Pronouns in Esperanto

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

The system of personal pronouns in Esperanto is very similar to the English one:

PersonSingularPlural
1stmi (I)ni (we)
2ndvi (you)
3rdli (he)
ŝi (she)
ĝi (it)
ili (they)

There is no distinction between singular and plural (and formal and informal) “you”. This makes the Esperanto system of pronouns much easier to master for an English speaker than those of other European languages. Although there is a singular informal pronoun “ci”, which is basically equivalent to English “thou”, you can safely ignore it unless you intend to write poetry or translate the Bible.

The accusative case

In English, when an action is done directly to someone or something, the pronoun is in the so-called accusative. For example:

I see him (not “I see he”)
I like her (not “I like she”)
he informs me (not “he informs I”)
she has them (not “she has they”)

“Him” is the accusative of “he”, “her” is the accusative of “she”, “me” is the accusative of “I”, and “them” is the accusative of “they”. It works in the same way for pronouns in Esperanto, but the accusative of every pronoun is formed by simply adding the suffix -n (you don’t have to memorize different words for different pronouns):

PersonSingularPlural
1stmin (me)nin (us)
2ndvin (you)
3rdlin (him)
ŝin (her)
ĝin (it)
ilin (them)

The examples above can be translated as:

mi vidas lin (I see him)
mi ŝatas ŝin (I like her)
li informas min (he informs me)
ŝi havas ilin (she has them)

Attention! Forms like “me” and “him” have other uses in English. Most notably, they are used after prepositions, e.g. “for me”, “to him”, “without her”. This is not the case in Esperanto!

The accusative case in Esperanto is only used in direct objects (when a pronoun is the “target” of an action). In all other cases, the basic form, without -n, is used. Here are a few examples:

for me = por mi (not por min)
to him = al li (not al lin)
without her = sen ŝi (not sen ŝin)

Possessive pronouns

Transforming personal pronouns into possessive ones is really easy in Esperanto. All you have to do is add the suffix -a:

PersonSingularPlural
1stmia (my, mine)nia (our, ours)
2ndvia (your, yours)
3rdlia (his)
ŝia (her, hers)
ĝia (its)
ilia (their, theirs)

As you can see, there is no distinction between standalone possessive pronouns and possessive pronouns preceding a noun, e.g.

Tio estas mia libro. Ĝi estas mia.
That is my book. It is mine.

When a possessive pronoun modifies a noun that is in the accusative, it also gets the accusative suffix -n:

Li havas mian libron.
He has my book.

Similarly, when the noun is in the plural, it takes the plural suffix -j:

Ŝiaj libroj estas interesaj.
Her books are interesting.

This is because possessive pronouns behave exactly like adjectives in Esperanto.

The reflexive pronoun

English has a separate reflexive pronoun for every personal pronoun:

I wash myself. (not I wash me)
You wash yourself. (not you wash you)
He washes himself. (not he washes him)
She washes herself. (not she washes her)
etc.

However, if you think about it, the distinction only matters in the third person (he, she, it, they). “I wash me” and “you wash you” are completely intelligible; they just do not sound natural.

That’s why the -self version is normally only used in the third person in Esperanto, and for simplicity, it does not even depend on gender and number and is always just “si” (or “sin” in the accusative).

The table below demonstrates this using the verb lavi (“wash”):

PersonSingularPlural
1stmi lavas min
I wash myself
ni lavas nin
we wash ourselves
2ndvi lavas vin
you wash yourself / yourselves
3rd
li lavas sin
he washes himself
ŝi lavas sin
she washes herself
ĝi lavas sin
it washes itself
ili lavas sin
they wash themselves

The distinction between “si” and doubling the pronoun is the same as in English:

Li lavas lin = he washes him (= someone else).
Li lavas sin = he washes himself.
Ŝi lavas ŝin = she washes her (= someone else).
Ŝi lavas sin = she washes herself.
etc.

The version without -n is used after a preposition, for example:

Li aĉetis ĝin por si.
He bought it for himself.

Possessive reflexive pronoun: sia

When it comes to possessives in the third person, we have to distinguish between the objects belonging to a different person and objects belonging to the same person. Let me explain that with a few examples:

Li lavas lian katon. = He washes his (someone else’s) cat.
Li lavas sian katon. = He washes his (own) cat.
Ŝi ŝatas ŝian libron. = She likes her (someone else’s) book.
Ŝi ŝatas sian libron. = She likes her (own) book.
Ili lavas ilian hundon. = They wash their (other people’s) dog.
Ili lavas sian hundon. = They wash their (own) dog.

Indefinite pronoun: oni

“One” can be used as an indefinite pronoun in English, as in “one can clearly see that this is wrong”. The Esperanto equivalent of this pronoun is “oni”:

Oni povas klare vidi, ke ĉi tio estas malĝusta.
One can clearly see that this is wrong.

“Oni” can be used in any such indefinite context, but another phrasing is usually preferable in English, for example:

Oni diras, ke la franca estas bela.
People say that French is beautiful.
(Lit.: One says that French is beautiful.)
Oni nomas tiujn videojn “vlogoj”.
These videos are called “vlogs”.
(Lit.: One calls these videos “vlogs”.)

Conclusion

This article covered virtually everything you will ever need to know about pronouns in Esperanto. Two topics not covered here are relative and interrogative pronouns. The reason is that Esperanto uses its own system of so-called correlatives, which substitute these types of pronouns.

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