The present tense in the Croatian language, affirmative
The time is now!

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Somebody smart said: “There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow. Today is the right day to love, believe, do and live.” I would also add to that… and to learn Croatian! 🙂 So, the time is now – the present .

Is it stating the obvious to say that we distinguish between whether we are talking about the present, the past, or the future by making changes to the?

a) Ja radim. I work. (present tense)
b) Ja sam radio (m) / radila (f). I worked. (past tense)
c) Ja ću raditi. I will work. (future tense)

Got it? Step two… Talking about the present tense, in English the verb itself doesn’t change much no matter who the subject of the sentence is. For example: I work, you work, he/she/it works, we work, you work, they work. In almost all of those examples, the verb doesn’t change (except for the he/she/it form).  

Well, in Croatian it’s a bit different. Croats change the endings of their verbs according to who the of the sentence is (this is called ). For example:

I work ja radim
you work ti radiš
we work mi radimo

Does this mean that you don’t even need to mention who the subject of the sentence is?

Yes. Crazy? Well, it might seem so to an English speaker, but the payoff is that the verb itself (or, to be more precise, its ending) tells you who the subject of the sentence is. For example, the verb radim (I work) tells you that the subject is ja (I), there is no need to say ja radim, because the form radim can be used only with ja (I). 

So, English speakers need to get used to the fact that the endings of the verbs indicate who the subject is. This is very common in Croatian, and not just in the present tense: any verb in any tense always tells you who the subject is, so Croats generally like to drop the subject from the sentence whenever the context allows it. You might want to check this in our posts about the verb to be (biti), the past tense and the future tense

Let’s start our further explanation with some good news: there is just one present tense in the Croatian language, so (ja) radim can mean both I work or I am working. That’s great, right? But oops! There is always a complication – and that is the fact that there are three types of endings to create the present tense in Croatian – depending on what the is. OK, let’s quickly go back to some more good news to lift your spirits: all three types of present tense endings follow (almost) the same pattern. These three types are:

A-type verbs Exemplar: spavati (to sleep) – spavam (I sleep or I am sleeping)
I-type verbs Exemplar: raditi (to work) – radim (I work or I am working)
E-type verbs Exemplar: ići (to go) – idem (I go or I am going)

NOTE: for practical reasons, we will keep the English translations of our examples in the text below in the present simple (e.g. I work), but keep in mind that any Croatian verb in the present tense can also be translated with the present continuous (e.g. I am working) – depending on the context, of course.

The characteristic endings for verbs in each of these categories are shown in the color-coded table below.

Conjugation of verbs in the present tense in each of the three basic categories

THE PRESENT TENSE
A-type I-type E-type Basic ending 
-ati -iti, -jeti “irregular” verbs (all verbs)
spavati raditi ići  
Sg. 1. (ja) spavam radim idem m
2. (ti) spavaš radiš ideš š
3. (on/ona/ono) spava radi ide -∅
Pl. 1. (mi) spavamo radimo idemo mo
2. (vi) spavate radite idete te 
3. (oni/one/ona) spavaju rade idu aju / –e / –u 

As you can see in the table above, the three types of verbs in the present tense change in a similar fashion, i.e. the basic ending is always the same, as shown in the last column – with an exception in the third plural (the “oni/one/ona form”), which is different for all three types.

So, the logical question is…

How do you know which type of present tense to use?

Before we introduce some expected patterns for each of the three types (we gave you some hints in the table above), you need to know that there are a lot of exceptions for each of them. Honestly, A LOT. This is the reason why we highly recommend learning the verbs together with their present tense form in the first person singular (the “ja form”) – e.g.: ići – idem (to go – I go) – as the last two letters will tell you to which type the verb belongs (ama-type, imi-type, or eme-type).

And now, ladies and gentlemen, it is time to introduce you to Hrvatski jezični portal – the first (and so far the only) comprehensive online dictionary database of the Croatian language. So, to save yourselves from screaming in despair, the easiest way to figure out which type of the present tense to use, just type the infinitive – i.e., the basic form of the verb, and you will find the first person singular (the “ja form”) of the present tense in a caption under each verb, right after the abbreviation prez. (meaning, of course, prezent, or the present tense). For those of you who are visual types, here’s a screenshot of where you need to look:

How do you know which type of the present tense to use?

Here’s a step-by-step summary of what you need to do:

Heres a step-by-step summary of what you need to do

 That’s not so bad, is it? So, would you like to test your understanding of this scheme?

If your answers above were correct and if you think this is enough – you can stop here, you know how to make the present tense in Croatian. For those of you who want to know more… and wonder if there’s any way to know how to make the present tense without the help of a dictionary – keep reading, you will not be sorry, we even promise a little reward at the end! 🙂

Can I determine the present tense form from the infinitive?

Sometimes, yes. There are some predictable verb categories, as suggested in the table of the present tense endings above. So:

A-type of the present tense: verbs in ati

This is probably the easiest of the three categories. As you are probably already guessing, only the verbs whose infinitive (i.e. their basic form) ends in ati get the a-type of endings in the present tense. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that all verbs in -ati  belong here (e.g.: kašljati – kašljem, not kašljam), so keep in mind our suggestion to always learn the infinitive of the verb together with its present tense “ja” form.

Some typical verbs that belong here are: imati (to have) – imam (I have), slušati (to listen) – slušam (I listen), gledati (to watch) – gledam (I watch), kuhati (to cook) – kuham (I cook), pripremati (to prepare) – pripremam (I prepare), etc.

Can you recognize the pattern?

THE PATTERN TO MAKE A-TYPE PRESENT TENSE:

(1) remove –ati from the infinitive, and
(2) add –am, –, –a, –amo, –ate or –aju (see table above).

Examples:

igrati (to play) → (ja) igram (I play)
slušati (to listen) → (ti) sluš (you listen), etc.

I-type of the present tense: verbs in iti or jeti

The  i-type of endings in the present tense is typical mostly for the verbs that end in either iti or jeti. Again, not all verbs with these endings belong to this group (e.g.: piti – pijem; razumjeti – razumijem).

Some typical verbs that belong here are: učiti ( to learn) – učim (I learn), govoriti (to speak) – govorim (I speak), voziti (to drive) – vozim (I drive), buditi se (to wake up) – budim se (I wake up); voljeti (to love) – volim (I love), živjeti (to live) – živim (I live), željeti (to want) – želim (I want), vidjeti (to see) – vidim (I see), etc.

Can you see it?

THE PATTERN TO MAKE I-TYPE PRESENT TENSE

(1) remove –iti or –jeti from the infinitive, and
(2) add –im, –, –i, –imo, –ite or –e (see table above).

Examples:

iti (to learn) → (ja) im (I learn)
živjeti (to live) → (ti) živ (you live), etc.

E-type of the present tense: “irregular” verbs

Well… there has to be a fly in the ointment! Unlike the first two categories, where you can easily guess the present tense form directly from the infinitive, this is not the case with the e-type

You might wonder why we put quotation marks with the “irregular” verbs. That’s because there is no such thing as irregular verbs in the Croatian language – at least not like there is in English, for example, where you can pretty much learn the whole list by heart. In Croatian, the verbs are classified into a complex division of six classes with several subclasses in each of them. Relax – we are NOT going to bother you with those. What’s important for you – and what’s the reason why we think it’s for the best that we simply label this type of verbs as irregular, is the fact that their present tense base is different from their infinitive. So, you can think of this type as e for exception. 🙂 

Time to go back to some good news again! Just like with the first two groups, when you learn what the present tense form is in the first person singular (the “ja form”), it’s easy to figure out any other form. Just follow the e-type of present tense endings. And again: don’t say we didn’t tell you right at the beginning to learn the verb together with its present tense “ja” form! 🙂

Here’s some help with recognizing the e-type of the present tense: all verbs that end in -ći are the e-type verbs

HOW TO MAKE E-TYPE PRESENT TENSE:

(1) learn the first person singular (the “ja form”) of the present tense.
(2) When you know that it ends in –em, it’s easy to decide the other endings by following the pattern for e-type verbs (see table above).

Examples – some common verbs:

ići (to go) – idem (I go)
pisati (to write) – pišem (I write)
piti (to drink) – pijem (I drink)
razumjeti (to understand) – razumijem (I understand)
jesti (to eat) – jedem (I eat)
putovati (to travel) – putujem (I travel)
kupovati (to buy) – kupujem (I buy)

As you can see above – and as we mentioned earlier – some of the verbs that end in -ati, -iti or -jeti are “irregular” and belong to the e-type, rather than the a-type or i-type as you would expect. Now you can really see why we suggest ALWAYS learning the verb with its present tense “ja” form!

And that’s it! If you’ve arrived to the end of this post safe and sound, it is time for a little reward – just as we promised. If you want to book a free trial lesson, a live one-on-one video lesson with a Croatian teacher, click here and tell us that you have found a treasure: you will get a 120-minute free trial lesson instead of the regular 60-minute lesson. 

(Due to possible time difference, availability, and compatibility between our schedules, free trial lessons might not be possible to hold immediately. The offer is not available to our current students.)

How do you feel about the present tense in the Croatian language? Tell us in the comment section below what you are doing today… in Croatian!

Learning Croatian continues! Next Tuesday we’ll learn about the negative form of the present tense. 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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