctions in languages often have different functions/names on a case by case basis. In English for example, the pronoun "me" in colloquial description is the objective form of "I" and can function as a "direct" or "indirect" object. Therefore the accusative in English can function as an objective, a dative, or an oblique.

Similarly, if we analyze deeply enough, we could place all kinds obtuse linguistic labels on the secondary functions of -n like allative/lative like in "iri ien", or temporal like in "ŝi iros lundon". However, the main difference separating -n from these cases is that -n in itself is just the accusative. It is very flexible and multifunctional and may function sometimes like an allative or temporal marker, but in the end it remains the accusative. In the same vain, one would not be able to analyze -en words out of being adverbs.

These kinds of labels aren't really used in language learning (a field relevant to Esperanto, given that a good portion of its speakers are learners) because they don't really have any pedagogical value. Most people don't have the linguistic background or interest to understand or be curious about the terminology. Putting emphasis on these formations could also give the false impression to learners that -en are as commonly used as a simple al la __ phrase.

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    Thank you for a really good answer. I like your English example – ”me”. With a bit of creativity one could certainly argue that English has not only an accusative case, but also a dative case (and an ”oblique” case)!
    – Bjørn
    Commented Aug 25, 2017 at 11:48
  • You're making a generalisation with "These kinds of labels aren't really used in language learning… Most people don't have the linguistic background or interest to understand or be curious about the terminology.". If one's native language is based on grammatical cases (nominative, accusative, genetive…) , surely their names are taught in the elementary school. When teaching Esperanto to those people, it makes sense to use those names when introducing prepositions. Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 9:23
  • @JuhaMetsäkallas You're right, and it probably would make understanding -en simpler in those cases. I just meant that in cases outside of that it would probably be cumbersome.
    – crayondraw
    Commented Nov 9, 2019 at 21:29

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