The Definite Articles of Bulgarian

06.06.2012 § 8 Comments

Never mind five names for “uncle”, the definite article in Bulgarian is a truly cross-eye-inducing grammar nugget.

The definite article in English is easy: “the“. That’s it. The tub, the king’s wizards, the pretty pony. Not so in Bulgarian.

First off, the definite article is a suffix in Bulgarian, not a separate word. The definitive of “жена” (“woman”) is “жената“.

However, because it’s a word suffix, the definite article is also affected by the gender and ending of the word, and is different for different ones.

  1. Feminine nouns that end in consonants: -та (e.g. blood: кръв -> кръвта)
  2. Nouns that end in -а or -я: -та (e.g. woman: женá -> женáта)
  3. Nouns that end in -е or -о: -то (e.g. sky: небé -> небéто)
  4. Masculine nouns that end in consonants: -ът if defining the subject of an action and -а otherwise (e.g. man: мъж -> мъжът)
  5. Plural nouns ending in -a or -я: -та (e.g. fields: полéта -> полéтата)
  6. All other plural nouns: -те (e.g. cities: градовé -> градовéте)

Rule #4 needs a bit more explanation. For masculine nouns, the suffix -ът is only used if the noun is the grammatical subject of the clause. In all other cases (object, indirect object, etc.) -a is used.

Example: In the sentence “The man ate the bagel”, “man” is the subject and “bagel” is the object, meaning that the word for “man” (мъж) would be defined with -ът, while the word for “bagel” (геврек) would be defined with -а: Мъжът изяде геврека.

Unfortunately, there are exceptions to rule 4. Fortunately, they are well-defined and easy to remember. There are ten masculine nouns that do not use the suffixes -ът and -а. Instead, they use -ят and -я. These words are:

  • цар (tzar)
  • ден (day)
  • зет (son-in-law)
  • път (road)
  • кон (horse)
  • сън (sleep)
  • крал (king)
  • лакът (elbow)
  • нокът (nail/talon)
  • огън (fire)

Cross-eyed yet? We’re almost done.

What happens if you try to define an adjective-noun pair?

In that case the suffix is added to the first adjective and not to the noun, and the following suffixes are used:

  • –ят and –я for masculine gender (E.g. “the good man ate the nice bagel”: добрият мъж изяде хубавия геврек)
  • –та for feminine gender (E.g. “the good book”: добрáта книга)
  • –то for neuter gender (E.g. “the good child”: добрóто дете)
  • –те for plural (E.g. “the good people”: добрите хора)

*This post is dedicated to italkyoutalklanguages, a translator living in Japan who’s taking her first steps learning Bulgarian while writing a fun and insightful language blog that you should definitely go and check out!*

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§ 8 Responses to The Definite Articles of Bulgarian

  • Anderson says:

    Great Post , I actually found it useful where you stated that because it’s a word suffix, the definite article is also affected by the gender and ending of the word, and is different for different ones

  • Your style is unique in comparison to other folks I’ve read stuff from. Thank you for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess
    I will just bookmark this web site.

  • Christie says:

    Thanks so much for this useful post! As a Bulgarian of mixed heritage who grew up in the US and who is now preparing to take an exam in Bulgarian language and literature, I find the way you’ve presented the information very concise and comprehensible!

  • Todor Pandeliev says:

    You mean when instead of pronouncing двадесет и пет (25) as “dvadeset i pet” you get more like “dvice-pet”. Yep…

  • italkyoutalklanguages says:

    Reblogged this on i talk you talk…languages and commented:
    From Blazing Bulgaria – an insightful blog about Bulgaria, its culture and language!

  • italkyoutalklanguages says:

    Thanks for the dedication! This is the easiest explanation I have seen of the definite article so far – you should write a textbook. One question about the masculine suffix – is the final ‘T’ pronounced? Some speakers on the CD I have seem to gloss over the sound!

    • vpandeliev says:

      Great question! You’re right, actually, the final ‘T’s are often not pronounced. The difference is largely orthographical.
      Wait till we get to numbers😛 There’s a whole lot of slurring and swallowing letters going on.

      • italkyoutalklanguages says:

        Thanks! Yeah, I wondered about the numbers – I couldn’t hear the endings on some of them, but thought that was just me!

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