No for yes

13-02-2005

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Ahoj! Welcome to ABC of Czech. Language learners always come across so-called "faux amis" or false friends, and learners of Czech find no exception to this rule. In today's programme we're having a look at one of the most commonly heard false friends in Czech - no, undoubtedly a word easily picked out of a conversation!

For speakers of languages such as English, we're accustomed to "no meaning no!" as a negative. But beware - ale pozor! In Czech no is positive, not negative. Czech no means yeah! The Czech word for yes is ano. The form no is a shortening of ano, just like our English yeah is a shortened form of yes. Of course yes in English and ano in Czech are shortened from different ends. And in Czech just like in English most of the time people use yeah not yes - no not ano, despite it making mothers, grandmothers and grade-one teachers cringe.

We're really familiar with the usage of English yeah and no but what about the Czech no. To get a sense of it, we're going to eavesdrop on a phone conversation: No...no...dobře...no... no, no, já mu to řeknu...No, no je tu v budově...Tak jo já mu to řeknu.

This is quite the misleading conversation, isn't it? What Dita was saying was: Yeah...yeah... okay...yeah...yeah, yeah I'll tell him...yeah, yeah he is in the building...So I'll tell him then.

This is a really key when you're just learning Czech and ask a passer-by a quick question, for example what time is it. Here's another short illustration.

Heather: Dito, nevíš kolik je hodin??
Dita: No...je pět hodin.

Heather: Dita, do you know what time it is?
Dita: Yeah...it's five o'clock.

As you probably experienced hearing this short exchange, as English speakers, as soon as we hear no, we assume a negative, and that the person does not know what time it is. What are the most important things to remember about yes and no in Czech? Ano means yes. Ne means no. And no means yeah. It'll take a bit of getting used to, won't it?! Until next time! Na shledanou! And take care! Mějte se!

13-02-2005