It Depends on What the Meaning of the Word “Is”, Is

When I first learned this language (in 37 easy steps), it was extremely difficult to get English-language books on how to learn Romanian. Now there’s a lot more material out there, really good stuff (including Wikipedia).

Unfortunately, there’s always going to be two kinds of Romanian – regular “law books” Romanian and “two ladies jabbering over a fence in a village” Romanian. And to live here or have any long-term dealings, you need to learn both kinds.

Today’s language tip has to do with the verb “to be”.

Check out this song title: Ce triste-s noptile.

I’m assuming you know some Romanian here (or Spanish, Italian, Catalan, etc) and it’s pretty easy to see:

Ce – what/how (que/che/ce)

Triste – Sad (trista, tristo, trist)

and maybe you can parse out noptile as the plural of night (noapte) and is in the particular kind of noun declension (see my article here) that means “the nights”.

So putting it together we’ve got: how sad (something) the nights.

But what’s that -s?

If the syntax in Romanian freaks you out, just realize anytime (about) you see a “-” dash mark it’s the same as in English the –‘– as in the apostrophe to make a contraction like “that’s” instead of “that is” and “isn’t” and “is not”.  For much more on the dash mark and what it means, see here.

Ok so far so good but if you parse it out, it becomes:

Ce triste is noptile.

Is? Looks like good old-fashioned English for the third person form of to be, as in “he is” or “it is”.

Except in Romanian it’s actually something different, which is actually meaning any form whatsoever of the verb “to be” in the present tense.

Saying “is” can be anything from “I am” to “He/she/it is” to “You/they are”.

Knowing that it becomes (in this case):

How sad are the nights

Funky, eh?

Let’s do some dialog and you’ll see how it goes.

You: Tarancuta, tarancuta, unde esti?
Ea (Her): Eu is acasa.  Unde is voi?

So there you go. It’s not considered anything to be “correct grammatical” Romanian but it isn’t slang either. It’s just like “lazy” Romanian when you feel too lazy to parse it out :P

As always, remembering our pronunciation, is is pronounced like the word “geese” without the “g”.

Phrase to learn for the day: Eu-s vorbitor nativ, ma (Dang right I’m a native speaker, yo) :P:P

9 thoughts on “It Depends on What the Meaning of the Word “Is”, Is

  1. That is definitely an Ardeal thing…I have never heard such an expression. It’s seems grammatically wrong. It might just be laziness even though where I come from people make grammatical mistakes because they do not KNOW the correct way, not because of laziness.
    Do you consider yourself Romanian at heart:)?Cuz you know some linguistic details many Romanian never thought of…


  2. i enjoy ur blog, but i must tell u.. there is no such thing as “Unde is voi?” from:
    “You: Tarancuta, tarancuta, unde esti?
    Ea (Her): Eu is acasa. Unde is voi?”

    except for that, pretty much everything is true ;)


  3. Never heard it as Voi-s gata, but sounds pretty Satu Mare-ish. Furthermore, unde îs voi sounds pretty wrong, since îs is mostly the short version for sunt. (Eu sunt / Eu îs – Ei sunt / Ei îs)


  4. Actually “-s” is a shorthand for both “sunt” singular and plural
    “Ce triste-s nopțile” means “How sad the nights are”
    “Eu-s băiat” means “I’m a boy”


      1. Never heard that in romanian… probably you heard that in Ardeal/Cluj, and I’m not familiar with that dialect. Instead, oftenly heard ‘voi s’tetsi gata?’ as short from ‘suntetsi’.


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