Czech by Numbers - The Teens

01-07-2006

Welcome to Czech by Numbers, Radio Prague's Czech language course which looks at the use of numbers in everyday speech. So far this series has explored Czech numbers from one to twelve and explained the idioms and phrases in Czech which use these numbers. Between twelve and twenty, we find that there are significantly fewer fixed expressions using numbers, possibly with the exception of thirteen - třináct.

In this country the number thirteen is considered to be an unlucky number and Friday 13th - pátek třináctého is regarded by some people as an exceptionally unlucky day. Also, there is a Czech expression třináctá komnata - "the thirteenth chamber". Often appearing in fairy tales, it is a chamber which is not supposed to be opened because that's where the darkest secrets are kept. In common speech it stands for everything dark and secret which we don't want to reveal, a bit like the proverbial skeleton in the cupboard.

The number fourteen - čtrnáct - is most often used in Czech in the expression čtrnáct dní meaning two weeks or a fortnight. Czechs will much more often say čtrnáct dní than dva týdny - two weeks. Czechs who are learning English can be very easily spotted because they will use the words "fourteen days" in English, too.

Fifteen - patnáct is the age of consent in the Czech Republic and also the age of criminal responsibility.

Sixteen - šestnáct used to be the legal age to buy cigarettes but a few years ago it was raised to eighteen.

Seventeen or sedmnáct can still be heard very often as part of the phrase "November 17th" - sedmnáctý listopad - which was the day when the Velvet Revolution started in 1989 when the police brutally cracked down on a peaceful student demonstration in Prague.

At eighteen years of age, v osmnácti letech, one can get a driver's licence, drink alcohol legally, go to the polls, get married without parental consent and so on.

Nineteen is devatenáct. There are no remarkable phrases using that word on its own but it's used to denote years in the 20th century. We already mentioned the year 1989. The more common way to say that in Czech is devatenáct set osmdesát devět - that is "nineteen hundred and eighty-nine". However, when counting objects, the figure would read tisíc devět set osmdesát devět - "one thousand nine hundred and eighty-nine".

And that's it for today. We'll be back next time with more Czech numbers. Till then na shledanou.

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