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Morphological categories


Number of nouns expresses the opposition of Singular and Plural; the latter is also rendered by forms that originally had the value of Dual with pair nouns: ruce 'hands', nohy 'legs', prsa 'breast', ramena 'sholders', kolena 'knees' (with oči 'eyes', uši 'ears' the Plural forms belong to the Feminine gender, although in singular they are Neuters). With adjectives, the categories of number, case and gender exprress grammatical agreement with their governing nouns, and in the Instrumental case the Dual forms still differ from Plural proper: dlouhýma nohama 'with long legs'.

Nouns denoting groups and material (uncountable) lack Plural forms (členstvo 'members', mládež 'youth', mouka 'flour', víno 'wine'); exceptions concern kinds or portions (Kupoval vína různých značek 'He bought wines of different marks'). Some nouns display only the forms of Plural, even when referring to a single object: jedny/dvoje brýle, 'one/two [pairs of] glasses, kalhoty 'trousers', kamna 'stove'. Singular is used also in distributive contexts: Žáci nosí do školy sešit a pero (or: ...sešity a pera) 'Pupils carry notebooks and pens to school'. In the generic meaning (i.e. referring to the class as a whole), either Singular or Plural can be used: Lev je šelma 'The lion is a predator' or Lvi jsou šelmy; however, in certain positions Plural is obligatory: Kočka chytá myši 'The cat catches mice'; Kočka chytá myš 'The cat catches a mouse' is not generic.

Gender of nouns

Each noun belongs to one of the following genders: Masculine Animate (MA), Masculine Inanimate (MI), Feminine (F) or Neuter (N); with the latter two, the opposition of animacy is not grammatically marked. With human names usually the natural gender is decisive: muž 'man' is MA, žena 'woman' is F, syn 'son' is MA, dcera 'daughter' is F, etc.; dítě 'child' is N. With nouns denoting professions, the derivation of F nouns from M ones is very productive and frequent also with loan words: e.g. ministryně, senátorka, psycholožka, gynekoložka, etc. Some nouns expressing negative attitudes to the referee lack such derived forms (lakomec 'miser', opilec 'drunkard'). With animal names often the MA noun is unmarked (and thus used with the generic meaning), e.g. holub 'pigeon' vs. holubice 'dove', medvěd 'bear' vs. medvědice 'she-bear', also in the case of suppletive pairs such as pes 'dog' vs. fena 'bitch', but the opposite relationship concerns e.g. kočka 'cat' vs. kocour 'tom-cat', husa 'goose' vs. houser 'gander', kráva 'cow' vs. býk 'bull'. Nouns denoting inanimate objects usually belong to the gender corresponding to the final part of the stem (those in -a are F, those in -o are N, those ending with a non-palatal consonant are MA or MI), but there are forms that are not specific in this respect (-l and -c are MA, MI or F, -e can be F or N, etc.).

Some nouns display two alternative gender values MI/MA, the Nominative Plural forms then being e.g. činitele/é 'factors/agents' or uzenáče/i 'herrings'; the MA forms e.g. with names of mushrooms have an expressive value. Semantically, gender is also present with the so-called genderless pronouns 'I', ty 'you', my 'we', vy 'you-Plur.', which is shown by such agreement constructions as Já jsem měla hlad 'I was (F) hungry'.

Degrees of comparison of adjectives and adverbs exhibit forms derived by affixes, although being paradigmatic, fully productive with adjectives and adverbs of quality (with those of relation, e.g. italský 'Italian' they are absent): mladý 'young' - Comparative mladší 'younger' - Superlative nejmladší 'youngest', nebezpečný 'dangerous', - nebezpečnější 'more dangerous' - nejnebezpečnější 'most dangerous'. The use of the 'absolute' Comparative (denoting a limited degree of the quality) is rather restricted (e.g. Vstoupil starší pán 'An elderly gentleman entered'). The negated Superlative is used as a eufemism for the positive quality (Už není nejmladší '(S)he is not youngest any more'); the elative use of Superlative is frequent e.g. with různý 'various'.

The functions of cases of Czech nouns concern the functions of nouns in the sentence patterns. Among the many theoretical approaches to case functions we can choose the views of J. Kurylowicz, who classifies Nominative (N), Genitive (G) and Accusative (A) as typical syntactic cases, which primarily express the subject, the noun adjunct and the object, respectively. The typical semantic (adverbial) cases are Dative (D), Instrumental (I), Locative (L - in Czech always connected with a preposition), and the other prepositional cases (every case except N and V occurs with prepositions; a basic semantic distinction concerns the directional meaning of A, which differs from L (and I), when preceded by a preposition such as v 'in(to)' or na 'on', (or nad 'over' and pod 'under'. (The latter express locative meaning). The Vocative differs from the other cases in having an appellative function (addressing a person or, just in metaphorical use, an inanimate object). With other word classes (adjectives, pronouns, numerals), the case is determined by grammatical agreement.


Person and number with verbs: While the 1st and the 2nd person refer to the speaker or to the addressee, respectively (accompanied by other persons if the Plural is used in 1st P., possibly also in 2nd P.), the 3d P. refers to another individual, animate or not. There is a 2nd P.Plural of polite address in Czech, called vykání and used when addressing unacquainted adults or when speaking in an official context; children use the polite address towards adults outside the family. The familiar form of address is used in the family, among good friends, by adults speaking to children; teachers use the polite form when addressing their pupils starting with the grammar school. The polite form is expressed as the use of Plur. instead of Singular (Jdete, pane profesore, na fakultu? 'Are you going to the Faculty, Professor?' Budete, paní, telefonovat? 'Will you use the phone, Madam?'). With certain compound verb forms one part of the form displays Plural, the other part being in Singular: Přišel(Sing.) jste(Plur.), pane kolego, pozdě 'You have come late, colleague.' The use of the 3rd P. in addressing is obsolete, occurring e.g. in fiction from the 19th century or in Jewish jokes.

The 1st P.Plur. occurs as pluralis majestaticus in historical speeches (by monarchs); in technical and scientific context this form is used, on the contrary, as 'the Plural of modesty'. The basic function of 1st P.Plur. is indistinct, referring to groups of variable range to which the speaker belongs, e.g. V zimě nosíme rukavice 'In winter one wears gloves' V městské dopravě zavádíme nové tarify 'In the city transport we introduce new tariffs' Kovy dělíme na obecné, drahé a vzácné 'Metals are divided into general, precious and scarce'. With certain linguistic approaches the 1st P.Plur and/or the 3rd P.Plur. are understood as means expressing a general actor. However, these forms cannot substitute each other in the general case; the semantic difference consists in that the 1st P.Plur. explicitly includes the speaker, who is excluded by the 3rd P.Plur. (e.g. V Písku mají starý kamenný most 'In Písek they have an old stone bridge'; V této restauraci dobře vaří 'In this restaurant they cook well'). The proper form for the general actor is the reflexive passive (V městské dopravě se zavádějí nové tarify 'In the city transport new tariffs are introduced' Kovy se dělí na obecné, drahé a vzácné 'Metals are divided into general, precious and scarce') or the compound passive (Byl zabit za války 'He was killed during the war'); these forms do not distinguish between the presence and the absence of the speaker among the actors.

The (primary) tense expresses the relation of the event referred to by the verb to the time point of the utterance (S); Present tense thus expresses simulaneity with S, the Preterite expresses anteriority before S, and the Future expresses posteriority after S. With imperfective verbs (see: Aspect) Future is expressed by the compound form (bude psát 'he/she will be writing'); with perfective verbs Future is expressed by their Present forms (napíše 'he/she will write'; koupí 'he/she will buy'). The verbs of movement (the old Slavonic verbs exhibiting the opposition of determinacy of the event) have a specific simple form for imperfective Future (ponese 'he/she will be carrying' pojede 'he/she will ride' půjde 'he/she will go', poletí 'he/she/it will fly', pokvete 'it will flourish'); in some cases the alternative compound form (bude kvést) also occurs.

In certain embedded clauses (indirect speech and other 'content clauses') a secondary (relative) tense is expressed, which refers to the event of the respective head clause; Czech uses its three tense forms also in this function: Řekl mně, že nám jablka nese/přinese/přinesl 'He told me that he was carrying /would carry /had carried the apples to us'. The other embedded clauses express primary tense, if they are not subordinated (directly or indirectly) to a content clause; thus the relation to S is expressed e.g. in Nepřišel, protože je nemocen 'He has not come here, becuase he is ill', although not in Řekl, že přijde, jestliže v konkurzu zvítězí 'He said that he would come here if he wins the competition'; in the latter example the form zvítězí 'he wins (Fut.)' expresses the posteriority to 'said', but the relation to S remains indistinct. The secondary tense is also expressed by Czech participles ('transgressives'): the Present Participle (dělaje 'making') is simultaneous with the event referred to by the finite verb, the Preterite Participle (udělav 'having made') expresses precedence.

Czech has no perfect tense (as for the interpretation of the 'resultative' of the type mám to napsáno 'I have written it down', see the Section on Aspect). The 'historical Present' is used in narration or historical style for marking events as salient (e.g. V roce 1348 zakládá Karel IV. univerzitu 'In the year 1348 Charles IV founds the University'). Also future events can be transposed into Present tense, to be marked as certain, especially if an adverb denoting a future time is present (e.g. Zítra jedu do Brna 'Tomorrow I go to Brno'). In a familiar style, the Future forms can display the meaning of the modality of probability (e.g. On Pavel bude takový mluvka 'As for Pavel, he probably is such a tattler'or Nejspíš bude na zahrádce 'Most probably he is in his garden'). Czech has no forms explicitly characterizing an event as 'immediate', but the Present forms in a clause with a temporal conjunction can only refer to a non-immediate event: Když si nenatáhne budík, nevzbudí se včas 'If/Whenever he/she does not put his alarm clock on, he/she will not awake in time'; Když sázím první sazenice, myslím na přicházející jaro 'When I set the first seedlings, I think of the approaching spring'. Also the forms of the iterative (repeated) aspect always are non-immediate.

Modalities and modes with verbs are classified into

  1. objective modality (voluntative, deontic, epistemic), which characterizes the content of the clause as real or counterfactual, possible, necessary or desirable, and

  2. subjective, expressing the speaker's attitude toward the content.

The values of mode concern both (a) and (b). The mode expresses (a) in presenting the content either as real (with the Indicative mode) or (with the Conditional mode) as potential or counterfactual (Kdybych měl čas, přišel bych or ...byl bych přišel 'If I have (had) the time, I would (have) come'; the counterfactual meaning is unambiguous with the Preterite Conditional, which is used less and less frequently: Kdybych byl (býval) měl čas, byl bych (býval) přišel 'If I had (had) the time, I would have come'. Conditional is also used as a polite form of request: Podal byste mi sůl? 'Would you pass me the salt?' or Postoupil byste dál do vozu? 'Would you proceed farther into the carriage?' The possibility, necessity or desirability is primarily expressed by a modal verb (a proper one as moci/moct 'can', muset 'must', smět 'be allowed to', and improper ones, as hodlat 'be going to', mínit 'intend', chystat se 'get prepared'), by a modal particle (asi 'probably', patrně 'probably', jistě 'certainly', určitě 'certainly'), by the particle expressing secondhand information prý 'they say', or similarly.

The attitudinal modality (point (b)) is expressed either by values of mode (Indicative, Imperative), or by the intonation (cadence) of the ending part of the sentence (with questions). If the content is just communicated (as being real, possible, etc.), it is referred to by the Indicative. If asking for informtion, a question (a yes-no question with a marked rising intonation at the end, or a wh- question) is used. The Imperative is used to ask for an active reaction. Among specific stylistic variants there are desiderative sentences (Kéž by už měla klid! 'If she already (could) be left quiet!' or Kdyby mi tak dal pokoj! 'If he just would leave me in piece!') and the so-called rhetorical question (not requiring an answer).

The gender or diathesis of a verb expresses certain hierarchies of the participants of the event. An active verb form has the actor (agentive) as its subject; if the actor is backgrounded, losing the subject position (with 'deagentization') the verb form is Passive. In Czech, the compound Passive admits an actor in Instrumental (Kniha byla vydána nakladatelstvím Karolinum 'The book was published by the publishing house Karolinum'), which is impossible with the reflexive Passive (Dům se staví 'The house is being built'); the latter form also occurs with verbs having no object (Zpívalo se až do rána 'One sang till the morning'), but is frequent only in the 3rd Person. There is a 'causative' type (close to mediopassive), cf. Léčím se na 1. interně 'I get cured (lit.: I cure myself) at the First Internal Clinic' or Obléká se u Versaceho 'She/he gets dressed at Versace's'; examples such as Maminka šila u Podolské 'Mother made/got dresses at Podolská' are ambiguous (she worked there, or got her dresses made there); the latter type usually has the following forms in Czech: nechat/dávat (si něco udělat) 'to get (something done)': Dává se střihat v salónu Estetica 'She gets cut in the atelier E.'; Nechávám si prát v Pradlence 'I have my laundry done in P.' Other 'dispositional' constructions that belong to mediopassive are e.g. V téhle troubě se dobře peče 'In this oven baking goes well'; Chemie se mu studuje lehce 'Chemistry is easy to study for him'; Spí se mi dobře 'I sleep well'. Other constructions coming close to diathesis (although belonging more to phraseology than to compound morphemic forms in Czech) are those of the type dostal přidáno 'he got added (in his salary); dostal vynadáno 'he got scold'.

Verbal aspect can be understood as a grammatico-lexical category. While its core, the opposition of purely aspectual verb pairs (or forms) of imperfective and perfective values (kupovat/koupit 'buy', míhat/mihnout 'twinkle' psát/napsat 'write') belongs to grammar, the variety of event types (aspect in the broader sense, 'Aktionsarten') is a part of word formation; in the latter domain the derived perfective verbs have their specific lexical meanings and regularly they themselves are bases for secondary imperfectives: psát - dopsat/dopisovat 'finish writing' připsat/připisovat 'add writing', etc.

In the primary case, the imperfective form expresses the event as a process (without implying its completion, or with 'telic' verbs, implying that the beginning of the process already includes its result, cf. zvonit 'ring (a bell)', líbat 'kiss': whenever A was kissing B, A kissed B; on the other hand, if A was writing a letter, it is possible that the letter remained unfinished, so that it is not true that A wrote the letter). Most imperfectives have a compound Future, but the Future of perfectives (which do not admit the meaning of Present tense) has just the form of the Present (e.g. koupím means 'I will buy'). Usually the perfectives are derived from imperfectives by a suffix or a prefix; in some cases two perfectives correspond to the two senses of a polysemous imperfective, e.g. blednout 'grow pale' - zblednout (of a person) and vyblednout (of a colour), or different perfectives have various stylistic values, cf. ptát se 'ask (a question) - zeptat se (neutral), optat se (bookish). There are verbs having a single form for the two aspects (věnovat 'devote', informovat 'inform', blahopřát 'congratulate'), or having only the imperfective aspect (mít 'have' bydlet 'stay (in a flat)', vypadat 'look (like sth.)', vypravovat 'tell (a story)'; just a few verbs have only the perfective forms (vydržet 'hold out' přimět 'make (so. do sth.)', nadchnout 'encourage'). In some cases the unmarked imperfective can be used instead of its perfective counterpart: Kdo vám ty šaty šil? 'Who sewed (lit. 'was sewing') this suit for you?' Ten obraz maloval můj přítel 'A friend of mine has painted (lit. 'was painting') this picture.'

Still another value of aspect can be seen in the resultative forms of the type mám uvařeno 'I have done the cooking', je otevřeno 'it has been opened'. This form, which in the grammars is sometimes classed under tense or under diathesis, has a meaning in common with the perfective aspect: Matka má oběd uvařen(ý) or Matka oběd uvařila both correspond to 'Mother has prepared ('cooked') the lunch'.

A grammatical opposition is also present with iterative (and 'frequentative') verb forms, which are derived in a fully productive, regular way: dát 'give, perf.' - dávat 'give, imperf. (also: repeatedly)' - dávávat ('give repeatedly'); psát 'write' - psávat 'write repeatedly'; trhat 'tear up' - trhávat 'tear up repeatedly'; irregular forms are: jet 'ride, drive' - jezdit 'ride, drive repeatedly'; jít 'walk' - chodit 'walk (repeatedly; here and there)'. The frequentatives can also express remote past, but they are receding, their basic meaning is more often expressed by adverbs such as obvykle 'usually', často 'often' pravidelně 'regularly': často tam jezdil 'he often went there' instead of jezdíval.

Jarmila Panevová, ©2001

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