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Basic Bulgarian, Lesson 4 - What's your name? (and verbs!)

Здравейте! Как сте?

Today we're going to learn how to introduce ourselves, and (hopefully) learn more about other people! As in other posts, I'm going to highlight the stress in individual words or entire phrases as we encounter them. I'll only write out the entire pronunciation of something in IPA if it's not obvious from the rules in the Pronunciation Guide (see the links at the top of this post).

<h1>What's your name?</h1>

This is accomplished by the phrase Как се казваш?, which literally means "what are you called". This is very close in spirit to Spanish "¿Cómo te llamas?", and also similar to a lot of Germanic languages besides English which have a verb meaning "to be called". In German, for instance, you'd say "Wie heißt du?" The answer is Казвам се ... (I am called ...) Here is an example, illustrating a couple of common Bulgarian men's names:

  • Стоян: Здрасти! Как се казваш?
  • Петър: Казвам се Петър. А ти как се казваш?
  • Стоян: Казвам се Стоян.

If we're feeling nice and polite that day, we may want to say something like "Nice to meet you!" or "Pleased to meet you!". We do that with the phrase приятно ми е", which literally means "it is pleasing (or pleasant) to me". Note that the way it's woven into the conversation is a bit different than in English:

  • Иван: Здравей! Казвам се Иван. / Hello! My name is Ivan. (literally "I'm called Ivan." Notice also the different pronunciation of that name in Bulgarian).
  • Мария: Приятно ми е, Мария! / Nice to meet you, (my name is) Maria. (notice the idiomatic use - Maria just says her name right after "nice to meet you")
  • Иван: И на мен ми е приятно! / Nice to meet you as well! (literally "and to me it is pleasing (to me)". Don't think too hard about the double "to me" for now.)

Sometimes Ivan's last statement is abbreviated to just "и на мен" (to me as well). That's very common in informal speech, and you can't go wrong by using that. Some of you might be wondering where the "... to meet you" part went, because that's really what's supposed to be "pleasing" in the whole situation. Rest assured - it didn't disappear, it just frequently gets omitted in everyday speech. Here's the whole phrase, side by side with the part you already know:

  • Приятно ми е!
  • Приятно ми е да се запознаем! Pleased to meet you! (literally "It is pleasing to me for us to meet each other." Notice how in the flow of speech only the two large words are stressed.)

Here's another example conversation where that slightly more formal phrase is used:

  • Илия: Здрасти! Как се казваш?
  • Милена: Казвам се Милена, приятно ми е да се запознаем!
  • Илия: И на мен!

And another one:

  • Христо 1: Здравей! Казвам се Христо.
  • Христо 2: И аз се казвам Христо!
  • Христо 1: Стига бе! (Get outta here! / No way!)
  • Христо 2: Наистина :) (For real.)
  • Христо 1: Приятно ми е да се запознаем!
  • Христо 2: И на мен!
<h1>Glamour... erm... grammar (or maybe both)</h1>

So a lot of things were going on up there in the post. New things, unfamiliar things. Looooong phrases. Short phrases. Different endings on the verb "to be called". I didn't stop to explain each thing in detail, because I wanted to give you a sense of what an actual conversation between people meeting for the first time might sound like. You can definitely just memorize the phrases and use them in real life. But if you want to know what was really happening under the covers, this section is for you! We're going to take a first stab at Bulgarian verbs, starting with our good new friend казвам се. Warning: this section is long.

But first, person and number

Verb forms in English and Bulgarian (and a ton of other languages) have qualities called "person" and "number". Sometimes, people say "grammatical person" and "grammatical number" to emphasize that they are being used as grammatical terms with well-defined meanings. Let's look at them in more detail.

"Person" refers to who is doing the action - is it me, or you, or they? This gives us the so called personal pronouns - in English, those are "I", "you", "he", "she", "it", "we" and "they". "You" pulls double duty because it can refer to one or more people. In Bulgarian, if you remember the lesson on the verb "to be", the personal pronouns are "аз", "ти", "той", "тя", "то", "ние", "вие", "те". The major difference is that we have "ти" (you one) and "вие" (you all).

Within grammatical person, we have:

  • First person - "I" and "we" (аз - ние)
  • Second person - the two meanings of "you" (ти - вие)
  • Third person - "he", "she", "it" and "they" (той, тя, то - те)

"Number" refers to whether the action is done by one or more people (or things). "Singular" means "one", and "plural" means "many". We have the category of "number" for nouns as well - e.g. "cat" (singular) - "cats" (plural). The basic idea in both cases is the contrast between one and many (more than one).

When we look at the personal pronouns, we can separate them in two groups based on whether they have a singular or plural meaning:

  • Singular: I, you, he, she, it
  • Plural: we, you, they

Putting it all together, we can identify pronouns and their corresponding verb forms by both person and number. You say the name of the person/number combination by first saying the person, followed by the number. This gives us:

  • First person singular: I - аз
  • Second person singular: you - ти
  • Third person singular: he/she/it - той/тя/то
  • First person plural: we - ние
  • Second person plural: you - вие
  • Third person plural: they - те

"He", "she" and "it" get bunched up together in the third person singular, because the only difference between them in both Bulgarian and English is gender - "he" is masculine, "she" is feminine, and "it" is neuter. Notice that none of the other pronouns care about gender - there is no separate masculine and feminine "they", for example. That's not true in all languages - Spanish, for example, has "ellos" (masculine "they") and "ellas" (feminine "they") - but at least on that, English and Bulgarian are of the same mind.

Finally, people like to abbreviate things, because we're all a little bit lazy. "First person singular" has 6 syllables and 19 letters, isn't there a shorter way to write that? There is, and grammars all over the word use the shorter forms. To make the short form, use these correspondences:

  • first/second/third - 1st, 2nd, 3rd
  • person - ps.
  • singular/plural - sg./pl.

So, first person singular is 1st ps. sg., 3rd ps. pl. is third person plural. In English, "you" is used as both 2nd ps. sg. and 2nd ps. pl. You get the picture.

Give me all the verbs! Now!!

Let's first remind ourselves of English verbs. In the present tense, not much happens when you list the forms of the verb for each person and number. Let's take the verb "to speak" as an example:

  • I speak
  • you speak
  • he/she/it speaks
  • we speak
  • you speak
  • they speak

The only change is in 3rd ps. sg. (he/she/it), where we add "-s" to the base form of the verb. And yes, some verbs add "-es" (e.g. switches), and other verbs have irregular pronunciations (e.g. says = [sɛz]), but still you're only really changing one form of the verb, and the others remain the same. The only notable exception (in a lot of European languages including English) is the verb "to be".

This means two things. On one hand, it's easy to remember the rule in English. On the other hand, you have to use a personal pronoun to figure out who's doing the action. If you see "speak" by itself, is it "I speak" or "you speak" or "they speak"? It only becomes clear when you add "I", "you", "they", etc.

Contrast that with the Spanish verb which means "to speak" - "hablar". It has the following forms:

  • 1st ps. sg.: hablo
  • 2nd ps. sg.: hablas
  • 3rd ps. sg.: habla
  • 1st ps. pl.: hablamos
  • 2nd ps. pl.: habláis
  • 3rd ps. pl.: hablan

Even if you don't know how to pronounce these verb forms, you can observe that each person/number combination has a different ending. Again, this means two things - it's a bit harder to remember the rule, but also you don't have to use a pronoun to figure out who's doing the action. Compare these two sentences:

  • He speaks Spanish.
  • Habla español.

The Spanish version is perfectly fine without the personal pronoun "he". However, if you drop it from the English version, you end up with "Speaks Spanish.", which doesn't sound right.

What about Bulgarian?

Bulgarian is exactly like Spanish - we have a different ending for each person/number combination, and so in most cases it sounds more natural to omit the personal pronoun where you'd normally have to add it in English. Let's look at the verb "имам" (to have):

  • 1st ps. sg.: (аз) има{@style=color:red;}м
  • 2nd ps. sg.: (ти) има{@style=color:red;}ш
  • 3rd ps. sg.: (той/тя/то) има
  • 1st ps. pl.: (ние) има{@style=color:red;}ме
  • 2nd ps. pl.: (вие) има{@style=color:red;}те
  • 3rd ps. pl.: (те) има{@style=color:red;}т

That's one of the three patterns of Bulgarian verb endings in the present. Each pattern is identified by the last vowel in the 3rd. ps. sg. - in the case of "имам", that's the "-a" in "има". So "имам" is part of the so called "а/я" pattern (it's actually called something else, but we don't care for now). Other useful verbs having this pattern are:

  • искам: I want
  • слушам: I listen
  • чувам: I hear
  • виждам: I see
  • нямам: I don't have

Notice that Bulgarian verbs don't have a "to"-form like "to want" or "to see" - we just use the 1st ps. sg. as the base form of the verb, and that's what you'd find in Bulgarian dictionaries. Notice also that Bulgarian actually has a separate verb for "I don't have"! It was formed by the merger of "не" (not) + "имам" a very long time ago, and now it's the only correct way of saying "I don't have". On another note, from now on I'm going to introduce verbs with the pattern they belong to in braces, like: имам (-а), искам (-а).

Let's make some sentences, with the stress highlighted:

  • Имам пари. - I have money.
  • Тя няма пари. - She doesn't have money.
  • Имаме пари. - We have money.
  • Слушам музика. - I am listening to music.
  • Слушат музика. - They are listening to music.
  • Виждам зебра. - I see a zebra.
  • Виждате тигър. - You (pl.) see a tiger.
  • Той има пари. - He has money.
  • Ние нямаме време. - We don't have time.
  • Нямат време. - They don't have time.

This post is so long, I forgot my name and yours already...

"казвам се (-а)" is an "а/я"-verb, so its endings follow the pattern we've just seen above. The "се" part is something I'll explain in a following lesson, but one thing to point out is that it changes position when we use the personal pronoun:

  • Казвам се Мария. (My name is Maria - no pronoun, "се" comes after the verb. You can't start a sentence with "се").
  • Аз се казвам Мария. (My name is Maria - pronoun present, "се" comes before the verb)
  • Казва се Иван. (His name is Ivan. - no pronoun)
  • Той се казва Иван. (same as above, pronoun present)
<h1>Exercises for the class</h1>

E1: Make example sentences with "казвам се", using some of the other person/number combinations we haven't used in this lesson, and names of your choice. Use your imagination! :)

E2: Translate the following conversation:

  • Стефан: Здрасти! Казвам се Стефан.
  • Николай: Приятно ми е, Николай.
  • Стефан: Как я караш?
  • Николай: Не много добре...
  • Стефан: Защо? (Why?)
  • Николай: Нямам пари :(

До скоро, и лека нощ!

October 14, 2015



Казвам се Сара! Приятно ми е :) как сте?

It's weird but kind of cool to me that pleased to meet you is familiar from other Slavic languages but only in bits: in Croatian (IIRC), drago mi je, in Russian, очень приятно - and it's never occurred to me before, but I'm not sure I've ever seen or heard used a phrase in Russian that just means pleased to meet you, it's always very pleased LOL - I will have to look up to see if I'm just forgetting another version, but I'm amused that it obviously didn't get used a lot when I was around Russians...


И на мен ми е приятно, Сара! Добре съм, не се оплаквам :)

In Russian I think you can also say "Приятно познакомиться!", which bears even more resemblance to the Bulgarian phrase. The Russian expression uses an infinitive, and the reflexive particle "ся" thus gets glued to the end. Bulgarian lacks the infinitive, and it is expressed by "да" + the verb form. It also breaks the "се" out, and you end up with "да се запознаем".

We also have "Драго ми е" by the way, it's just used a lot less frequently than "Приятно ми е" specifically when meeting people. Its general meaning of "it fills me with gladness" gets used in other contexts - "Драго ми е да го гледам как си играе с децата." - "It makes me glad to see him play with the children."


Yes, you can say that, but it's more formal - I would think more equivalent to "Приятно ми е да се запознаем", no?? With the reflexive, too, but also just more... formal feeling. I mean, I'm well out of practice, but that's how it seems to me. (Is ми like, the dative form or is it like English where we have essentially one alternate and use it for indirect and direct objects? I know BG has basically lost most of the cases when it comes to nouns, but I've no idea what the deal is for pronouns).

I mean, очень приятно kind of contains an implied "to me", so it seems to have more in common with drago mi je and приятно ми е than with a more formal phrase, it's just that мне is dropped in Russian... but for some reason I don't think I've ever heard anyone simply say приятно or приятно мне, y'know, which would be a closer equivalent?

Приятно познакомиться is there. but очень приятно seems to be the 'norm'. Like in English, I'd usually say 'pleased to meet you', but maaaaybe in a formal context I might say 'it's very nice to make your acquaintance". It's just interesting to me that the phrase which is the common version in Russian is the one which says it's very nice to meet you. Which, to be honest, fits with my experience of Russian people, so you know ;) but at any rate, I just find it interesting :)

(Seems to be the same in Ukrainian - дуже приємно - though my Ukrainian is pretty much entirely Duolingo based so I've no idea whether any equivalent of приятно познакомиться is any more or less common in Ukrainian! :))

Huh, I did wonder how Bulgarian formed the infinitive, that's interesting to know, thanks!

(ETA: Random: I sent a v v v short email to a BG friend just for fun, and man, it's soooo weird to me to type слушам музика. I so want to put музика into the accusative, it's so weird not to...)


If you really miss cases (which are lost in Bulgarian except in the pronouns), we still have some of the vocative case. I'll get to it in a future lesson, but to give you a taste:

  • Здравейте! Казвам се Иван!
  • Добре дошъл, Иван{@style=color:red;font-style:normal;}е! (Welcome, Ivan!)


Plus, there's the counting case, or whatever it's called.


If you are referring to the weird plural forms for masculine nouns when you are saying "two/three/etc of ...", that's not a case, but rather it's a remnant of the Proto-Slavic dual number.


Yeah, it's interesting Russian always has a "very" in the "pleased to meet you" expression. We can say it too, but for emphasis - "много ми е приятно" - but most of the time it's just "приятно ми е".

You are correct, "ми" is the 1st ps. sg. dative pronoun (or indirect object pronoun), as in "Дай ми книгата." - Give me the book. (literally "give me book-the")


I usually use the even shorter forms "1sg., 2sg., 3sg., 1pl., 2pl., 3pl." and dispense with the "ps." :)


Yeah, I was debating whether to introduce that even shorter form. My rationale was that I wanted people to have a firm, intuitive understanding of person/number first, and then once that's there - introduce them to even more idiomatic notation. Certainly Wikipedia articles on different languages' grammars often omit the "ps.", and probably after I've used it in a few lessons, I'll start doing that too :)

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