The past tense (perfekt) in the Croatian language, affirmative
...or how to say you DID things


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You will probably be glad to know that Croatian has only one past that you should learn. That tense is called perfekt. Technically, there are three more, but two of them are only used in old books and are extinct in contemporary Croatian; the third one is equivalent to the English past perfect tense (e.g. I had played), and you can pretty much always use the “main” past tense instead. So, you need to learn just perfekt to be able to talk about anything that happened in the past.

To form perfekt, or the past tense, you need to follow this scheme: 

PAST TENSE = AUXILIARY VERB BITI (TO BE), short form + MAIN VERB with one of the following endings:

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

So, the trick is in combining the correct form of the biti (to be) with the suitable ending of the main verb and voila! 🙂 
If you read our posts regularly, then you are already familiar with the auxiliary verb biti (to be), so this is just a reminder:

Glagol biti (kratki, nenaglašeni)
The verb to be (short, unstressed)
1. (ja) sam 1. (mi) smo
2. (ti) si 2. (vi) ste
3. (on) je
(ona) je
(ono) je
3. (oni) su
(one) su
(ona) su

The next step is adding the suitable ending to the main verb. As the majority of verbs in Croatian end in -ti (e.g. kuhati, spavati, učiti…), what you need do with them 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 there you go! So, let’s take a look at what the past tense looks like on the example of the verb učiti (to learn):

Perfekt glagola učiti
The past tense of the verb to learn
1. ja sam učio I learned (m.) 1. mi smo učili we learned (m.)
ja sam učila I learned (f.) mi smo učile we learned (f.)
2. ti si učio you learned (m.) 2. vi ste učili you learned (m.)
ti si učila you learned (f.) vi ste učile you learned (f.)
3. on je učio he learned (m.) 3. oni su učili they learned (m.)
ona je učila she learned (f.) one su učile they learned (f.)
ono je učilo* it learned (n.) ona su učila they learned (n.)

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

OK, let’s see some more examples:

Ja sam plivao. (m.) / Ja sam plivala. (f.) I swam.
Ti si kuhao. (m.) / Ti si kuhala. (f.) You cooked.
On je radio.
He worked.
Ona je čitala.
She read.
Mi smo pjevali. (m.) / Mi smo pjevale. (f.)
We sang.
Vi ste plesali. (m.) / Vi ste plesale. (f.)
You danced.
Oni su mislili.
They thought. (m. or m.+f.)
One su putovale.
They traveled. (f.)

Can you see how verbs work in the past tense? Let us know in the comment section below.

Can you drop the subject from the sentence in the past tense?

Yes. Just like in the future tense and the present tense, we tend to do that in the sentences where it’s very clear from the context who we are talking about. So, it’s also possible to make the sentences above by omitting the (e.g. ja, ti, on, Ana, Ivan…). If we do that, then the order of the words in a sentence changes: the main verb (e.g. plivala) comes before the auxiliary (e.g. sam).

For example:

Plivao sam. (m.) / Plivala sam. (f.) I swam.
Kuhao si. (m.) / Kuhala si. (f.) You cooked.
Radio je. He worked.
Čitala je. She read.
Pjevali smo. (m.) / Pjevale smo. (f.) We sang.
Plesali ste. (m.) / Plesale ste. (f.) You danced.
Mislili su. They thought. (m. or m.+f.)
Putovale su. They traveled. (f.)

With this being said, you will probably want to read our next post about the word order in the past tense.

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So, even verbs have genders in Croatian?

In the past tense – yes, unlike the verbs in the present tense or the future tense. In Croatian, the gender of the verb in the past tense changes depending on the gender of the subject (the one who is doing the action). That might seem a bit unnatural or even complicated to English speakers, but with time you might even come to the conclusion that the past tense is simpler than, for example, the present tense since it doesn’t have all of those different sets of endings that the present tense has.

If you came this far in learning Croatian, you probably already know that there is a little bit more to it than what you read in your textbook or grammar book. If we wrote EVERYTHING you would probably want to jump out of the window and never learn Croatian again, but putting everything in one place is not even necessary. If guided properly by the teacher or literature, you can pick up what’s left along the way, when you need it and feel ready for it.

What do you say about some exercises now?

Exercise: Put the verb in brackets into its past tense form. 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: ____ (učiti, ona) hrvatski jezik. = Učila je hrvatski jezik.

And finally, here’s a challenge to those who dare! Can you tell us in Croatian what you did yesterday, using three different verbs? Share your answers in the comment section below!

Do you have any questions about the past tense in Croatian? What other topic would you like us to write about?

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… As we’ve already announced above, next Tuesday we are learning about the word order in 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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