For example, I just read an English sentence similar to:

What you need to know to be able to grow potatoes...

If I, at my early stage, try to translate this into Esperanto, I end up with three infinitives in a row:

Kion oni devas scii povi kreskigi terpomojn...

Is this allowed in Esperanto?


There isn't any rule about how many infinitives you can have in a row; you can have as many as make sense in the context. A rather contrived example: Mi volas povi iri lerni danci - I want to be able to go learn to dance. The basic principle is that an infinitive, like any verb, can take a complement, which may be another infinitive, which in turn can take a complement, and so on. So theoretically such a chain could be infinite, but that is rarely practical!

In your sentence, you'd use "por" before "povi", because the sense is "in order to" (while in my sentence you could say the going is in order to learn, it is common practice to use the infinitive directly after "iri", without "por"). This is also because "scii" before an infinitive is usually understood as "to know how", thus your sentence would translate to "What one must know how to be able to grow potatoes" which is confusing at best.


In Esperanto you would use "por" to connect the second infinitive:

Kion oni devas scii por povi kreskigi terpomojn.

This is not a rule about infinitives but more syntax of the verbs.


Absolutely, here is an example from Zamenhof's translation of Marta:

Oni devas povoscii porti kaj gardi sian personan dignon, aŭ oni devas rifuzi al si ĉiun pretendon pri ĝi.

  • 3
    Nowerdays "povoscii" is very unusual. You'd mostly hear "scipovi". Sep 21 '16 at 20:50
  • Povoscii makes so much more sense, though! Especially following the "the last root is the most important" rule. Zamenhof just made me super happy. Sep 23 '16 at 9:19
  • "Scipovi" usually makes more sense to me. "Mi scipovas naĝi" implies "I can swim because of what I know," with more emphasis on the "can" than the "know". — I suppose that when the object is a noun, "povoscii" generally makes a little more sense than "scipovi". ("mi povoscias Esperanton" implies "I know Esperanto to the point of being able to do something with it.") But both words are more commonly used with infinitive verbs than with nouns as the object, so it makes sense to me that "scipovi" is standard nowadays.
    – Raizin
    Jun 8 at 12:08

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