February 1, 2020

Czech dimensions - A foreigner's understanding of noun grammar

An attempt to concisely represent all possible ways one can misspell the Czech language
Tags: language czech

At the time of writing, I'm well into my 3rd year living in the Czech Republic. Along with many other foreigners residing here, I am reminded - on a daily basis - about my limited ability to communicate in the language.

More than the vocabulary, I believe one of the major factors that contribute to the resilience of our english-speaking bubble is the upfront grammar complexity. Whereas languages I'm more familiar with tend to rely on context and articles to convey ideas about nouns:

del aeropuerto (spanish) can mean both belonging to the airport and coming from the airport

Czech is very specific on how to decline the ending of nouns to match their function in the sentence.

As a way to visualize all possible ways to decline a noun, I thought this could be expressed in a 3-dimensional (maybe 4 if counting with hard/soft consonant endings) matrix.

Similar to a 3D version of Battleship (we could call it Submarine if there was a coastline) where repeated uses of the same ending count as segments of the same ship in a 2x4x7 cube space. That's 56 total possibilities.

Number / Amount

The most straightforward concept. Singular or Plural. Some nouns, I've been told, can only exist in one of them.


Similar to German, Czech manipulates the concept of the Neutral gender, eg. for beers and cars (very German indeed).

Interestingly, masculine nouns further separate into animated and inanimated, in a concept I so far understand as either:

  • Potentially alive at some point in time (animated)
  • Was never, will never, or is not supposed to be alive (inanimated)

Grammar does not make this distiction for femenine nouns, which I'm assuming is left to the recipient's interpretation.

Function (cases)

This is the meaty part.

Czech counts with 7 different ways to name things based on their "function" in the sentence. Most of them we are familiar with, or at least see something being done (in other languages) to convey the same situation. They also like to rely on numbers to denote them.

  1. Nominative: Home. Nothing to do here
  2. Genitive: Belonging to
  3. Dative: The same nuance as indirect object
  4. Accusative: The direct object (also the mark of anyone who has tried to learn the language)
  5. Vocative: Used when addressing someone and/or something(s)
  6. Locative: When enouncing the place (physically and metaphorically) an action is happening in (on, around, etc).
  7. Instrumental: Can be used both when being with someone, but also when doing something with a tool