Czech language basics

Czech is one of the most difficult languages to learn for native English speakers. From the extended alphabet to complex declension, mastering Czech is no simple task.

Still, while learning Czech might not be easy, it’s not impossible. Read this guide to learn some of the most important Czech language basics.

The Czech alphabet: pronunciation and spelling

Unlike Russian and some other Slavic languages, Czech uses the Latin alphabet. This means there is no need to learn how to write strange new letters and symbols. Czech uses the same alphabet as English does.

That said, there are some minor differences when it comes to the Czech alphabet. Namely, Czechs use some additional letters that English speakers don’t. These are:

The pronunciation of Czech vowels

Below is a list of the vowels in the Czech alphabet, together with example words and audio recording to hear their pronunciation.

Sound Example words
A a like [u] in but pronunciation tady (here)
pronunciation pravda (truth)
Á á like [a] in father pronunciation já (I)
pronunciation rádi (glad)
pronunciation názor (opinion)
E e like [e] in let pronunciation ne (no)
pronunciation cena (price)
pronunciation pes (dog)
É é like [ai] in fair pronunciation lidé (people)
pronunciation mléko (milk)
Ě ě like [ye] in yes pronunciation někdo (someone)
pronunciation město (city)
pronunciation světlo (light)
I i like [i] in lift pronunciation ulice (street)
pronunciation zima (winter)
pronunciation pocit (feeling)
Í í like [ee] in cheese pronunciation prosím (please)
pronunciation mír (peace)
pronunciation jídlo (food)
O o like [o] in knot pronunciation slovo (word)
pronunciation pomoc (help)
pronunciation noc (night)
Ó ó like [oo] in floor pronunciation kód (code)
U u like [u] in push pronunciation nula (zero)
pronunciation kufr (suitcase)
pronunciation vzduch (air)
Ú ú like [oo] in pool pronunciation úsměv (smile)
pronunciation účet (account)
pronunciation úkol (task)
Ů ů like [oo] in pool pronunciation dům (house)
pronunciation důvod (reason)
Y y like [i] in lift pronunciation byt (apartment)
pronunciation ryba (fish)
Ý ý like [ee] in cheese pronunciation týden (week)
pronunciation výtah (elevator)
pronunciation sýr (cheese)

The pronunciation of Czech consonants

Here is a table with the consonants in the Czech alphabet. For each of these Czech consonants an audio recording of an example word is provided to show its pronunciation.

Czech alphabet Pronunciation guide Example word
B blike [b] in bed pronunciation nebo (or)
C c like [ts] in bats pronunciationco (what)
Č č like [ch] in check pronunciationproč (why)
D d like [d] in doom pronunciationduben (April)
Ď ď like [du] in duke pronunciationloď (ship)
F f like [f] in football pronunciationflétna (flute)
G g like [g] in good pronunciationfunguje (works)
H h like [h] in hot pronunciationhouba (mushroom)
Ch ch like [ch] in loch pronunciationchyba (error)
J j like [y] in yes pronunciationjeden (one)
K k like [k] in kiss pronunciationkino (cinema)
L l like [l] in love pronunciationmilovat (love)
M m like [m] in mother pronunciationmouka (flour)
N n like [n] in no pronunciationano (yes)
Ň ň like [ni] in onion pronunciationpíseň (song)
P p like [p] in past pronunciationpřítel (friend)
Q q like [q] in quail /
R r like [r] rat (rolled ‘r’) pronunciationpro (for)
Ř ř like [rg] in bourgeois pronunciationtři (three)
S s like [s] in snake pronunciationsvět (world)
Š š like [sh] in shake pronunciationš (our)
T t like [t] in tap pronunciationotec (father)
Ť ť like [tu] in tune pronunciationchuť (taste)
V v like [v] in vet pronunciationvelmi (very)
W w like [v] in vet /
X x like [x] in complex pronunciationexistovat (exist)
Z z like [z] in zone pronunciationpozději (later)
Ž ž like [s] in measure pronunciationživot (life)

Czech Pronunciation tips

Czech pronunciation tends to be straightforward. Unlike in English, where the pronunciation of certain letters and groups differs greatly depending on the word (e.g., the [oo] in “blood” and “good”), the Czech language is much more consistent. In general, Czechs pronounce everything the way it’s spelled.

Still, there are some rules and tips one should keep in mind:

Stressed syllables in Czech

In Czech, the stress is almost always on the first syllable of each word. Here are some examples:

There are some exceptions to this rule. One-syllable prepositions usually form a unit with the following word – when this happens, the stress is only on the preposition, not the first syllable of the following word. For example:

Czech accent marks: dashes and hooks

The Czech alphabet uses two types of accents:

Dashes are used to lengthen a vowel. Think of the difference between “father” [á] and “but” [a].

Hooks are used to soften the sound of consonants (and the vowel [e]). For example, [š] is pronounced as [sh], [č] is pronounced as [cz/ch], etc.

Note: In the case of the letter [u], Czech also uses a small circle to make the vowel longer – i.e., [ů].

The letters [y] and [i] are pronounced the same in Czech

In Czech, there is no difference between [y] and [i] when it comes to pronunciation. Both [i] and [y] are pronounced like [i] in “lift”, while [ý] and [í] are pronounced like [ee] in “cheese”.

There is, however, a grammatical difference between these two letters. Czech children spend many years learning which of the two letters to use in which word.

For example: the Czech words « byt » and « bit » may sound the same, but each of these words means something completely different. « Byt » means “apartment”, while « bit » means “beaten”.

Basic Czech spelling pattern: things to remember

The letters q, w, x are rarely used in Czech

While these three letters are included in the Czech alphabet, Czechs rarely use them. Typically, they are only used in foreign words.

The difference between the Czech letters [ú] and [ů]

In Czech, the letters [ú] and [ů] are pronounced the same way – like [oo] in pool. The difference between the two is in their usage.

The Czech letter [ě] doesn't appear at the beginning of words

[ě] is the only vowel with a hook. It makes a softer sound, similar to [ye] in yes.

One thing to remember is that you cannot start a word with [ě]. This letter is only used in the middle or at the end of a word – e.g., běh (run) or štěně (puppy).

Basic Czech vocabulary words

Czech is a rich, flowery language with lots of synonyms and difficult words. There are also many regional expressions and phrases that you may only hear in some parts of the country. But before diving into the depths of the Czech language, it’s important to learn the basics.

Here are some basic Czech vocabulary words:

Ano

Meaning: Yes

« Ano » is the Czech word for yes. Its use is the same as in English.

In slightly less formal situations (e.g., when talking to friends or family), you can also use « jo » or « jo-jo » (meaning yes or sure) instead of « ano ».

Ne

Meaning: No

« Ne » is how Czech people say no. Sometimes, you might also come across as « ne-ne » (no-no). This is used in polite, lighthearted conversations. For example:

Děkuji

Meaning: Thank you

If you want to say “thank you” in Czech, you can say « děkuji ». In a more informal setting, you can also say « díky » (thanks).

Prosím

« Prosím » is an interesting Czech word. It’s used very often and has many different meanings. Here are just some of the meanings of « prosím »:

« Prosím » can mean any of the above. While this may seem confusing, it rarely is. The specific meaning of « prosím » should always be obvious from the context.

Ahoj

Meaning: Hi, Hello

While “ahoy” in English may remind you of a ship captain, Czechs don’t see it that way. To Czechs, « ahoj » is perhaps the most mundane and boring greeting out there – it’s how they say hello to all their friends and family.

Note: « Ahoj » is considered informal. Only say « ahoj » to people you know well. When speaking to strangers or colleagues, you may want to use a different greeting (more on that later).

Nashledanou

Meaning: Goodbye

In meaning, « nashledanou » is closest to the English “see you later.” Yet, at the same time, the phrase is much more formal than that. While the meaning is closer to “see you later,” its use is closer to the English “goodbye.”

Czechs wouldn’t say « nashledanou » to their friends or family, but they might use it when saying goodbye to their colleagues or people they just met.

Dobře

Meaning: Okay

Dobře is a useful little word. It literally means “well,” but it’s often used more as a way to say “okay.” For example:

Basic Czech phrases

Here are some useful Czech phrases:

Dobrý den

Meaning: Good day, Hello

« Dobrý den » is the Czech phrase for saying “hello” in a more formal setting. It literally means “good day”.

Technically, « dobrý den » can be used throughout the entire day. Still, some people prefer to use some of the more specific greetings, depending on the time of day. These are:

Note: « Dobré odpoledne » (good afternoon) is rarely used in Czech. While it isn’t grammatically wrong, the expression isn’t very common and may sound archaic.

Jak se jmenuješ/jmenujete?

Meaning: What’s your name?

Instead of asking someone what their name is, Czechs ask « jak se jmenujete » (what are you called)?

In formal settings, use « jak se jmenujete » – this is more polite. However, in more informal settings (i.e., talking to someone younger or a friend of a friend), you can also use « jak se jmenuješ ».

Jmenuji se…

Meaning: My name is…

Again, instead of saying “my name is”, Czechs say « jmenuji se » (I am called).

Some Czechs might also say « já jsem » (I am) instead of « jmenuji se ». Both options are correct.

Těší mě

Meaning: Nice to meet you

When meeting someone or being introduced to someone for the first time, Czechs often say « těší mě » as they shake each other’s hand. This phrase literally means “it is pleasing to me.”

Není zač

Meaning: You’re welcome

While Czechs might often say « prosím » after being thanked, « není zač » is perhaps even more common.

It literally means “nothing for” as in “there is nothing you have to thank me for.” It’s a more polite and friendly response to « děkuji » (thank you).

Czech grammar: the basics

Czech grammar is the biggest reason native English speakers might find the language difficult to master. Even Czech children spend years trying to learn grammar, and some adults still struggle with it years later.

Here are some of the basics of Czech grammar:

Basic Czech sentence structure

In general, Czech word order is quite flexible. There are very few rules as to where each word should go.

The one rule that you should remember, though, is that in a declarative sentence, the subject should always come before the verb. For example:

« Tereza mluví anglicky. » (“Tereza is speaking English.”)

Declension and cases

What makes Czech particularly difficult is declension. Nouns, pronouns, and adjectives all change their form depending on gender, number, and case.

Czech has seven grammatical cases. These are:

What this means is that most Czech words look different depending on what context they are in. For example:

There are 2 “you” pronouns in Czech

Much like the German language, Czech has two versions of the singular “you”.

  1. Ty
  2. Vy

In Czech, the pronoun « ty » is used when speaking to a friend or a family member, while the pronoun « vy » is used with strangers, colleagues, and in more formal settings.

This also impacts the verb. For example:

It’s important not to mix these two pronouns up. A shopkeeper that you have never met might be insulted if you refer to them with « ty » instead of « vy ».

Conclusion

Czech is not an easy language. Czech grammar, especially, can be very complex and difficult to grasp.

At the same time, there are some sides to the language that make it easier for new learners, such as straightforward pronunciation. All words are pronounced the same way they’re written. This makes speaking and spelling much easier for everyone.

To learn more about the Czech language and culture, have a look at these guides to Czech girl names and Czech boy names.