Czech Declension: the dative

It's Wednesday, also known as Czech Lesson Eve.  After about two years of very inconsistent Czech study with various teachers, prices, textbooks, and fellow students, I decided it was time to begin with a private teacher, hoping the consistency and the cost would cause me to make more regular and systematic progress.

So here I sit, another Wednesday night with some homework to complete.  Tonight I need to revise the perfective and imperfective verbs associated with some sport and leisure activities.  What I'd rather do, however, are some revision activities connected with the dative.  "The what?" you ask.  The dative:  one of the seven cases of Czech declension.  I'm a grammar geek, and as such studying Czech grammar has held my interest more than vocabulary, though the latter may be more essential at this point in my development.  But who can help but be intrigued by the intricacies of Czech grammar?  Perhaps I wouldn't still be studying Czech if my interest in grammar wasn't so keen.  Brace yourself for what will follow.

Czech is a language which has declension.  My handy widget defines 'declension' as "(in the grammar of Latin, Greek, and other languages [ie Czech]) the variation of the form of a noun, pronoun, or adjective, by which its grammatical case, number, and gender are identified."  In practical terms, nouns, pronouns, and adjectives change forms depending on their grammatical function.  Still too dense?  Remember talking about direct objects in middle school?  (The object which receives the action in a sentence.)  For example, in the sentence 'I see Jana,' Jana is the direct object.  Who do I see?  Jana.  In English, 'Jana' has the same form and spelling in this situation as in 'This is Jana.'  In Czech, there's a different structure.  In Czech (which has seven cases of declension), 'This is Jana' is an example of a sentence in the nominative (think naming) case (the first case), whereas 'I see Jana' is in the accusative (or fourth) case.

So, in Czech it would be:
To je Jana.  (First case: Nominative)
Vidím Janu. (Fourth case: Accusative)

You see, the letter at the end changes.  This is a micro-example of the beautiful complexities of the declension of not only nouns, but adjectives, pronouns, and even numbers.  (We won't even talk about singular/plural or Czech's three genders right now.)  At present, I am studying the dative (or third) case.  This is used for indirect objects as well as some other functions.  An indirect object, you'll remember, is "a noun phrase referring to someone or something that is affected by the action of a transitive verb (typically as a recipient), but is not the primary object."  (Thank you again, desktop widget.)  Take, for example, the sentence 'I gave Jana a present.'  In this sentence, what did I give?  A present (direct object). But whom did I give it to?  Jana (indirect object).  So, this sentence would require the use of two cases in Czech.  Dative for the indirect object (Jana) and accusative for the direct object (gift).

In Czech it would be:
Dala jsem Janě darek.

'Jana' has to be put into the dative form, and darek (gift) has to be in the accusative form.

Beautiful, isn't it?  Before you start calling Czechs masochists, remember that they grew up using this naturally; moreover, consider the benefits of this grammatical wonder.  In English, we rely on word order to give meaning.  If I say "I gave a present a Jana," suddenly it sounds like Jana was given to a present.  In Czech, however, the endings distinguish the roles of words in a sentence, and word order can be changed (in many, but not all) situations according to desired emphasis.

If I say "Dala jsem darek Janě," suddenly, the focus is that I gave the gift to Jana--not to Petr, Ondra, or Marie.

So, to round out my dative discussion (and to actually allow myself to revise), I'll give you some more examples* of ending changes in the dative.
  • Koupím Petrovi kavu.  I will buy Petr a coffee.
    • Petr changes to Petrovi.
  • Telefonujou mamince.  They're calling Mom.
    • Maminka changes to mamince
  • Zavolám studentu.  I will call the student.
    • Student changes to studentu
  • Posílam kolegovi esemesku.  I write an SMS to my colleague.
    • Kolega changes to kolegovi. 
  • Vysvětluji muži ženy.  I explain women to the man.
    • Muž changes to muži
  • Pojedu směrem k nádraží.  I'm going in the direction of the station.
    • Nádraží actually has the same form in nominative and dative.

*Let's hope that my grammar's correct here.  If it isn't, maybe some Czech friend who persevered to the end of this post will correct me.


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