How to say it in Lojban

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This is a page where people can ask whether they've correctly understood, written, or translated some non-trivial bit of Lojban.

Some concepts are harder to express in Lojban than others... These are the fruits of sometimes extremely lengthy discussions, but are by no means to be regarded as the last word, in some cases!

See also What does it mean? for problems going the other way.

General lists


Which terminators are elidable?

Do you want coffee or tea?

Subjunctives and conditionals

I would have killed the cat.

Solution: ELG. Subjunctives, imaginary situations

Earlier discussions: if, da'i, conditional


The short version: the English "unless" can be translated directly with an "or" construct and "da'i", such as "da broda gi'a da'i brode", if both cases can happen at the same time. If not, you need an "xor" construct instead ("gi'onai" in this case).

The long version: In analyzing "unless", it is helpful to have an example. For the "both can happen at the same time" case, we'll use "I have blue hair, unless my eyes are bad". The translation is "le kerfa be mi cu blanu .i ja bo da'i le kanla be mi cu spofu".

Call the former "BH" for blue hair, and the latter "EB" for "eyes are bad".

Truth table:

BH EB BH or EB Explanation
T T T You have blue hair. It is also the case that your eyes are bad, however.
T F T You have blue hair, and your eyes are just fine
F T T Your eyes are bad, and your hair is not, in fact, blue.
F F F The only false case: if you do not have blue hair, but your eyes are just fine, the original statement is false.

For the "both cannot happen at the same time" case, we'll use "I'll kill you, unless you kill me first". Note that because of the word "first", both halves cannot be true at once. The translation is "mi ba catra do .i jo nai bo da'i do catra mi ca lo nu pu'o go'i".

Call the former "KY" for kill you, and the latter "KMF" for "kill me first".

Truth table:

KY KMF KY or KMF Explanation
T T F False case: I killed you, and you killed me first. Patently impossible.
T F T I killed you.
F T T You killed me first.
F F F False case: Nobody killed anybody, which violates the whole point of making the statement in the first place.

only and Again: ''only''

The 17 tallest men


one by one

  • He's peeling the potatoes one by one.
  • ca ro cabna cu pilvi'u (su'e) pa lo patlu

How old are you?

  • do ma nanca
  • do nanca li xo (or, if you think that nanca only can measure events, not people, do jai nanca li xo)
  • do ma verba (to a child)
  • do renvi fi ma

I like you being beaten by me

The issue here is how to represent the difference between I like beating you and I like you being beaten by me As we join our story in progress, nitcionthought there was an analogy between that distinction and the distinction made between the quality of beating you (le ka ce'u jinga do) and the quality of being beaten by me (le ka mi jinga ce'u).

  • If I like beating you at chess, it might be that I don't like it so much that I win, but that you lose. That to me sounds like mi nelci lesu'u mi jinga fi do no'u ce'u, as distinct from mi nelci lesu'u mi no'u ce'u jinga fi do.
    • Why not mi nelci le nu mi jinga fi ba'e do vs mi nelci le nu ba'e mi jinga fi do, or following Cowan: mi nelci le nu mi jinga fi dokau vs mi nelci le nu mikau jinga fi do. or mi nelci le nu le te jinga zo'u mi jinga fi do
      • If ba'e could do the job, it'd be doing the job of ce'u everywhere else, too.
        • Not really. I have trouble understanding how a property fits in a bridi when the holder of the property is not one of the other arguments.
          • Although I have publically repudiated the error of my ways, this is still a bogus solution: I like it that you're being beaten by me. Even if this is merely a difference in discourse focus, it is crude to emulate such focus with ba'e. I'd sooner do it with bi'u.
      • If kau can do the job, then I have a hard time seeing what the difference is between dakau and ce'u.
        • There's plenty of examples in the list. The easiest way to understand the difference I think is with examples of the type ti ta frica le ka ce'u viska makau vs ti ta frica le ka makau viska ce'u
          • The only reference I could find to Cowan and kau ("or following Cowan") rejects this usage. It'd be nice if kau can do this, but I'm not sure it can. Could you link to some pertinent list messages? I couldn't find any readily.
      • If every time we came up with a problem like this we tucked away a prenex, we wouldn't be speaking Lojban, but Chinese.
        • I rather like the mirror claim: If every time we came up with a problem like this we avoided a prenex, we wouldn't be speaking Lojban, but English.
          • Since lenu lo crino cu jinga lo zirpu already means su'o da poi crino su'o de poi zirpu zo'u: da jinga de, I believe the use of prenexes to denote discourse topics should be considered harmful, and certainly won't work as the most formal approach to this.
            • It's pretty hard to come up with a case where the two uses actually conflict. In this case, use le + conversion of the main selbri to indicate where the focus is. Since the topic comes from the selbri, it won't interfere with any of the sumti places.

A pound was five dollars

  • lo brityrupnu be li pa pu vamji lo merkyrupnu be li mu
    • We don't say mu merkyrupnu for five dollars; that means five things (prices? costs?) which are a dollar each. How do we do it instead?
      • Uh, lo merkyrupnu be li mu?
        • nitcion:
          • No, that doesn't work either: that is one or more things which are (cost?) five dollars each. Loglan solves this problem by a conventional hack of using the number 5d to mean five dollars. This is malylojbo. The more general question is, how do you speak of measurements, abstracted from the thing being measured? The abstract notion of "5 m", as opposed to "that which is 5 m long"? Solve that, and you solve the abstract $5, as in "my bank balance is $5." For the physical currency, on the other hand, all you need is sicni be le merko befi li mu (sicni obviously being intended for banknotes as well as coins); and I don't think sicni befi mu meryru'u is unintelligible either.
        • pne:
          • What's the second be for in sicni be le merko befi li mi? Is the fi li mi supposed to be attached to merko? Or is it supposed to be a bei instead? le ka ritru'u li pa pu dunli le ka meryru'u li mu kei le ka ce'u vamji makau
            • nitcion:
              • Yeah, I was afraid the answer was ka. I certainly don't think it's ni; leni meryru'u li mu seems to be just silly. But does this work for "my bank balance is $5"? Or do I use vamji there too? meryru'u mumei? It requires a convention, but a relatively clear one, whose literal meaning is not going to be common.
    • This is clearly not a general solution (if a solution at all), for "five feet", say, is not a set and even less so "five degrees" of temperature.

Letters as themselves

Because she hit her head and fell from the boat, she drowned

Each of us must bring their own toothbrush

Quotes without a speaker specified

thank you very much as distinct from just thank you

  • ki'esai or ki'ecai

Can't we all just get along?

  • .a'o ma'a sarxe simxu

We can build a church or a school

the World (as a Capitalized Abstraction)

  • Depending on context, you might say: le terdi, le se terdi, ro se terdi
  • Other suggestions: munje, remna munje, cfipyboi
  • From the jvoste: mu'ezda, rolgu'e, rolre'azda, rolzda

Go outside

My mother's height

Guns don't kill people; People do

So this is the song of the double-soul, distortedly two in one.

Should without using nitcu or .ei

  • That's an odd requirement, a bit like asking how to say "hand" without using xance. The natural way of translating "should" is with ei.
  • .djorden.:
    • The concept of obligation is largely different from English should in many cases. If I say "I should go to the store", or "I should eat something", it's not nearly as strong as saying "I need to eat something". It may be just as simple as using .eiru'e in those cases though...
      • .kreig.daniyl.:
        • But what about things you should do? Cross-reference: Rant: e.'o and e'u are not commands
        • ei do zukte
          • .kreig.:
            • "I am obligated to have you do it"? ei is a feeling of obligation. You could use eidai - you feel obligated to do it - or you could/should reread Rant: e'o and e'u are not commands and realize that using an attitudinal to try to order someone to do something is just plain wrong. Personally, I'm for nitcu, perhaps with a ru'e stuck in to indicate that you don't need to do it, you just should. But we're supposed to go without nitcu, for some odd reason.
            • xorxes:
              • ei does not mean "I am obligated", it means "this is how I feel things should be". ei do zukte means "I feel it should be so that you do it", or simply "you should do it", which is not to say that you should feel you should do it or feel anything else. "You should do it" is about how I feel, not about how you feel. Also, "you should do it" is not really a command.
                • It shouldn't be, but there are times when it is used that way. Sometimes it is also a threat, as in "Why, I oughtta...".
  • bilga

yet and already problem

you get what you pay for

email copies appreciated, since I read the digest

I know how many cows are here

a lot of water

One third as much water as potatoes

describe human motion

facing the forest

I being this individual speaker

free tmobile cell phones

The Yankees

This has not been a busy day

N parts, which are ...


Please check for existing attempts (e.g. in jbovlaste) before asking here. The list shouldn't get too open-ended. Asterisked entries are in lujvo list. This list is full of misleadingly glijbo derivations, which should be carefully looked up on a rafsi list before using as a plug-in English equivalent.



rock music

Black Hole






square meter

logical induction and deduction



rehair the bow


camera obscura



infrared and ultraviolet


e-mail address

five epigrams, each of which uses only one of five vowels

I want to say that I wrote five vowel epigrams, each of which uses only one of Lojban's five basic vowels, and all of which together use all of them. Here's what I came up with. I think it's right, but I'm not sure.

  • jezrax:
    • .i mi finti mu da poi karsna se cpinyctusku .ije ro da selpau pa ko'a goi le mu lojbo ke sampu karsna .ije lu'o ro da selpau ro ko'a
  • And Rosta:
    • You want "For each of Lojban's 5 vowels I wrote exactly one epigram that uses only that vowel" = "le mu lojbo -vowel goi ko'a zo'u mi finti pa -epigram poi ro -vowel in ke'a is of type ko'a". I don't think it's clear what quantifying over ko'a means, so I find it difficult to say for sure what your Lojban actually means if interpreted literally.
      • .i ki'e .and. A big improvement. Running this through the jezrax filter, I get .i mu da poi lojbo ke sampu karsna zo'u mi finti pa me'e karsna se cpinyctusku poi ro karsna po'e ke'a du da (I'm glad I got to use po'e!)
  • And Rosta:
    • It gets the logical form right. I don't get what the me'e is doing there, though. Also, if ro karsna du da, then each karsna must be a vowel type, not a vowel token, but then does it make sense for there to be a ponse/po'e relation between epigram and vowel type?
  • me'e translates the quotation marks in I wrote five "vowel epigrams", each....
  • The type/token issue is tricky. The type and token are not mintu or du (the same), but they are dunli (equal in value) with an appropriate x3, and the token is me the type. In this case me does not seem to introduce any ambiguity, so the corrected version is .i mu da poi lojbo ke sampu karsna zo'u mi finti pa me'e karsna se cpinyctusku poi ro karsna po'e ke'a me da.


  • di'ai ro'a

Intellectual Property

Is it as simple as: sidbo ponse?

The bell rings.

  • le janbe cu janbe, da janbe
    • A bell is more than just something that rings.

It's raining.

  • ca'a carvi
    • That's good. Often the meaning will be clear from context (you have just looked out the window), and all you need say is carvi. Other times you may need to be clear (you're writing e-mail), and you'd go for ca carvi. There are lots of ways to say anything.
    • carvi is inspecific as to the type of precipitation (lo snime .a lo sicpi .a lo bratu .azo'e).

It's times like these that...

  • rlpowell:
    lo nu X cu fadni fi lo jalge be lo simsa fasnu


  • think about ...; ponder - pensi
  • think that ... - jinvi
  • old (opposite to new) - slabu
  • old (opposite to young) - tolci'o
  • cold (temperature) - lenku
  • cold (ailment)
    • .pier.:
      • zbitisna
    • .filip.
      • vaxterbi'a

malglico examples