061 Člověk and you

„The second person denoting the general human agent, though represented in both languages, appears to be far more characteristic of English than of Czech.“

„Although Czech has structural requisites which make parallelism between you and 2nd person possible, in fact many of the uses of you correspond to člověk and/or the reflexive forms. Thus in translating from English to Czech, care should be taken not to use the general second person too often under the influence of the original since in longer texts this would create the impression of a mannerism foreign to Czech….“


The general human agent can be conveyed in English by you, they, we, one, people, a man, a fellow etc and the passive voice. Of these the principal devices appear to be you and they [which] are far more frequent than all the others.

The English man-pronoun proper, one, appears to be the least common. It is stylistically marked in that it is more characteristic of scientific writing than of conversation, though even here it can hardly be described as common. Comments in manuals on ‘good English’ sometimes reveal a negative attitude towards it.

Stylistically, one belongs to higher style, whereas člověk is marked as colloquial.

Když má člověk někoho rád….                                                                                                                            When you love somebody….

Když o tom člověk začne přemyšlet.                                                                                                                  When you come to think about it.

To je tak, když se člověk pro ženskou obětuje.                                                                                        That’s what it’s like when you sacrifice yourself for a woman.

Chci se ženit, a člověk nikdy neví, co se může v domácnosti hodit.                                                           I want to get married, and you never know what may come in handy in a household.

Of course, you can be more ambiguous than člověk, so it should sometimes be avoided.

Czech third person plural –> English passive

We can expect some Czech third person plural forms to correspond to the passive in English. In some […] examples the two forms may alternate, but occasionally the passive appears to be more appropriate.

Zavolali mě k operaci                                                                                                                                                     I was called to an operation

Před chvíli mi nabídli nové místo.                                                                                                                           A little while ago I was offered a new job.

Jak to víš? Řekli mi to.                                                                                                                                                  How do you know? I was told.

The third person plural is most likely in the Czech equivalents because of the stylistic incongruity between the literary passive and the colloquial context. […] The English passive [can be] stylistically neutral.

Quotes and examples from Man-Sätze in Czech and English (in Studies in the English Language, Volume 2, p. 41) by Libuše Dušková.

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