Looking at the "about Esperanto" page, I see this line:

While he realized that a common language would not end the cultural barrier, it would enable ordinary people, not politicians, to have cross national conversations. To this end, he created Esperanto, a language that would be easy for most people to learn, due to it's logical, regular design.

Speaking from experience, one of the difficult parts of learning a new language is keeping different meanings straight for words that have different meaning. It's a little hard to bear at times how many words mean many things.

Does Esperanto, with it's "logical, regular design", have any homographs?


6 Answers 6


One also has to bear in mind polysemy: a word that might correspond to one concept in English might translate to two different words in Spanish or German. A classic example is “corner”, which can be translated to Spanish as either rincón or esquina, depending on whether one is talking about an “inside” or “outside” corner. I went to check how Esperanto deals with that particular word and found that eo angulo refers not only to both kinds of corners, but additionally also means “angle”.

So yes, Esperanto clearly has polysemies.


One such word is vato, which means both "watt" and "cotton wool.

Wikipedia says that

the physical unit "Watt" was first borrowed as ŭato, to distinguish it from vato ('cotton-wool'), and this is the only form found in dictionaries in 1930. However, initial ⟨ŭ⟩ violates Esperanto phonotactics, and by 1970 there was an alternative spelling, vatto. This was also unsatisfactory, however, because of the geminate ⟨t⟩, and by 2000 the effort had been given up, with ⟨vato⟩ now the advised spelling for both "Watt" and "cotton-wool".


In addition to the examples cited above, it's worth noting that due to Esperanto's extensive use of derivation and encouragement to use affixes as productively as possible, there is the potential for semantic ambiguity to arise. This occurs when a string that is an affix also occurs within a root word. For example, the suffix -em means "a tendency/propensity for...", deriving words like kompatema "charitable" and kompatemo "charity/mercifulness" from kompato "compasson, pity". However, what of a word like modemo? The root mod- means "fashion", so upon encountering this word you might assume it means "tendency to be fashionable" or something like that, but it's also a root of its own meaning "modem".

Now, realistically, this would be distinguishable from context, but then again that's the case for "watt" vs. "cotton wool" too. These sorts of weird ambiguities based on affixes are pretty rare anyway, and I don't think there's anything wrong with Esperanto having a few, but they aren't nonexistent.

Also, it's worth noting that when it came to "logical, regular design", Zamenhof was mostly concerned with avoiding irregularities in inflection and derivation. I'd argue he didn't quite succeed, but he definitely cared more about that than he did polysemy.

  • @ba I don't think adding a link to an extremely lengthy post is particularly useful -- perhaps providing an excerpt or (if possible) a direct link to the section with the examples you describe? It's not very helpful to expect someone to scroll down through.
    – Sparksbet
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 7:06
  • I suppose it's better than nothing if a link doesn't work -- though I think it would be better if you included some of the examples in your comment instead!
    – Sparksbet
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 8:17
  • 1
    There are some more examples of this here (Appendix W), like "acheto" ("purchase" or "contemptible little thing")
    – b a
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 9:31

The selection of words in Esperanto tried to prevent:

  • homonyms, same sounding words: trajn/o = train, railroad, trejn/ist/o = trainer; but also poliso = (insurance) policy, politiko = policy, measure
  • word parts that could be mistaken as infixes; partly with artificial changes (kun - instead of kon* = with / in company, as many latin derived words start with kon (kongreso, kontraŭ)
  • synonyms, picking different words, if a word holds different meanings
  • false friends in other languages (tago = day - instead of deo*, dio = god, bona = good)

This makes Esperanto a more disambiguating language in some respects. It is not one hundred percent perfect, ŭato (= Watt) was (unsuccessfully) proposed to disambiguate from vato (= cotton wool). Or plumo = (1) pen (skribilo), (2) feather.

Homography should not happen in Esperanto: different pronunciations for the same spelling. However related are:

  1. The rare letter/sound ĥ that often was reformed to k: ĥemio = kemio = chemistry; both forms valid.
  2. The suffix -uj: franco = Frenchman, Francujo / Francio = France. This suffix was alienated as -ij* would be a phonetically too ambiguous combination for usage in Esperanto. However later in history an -i reform introduced a more "international" form, with its own problems.

The term homonym is usually used for words that are spelt the same and pronounced the same, and i think this is what is intended here. Homographs are spelt the same but pronounced differently and homophones are pronounced the same but spelt differently. Both of these shouldn't occur in Esperanto as there is an agreed pronunciation for each. However, to answer the question about homographs, which is clearly a part of the answer:

Various homonyms have been suggested already.

It is a feature of Esperanto, due to the origin of its lexis, that a lot of people know some of the words from their first language and there is always a temptation to pronounce these in the way more similar to that language. That means that wherever there are homonyms they may end up as homographs. To take vato as an example, people may pronounce this as in their first language, even if they are meant to pronounce it the same as the word meaning "cotton wool*.


The words plaĝo & strando both mean beach. Another example is kruro & gambo for leg. See this question. Plaĝo is from French plage. My guess is strando comes from the Norwegian word stranden meaning 'bay'. EDIT: According to wiktionary strand is from the Old English word for shore/seashore. Norwegian is a Germanic language, so stranden may have come from strand.

  • 2
    This is synonymy, not homonymy. Commented Sep 8, 2021 at 7:59

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