Esperanto seems to have a unique word for whose -- kies.

I don't see the need.

Esperanto already has the possessive -a ending. I don't see why we can't apply kiua as show below:

  1. A simple question and answer. Kio turns into boto.
    • Kio estas tio? - What is that?
    • Tio estas boto! - That is a boot!
  2. If we make it an accusative, the -n remains as Kion turns into boton.
    • Kion manĝas ĝi? - What is it eating?
    • Ĝi manĝas boton! - It is eating a boot!
  3. Same as 1. but asking Kiu? instead of Kio?.
    • Kiu estas ĝi? - Who is it?
    • Ĝi estas li. - It is him.
  4. Similar to 2., but possessive instead of accusative.
    • Kies estas ĝi? - Whose is it? <-- Whyyyy?
    • Kiua estas ĝi? - Whose is it? <-- This is so much more intuitive!
    • Ĝi estas lia. - It is his.

I need answers! Someone please help restore my faith in constructed language!

Note: If I made any mistakes in my translations, please comment.

  • 2
    Since the correlatives include -es words to show possession, this has inspired some (very few) to use -es as genitive marker, especially with names. So instead of writing La domo de Adamo estas bela they write Adames domo estas bela. Let me stress that this kind of use is highly experimental, neither widely known nor accepted. No, I do not know how to mark accusative in this case. Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 12:10

2 Answers 2



That wouldn't work without a major (probably kontraŭfundamenta) reform to Esperanto, as -a has a possessive meaning only when attached to a personal pronoun (mi, vi, li, ŝi, ĝi, si, ni or ili). kiu however isn't a personal pronoun, but one of the tabelvortoj ("table words", a system of questions words, correlatives, etc.)

Why is it kies rather than kiua?

Because the Fundamento de Esperanto kinda says so in its exercices and in its dictionary. (The very minimal grammar part of the fundamento (a.k.a. the (in)famous "16 rules" of Esperanto) doesn't seem to mention it.)

And because contemporary Esperanto in actual everyday use doesn't deviate from (nor amends to) the Fundamento in that regard.

Why does the Fundamento say so?

Because L.L. Zamenhof wrote it that way.

Why did Zamenhof write the Fundamento that way?

We can't ask him anymore, so we have to rely on written (or otherwise preserved) sources from back then—early drafts of what later became Esperanto, letters, books, etc.—and on similarities to pre-existing languages that Zamenhof knew. Some of the guesswork that can be extracted from those sources and similarities has been condensed into entries of etymological dictionaries, but few of those cover pronouns and correlatives in-depth.

Etimologia Vortaro de Esperanto by Ebbe Vilborg is a notable exception, and Konciza Etimologia Vortaro by André Cherpillod at least has a short (and probably well-researched) entry on it:

André Cherpillod about the "…es" part of possessive tabelvortoj

-es F (posedaj pronomoj). G des «ties», wes «kies», F à qui est-ce? akies «kies estas?».

— Konciza Etimologia Vortaro


The first "F" means that the morpheme is Fundamenta (already defined by the Fundamento, not by official amendments or even only (yet) unofficial additions to Esperanto by its users). "G" means la germana (the German language) and "F" la franca (the French language). "akies" is a transcription using Esperanto letters of how the French expression "à qui est-ce?" is (approximately) pronounced, to illustrate how it could also be the (or a) source or inspiration of the "…es" ending for possessives.

Ebbe Vilborg on "kies" and other "…es"-table-words


KIES (f; Un): Vd. la sekcion pri korelativaj vortoj. ¶ 1894 de kvu ("de kiu"). ¶ Io di qua, Ie de qui, de quel, Ia cuje (< L cius, H cuyo).
HE originformo *kŭeso; kp ank. G wes(sen).


TIES (f', 7; PR): Vd. la sekcion pri korelativaj vortoj. ¶ Mankas en la aliaj L.I. (Io di ita, Ia de ti, Ia de iste/ille).


IES (f; Un): Vd. la sekcion pri korelativaj vortoj. ¶ 1894 de alikvu ¶ Io di ulu, di ula, Ie de alqui, Ia de alicun.


ĈIES (f', 7; PR): Vd. la sekcion pri korelativaj vortoj. ¶ Io di omnu, di omni, Ie de chascun, de omnes, Ia de omne(s).


NENIES (f; Un): Vd. la sekcion pri korelativaj vortoj. ¶ 1894 de nemo ('de neniu'). ¶ Io di nulu, Ie de nequi, Ia de necuno [nemo].

— Etimologia Vortaro de Esperanto

Whoa, that's a lot of abbreviations. What do they mean?

general abbreviations

lingvoj internaciaj

source abbreviations

Fundamenta radiko
radiko trovebla en la Fundamento ekster Universala Vortaro
Unua Libro (1887)
Poŝa Lernolibro por Rusoj (1890)
radiko oficialigita en la sepa Oficiala Aldono

language abbreviations

Zamenhof's (proposed) Esperanto variant / reform from that year
Interlingua, another planned auxiliary language
Interlingue (a.k.a. Occidental), another planned auxiliary language
Ido, a planned auxiliary language derived from Esperanto
la latina (Latin)
la hispana (Spanish)
hindeŭropa pralingvo (Proto-Indo-European)
la germana (German)

So it seems that the "…es" of the possessive tabelvortoj may come from German and/or French and can (via Latin) be traced even back to common Indo-European roots.

Why did Zamenhof include that "…es", though? Isn't it unnecessary?

It's indeed not strictly necessary, as the Zamenhof's own aforementioned reform ideas from 1894 show, where expressions with the possesive-indicating preposition "de" + another tabelvorto seem to be used. That's something that's (with the Fundamenta variant of those other tabelvortoj) would probably be permissible in today's Esperanto, too, but not usually considered good style. (It is being used in certain sentence constructions and/or with specific connotations.)

  • de kiukies
  • de tiuties
  • de iuies
  • de ĉiuĉies
  • de neniunenies

A possible explanation of why Zamenhof included it (or for that matter, a distinct type of table words for possessives at all), anyway, might well be that he consciously or unconsciously mirrored structures in other languages he knew (such as German).

But why not "…u" + "-a"?

Whether he didn't even consider that or whether he did and decided against it, I do not know. But let's look at it from a contemporary perspective.

Would that (kiua etc.) be allowable in today's Esperanto? Probably not. Here's why:

grammatical considerations

One has to be aware, that there are 3 to 4 distinct word-systems in Esperanto.

  • The well-known word-building system with roots (e.g. dom·), affixes (e.g. mal- & -et·) and word-type indicating endings (e.g. -o)
  • The personal pronouns mi, vi, li, ŝi, ĝi, si, ni and ili (and unofficial ones like ri)
  • (particles like prepositions etc.)
  • The correlatives (tabelvortoj)

One can to some extent mix-and-match morphemes from these different systems, but not as freely as within each system.

-a has a possessive meaning only when attached to personal pronouns. In the general word-building system, -a has a rather different meaning: It's the word-type indicating ending for adjectives. (Those are somewhat related: A possessive personal pronoun grammatically acts kinda like an adjective. But they aren't the same, as not all adjectives have possessive meaning.)

The -j and -n one can attach to some tabelvortoj can either be considered tabelvortoj-rows of their own or as modifying endings from the general word-building system, but not really as part of the personal pronoun system. Note that of them, only -n can be attached also to personal pronouns (to indicate accusative), but not -j. (Plural is instead indicated by different personal pronouns ni and ili or even by the same (vi).)

Similarly, one can't attach the personal pronoun ending -a to tabelvortoj.

Danger of misunderstandings

And if one would do so anyway, it would probably be mistaken for the general word-building system -a that, as mentioned above, carries a different meaning. (And attaching that to (some) tabelvortoj is already idiomatic, namely to those ending in …om: Typically to ask about the time: "La kioma [horo] estas?")

phonological considerations

How would the result be pronounced?

  • kies ≅ *kiua (3 syllables: ki-u-a)
  • ties ≅ *tiua (3 syllables: ti-u-a)
  • ies ≅ *iua (3 syllables: i-u-a)
  • ĉies ≅ *ĉiua (3 syllables: ĉi-u-a)
  • nenies ≅ *neniua (4 syllables: ne-ni-u-a)

As each vowel in Esperanto denotes a syllable of its own iua would be a 3-letter word with 3 syllables, consisting only of vowels. While it's physically possible to pronounce this (and for many speakers probably not even very difficult), such a vowel cluster is rather unusual in Esperanto and would probably sound un-Esperanto-like to many Esperantists. Usual Esperanto syllables (Note that morpheme boundaries (i.e., boundaries of the word-building parts) and syllable boundaries often don't coincide in Esperanto.) include (besides the vowel) at least one consonant or pseudo-consonant (j or ŭ).

  • TODO: Read the mentioned sekcion pri korelativaj vortoj in Etimologia Vortaro de Esperanto and quote / cite the relevant parts. (That'll have to wait until tomorrow or another day, though.)
    – das-g
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 1:28
  • Wow, great answer! Very thorough. Perhaps you can add a TL;DR for busy people?
    – Daba McD
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 1:42
  • 1
    Gladly, but what would the TL;DR of this answer be, @DabaMcD? I'm not quite sure what the most central points are that should be included in such a summary. Which do you consider TL;DR-worthy? (One of the reasons the answer is as long as it is, was, that I wasn't sure whether your question is about etymology/language history, about possibility of changing Esperanto now/using it differently or about how to design a hypothetical "better" planned language.)
    – das-g
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 14:02
  • 1
    Ah, good point. I was asking a very broad question as a beginner, so for me the highlight is "-a has a possessive meaning only when attached to personal pronouns". For me personally, the tabelvortoj mention was super helpful because I've been learning through Duolingo and they don't cite resources, but I understand if you don't include that in the TL;DR
    – Daba McD
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 22:12
  • 1
    A better beginner's course in my mind is the one in Lernu, because that explains grammar – and has a story. Note that the browser version of Duolingo at least used to have some grammar while the mobile application version has never had. Commented Jan 31, 2023 at 13:55

Esperanto already has the possessive -a ending.

-a havas plurajn signifojn, ne nur aparteno. Tial oni bezonas alian tabelvorton por tio.

I don't see why we can't apply kiua as show below:

Tabelvortoj havas siajn proprajn regulojn, pri vortfarado. Ili havas nur du partojn. Vi povas poste kunmeti, aldoni prefiksojn kaj sufiksojn, diri aferojn kiel ekzemple "mi sen/kial/e malgajiĝis". Sed la tabelvorto nur havas du partojn, ĉi okaze ki + al.

Cetere notu ke ili estas vortoj, do memstaraj, ne disigeblaj, vi ne povas enmeti ion inter tiujn du elementojn.

Jen la tuta tabelo.

Ĉu oni estus povinta tion fari alimaniere? Jes, tutcerte (la ida lingvo ekzemple ne havas tabelvortoj faritaj tiel regule). Tabelvortoj estas kerna parto de la lingvo, kaj ili estas plene antaŭdifinitaj (kvankam kelkaj parolantoj klopodas tabelvortigi ali-).

Tia estas la lingvo nun. Permesi al tabelvortoj havi plurajn elementojn, kiel en via kiua ŝanĝegus la lingvon. Antaŭ ol proponi ion tian vi devus tamen fari novan tabelon kiel la supre menciitan kaj klarigi la signifon de ĉiu kunmetaĵo kun du elementoj, ekzemple kiau (kun la a kaj u inverse).

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