Languages > Esperanto > Lesson 6: It's like Legos

Lesson 6: It's like Legos
Affixes and Radicals

Esperanto is a very flexible language. It works on a system of radicals and affixes.

Radicals serve as the base root meaning of a word. Sometimes words will consist of more than one radical, placed side-by-side.

Affixes are pieces that can be attached to a radical to alter its meaning in various ways. Affixes consist of two types - prefixes and suffixes. A prefix goes before the radical, and a suffix is placed after the radical.

Most of the time, affixes can serve as radicals on their own as well.

Here are some affixes that are easy to use:

Affix Description
-o Makes the radical into a noun that represents the object
-et- Makes the radical a smaller scale, or a less drastic version of itself
-eg- Makes the radical a larger scale, or more drastic version of itself
-id- The offspring of the radical

Using these affixes, let’s play around with the word “domo” and “kato”.

Radical Affixes Result English
dom -o domo
a house
dom -et-, -o dometo
a cabin
dom -eg-, -o domego
a mansion
kat -o kato
a cat
kat -et-, -o kateto
a small cat
kat -eg-, -o katego
a large cat
kat -id-, -o katido
a kitten (the offspring of a cat)

Now, we could say “domido”, which means “offspring of a house”...? Which is kind of nonsensical, but if said, Esperantists would immediately understand the meaning of the word itself, and may be perfectly valid in a certain context. In this way, one can start to see the flexibility that the language has to offer. It’s kind of like Legos!

Let’s get some prefix blocks that we can play with:

Affix Description
ek- Usually attached to a radical representing an action (verb).
It conveys the notion of starting to perform that verb.
mal- Makes the radical mean the opposite

Now let's play with them:

Radical Affixes Result English
lern -i lerni
to learn
lern ek-, -i eklerni
to start to learn
bel -a bela
beautiful
bel mal-, -a malbela
ugly
varm -a varma
warm, hot
varm mal-, -a malvarma
cold
varm -eg-, -a varmega
really hot
varm mal-, -eg-, -a malvarmega
really cold

“Mal-” is a very common prefix. Often Esperanto will use one radical, as in “bel” and “varm” above, and use “mal-” to represent the opposite of that radical. This simplifies the language as learners do not have to learn two totally different words for these related concepts - “hot and cold”, “big and small”, “beautiful and ugly”, etc.

Using words that you’re familiar with, and these new affixes that we’re learning, try to come up with 10 of your own words. We’ll give you some more examples below.

For a full list of affixes, visit this page.

Radical Affixes Result English
libr -eg-, -o librego
a big book
help mal-, -i malhelpi
to hinder
serĉ ek-, -i ekserĉi
to start searching

It can be quite fun to see what ridiculous, semantically correct words you can create using these rules.

Things and stuff - the suffix ‘-aĵ-’

There is an interesting suffix, and it kind of just means “thing”. If made into a noun using the “-o” suffix, we get “aĵo” which would literally translate into “a thing”. This suffix can be used to turn radicals that don’t directly express an object into such. It can be thought of as “the thing that you _____” or “the thing that ______s”. Here are some examples of how it’s useful.

Esperanto English Esperanto English
fosi
to dig fosilo
a spade, a shovel
manĝi
to eat manĝilo
an eating utensil
flugi
to fly flugilo
a wing

Wasn’t that interesting?

This lesson’s vocabulary attempts to use affixes ontop of words that you’ve previously learned to create new ones. We will walk you through certain affixes as we go. We won’t always point out when affixes are used in a word. We’ll let you discover and link these relationships together on your own, since the realization is quite enjoyable when it happens.

This is probably one of the most fun parts of Esperanto; be sure to play around with and enjoy it, as this is also one of the most important concepts of the language.

As always, complete the quiz when you feel confident with the concept, and we’ll see you in the next lesson.

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EsperantoEnglish
bovido
calf
domego
mansion
flugilo
wing
fosi
to dig
fosilo
shovel, spade
kafejo
cafe
kompreni
to understand
kovri
to cover
malalta
short
malbela
ugly
malbona
bad
malbone
badly
maldika
thin, slender
malfacila
difficult
malforta
weak
malgranda
small
malkovri
to discover
mallerta
clumsy
mallonga
short
malnova
old
malrapide
slowly
malvarma
chilly, cold
manĝaĵo
food
paĉjo
daddy, dad
panjo
mum, mom, mommy
patrino
mother
patro
father
trinkaĵo
drink, beverages
vendi
to sell
virbovo
bull
virino
woman
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engepo
The mansion was tallLa domo est alta
He is starting to look for food serĉ manĝon
Inexperienced people do not discover new thingslertaj homoj ne as novajn aĵojn
She ate the eating utensilsŜi manĝ manĝjn
Beautiful people can't flyj homoj ne pov flugi
Shovels can't dig very cold groundoj ne fosi varman grundon
The bulls started to see the calfsLa bovoj la bovojn
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