"When I was closing the suitcase, the body was not in it!"

Translation:Když jsem kufr zavíral, to tělo v něm nebylo!

November 9, 2017

This discussion is locked.


I really appreciate those criminal sentences!


I really struggle with Czech word order. We hum along with Czech often following the English subject> verb> object routine but then suddenly, as here, and completely unanticipated by me, the main verb(s) go(es) at the end(s) and other options are not accepted. What am I missing please? Is there an explanation which does not involve too much grammatical jargon?


Yes. In short sets of words, we allow all kinds of word orders because it is not clear what is already known and what is being newly stated. In this exercise we have enough words to know those things. And the new stuff goes to the end instead of being buried in the middle.

A possible insight for you. There are two ways of learning languages. One, soak it in like a baby through exposure. No jargon, just time and pattern recognition. Two, learn it in a structured way, pay attention to how the language works. That second method requires the learner to understand what the working pieces are called, so they either learn the jargon or default back to number one.


I appreciate that my native language, English, has a fairly rigid word order (except for adverbs and adverbial phrases and clauses) because in the absence of variable word endings, in a given clause we would not be able to make any sense of the words at all otherwise. On the other hand, as Czech word endings vary strictly according to the sense of the word, then in theory one could put the order of words (within a clause), any way at all and it could still be made sense of. But not the case apparently!


Czech makes use of its ability to create many different word orders. They are not random and meaningless. There is information in each word order. The way you choose words to convey meaning, you also choose word order to convey meaning. English can do that only in very limited ways and relies on other mechanics - often needing to use more words to convey the same meaning. In speech, English uses word stress more.

Notice that while individual words are (on average) shorter in English than in Czech, any longer text is always shorter in Czech than in English. Part of the reason for it is the information contained in word order. Definiteness/indefiniteness, for example, is partially expressed by word order, whereas English needs extra words (a/the).


Other options ARE accepted, for example:

  • Když jsem zavíral kufr, to tělo v něm nebylo.
  • Když jsem kufr zavíral, nebylo v něm to tělo.
  • Když jsem zavíral kufr, nebylo v něm to tělo.

It depends on what you want to say exactly, which is determined by the situation. The last word in a clause (sentence) is the focus, it's the key information. Remember it's called "focus" because we keep using it in these discussions over and over again.

The model sentence "Když jsem kufr zavíral, to tělo v něm nebylo!" is the most likely because--- when I was closing the suitcase - we know about the suitcase from previous conversation/context, so we're not stressing it, but it's important that I was CLOSING it, that's the key information - maybe the body was there at some other point in time, but it wasn't there at the time I was CLOSING the suitcase. And --- tělo tam NEBYLO - negative verbs like to go to the end (focus) to stress the negation - it was not there - the key information here is the negation.

Compare this to: Když jsem zavíral kufr.... this is possible, we're just not placing emphasis on the exact moment, but maybe we want to stress that I was closing a suitcase. And "....nebylo tam to tělo" is a bit odd, especially with the definite "body", it works better with "...there was no body there" - "nebylo tam tělo", stressing "tělo".


Thanks for all that. It is so difficult for native English speakers to get away from the more rigid English sentence order format. And in recent travels in the Czech Republic I have been totally impressed with the standard of English of many young people. About as good as mine in some cases, and just working in bars and restaurants. If I ever get a quarter as good at Czech I shall be well pleased.


když jsem zavíral kufr, tělo v něm nebylo ... nešlo by taky uznat?


...ale když jsem pak zavíral manželčinu kabelku, v ní naopak tělo bylo?

když ani rodilí mluvčí ten náš slovosled nestíhají, propadám beznaději...a přidávám kdejakou prkotinu.


Can we say "... tělo nebylo uvnitř"?


it sets up the wrong focus on "inside" by placing the "uvnitř" at the end. you would be begging for a follow-up: "so you just put the body next to the suitcase or on top of it?"

the speaker, however, is clearly disavowing any connection with the apparent crime associated with the body found in his suitcase.


''Když jsem zavíral ten kufr, to tělo nebylo v něm'' - is there anything wrong or unnatural with this word order? (not accepted)


It is unnatural to stress it like this. It would work if it continued "Když jsem zavíral ten kufr, to tělo nebyl v něm, ale v ledničce."


It's still funny :D --- when I was closing the suitcase, the body wasn't in it, it was in the fridge - whereas before I was closing the suitcase, the body actually was in it... ? :D


Why not "kdyz jsem kufr zavirala" when I is a girl


That is accepted as well, of course. What was your complete sentence? We have no report with "Když jsem kufr zavírala..."


My complete answer was : "Kdyz jsem kufr zavirala to tento v nem nebylo" I tried it and also "Kdyz jsem kufr zaviral ..." (each many times, with and without accent) but it had never been accepted. I have had to quite the course and lost my progress.


Whenever you think your answer is correct, please use the report function "My answer should have been accepted."

The only recent report we have is from 2 hours ago and it was: "Když jsem kufr zavíral, to lěto v něm nebylo" - which is wrong, obviously.


"to telo" of course


The correct answer has "tom" in it, but "tom" was not available to choose, only "to" - so I have a typo!


There are always more correct answers. As you can see at the top of this page, the best correct answer has no "tom" in it either, only "to".

If "tom" is used, then it must be used instead of "něm": "tělo v něm nebylo", or "tělo v tom nebylo". - that's accepted if you mean that the body wasn't in "it" - in some other "it" than the suitcase.

Learn Czech in just 5 minutes a day. For free.