But I could, and it maps easily onto one structure of her native German, so from then on she used them perfectly – better than a native. We English-speakers only have he/him, she/her etc. and it only applies to pronouns, not to normal nouns or to possessives.
- the thing doing the verb
- the thing being owned (also, all plurals >=5)
- the thing being given something
- the thing the verb is being done to
- the thing being summoned or identified
- the place the thing is in, or on, near, past, close to, with or about
- the thing being used for something or with something else
Czechs use a system of little questions to work out which they're using:
- pád (Nominative) - Kdo? Co? [Who? What?]
- pád (Genitive) - Bez koho? Bez čeho? [Without whom? Without what?]
- pád (Dative) - Ke komu? K čemu? [To whom? To what?]
- pád (Accusative) - Vidím koho? Vidím co? [I see whom? I see what?]
- pád (Vocative) - Oslovujeme, voláme [Who! What! (calling or addressing someone/something)]
- pád (Locative) - O kom? O čem? [About whom? About what?]
- pád (Instrumental) - S kým? S čím? [With whom? With what?]
The saintly Jana has memorized all the names for the cases so she can tell me which word is in which case when I ask. I can hear her quickly asking herself "kdo? bez koho? ke komu? vidím koho?" Then she goes "it's in accusative."
Some nouns, for instance, have the feminine ending but are masculine, which means in some declensions they take the feminine forms, but not always. I think. For these nouns there's a special extra feminine ending bolted on (-kyne) to tell you that that form is really feminine.
The declensions for case #4, the most common – no, of course they're not in frequency order, that would be way too easy – make many masculine nouns (e.g. names) in the accusative take the same ending as feminine nouns in nominative. The endings for case #6 sometimes are pronounced the same as the different endings for case #2. The endings for nouns in case #5 closely resemble the endings for adjectives in case #4. And so on.
Vowels are closely rationed in Czech, you see. There's a national shortage. There's no easy way to distinguish "bull" from "bool", or "hut" from "hoot", or "bat" from "bart". So endings get endlessly recycled because there just aren't enough vowel sounds to give every case in every gender a unique ending.
I am slowly compiling tables of declensions and endings in a series of spreadsheets. If I can find a way to export these to LJ simple HTML, I'll post them on this blog.