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Terminator elision

Consider this sentence:

je'u mi djica lo nu le merko noi tunba mi vau ku'o ku jimpe lo du'u mi na nelci lo nu ri darxi mi vau kei ku vau kei ku vau kei ku vau
I do wish the American, who is my sibling, would understand that I don't like that he hits me.

Regardless of whether the above sentence is being understood, (it shouldn't, as it contains words we have not covered in these lessons yet) one thing stands out: as more complex Lojban structures are learned, more and more of the sentences get filled with ku, kei, ku'o and other of those words which by themselves carry no meaning.

The function of all these words is to signal the end of a certain grammatical construct, like for instance "convert selbri to sumti" in the case of ku. The English word for this kind of word is terminator, while the Lojban word is famyma'o. They are underlined in the example above.

Note: The vau in the above example are the famyma'o for "end bridi". There is a good reason you have not yet seen it – stay tuned.

vau famyma'o: terminates bridi.

In most spoken and written Lojban, most famyma'o are skipped (elided). This greatly saves syllables in speech and space in writing. However, one must always be careful when eliding famyma'o. In the simple example lo gerku ku pendo, removing the famyma'o ku would yield lo gerku pendo, which is a single sumti made from the tanru gerku pendo. Thus, it means "a dog-ish friend" instead of "the dog is friendly". Indeed, famyma'o elision can lead to very wrong results if done incorrectly, which is why you haven't learned about it until now.

The rule for when famyma'o can be elided is very simple, at least in theory: you can elide a famyma'o, if and only if doing so does not change the grammatical constructs in the sentence. In other words, a construct extends as far right as possible, until either its famyma'o or another word not allowed in the construct appears.

Most famyma'o can be safely elided at the end of the bridi. This is why vau is almost never used – simply beginning a new bridi with .i will almost always terminate the preceding bridi anyway.

Knowing the basic rules for famyma'o elision, we can thus return to the original sentence and begin removing famyma'o:

je'u mi djica lo nu le merko noi tunba mi vau ku'o ku jimpe lo du'u mi na nelci lo nu ri darxi mi vau kei ku vau kei ku vau kei ku vau

We can see that the first vau is grammatically unnecessary, because the next non-famyma'o-word is jimpe, which is a selbri. Since there can only be one selbri per bridi, vau is not needed. Since jimpe as a selbri cannot be in the relative clause either (only one bridi in a clause, only one selbri in each bridi), we can elide ku'o. Likewise, jimpe cannot be a second selbri inside the construct "le merko noi{...}", so the ku is not needed either. Furthermore, all the famyma'o at the very end of the sentence can be elided too, since beginning a new bridi will terminate all of these constructs anyway.

We then end up with:

je'u mi djica lo nu le merko noi tunba mi jimpe lo du'u mi na nelci lo nu ri darxi mi

with no famyma'o at all!

Selbri separator

When eliding famyma'o, it is a good idea to be acquainted with cu. It is one of those words which can make your (Lojbanic) life a lot easier. What it does is to separate any previous sumti from the selbri. One could say that it defines the next word to be a selbri, and terminates exactly as much as it needs to in order to do that.

cu elidable marker: separates selbri from preceding sumti, allows preceding famyma'o elision.

Note: cu is not a famyma'o, because it is not tied to one specific construct. But it can be used to elide other famyma'o.

One of the greatest strengths of cu is that it quickly becomes easy to intuitively understand. By itself it means nothing, but it reveals the structure of Lojban expressions by identifying the core selbri. In the original example with the violent American brother, using cu before jimpe does not change the meaning of the sentence in any way, but might make it easier to read.

lo nu do cusku lo se du'u do nelci lo mlatu ku vau kei ku vau kei ku se djica mi

= lo nu do cusku lo se du'u do nelci lo mlatu cu se djica mi
That you say that you like cats is desired by me = I wish you said you liked cats.


Sometimes, even though a certain famyma'o may be elidable, doing so may make the sentence more difficult to understand. For this reason, we recommend exercising good judgment while performing famyma'o elision. The ultimate goal is being understood, not being as terse as possible.

Throughout the remainder of this course, we may sometimes place famyma'o inside curly brackets. This means that the given famyma'o could have been elided without changing the structure of the sentence, but we nevertheless chose to be (somewhat) explicit about it, either to pinpoint its placement or to help make the sentence more understandable. For example, we could write lo prenu {ku} cu tavla to indicate that there is still an implicit ku to terminate lo prenu, and that it is (implicitly) placed before cu.


It's now time for you to attempt a few more translations.

Translate the following sentences from English into Lojban, trying to elide as many famyma'o as you can:

Sentence Possible translation
What did you promise to write? do nupre lo nu ciska ma
Are you happy that I promised to donate the cat? xu do gleki lo nu mi nupre lo nu dunda lo mlatu
I promised you that the person would say that the cat is beautiful. mi nupre lo nu lo prenu cu cusku lo se du'u lo mlatu cu melbi kei kei do

Or: mi nupre fi do fe lo nu lo prenu cu cusku lo se du'u lo mlatu cu melbi


As usual, 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
    • Elidable terminators
    • "ku" versus "cu"
  • New exercises
    • Translate without using "ku" (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

ctuca x1 teaches audience x2 ideas/methods/lore x3 (du'u) about subject(s) x4 by method x5 (event)

nelci x1 is fond of/likes/has a taste for x2 (object/state)

gerku x1 is a dog/canine/[bitch] of species/breed x2

melbi x1 is beautiful/pleasant to x2 in aspect x3 (ka) by aesthetic standard x4

sutra x1 is fast/swift/quick/hastes/rapid at doing/being/bringing about x2 (event/state)

lojbo x1 reflects [Loglandic]/Lojbanic language/culture/nationality/community in aspect x2

ciska x1 inscribes/writes x2 on display/storage medium x3 with writing implement x4; x1 is a scribe

djuno x1 knows fact(s) x2 (du'u) about subject x3 by epistemology x4

nupre x1 (agent) promises/commits/assures/threatens x2 (event/state) to x3 [beneficiary/victim]

cusku x1 (agent) expresses/says x2 (sedu'u/text/lu'e concept) for audience x3 via expressive medium x4

gleki x1 is happy/gay/merry/glad/gleeful about x2 (event/state)


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

lo veridical descriptor: the one(s) that really is(are) ...

ku elidable terminator: end description, modal, or negator sumti; often elidable

fa sumti place tag: tag 1st sumti place

fe sumti place tag: tag 2nd sumti place

fi sumti place tag: tag 3rd sumti place

fo sumti place tag: tag 4th sumti place

fu sumti place tag: tag 5th sumti place

se 2nd conversion; switch 1st/2nd places

te 3rd conversion; switch 1st/3rd places

ve 4th conversion; switch 1st/4th places

xe 5th conversion; switch 1st/5th places

xu discursive: true-false question

ma pro-sumti: sumti question (what/who/how/why/etc.); appropriately fill in sumti blank

mo pro-bridi: bridi/selbri/brivla question

na bridi contradictory negator; scope is an entire bridi; logically negates in some cmavo compounds

go'i pro-bridi: preceding bridi; in answer to a yes/no question, repeats the claim, meaning yes

su'u abstractor: generalized abstractor (how); x1 is [bridi] as a non-specific abstraction of type x2

nu abstractor: generalized event abstractor; x1 is state/process/achievement/activity of [bridi]

du'u abstractor: predication/bridi abstractor; x1 is predication [bridi] expressed in sentence x2

sedu'u compound abstractor: sentence/equation abstract; x1 is text expressing [bridi] which is x2

kei elidable terminator: end abstraction bridi (often elidable)

vau elidable: end of sumti in simple bridi; in compound bridi, separates common trailing sumti

cu elidable marker: separates selbri from preceding sumti, allows preceding terminator elision


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