3.2.1 The syntax of cardinal numerals
The numeral jeden one is an adjective,
and agrees in number, case and gender with the noun it modifies. Usually
the number is singular, as in jeden chlapec one
boy, but it can be plural with pluralia tantum nouns, such as
jedny nůžky one pair of scissors. Dva
two, tři three,
and čtyři four are likewise adjectives,
and they agree in case with their nouns (in the nominative and accusative
masculine dva s ditinguished from feminine and neuter dvě):
dva chytří kluci two smart boys,
dvě chytré dívky two smart girls,
dvě krásná města two beautiful cities,
tři šikovní chlapci three clever fellows,
čtyři otevřená okna four open windows.
Pět five and higher numerals, as
well as indefinite numerals (mnoho many,
several, and the like), when
in the nominative or accusative case govern the genitive plural of the
count nouns they quantify. When in subject position, these numeral + noun
phrase combinations trigger default neuter singular verbal agreement. Elsewhere,
in oblique cases, both the numeral and the noun phrase appear in the oblique
case. Compare the following sentences:
Byl tady jeden chlapec. One boy was here.
Mluvili jsme o jednom chlapci. We talked about one boy.
Dvě chytré dívky byly tady. Two smart girls were here.
Mluvili jsme o dvou chytrých dívkách. We talked about two smart girls.
Pět/mnoho nových studentů bylo tady. Five/many new students were here.
Mluvili jsme o pěti/mnoha nových studentech. We talked about five/many new students.
With numbers above 20 syntax is dependent upon whether the numeral is
used in its noncompounded (dvacet tři twenty-three)
or compounded (třiadvacet twenty-three)
form. The prescribed norm for non-compounded numerals is to follow the
syntactic pattern of the final digit, with singular for numerals ending
in jeden one, plural for those ending
in dva two, tři three,
čtyři four, and genitive plural (neuter
singular verbal agreement) for all others. In CCz, these numerals often
follow the syntax of compounded numerals, which always use the genitive
plural/neuter singular pattern. Here are some more sentences for comparison:
Dvacet jeden hoch byl tady/Jednadvacet hochů bylo tady. Twenty-one boys were here.
Dvacet dvě chytré holky byly tady/Dvaadvacet chytrých holek bylo tady. Twenty-two smart girls were here.
Dvacet pět nových studentů bylo tady/Pětadvacet nových studentů bylo tady. Twenty-five new students were here.
The compounded numerals are generally preferred in all contexts, and are strongly preferred in oblique cases, where Mluvili jsme o dvaadvaceti chytrých holkách We talked about twenty-two smart girls is much more likely to occur than the synonymous Mluvili jsme o dvaceti dvou chytrých holkách.
Fractions are always followed by the genitive case:
Zbyla jen desetina diváků/paliva Only a tenth of the viewers/fuel remained.
3.2.2 The syntax of telling time
Time on the hour follows the pattern of numeral agreement described
Je jedna hodina It is one o'clock,
Jsou dvě hodiny It is two o'clock,
Je pět hodin It is five o'clock.
Although it is possible in highly circumscribed situations (e.g., train schedules) to give the hour and minutes (Je pět hodin dvacet minut It is five-twenty), Czech normally uses a system of half and quarter hour reference points referring to the coming whole hour. The half hour uses the fraction půl half followed by the genitive ordinal numeral (except for the cardinal in půl jedné twelve thirty) for the upcoming hour, thus Je půl šesté [Is half-NOM sixth-GEN] It is five-thirty.
The quarter hours also use fractions, but they are followed by the preposition
na and the accusative cardinal numeral representing the coming hour:
Je čtvrt na jednu It is a quarter past twelve,
Je tři čtvrtě/čtvrti na sedm It is six-forty-five.
All other five-minute intervals are indicated by the following formula,
referring to the upcoming half, quarter, or full hour: preposition za +
pět/deset minut + (jedna hodina/dvě hodiny/tři hodiny/čtyři hodiny/pět
hodin, etc.)/(půl + ordinal-GEN)/(čtvrt/tři čtvrtě na + cardinal-ACC):
Je za deset minut jedna hodina It is twelve-fifty,
Je za pět minut půl druhé It is one-twenty-five,
Je za pět minut čtvrt na tři It is two-ten,
Je za deset minut tři čtvrtě na čtyři It is three-thirty-five.
3.3 Intraclausal syntax
Clauses can appear in a variety of guises depending upon negation, mood, voice, and the use of reflexives, reciprocals, and causatives. This section will examine the various syntactic features that operate at the level of the clause.
3.3.1 Word order in declarative clauses
The presence of case markers on nouns, pronouns, and adjectives makes
the syntactic function of a noun phrase transparent and largely independent
of word order. This means that the word order of Czech is often freer than
in English. This does not, however, mean that words in all Czech sentences
can be presented in any order. Certain combinations of words have rigidly
fixed orders, such as preposition + noun phrase or the adnominal genitive
(which almost always immediately follows the item it is modifying). Adjectives
show a very strong tendency to immediately precede the nouns they modify,
although there are conventionalized exceptions, as in
Bible Svatá The Holy Bible, or
Ty kluku nezbedný! You naughty boy!.
Quantifiers nearly always precede the noun phrase they modify, though
exceptions are possible, so one can say both
Tam bylo mnoho dětí and Tam bylo dětí mnoho There were a lot of children there (though the latter version is marked, expressing something like I don't know exactly how many there were, but boy, there were a lot of them!).
Clitics have a fixed order of appearance; this question was discussed
in the Phonology chapter. Both SVO and OVS word orders are very frequent,
with the choice of order determined largely by the tendency to place the
rheme at the end of a sentence, giving the OVS word order a relatively
passive meaning. SOV and OSV
sentences are considerably rarer, though possible. VSO and VOS word orders are more commonly used for questions (see 3.3.3 below), though they can be used for indicative sentences. Compare the following sentences containing the elements Anna (Anna, a nominative subject), už (already, an adverb), napsala (wrote, a verb), and tu disertaci (the dissertation, an accusative object):
SVO: Anna už napsala tu disertaci Anna has already written the dissertation
OVS: Tu disertaci už napsala Anna That dissertation was already written by Anna
SOV: Anna tu disertaci už napsala Anna got that dissertation written already
OSV: Tu disertaci Anna už napsala As for that dissertation, Anna has already written it
VSO: Napsala už Anna tu disertaci Anna wrote that dissertation already
VOS: Napsala už tu disertaci Anna Anna is the one that got that dissertation written already
3.3.2 Negative clauses
As noted in the Morphology chapter, verbs are negated with the prefix
ne-; but the placement of this prefix varies depending on whether and what
auxiliary or modal verbs are present. In the non-past, ne- is simply attached
to the verb:
Náš syn nestuduje Our son isn't studying.
In the past, the ne- is appended to the past l-form, not the auxiliary:
Včera jsme nebyli doma We weren't home yesterday.
The same goes for the conditional, which places ne- on the l-form:
Naše dcera by se takhle nechovala Our daughter wouldn't behave that way.
In the future, however, the ne- appears on the auxiliary verb:
Zítra nebudeme pracovat We aren't going to work tomorrow.
When modal verbs are present, they receive the negative ne- prefix:
Nesmíte tady kouřit You are not allowed to smoke here.
Czech requires multiple negation to accompany a negated verb on all
negatable items in a clause, including the following:
nikdo no one
nikdy (not) ever, never
nikde (not) anywhere, nowhere
nijak not at all, in no way
nějaký some žádný (not) any, no, none
Multiple negation produces utterances like:
Nikdo nikdy nic takového neviděl No one has ever seen anything of the sort,
Žádné peníze jsme nikde tam nenašli We never found any money anywhere around there.
3.3.3 Interrogative clauses
In WH questions the WH word (see table below) typically appears at the
beginning of the sentence, although it can also appear mid-sentence or
at the end:
Kolik Ludmila platila za ty šaty? How much did Ludmila pay for that dress?,
Ludmila kolik platila za ty šaty? How much was it that Ludmila paid for that dress?,
Ludmila platila za ty šaty kolik? Ludmila paid how much for that dress?.
dokdy until when
jaký what kind of
kam to where
kolik how much
kolikerý how many kinds of
kudy which way
odkdy since when
odkud from where
Yes-no questions do not have a special syntax in Czech (though they
do have a characteristic intonation). Any declarative sentence can be used
as a yes-no question, though the most usual word order for yes-no questions
places the verb first. All of the word orders illustrated above can serve
as yes-no questions, although the VSO and VOS sentences are the most natural
Napsala už Anna tu disertaci? Did Anna write that dissertation already?,
VOS: Napsala už tu disertaci Anna? Was Anna the one who got that dissertation written already?.
3.3.4 Commands, requests, and hopes
Czech employs various combinations of morphological and syntactic means
to deliver commands and requests, depending upon the discourse situation.
The morphological imperative (discussed in Chapter 2) is certainly the
most common and unambiguous type of command. The infinitive form can be
used for impersonal directives, such as
Stát rovně! Stand up straight!.
Indicative second-person forms can also be used with imperative force:
Nebudeš tady zlobit! Don't go making trouble here!.
Recipes and instruction manuals often employ 1pl indicative forms in
the place of imperatives as well:
Koláč upečeme do zlatova Bake the pie until golden brown.
The imposition of one persons will on another can be expressed in a
subordinate clause using the a-prefixed conditional aby in
order that forms: 1sg abych, 2sg abys, 3sg aby, 1pl abychom,
2pl abyste, 3pl aby;
Prosím vás, abyste chvilku počkal I ask you to/Please wait for a little while.
Polite requests often avoid the imperative and use the conditional,
often in conjunction with the negative, in order to soften the demand:
Ukázal byste mi to na mapě? Could you show it to me on the map?,
Nemohli byste nám pomoci? Could you help us?
Wishes and hopes also can be expressed by kéž if
only followed by either the indicative or conditional, or by
jen aby if only, or by a bare infinitive:
Kéž přijde včas I hope he comes on time,
Kéž bychom mohli žít bez konfliktů If only we could live without conflicts,
Jen aby mohl nastartovat ten motor I only hope he can start that motor,
Umět tančit jako ona! If only I could dance like she does!
3.3.5 Passives, reflexives, reciprocals, intensives, and causatives
There are two syntactic constructions that focus attention on the patient
rather than the agent of an action, producing passive (or middle) voice
expressions. The first is achieved by using the past passive participle
(with appropriate tense forms of the verb být
with the agent optionally expressed in the instrumental case. The second
construction uses the reflexive particle se, but does not permit the agent
to be expressed. Thus a transitive sentence such as
Známý režisér natočil ten film v naší vesnici A famous director made that film in our village
has two corresponding constructions, a true passive with an optional agent
Ten film byl natočen v naší vesnici (známým režisérem) That film was made in our village (by a famous director),
and an obligatorily agentless construction which behaves more like a middle voice
Ten film se natočil v naší vesnici That film was made in our village.
The se construction can also be used with intransitive verbs and default
neuter singular agreement; compare this active sentence
Tancovali jsme tam celou noc We danced there all night with its corresponding se-construction
Tancovalo se tam celou noc Dancing went on there all night.
The se-construction, when used with the dative case, is particularly
well-suited to implying that events take place due to good or bad fortune
or due to feelings that no one can be blamed for:
Matematika se Petrovi studovala snadno Petr found learning math easy,
Dítěti se nechtělo spát The child didn't feel sleepy,
Sáře se rozlilo mléko Sara spilled the milk by accident.
A similar passive sense can be conveyed by using the 3pl indicative
without a subject, as in
Zablokovali všechny dálnice They blocked all the freeways/All the freeways were blocked.
As a rule, the referent of all reflexive forms (i.e., all reflexive
pronouns and the possessive svůj one's own)
is the subject of the clause:
Profesor hájil svou teorii před výtkami The professor defended his theory against objections (here only svou one's own is admissible, jeho his would refer to someone elses theory),
Profesor se hájil před výtkami The professor defended himself against objections,
Koupil jsem si nový počítač I bought myself a new computer,
Nemohla jsem sebou hnout I couldn't get myself moving.
There are some exceptions to this rule, however, as seen in
Dej ty talíře na své místo Put these dishes in their place, and
Dám ti deštník s sebou I'll give you an umbrella [to take] with you.
In addition to its non-active and reflexive uses mentioned above, se
can be used reciprocally, a capacity it shares with the dative si:
Proč se ti matematici pořád kritizují? Why are those mathematicians constantly criticizing each other?,
Začali jsme si dopisovat na internetu We started to write letters to each other on the internet.
There are also verbs that simply require either se or si without implying
any passive, reflexive, or reciprocal meaning. A characterization of verbs
requiring si appears above in the description of the dative case. The list
of verbs requiring se is much longer and more difficult to characterize;
virtually all se verbs (with the possible exceptions of učit se study
and dozvědět se find out) are intransitive.
Both se and si, as well as other reflexive pronoun forms cooperate with dávat/dát give, have and nechávat/nechat let to create causative constructions in which the subject has or allows something to be done for, to, about, or with him/herself:
Dala/Nechala si ušít těhotenské šaty She had maternity clothes sewn for her,
Dal/Nechal se zlákat nadějí na zisk, a všechno prohrál v kasinu He let himself be enticed by hopes of profit, and lost everything at the casino,
Nikdy nedával na sobě nic znát He never gave himself away.
3.4 Interclausal syntax
The topics of syntactic coordination and subordination could easily fill a large book by themselves. The following discussion will focus only on the most significant conjunctions, relativizers, and other words used to achieve these syntactic purposes. Because Czech uses conjunctions to coordinate both clauses and their constituent parts, section 3.4.1 discusses both intra- and interclausal coordination as a single phenomenon.
The simple joining of constituents (be they clauses or parts thereof)
is most frequently achieved by the conjunction a and:
Tam jsme viděli Janu a Terezu We saw Jana and Tereza there,
Celý večer jsme poslouchali hudbu a povídali si We listened to music and talked all evening.
Such joining can be achieved by mere juxtaposition, without using any
conjunction at all:
Na promování přišli studenti, rodiče, známí, profesoři Students, parents, friends, and professors came to the graduation.
The conjunction i and (too); even
is emphatic or conjoins things which obviously go together:
Prominul všem, přátelům i nepřátelům He forgave everyone, friends and enemies too,
I v Praze najdeš ošklivé čtvrtě Even in Prague you can find bad sections.
The conjunction ba for that matter
is likewise emphatic:
Pacient je bledý, ba sinalý The patient is pale, and even bluish.
In the presence of negation coordination is expressed by ani nor;
not - even:
Nepozdravila mě, ani se na mne nepodívala She did not greet me, nor did she even look at me.
These three conjunctions are often combined with each other and with
other words, particularly dokonce even
to yield combinations such as
a i and also,
ba i and even (too),
a dokonce and even,
dokonce i and even,
ba dokonce and even,
a ani nor even:
Neřekl svoje jméno (a) ani nenechal vzkaz He didn't give his name, nor did he even leave a message.
Pairs of conjunctions can also be yoked discontinuously to produce constructions
i -i both - and,
jak - tak i both - and,
ani - ani neither - nor:
I děti i dospělí rádi jezdí na kolech Both children and adults like to ride bicycles,
Slíbil jí jak práci, tak i slušné ubytování He promised her both a job and decent housing,
Nemohla jsem zvednout ani ruku ani nohu I couldn't lift an arm or a leg,
Ani nepracoval, ani neplatil činži He neither worked nor paid rent.
Coordination of alternatives is expressed by conjuctions such as
the bookish nýbrž but,
and či or:
Chtěl jsem tě potkat na letišti, ale nevěděl jsem, kdy máš přiletět I wanted to meet you at the airport, but I didn't know when you were supposed to arrive, Nebydlí v Německu, nýbrž ve Švédsku He doesn't live in Germany, but in Sweden,
Všichni očekávali nějaké překvapení na tiskové konferenci, prezident však nic nového nesdělil Everyone was expecting a surprise at the press conference, however the president didn't report anything new,
Chceš dneska jít plavat nebo/či si koupit zmrzlinu? Do you want to go swimming today or buy ice cream?.
Some of these conjunctions can appear in yoked constructions, the most
nejen - ale/nýbrž not only - but and
buď - (a)nebo either - or:
Je nejen náš nejlepší odborník, ale/nýbrž taky sympatický člověk He's not only our best expert, but also a nice person,
Buď přijdeš včas, nebo odjedu bez tebe Either you come on time or I am leaving without you.
The single most important word used to introduce a subordinate clause
is že that; note that unlike English,
Czech always uses the same tense in the subordinate clause as it would
in the independent sentence:
Meteorologové nepředpověděli, že ta bouřka způsobí záplavy The meteorologists did not predict that the storm would cause floods,
Nikdo ani nepoznal, že jsem Čech Nobody even realized that I was Czech.
Tense is also preserved when že is used in reported speech:
Řekl, že dál tady nebude pracovat He said that he wouldn't work here any more.
Tag questions are formed by appending že ano/jo or že ne to a statement:
Ty taky pojedeš s námi na pláž, že jo? You are also coming to the beach with us, right?,
Snad dnes nebude pršet, že ne? Surely it won't rain today, will it?.
Czech has a whole array of conjunctions that express various temporal
and other relationships between the main clause and a subordinate clause.
Some of the most common ones are collected and illustrated in the table
když when subordinate | past/present
event | simultaneous with main event
Nekoupili jsme žádné sklo, když jsme byli v Česku. We didn't buy any glass when we were in Bohemia.
Vždycky se potím, když pracuji na zahradě. I always sweat when I work in the garden.
až when subordinate | future event
| simultaneous with or precedes main event
Zavolej tetě, až budeš v Praze/až dostaneš práci. Call your aunt when you are in Prague/when you get a job.
zatímco while, whereas, dokud for
as long as subordinate event | simultaneous with main event
Zatímco v jednom pokoji uklízím, dcera dělá nepořádek v druhém. While I'm cleaning up in one room, my daughter is making a mess in the other one.
Dokud bude na Kubě diktatura, lidé se budou snažit se dostat do Ameriky. As long as there is a dictatorship in Cuba, people will try to get to America.
kdykoli whenever, pokaždé, když
each time repeated simultaneous events
Kdykoli/Pokaždé, když začne plakat, matka mu cpe do pusy bonbóny. Whenever/Each time he starts to cry, his mother stuffs candies in his mouth.
jakmile as soon as punctual proximal
Jakmile rozsvítil, poznal, že něco není v pořádku. As soon as he turned on the lights he realized that something was wrong.
než before, dokud ne until
main event precedes subordinate event
Doufám, že nebudeme muset dlouho čekat, než přijede sanitka/dokud nepřijede sanitka. I hope that we won't have to wait long before/until the ambulance comes.
protože because, poněvadž, jelikož
since, neboť for
main event is result of subordinate event
Všichni milují šéfa, protože on všem pomáhá. Everybody loves the boss because he helps everyone.
Poněvadž/Jelikož naši studenti neumějí česky, nemohou číst Čapka v originálu. Since our students don't know Czech, they cannot read Čapek in the original.
Nikdy neodpovídala kritikům, nebot nechtěla dát najevo, že dělá chyby. She never answered her critics, for she didn't want to reveal that she was making mistakes.
takže so subordinate event is result
of main event
Potřebovali tlumočníka, takže mi zavolali na univerzitu. They needed an interpreter, so they called me at the university.
ačkoli, třebaže, i když even though main
event is adverse to subordinate event
Musíme všem činit dobro, ačkoli/třebaže/i když nám nedělají totéž. We must do good to everyone, even though they don't do the same for us.
jestli(že), když, -li if subordinate
event is a real condition for main event
Jestli(že)/Když mi nebudeš pomáhat, nevím, jak to dopadne. If you don't help me, I dont know how it will turn out.
Naučíte-li se dobře česky, koupím vám letenku do Prahy. If you learn Czech well, I will buy you a plane ticket to Prague.
When the subordinate clause presents a hypothetical or counterfactual
condition or a purpose, the conjunction (kdy- for conditions and a- for
purposes) is prefixed to the conditional particle (1sg bych, 2sg bys, 3sg
by, 1pl bychom, 2pl byste, 3pl by) and the subordinate clause is conditional.
Kdybych věděla, kdy přiletí, jela bych mu naproti.
If I knew when he was arriving, I would meet him at the airport.
Kdybych byla věděla, kdy přiletí, byla bych mu jela naproti.
If I had known when he was arriving, I would have met him at the airport.
Řekl mi, kdy přiletí, abych mu jela naproti.
He told me when he was arriving so that I could meet him at the airport.
3.4.3 Relative clauses
The declension of the relative pronoun jenž is presented in Chapter
2, but in addition to jenž, Czech instead uses který which
as an all-purpose relativizer. Like jenž, který agrees with its referent
in gender and number, while its case is determined by the clause it is
in. Note that který and jenž can both occur as the object of a preposition:
Gratulujeme studentům, kteří/již dopsali své disertace. We congratulate the students who have finished their dissertations.
Policisté hledají nůž, kterým/jímž zločinec zavraždil vdovu. The police are looking for the knife with which the criminal killed the widow.
Kdy se seznámíme s přítelem, o kterém/němž stále mluvíš? When will we meet the friend that you are always talking about?
When the relative clause refers to a possessor, the possessive forms
of jenž (jehož (his), jejíž (her),
jejichž (their), all of which mean
whose are used:
Proč nevolá ten kluk, jehož bratra jsme včera potkali? Why doesn't that boy whose brother we met yesterday call?
3.5 Syntax of Colloquial Czech
Colloquial Czech provides some syntactic alternatives to certain constructions in the literary language. Only the most salient CCz characteristics will be mentioned here. The interested reader is referred to Townsend 1990 for further details.
Whereas nominative subject pronouns are usually dropped (unless emphatic)
in LCz, CCz shows a tendency to retain them:
Nechtěla jsem to dělat Já jsem to nechtěla dělat I didn't want to do it
Budete doma? Vy budete doma? Will you be at home?
CCz shows a strong tendency to eliminate the use of the partitive genitive (aside from chleba bread and sejra cheese, partitive genitive forms that are widespread in subject and direct object positions in CCz) and genitive of negation, and a tendency to avoid government of genitive and dative by verbs in favor of the accusative, thus to some extent simplifying the use of case. In the examples below LCz shows variation between genitive or dative and accusative cases, whereas CCz uses only the accusative case for all of these constructions:
genitive of negation no genitive of negation
Nemáme peněz/peníze Nemáme peníze We don't have any money
partitive genitive no partitive genitive
Přidala bych si kávy/kávu Přidala bych si kávu I'd like more coffee
governed genitive accusative object
Používáte silného léku/silný lék Používáte silný lék You use strong medicine
governed dative accusative object
Učím se češtině/češtinu Učím se češtinu I'm studying Czech
The use of the predicate instrumental to express a category that an
item belongs to usually gives way to the predicate nominative in CCz, and
the use of the instrumental to express instruments is frequently accompanied
in CCz by the preposition s with, which
would be absent in LCz. Thus Čapeks famous essay
Proč nejsem komunistou Why I am not a communist would most likely be rendered in CCz as Proč nejsem komunista, and CCz contains phrases like jet s autem go by car, krájet s nožem slice with a knife, which would appear without s in LCz.
Though CCz can use the relativizer který
in the same way as LCz, CCz often uses the interrogative co
what in this function instead, accompanied
by personal pronouns when representing an oblique case:
studenti, kteří tady pracují studenti, co tady pracujou the students who work here
politik, kterému jsme nevěřili politik, co jsme mu nevěřili the politician we didn't believe
provdavačka, s kterou jste mluvil prodavačka, co jste s ní mluvil the saleslady you were talking to
CCz has some other syntactic features unique to its register. Among
them are the use of ten as a definite article or pronoun, and the use of
to as a dummy subject rather similar
to English it. These uses can be contrasted
to their absence in corresponding LCz phrases:
-Budeš mluvit s učitelkou?
-Nechtěl bych. S ní nechci mít nic společného.
-Budeš mluvit s tou učitelkou?
-To bych nechtěl. S tou nechci mít nic společnýho.
-Will you talk with the teacher?
-I'd rather not. I don't want to have anything to do with her.
The use of a neuter singular past passive participle with mít to mean
something done is largely restricted to CCz:
Ať sem nechodí! Ještě nemám tady uklizeno Don't let them in here! I don't have this place cleaned up yet.
The closest LCz equivalents would be
Ještě tady není uklizeno or Ještě jsem tady neuklidila.