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Czech language

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 (minority language)
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)

Czech (; čeština Czech pronunciation: ) 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 live), and has minority language status in Slovakia. Czech's closest relative is Slovak, with which it is mutually intelligible. It is closely related to other West Slavic languages (such as Polish), and more distantly to Slavic languages such as Russian. Although most Czech vocabulary is based on shared roots with Slavic and other Indo-European languages, many loanwords (most associated with high culture) have been adopted in recent years.

The language began in its present linguistic branch as Old Czech before slowly dwindling in importance, dominated by German in the Czech lands. During the mid-eighteenth century, it experienced a revival in which Czech academics stressed the past accomplishments of their people and advocated the return of Czech as a major language. It has changed little since this time, except for minor morphological shifts and the formalization of colloquial elements.

Its phoneme inventory is moderate in size, comprising five vowels (each short or long) and twenty-five consonants (divided into "hard", "neutral" and "soft" categories). Words may contain uncommon (or complicated) consonant clusters or lack vowels altogether, and Czech contains a phoneme (represented by the consonant ř) believed to be unique. Czech orthography is simple, and has been used as a model by phonologists.

As a member of the Slavic sub-family of the Indo-European languages, Czech is a highly inflected fusional language. Its nouns and adjectives undergo a complex system of declension for case, number, gender, animacy and type of ending consonant (hard, neutral or soft). Verbs (with aspect) are conjugated somewhat more simply for tense, number and gender. Because of this inflection, Czech word order is very flexible and words may be transposed to change emphasis or form questions.


  • Classification 1
    • Mutual intelligibility 1.1
  • History 2
    • Origins: Proto-Czech and Old Czech 2.1
    • Revival: Modern Czech 2.2
  • Geographic distribution 3
    • United States 3.1
  • Dialects 4
  • Phonology 5
  • Vocabulary 6
  • Grammar 7
    • Sentence and clause structure 7.1
    • Declension 7.2
      • Gender and animacy 7.2.1
      • Number 7.2.2
    • Verb conjugation 7.3
      • Aspect 7.3.1
      • Tense and mood 7.3.2
      • Classes 7.3.3
  • Orthography 8
  • Sample text 9
  • See also 10
  • Notes 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13


Language-tree graph
Classification of Czech within the Balto-Slavic branch of the Indo-European language 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 Indo-European language family. This branch includes Polish, Kashubian, Upper and Lower Sorbian and Slovak. Slovak is by far the closest genetic neighbor of Czech, and the languages are closer than any other pair of West Slavic languages (including Upper and Lower Sorbian, which share a name by association with an ethnic group).[3]

The West Slavic languages are spoken in an area classified as part of Central or Eastern Europe. Except for Polish they differ from East and South Slavic languages by their initial-syllable stress, and from other West Slavic languages by a more-restricted distinction between "hard" and "soft" consonants (see Phonology below).[3]

Mutual intelligibility

Czech and Slovak have been considered mutually intelligible; speakers of either language can communicate with greater ease than those of any other pair of West Slavic languages. Since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia mutual intelligibility has declined for younger speakers, probably because Czech speakers now experience less exposure to Slovak and vice versa.[4]

The languages have not undergone the deliberate highlighting of minor linguistic differences in the name of nationalism which has occurred in Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian. However, most Slavic languages (including Czech) have been distanced in this way from Russian influences because of widespread public resentment against the former Soviet Union (which occupied Czechoslovakia in 1968).[5] Czech and Slovak form a dialect continuum, with great similarity between neighboring Czech and Slovak dialects. (see "Dialects" below).[6]

In phonetic differences, Czech is characterized by a glottal stop before initial vowels and Slovak by its less-frequent use of long vowels than Czech;[7] however, Slovak has long forms of the consonants r and l when they function as vowels.[8] Phonemic differences between the two languages are generally consistent, typical of two dialects of a language. Grammatically, although Czech (unlike Slovak) has a vocative case[7] both languages share a common syntax.[9]

One study showed that Czech and Slovak lexicons differed by 80 percent, but this high percentage was found to stem primarily from differing orthographies and slight inconsistencies in morphological formation;[10] Slovak morphology is more regular (when changing from the nominative to the locative case, Praha becomes Praze in Czech and Prahe in Slovak). The two lexicons are generally considered similar, with most differences in colloquial vocabulary and some scientific terminology. Slovak has slightly more borrowed words than Czech.[9]

The similarities between Czech and Slovak led to the languages being considered a single language by a group of 19th-century scholars who called themselves "Czechoslavs" (Čechoslováci), believing that the peoples were connected in a way which excluded German Bohemians and (to a lesser extent) Hungarians and other Slavs.[11] During the First Czechoslovak Republic (1918–1938), although "Czechoslovak" was designated as the republic's official language both Czech and Slovak written standards were used. Standard written Slovak was partially modeled on literary Czech, and Czech was preferred for some official functions in the Slovak half of the republic. Czech influence on Slovak was protested by Slovak scholars, and when Slovakia broke off from Czechoslovakia in 1938 as the Slovak State (which then aligned with Nazi Germany in World War II) literary Slovak was deliberately distanced from Czech. When the Axis powers lost the war and Czechoslovakia reformed, Slovak developed somewhat on its own (with Czech influence); during the Prague Spring of 1968, Slovak gained independence from (and equality with) Czech.[9] Since then, "Czechoslovak" refers to improvised pidgins of the languages which have arisen from the decrease in mutual intelligibility.[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

Around the sixth century AD, a tribe of Slavs arrived in a portion of Eastern Europe. According to legend they were led by a hero named Čech, from whom the word "Czech" derives. These lands were soon taken over by the Eurasian Avars, but the burgeoning ethnic group (led by Samo, a non-Czech) recaptured its old land from the Avars during the following century. The ninth century brought the state of Great Moravia, whose first ruler (Rastislav of Moravia) invited Byzantine ruler Michael III to send missionaries. These missionaries, Constantine and Methodius, converted the Czechs from traditional Slavic paganism to Orthodox Christianity and established an Orthodox church system. They also brought the Latin alphabet to the West Slavs, whose language was previously unwritten.[13] This language, later known as Proto-Czech, was beginning to separate from its fellow West Slavic hatchlings 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 consistent stress on the first syllable.[15]

The Czechs' language separated from other Slavic tongues into what would later be called Old Czech by the thirteenth century, a classification extending through the sixteenth century.[16] Its use of cases differed from the modern language; although Old Czech did not yet have a vocative case[17] or an animacy distinction,[16] declension for its six cases and three genders rapidly became complicated (partially to differentiate homophones)[18] and its declension patterns resembled those of Lithuanian (its Balto-Slavic cousin).[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] It also contained a number of sound clusters which no longer exist; allowing ě (/jɛ/) after soft consonants, which has since shifted to e (/ɛ/),[19] and allowing complex consonant clusters to be pronounced all at once rather than syllabically.[20] A phonological phenomenon, Havlik's law (which began in Proto-Slavic and took various forms in other Slavic languages), appeared in Old Czech; counting backwards from the end of a clause, every odd-numbered yer was vocalized as a vowel, while the other yers disappeared.[21]

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

Czech continued to evolve and gain in regional importance for hundreds of years,[1] and has been a literary language in the Slovak lands since the early fifteenth century.[9] A biblical translation, the Kralice Bible, was published during the late sixteenth century (around the time of the King James and Luther versions) which was more linguistically conservative than either. The publication of the Kralice Bible spawned widespread nationalism, and in 1615 the government of Bohemia ruled that only Czech-speaking residents would be allowed to become full citizens or inherit goods or land. This, and the conversion of the Czech upper classes from the Habsburg Empire's Catholicism to Protestantism, angered the Habsburgs and helped trigger the Thirty Years' War (where the Czechs were defeated at the Battle of White Mountain). The Czechs became serfs; Bohemia's printing industry (and its linguistic and political rights) were dismembered, removing official regulation and support from its language.[23] German quickly became the dominant language in Bohemia.[1]

Revival: Modern Czech

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 consensus among linguists is that modern, standard Czech originated during the eighteenth century.[24] By then the language had developed a literary tradition, and since then it has changed little; journals from that period have no substantial differences from modern standard Czech, and contemporary Czechs can understand them with little difficulty.[25] Changes include the morphological shift of í to ej and é to í (although 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 widespread national pride during the mid-eighteenth century, inspired by the Age of Enlightenment a half-century earlier. Czech historians began to emphasize their people's accomplishments from the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries, rebelling against the Counter-Reformation (which had denigrated Czech and other non-Latin languages).[28] Czech philologists studied sixteenth-century texts, advocating the return of the language to high culture.[29] This period is known as the Czech National Revival[30] (or Renascence).[29]

During the revival, in 1809 linguist and historian Josef Dobrovský released a German-language grammar of Old Czech entitled Ausfürliches Lehrgebäude der böhmischen Sprache (Comprehensive Doctrine of the Bohemian Language). Dobrovský had intended his book to be descriptive, and did not think Czech had a realistic chance of returning as a major language. However, Josef Jungmann and other revivalists used Dobrovský's book to advocate for a Czech linguistic revival.[30] Changes during this time included spelling reform (notably, í 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 non-capitalization of nouns (a borrowing from German).[27] These changes differentiated Czech from Slovak.[31] Modern scholars disagree about whether the conservative revivalists were motivated by nationalism or considered contemporary spoken Czech unsuitable for formal, widespread use.[30]

Adherence to historical patterns was later relaxed and standard Czech adopted a number of features from Common Czech (a widespread, informal register), such as leaving some proper nouns undeclined. This has resulted in a relatively high level of homogeneity among all varieties of the language.[32]

Geographic distribution

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).

Map of Vojvodina, a province of Serbia, with Czech in official use in one southeastern municipality
Official use of Czech 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 from January to March 2012 found that the first language of 98 percent of Czech citizens was Czech, the third-highest in the European Union (behind Malta and Hungary).[34]

Czech, the official language of the Czech Republic (a member of the European Union since 2004), is one of the EU's official languages and the 2012 Eurobarometer survey found that Czech was the foreign language most often used in Slovakia.[34] Economist Jonathan van Parys collected data on language knowledge in Europe for the 2012 European Day of Languages. The five countries with the greatest use of Czech were the Czech Republic (98.77 percent), Slovakia (24.86 percent), Portugal (1.93 percent), Poland (0.98 percent) and Germany (0.47 percent).[35]

Czech speakers in Slovakia primarily live in cities. Since it is a minority language in Slovakia, Slovak citizens who speak only Czech may communicate with the government in their language to the extent that Slovak speakers in the Czech Republic may do so.[36]

United States

Immigration of Czechs from Europe to the United States occurred primarily from 1848 to 1914. Czech is a Less Commonly Taught Language in U.S. schools, and is taught at Czech heritage centers. Large communities of Czech Americans live in the states of Texas, Nebraska 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. With the exception of Spanish (the non-English language most commonly spoken at home nationwide), Czech was the most-common home language in over a dozen additional counties in Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, North Dakota and Minnesota.[38] As of 2009, 70,500 Americans spoke Czech as their first language (49th place nationwide, behind Turkish and ahead of Swedish).[39]


In addition to a spoken standard and a closely-related written standard, Czech has several regional dialects primarily used in rural areas by speakers less proficient in other dialects or standard Czech. During the second half of the twentieth century, Czech dialect use began to weaken. By the early 1990s dialect use was stigmatized, associated with the shrinking lower class and used in literature or other media for comedic effect. Increased travel and media availability to dialect-speaking populations has encouraged them to shift to (or add to their own dialect) standard Czech.[40] Although Czech has received considerable scholarly interest for a Slavic language, this interest has focused primarily on modern standard Czech and ancient texts rather than dialects.[41] Standard Czech is still the norm for politicians, businesspeople and other Czechs in formal situations, but Common Czech is gaining ground in journalism and the mass media.[42]

A detailed 2003 estimate from the Czech Statistical Office 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 Czech dialect, spoken primarily near Prague but also throughout the country, is known as Common Czech (obecná čeština). This is an academic distinction; most Czechs are unaware of the term or associate it with vernacular (or incorrect) Czech.[41] Compared to standard Czech, Common Czech is characterized by simpler inflection patterns and differences in sound distribution.[42]

The Czech dialects spoken in Moravia and Silesia are known as Moravian (moravština). In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, "Bohemian-Moravian-Slovak" was a language citizens could register as speaking (with German, Polish and several others).[44] Of the Czech dialects, only Moravian is distinguished in nationwide surveys by the Czech Statistical Office. As of 2011, 62,908 Czech citizens spoke Moravian as their first language and 45,561 were diglossal (speaking Moravian and standard Czech as first languages).[45]

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

In a 1964 textbook on Czech dialectology, 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.


Czech contains ten basic vowel phonemes, and three more found only 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 exclusive to loanwords.[48] Vowels are never reduced to schwa sounds when unstressed.[49] Each word usually has primary stress on its first syllable, except for enclitics (minor, monosyllabic, unstressed words). In all words of more than two syllables, every odd-numbered syllable receives secondary stress. Stress is unrelated to vowel length, and the possibility of stressed short vowels and unstressed long vowels can be confusing to students whose native language combines the features (such as English).[50]

Voiced consonants with unvoiced counterparts are unvoiced at the end of a word, or when they are followed by unvoiced consonants.[51] Czech consonants are categorized as "hard", "neutral" or "soft":

  • 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 describes the declension patterns of nouns, which is based on the category of a noun's ending consonant. Hard consonants may not be followed by i or í in writing, or soft ones by y or ý (except in loanwords such as kilogram and a few declined nouns: tác takes the plural tácy).[52] Neutral consonants may take either character. Hard consonants are sometimes known as "strong", and soft ones as "weak".[53]

The phoneme represented by the letter ř (capital Ř) is considered unique to Czech.[54] It represents the raised alveolar non-sonorant trill (IPA: []), a sound somewhere between Czech's r and ž (example:    ),[54] and is present in Dvořák.

The consonants /r/ and /l/ can be syllabic, acting as syllable nuclei in place of a vowel. This can be difficult for non-native speakers to pronounce, and Strč prst skrz krk ("Stick [your] finger down [your] throat") is a Czech tongue twister.[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

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 enclitics, 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.


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

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

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

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.

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

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.

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External links

  • Ústav pro jazyk český – Czech Language Institute, the regulatory body for the Czech language (Czech)
  • Czech National Corpus
  • Czech Monolingual Online Dictionary
  • Czech Translation Dictionaries (Lexilogos)
  • Czech Swadesh list of basic vocabulary words (from Wiktionary's Swadesh-list appendix)
  • USA Foreign Service Institute (FSI) Czech basic course
  • Basic Czech Phrasebook with Audio
  • Pimsleur Czech Comprehensive Course

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