Czech language

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čeština, český jazyk
Native to Czech Republic
Native speakers
10.0 million  (2007)[1]
Latin script (Czech alphabet)
Czech Braille
Official status
Official language in
 Czech Republic
 European Union
 Slovakia (partially)
Regulated by Institute of the Czech Language
Language codes
ISO 639-1 cs
ISO 639-2 cze (B)
ces (T)
ISO 639-3 ces
Glottolog czec1258[2]
Linguasphere 53-AAA-da < 53-AAA-b...-d
(varieties: 53-AAA-daa to 53-AAA-dam)
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Czech (/ˈɛk/; čeština Czech pronunciation: [ˈt͡ʃɛʃcɪna]) is a West Slavic language with about 12 million native speakers; it is the majority language in the Czech Republic and spoken by Czechs worldwide. The language was known as Bohemian in English until the early 20th century. Czech is similar to and mutually intelligible with Slovak, the Sorbian languages and, to a lesser extent, with other Slavic languages.

Official status[edit]

Czech is widely spoken by most inhabitants of the Czech Republic. As given by appropriate laws, courts and authorities can enact and write out documents and judgements in the Czech language (also, financial authorities in the Slovak language). Czech can also be used in all official proceedings in Slovakia as granted by Article 6 of Slovak Minority Language Act 184/1999 Zb.

According to article 37, paragraph 4 of Charter of Fundamental Rights and Basic Freedoms people who do not speak Czech have the right to an interpreter in a court of law. Instructions for use in Czech must be added to all marketed goods. The right to one's own language is guaranteed by the Constitution for all national and ethnic minorities.

Czech is also one of the 24 official languages in the European Union (since May 2004).

Mutual intelligibility[edit]

Speakers of Czech and Slovak usually understand both languages in their written and spoken form, thus constituting a pluricentric language, though some dialects or heavily accented speech in either language might present difficulties to speakers of the other (in particular, Czech speakers may find Eastern Slovak dialects difficult to comprehend). Younger generations of Czechs living after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993 (therefore generally less familiar with Slovak) might also have some problems with a certain number of words and expressions which differ considerably in the two languages, and with false friends. Nevertheless, these differences do not impede mutual intelligibility significantly.


The name čeština "Czech" is derived from a Slavic tribe of Czechs (Čech, pl. Češi; archaic Čechové) that inhabited Central Bohemia and united neighbouring Slavic and German tribes under the reign of the Premyslid dynasty (Přemyslovci). According to a legend, it is derived from the Forefather Čech, who brought the tribe of Czechs into its land. The variant English name "Bohemian" was used until the late 19th century, reflecting the original English name of the Czech state derived from the Celtic tribe of Boii who inhabited the area since the 4th century BC. The English spelling is taken from the Polish term.


Bible of Kralice was the first complete translation of the Bible into the Czech language. Its six volumes were first published between 1579 and 1593.

The Czech language developed from the Proto-Slavic language at the close of the 1st millennium.


Main article: Czech phonology

In Czech, as in Slovak, Macedonian, Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian, there are many words that do not have vowels: zmrzl (frozen solid), ztvrdl (hardened), scvrkl (shrunk), čtvrthrst (quarter-handful), blb (dimwit), vlk (wolf), or smrt (death). The consonants l and r can be the nucleus of a syllable in Czech. Examples of this which Czechs share among themselves are strč prst skrz krk 'stick a finger down [your] throat' and smrž pln skvrn zvlhl z mlh 'morel full of spots was dampened by fogs'. The same phenomenon occurs in English, for example in the second syllable in the word 'bottle'. Czech features a phoneme that is said to be unique to the language, the consonant ř. The phonetic description of the sound is a raised alveolar non-sonorant trill. Its IPA transcription is [].


Labial Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ
Stop p b t d c ɟ k (ɡ)
Affricate t͡s (d͡z) t͡ʃ (d͡ʒ)
Fricative (f) v s z ʃ ʒ x ɦ
Approximant l j

1 /r̝/ is a raised alveolar non-sonorant trill which can be pronounced both voiced and voiceless (regarded as two allophones of one phoneme).

The consonants in parentheses are regarded as allophones of other consonants:

[ŋ] is an allophone of /n/ when preceding velar consonants (/k/ and /ɡ/).
[ɡ] is a voiced allophone of /k/ when preceding a voiced consonant, except in loanwords
[d͡z] is an allophone of /t͡s/ when preceding a voiced consonant

The glottal stop [ʔ], which appears as a separator between two vowels or word-initially before a vowel, is not considered a separate phoneme or an allophone of one.

/ʃ/ is represented by the letter š
/ʒ/ is represented by the letter ž
/ɲ/ is represented by the letter ň
/c/ is represented by the letter ť
/ɟ/ is represented by the letter ď
/ɦ/ is represented by the letter h
/x/ is represented by the digraph ch
/ts/ is represented by the letter c
/tʃ/ is represented by the letter č
/dʒ/ is represented by the digraph
/r̝/ is represented by the letter ř

The other consonants are represented by the same characters (letters) as in the IPA.


Czech vowel chart.png

There are 10 vowels in Czech which are regarded as individual phonemes. There are 5 short and 5 long vowels.

Long vowels are indicated by an acute accent or a ring.

/iː/ is represented by letters í and ý
/uː/ is represented by letters ú and ů
/ɛː/ is represented by letter é
/aː/ is represented by letter á
/oː/ is represented by letter ó

Short vowels

/ɪ/ is represented by letters i and y
/u/ is represented by letter u
/ɛ/ is represented by letters e and ě
/a/ is represented by letter a
/o/ is represented by letter o

Note that ě is not a separate vowel. Analogous to y, ý and ů, it is a grapheme kept for historical reasons (see Czech orthography). ó exists only in loanwords.

/r/ and /l/ (and sometimes also /m/ and /n/) can be syllabic, i.e. they can take the vowel's role as the nucleus of a syllable, e.g. vlk (wolf).


There are three diphthongs in Czech:

/au̯/ represented by au (almost exclusively in words of foreign origin)
/eu̯/ represented by eu (in words of foreign origin only)
/ou̯/ represented by ou

When these groups come together at morpheme boundaries, they do not form diphthongs in standard Czech; for instance naučit, neučit, poučit ([-au-, -eu-, -ou-] or [-aʔu-, -eʔu-, -oʔu-]). In native Czech words, only ou exists as a diphthong. Vowel groups ia, ie, ii, io, and iu in foreign words are likewise not regarded as diphthongs; they may also be pronounced with /j/ between the vowels [ɪja, ɪjɛ, ɪjɪ, ɪjo, ɪju].


The primary stress is always fixed to the first syllable of a stressed unit, which is usually identical to a word. The exceptions are:

  • Monosyllabic prepositions form a unit with following words (if the following word is not longer than three syllables). The stress is placed on the preposition: e.g. Praha (Prague) → do Prahy (to Prague).
  • Some monosyllabic words (e.g. mi ((to)me), ti ((to) you), to (it), se, si (oneself), jsem (am), jsi (are)) are clitics — they are not stressed and form a unit with preceding words. Example: Napsal jsem ti ten dopis, I have written the letter to you.

Long words have secondary stress, which is usually placed on every odd syllable after the primary stress, e.g. nejkrásnější (the most beautiful).

Stress in Czech denotes boundaries between words, but does not distinguish word meanings. It also has no influence on the quality or quantity of vowels. Vowels are not reduced in unstressed syllables and both long and short vowels can occur in either stressed or unstressed syllables.

Syntax and morphology[edit]

As in most Slavic languages, many words (especially nouns, verbs and adjectives) have many forms (inflections). In this regard, Czech and the Slavic languages are closer to their Indo-European origins than other languages in the same family that have lost much inflection. Moreover, Colloquial Czech differs considerably from the standard language, even in many morphological features.

Word order[edit]

The word order in Czech serves a similar function to sentence stress and articles in English. Often all the permutations of words in a clause are possible. While the permutations mostly share the same meaning, they differ in the topic–focus articulation.

For example: Češi udělali revoluci (The Czechs made a revolution), Revoluci udělali Češi (It was the Czechs who made the revolution), and Češi revoluci udělali (The Czechs did make a revolution). Usually the word order follows the pattern based on importance of the words expressed – from the least important to the most important. By saying Revoluci udělali Češi the speaker stresses that it was the Czechs and not, e.g., the Germans or Slovaks who made a revolution. By saying Češi revoluci udělali, the speaker stresses that the revolution has been done, this being far more important than that it was the Czechs who stood behind it. Combined with sentence voice melody, which is the same for each type of sentence – announcing, questioning and an imperative, and which marks the end of each sentence, one can easily understand the important context of what is said by just listening to the final word in each sentence.

By using different melodies the stress can be moved to a different word and information can be added. For example: Češi udělali revoluci (The Czechs made a revolution) pronounced with acoustic stress to word revoluci with a small delay before this word means: The Czechs did make a revolution as (and only as) a response to a concrete situation. This same meaning can also be shown in written form: Češi udělali – revoluci.

Parts of speech[edit]

Nouns, adjectives, pronouns and numbers are declined (seven cases over a number of declension models) and verbs are conjugated; the other parts of speech are not inflected (with the exception of comparative formation in adverbs).


Main article: Czech declension

Czechs typically refer to the noun cases by number and learn them by means of the question to which they are the answer. These numbers do not necessarily correspond to numbered cases in other languages (e.g., the Slovene locative and instrumental are known as the 5th and 6th cases). When analyzing a word in elementary school, Czech children recite the cases using a set of example phrases, shown as follows:

1. kdo/co? (who/what?) nominative
2. (bez) koho/čeho? (without whom/what?) genitive
3. (ke) komu/čemu? (to whom/what?) dative
4. (vidíme) koho/co? (We see whom/what?) accusative
5. oslovujeme/voláme (We address/call) vocative
6. (o) kom/čem? (about whom/what?) locative
7. (s) kým/čím? (with whom/what?) instrumental

The case used depends on a number of variables.

Prepositions with certain cases[edit]

The simplest of the rules governing noun declension is the use of prepositions (předložky). Excepting expressions and common phrases, each preposition is matched with a certain noun declension case depending on use. The following are basic examples of common prepositions and their corresponding noun cases (note: these examples represent only one circumstance. Often each preposition can be used with two or more noun cases depending on the sentence).

  • Genitive: během (during), podle/dle (according to/along), vedle (beside), kolem (around), okolo (around), do (into), od(e) (away from), z(e) (out of/from), bez(e) (without), místo (instead of), u (at/by the).
  • Dative: k(e) (towards), proti (against), díky (thanks to), naproti (opposite).
  • Accusative: skrz(e) (through), pro (for), na (to/for).
  • Locative: o (around, about), na (on), při (into, in, around), v (in), po (after, around).
  • Instrumental: za (behind), před (in front of), mezi (between), pod(e) (below), s(e) (with), nad(e) (above).

Many of the above prepositions are used in different circumstances. For instance, when motion or a change of position is expressed, prepositions of place such as nad, mezi, na and pod are used with the accusative case.

The second factor affecting noun declension is the verb used. In Czech grammar, the accusative case serves as the direct object, and the dative case serves as the indirect object. Some verbs require the genitive case to be used. For example, the verb "zeptat se" (to ask) requires that the person being asked the question be in the genitive case (Zeptat se koho/čeho), and that the thing being asked about follow the preposition "na" and be in the accusative case (Zeptat se koho/čeho na koho/co).

Counting and declension[edit]

The third factor affecting noun declension is number. Czech has a typical Slavic counting system, explained as follows with the example masculine animate noun muž (man):

  • For the number one, the singular number is used: jeden muž.
  • For the numbers 2, 3, and 4, any case may be used, depending on the function of the noun in the sentence: dva muži (nominative). "Vidím dva muže" (accusative).
  • For all numbers from 5 on, the genitive plural is used when the noun would normally be in the nominative–accusative or vocative case: pět mužů. "Pět mužů je tam." Five men are over there. "Vidím pět mužů." I see five men. For other cases, however, the noun is not placed in the genitive. "Nad pěti muži." Above the five men (instrumental).

The example above shows colloquial use. In literary use, there is an additional rule: The above system is based only on the last word of the number. Thus a number like 101 uses the singular (sto jeden muž) and 102 uses the ordinary plural (sto dva muži). For numbers that can be read in two ways, such as 21, the grammar may depend on which one is chosen (dvacet jeden muž or jednadvacet mužů). This system is becoming less common and is not used in everyday speech, as well as becoming harder to find in modern literature.

Numbers have declension patterns in Czech. The number two, for instance, declines as follows:

Nominative dva/dvě
Genitive dvou
Dative dvěma
Accusative dva/dvě
Vocative dva/dvě
Locative (o) dvou
Instrumental dvěma

The numbers are singular (jednotné číslo), plural (množné číslo), and remains of dual. The number two, as declined above, is an example of the now-diminished dual number. The dual number is only used for certain parts of the human body: hands, shoulders, eyes, ears, knees, legs, and breasts. In all but two of the above body parts (eyes and ears) the dual number is only vestigial and affects very few aspects of declension (mostly the genitive and prepositional cases). However, in Common Czech this dual ending of the instrumental case is used as the regular instrumental plural form, for example, s kluky (with the boys) becomes s klukama, and so on for all nouns.


The three genders are masculine, feminine, and neuter, with masculine further subdivided into animate and inanimate. Words for individuals with biological gender usually have the corresponding grammatical gender, with only a few exceptions; similarly, among the masculine nouns, the distinction between animate and inanimate also follows meaning. Other words have arbitrary grammatical genders. Thus, for instance, pes (dog) is masculine animate, stůl (table) is masculine inanimate, kočka (cat) and židle (chair) are feminine, and morče (guinea-pig) and světlo (light) are neuter.

Verb tenses[edit]

Main article: Czech verb

Compared to English or Romance languages, Czech has a rather simple set of tenses. They are present, past, and future.

Past is used in almost all instances of past action, and replaces every past tense in English (past simple, past perfect and in some cases the present perfect). The past tense is usually formed by affixing an -l- on the end of the verb, sometimes with a minor (rarely significant) stem change. After adding the -l-, letters are added in order to agree with the subject (-a for feminine, -o for neuter, -i, -y or -a for plural).

The present tense is also used to describe ongoing actions which continue to the present, where in English a present perfect would be used, for instance, "I've been doing this for three hours". In Czech, as there is no present perfect, the present indicative is used and is directly translated as "I do this for three hours". However, when the present perfect is used to denote past actions without a time reference (e.g. "I've been to Italy three times"), the past tense would be used.

There are also sometimes second forms of certain verbs (such as "to go", "to do") that indicate a habitual or repeated action. These are known as iterative forms. For instance, the verb jít ("to go by foot") has the iterative form chodit ("to go regularly").

There is also no tense shifting, as in reported speech, for example in the sentence "he said he loved her", reporting "he loves her", the tense of the verb is shifted from present to past. In Czech it is "Má ji rád" → "Řekl, že ji má rád". The "má rád" remains in the present tense in both cases.

The future tense is another fickle part of Czech grammar. Verbs in Czech can be divided into two aspects, one expressing an ongoing action (imperfective aspect) and one expressing the outcome of an action (perfective aspect). Most verbs have different counterparts in each aspect which form pairs. Perfective verbs can only express an action that is already completed (past) or one that is yet to be completed (future), but the latter is expressed in Czech using the present tense. Thus, the future tense (e.g. budu psát for psát, to write) can only be used for imperfective verbs; however, the present tense of napsat (perfective counterpart of psát) also indicates a future action.

Aspectual pairs are in general of two kinds:

  • the perfective is obtained by prefixing the imperfective with a preposition, for example psát becomes napsat;
  • the forms differ in the endings, for example dát (perfective) becomes dávat (imperfective) or koupit (perfective) becomes kupovat (imperfective);

Czech also makes heavy use of prepositional prefixes to modify the precise meaning to the verb. For example, podepsat is a prefixed form of the verb psát meaning to sign (literally to write under). Analogously to the first case above, the addition of such prefixes almost always changes the aspect of the verb to the perfective aspect. In this case, a modified imperfective form podepisovat forms a pair with podepsat.


In the Czech Republic two distinct interdialects of spoken Czech can be found, both corresponding more or less to geographic areas within the country.

Common Czech[edit]

Main article: Common Czech

The first, and most widely used, is "Common Czech" (obecná čeština), spoken especially in Bohemia. It has some grammatical differences from "standard" Czech (spisovná čeština), along with some differences in pronunciation. The most common pronunciation changes include ý and becoming -ej in some circumstances (býk, starý > bejk, starej), and é becoming ý or í in some circumstances (kyselé mléko > kyselý mlíko).[3] Also, noun declension is changed, most notably the instrumental case. Instead of having various endings (depending on gender) in the instrumental, Bohemians will just put -ama, -ema, or -ma at the end of all plural instrumental declensions (s chlapci i s kravami -> s chlapcema i s kravama).[3] Currently, these forms are very common throughout the entire Czech Republic, including Moravia and Silesia.

Moravian and Silesian dialects[edit]

Main article: Moravian dialects

The second major interdialect comprises the Moravian dialects, spoken in Moravia and Silesia. Nowadays the standard spoken language in this region is closer to the Bohemian form of Common Czech than historically due to most mass media (newspapers, TV shows, films, Internet, etc.) being centralized in Prague. This mostly applies to younger generations that have been exposed to mass media most recently - older people still use Moravian dialects when speaking amongst each other. Moravian dialects often contain words different from their standard Czech equivalents. For example, in the dialect spoken in Brno, tramvaj (streetcar or tram) is šalina (originating from German "elektrische Linie" via Hantec slang). Dialects spoken in Silesia, which form a continuum with the Silesian language, also contain a large amount of German loanwords unfamiliar to standard Czech. Unlike in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia have retained the local dialects varying from place to place, however, most have been already heavily influenced and mostly replaced by Common Czech. The everyday spoken form in Moravia and Silesia is a mixture of remnants of old local dialects, some Standard Czech forms, and, especially, Common Czech.

Moravian and especially Silesian dialects often have grammatical differences from standard Czech, especially regarding use of prepositions with certain noun cases, for example k jídlu (to eat – dative) (as in German zum Essen) becomes na jídlo (accusative) in Moravian, as it is in Slovak na jedlo. It is a common misconception that the use of Standard Czech in everyday situations is more frequent than in Bohemia. The Standard Czech became standardized by the Czech national revivalists in the 19th century, based on an already three-hundred-year-old translation of the Bible (Bible of Kralice) using an older variant of the then-current language (for example, preferring -ý- to -ej-). These standard forms are still common in spoken language both in Moravia and Silesia. Some Moravians and Silesians therefore tend to say that they use "proper" language, unlike their Bohemian compatriots.[citation needed]

Some southeastern Moravian dialects are also sometimes, although rarely, considered (also by Czech linguists in the 1990s or later, e.g., Václav Machek in his "Etymologický slovník jazyka českého", 1997, ISBN 80-7106-242-1, p. 8, who speaks about a "Moravian-Slovak" dialect from the region of Moravian "Slovácko") to be actually dialects of the Slovak language, which has its roots in the Moravian empire when Slovaks and Moravians were one nation (without Bohemians) with one language. Those dialects form a dialect continuum between the Czech and Slovak languages,[4] and still have the same suffixes (for inflected nouns and pronouns and for conjugated verbs) as Slovak.[5]

Bohemian dialects[edit]

The minor dialect spoken in the Plzeň Region and parts of Western Bohemia and in western parts of former Prachens region differs, among other things, by intonation of questions: all the words except for the last word of a sentence have a high pitch. For this reason people from Plzeň are said to be "singing".[citation needed] Words that start questions are often given an additional "-pa": "Kolipa je hodin?" (regular Czech: "Kolik je hodin?"; English: "What time is it?"). The words like "this" (regular Czech: "tento/tato/toto") are often replaced by "tuten/tuta/tuto"; some examples: "What is this?" is "Copa to je?" and "What's happening?" is "Copa?" instead of "Co je to? / Co se stalo?" or "Why?" is "Pročpa?" instead of "Proč?".[citation needed]

The region of Chodsko (around Domažlice and Mrákov) is the home of the very special Chod dialect, spoken by the Chods, who were displaced in about the 10th century from Silesia owing to the protection of the western border of Bohemia. This dialect is marked by features such as a prevalence of long vowels in verb endings (hořit, kopat > hořít, kopát), replacement of "d" with "r" (studánka, teda > sturánka, tera) and an additional "h" before an initial vowel (udit > hudit).[3]

Texas Czech[edit]

Main article: Czech Texan

12,805 Texans can speak the Czech language.[6]

During the late 19th century, thousands of Czech immigrants incorporated their various dialects across Texas, developing a new language intrinsic to the state ... John Tomeček .. at the University of Texas at Austin, estimates the 150-year-old language will not survive another decade.

Using [Hans] Boas’s model for interviewing speakers of the language and digitally cataloging the dialects, Tomeček recently founded the Texas Czech Dialect Project to document and preserve the dwindling language.[7][8][9]

Maps and samples[edit]

Sample text[edit]

Czech: Všichni lidé se rodí svobodní a sobě rovní co do důstojnosti a práv. Jsou nadáni rozumem a svědomím a mají spolu jednat v duchu bratrství.

English: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nationalencyklopedin "Världens 100 största språk 2007" The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Czech". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b c "Map of Czech Dialects". 2003. Katedry českého jazyka a literatury s didaktikou. Retrieved 3 November 2012. 
  4. ^ Kortmann, Bernd; van der Auwera, Johan (2011). The Languages and Linguistics of Europe: A Comprehensive Guide. Walter de Gruyter. p. 516. ISBN 3110220261. Retrieved 2 November 2012. 
  5. ^ Šustek, Zbyšek: Otázka kodifikace spisovného moravského jazyka (The question of codifying a written Moravian language). University of Tartu, 1998. Available online (Czech)
  6. ^ "Czech language". U.S. English. Retrieved 2013-05-11. 
  7. ^ "Vanshing Voices: Linguists work with remaining speakers of dying languages to preserve cultural memories". University of Texas at Austin. 2010-01-11. Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  8. ^ "2006 KJT Website Homepage". Archived from the original on 2012-01-13. Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  9. ^ Cope, Lidia. Creating a Digital Archive of Texas Czech: Applied Documentation for the Community, Education, and Research. Retrieved 2013-06-02. 

External links[edit]