The dative case in the Croatian language

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I have some good news and some bad news about the dative .

The bad news is that the dative case is sometimes a bit tricky to recognize. The good news is that it is not amongst the most frequent cases in Croatian. Another good piece of news is that the endings for the dative case are exactly the same as for the locative case. Yaaay! One less set of endings to learn.

So, let’s start this week’s journey with the endings of in the dative case – keeping in mind that it’s not just the nouns that change in cases; , and some numbers change in cases, too, but we’ll focus on them in our future posts. While the rules on when to use each case are always the same, it’s the endings that differ for different types of words. So, once again, in this series of posts about the cases, we are focusing primarily on noun endings and leaving the other endings for later on.

OK, here we go… Let’s learn some Croatian! 🙂

The table of the dative form of nouns, compared with the nominative

Singular Plural
Nominative Dative Nominative Dative
Masculine muškarac -u
muškarcu
muškarci -ima
muškarcima
Feminine žena -i
ženi
žene -ama
ženama
Neuter more, vino -u
moru, vinu
mora, vina -ima
morima, vinima

If you find learning all of those endings of words for different cases a bit hard to memorize, don’t despair! After we learn all the cases, we’ll publish a separate blog post with tips and tricks for memorizing endings for cases of nouns in Croatian.

The dative case as an indirect object

Remember that in a sentence are always in the accusative case? But who wants to analyze sentences every time to think whether you have a direct object or not in order to use your cases right? Well, when it comes to the dative, you have to think about also… Do I see many question marks above your head right now wondering what on Earth an indirect object is?

Well, the simple answer is that an indirect object is usually the recipient of a direct object. Such indirect objects are in the dative case. For example:

Ana daje čokoladu Ivanu. – Ana is giving chocolate to Ivan.
Ana (subject, in the nominative case) is giving chocolate (direct object, in the accusative case) to Ivan (indirect object, in the dative case). Ivan is the recipient of the chocolate.

Ivan daje kavu Ani. – Ivan is giving a coffee to Ana.
Ivan (, in the nominative case) is giving a coffee (direct object, in the accusative case) to Ana (indirect object, in the dative case). Ana is the recipient of the coffee.

The dative case as an indirect object

The dative case denoting direction – approaching or nearing something

Besides the usage of the dative case as an indirect object, dative also denotes direction – more precisely, approaching something or somebody. For example:

Približavam se zgradi. – I’m approaching the building.
Prilazim hotelu. – I’m nearing the hotel.

Trouble recognizing the dative case? There is a trick!

 So, even though it sometimes might be a bit tricky to “detect” the dative case in a sentence, the good news is that the English language version of the same sentence very often (but not always!) has the preposition to (to someone or to something), as in our examples above: Ivan daje kavu Ani. (Ivan is giving a coffee to Ana.) or Ana daje čokoladu Ivanu. (Ana is giving chocolate to Ivan). It’s just that in the Croatian version of a sentence, instead of using the preposition to, we change the ending of the noun. So that’s why noun endings are so important!

Whenever you can ask questions komu (to whom/who to) or čemu (to what) about your sentence, you can be sure that the answer is in the dative case. For example: 

Konobar daje sladoled djevojčici. – The waiter is giving ice cream to a girl. 
Komu konobar daje sladoled? – Who is the waiter giving ice cream to? / To whom is the waiter giving an ice cream?

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Prepositions with the dative case

There are not many in Croatian that can come in combination with the dative case. What is more, one of the most frequent prepositions – k or ka (to) – can be omitted as the sentence can function with them or without them.

Idem (k) doktoru. – I’m going to the doctor.
Dođi (k) mami. – Come to mommy.

The prepositions nasuprot (across) and usprkos (despite) can be used both with the dative or with the genitive case. The use of those prepositions with the dative case is preferable according to grammar books, but in everyday life, you can hear them being used both with the dative or with the genitive. The language is constantly changing… Linguists can decide what they think is better or what should be the rule, but the language is actually formed based on how people use it in their everyday lives.

Nasuprot bolnici (dative) nalazi se veliko parkiralište. – The big parking lot is across the hospital.  
Nasuprot bolnice (genitive) nalazi se veliko parkiralište. – The big parking lot is across the hospital.  

Usprkos porazu (dative), Hrvatska ostaje na prvenstvu. – Despite the defeat, Croatia is staying in the championship. 
Usprkos poraza (genitive), Hrvatska ostaje na prvenstvu. – Despite the defeat, Croatia is staying in the championship.

Do you have any questions about the dative case in Croatian?

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Learning Croatian continues… Next Tuesday we will learn about the accusative case in the Croatian language. If you would like us to send you an email with the next Croatian grammar lesson, put your email address here.

Exercises: Fill the gaps with the dative form of the noun in brackets. If you see pl. (plural) after the noun, it means that you need to write the plural dative form of the noun in brackets.

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