Czech verb endings in the present tense: Our plan for Version 2
Czech verb endings present one of the early challenges for many Duolingo users. We are planning to adjust how we teach this in Version 2 of the course. Consider this post an opportunity to preview the planned changes.
Most Czech verbs have six different endings for the six person/number combinations (já, ty, on/ona/ono, my, vy, oni/ony/ona) in the present tense. The table below, which is adopted from our existing Tips & Notes for the "Present 1" skill, shows the possible endings for five verb classes:
|On, ona, ono||-e||-ne||-je||-í||-á|
|Oni, ony, ona||-ou||-nou||-jou, -jí||-í||-ají|
- The top row designates the class.
- The second row shows the “stem” piece of one example verb for each class.
- The remaining six rows show the endings for each class. The subject pronouns are shown in the left column to tell the student the person/number for the ending in each verb class column.
- The 3rd person singular row is shown in bold because its endings form the key to the five-class system.
- The 3rd class endings shown in italics are more formal than the alternatives next to them, but all of the endings shown are recognized in standard Czech.
Four irregular Czech verbs (jsem, chci, jím, and vím as "já" forms) stand more or less outside this classification system and should be learned separately (skip to the end of the post for their conjugation table and some thoughts on the "more or less"). A few old verbs in the 1st class can appear with additional endings (not included), which tend to be bookish or archaic: Já píši dopis. or even Děti pláčí. instead of the regular "píšu" and "pláčou". And there are verbs that seem undecided or are in the process of switching classess.
The table above follows how Czech schoolchildren are taught this subject. Once grown, we tend not to reflect on it with much fondness. Most of us remember little else than the žene je bída mnemonic, although we usually do know the verb endings.
Does the way the current version of our course teaches these endings work for our users? It probably depends. The CEFR sources we have been consulting since Version 1 was released say that learning the five classes is too much for the A1 learners. Another issue appears to be that we do not approach the very start of the introduction to the verb endings too gently or systematically, and that may produce user frustration. We want to improve this in Version 2, without sacrificing anything important.
Let’s look at the five-class table again. Some of it clearly is wasted space. The 2nd class endings all contain the same "n" that could be factored out into the stem, and then the 2nd class could merge with the 1st. If we ignore the extra endings in the 3rd class, we could likewise move the constant "j" to the stem and merge the 3rd class with the first two. This would be the outcome:
|Stem-||nes-, stárn-, kupuj-||sp-||děl-|
|On, ona, ono||-e||-í||-á|
|Oni, ony, ona||-ou||-í||-ají|
We just need to rename the simplified verb types. The "já" endings offer one approach, targeting the expected learning path of least resistance:
|On, ona, ono||-e||-í||-á|
|Oni, ony, ona||-ou||-í||-ají|
We are now left with a U-type and two M-types. Still not as simple as English, but at least competitive with Spanish. The price we pay for this simplification comes in the 3rd verb class. Instead of teaching the very polite děkuji, our first skill needs to switch to the more informal děkuju. The beginner probably should not have to worry about such nuances. We just have to introduce the remaining 3rd class endings later in the course, once the A1 training wheels come off.
The simplified table should usually allow the student to figure out the conjugation pattern for the present tense of a regular verb from any one of the conjugated verb forms. (The infinitive would be another thing, to be tackled later.)
- For example, if we see hledáte on our first encounter with this verb, we should quickly recognize that it must be a “vy” form of an áM-verb.
- If we see učí, we should quickly zero in on the íM-type.
Some complications for novice learners are shared with the full five class system:
- Some verb forms contain what appears to be a piece of an ending in their stems, so their 3rd person singular can be mistaken for one the plurals of a different class: láme, kvete, utají
- Many words can look like verb forms, although they are entirely different parts of speech: lesu, naším, cestám, veteš, nejspíš, guláš, nade, třetí, pustá, selete, prevíte, hnáte, zlobou. Some of these are cooked up pathologies to make the point.
Finally, the summary of the four irregular verbs:
|Infinitive||být (be)||chtít (want)||jíst (eat)||vědět (know)|
|On, ona, ono||je||chce||jí||ví|
|Oni, ony, ona||jsou||chtějí||jedí||vědí|
The verb forms shown in italics are irregular.
- For být, it is nearly meaningless to try associating it with a regular class. The non-standard forms "jsu" and "jseš" do reinforce the 1st class heritage suggested by the sole regular ending.
- For chtít, the connection to the 1st class may be more helpful. The expected regular forms "chcu" and "chcou" actually are in non-standard regional use in parts of Moravia.
- The irregular forms jedí and vědí have already been replaced by their regular 4th class variants in non-standard, common Czech. We cannot teach or recognize these in our course yet, but it is pretty clear that Czech is on the way to having only two truly irregular verbs in the present tense.
Let's hope these thoughts on Version 2 are of some use to students of Version 1. As always, feedback on the plan is welcome. Portions of this post will probably find their way to the updated Tips & Notes.
When you don't even know what any of these terms mean in English God I wish we learned grammar in English in school, all we did in class was read poems and write essays...
I for my part have always an open Tab with your conjugation table. When I encounter a new verb I try to find the appropriate Verb class. Not long before I found out, that in other places they differentiate only between 4 classes, what confused me. As I understood you, the most used way are 5 classes, as it is taught here until now. I think it is the best to use here in Duo the official categories, who are generally used. Making your own categories increases the chaos.
A last comment: Like ChristophS49077 I have much more problems with the nouns.
Thanks for the opportunity to preview planned changes. My opinion is: 1/Simplification is good, 3-column table is better then 5-column one. 2/Verbs with two possible endings "u/i" "ou/í" (usually "--ovat" infinitive) should be also noted here, not later. Either in the table (4-columns??) or by (maybe asterisks in the first column) and suitable remark (děkuji, kupuji ..etc.) under the table. 3/ I would add "infinitiv" row to the regular endings table too. 4/ I do not consider the paragraph "Some complications for novice learners are shared with the full five class system:" and two following points very usefull (to be part of the Tips & Notes). 5/ I would prefer irregular verbs (table) to be in following (another) skill.
So what is the reason the first two verb classes are taught as separate classes?
I think it's maybe because the past form is seperate "nesl" x "stárl". There is no "n" in "stárl"
the imperative seems more directly involved in this. for the past tense, many sources reshuffle the verbs to 6 classes.
Note it is often possible to have -nu- in the past participle of the second class verbs, like stárnul.
And remember that the table lists just the endings, but there are also suffixes involved. (I always forget which one is the root and which one is the stem). So: nést/nese, stárnout/stárne, kupovat/kupuje You have always t/e but there is more happening in front of this ending.
The course I attended had the four classes: ovat, a, i and e*, where * was supposed to mark irregular words but it felt like that was every e-word at the time: číst, pít, chtít, moct, ..., so except for ovat they were named by their 3rd person singular form.
I had no trouble with a and i, but I sometimes confused ovat and a and made something like "-ovám", etc. this didn't happen too often and mostly when I wasn't paying enough attention.
I don't think it's useful to put být into class 1. It appeared so often that I had no problem remembering it, especially when I learned about past.
Now for chtít, jíst and vědět I simply put them into their closest class and remembered their exceptions. My only problem here is that I sometimes confuse "chce" and "chci" with each other (and I don't know why), this happens less and less though.
In the end I had way less problems with verbs than with nouns.
Edit 1: forgot to escape one of the *s
Maybe it would be better to introduce them one after another instead of all of them in one skill. We started to learn a first with dělat (asking about jobs), znamenat, as we had a teacher we learned both "Co znamená ... německy?" and "Jak se řekne ... česky?" but did not talk about říct until e*, hledat and mít (se) /rád, which we learned together with accusative, and then we learned i with rozumět (without object), mluvit, vědět, vidět, jíst and muset, after that e* with číst and pít and finally ovat with pracovat, studovat and jmenovat se. Now during that time we already used verbs of the later classes, however we only knew one or two forms mainly 1st. person singular, for example "rozumím" or "jmenuju se ...", and we learned genitive ("Jsem z Německa."), accusative ("Mám rád zrmzlinu.") and locative ("Jsem ve škole"), as well as past. We had like 30 lessons where we learned something new about every two lessons, a case or a new class or something like that, and each class was two or three lessons apart from each other.
We are introducing the verbs more slowly in Version 2. By the time of the Objects row (which is where the accusative will be shown for the first time; see the image in my recent "cooking" post), there will be six verbs in the singular. The next row adds the plurals and four more verbs.
What issues did (do) you have with the nouns?
I don't really know why but it was more difficult for me remembering the rules of declension compared to conjugation, even though I am german and learnt latin so both concepts are nothing new for me. Maybe it's simply that there are more paradigms in declension than in conjugation. We grouped all words in 3 groups with 4 genders so 12 paradigms compared to 4 for verbs. Also I haven't put much effort into understanding the czech aspect yet, so maybe I am standing infront of a giant without knowing the problems ahead.
Edit 1: There is also more simularity between verbs when they are in the same person "spíš"x"děláš"x"kupuješ"x"stárneš"x"neseš" compared to for example accusative "studenta"x"banán"x"kávu"x"auto"
My experience is exactly the same. My mother tongue is German too. In my youth I learned Latin, Ancient Greek and French. Later in my life I learned modern Greek, that I can speak fluently. Conjugation in those languages has many similiarities with conjugation in Czech. For me the difficulties with declension is not the system of the 6 cases, but the endings are very confusing. Take the ending -a: sing. feminine? Plural neutr? Genitiv of a masculine noun? The same with other endings. But it's not only the declension of nouns, but also of adjectives and pronouns, which multiplies the possibilities. Not to forget the consonant changes: Kluk > kluci, hoch > hoši, kniha becomes knize in locative and so on. How to get along with all that?
I think you can get the right case relatively easily from the context of the sentence and I also don't have too much problems with adjectives since they are pretty consistent between ý and í and pronouns are not that troublesome for me either since I can just study each one of them seperately, but that's just not feasible with the amount of (czech) nouns.
I do remember even the paradigm verbs like "nese, bere, maže, peče, umře"! But yes, then I have to say to myself "žene je bída" to realize which class that actually was...
The regularization should certainly help learning.