When to use the -N ending

The accusative. Some people love it. Some people hate it. (Personally, I love it!) Either way, if you want to learn Esperanto, you have to learn it. You’ll learn the basics of the accusative in Lesson 1 of most Esperanto courses, but there are other situations that you’ll also want to know about. The purpose of this blog post is to put all this info in one place.

In my time on Duolingo answering questions in the Esperanto forum, one question that I saw over and over again, looked something like the following (actual learner question.)

It’s pretty clear in these cases that the learner had jumped into using Duolingo without getting any grammatical information. Most of the time, the question was related to sentences such as the following:

  • Ŝi vidas la virinon – She sees the woman
  • Mi konas virinon – I know a woman
  • Li kisis virinon. – He kisses a woman

This is called the “direct object”. In Esperanto whatever is “receiving the action” of the verb takes the -n ending. That is, whatever is seen, known, or kissed – that is the direct object and that is what needs the -n.

Perhaps because this question is so common, one of the most referenced posts on the old Duolingo Esperanto forum was “When to use the -N” ending – originally attributed to “a very helpful member” on Facebook. While the post has been archived elsewhere, the edited version below takes six years of learner questions into account, and corrects a detail or two.

When to use -N

By “a helpful member” and Tomaso

  1. When the noun is the direct object: “Mi amas vin”, I love you.
  2. When an adjective is describing the direct object: “Li ŝatas manĝi verdajn pomojn”, He likes to eat green apples.
  3. When there is motion towards the noun: “La infano saltas sur la liton”, The child jumps onto the bed (compare “La infano saltas sur la lito”, the child was already on the bed and is jumping on it).
  4. When expressing a duration of time: “La kapo doloris al mi la tutan tagon”, My head hurt the whole day.
  5. When expressing length, quantities, price, distance and measures: “La ŝtofo estas 2 metrojn longa”, The fabric is 2 meters long; “Ili marŝis dudek kilometrojn”, They walked twenty kilometers.
  6. For greetings, thanks, wishes, apologies, and other similar expressions: “Saluton”, “bonan tagon”, “pardonon”, “bonan apetiton”, “gratulon”, “dankon”, etc. These are shortened forms of a longer phrase: “Mi donas al vi dankon“, “Mi deziras al vi bonan tagon”.
  7. (Related to 3) You put an -n on an adverb if the adverb shows a location and there’s motion toward or into that location. Mi iras hejmen, I am going home; Li falis planken, He fell to the floor.

When NOT to use -N

  1. With the subject or a description of the subject
  2. Directly after “esti” or “fariĝi
  3. On “la”: “Ŝi verŝas teon en la tason” (NOT “Ŝi verŝas teon en lan tason”)
  4. On numbers that are not nouns: “Ili havas du hundojn” (NOT “Ili havas dun hundojn)
  5. When saying the name of the person you are talking to: “Mi amas vin, Paĉjo” (NOT “Mi amas vin, Paĉjon”)

NEVER use -n after: al, da, de, dum, el, ĝis, kun, laŭ, per, por, pro, pri.

Important clarifications

Point 5 from the DO list and point 2 from the DON’T list seem to conflict. This was certainly meant to keep the wording as simple as possible in the bullet points.  The spirit of number 2 here, however, is that we should not use -n when describing or clarifying the subject using esti or fariĝi. The word “directly” doesn’t belong there because descriptions of the subject don’t have to come directly after estas as demonstrated in this example.

  • La ŝtofo estas 2 metrojn longa

We use the -n on metrojn as a measurement, but we don’t put an -n on longa because that’s a description of the subject. There are at least three basic ways that esti (and fariĝi) can describe a subject.

  • Mi estas Tomaso – “Mi” and “Tomaso” are the same person.
  • Tomaso estas instruisto – Tomaso belongs to the category “instruisto”
  • La folio estas verda – verda is a quality of the leaf.

It’s these kinds of situations that number 2 is meant to reference.

For more information on “motion towards” (numbers 3 and 7 on the DO list), see “Keys to Understanding Esperanto Prepositions“, a blog post that I wrote for Transparent Language a few years ago.

Do you need more help learning Esperanto?

Please keep in touch. I’d love to hear what you’re working on in your own Esperanto studies and what you need help with. You can leave a comment below, or the best way to keep in touch and get updates and tips that you need to learn Esperanto is to join my mailing list. There’s more information about that at this link.

Happy learning.


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