My understanding is, Esperanto has no definitive word order regarding subject, object, and verb.

And I also know one never uses -n for estas, example:

Urso estas besto. A bear is an animal.

However, there are larger categories, for example:

Besto estas organismo. An animal is an organism.

Without the word order like in English, it seems we would have a problem of ambiguity: One could say "A estas B" or "B estas A" to mean the same thing, while they don't.

Is this true? If it is, how to reduce ambiguity in such situations where a something could be an animal, and an animal could be another thing? If not, how do we know?


What you are asking about is called the predicative. In fact this is one of the cases where word order matters in Esperanto. The predicative always follows the subject and never* (even as an object) takes the n-ending (3rd example):

Leono estas besto - OK

*Besto estas leono - wrong

Mi nomas lin amiko 'I call him a friend'

The word order in Esperanto is much more flexible and free than e.g. in English, but it is an exaggeration (found sometimes in propagandistic texts) to claim that it is absolutely free.

*This is a rule of the thumb, you can read about slight nuances/exceptions in PMEG.

  • 1
    For the third example, you're saying "A friend calls him me" would be a different sentence like "Amiko nomas lin mi"? – Zuoanqh May 16 '18 at 12:59
  • Yes, this would be the correct translation of this sentence - whatever it may mean. – Cyril Robert Brosch May 16 '18 at 13:07

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