What is the best way to learn the cases?

Discussion in 'Grammar & Pronunciation' started by shreypete, Apr 7, 2008.

  1. shreypete

    shreypete Well-Known Member

    What is the best way to learn the singular and plural endings for the different cases? It seems quite intimidating.
  2. Alexx

    Alexx Well-Known Member

    I guess you have to learn patterns (masculine - pán, muž, hrad, les, stroj, předseda, soudce; feminine - žena, růže, píseň, kost; neutral - město, moře, kuře, stavení), and then learn which pattern is for each word.

    But problem is there is a lot of exceptions.

    For example - "pád" = "case" (masculine, animate, pattern "hrad")

    1st - hrad - pád
    2nd - hradu - pádu
    3rd - hradu - pádu
    4th - hrad - pád
    5th - hrade - páde
    6th - hradu - pádu
    7th - hradem - pádem
  3. wer

    wer Well-Known Member

    I remember we discussed this topic before, but I failed to find it. :cry:

    The best way to learn the declension is highly dependent on the student’s language knowledges, because a knowledge of a language with similar system is extremely helpful. It is quite easy for Slavic speakers, relatively easy for German speakers and quite difficult for English speakers. Also knowledge of Latin could be very helpful.

    Let’s suppose English is the only language you know.

    In this case the memorizing of tables is not good way.

    You should start with the general concept of declension (The nouns are declined with respect to a set of patterns, and the used case gives you a hint on the role of the word within the sentence…).

    At first, you needn’t to learn all the models and submodels, start with the most common ones:

    m: pán, muž, hrad, stroj
    f: žena, růže, píseň, kost
    n: město, moře, kuře, stavení

    And don’t learn all the cases at once, learn the individual cases separately with the related prepositions and the role of the particular case.

    I recommend you to learn the cases in this order:

    1. nominative
    2. accusative
    3. dative
    4. genitive
    5. instrumental
    6. locative
    7. vocative

    Later you can add the rare models (soudce, předseda), submodels (les, zámek…) and irregularities.
  4. dzurisova

    dzurisova Well-Known Member

    I agree with Wer, trying to memorize a bunch of tables isn't easy for English speakers, especially when you don't know how to use what you are memorizing. As you learn (memorize) each case, learn how/when to use it by learning examples. Practice using that case in sentences often. Make sure you feel you have that case memorized and are able to use it in situations before moving onto learning a new case.
  5. kibicz

    kibicz Well-Known Member

    I agree, system of cases is most important.

    Shreypete, it would be safer to write most of the case-practise here to this thread - to prevent possibility that you make something wrong and then memorize it ..
  6. Qcumber

    Qcumber Well-Known Member

    Whatever the language studied, for a given model noun, the best is to have a set of short sentences, each sentence showing the noun in one case.
    As there are seven cases in Czech, then you need to start with seven assertive affirmative sentences.
    Secondly, you'll need the seven assertive negative sentences corresponding to the former.
    Thirdly, you'll need the interrogative sentences corresponding to the assertive ones: seven affirmative, and seven negative.

    P.S. It is quite possible the vocative is only used in assertive affirmative sentences so that the number of necessary sentences will probably be reduced to six in the negative and the interrogative statuses.

    As declension is different in the plural you'll need to do the same with the plural of the same noun.

    In brief you'll need your Czech teacher or informer to supply you with (7 + 6 + 6 + 6) x 2 = 50 sentences.

    A model noun is a word that can be put in all the cases available both in the singular and the plural, with no irregularity.
  7. Wicker808

    Wicker808 Well-Known Member


    I'm trying to make sense of your proposal, but I can't quite do it. Let me tell you some things that I don't understand.

    1. In Czech (unlike, say, Polish) the case of a verb does not depend on whether the sentence that it is found in is positive or negative, assertive of interrogative. Even in Polish, these properties (which are fundamentally properties of verbs, not nouns) have fairly limited influence on the case of nouns, and would not introduce any new forms. So, even excusing the other flaws in your proposal, learning three sets of sentences would be redundant.

    2. Your calculation yields the number 50 sentences. However, you seem to have forgotten that that means 50 sentences for each model noun. Since there are at least a dozen or so model nouns, that adds up to a ridiculous task quite quickly.

    3. You begin your proposal with the sweeping assertion "Whatever the language studied, for a given model, the best is to..." On the contrary, I think that if efficiency is any goal (and it usually is, since time is always short) one must select a method appropriate to the given language. While your method may have worked for you with some language, I question its effectiveness with Czech.

    On the other hand, perhaps I've misunderstood your proposal. If so I apologize.
  8. shreypete

    shreypete Well-Known Member

    Hello there, thank you all for the constructive, helpful replies. So far I'm quite decent with the nominative and the accusative (singular and plural) cases but I still have problems in determining the gender of the noun. I guess that just comes with more and more exposure to the words. I've just finished studying the interrogative pronouns in the accusative case and with lost of help from people on similar forums, I feel like I understood it.

    I was just wondering, what is the best way to improve my conversational skills? In terms of written language, I do use the Czech Step by Step (by Lida Hola) and it's quite helpful to an extent. The worst thing I've just noticed is that despite being in Prague for the past 7 months, I haven't been able to converse any better. I think it's mainly due to my fear of being laughed at by the natives (although many of them are so nice and helpful and encourage me to speak in Czech) or perhaps just because I'm perfectionist (which is a disastrous quality for language-learners). Have any other foreigners faced a similar problem like this?
  9. Sova

    Sova Well-Known Member

    Speak the language, speak more, and continue speaking until your head hurts. Then speak even more.

    I don't think that being a perfectionist is inherently disastrous for a language-learner. Rather, think about why you are perfectionist. Is it because, as you say, you are afraid of being laughed at when you are less than perfect, or is it for a sense of personal accomplishment?

    In the first case, I'll agree it can be disastrous and will require a change in mind set. In the second, perfectionism is actually a powerful motivator (it sure was in my case). The beauty of it is, that if you're willing to swallow your pride, laugh at yourself along with the Czechs when something you try to say unintentionally comes out as obscene, wade into (not just dip your toe in) a conversation knowing full well that you're making a ton of mistakes, hoping someone will correct you, but not take it personally, then your motivation for perfection will gradually shift from the 1st case to the 2nd.

    ... and yes, the Czechs are incredibly helpful to foreigners who try to speak their language. They will laugh when things you say are funny, but don't take it personally (it's not meant that way), and laugh with them (if they're laughing, it probably is pretty funny after all--although make sure they explain it fully to you, in Czech of course).

    One more tip: learn in phrases, rather than in words. Then once you've learned a phrase, try substituting different nouns, and you'll find the cases become easier. The difficulty often is in realizing which gender and case the noun you're going to use is before the word actually comes to mind. :wink:
  10. Qcumber

    Qcumber Well-Known Member

    Sorry, I was away.

    Only nouns, pronouns and adjectives have cases (declension). Verbs have conjugations.

    If there is a dozen model nouns to be learned in Czech, then you'll need to do that for all these nouns so that you can refer to one of the models in case of difficulty.
    Actually, once you have memorized the key sentences, your brain will work on them, and I suppose, in due time, it will process noun cases at speech speed.

    Do what you please. Czech is a case language. You won't master the case system of Czech, or any other case language, by learning by heart the list of forms of a given noun. You need sentences, and to begin, you need simple one-clause sentences.
    Imagine you are learning German, and the teacher asks you to learn by heart: der Hut, des Hutes, dem Hut(e), den Hut; die Hüte, der Hüte, den Hüten, die Hüte. It's better than nothing, but your brain will have a hard time using it.

    You don't have to apologize.
  11. Qcumber

    Qcumber Well-Known Member

    Maybe I have already said this in another thread, but I'll repeat it here.

    The US linguist Kraken has observed immigrant children from Latin America. He noticed that those who were forced to speak from the very beginning always made mistakes, and never spoke fluent English.

    Conversely, the children who were left to their own devices didn't speak at all for months, but ... about a year later - remarkably enough often after 9 months - started speaking English fluently, many like natives.

    What does it mean? It means the brain needs some time to process all the new data during a more or less long period.

    In other words, don't worry, don't force yourself. Just say what comes naturally to you, until things are settled. You'll know the language is sinking in when you start dreaming in Czech. :)
  12. Polednikova

    Polednikova Well-Known Member

    Qcumber: thank you so much! That's just the most encouraging thing I've read about learning Czech since I came to Prague.

    I am just like shreypete (if you would like to meet for a coffee to swop notes, let me know!) in that I've been studying at Czech Language Training in Zizkov for a year - they are very good, incidentally, and I would recommend them to anyone looking for somewhere to learn Czech in Prague - and although I can read the papers after a fashion, I still find it very hard to say very much. And even when I do manage to speak to anyone, I can't understand much of what they say back to me!

    I keep hoping that once I really get the endings to come automatically, I'll be able to catch up with speaking as well so Qcumber's comment was most welcome.
  13. wissy

    wissy Well-Known Member

    This has developed into an interesting thread. I'm no linguist by a long shot so what i'm going to say may upset those many linguists on this site that take pride in their skills and i apologise to them in advance.

    In my opinion the majority of us learn a language so that we can converse to some extent with the locals. Qcumber is right in my experience. Listen first and try to understand. You will start to speak when your brain tells you that it is time. When you speak forget about tenses, that will come later.

    Too much emphasis is put on intensive grammer. Just converse in the easiest way you can. Speak in the present tense only, if that is best for you. You will be understood. The rest will come in time. Don't try to be perfect or fluent. Just enjoy. :)
  14. Polednikova

    Polednikova Well-Known Member

    While we're on the cases, I can't always identify which example I should look at to decide how to decline a noun. Is there a way Czech are taught to do it with new nouns they come across?
  15. Qcumber

    Qcumber Well-Known Member

    I suppose Czechs know their language quite enough not to have to wonder which case they should use. It's automatic. I also suppose there are difficult constructions, moot grammatical points, and dialectal variations, but this is another story.

    Similarly, in English, you don't have to think to put "her" after "meet" in "I met her yesterday." There is no other way. If a foreign learner says: "Me meet she yesterday." you can very quickly correct them even if you have never been trained to teach English as a foreign language.

    Your problem as a learner is different. What you need to know is the government of each verb i.e. the case of the nouns that fill the direct object, indirect object, location etc. slots after a verb. There again, in every language there are model verbs to be learnt by heart like "give", "take", etc. For instance learners of English should learn by heart:

    Peter gave the book to John.
    He gave the book to him.
    He gave it to John.
    He gave it to him.
    He gave him the book.

    In these sentences "Peter" / "he" are in the nominative, "the book" / "it" are in the accusative, and "John" / "him" are in the dative - to put things in a case perspective although it is seldom done about English.

    Then the learner will realise "to lend" has the same constructions, etc.

    A verb that governs the accusative in one language may well govern the dative in another, or vice versa. For instance "to listen (to)" governs the dative, but the equivalent French verb, écouter, governs the accusative.

    If you have the 50 or so basic sentences I mentioned earlier, as they necessarily have verbs, not only will you learn the declension (cases) of key nouns through them, but also the government of key verbs. :)
  16. KiwiCroat

    KiwiCroat Member

    Hi everyone,

    Just a tip from an English speaker learning Czech (učil jsem se jen rok) and how to integrate cases. First of all, it helped me TREMENDOUSLY to know what each cases stands for. In English studies I have never encountered cases so it took me a while to grasp this idea.

    Once you know what each one means then study sentence construction and learn the general rules for Masculine, Feminine and Neuter nouns. This is a good starting point but it pays to recognise nouns as either having hard or soft endings.

    Each case then has a set of general rules for hard and soft endings which loosely correspond to the genders.

    Accusative is easy: Masculine Inanimate nouns and neuters don't change. Feminine nouns ending in 'a' (most do) decline to 'u'

    e.g. Voda - Vodu
    Pošta - na Poštu

    Genitives: Neuters ending in 'o' decline to 'a' (Auto - Auta)
    Feminine ending in 'a' decline to 'y' (Vody - do Vody)
    Masculine Inanimates decline to 'u' (Cukr - bez Cukru)

    Once you learn the general rules then you can verb drill using verbs and prepositions that invoke each case and you will soon develop an intuitive sense for them.

    Tables are great but there is no substitute for seeing the nouns used in sentence context.

    Všechno nejlepší
  17. dzurisova

    dzurisova Well-Known Member

    KiwiCroat, that's the way Step by Step teaches it.
  18. KiwiCroat

    KiwiCroat Member

    It's an effective way of teaching cases and is very much like how we learned english... we heard it first then later saw it when we were able to read.

    Plus you get to learn how the nouns integrate into a sentence... prepositions, nouns, pronouns and verbs. Find a lot of examples to use the theory you learn.

    I've actually learned a lot form watching You Tube videos in English that have Czech subtitles!

    Start using the nouns you know in various ways with different cases and you'll start to develop an intuitive sense of how the case system works and how brilliant and rich system it is in communicating meaning (and how boring English seems by comparison!)
  19. scrimshaw

    scrimshaw Well-Known Member

    Can you list some of those czech u tube videos with subtitles? I'd like to see those.
  20. dzurisova

    dzurisova Well-Known Member

    You can put them in the media section as you find them instead of putting them on this thread.

Share This Page