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SLOVAK MATTERS

Two little words and a whole lot of explaining

THE VERBS to give and to get, dať and dostať, and their variants are as commonly used in Slovak as they are in English, and have a similar multiplicity of meanings. So hard are they to pin down that I felt the need to dedicate an article to them to orient myself. What is more, the frequent use of these words has led to many amusing expressions.
In the dať (give) family we have, first of all, the frequent split between the perfect dať, which refers to an action that occurs only once, and the imperfect verb, dávať, which covers actions that are continuous or repeated, for example "dávam riad na policu" ("I'm putting dishes on the shelf") or "kravy dávajú mlieko" ("cows give milk").

THE VERBS to give and to get, dať and dostať, and their variants are as commonly used in Slovak as they are in English, and have a similar multiplicity of meanings. So hard are they to pin down that I felt the need to dedicate an article to them to orient myself. What is more, the frequent use of these words has led to many amusing expressions.

In the dať (give) family we have, first of all, the frequent split between the perfect dať, which refers to an action that occurs only once, and the imperfect verb, dávať, which covers actions that are continuous or repeated, for example "dávam riad na policu" ("I'm putting dishes on the shelf") or "kravy dávajú mlieko" ("cows give milk").

Now, you may have noticed that in my translation of one sentence above, dávať came out as "put". This is one of dať and dávať's sticking points for English speakers - an extra meaning in addition to the more familiar "pass", "hand", and "give" that the word can be used to say.

For example, the word fits in the sentence "dal som pohár na stôl" ("I put the cup on the table"), or "dať niekoho do väzenia" "to put someone in prison". Similarly there is the meaning "put in" as in "dal som disketu do počítača" - "I put the disk in the computer".

To cover the action of giving a gift, there is the neighbouring word "darovať", which also means to forgive. Very poetic, don't you think?

But things have not gotten complicated yet. The addition of the personal reflexive "si" to the verb makes it say something like "to be given" or "to take". A good example may be the familiar expression "dám si pivo" ("I'll have a beer"). Another is "dať si sprchu" ("to take a shower").

A further conundrum is the addition of the general reflexive to make "dať sa", which means primarily "to begin" or "set out", for example "dať sa do plaču" ("to burst into tears"). It also gives rise to the common expression "to sa dá", which means something like "it could work".

In such common use, finding expressions with these words is like shooting fish in a barrel. There is "dať niekomu poriadnu príučku" - to teach somebody a tough lesson, usually by playing a trick on them. Or, if you think a person is very generous you can say "dá aj to posledné", meaning he or she gives people whatever they need, even if it is the last piece of it.

What can you "get" in this language?

The verb dostať is somewhat less complicated. It means to "get", "receive", "obtain", and "be given" something. Some examples that might be useful are "dostal som vašu správu" ("I got your message") and "dostal som chorobu" ("I got sick").

In addition to sickness, the word can also be used to say that you caught a sudden whim: "Dostal som chuť plávať" ("I suddenly felt like swimming"), or desire: "dostať chuť na niečo" ("I suddenly felt like doing something").

The word's "receive" meaning is used especially for payments or tickets. For example "dostal som pokutu" ("I got a ticket"), and "dostať výplatu", which means to get your paycheck.

In contrast, the verb's imperfect version, dostávať is used to refer to something regular - for example, "I get paid a salary" ("dostávam mzdu").

One spot where the English and Slovak do not match up is when buying. You cannot use dostať to say, "I went to the store and got a head of broccoli". However, you can use the verb to ask where to buy something by saying "kde to môžem dostať?" ("where can I buy it?").

This word has just as many expressions as dať. If you succeed at catching someone in a trap you can say "dostal som ho/ju", "I got him/her". If you are the victim of such a trap or practical joke, you can protect yourself with "dostať rozum", literally to get intelligence, which means "grow up". If the jokester, or any immature person, gets into trouble, you can say "I told you so" by stressing "už by si mohol dostať rozum!" ("will you grow up already?")

In an outdated expression, when someone gets nothing out of a deal or event, it was said that he got the hole in the cake (dostal dieru z koláča). If he deserved it, one might respond that he got what was coming to him, dostal čo mu patrí (literally what belongs to him).

Hopefully that is not the case, and this article has left you with more than just the cake hole.

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