Czech language

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čeština, český jazyk
Native to Czech Republic
Native speakers
10 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 spoken by over 10 million people. It is an official language in the Czech Republic, where most of its speakers reside, and claims minority language status in Slovakia. It is most closely related to Slovak—with which it is mutually intelligible—then to other West Slavic languages like Polish, and then to other Slavic languages like Russian. Most of its vocabulary is based on roots shared with other Slavic and otherwise Indo-European languages, but many loanwords have been adopted in recent years, most of them associated with high culture.

Czech began life in its current branch as Old Czech before slowly dwindling in societal importance, being outclassed by German on its own land. In the mid-eighteenth century, however, the language underwent a revival, termed the Czech National Revival, in which Czech academics stressed the past accomplishments of their people and advocated for Czech to return as a written and esteemed language. The language has not changed much since this time, barring some minor morphological shifts and adoption of colloquial elements into formal varieties.

The language's phoneme inventory is of a moderate size: it includes five vowels—each of which is distinguished between short and long length—and twenty-five consonants, which are divided into "hard", "neutral", and "soft". Words may contain uncommon or complicated consonant clusters or be bereft of vowels altogether, and Czech contains a phoneme represented by the consonant ř, which is believed not to exist elsewhere. However, Czech orthography is very simple and has been used by phonologists as a model.

As a member of the Slavic sub-family of Indo-European, Czech is a fusional language and highly inflected. Its nouns and adjectives undergo a complex system of declension that accounts for case, number, gender, animacy, and even whether words end in hard, neutral, or soft consonants. With somewhat less complexity, verbs are conjugated for tense, number, and gender, and also display aspect. Because of this inflection, Czech word order is very flexible, and words may be moved around freely to change emphasis or form questions.


Classification of Czech within the Balto-Slavic branch (including Slavic) of the Indo-European family. Czech and Slovak make up a "Czech–Slovak" subgroup.

Czech is classified as a member of the West Slavic sub-branch of the Slavic branch of the expansive Indo-European family. This places it in the same branch as Polish, Kashubian, and Upper and Lower Sorbian, as well as Slovak. Slovak is by far its closest genetic neighbor, and the two languages are closer than any other pair of West Slavic languages, including Upper and Lower Sorbian, which share a name through association with the same ethnic group.[3]

The West Slavic languages are all spoken in an area variously classified as part of Central or Eastern Europe. They are distinguished from East and South Slavic languages by features such as stress always being placed on the initial syllables of words, and from other members of the West Slavic family by features such as a more restricted distinction between "hard" and "soft" consonants, two classes of consonants explained further in Phonology.[3]

Mutual intelligibility[edit]

Czech and Slovak has traditionally been considered mutually intelligible: speakers of the two languages can communicate with relative ease, more so than speakers of any other pair of languages within the West Slavic branch. However after the split of the Czechoslovakian state, intelligibility has declined for younger speakers. This is probably because Czech speakers now experience less exposure to Slovak, and vice versa.[4]

Czech and Slovak have not undergone deliberate accentuation of minor linguistic differences in the name of nationalism, as has occurred with, for example, Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian. However, most Slavic languages, Czech included, have been distanced in this way from Russian influences, due to widespread public resentment against the former Soviet Union, which occupied Czechoslovakia during the Cold War before this nation was divided into the current Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.[5] Owing to the similarities between geographically close dialects of the two languages, Czech and Slovak form a dialect continuum, explained further in Dialects.[6]

In terms of phonetic differences, Czech is characterized by having a glottal stop before initial vowels, and Slovak by using long vowels less frequently than Czech.[7] Slovak also has long forms of the consonants r and l for when they function as vowels.[8] Overall, phonemic differences between the two languages are characterized as consistent, as typically happens between two dialects of the same language. As for the grammar, Czech has a vocative case, which Slovak does not.[7] However, both languages have essentially the same syntax.[9]

One study showed that the lexicons of Czech and Slovak differed by 80 percent, but this high percentage was found to stem mostly from differing orthographies and slight inconsistencies in morphological formation;[10] Slovak morphology is more regular (e.g. Praha in the nominative case, when converted to the locative case, changes to Praze in Czech but Prahe in Slovak). In general, the lexicons are considered quite similar, with most differences lying in the everyday-life vocabulary and some scientific terminology. Slovak also contains somewhat more borrowings than Czech.[9]

The similarities between Czech and Slovak led to the two sometimes being affectionately called a single language by scholars in the nineteenth century. These scholars referred to themselves as "Czechoslavs" (Čechoslováci) and believed the two peoples were intrinsically connected in a way that excluded German Bohemians and, to a lesser extent, other Slavs and Hungarians.[11] During the era of the unified First Czechoslovak Republic (1918–1938), "Czechoslovak" was designated as the Republic's single official language. However, the true situation was asymmetrical; both Czech and Slovak written standards were used. The official written standard of Slovak was modeled to some extent after literary Czech, and Czech was preferred for some official functions in the Slovak half of the Republic. The Czech influence on the Slovak language was protested against by Slovak scholars. When Slovakia broke off from Czechoslovakia in 1938 as the Slovak state, which then aligned with Nazi Germany in World War II, the Slovak literary language was deliberately distanced from Czech. When the Axis Powers lost the war and Czechoslovakia reformed, Slovak was able to develop somewhat on its own, but continued to be influenced by Czech. It was not until the Prague Spring of 1968 that Slovak gained full independence from and equality with Czech.[9] Since this time, "Czechoslovak" has been used to refer to improvised pidgins of the two languages, which have arisen from mutual intelligibility decreasing.[12]


A Gothic-style book with ornate, flowery designs on the cover
The 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.

Origins: Proto-Czech and Old Czech[edit]

Around the sixth century, a tribe of Slavs arrived in an area of Eastern Europe. According to legend, they were led by a hero named Čech, from whom the modern word Czech originates. These lands were shortly taken over by the Eurasian Avars, but the burgeoning ethnic group recaptured its old land from the Avars in the seventh century, led by a non-Czech named Samo. The ninth century brought with it the new state of Great Moravia, whose first ruler, Rastislav of Moravia, invited Byzantine ruler Michael III to send his missionaries over. These missionaries, Constantine and Methodius, converted the Czechs from traditional Slavic paganism to Orthodox Christianity and established an Orthodox church system. In addition, they brought the Latin alphabet for the West Slavs, who had had no writing system for their language before.[13] Their language, later known as Proto-Czech, was only beginning to separate from the other West Slavic hatchlings, namely Proto-Slovak, Proto-Polish, and Proto-Sorbian. Among other features, Proto-Czech was marked by its ephemeral use of the voiced velar fricative consonant (/ɣ/)[14] and consistently placing stress on the first syllables of words.[15]

The Czechs' language had definitively separated from other Slavic tongues into what would later be called Old Czech by the thirteenth century, a classification that would extend through the sixteenth.[16] Its use of cases differed from modern varieties. Old Czech did not yet have a vocative case[17] or an animacy distinction,[16] but declension paradigms for its six cases and three genders rapidly became more complicated – partly to differentiate homophones, although other causes are not known.[18] Overall, Old Czech declension patterns resembled those of its Balto-Slavic cousin Lithuanian.[19]

While Old Czech had a basic alphabet from which a general set of orthographical correspondences was drawn, it did not have a standard orthography.[16] In addition, the language was liberal with sound clusters that no longer exist. It allowed ě (/jɛ/) after soft consonants, which has since shifted mostly to e (/ɛ/),[19] and it allowed complex consonant clusters to be pronounced all at once rather than syllabically.[20] A phonological phenomenon known as Havlik's law, which had begun during Proto-Slavic and took place in various forms in other Slavic languages, completed in Old Czech: counting backwards from the end of a clause, every odd-numbered yer was vocalized to a full vowel, while the other yers disappeared.[21]

Bohemia, as the Czech civilization was known by then, rose in power over the centuries, as did its language in regional importance. This growth was expedited in the fourteenth century by Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor, who founded Charles University in Prague in 1348. At this university flourished early literature in the Czech language: a Bible translation, hymns, and hagiography.[22] Old Czech texts were produced outside the university as well, including poetry and cookbooks.[16] Later in the fourteenth century, Jan Hus contributed significantly to the standardization of Czech orthography, advocated for widespread literacy among Czech commoners—particularly in religious contexts—and made early efforts at modeling written Czech after spoken varieties.[22]

Overall, Czech continued to evolve and gain regional importance for hundreds of years,[1] being used as a literary language in the Slovak lands since the early fifteenth century.[9] A new Bible translation called the Kralice Bible appeared; it was published late in the sixteenth century, around the time of the King James and Luther versions, but was more linguistically conservative than either of them. The Kralice Bible's publication spawned widespread nationalistic feelings, and in 1615 the government of Bohemia declared that only Czech-speaking residents would be allowed to become full citizens or inherit goods or land. This bold move—along with the Czech upper classes converting from the Habsburg Empire's Catholicism to Protestantism—angered the Habsburgs and caused the Czechs to tumble into the Thirty Years' War, where they were summarily defeated at the Battle of White Mountain. Among other consequences such as the Czechs being made serfs, Bohemia's printing industry and linguistic and political rights were dismembered, so the Czech language now had no official regulation or governmental support.[23] German quickly gained dominance in Bohemia.[1]

Revival: Modern Czech[edit]

In a detailed pencil sketch, a middle-aged man in a suit looks idly into the distance.
Josef Dobrovský, whose writing played a key role in reviving Czech as a written language

The general consensus among linguists is that the modern standard form of the Czech language came into being in the eighteenth century.[24] By this point, Czech had developed a literary tradition, after which the language has not changed much; journals from around this time have been described as possessing no meaningful differences from modern standard Czech, and Czechs nowadays can understand them with little difficulty.[25] Among the changes conceded are the overall morphological shift of í into ej and é into í to take its place, though é survives for some uses, and the merging of í and the former ejí.[26] Sometime before the eighteenth century, the Czech language abandoned a distinction between phonemic /l/ and /ʎ/ (which survives in Slovak).[27]

The Czech people gained a widespread sense of nationalistic pride during the mid-eighteenth century, inspired by the ideals of the European Age of Enlightenment a half-century earlier. Czech historians began to take pride in their people's accomplishments from the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries and, as a result, rebel against the Counter-Reformation in the Bohemian lands, which had regarded the Czech language and other non-Latin tongues with scorn.[28] These scholars took to philology and studied sixteenth-century Czech texts, advocating for Czech to return as a language of high culture.[29] This period has been termed the Czech National Revival[30] or Renascence.[29]

In 1809, during the National Revival, linguist and historian Josef Dobrovský released a German-language grammar of old Czech titled Ausfürliches Lehrgebäude der böhmischen Sprache (Comprehensive Doctrine of the Bohemian Language). Dobrovský had intended his book to be merely descriptive, as he did not think Czech had a realistic chance of returning as a widespread language. However, Josef Jungmann and other revivalists latched onto Dobrovský's work and advocated for a conservative standard of Czech to make a comeback.[30] Other changes consciously made during this time included spelling reforms (notably, í being used in place of the former j and j in place of g), the use of t rather than ti to end infinitive verbs, and the de-capitalization of nouns (this capitalization had been borrowed from German).[27] In general, these reforms to Czech distanced the language from Slovak.[31] The modern academic community is divided on whether these conservative revivalists were motivated more by their nationalist ideology or because contemporary spoken Czech was unsuitable for formal and widespread usage.[30]

Later on, however, allegiance to historical patterns was relaxed, and standard Czech took on a number of adoptions from Common Czech, a widespread informal register, that have been decried as "decay" or even "agony", such as leaving certain proper nouns undeclined. This has resulted in a relatively high level of homogeneity among all varieties of the Czech language.[32]

Geographic distribution[edit]

Eastern European countries are shown on a map. The Czech Republic, the westernmost of these, is shaped a bit like a jagged horizontal oval, and it is covered by the color representing the Czech language and, at its borders, a little by languages from Poland and Slovakia.
A map of the languages of Central and Eastern Europe. Within the Czech Republic, Standard Czech is represented by dark yellow (C1) and Moravian dialects by medium yellow (C2) and light green (C3).
Official usage of Czech language in Vojvodina, Serbia.

In 2005 and 2007, Czech was spoken by about 10 million residents of the Czech Republic.[1][33] A Eurobarometer survey conducted between January and March 2012 found that 98% of Czech citizens had their nation's official language as their mother tongue – the third highest in the European Union, behind Malta and Hungary.[34]

Through being the official language of the Czech Republic, a member of the European Union (EU) since 2004, Czech is one of the EU's official languages. The 2012 Eurobarometer survey found that Czech was the most spoken foreign language in Slovakia.[34] Economist Jonathan van Parys collected data on knowledge of various languages across European nations to celebrate the 2012 European Day of Languages, and the five countries with the highest prevalence of Czech knowledge were as follows.[35]

Czech speakers in Slovakia cluster mainly in its urban areas. Czech is recognized as a minority language in Slovakia; thus, citizens of this country who speak only Czech are allowed to interact with the government in their language to the extent that Slovak speakers are in theirs.[36]

United States[edit]

Immigration of Czechs from Europe to the United States occurred mainly between 1848 and 1914, and they brought their language with them. However, it is rarely taught in schools, instead being mainly offered at Czech heritage centers. Large communities of Czech Americans live in the states of Nebraska, Texas, and Wisconsin.[37] In the 2000 United States Census, Czech was reported as the most common language spoken at home besides English in Valley, Butler, and Saunders Counties, Nebraska, and Republic County, Kansas. However, Spanish is by far the most common language spoken at home besides English, and when Spanish too was removed, Czech was the most common in over a dozen more counties of Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, North Dakota, and Minnesota.[38] As of 2009, 70,500 Americans spoke Czech as their primary language; this placed it 49th among all languages, behind Turkish and ahead of Swedish.[39]


The Czech language comprises a few regional dialects in addition to a general spoken standard and a closely related written standard. Czechs especially in rural areas have mostly spoken in their dialects; some are less than proficient in other dialects or in standard Czech. Beginning roughly with the second half of the twentieth century, however, dialect use among Czechs began to weaken. By the early 1990s, dialect use had become stigmatized and associated with the shrinking lower class; when represented in literature or other media, it was usually used for comedic effect rather than to sincerely represent its associated populace. Increasing availability of travel and media to populations speaking divergent dialects has encouraged them to shift to—or adopt alongside their own dialect—standard Czech.[40] Moreover, while Czech has seen a high amount of scholarly interest for a Slavic language, this interest has focused mostly on modern standard Czech and ancient texts rather than on dialects of any time period.[41] While standard Czech is still the norm for politicians, businesspeople, and other Czechs in formal situations, Common Czech is gaining hold in mass-media broadcasts and journalism.[42]

The division of Czech into dialects is not consistent. One fairly high estimate made in 2003 comes from the Czech Statistical Office; it counts the following dialects.[43]

  • Nářečí středočeská (Central Bohemian Dialects)
  • Nářečí jihozápadočeská (Southwestern Bohemian Dialects)
  • Podskupina chodská (Chod Subgroup)
  • Podskupina doudlebská (Doudleby Subgroup)
  • Nářečí českomoravská (Bohemian–Moravian Dialects)
  • Nářečí středomoravská (Central Moravian Dialects)
  • Podskupina tišnovská (Tišnov Subgroup)
  • Nářečí východomoravská (Eastern Moravian Dialects)
  • Nářečí slezská (Silesian Dialects)
  • Nářečí severovýchodočeská (Northeastern Bohemian Dialects)
  • Podskupina podkrknošská (Krkonoše Subgroup)

The main colloquial dialect of the language, spoken especially near Prague but also elsewhere throughout the country, is known as Common Czech (obecná čeština). This term is, first and foremost, an academic distinction. Most Czechs either do not know the compound term obecná čeština or associate it with all vernacular or incorrect forms of Czech combined.[41] Compared to standard Czech, Common Czech is characterized by generally simplified inflection patterns and some differences in sound distribution.[42]

The general dialect of Moravia and Silesia is known widely as Moravian (moravština). During the Czech people's time in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, "Bohemian-Moravian-Slovak" was distinguished as a language aspiring citizens could register under, alongside German, Polish, and a few others.[44] Among Czech dialects, only Moravian is distinguished in nationwide surveys by the Czech Statistical Office. As of 2011, 62,908 Czech citizens had Moravian as their only mother tongue, while 45,561 more were natively diglossal between Moravian and standard Czech.[45]

Beginning in the sixteenth century, some varieties of Czech have resembled the Slovak language;[9] in particular, southeastern Moravian dialects are sometimes considered to be dialects of Slovak rather than Czech. These dialects form a continuum between the Czech and Slovak languages[6] and still use the same declension patterns for nouns and pronouns and the same verb conjugations as Slovak.[46]

In a 1964 textbook on Czech dialectology, Prof. Břetislav Koudela used the following sentence to highlight phonetic differences between dialects.[47]

Standard Czech: Dej mouku ze mna na vozík.
Common Czech: Dej mouku ze mlejna na vozejk.
Central Moravian: Dé móku ze mna na vozék.
Eastern Moravian: Daj múku ze młýna na vozík.
Silesian: Daj muku ze młyna na vozik.
Slovak: Daj múku z mlyna na vozík.
English: Put the flour from the mill into the cart.


Main article: Czech phonology

Czech contains ten basic vowel phonemes and a further three only found in loanwords. They are /a/, /ɛ/, /ɪ/, /o/, and /u/, their long counterparts /aː/, /ɛː/, /iː/, /oː/ and /uː/, and three diphthongs, /ou̯/, /au̯/ and /ɛu̯/. The latter two diphthongs and the long /oː/ are only found in loanwords.[48] Vowels are never reduced to schwa sounds when unstressed.[49] Each word usually has primary stress on its first syllable; one exception is enclitics, minor monosyllabic words that receive no stress. In all words of more than two syllables, every odd-numbered syllable receives secondary stress. In all cases, stress is unrelated to vowel length; the possibility of stressed short vowels and unstressed long vowels can be confusing to learners of Czech whose native language combines the two features, such as English.[50]

Voiced consonants with unvoiced counterparts are unvoiced at the end of a word or when followed by unvoiced consonants.[51] As an unrelated feature, the body of Czech consonants is divided into hard, neutral, and soft consonants:

  • Hard: /d/, /g/, /ɦ/, /k/, /n/, /r/, /t/, /x/
  • Neutral: /b/, /f/, /l/, /m/, /p/, /s/, /v/, /z/
  • Soft: /c/, /ɟ/, /j/, /ɲ/, /r̝/, /ʃ/, /ts/, /tʃ/, /ʒ/

This distinction is not based on phonetic values of the sounds, but is used to describe the declension patterns of nouns which is based on the category of consonant that the word ends in. In orthography, hard consonants may not be followed by i or í, nor soft ones by y or ý, except in loanwords such as kilogram and in a few exceptions in declined nouns such as tác having the plural form tácy.[52] Neutral consonants may take either character. Hard consonants are sometimes referred to as strong and soft ones as weak.[53]

The phoneme represented by the letter ř (capital Ř) is believed to be unique to Czech. It represents the raised alveolar non-sonorant trill (IPA: []), a sound somewhere between Czech's r and ž (example: About this sound "řeka" (river) ).[54] Notably, it appears in the name Dvořák.

The consonants /r/ and /l/ can be syllabic, meaning they act as syllable nuclei in place of a vowel. This can be difficult for outsiders to pronounce; there exists a Czech tongue twister that goes: strč prst skrz krk (stick [your] finger down [your] throat).[55]


The vocabulary of Czech comes mostly from Slavic, Baltic, and other Indo-European roots. Generally, most verbs and prepositions are of Balto-Slavic origin, while pronouns and some verbs and prepositions are of wider Indo-European origin.[56] Some loanwords from other languages have been reanalyzed through folk etymologies to resemble native Czech words, e.g. hřbitov (graveyard), listina (list).[57]

Most loanwords in Czech come from one of two time periods. Initially, they arrived, mostly from German,[58] Greek, and Latin,[59] before the nationalist re-invigoration of Czech as a literary language. In recent times, as the Czech people have come in contact with more of the world, loanwords from a wider variety of languages have arrived: principally English and French,[58] but also the likes of Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian. Lasting Russian loanwords have also been adopted, mainly concerning animal names and naval terms.[60]

Older German loanwords tend to be seen as crude or even vulgar, while more recent adoptions from other tongues are often associated with high culture.[58] Moreover, adoptions from Greek and Latin roots began to be rejected in the nineteenth century in favor of words based on older Czech words and common Slavic roots. For example, while the Polish word for "music" is muzyka and the Russian word музыка (muzyka), Czech uses hudba.[59]

Some Czech words have been adopted as loanwords into English and other languages, e.g. robot (from robota [labor]),[61] and polka (from polka [Polish woman]).[62]


Typical of Indo-European languages, Czech grammar is fusional: its nouns, verbs, and adjectives are inflected by phonological processes to modify their meanings and grammatical functions, and the use of easily separable affixes characteristic of agglutinative languages is limited.[63] In Slavic languages inflection is particularly complex and pervasive, inflecting for many categories such as case, gender, and number of nouns and tense, aspect, mood and person, and number and gender of the grammatical subject in verbs.[64]

Other parts of speech include adjectives, adverbs, numbers, question words, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections.[65] The rest stand on their own, but adverbs are mostly formed by taking the final ý or í of an adjective and replacing it with e, ě, or o.[66] Negative statements are formed simply by adding the affix ne- to the verb of the clause, with one exception: je (he is, she is, it is) becomes není.[67]

Sentence and clause structure[edit]

Czech pronouns, nominative case
Person Singular Plural
1. my
2. ty
vy (formal)
3. on (masculine)
ona (feminine)
ono (neuter)
oni (masculine)
ony (feminine)
ona (neuter)

Because the Czech language uses case marking to convey the grammatical functions of words in a sentence, rather than relying on word order as English does, Czech word order is quite flexible. Czech is also a pro-drop language, which describes the fact that in Czech an intransitive sentence can consist of only a verb; information about the pronominal category of the grammatical subject is encoded in the verb.[68] There are however strict rules for the placement of words considered enclitica, primarily auxiliary verbs and pronouns, which must always fall in the second syntactic slot of a sentence, after the first stress bearing unit. The first slot must be filled with a subject, and object, a main form of a verb or an adverb or conjunction (though not the light conjunctions a "and", i "and even" or ale "but")[69]

Czech syntax is primarily described as having the basic constituent order, Subject Verb Object in pragmatically neutral sentences. But in practice constituent order is highly flexible; sometimes all possible permutations of the main constituents of a clause are acceptable and used for pragmatic effects such as topicalization and focus. Although the language has a periphrastic passive construction like English, in colloquial usage word order changes is also frequently used to produce the passive meaning. For example changing the meaning from 'Peter killed Paul' to 'Paul was killed by Peter' one may simply invert the order of subject and object: Petr zabil Pavla "Peter killed Paul", "Paul, Peter killed" Pavla zabil Petr which is possible because Pavla is marked with the accusative case, specifying that he is the grammatical object ( in this case the victim) of the verb.[70]

Typically, any word at the end of a clause is to be emphasized, unless an upward intonation indicates that the sentence is a question. One example follows.[71]

  • Pes jí bagetu. – The dog eats the bagel (rather than eating something else).
  • Bagetu jí pes. – The dog eats the bagel (rather than someone else doing so).
  • Pes bagetu jí. – The dog eats the bagel (rather than doing something else to it).
  • Jí pes bagetu? – Does the dog eat the bagel? (emphasis ambiguous)

However, in parts of Bohemia such as Prague, questions such as Jí pes bagetu? that do not have a distinctive question word (such as co [what] or kdo [who]) are instead given intonation that slowly escalates from low to high, then quickly drops to low on the last word or phrase.[72]

In Czech word order, adjectives precede nouns.[73] Relative clauses are introduced by relativizers such as the adjective který, which is analogous to the English relative pronouns which, that, who, and whom. As with other adjectives, it is declined into the appropriate case (see Declension) to match its associated noun, as well as into the appropriate person and number. Relative clauses follow the noun they modify. The following is a glossed example.[74]

Czech: Chc-i návšt-ívit univerzit-u, na kter-ou chod-í Jan.
Gloss: want-1.SG visit-INF university-SG.ACC, on which-SG.F.ACC attend-3.SG John.SG.NOM

English: I want to visit the university that John attends.


Main article: Czech declension

In Czech, nouns and adjectives are declined into one of seven grammatical cases. Nouns are inflected to indicate the noun's use in the sentence. Czech has accusative grammatical alignment and marks nouns that function as grammatical subjects with nominative case, and grammatical objects with accusative case. The genitive case is used to mark possessors, as well as some kinds of movement. The remaining cases are the instrumental, the locative, the vocative and dative cases each used to describe different kinds of semantic relations such as movement or position, and secondary objects (dative) and obliques arguments such as instruments (instrumental case). Adjectives agree in case with the noun they are describing. When Czech children are formally learning their language's declension patterns, the cases are referred to by numbers, as follows.[75]

No. Ordinal name (Czech) Full name (Czech) Case Main usage
1. první pád nominativ nominative Subjects
2. druhý pád genitiv genitive Belonging, movement away from something or someone
3. třetí pád dativ dative Indirect objects, movement toward something or someone
4. čtvrtý pád akuzativ accusative Direct objects
5. pátý pád vokativ vocative Addressing someone
6. šestý pád lokál locative Location
7. sedmý pád instrumentál instrumental Being used for a task, acting alongside someone or something

However, some grammars of Czech order the cases differently to group the nominative and accusative together, as well as the dative and locative, as these declension patterns are often identical. An added benefit of this order is to accommodate learners with experience in other inflected languages like Latin or Russian. This order is: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, locative, instrumental, vocative.[75]

Different prepositions require the nouns they modify to take different cases. The cases assigned by each preposition is largely predictable based on the physical or metaphorical direction or location conveyed by each preposition. For example, od (from, away from) and z (out of, off of) assign the genitive case. Complicating the system is that some prepositions may take any of multiple cases and change their meaning depending on the case. For example, na means "onto" or "for" when used with the accusative case, but "on" with the locative.[76]

Examples of declension patterns (using prepositions) for a few nouns with adjectives follow. Only one plural example is given, as declension patterns for plurals are similar across genders. A full explanation of the system is much more complicated and is given at Czech declension.

Case Noun/adjective
big dog (m.) small cat (f.) hard wood (n.) young dragons (pl.)
Nom. velký pes
(big dog)
malá kočka
(small cat)
tvrdé dřevo
(hard wood)
mladí draci
(young dragons)
Gen. z velkého psa
(from the big dog)
z malé kočky
(from the small cat)
z tvrdého dřeva
(from the hard wood)
z mladých draků
(from the young dragons)
Dat. k velkému psovi
(to the big dog)
k malé kočce
(to the small cat)
ke tvrdému dřevu
(to the hard wood)
ke mladým drakům
(to the young dragons)
Acc. na velkého psa
(for the big dog)
na malou kočku
(for the small cat)
na tvrdé dřevo
(for the hard wood)
na mladé draky
(for the young dragons)
Voc. velký pse!
(big dog!)
malá kočko!
(small cat!)
tvrdé dřevo!
(hard wood!)
mladí draci!
(young dragons!)
Loc. o velkém psovi
(about the big dog)
o malé kočce
(about the small cat)
o tvrdém dřevě
(about the hard wood)
o mladých dracích
(about the young dragons)
Ins. s velkým psem
(with the big dog)
s malou kočkou
(with the small cat)
s tvrdým dřevem
(with the hard wood)
s mladými draky
(with the young dragons)

A glossed example of a sentence using multiple cases:

Czech: Nes-l js-em krabic-i do dom-u se sv-ým přítel-em.
Gloss: carry-SG.M.PST be-1.SG box-SG.ACC into house-SG.GEN with own-SG.INS friend-SG.INS

English: I carried the box into the house with my friend.

Gender and animacy[edit]

Czech distinguishes three genders—masculine, feminine, and neuter—and masculine is further divided into animate and inanimate. With few exceptions, feminine nouns in the nominative case end with -a, -e, or -ost; neuter nouns with -o, -e, or ; and masculine nouns with a consonant.[77] Adjectives agree in gender with the nouns they modify and—for masculine nouns in the accusative/genitive singular and the nominative plural—also agree in animacy.[78] The main effect of gender in Czech is the differences in noun and adjective declension, but there are other effects. For example, past-tense verbs take similar endings based on gender: e.g. dělal (he did/made); dělala (she did/made); dělalo (it did/made).[79]


Nouns are also inflected for number, distinguishing between singular and plural. Typical for a Slavic language, Czech cardinal numbers one through four allow the nouns and adjectives they modify to take any case, but numbers over five place these nouns and adjectives in the genitive case. The Czech koruna is a handy example of this feature; it is shown here as the subject of a hypothetical sentence, and thus declined as genitive for numbers five and up.[80]

English Czech
one crown jedna koruna
two crowns dvě koruny
three crowns tři koruny
four crowns čtyři koruny
five crowns pět korun

Words for numbers decline for case and, for numbers one and two, also for gender. Numbers one through five are shown below as examples; they have some of the most exceptions among the numbers. The number one has declension patterns identical to those of the demonstrative pronoun, to.[81][82]

1 2 3 4 5
Nominative jeden (male)
jedna (female)
jedno (neuter)
dva (male)
dvě (female, neuter)
tři čtyři pět
Genitive jednoho (male)
jedné (female)
jednoho (neuter)
dvou tří čtyř pěti
Dative jednomu (male)
jedné (female)
jednomu (neuter)
dvěma třem čtyřem pěti
Accusative jednoho (male an.)
jeden (male in.)
jednu (female)
jedno (neuter)
dva (male)
dvě (female, neuter)
tři čtyři pět
Locative jednom (male)
jedné (female)
jednom (neuter)
dvou třech čtyřech pěti
Instrumental jedním (male)
jednou (female)
jedním (neuter)
dvěma třemi čtyřmi pěti

While Czech's main grammatical numbers are singular and plural, vestiges of a dual number remain. Most notably, some nouns referring to parts of the body that come in pairs have a dual form, e.g. ruka (hand) – ruce, noha (leg) – nohy, oko (eye) – oči, ucho (ear) – uši. Oddly, while two of these nouns are neuter in their singular forms, all dual nouns are treated as feminine. Czech has no standard declension scheme for dual nouns; their gender is relevant for their associated adjectives and verbs.[83]

Verb conjugation[edit]

Czech verb conjugation is generally less complex than noun and adjective declension because it codes for fewer categories. Verbs agree with their subjects in person (first, second, and third) and number (singular and plural) and are also conjugated for tense (past, present, and future). For example, the conjugated verb mluvíme (we speak) is in the present tense and the first-person plural; it is distinguished from other conjugations of the infinitive mluvit by its ending, me.[84]


As is typical in Slavic languages, Czech marks its verbs for one of two grammatical aspect categories: perfective and imperfective. Most verbs come in inflected aspectual pairs (e.g. koupit [perfective] – kupovat [imperfective]). The meaning is identical or similar in each case, but differs in that perfective verbs are seen as completed and imperfective verbs as ongoing. However, this does not mean that the perfective aspect is equal to the past tense and the imperfective aspect the present.[85] In fact, any Czech verb of either aspect can be conjugated into any of the language's three tenses.[84] More accurately, aspect describes the state of the action at the time specified by tense.[85]

The verbs of most aspectual pairs differ in one of two ways: by prefixes or by suffixes. In prefix pairs, the perfective verb has an added prefix, e.g. imperfective psát (to write, to be writing) vs. perfective napsat (to write down, to finish writing). The most common prefixes are na-, o-, po-, s-, u-, vy-, z-, and za-.[86] In suffix pairs, a different infinitive ending is added to the perfective stem, e.g. perfective koupit, prodat (to buy, to sell) have the imperfective forms kupovat, prodávat.[87] Imperfective verbs can undergo further morphology to make other imperfective verbs known as iterative and frequentative forms, which denote repeated actions. For example, the verb jít (to go) has the iterative form chodit, denoting a repeated action, and the frequentative form chodívat, denoting a regular action.[88]

Some verbs only exist in one aspect. Many verbs concerning continual states of being, e.g. být (to be), chtít (to want), moct (to be able to), ležet (to lie down, to be lying down) have no perfective form. Conversely, many verbs that represent immediate states of change, e.g. otěhotnět (to become pregnant), nadchnout se (to become enthusiastic), have no imperfective.[89]

Tense and mood[edit]

The language's use of the present and future tenses is comparable to that of English, for the most part. However, Czech simply utilizes the past tense to represent what in English is the present perfect and past perfect. This means that Ona běžela could correspond to She ran, She has run, or She had run.[90]

Conjugation of být into the future tense
Person Singular Plural
1. budu budeme
2. budeš budete
3. bude budou

In some contexts, Czech's perfective present (not to be confused with the present perfect of English) carries an implication of future action. In others, it connotes a habitual action.[91] As a result, Czech contains a proper future tense that is used to minimize ambiguity. The future tense does not involve conjugation of the verb that represents an action to be undertaken in the future; instead, the future form of být, as shown in the table at left, is placed before the infinitive of this verb (e.g. budu jíst – I will eat).[92]

However, this conjugation is never followed by být itself, so future-oriented expressions involving nouns, adjectives, or prepositions rather than verbs simply omit být. For example, the expression "I will be happy" is translated as Budu šťastný, not Budu být šťastný.[92]

Conditional form of the verb koupit (to buy)
Person Singular Plural
1. koupil/a bych koupili/y bychom
2. koupil/a bys koupili/y byste
3. koupil/a/o by koupili/y/a by

The infinitive form ends in t (archaically, ti), and it is used as the form found in dictionaries as well as for auxiliary verbs (e.g. Můžu tě slyšet – I can hear you), including the future.[93] Czech includes three mood categories: indicative, imperative, and conditional.[94] The imperative mood adds specific endings for each of three person/number categories: -Ø/-i/-ej for the second-person singular, -te/-ete/-ejte for the second-person plural, and -me/-eme/-ejme for the first-person plural.[95] Czech also includes a conditional mood, which is formed by placing special particles after the past-tense verb. This mood indicates possible events, namely I would and I wish.[96]


Czech verbs come in several classes, affecting their declension patterns. The future tense of být would be classified as a typical "Class I" verb because of its endings. Although a full explanation of the system is much more complicated, a basic sample of the present tense of each class—as well as some common irregular verbs—follows in the tables below.[97]


The handwritten Czech alphabet.
Main article: Czech orthography
See also: Czech Braille

Czech has one of the most phonetic and regular orthographies of all European languages: its thirty-one graphemes represent thirty sounds (in most dialects, i and y denote the same sound), and it contains only one digraph, ch, which follows "h" in alphabetical order.[98] As a result, some of its characters have been used by phonologists to denote corresponding sounds in other languages. However, the characters q, w, and x appear only in foreign words.[99] The háček (ˇ) is used with certain letters to form new characters: š, ž, and č, as well as ň, ě, ř, ť, and ď, which are uncommon outside Czech. The latter two are sometimes written with a comma above (ʼ) as an evolution of the háček that accommodates the letters' height.[100] The character ó exists only in loanwords and onomatopoeia.[101]

Unlike most European languages, Czech distinguishes vowel length: long vowels are indicated by an acute accent or, in one case, a ring, while short vowels are left unadorned. Long vowels, as well as the letter ě, are not normally considered separate letters, and Czech alphabetical order does not afford them their own spots.[102] The long u is usually written ú at the start of a word (e.g. úroda) or morpheme (e.g. neúrodný) and ů elsewhere.[103] The two exceptions to this rule are in loanwords (e.g. skútr) or onomatopoeia (e.g. ).[104]

In general, Czech typographical features not tied to phonetics resemble those of most European languages using the Latin alphabet, including English. Proper nouns, honorifics, and the initial letters of direct quotations are capitalized, and punctuation is typical for the most part. One unusual feature is the way thousands are marked off in numbers written with Arabic numerals: the millions place and all higher places receive commas, the thousands place receives a period, and the ones place (preceding decimals) receives a mid-height period, similar to a bullet point. For example, the number written 20,671,634.09 in English would be 20,671.634·09 in Czech.[105] Another unusual feature is that in proper noun phrases of more than one word, only the first word is capitalized, e.g. Pražský hrad (Prague Castle).[106] This rule does not apply to personal or geographic names.[107]

Sample text[edit]

Sample (1846)

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.[108]

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]


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  3. ^ a b Sussex & Cubberley 2011, pp. 54–55
  4. ^ Short 2009, p. 306.
  5. ^ Sussex & Cubberley 2011, pp. 58–59
  6. ^ a b Kortmann & van der Auwera 2011, p. 516
  7. ^ a b Sussex & Cubberley 2011, pp. 57–58
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  15. ^ Liberman & Trubetskoi 2001, p. 153
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  18. ^ Mann 1957, pp. 61–62
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External links[edit]