Lesson 4: Numbers, and a few more articles
One of the first things you learn in a new language is how to count, and
this course is no exception. However, in Lojban, numbers include much
more than just counting; for example, in Lojban, "some", "many" and
"most" are numbers.
The numbers from one to nine are as follows:
This leaves zero, which is no (think "yes, we have no bananas").
You may have noticed that the numbers repeat the vowels AEIOU. Since you
can't get by without memorising numbers, try to think of mnemonics for the
unfamiliar ones. For example, although the sound is different, xa
has the X of "six", and I remembered so by thinking of the proverb
"A stitch in time saves nine," which is about sewing (.oi).
Numbers from 10 onwards are made by putting the digits together, just like
you'd say a telephone number. For example:
4,592 has a comma in it (or a full stop in some languages, just to make
things confusing). We can't use a comma in Lojban, because that means
"separate these two syllables" (as we saw in Lesson 1 with Lojbanised names
like zo,is. for "Zoe"). What we say instead is ki'o. We
don't have to use ki'o, but it can make things clearer. It also
has the advantage that if the following digits are all zeroes, we don't
need to say them, so 3,000 is ci ki'o. You can remember
ki'o easily if you think of "kilo"—a thousand.
Just as we have a word for a comma, we also have one for a decimal point:
pi (don't get this mixed up with the number "pi" - 3.1415... . So
5.3 is mupici. In fact, pi is not always decimal—it's
the point for whatever system you're using.
Question: What is the difference between the following numbers?
li pa li re li ci
The first one, as we've seen, has to be "one hundred and twenty-three," so
the second is "one, two, three." li is the article for numbers.
What are the following numbers in Lojban? (don't forget li!)
Numbers and articles
So far, we've looked at three articles: la, for cmene,
le, for sumti and li for numbers. So li bi
is "the number eight." Actually, outside mathematics, li is not
used very much. What we usually want to say is things like "three people,"
or "the two women."
Note for mathematicians: Lojban has a number of words to deal with
basic mathematics, and also an incredible number of words to deal with just
about any mathematical expression you can think of in a separate subset of
the language. But come on guys, this is a beginners' course.
We can use numbers either before or after le. For example,
- ci le gerku
- means "three of the dogs", while
- le ci gerku
- means "the three dogs."
What do we do, though, if we just want to say "three dogs"? For this we
need another article, lo. The logic of lo is pretty
complicated, but it basically means "something which really is," which nine
times out of ten is the same as English "a" or "some" (translating Lojban
grammar into English like this is a mortal sin, but even so, this is the
best thing to do with lo at this stage!).
Note for logicians: lo prenu cu klama expresses the proposition
"There exists at least one person, such that that person goes."
ci lo gerku therefore means "three of those which really are dogs",
or in plain words, "three dogs". lo ci gerku, however, means that
there are only three dogs in the world, which is not something you'd really
want to say (mathematicians and logicians can look up the relevant parts of
The Complete Lojban Language if they want clarification on this
Let us now consider the English sentence "Three dogs bit me." This actually
has two possible meanings. The one we would expect is that I was attacked
by a pack of dogs, and all of them bit me. However, I could be an extremely
unfortunate person who was bitten by three separate dogs on three different
occasions. Lojban is a logical language, and so does not tolerate this
confusion! If I say ci lo gerku cu batci mi, I just mean that three
dogs bite me. Maybe one dog bit me in the morning, one in the afternoon,
and one at night, or maybe I mean that I have been bitten by a dog three
times in my life. However, if I say lu'o ci lo gerku cu batci mi, I mean that a group of three dogs bit me. lu'o means
"the mass composed of" and in effect converts a bunch of individuals into a
coherent unit. If you're a fan of computer strategy games, think of
lu'o as like the "group" command for units (there's also an
"ungroup" command, lu'a).
With le things are simpler. While le pano ninmu means "the
ten women", lei pano ninmu means "the ten women treated as a
group or mass". Let's imagine that ten women I have in mind kiss me on ten
separate occasions. I could then say le pano ninmu cu cinba mi, in
which case I'd consider myself quite fortunate. However, if I say
lei pano ninmu cu cinba mi, I mean that the ten women kiss me
en masse, in which case I would consider myself either blessed or
harassed (maybe I'm a rock star or something). However, it does not
necessarily mean that each and every woman kisses me, simply that I was
mobbed by a group of ten women and kissed by one or (probably) more in the
Warning: this section gets into some tricky logical stuff. Skip it if
you're not interested.
Question: If le ci prenu means "the three people," and re le prenu means "two of the people, how do you say "two of the three
You probably go this one pretty easily: re le ci prenu. If,
however, we use lo, the meaning changes. We can't say re lo ci prenu to mean two out of any three people (i.e. two thirds of the
population). This is because while le ci prenu means the three
people that I have in mind, by the same logic, lo ci prenu means
the three people that actually exist, i.e. that there are only three people
in the universe. You would therefore only use the number+lo+number
formula if you knew the actual numbers rather than just the proportions,
re lo mi ci mensi cu nelci la rikis.martin.
Two of my three sisters like Ricky Martin.
This states two facts: that I have three sisters (not actually true!) and
that two of them like Ricky Martin (it doesn't actually state that my third sister hates him—she may be indifferent to him, or never have heard
of him). If I use le in the same sentence, it isn't actually wrong,
but it allows the possibility that I have, say, five sisters, but I'm only
talking about three of them! This is one of the few areas where le
and lo are not like "the" and "a/some".
One way out of this is to use fi'u, which is like the Lojban slash
sign. So "two out of every three people" is really "2/3 of people", or
refi'uci lo prenu
I've said that words like "most" and "many" are numbers in Lojban, which is
pretty logical if you think about it. The following "numbers" are
- none (we've already seen this as "zero")
- each / all
- almost all
- many / a lot of
- at most
- at least
- no le ninmu cu nelci la bil.
- None of the women like Bill.
- no lo ninmu cu nelci la bil.
- No women like Bill. [because __lo ninmu_ potentially includes all women that exist]
- coi rodo
- Hi, everyone
- mi nelci ro lo mlatu
- I like all cats.
- mi na nelci ro lo gerku
- It's not true that I like all dogs. (this is not the same as "I don't like any dogs", which would be mi nelci no lo gerku or mi na'e nelci rolo gerku—"I other-than-like all dogs")
- so'i lo merko cu nelci la nirvanas.
- Many Americans like Nirvana (the
group, not the mystical state).
- so'u lo jungo cu nelci la nirvanas.
- Few Chinese people like Nirvana.
- su'e mu le muno prenu cu cmila
- No more than five out of the fifty people laugh(ed) (let's say a comedian told a bad joke).
- su'o pa lo prenu cu prami do
- At least one person loves you.
This last one is logically the same as lo prenu cu prami do, which
means "there exists at least one person such that that person loves you,"
but it makes the meaning clearer and more emphatic.
Translate the following sentences.
- All babies are beautiful.
- The pack of three cats bite the dog.
- What a surprise! Mei Li loves two men. (use an attitudinal indicator)
- Most men love at least one woman.
- It is not true that all men love at least one woman.
- The group of four women kiss Ricky Martin.
- It's a shame that no-one likes Bill. (use an attitudinal indicator)
- The baby bites two people (separately).
- One in three women like David Bowie.
- No more than 15% of Buddhists eat meat. ("Buddhist" is budjo, as you may remember from Lesson 3).
- Nine out of ten cats like "Whiskas." (use a cmene)
Remembering the sentence re lo mi ci mensi cu nelci la rikis.martin., how would I answer the following question?
- xo le mensi cu nelci rikis.martin.
- The answer, of course is re, which means that xo is the question word for numbers (though not all questions that can be answered with a number have to take xo, as we'll see in the next lesson).
xo is also used in mathematics, as in
- li ci su'i vo du li xo
- 3 + 4 = ?
A few more examples:
- xo le botpi cu kunti
- How many of the bottles are empty?
- xo lo prenu cu klama ti
- How many people come here?
- do viska xo lo sonci
- How many soldiers do you see?
Note: It is not actually necessary to include the lo after
xo. In fact, it isn't necessary after any number—for example
ci lo gerku could be simply ci gerku, if you prefer.
However, many Lojbanists prefer to keep the lo for the sake of
A final question
Lojban has no difference between singular and plural—"the dog" and "the
dogs" can both be le gerku. But suppose you wanted to make a
distinction between the two—how would you do it?
In addition to numbers, this lesson has entered the dangerous waters of
Lojban articles. Lojban articles may seem difficult at first, but they are
perfectly logical. In fact it's probably because they are logical that
people have problems with them to start off with - you have to learn to
think in a slightly different way. For the curious, here are the main
articles and article-like words:
- that named
- that described
- that which really is
- the number (lu is not an article, it's a quotation mark!)
- the referent of (not really an article, as it takes a full sumti or pro-sumti, as in la'edi'u—the thing the last sentence refers to, as opposed to the words of the last sentence)
- the stereotypical
- the typical
- the mass named
- the mass described
- the mass which really is
- the set named
- the set described
- the set which really is
We also looked briefly at lu'o, which turns a set into a mass, and
lu'a, which turns a mass into a set of individuals ("group" and
"ungroup"). Strictly speaking, these aren't articles, though.
If all this looks terribly complicated, don't be discouraged! As you can
see, these articles are all really variants on la, le and
lo, which are normally all you will need. My personal advice (not
official Lojban policy!) is when in doubt, use le. This is
because the only time le is completely wrong is with a
cmene (which needs la, of course). If you use le
where another article would be more appropriate, you may not express
yourself as clearly as you wanted, but at least you will not be talking
nonsense, like you would in German if you said "der Frau".
Answers to Exercises
- 35 = li cimu
- 4,802 = li vobinore or li vo ki'o binore (the spaces are optional)
- 6,000 = li xa ki'o
- 7.54 = li ze pimuvo (again the space is optional)
- 6,891,573.905 = li xa ki'o bisopa ki'o muzeci pisonomu (if that looks long, try writing it as a word in English!)
- ro lo cifnu cu melbi
- lei ci mlatu cu batci le gerku
- .ue la meilis. prami re lo nanmu
- so'e lo nanmu cu prami su'o pa lo ninmu
- ro lo nanmu na prami su'o pa lo ninmu
- lu'o vo lo ninmu cu cinba la rikis.martin. (give yourself a pat on the back if you got that one right!)
- .uinai [or .uu] no lo prenu cu prami la bil. or na su'o pa lo prenu cu prami la bil.
- le cinfu cu batci re lo prenu
- pafu'ici loi ninmu cu nelci la deivd.bo,is. (note that "Bowie" is not pronounced bau,i or as in "bowie knife")
- su'e pipamu loi budjo cu citka lo rectu
- sofu'ipano loi mlatu cu nelci la .uiskas.
A final question
"The dog" would be le pa gerku. Normally, we wouldn't bother with
the pa though, unless we wanted to make it quite clear that we only
have one dog in mind. "The dogs" would be le su'o re gerku (or
lei su'o re gerku, if we're thinking of them as a group)—"the at
least two dogs". However, it is hard to think of many situations where you
would need to say this. Like some other languages (e.g. Chinese), Lojban
normally leaves number up to context. You guessed it—you've just spent
all this time learning to say how many people, dogs etc. there are, and
piso of the time, you don't need to! But, like many features of
Lojban, it can be very useful when you want it, so please don't feel