The present tense of the verb to be (biti) in the Croatian language, interrogative
...or how to make a yes/no question using the verb to be

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After you’ve learned the affirmative (e.g. I am) and the negative form of the to be (e.g. I am not), the interrogative form (e.g. Am I?) is a piece of cake. So let’s get straight to the point:

Prezent glagola biti – upitni oblik
The present tense of the verb to be – interrogative form
Jednina
Singular
Množina
Plural
1. Jesam li (ja)? Am I? 1. Jesmo li (mi)? Are we?
2. Jesi li (ti)? Are you? 2. Jeste li (vi)? Are you?
3. Je li (on)?
Je li (ona)?
Je li (ono)?
Is he?
Is she?
Is it?
3. Jesu li (oni)?
Jesu li (one)?
Jesu li (ona)?
Are they (m.)?
Are they (f.)?
Are they (n.)?

Here also we have something like we had in the last post about the present tense of the verb to be (biti), negative. So, we use the affirmative form of the verb to be (sam, si, smo…) and add this little je- in front of and li after it.

Our students sometimes ask what’s the meaning of the word li. The answer is: li doesn’t have a meaning of its own. It simply helps create a yes/no question – not just with the verb to be, but with any other verb in any other tense – and cannot be translated outside of this context. 

For example: 

Jesam li (ja) visok (m.) / visoka (f.)? – Am I tall?
Jesi li (ti) gladan (m.) / gladna (f.)? – Are you hungry? (If you have a Croatian grandma, you don’t even need a translation for this one!)
Je li (on) zabavan? – Is he funny?

The present tense of the verb to be (biti) in the Croatian language, interrogative

When do I drop the personal pronoun (ja, ti, on…) from the sentence?

In the table above and in the examples, (ja, ti, on…) are in brackets because sometimes they are not needed in the sentence. If from the rest of the sentence or from the context it’s obvious who you are talking about, the personal pronoun is not needed. For example, in the sentence above Jesam li (ja) visok/visoka? the verb jesam already gives us information that the sentence is about ja (the person who is saying/writing the sentence) as jesam can only go with ja. If you feel a little bit uncertain about this, you can read our post about the present tense of the verb to be (I am, you are…). 

Sometimes it is necessary to include a personal pronoun, especially when you want to put extra emphasis on the actual person in question.

For example:
Jesam li JA visoka? – Am I tall?
Jesi li TI gladan? – Are YOU hungry?

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Is there any alternative way to make a yes/no question using the verb to be?

Our students sometimes say that they heard their Croatian friends or relatives using questions like DA LI SI dobro? instead of JESI LI dobro? This mode of making yes/no questions using da li at the start of the sentence is an informal mode that can be used to make yes/no questions with any verb in any tense, which is why the students generally like it. You can read more about this mode in one of our next blog posts. 

Exercise: Fill the gaps with the suitable form of the interrogative form of the verb to be.

Any questions? 🙂

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Learning Croatian continues… Next Tuesday we are learning about the present tense of other verbs in the Croatian language. If you want us to send you an email with the next Croatian grammar lesson, put your email address here.

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