Take your places...

Now we can recognise a gismu, let's see what we can make it do. dunda means 'give', and as a selbri it describes a relationship between a giver, something they give, and someone who receives it — in that order. (Lojban insists on the order so you can tell which is which; but that's a convention of dunda, rather than something intrinsic in the act of giving.)

Let's say we have three people, Maria, Claudia and Julia, for instance. If we say

la mari,as. dunda la .iulias. la klaudias.

we mean that Maria gives Julia to Claudia.

Note: The la you see in front of each cmene is an article, like a and the in English. Its job is to signal to the listener that the word coming up is a name, and not some other kind of word.

If, on the other hand, we say

la .iulias. dunda la mari,as. la klaudias.

we mean that Maria is who is being given away, and Julia is the one who gives her to Claudia. How do we know this? English uses the word to to indicate the receiver, and in some other languages (like Latin or Turkish) the form of the words themselves change. In Lojban, as in logic, we have what is called place structure.

Place-structure means that dunda doesn't just mean give, it means

x1 gives x2 to x3

where x means someone or something. Even if we just say dunda on its own, we still mean that someone gives something to someone; we just aren't interested in (or we already know) who or what.

We can say, then, that dunda has three 'places'. We can think of places as slots which we can, if we want, fill with people, objects, events or whatever. These places are called sumti in Lojban (easy to remember, as it sounds a bit like someone saying something and chewing off the end of the word). Again, a sumti is not a type of word, it is something a word does. The simplest Lojban sentence is a bridi, i.e. a selbri and a bunch of sumti. In other words,

bridi = selbri + sumti

Note for logicians and computer programmers: For selbri, logicians can read 'predicate' or 'relation', and programmers can read 'function'; for sumti, both can read 'argument'.

How many sumti can a selbri describe? The number depends on the place structure of the word we use for the selbri. (There are ways of tagging on extra sumti, which we'll cover in later lessons). A gismu has a set number of places; as we've just seen, dunda has three. The number of places varies from one to a staggering (and rare) five. Here are some examples.

One place

x1 is a woman (any female humanoid person, not necessarily adult)

Note: To assume that Lojban works like English in general is a sin Lojbanists are ever on the alert for. It is enough of a community obsession that the Lojban word for it — malglico 'damned English' — routinely turns up in the English of Lojbanists, even when they're not talking about Lojban. In this instance, it is malglico to asume that ninmu refers to an adult.


x1 is white / very light-coloured


x1 laughs [not necessarily at someone or something; to include the object of the laughter you would use the lujvo (compound word) mi'afra — x1 laughs at x2, a slightly different concept]

Two places

x1 is a bird/avian/fowl of species x2


x1 flies [in air/atmosphere] using lifting/propulsion means x2


x1 reflects Chinese [Mandarin, Cantonese, Wu, etc.] culture/nationality/language in aspect x2


x1 (person) is serious/earnest/has gravity about x2 (event/state/activity)

Three places

x1 is good/beneficial/acceptable for x2 by standard x3

[This is very Lojbanic — the English word good on its own is so vague as to be almost meaningless. It is also slightly malglico to put a person in the x1 place, which is normally filled by an object, state or event. For 'morally good' you would usually use vrude 'virtuous']


x1 is to the right of x2, where x2 is facing x3

[Remember all those times you have to ask "Is that my right or your right?" in English]


x1 leaves x2 via route x3


x1 is a cup/glass/tumbler/mug/vessel/[bowl] containing contents x2, and of material x3

Four places

x1 [seller] sells/vends x2 [goods/service/commodity] to buyer x3 for amount/cost/expense x4


x1 [broadcaster] televises programming x2 via media/channel x3 to television receiver x4


x1 runs on surface x2 using limbs x3 with gait x4

Five places

x1 goes/comes to x2 from x3 via x4 by means x5


x1 is a book about subject/theme/story x2 by author x3 for audience x4 preserved in medium x5


x1 translates x2 to language x3 from language x4 with translation-result x5

So for example you can say (trying desperately to match the grammar to what you've been taught so far):