The most important grammar terms that you might find useful when learning Croatian as a second language
What are nouns, verbs, adjectives...?

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As the majority of people that learn Croatian as a second language are not linguists, but “normal people”, it is often the case that terms like adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, etc. sound familiar to them, but they have forgotten what they mean. That’s perfectly normal. The thing is that grammatical definitions and explanations usually look like they are written by linguists for linguists and “normal people” find them difficult and often boring to read. But, when simplified and written in “normal language”, all of them are pretty simple.

That’s why we have prepared the list of the most important grammar terms, explained in the simplest possible way.

1. PARTS OF SPEECH

Parts of speech are basically different categories or types of words. If you can tell that, for example, “a table” and “big” belong to different categories of words, you are on the right track: “a table” is a noun, while “big” is an adjective. So, they are different parts of speech.

Different languages might have different classifications of parts of speech. In Croatian, there are ten parts of speech. In this post, I will introduce you to the six major categories that you might find useful in our later blog posts: nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives and prepositions.

1.1. What are nouns?

Nouns are words that identify/name/refer to all kinds of stuff: a noun can be a person, a place, a thing or an idea. They can be real and touchable, or abstract concepts.

For example: a dog (pas), a city (grad), a tree (stablo), water (voda), a dream (san), Marko (Marko), freedom (sloboda)… 

Ivan went to the beach to play volleyball. – Ivan je otišao na plažu igrati odbojku.

What are nouns

Nouns in the Croatian language have grammatical genders: they are either masculine, feminine or neuter. Nouns have their singular or plural form and change their endings through grammatical cases. This process is called declension.

1.2. What are pronouns? 

A pronoun is a word that we use instead of another word – especially a noun

There are seven different types of pronouns in the Croatian language: (1) personal pronouns, (2) possessive pronouns, (3) interrogative-relative pronouns, (4) demonstrative pronouns, (5) reflexive pronoun sebe/se, (6) possessive-reflexive pronoun svoj, and (7) indefinite pronouns. All of them can change their form through grammatical cases

Some of the most commonly used types are the personal pronouns and the possessive pronouns.

1.2.1. Personal pronouns, as the name itself suggests, are words used to indicate a grammatical person (Ivan = he, Ivan and Marko = they, beer = it…). So, personal pronouns always replace nouns. 

For example: I (ja), you (ti), he (on), she (ona), it (ono)…

Personal pronouns

Anna called Ivan on the phone and Ivan answered the phone.
She called him on the phone and he answered it.

1.2.2. Possessive pronouns are words used to indicate belonging to a personal pronoun (his = belonging to him, our(s) = belonging to us, etc.). So, possessive pronouns are basically possessive forms of personal pronouns. 

For example: my/mine (moj), your/yours (tvoj), his (njegov), her/hers (njezin)…

Possessive pronouns

You have a dog. The dog is yours. – Ti imaš psa. Pas je tvoj.
We have a house. Our house is big. – Mi imamo kuću. Naša kuća je velika.

(For a complete list of the seven types of pronouns in Croatian and more information about each type, click here).

1.3. What are verbs?

Verbs are words that express action, state or being. 

For example: to work (raditi), to swim (plivati), to fall (padati), to hold (držati), to think (misliti), to be (biti)…

We swim in the ocean. – Mi plivamo u oceanu.
They are in the car. – Oni su u autu.

The basic form of the verb is called infinitive (to swimplivati, to eatjesti). Verbs change their form through different persons (I, you, he, she…) in different tenses (the past, the present, the future). This process is called conjugation.

1.4. What are adverbs?

Adverbs are words that usually come with verbs, giving more information about them, like when something happened, how, how many times, etc. 

For example: today (danas), always (uvijek), soon (uskoro), here (ovdje), slowly (polako), somehow (nekako), a little (malo)…

He often hugs her tightly. – On je često grli čvrsto.
Yesterday we didn’t work a lot. Jučer nismo puno radili.

Adverbs in Croatian never change their form.

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1.5. What are adjectives?

We use adjectives to describe, or give more information, about a noun (or a pronoun). In Croatian, adjectives can be descriptive (big, old, green…), possessive (Ivan’s, Marija’s, brother’s…) or material (telling us what something is made of, e.g.: wooden, stone, gold…).

For example: 

This beautiful wooden table is Ana’s. – Ovaj lijepi  drveni stol je Anin.  
Croatia is a small and beautiful country. – Hrvatska je mala i lijepa zemlja. 
They are so smart and ambitious. – Oni su tako pametni i ambiciozni.

What are adjectives

Adjectives in the Croatian language have grammatical genders and change their endings in singular and plural through grammatical cases – they always adapt to the form of a noun which they describe.

1.6. What are prepositions?

Prepositions are words that show relations between stuff, especially nouns (or pronouns).

For example: in front of (ispred), behind (iza), next to (pokraj), on (na), about (o), with (s or sa), after (nakon or poslije)…

I am walking between the palm trees with him. – Hodam između palminih stabala s njim.
Before that, we were talking about vacation. Prije toga smo razgovarali o odmoru.

Prepositions in the Croatian language never change their own form, but they determine the grammatical case of a noun (or a pronoun) that comes right after them.

2. PARTS OF A SENTENCE

Unlike parts of speech, which are different types of words, parts of a sentence basically refer to the functions of words in a sentence. For example, the word Ivan is a noun, but it can have different functions in different sentences:

Ivan lives in Croatia. → subject
I saw Ivan. → direct object
I am writing a letter to Ivan. → indirect object

It is these three terms – subject, direct object and indirect object – that are among the most important parts of a sentence and that you might find useful when reading our later blog posts. So, let’s see what they actually mean.

2.1. What is a subject?

The subject in a sentence is the one – a person or a thing – that does the action, i.e. the word or the phrase (usually a noun or a pronoun) that “controls” the verb.

For example:

They delivered the pizzas. Oni su dostavili pizze. 
Ivan ran away. Ivan je pobjegao.
A chair is next to the table. Stolica je pokraj stola.

The subject of a sentence in Croatian is always in the nominative case.

2.2. What is a direct object?

A direct object is a receiver of an action (i.e., of the verb) in a sentence.

For example: 

Marko is throwing a ball. – Mako baca loptu.
Marija saw Igor yesterday. – Marija je vidjela Igora jučer.

The direct object of a sentence in Croatian is always in the accusative case.

2.3. What is an indirect object?

An indirect object is a receiver of a direct object.

For example: 

Marko is throwing a ball to John. – Marko baca loptu Johnu.

So: John (indirect object) is the receiver of the ball (direct object), which is the receiver of throwing (action/verb), performed by Marko (subject).

What is an indirect object

3. OTHER USEFUL GRAMMAR TERMS

3.1. What is grammatical gender?

Grammatical gender is a grammatical category that distinguishes between (1) the masculine gender, (2) the feminine gender and (3) the neuter gender. In the Croatian language, the grammatical gender of a noun is determined by the ending of a noun. Generally speaking, 

masculine nouns end in a consonant (muškarac – a man, prozor – a window),
feminine nouns end in -a (žena – a woman, knjiga – a book), and
neuter nouns end in either -o or -e (vino – wine, dijete – a child).

Knowing genders is important because nouns change their forms differently through grammatical cases based on their gender. Also, when you join an adjective or a pronoun to a noun, these will adapt to the gender of the noun.

For example:
Moj brat je visok. – My brother is tall.
Moja sestra je visoka. – My sister is tall.
Moje dijete je visoko. – My child is tall. 

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Are there grammatical genders in your native language? If so, are the rules to determine them as simple as in Croatian? Tell us in the comment section below!

3.2. What are grammatical cases (padeži)?

Grammatical cases (padeži) are a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, adjectives and numbers where these words get different endings depending on the context, i.e. their function in a sentence. For example, a noun would be in its basic form (i.e. the nominative case) when it is a subject of a sentence, but will get different endings (i.e. be in different cases) after prepositions or when used as an object in a sentence.

There are 7 cases in Croatian: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, vocative, locative and instrumental. All of them have their singular and plural form. The act of changing a word through cases is called declension.

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3.3. What is declension?

As mentioned above, declension is how declinable words – (1) nouns, (2) pronouns, (3) adjectives and (4) numbers – change their form (i.e. get different endings) through grammatical cases.

For example, here is the declension of the noun Tomislav, i.e. the noun Tomislav in all 7 cases:

nominative: Tomislav
genitive: Tomislava
dative: Tomislavu
accusative: Tomislava
vocative: Tomislave
locative: Tomislavu
instrumental: Tomislavom

3.4. What is infinitive? 

The infinitive of a verb is the basic form of the verb that we find in a dictionary. In the Croatian language, infinitives end in -ti or -ći (spavati, ići), while the infinitive forms in English are usually preceded by the word to (to sleep, to go). Infinitives don’t tell us when the action is happening, nor who is doing it – that’s what tenses are for!

For example: raditi (to work), plivati (to swim), gledati (to watch), doći (to come)…

Klara wants to dance. – Klara želi plesati.

3.5. What is tense?

Tense is a grammatical category of a verb that shows the time when the action happens. The three main tenses are the past tense, the present tense and the future tense.

For example:

I watched TV yesterday. Gledala sam TV jučer. THE PAST TENSE
I am watching TV today. Gledam TV danas. THE PRESENT TENSE
I will watch TV tomorrow. Gledat ću TV sutra. THE FUTURE TENSE
What is a tense

In Croatian, we have 4 past tenses (perfekt, pluskvamperfekt, aorist and imperfekt), 1 present tense (prezent), and 2 future tenses (futur I and futur II). But you don’t have to learn all of them, just one of each. For more information about each of these tenses and about which 3 tenses are really important to learn, click here.

3.6. What is conjugation?

Conjugation is how verbs change their form according to the person (I, you, he, she…), number (singular or plural) and tense (present, past or future).

For example:

radim – I am working OR: I work → first person singular, present tense
radimo – we are working OR: we work → first person plural, present tense
radio sam (m.) / radila sam (f.) – I worked → first person singular, past tense
radili smo (m.) / radile smo (f.) – we worked → first person plural, past tense
radit ću – I will work → first person singular, future tense
radit ćemo – we will work
→ first person plural, future tense

3.7. What is a (grammatical) person?

Grammatical person is a term used to differentiate between (1) those who speak, (2) those being spoken to, and (3) everybody else, i.e. those who neither speak nor are spoken to. So, we differentiate between the three grammatical persons in both singular and plural:

For example:

SINGULAR PLURAL
the first person: I (ja) we (mi)
the second person: you (ti) you (vi)
the third person: he (on), she (ona), it (ono) they (oni, one or ona)

In the Croatian language, the form of the verb in any tense tells us who the grammatical person is, even if the person is not even mentioned in a sentence. This is something that is very common in Croatian, and that doesn’t even exist in English.

For example:

Kuham ručak svaki dan. = Ja kuham ručak svaki dan. I cook lunch every day.
Kuh večeru svaki dan. = Ti kuh večeru svaki dan. You cook dinner every day.
Kuhamo juhu svaki dan. = Mi kuhamo juhu svaki dan. We cook soup every day.
What is a (grammatical) person

3.8. What are singular and plural?

Singular and plural are the two categories within a grammatical category called grammatical number. Singular means that we talk about one object or individual (a car, a doctor). Plural means that we talk about more than one object or individual (cars, doctors).

The category of singular and plural in the Croatian language refers to:

SINGULAR PLURAL
1. NOUNS: jabuka – an apple jabuke – apples
2. ADJECTIVES: velika (jabuka) – big (apple) velike (jabuke) – big (apples)
3. PRONOUNS: moja (jabuka) – my (apple) moje (jabuke) – my (apples)
4. VERBS:
(ja) kuham – I cook (mi) kuhamo – we cook
5. (SOME) NUMBERS:
prva (jabuka) – the first (apple) prve (jabuke) – the first (apples)

3.9. What is a reflexive verb?

Generally speaking, reflexive verbs are those verbs whose subject is the same as their direct object. In the Croatian language, reflexive verbs always come with the reflexive pronoun se (smijati se, prati se), while reflexive verbs in English always come with a reflexive pronoun, i.e. the word that ends in -self or -selves (to wash oneself).

For example: prati se (to wash oneself), gledati se (to look at oneself), pitati se (to ask oneself), brijati se (to shave oneself), smiriti se (to calm oneself down)…

I am looking at myself in the mirror. Ja se gledam u ogledalu.

We are looking at ourselves in the mirror. Mi se gledamo u ogledalu.

What is a reflexive verb

Unfortunately, a verb that is reflexive in Croatian isn’t always reflexive in English.

3.10. What is imperative?

The imperative is the form of a verb (officially called the “mood” of a verb) used to give commands, orders, requests and the like.

For example:
Dođi! Come!
Daj mi kavu. Give me a coffee.

What is imperative

3.11. What are positive, comparative and superlative?

In both Croatian and English we can compare things (people, animals, objects, etc.) by using adjectives (e.g. loud, louder or the loudest), or we can compare actions by using adverbs (e.g. loudly, more loudly or most loudly). This is called comparison. The examples mentioned represent the three degrees of comparison:

ADJECTIVE: ADVERB:
loud (glasan) loudly (glasno) THE POSITIVE DEGREE
louder (glasniji) more loudly (glasnije) THE COMPARATIVE DEGREE
the loudest (najglasniji) most loudly (najglasnije) THE SUPERLATIVE DEGREE

3.12. What are vowels and consonants?

Vowels in Croatian (as well as in English) are the letters/sounds: a, e, i, o, and u

All remaining letters are called consonants and there are 25 of them in the Croatian alphabet: b, c, č, ć, d, dž, đ, f, g, h, j, k, l, lj, m, n, nj, p, r, s, š, t, v, z, and ž.

The difference is that you can pronounce vowels without your tongue touching your teeth or any other part of your mouth, the flow of air through your mouth is not limited, while if you pronounce any consonant you must completely or partially stop the flow of air through your mouth or nose. Come on, try it! 🙂

What are vowels and consonants

3.13. What is an enclitic?

An enclitic is a word (usually a very short one) that does not have its own stress and is pronounced as if it is a part of the word that comes before it. This is the reason why an enclitic can never be the first word in a sentence.

Enclitics in the Croatian language are: 

  1. short forms of the verb biti (to be): sam, si, je, smo, ste, su
  2. short forms of the verb htjeti (will): ću, ćeš, će, ćemo, ćete, će
  3. short forms of the personal pronouns through cases: mu, joj, me, ih, im
  4. the word li, used to make yes/no questions
  5. the word se, used to make reflexive constructions

For example:
Kako
si danas? – How are you today?
Oni će doći sutra. – They will come tomorrow. 
Vidim ga. – I see him.

The most important grammar terms that you might find useful when learning Croatian as a second language

Is there any other grammar term that you have bumped into while learning Croatian and you didn’t fully understand what it is? If so, let us know and we’ll add it to the list! 🙂 

Learning Croatian continues! Next Tuesday we are learning which types of words (i.e., parts of speech) change their endings in the Croatian language and which don’t. If you want us to send you an email with the next Croatian grammar lesson, put your email address here.

If you want to learn Croatian online with a teacher one-on-one, don’t hesitate to book your free trial lesson here.

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