The Esperanto Correlatives

by Don Harlow

Copyright Notice

This material is copyright © 1995 by Donald J. Harlow. Hard copies may be made for personal use only. Any user may make one electronic copy for personal use only. All copies must contain this copyright notice, including the date given below. No electronic copy may be located elsewhere for public access. Links to this original copy on the World Wide Web are encouraged. Please respect the conditions of this copyright notice; I simply don't want to have various unofficial (and perhaps not up-to-date) copies floating around elsewhere. Date: 1995.09.16.


Correlatives are the words used to ask questions which require specific answers -- the "who, what, when, where, how" of a language, and their general answers ("there, here, everywhere, nowhere, somewhere"). In Esperanto these little words -- there are nine (by some definitions, ten) categories of them -- are neatly laid out in a table. You have your choice of memorizing fifty words, or learning five beginnings, ten endings, and the set of rules that join them together. For your benefit, I'll give you the beginnings, endings, and rules to start with; and then I'll lay out the table for you.

The correlatives are the bete noir of many English-speaking students of Esperanto; they never seem to get them right. This is, in my opinion, a simple lack of diligence on their part; even memorizing the fifty words separately should take no more than the better part of an evening. Given that these words make up approximately ten percent of all text in Esperanto, that might be worth doing.


K-     A question word. Any correlative starting with K- asks a question, 
       and corresponds to the English "which".

       Kiu scias, kia malbono sin kaŝas en la homa kor'?
          = Who knows what (sort of) evil lurks in the hearts of men?
As in English, Latin, etc., the question correlatives are also used to join together two parts of a sentence -- hence the term correlatives.
       Mi ne scias, kiam li alvenos = I don't know when he's going to arrive.
       Nu, li alvenos, kiam li alvenos = Well, he'll arrive when he arrives.

T-     A specific answer. This word points to a certain specified 
       response, and corresponds to the English "that."
The T- words are generally taken to point to something at an indeterminate distance from the viewer. The particle ĉi can be added to give a feeling of proximity to the speaker; the particle for can also be added (though this is less often done) to show distance from the speaker. Traditionally, ĉi is usually placed immediately before the T- word to which it is attached; often, it is placed immediately after. This is not, however, absolutely necessary.
       tiu libro = that book
       ĉi tiu libro = this book (most common usage).
       tiu ĉi libro = this book
       tiu libro ĉi = this book (unusual usage)
       tiu libro for = yonder book
       tiam = then
       ĉi tiam = now (synonym of )
       tiam ĉi = now
       tiam for = distant in time (uncommon usage)
English expressions such as "here and there" are usually not shown by contrasting two different correlative pointers (*ĉi tie kaj tie) but by repetition of the same correlative (tie kaj tie), given that the basic correlative pointers are of indeterminate position.
-      An indefinite answer. An omitted beginning corresponds to the 
       English "some" or "any."
A correlative of this type is usually taken to refer to a situation which as selected is unknown or unspecified instead of one in which it is unimportant ("some" instead of "any"). The latter situation can be emphasized by adding the particle ajn, usually after the correlative.
       Mi amas iun virinon = I love a (unspecified) woman.
       Mi amas iun ajn virinon = I love any woman whatever.
       Li loĝas ie = He lives somewhere (location unknown).
       Li loĝas ie ajn = He lives anywhere at all.

Ĉ-    An all-encompassing or universal answer. This beginning 
       corresponds to the English "every."

NEN-   A negative answer. This beginning says that you either don't know 
       or that there is no answer. It corresponds to the English "no."


-U     For selecting an individual out of a group. Words in this group 
       correspond to the English "who" or "which" and their respective 
KIU can mean either who or which. If it is associated with a noun, it means "which"; if it stands alone, you can assume that the noun persono = person is understood: kiu [persono] = which [person] = who. Similar remarks apply to the other -U correlatives.

The -U words, as well as the -O and -A words can all take the -J and -N endings.

-O     For naming a thing. Words in this group correspond to the English 
       "what" and its respective answers. As the -O indicates, the 
       answer should always be a noun.
While the -O correlatives can take the -J ending, this is rare, as they usually refer to something not specified and therefore taken as singular.

-A     For describing something. Words in this group correspond to the 
       English "what kind of" and its respective answers. The -A will 
       help you recognize the need to answer with an adjective.

-E     For pointing out a location. Words in this group correspond to 
       the English "where" and its respective answers.
Answers should always be adverbs or adverbial phrases of location (though in the latter, the required preposition may be omitted as understood, as in: Kie li loĝas? [En] Londono. = Where does he live? [In] London.).

-EN    For describing motion to a location. Words in this group 
       correspond to the archaic English "whither".
Actually, this form does not need to be included separately, since it follows automatically from the -E words by application of Rule 13 (see above). I have included it for completeness. There is no corresponding one-word equivalent for "whence".

-AM    For defining time. Words in this group correspond to the English 

-OM    For describing quantities and measurements. Words in this group 
       correspond to the English "how much" (e.g. water) or "how many" 
       (e.g. books).
The -OM words are adverbs. That means that, when used as measures, they can't directly go with the name of the stuff being measured (a noun), but must take an intermediary word: the little preposition of measurement da, as in kiom da akvo = how much [of] water.

-EL    For describing manner. Words in this group correspond to the 
       English "how."
The -EL words, which are also adverbs (obviously!), can be used to modify adjectives, showing an intensification of the quality defined by the adjective: kiel bela ŝi estas = how beautiful she is. Technically, you could also use the -OM words in this way, too: kiom bela ŝi estas = how beautiful she is. The difference would be a qualitative versus quantitative distinction (kiel bela ŝi estas -- like a rose rather than a Ferrari, versus kiom bela ŝi estas -- much more so than her sister). Most Esperantists, however, use the -EL words for all such distinctions.

-AL    For describing reason. Words in this group correspond to the 
       English "why."

-ES    For describing possession. Words in this group correspond to the 
       English "whose."

Making a correlative

Correlatives are formed by tying one beginning and one ending to a linking vowel -I-. For instance:

Someone has just asked you how you intend to get to your mother-in-law's house for her sixtieth birthday party. You don't intend to go at all. Your answer being negative, you will use the beginning NEN-; and since the question asked was "how" (KIEL) you use the appropriate ending -EL. Hooking these to the linking vowel -I-, you answer, forcefully: "NENIEL!" (No way, José!)

A small table, just for you

	   Question   Pointer     Indefinite  Universal   Negative

Individual KIU        TIU         IU          ĈIU         NENIU
           who,which  that one    some(one)   every(one)  no one, none

Thing      KIO        TIO         IO          ĈIO         NENIO
           what       that thing  something   everything  nothing

Kind       KIA        TIA         IA          ĈIA         NENIA
           what kind  that kind   some kind   every kind  no kind of
            of         of          of          of

Place      KIE        TIE         IE          ĈIE         NENIE
           where      there       somewhere   everywhere  nowhere

Motion     KIEN       TIEN        IEN         ĈIEN        NENIEN
           where to   there       somewhere   everywhere  nowhere

Time       KIAM       TIAM        IAM         ĈIAM        NENIAM
           when       then        sometime    always      never

Amount     KIOM       TIOM        IOM         ĈIOM        NENIOM
           how much,  so much,    some        all         no amount
            how many   so many

Manner     KIEL       TIEL        IEL         ĈIEL        NENIEL
           how        so          somehow     in every    in no way

Reason     KIAL       TIAL        IAL         ĈIAL        NENIAL
           why        so          for some    for every   for no reason
                                   reason      reason

Possession KIES       TIES        IES         ĈIES        NENIES
           whose      that one's  somebody's  everybody's nobody's

This document is owned by:
Don Harlow <>