Czech word order

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Czech word order is relatively free. However, the Czech language belongs to the SVO type.

Main principles of the Czech word order[edit]

The Czech word order is said to be free. This means that the individual parts of a sentence need not necessarily be placed in a firmly given sequence. The word order is very flexible and it allows many variants of messages. It is enabled by the fact that the syntactic relations are indicated by inflection forms (declension and conjugation) in Czech.

The free word order is not arbitrary at all. It must respect logical relations between words and some other principles. Constructions which enable two or more interpretations should be avoided. The speakers choose the word order according to the communication aim and the emotional state. This principle is called functional sentence perspective.

The basic word order is SVO (subjectverbobject) in Czech sentences. It is used in neutral messages:

  • Petr má nové auto. – Peter has (got) a new car.
(Peter (S) has (V) new car (O).)

Notice that definite and indefinite articles are not used in Czech.

Objective word order[edit]

A sentence usually begins with facts which are already known from a preceding sentence or context (theme). New and important facts (rheme) are usually placed in the final position. Compare:

  • Včera zemřel známý herec. – A famous actor died yesterday. (An announcement of a death of a person – who died?)
(Yesterday died (V) famous actor (S).)
  • (Ten) známý herec zemřel včera. – The famous actor died yesterday. (When did he die?)
((The) famous actor (S) died (V) yesterday.)
  • Byl jednou jeden král a ten král měl tři dcery. – Once upon a time there lived a king and the king had three daughters.
(Was (V) once one king (S) and the king (S) had (V) three daughters (O).)

Subjective word order[edit]

The rheme can be emphasized by the initial placement in emotive messages:

  • Tisíc korun jsem utratil za takovou hloupost! – I spent one thousand crowns on such a stupid thing!
(Thousand crowns (O) (null-S) am (aux. verb) spent (V) on such stupid thing!)

Null-subject sentences[edit]

The subject doesn't need to be expressed in the Czech sentence if known from context because the categories of grammatical person and number are expressed by the verb conjugation forms:

  • Mám auto. = Já mám auto. – I have (got) a car.
((null-S) Have (V) car (O). = I (S) have (V) car (O).)
  • Máš auto. = Ty máš auto. – You have (got) a car.
((null-S) Have (V) car (O). = You (S) have (V) car (O).)

Personal pronouns as a subject are used seldom in literary styles. They are more frequent in colloquial styles.

Questions[edit]

The inversed word order (VSO) is often used for the question formation, but not always. The questions are primarily indicated by prosodic means, especially by the intonation, in speech, resp. by the question mark (?) in the script. Examples:

  • Petr nemá nové auto. – Peter doesn't have a new car.
(Peter (S) not has (V) (a) new car (O)(.))
  • Petr nemá nové auto? – Peter doesn't have a new car?
(Peter (S) not has (V) (a) new car (O)(.))
  • Nemá Petr nové auto? – Doesn't Peter have a new car?
(Not has (V) Peter (S) (a) new car (O)(?))

Attribute[edit]

The position of the noun attribute depends primarily on the fact whether it is in grammatical accordance with the superior noun or not.

Attributive adjectives[edit]

Attributive adjectives are usually prepositive, i.e. they precede superior nouns. The case and the number of the adjective and the noun are always in the grammatical accordance, i.e. the adjective is declined together with the noun:

  • a new car: nové auto (nom.), nového auta (gen.), novému autu (dat.), etc.

In some special cases the adjective can be placed after the noun – e.g. in the scientific terminology, names of historical persons, listings, for the emphasis, etc.:

  • kyselina sírová (acid (noun) sulphuric (adj.)) – sulphuric acid, meduňka lékařská – lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
  • Karel IV. (Čtvrtý) – Charles IV
  • Prodáváme dřevo smrkové, borové a lipové. – We sell spruce, pine and linden wood.
((null-S) Sell (V) wood (O) spruce (adj.), pine (adj.) and linden (adj.).)

Complex constructions are also usually postpositive:

  • hodiny řízené rádiem – radio-controlled clock
(clock controlled radio (instr.))

In declension:

  • Genitive: hodin řízených rádiem
  • Dative: hodinám řízeným rádiem

etc.

Notice that "rádiem" remains in the instrumental form, it evolves the adjective here, not the noun.

A further order inversion can occur, maybe due to the English pattern:

rádiem řízené hodiny

However, such word order is not natural for Czech and can sometimes cause confusion or lower the comprehensibility.

Appositional adjuncts[edit]

Attributes that are not in the grammatical accordance with the superior nouns are usually postpositional, i.e. they are placed after the noun. Such attributes keep their grammatical form regardless of the noun declension:

  • časování sloves – verb conjugation, conjugation of verbs
(conjugation verbs (gen. pl.))
  • cestování vlakem – travelling by train
(travelling train (instr.))

Clitics[edit]

Unstressed words form stress units with preceding stressed words. These are clitics. For rhythmical reasons, they can never be the first words in sentences. They usually have the second position after the first part of a sentence. If more than one clitic occurs in a sentence, the order is the following:

  • the conjunction -li (if) – used predominantly in literal styles
  • auxiliary verbs in preterite (past tense) – jsem, jsi, jsme, jste; and conditionals – bych, bys, by, bychom, byste
  • short form of the reflexive pronoun – si, se
  • short forms of personal pronouns in dative – mi, ti, mu,
  • short forms of personal pronouns in accusative – mě, tě, ho, tu, to

Examples:

  • Prohlížel jsem si ho. – I was looking at him. (I was studying him.)
((null-S) looked (V) at (aux. verb) myself (dat.) him (accus.).)

or:

  • Já jsem si ho prohlížel. – I was looking at him.
(I (S) am (aux. verb) myself (dat.) him (accus.) looked (V).)
  • Budeš-li se pilně učit … - If you learn (study) hard …
((null-S) Will (aux. verb) if yourself (accus.) diligently learn (V).)

References[edit]

  • Karlík P., Nekula M., Pleskalová J. (ed.). Encyklopedický slovník češtiny. Nakl. Lidové noviny. Praha 2002. ISBN 80-7106-484-X.
  • Šaur V. Pravidla českého pravopisu s výkladem mluvnice. Ottovo nakladatelství. Praha 2004. ISBN 80-7181-133-5.

See also[edit]