Me Learn Speak Good One Day

Speaking of "me". Today, after over 20 years of learning English, I learned that "me" is not the same as "I". You know, sentences like "Only me and X are here", or "X and me, we have the same result in the Myers-Biggs test", sentences like that, they are all wrong. It should be "X and myself" etc... Great. Thanks for telling me now. ;o) I'm just glad we don't use the first person in tutorials, that would have been so embarrassing.

Well, less embarrassing than, say, accidentally saying pršim ("I am raining") in Czech conversation class. Or saying "vypalit nekomu prehradu" instead of "rybnik": You don't expect us stupid foreigners to know that it's "to steal somebody's show" and not "to steal somebody's whole theatre", do you? In the interest of international relationships it is also not recommened to mix "vychodni Nemecko" and "zapadni Nemecko" (East and West Germany) to say "zachodni Nemecko"... ... I swear, one day we'll be the death of our Czech teacher. I think Joe and me -- and I? Joe and I myself have a new goal: To make the teacher desperately call out "Jezis...!" at least once per lesson. That's our new goal. It comes right after learning numerals.

Did I tell you the story about the Czech numerals? No?

  • Here goes:
    1. Things involving number 1 are of course counted in the singular. "1 beer" is "jedno pivo", "1 book" is "jedna kniha", and so on, for 7 cases and 3.5 genders. (The first three genders in Czech grammar are "male, female, and neutral". The gender I counted as 0.5 is "male inanimate". Don't ask.)
    2. For things coming in sets of 2, 3 or 4, you use the plural form.
    3. For things coming in sets of 5 or more, or unspecified amounts such as "few, some, many", you use second case Plural.
  • Now the fun part. As I said, Czech has cases. E.g. if you want to say "I sit here with five beers", you gotta use seventh case for the beers, because you want to say "with." But! Rule three says, it's gotta be second case, because it's a number bigger than five. See where this is heading? More rules!
    • Rule a: You only use second case, if the noun phrase was in first or fourth case if there was no number involved.
    • Rule b: In all other situations, you use the case that you would use if there was no number involved. Obvious, eh?
  • Additional general rules for dealing with numbers in noun phrases:
    • If there is an adjective between the numeral and the beer, uh noun, then the adjective must reflect the case too.
    • And of course the numeral itself must reflect the case too, like an adjective.
    • My favorite rule: If the number is made up of several digits, each digit must reflect the case. I am not kidding.

So that means.... "with 273 (dve ste sedmdesat tri) Czech (cesky) beers (pivo)" = "s dvema sty sedmdesati tremi ceskymi pivy" or what?? What if the last digit happens to be 3, is it treated like a one-digit 3, or as a number bigger as 5? Oh boy. Of course each student of Czech comes up with the standard workaround sooner or later. Me: "I'd like to order some beers!" -- Them: "Well how many?" -- Me: (Holds up 273 fingers)!

Even if it may appear otherwise, you get pretty far with Czech after a year, especially in (vocabulary-wise) closed domains like restaurants. For example, have you ever been to a Chinese restaurant and thought, what am I supposed to do to communicate anything that is more sophisticated than ordering something from the menu? Speak Chinese? No! Speak Czech!

For instance today: I suddenly was missing a mitten. So I retraced my steps and also went into our Chinese lunch restaurant. It was evening. What is this lunch-customer doing here? The Chinese stare at me. I point at my hand and babble something about cervena rukavice? -- The Chinese girl suddenly smiles, nods, disappears through a side door and returns with my mitten. :-) See? Learning Czinese, uh, Czech rules!

This means I still keep my record: I don't recall having lost anything during the last 10 years! (Note my choice of words. The emphasis is on "recall".)

Well, except for the Babylon 5 CDs.

Oh and the Sparks CDs.

And where is this green shawl with the pattern? :(


Don't feel badly about mixing up English first-person pronouns, as many native born speakers regularly get them mixed up. For the past twenty years in the USA, English grammar wasn't taught much in our public schools. What's ironic is that my Spanish teacher said that it would be much easier teaching Americans Spanish if they already knew what English grammar was.

Besides, most of us who are language-challenged envy the skills of people like yourself. Two languages down pat, and lots of progress toward a third? We are not worthy to be in your presence. :-)

Posted by Tom Ball on February 15, 2007 at 10:55 AM CET #

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