Your Ladyship’s Dog’s Life’s Quality’s Improvement Is The First Step


As I go about my daily life, I’m always on the lookout for things connected to Romanian grammar, especially those I can whittle down into bite-sized chunks to feed into good blog post.

The other day I was down at the veterinarian’s office with the cats (they’re fine – just fat) and there was a brochure lying around from a multinational pharmaceutical corporation promoting one of their pills for canine arthritis.

I kept it because it was written in Romanian and correct Romanian, so it’s an invaluable resource as a grammar guide.

For example, here’s one line in the brochure: tratamentul poate stopa progresul bolii.

I found that interesting because the verb here is “stopa” which yes does in fact mean “stop”. Since English uses the same root, it’s easy to understand this word. I just thought it was curious they didn’t use the Slavic verb opri instead.

But here’s the sentence I wanted to share with you:

Este primul pas catre imbunatatirea calitatii vietii cainelui dvs.

Let’s break that down, shall we?

Este primul pas catre just means “It is the first step towards”. Hopefully you saw the ul on the end of primul and realized it meant “the + first” due to Romanian noun declensions.

So the first part is easy. It was the imbunatatirea calitatii vietii cainelui dvs that caught my eye.

The “dvs” by the way is just the short way to write “dumnevoastra” or the “formal” way to say “you”.

Funny note: Literally “dumnevoastra” means Your Lordship (or Ladyship).

What we’ve got here is four words in a row which are all declined, three in the “of the” format, sometimes known as the +ului form, because that’s how it’s declined in the singular masculine.

Let’s break it down.

“Imbunatatire” is a noun form that is derived from a word you know quite well – “bun” meaning “good”. Therefore it means (literally) “making more good” or as we say in ordinary English, “improvement”.

Therefore “imbunatatirea” (with the extra “a” on the end) is the declined form, in other words it means “the improvement”.

“Calitate” means “quality”. So “of the quality” becomes calitatii.

Likewise “viata” means “life” but “of the life” is declined as vietii.

And “caine” meaning “dog”, being singular and masculine, uses the form cainelui to mean “of the dog”.

So let’s look at the original sentence again:

Este primul pas catre imbunatatirea calitatii vietii cainelui dvs.

It is (the) first step towards (the) improvement (of the) quality (of the) life (of the) dog (that is) yours.

Showing you the declinations:

Este primul pas catre imbunatatirea calitatii vietii cainelui dvs.

Even if you couldn’t come up with this sentence on the fly, I hope you can start to see patterns in how these sentences are constructed when you read them.

Do you remember the sentence: tratamentul poate stopa pogresul bolii?

The last word there bolii is declined and is quite similar to both calitatii and vietii above (ending on two i’s). The “straight” from is “boala” and means “illness”. Therefore bolii means “of the illness”.

Similarly, tratament means “treatment” and +ul means “the” so it means “the treatment”.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret, one of the ways I, as an English speaker (and more importantly, thinker), think of all these sentences where a string of words get modified depending on whether it’s masculine, female, “of the” form, etc, etc.

Two words: Vanna White.

I’m assuming you’re familiar with Wheel of Fortune and contestants guessing letters and then blocks would light up and Vanna White would go flip them.

Or another way to think of it is stringing beads on a string.

Let’s take this word “viata” which means “life”, very similar to Spanish “vida” and Italian “vita”.

viată = life
viata = the life
vietii = of the life

Therefore when I learn the word “viata” I actually think of it like this:

vi[]t[].

In other words, I think of the word as simply vi-t because the other parts are subject to change. Those letters can be flipped by Vanna White.

You might recognize the letters that don’t change as identical to some English words like “vital” and “vitamin”, by the way.

Every single Romanian noun, at a bare minimum, has several “letters to flip” on the end of the word.

oras = city
orasul = the city
orasului = of the city

Therefore in my mind the word is “oras[][][][]” with several spots left for Vanna White to “flip” as the occasion requires.

Is the word city “doing” the action? Ok Vanna, flip over “ul” on the end. Oh wait, is the word city “receiving” the action? Hm, Vanna go ahead and flip over the “ului” and we’re on our way.

Flipping “boala” to “bolii” or “floare” to “florii” only seems difficult until you’ve had Vanna flip these over a few hundred times.

Although many of (Romanian) Vanna’s “flips” seem to be designed deliberately to be tongue twisters, the good news is that there’s not that many of these combos out there. In other words, Vanna works pretty hard but it’s repetitious work.

If you grew up speaking English, you’re crippled with a very weak interior “Vanna” because she’s spent her life only flipping an extra “s” at the end of nouns, with perhaps a few “es” throw in there for good measure. Only a few words like “goose” become “g[][]se” in English.

Romanian Vannas work much harder of course. It’s just difficult to imagine words in your head in a much more fluid state. Every noun, from big to small, “flips” in different ways depending on its number, gender and what it’s doing (or what’s being done to it).

If you’re a visual learner, write these sentences out on a piece of paper and draw arrows from the endings to the nouns (ului to caine, for instance). Then you can see the endings and how they flow, in terms of what they’re modifying.

Romanian just uses a mostly reverse direction (compared to English) so if you read the sentence backwards it becomes a lot easier to understand:

“Your Ladyship’s dog’s life’s quality’s improvement is the first step.”

AND NOW YOU KNOW!

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