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Plurals and tenses

In the previous lesson, you may have noticed that mi could mean "I" (the speaker) just as well as "we" (the speakers). This is similar to the way "you" works in English: it may refer to one or more people. Lojban follows this pattern for other words as well, not just mi and do. So "ti mlatu" could mean "This is a cat" just as well as "These are cats". There are ways to specify whether we are talking about a single cat or more than one, but by default neither singular nor plural is implied.

Similarly, Lojban has no default tense. So "mi dunda ti do" could mean "I am donating this to you" just as well as "I donated this to you" or "I will donate this to you". Context is often enough to decide which is the case, and when it isn't there are ways to specify exactly which tense is meant – they will be covered in a future lesson.

Generally speaking, Lojban tends to allow you to control the level of precision or vagueness of your utterances. On the one hand, Lojban allows you to be vague by not specifying information that is often mandatory in natural languages, such as number (singular vs plural), gender or tenses. On the other hand, when you do want to be precise, Lojban often allows a greater degree of precision than natural languages do, as we will later see.

Bridi with missing places

Rather than always specifying all of the sumti places, one could instead leave some of them blank, or unspecified. For example, you could say dunda ti mi, meaning "(somebody) gives this to me". Maybe it's already clear from context who the donor is, or maybe you simply would rather not say. Similarly, mi dunda ti means "I give this (to somebody)".

Whenever one of the sumti places is blank, it is assumed to be filled with the word zo'e, which means "something unspecified". It is worth emphasazing that zo'e does not mean "nothing". Indeed, mi dunda, or "I give (something unspecified) (to somebody unspecified)", is very different from "I give nothing".

zo'e pro-sumti: an elliptical/unspecified value; has some value which makes bridi true.

We now know how to leave the first sumti, or the last few sumti, unspecified. But what about intermediate places? Well, we just use zo'e directly!

sentence Possible translation
mi dunda zo'e do I give (or gave or will give) something to you.
dunda zo'e do Somebody gives (or gave or will give) something to you.
zo'e dunda zo'e do Somebody gives (or gave or will give) something to you.

No places at all

One special class of bridi worth mentioning are those consisting solely of a selbri, with all sumti places left unspecified. They were originally modeled after "baby talk", and may be used as a rudimentary yet perfectly valid means of communication. Presumably, they are the first type of bridi that a hypothetical native Lojban speaker would learn to use.

Literally, the sentence pelxu means "something is yellow". In practice, more context would likely be needed to understand why exactly that is relevant. For example, maybe you are taking a ride with a friend, and the traffic light suddenly turns yellow. Then you could yell pelxu, or Yellow!, to let them know so that they could potentially stop the car.

Variant bridi structure

It is also valid to position more than one sumti before the selbri. In other words, the following bridi arrangements are all equivalent:

  1. (x1 sumti) (selbri) (x2 sumti) (x3 sumti) (x4 sumti) (x5 sumti) (and so on)
  2. (x1 sumti) (x2 sumti) (selbri) (x3 sumti) (x4 sumti) (x5 sumti) (and so on)
  3. (x1 sumti) (x2 sumti) (x3 sumti) (selbri) (x4 sumti) (x5 sumti) (and so on)
  4. (...)
Sentence Possible translation
mi dunda ti do I gave this to you.
mi ti dunda do I gave this to you.
mi ti do dunda I gave this to you.

Sometimes this is used for poetic effect. For example, "you are your friend" could be do do pendo, which sounds better than do pendo do. Or it can be used for clarity if the selbri is very long and therefore better left at the end of the bridi.

Connecting bridi

Multiple bridi after each other are separated by .i, which is the Lojban equivalent of a full stop. However, it usually goes before bridi instead of after them.

.i Sentence separator. Separates any two jufra (and therefore also bridi).

The reason we haven't seen .i in the previous examples is that it is often left out before the first bridi.

Sentence Possible translation
.i ti zdani mi .i ti pelxu This is a home to me. This is yellow.
ti zdani mi .i ti pelxu This is a home to me. This is yellow.


Now that you have learned so much about bridi, it's time to attempt a few more translations. You will need the following new words, in addition to the ones you have already mastered:

tavla x1 talks/speaks to x2 about subject x3 in language x4.

pendo x1 is/acts as a friend of/to x2 (experiencer); x2 befriends x1.

prenu x1 is a person/people.

mlatu x1 is a cat/[puss/pussy/kitten].

Translate from Lojban into English:

Sentence Possible translation
tavla zo'e do Somebody is talking about you.
mi do pendo I am a friend to you. / I am your friend.
mi prenu I am a person.
mlatu Something is a cat. / Cat!

Now translate from English into Lojban:

Sentence Possible translation
You are talking about me. do tavla zo'e mi
Friend! pendo
I am a person. You are a person. mi prenu .i do prenu
That is a cat. ta mlatu


Before proceeding to the next lesson, get some practice with interactive exercises – look for the "Practice" button nearby!

Beware that exercises loop indefinitely, so feel free to stop once you feel you've had enough. And be sure to revisit exercises on different days, to benefit from the spacing effect.

Lesson plan

  • Lesson
    • Tenses and plurals
      • Explain that tenses and numbers are optional
    • Basic concepts: jufra/bridi/selbri/sumti
      • Implicit places (zo'e)
        • Skipping around
        • Ellisis: first term or last terms
      • Variant bridi structure
        • more than one sumti before the selbri
        • no sumti before the selbri
  • New exercises
    • Given a word, tell its grammatical class (gismu, cmavo) (OK)


dunda x1 [donor] gives/donates gift/present x2 to recipient/beneficiary x3 [without payment/exchange]

pelxu x1 is yellow/golden [color adjective]

zdani x1 is a nest/house/lair/den/[home] of/for x2

tavla x1 talks/speaks to x2 about subject x3 in language x4

pendo x1 is/acts as a friend of/to x2 (experiencer); x2 befriends x1

prenu x1 is a person/people (noun) [not necessarily human]; x1 displays personality/a persona

mlatu x1 is a cat/[puss/pussy/kitten] [feline animal] of species/breed x2; (adjective:) x1 is feline


mi pro-sumti: me/we the speaker(s)/author(s); identified by self-vocative

do pro-sumti: you listener(s); identified by vocative

ti pro-sumti: this here; immediate demonstrative it; indicated thing/place near speaker

ta pro-sumti: that there; nearby demonstrative it; indicated thing/place near listener

zo'e pro-sumti: an elliptical/unspecified value; has some value which makes bridi true


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