The instrumental is definitely amongst the easiest cases to learn. There are three main situations in which the instrumental case is used:
1. To indicate company, when somebody is doing something with somebody else. Some of our students like to think of it as a “with” case.
Razgovaram s prijateljicom. – I’m talking with a friend.
2. When we have two inanimate objects or substances together.
Pijem kavu s mlijekom. – I’m drinking coffee with milk.
3. When an action is performed by using an instrument (such as a tool, an object or a means).
Tortu jedem vilicom. – I’m eating soup with a spoon.
Putujemo vlakom. – We are traveling by train.
Barbara dolazi dizalom. – Barbara is coming by elevator.
You might think there is an error in the example Tortu jedem vilicom, that s or sa (meaning with) is missing, that it should be: Tortu jedem s vilicom. But, nope… The thing is that when we have an inanimate instrument of an action, this s or sa (with) shouldn’t be used. It’s possible that you hear some Croats using s or sa excessively, but that’s not really good Croatian.
The table of the instrumental form of compared with the nominative form
*The instrumental ending -em in is only used for masculine and neuter nouns after the palatals (č, ć, dž, đ, lj, nj, š, ž, j), and the letters c and r. There are exceptions to this rule. Of course. But you must already be used to the fact that there always is a little something when things seem to be way too simple!
Goran – s Goranom
brat – s bratom
pas – sa psom
prijatelj – s prijateljem
stric – sa stricem
Perić – s Perićem
On the positive side: have you noticed that the endings for instrumental plural are the same as for dative and locative plural? Yaaaay!
Exercise: Fill the gaps with the instrumental form of the noun in brackets. If it says pl. (plural) after the noun, it means that you need to write the plural instrumental form of the noun in brackets.
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When to use s and when to use sa?
Mind that s and sa (both meaning with) are the short and long version of the same preposition.
The general rule says that we should always use s, except:
a) In front of words that start with s, š, z, or ž. We should use sa here for easier pronunciation.
Putujem sa ženom. – I am traveling with my wife.
Idem van sa sestrom. – I am going out with my sister.
b) If the second letter in a word is s, z, š, or ž. It also makes it hard to pronounce such words in combination with s, so sa should also be used in this kind of situation.
Idu u park sa psom. – They are going to the park with the dog.
Radim sa Ksenijom. – I work with Ksenija.
c) In the instrumental case of the ja, which is sa mnom.
Ksenija radi sa mnom. – Ksenija works with me.
It’s quite funny that our students catch this rule about s and sa quite easily (although we don’t insist on it), but in everyday life, Croats are quite slack about it (that’s the reason why we don’t insist on it) and tend to overuse sa. What do you think would be their reactions if they are being corrected by somebody who is only learning Croatian as a second language? Have you ever been in that kind of situation? 🙂
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Learning Croatian continues… Next Tuesday we will learn some tips and tricks for memorizing case endings for nouns. If you would like us to send you an email with the next Croatian grammar lesson, put your email address here.
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Thanks for the clear explanations of the padeži! This really helps a lot!
I’m so glad that you found this helpful. Thank you for your comment! 🙂