Lojban Tutorial: Lesson 3

Lesson 3

Commands, Requests and Questions

So far we've looked at simple propositions, sentences that say that
something is true. You can, in theory, say anything you want with
propositions, but it's pretty inconvenient. For example, if I want you
to run, I could say just that:

"I want you to run"

but I'd probably just say:


How do we do this in Lojban? We can't copy English grammar and just say
bajra, since, as we've seen, this means "Someone/something
runs". Instead we say

ko bajra

ko means you, the person I'm talking to, but only in commands
(in normal sentences it's do). Normally it comes in the first
place of the bridi, since normally you're asking people to do
something or be something, not to have something done to them. However,
you can put it elsewhere, e.g.

nelci ko

This means something like "Act so that [someone unspecified] likes you",
and sounds pretty odd in English, but you could use it in the sense of
"Try to make a good impression." Another example is:

mi dunda le cifnu ko

or "Act so that I give the baby to you," with the possible meaning "Get
up and put your cigarette out—I'm going to pass you the baby."

You can even have ko in two places in a bridi, for example,

ko kurji ko
[Act so that] you take care of you

or in other words, "Take care of yourself." In fact, since we can put
the selbri anywhere other than the beginning of the sentence
(since this would imply "someone/something" for the first place), we can
(and do) say

ko ko kurji

Exercise 1

Imagine that someone says these things to you. What is it that they want you to do?

  1. ko klama mi
  2. ko dunda le cukta mi
  3. la .izaBEL. nelci ko
  4. ko sutra
  5. ko ko nelci

So far we've looked at simple commands. However, outside the army, we
don't normally use these very much—normally we ask people politely.
Foreigners in England often make the mistake of thinking that putting
"Please" in front of a command makes it into a polite request, which it
doesn't (in English we usually have to make it into a question e.g.
"Could you open the window?"). Fortunately, in Lojban, "please" really
is the magic word. Putting the attitudinal .e'o before a
sentence with ko changes it into a request e.g.

.e'o ko dunda le cukta mi

is literally "Please give me the book," but is actually more like "Could
you give me the book, please?"


In English, we make a yes/no question by changing the
order of the words (e.g. "You are ..." -> "Are you ...") or putting some
form of "do" at the beginning (e.g. "Does she smoke?"). This seems
perfectly natural to someone whose native language is English (or
German, or whatever) but is actually unnecessarily complicated (as any
speaker of Chinese or Turkish will tell you). In Lojban we can turn any
proposition into a yes/no question by simply putting xu at the
beginning. Some examples:

xu do nelci la bil.
Do you like Bill?
xu mi klama
Am I coming?
xu crino
Is it green?

There are two ways to answer these questions. Lojban, like some other
languages, does not have words that mean "yes" or "no". One way to
answer "yes" is to repeat the selbri e.g.

  • xu do nelci la bil.
  • nelci

We can also use go'i, which repeats the last bridi. In this case,
though, it doesn't mean do nelci la bil. but mi nelci la bil.—it is
the meaning, rather than the words of the bridi which are repeated. In
other words, in an answer to a yes/no question, it means "yes".

What about negative answers? Any bridi can be made negative by
using na. This negates the whole of the bridi, so you can put
it anywhere you want—most people either put it right at the beginning,
or before the selbri (I prefer the beginning, since then it is
clearer that I'm negating the whole thing). So na mi nelci la bil. means "It is not true that I like Bill," or in other words, "I don't like Bill."

As an answer to a question, we do the same thing, so we just say na nelci or na go'i.

Logical note: Negatives are a lot more complicated than they look, in
both English and Lojban. Strictly speaking, na mi nelci la bil. is
true even if I've never heard of Bill (since it's pretty hard to like
someone you know nothing about). We'll look at some other negatives
later, but for the time being na will do fine. Just as in
English, if you ask someone if they like Bill, and they reply "No"
because they haven't met him, they're being amazingly unhelpful.

English also has a number of "wh-" questions—"who", "what" etc. In
Lojban we use one word for all of these: ma. This is like an
instruction to fill in the missing place. For example:

do klama ma la london.
"Where are you going?" "London"
ma klama la london. la klaudias.
"Who's going to London?" "Claudia."
mi dunda ma do le cukta
"I give what to you?" (probably meaning "What was it I was supposed to be giving you?") "The book."

Finally we have mo. This is like ma, but questions a
selbri, not a sumti—it's like English "What does X
do?" or "What is X?" (remember being and doing are the same!). More
logically, we can see mo as asking someone to describe the
relationship between the sumti in the question. For example:

do mo la klaudias.
"You ??? Claudia"

The answer depends on the context. Possible answers to this question

"I like her."
"I am her friend"
"I adore/am in love with her."
"I hate her."
"I'm angry with her."
"I kissed her."

Note that the time is not important here: just as cinba can
mean "kiss", "kissed", "will kiss" and so on, mo does not ask a
question about any particular time. There are ways to specify
time in Lojban, but it's not necessary to use them (just to satisfy your
curiosity though, "I kissed Claudia" is mi pu cinba la klaudias.).

We've said that mo can also be a "What is
..." type of question. The simplest example is ti mo—"What
is this?". You could also ask la meilis. mo, which could mean
"Who is Mei Li?", "What is Mei Li?", "What is Mei Li doing?" and so on.
Again, the answer depends on the context. For example:

"She's a woman."
"She's Chinese."
"She's a policewoman."
"She's a singer" or "She's singing."
"She's beautiful." (possibly a pun, since this is what "meili" means in Chinese!)

There are ways to be more specific, but these normally involve a
ma question; for example la meilis. gasnu ma ("Mei Li
does what?").

There are more question words in Lojban, but
xu, ma and mo are enough for most of what you
might want to ask. Three other important questions, xo ("How
many?") ca ma ("When?) and pei ("How do you feel about
it?") will come in the lessons on numbers, time and attitudes.

Exercise 2: Lojban general knowledge quiz

Answer the following questions (in Lojban, of course). Most of the
answers are very easy; the trick is to understand the question!

  1. la brutus. mo la .iulius.
  2. ma prami la djuliet.
  3. xu la paris. nenri la .iunaityd.steits.
  4. ma ciska la .anas.kaREninas.
  5. xu la porc. sutra
  6. la .ozuald. catra ma
  7. xu la djorj.eliot. ninmu
  8. la sakiamunis. mo
  9. la cekspir. ciska ma
  10. la dolorez.kleiborn. mo
  11. xu la xardis. fengu la lorel.

Answers to Exercises

Exercise 1

  1. Come to me.
  2. Give me the book.
  3. Act so that Isabel likes you (or "Butter up Isabel" perhaps)
  4. Be fast ("Hurry up!")
  5. Like yourself. (note that changing the word order doesn't change the meaning here)

Exercise 2

  1. catra (assuming it's Julius Caesar we're talkin about)
  2. la romios. (assuming it's that Juliet)
  3. na nenri or na go'i, unless we're talking about Paris, Texas.
  4. la tolstois.
  5. Trick question. la can name a specific Porsche, not Porsches in general, so it might go fast or not (e.g. it could have just broken down and not go at all).
  6. la KEnydis.
  7. ninmu or go'i (Despite the pen-name, George Eliot was a woman)
  8. Not much we can say with the vocabulary we have at the moment other than prenu (maybe emphasising that Sakyamuni~~the Buddha~~was a person, not a God or somesuch). Other possible answers would be xindo~~Indian, or pavbudjo~~first Buddhist.
  9. Anything Shakespeare wrote, e.g. la xamlyt., la .otelos. ...
  10. cukta (it's a novel by Stephen King)
  11. fengu or go'i—we're talking about Laurel and Hardy here.

Created by raladue. Last Modification: Sunday 04 of September, 2005 05:47:02 GMT by rlpowell.