Esperantistoj (and Others): Could You Please Explain "Je" and "-um" to Me?

A few years back, I became a little interested in the artificial language Esperanto. I never thought that I’d actually learn it, and after I studied it for a short while, I decided I had enough. I still found it interesting though, and do to this day. But one thing still perplexes me.

While some languages are known for their troublesome complexities, the thing that most surprised me about Esperanto was how almost over-simplified (just in my opinion, realize) it is. Take the Esperanto preposition je. Je is suppose to do the work that other prepostions in Esperanto don’t do. In other words, if one of the other prepositions in Esperanto doesn’t work, use je they tell you. (I know this explanation must seem confusing to people unfamiliar with Esperanto. But that’s the best I can explain it.) And consider the suffix -um. With word building in Esperanto, you use the suffix -um when none of the other suffixes will work. For example, crucumi (-correct spelling?) means “crucify” in Esperanto because Esperanto doesn’t have a “-ify” suffix. WTHeck? What do you do if need another word that begins with “cruc-” translated?

Remember, I am not bad mouthing Esperanto. I am just asking for an explanation how such seemingly over-simplified words could work. And as I’ve said, you don’t necessarily have to speak Esperanto to answer my question.

(Side note. As the people who speak Esperanto would tell you, Esperantistoj is the plural of “person who speaks Esperanto” in Esperanto.)


My Esperanto dictionary (Teach Yourself Books Concice Esperanto and English Dictionary Esperanto-English/Enlgish-Esperanto) gives the definition for um/o as:

Page 33 of the same dictionary lists athe definition of -um- as:

Je gets this treatement from that dictionary:

So, I’m going to go with krucumi as being the translation of crucify.

As to what to do for other words that begin with cruc, I think it matters what those words mean. After all there are crucial (decidiga, kerna), crucian (karaso), crucible (fandujo, krisolo), curcifer (krucifero), crucifix (krucifikso), crucifixion (krucumado), and cruciform (krucforma).

While “Je” is supposed to be a general preposition for when other prepositions don’t work, its use is quite limited because generally other prepositions do the job. The only time I hear it used is for mentions of time when “at” would be used in English. “Je la kioma horo ni vespermangxos?” = “At what time will we eat?”

It also is used after verbs which can’t take a direct object. While “Li priridas min” (he laughs at me) is now common, one could also say “Li ridas je mi.” Or take religious beliefs: “kristanoj kredas je Dio.” (Christians believe in God).

“Um” is frequently used when one’s brain needs a new verb quick to describe something but you don’t know if there’s a specialised vocabularly to describe what you want to say. Weirdly, the only examples I can think of now are amorous: “Kisumi” (“make out”), “amindumi” (am-ind-umi, “to flirt”), but there’s lots others. “Um” is a godsend. If only English had it, I’d sound so much more eloquent…


Although “krucumi” does mean “to crucify”, that’s not the correct reason. Esperanto does have a suffix that usually translates to the English “-ify”, and that sufffix is “-igi”. The difference is that for any word x, “xigi” will always mean “to make something x”. Thus, “Mi krucigis Jesuon” would mean “I turned Jesus into a cross.”

“Umi”, on the other hand, is used for cases where the sense is connected but slightly altered.

What the others said. :slight_smile:

Note that many of the words using -um have acquired conventional meanings.

If kisumi has acquired the conventional meaning ‘to make out’, I can’t use kisumi as another kissing-related verb, such as ‘to give CPR’. But ‘to give CPR’ might be better rendered as something like spirekigi ‘to cause to breathe again’. It’s usually possible to build a word expressing the desired meaning fairly precisely, even if the word seems longer.

Amindumi is interesting. It breaks apart as ‘love’ ‘worthy’ -um <verb ending>. I’d try to render ‘flirt’ as something like aminteresludi ‘to play at love interest’ or aminteresindiki ‘to show love interest’, but those are rather restrictive compared to amindumi. -um definitely has its place.

There’s a lot of slang usage among Esperanto-speakers in Europe (epecially among the youth) involving -um words, that only slowly makes it across the pond. Tekilumadi, a drinking game, comes to mind. We here in English-speaking North America live in a backwater, Esperantically.