The past tense in the Croatian language, negative
...or how to say you DIDN’T do things

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If you are one of those who learn Croatian in order to be able to speak with their older Croatian relatives or maybe grandparents, learning past should be quite useful, as you are quite likely to listen about the past – the happy times, the difficult times, the family history, how it used to be… So, here we go… Let’s learn some Croatian! 🙂

For all of you who read our weekly blog posts, by now you probably already know all about the past tense in Croatian, affirmative. If that is so, you’ll probably find this post about the past tense in Croatian, negative, a piece of cake.

If you want to make a negative sentence in the past tense, just use this scheme:

NEGATIVE PAST TENSE = NEGATIVE BITI (TO BE) + MAIN VERB with one of the following endings:

Singular: -O (masculine) / -LA (feminine) / -LO (neuter)
Plural:     -LI (masculine) / -LE (feminine) / -LA (neuter)

Just as a reminder, here’s what the negative forms of the auxiliary verb biti (to be) look like:

Glagol biti – niječni oblik
The verb to be – negative form
Jednina
Singular
Množina
Plural
1. (ja) nisam 1. (mi) nismo
2. (ti) nisi 2. (vi) niste
3. (on) nije
(ona) nije
(ono) nije
3. (oni) nisu
(one) nisu
(ona) nisu

Step two is the same as in the affirmative form: add the appropriate ending to the main .  As the majority of verbs in Croatian end in -ti, what you need to do is just remove that final -ti and add one of the endings shown in the scheme above:  -O (masculine) / -LA (feminine) / -LO (neuter) for singular, or  -LI (masculine) / -LE (feminine) / -LA for plural.  

And that’s it! Now we are ready to take a look at what the negative form of the past tense in Croatian looks like. We will use the verb učiti (to learn) as an example:

Perfekt glagola učiti – niječni oblik
The past tense of the verb to learn – negative form
Jednina
Singular
Množina
Plural
1. (ja) nisam učio I didn’t learn (m.) 1. (mi) nismo učili we didn’t learn (m.)
(ja) nisam učila I didn’t learn (f.) (mi) nismo učile we didn’t learn (f.)
2. (ti) nisi učio you didn’t learn (m.) 2. (vi) niste učili you didn’t learn (m.)
(ti) nisi učila you didn’t learn (f.) (vi) niste učile you didn’t learn (f.)
3. (on) nije učio he didn’t learn (m.) 3. (oni) nisu učili they didn’t learn (m.)
(ona) nije učila she didn’t learn (f.) (one) nisu učile they didn’t learn (f.)
(ono) nije učilo* it didn’t learn (n.) (ona) nisu učila they didn’t learn (n.)

*In Croatian, ono (it) does not refer to an object, but to any neuter noun, even if it means a person, like dijete (child). So, ono nije učilo can mean dijete nije učilo.

Here are some more examples:

(Ja) nisam plivao. (m.) / (Ja) nisam plivala. (f.) I didn’t swim.
(Ti) nisi kuhao. (m.) / (Ti) nisi kuhala. (f.) You didn’t cook.
(On) nije radio. He didn’t work
(Ona) nije čitala. She didn’t read.
(Mi) nismo pjevali. (m.) / (Mi) nismo pjevale. (f.) We didn’t sing.
(Vi) niste plesali. (m.) / (Vi) niste plesale. (f.) You didn’t dance.
(Oni) nisu mislili. They didn’t think. (m. or m.+f.)
(One) nisu putovale. They didn’t travel. (f.)

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So I guess I can drop the subject here as well?

You are right. Just like in other tenses – the present tense or the future tense the (e.g.: ja, ti, on, Ana, Ivan…) can be left out from the sentence, and Croats tend to do that whenever the context allows it, i.e. whenever it’s clear who they’re talking about. As we hope you have learned by now, this is true for all kinds of sentences (affirmative, negative or interrogative) in all tenses, because the form of the verb itself always tells you who the subject is.

Therefore, the sentences above work perfectly fine if you drop the subject, i.e. the in brackets. What is more, you don’t even have to change the word order – meaning, the auxiliary verb biti (to be) still comes before the main verb, since the negative forms of the verb biti (to be) are not forms, so the rules about the word order that we wrote about in our previous post do not apply here.

So:

Nisam plivao. (m.) / Nisam plivala. (f.) I didn’t swim.
Nisi kuhao. (m.) / Nisi kuhala. (f.) You didn’t cook.
Nije radio. He didn’t work
Nije čitala. She didn’t read.
Nismo pjevali. (m.) / Nismo pjevale. (f.) We didn’t sing.
Niste plesali. (m.) / Niste plesale. (f.) You didn’t dance.
Nisu mislili. They didn’t think. (m. or m.+f.)
Nisu putovale. They didn’t travel. (f.)
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Have you already mastered the genders of verbs in the past tense? Let us know how you feel using the verbs in their past tense form. 

Exercise: Write the suitable negative past tense form of the verbs in brackets. If there’s a pronoun (ja, ti, on…) with the verb, it suggests who the subject is, but you must not use it in the sentence.

For example: __Nije učila__ (učiti, ona) hrvatski jezik.

Do you have any questions about the past tense of verbs in Croatian, the negative form?

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

Learning Croatian continues… Next Tuesday we are learning about the interrogative form of the past tense. If you want us to send you an email with the next Croatian grammar lesson, put your email address here.

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