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14-11-2019, 06:41 UTC
Living Czech

Dude, dude, looks like a lady ...

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Hello and welcome to Living Czech. I'm Nick Carey, and I am joined in the studio today by Jana Kotalikova. The theme for this week is the gender of nouns.

Now this is a theme that is often confusing for English native speakers, as there really is no equivalent in the English language to genders, other than for people, of course, certain animals, but not all, and occasionally ships and the like, which can be referred to as her, or she. Czech, like most, if not probably all languages that have genders for nouns, these split into three groups; masculine, feminine and neuter.

Masculine nouns, such as mu¾, man or stùl, table, most frequently end in consonants, but of course there are exceptions, such as fotbalista, or football player. Feminine nouns, such as ¾ena, woman, most frequently end in an a, but there are many exceptions such as kanceláø, office, or zeï, wall, which end in soft consonants. Last, but not least, there are neuter nouns, such as our old favourite pivo, beer, or slovo, word, which most frequently end in o, or in í for such words as námìstí, a square of the Wenceslas variety, or nádra¾í, railway station, which is of course not to be confused with na zdraví, which means to health, the equivalent of cheers in English.

Now, for animate nouns, for the most part, gender makes sense. Mu¾, man, is a masculine word, just as ¾ena, woman is a feminine word. For animals, the same is true. A male dog in Czech is a pes, a masculine word, while a female dog is a fena, which again is feminine. The same is true for a koèka, a female cat, and kocour a tomcat, and so on and so forth.

The gender of nouns only becomes confusing when we move to inanimate ones. Why should inanimate nouns have a gender at all? Why is it that stùl, table, is a masculine noun? Why not feminine, or neuter? Or even none of the above. Why, for that matter, is a pivo, beer, neuter, or a zeï, wall, is feminine? This is the same question I have asked myself of the other European languages I have come across. In fact, I have not just asked myself, but have enlisted the help of various Czechs, who have all come up with the answer that they don't know and that the language just developed this way. This is the equivalent of what happens when Czechs ask me why some points of English grammar have conflicting logic, and the only answer I can come up with is a rather pathetic "just because".

Gender is one of the most difficult things for a native English speaker to learn in Czech. It is easy enough to remember say, that all nouns that end in o are neuter, such kolo, bicycle, or divadlo, theatre, but there are no other really hard and fast rules. The majority of nouns that end in a are feminine, but not dìda, grandfather, which is masculine. Some nouns that end in the infamous letter ø, such as rytíø, a knight are masculine, but others like kanceláø, office, are feminine.

This leads to a certain amount of amusement for the Czechs, and a great deal of frustration for native English speakers trying to make themselves understood and saying that a table is feminine and not masculine. With perseverance, however, you can triumph. If you do, please let me know how you did it.

Well, that's all we have time for this week. Next week we will take a look at double entendres in Czech. Until then, mìjte se fajn, or take care.

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