Kdo s koho?


Welcome to Sound Czech, our weekly programme that explains Czech phrases. This week’s idiom is hard to explain though, even for Czechs... Listen out for the first phrase of this song by the underground psychedelic group Dg307, “Kdo s koho”.

“Kdo s koho? Kdo s kým? Kdo proti komu? Kdo sám? To je tajemné. Kdo ví?”

Who wins? Who with whom? Who against whom? Who on their own? It’s a mystery. Who knows? A helpful song for learning the declensions of the word “who”, except that the first one doesn’t seem to make much sense: kdo s koho? Who wins? Don’t think too hard about it if you want to keep your idea of Czech as a logical, law-abiding language. Czech has its anomalies, like any language, and this is one. Look for “kdo s koho" on the internet and you might find as many discussions on its origin as you will actual usages (especially if you exclude its popular use as a film and book title). As Pavel Zajíček of Dg307 sings, “je to tajemné“, “it’s a mystery”.

The explanation is that “kdo s koho” has an archaic preposition, s, that used to use the fourth, accusative case, and only survives in a few rare phrases. “Dáme si závod a uvidíme, kdo s koho”, “let’s race, and see who wins”.

Another of those rare phrases is “on není s to”: a way of saying “he doesn’t have what it takes", or “he isn’t up to the task.” Same problem here: “s to” is an impossible declension that make no sense in another context. There are lots of mysterious grammatical “hlavolamy”, literally “head-breakers”, in Czech and “asi nejsem s to, to vysvětlit”, “I’m probably not up to explaining them”. But don’t let them throw you for loops; you usually really can rely on the beautifully systematic logic of Czech.