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I have searched StackExchange and not found a satisfactory answer. I am confused by word order of two verbs in one sentence. I know little about clause, noun-phrases and other grammar.

So I am using Anki, a Tatoeba deck, and it contains the following sentence; "Ni petis lin helpi." Directly into English this is an easy translation. 'We asked him to help.'

Upon considering this sentence, I realised that word order changes the meaning. For instance; "Ni petis helpi lin." 'We asked to help him.'

I am beginning to believe this sentence is low-quality Esperanto. As word order is not stressed in Esperanto, the author ought to have written differently. Also, it seems that the original English lacks a verb-subject. Is this a better translation of the first English sentence; "Mi petis lin por helpo."? How to translate this without the noun?

Please can you tell me more about word order and being well-spoken in Esperanto.

  • It's worth noting that while word order is much freer in Esperanto than in most European languages, it isn't completely arbitrary. There are a lot of Esperanto sentences where certain changes to the word order would either turn them ungrammatical (i.e. "wrong") or significantly change their meaning. – das-g May 3 at 16:08
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Let's see the case government of the two verbs you mentioned.

  • peti iun pri io or peti ion de iu (see PIV) : to ask something from someone

As you can see the direct object can either be the person who we ask about something or the thing we ask about. A discussion of differences between the prepositions pri and de as markers of an indirect object is out of scope here.

  • helpi iun or helpi al iu (see PIV) : to help someone

The verb helpi has two more case governments, but those are not relevant here.

Now if you say "Ni petis lin helpi", this corresponds to "Ni petis iun pri io", because a verb can take the place of "pri io". i.e we asked him to help.

On the other hand "Ni petis helpi lin" is not a correct sentence. While helpi can take a direct object and therefore helpi lin is correct, the verb petis cannot another verb as a direct object, i.e. the "ion" in the case government. Nor there is "de iu" to indicate the indirect object. Instead you can say "Ni petis helpon de li", which corresponds to the second case government of peti.

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