When to use ‘u’ and when to use ‘na’
'In', 'on', 'at', or 'to'?

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If you imagine a cat and a box, some of the images that come to mind could be a cat in the box (u kutiji) or the cat on the box (na kutiji). So, the difference between u and na seems pretty straightforward, right? But have you ever heard some Croats saying they were na koncertu and wondered what on earth they were doing on the concert? Or have you ever wondered how to properly say in Croatian that you were at some places or events? If the answer to at least one of these two questions is positive, we have good news: this is a post just for you. So – buckle up, let’s learn some more Croatian!

So, apart from the obvious distinction:

u kutiji = in the box
na kutiji = on the box

both u and na are also used before that are either places or events. So let’s get straight to the point. Broadly speaking, 

  • the u (in, at, or to) is used to refer to a closed space – even more generally, to the “insideness” of something, and
  • the preposition na (on, at, or to) is used to refer to an open space or surface, as well as to all types of activities or events.
When to use u and when to use na

The Croatian language does not have a direct translation for the preposition at, so you can use the distinction above as the quick solution to how to say you are at or in (or going to) certain places or events.

For example:

Koncert je u dvorani. – The concert is in the hall. 
dvorana (hall) closed space; physically inside
Radim u restoranu. – I work at/in a restaurant.
restoran (restaurant) closed space; physically inside
Cvijeće raste u vrtu. – Flowers grow in the garden. 
vrt (garden) physically inside
Sjedim u parku. – I am sitting in the park. 
park (park) physically inside
Ja sam na koncertu. – I am at a concert. 
koncert (concert) event/activity
Oni su na ručku. – They are at lunch.
ručak (lunch) event/activity 
Čekam te na trgu. – I am waiting for you at the square.
trg (square)open space / surface
Sunčam se na plaži. – I am sunbathing on the beach.
plaža (beach) open space / surface

For more detailed information, check the table below.

U and na with places and events – the table 

(Note to the sharp-eyed who want to know more: pay attention to colors!)

U

NA

Physically inside (into) something
E.g.: čaša (glass), boca (bottle), kutija (box), ormar (wardrobe), ladica (drawer), torba (bag), vrećica ([plastic] bag), auto (car), vrt (garden), park (park), dvorište (yard), šuma (forest)
Most open spaces, including things/places perceived as surfaces 
E.g.: trg (square), tržnica (marketplace), plaža (beach), obala (coast), igralište (playground), parkiralište (parking lot), polica (shelf), nebo (sky), slika (picture)
Vino je u čaši
Nove haljine su u ormaru.
Ideš u dvorište
Stavljam kruh u vrećicu.

Čekam te na trgu
Kupujem naranče na tržnici
Vozimo na parkiralište.  
Idem na obalu

Includes stations and terminals:
Čekam te na stanici.
Žurim na kolodvor.

*** Exceptions: aerodrom = zračna luka (airport), BUT
Idemo NA aerodrom / U zračnu luku.
Most closed spaces, including buildings and institutions 
E.g.: škola (school), vrtić (kindergarten), kuća (house), stan (apartment), zgrada (building), arena (arena), trgovina (store), ured (office), tvrtka (company), bolnica (hospital), restoran (restaurant), kafić (cafe), kazalište (theater), kino (cinema)
Most activities/events 
E.g.: ručak (lunch), večera (dinner), aerobik (aerobics), joga (yoga), trening (training), nogomet (football), posao (work), sastanak (meeting), konferencija (conference), koncert (concert), predstava (show), izložba (exhibition), film (film), opera (opera), balet (ballet), predavanje (lecture)
Jedem u restoranu
Sjedim u uredu
Otišla je u kazalište.
Idemo u kino.
Ja sam na večeri
Sjedim na sastanku
Otišla je na koncert
Idemo na film.

*** Exceptions: fakultet (faculty, college), stadion (stadium)

Ja sam NA fakultetu.
Idem NA stadion.

*** Exceptions: kupovina (shopping), šetnja (stroll), posjet (visit), razgledavanje (sightseeing), ribolov (fishing)
Ja sam U kupovini.
Idem U šetnju.
Cities, countries and regions 
E.g.: Hrvatska, Australija, Dalmacija, Slavonija, Dubrovnik, Sydney, Zagreb, New York
 

Islands and peninsulas 

E.g.: Hvar, Kuba, Malta, Cipar, Balkan, Vis, Krk, Lošinj, Lastovo, Cres, Šolta, Zlarin, Pag

 

Radim u Sydneyu
Živim u Australiji
Dolazim u Zagreb
Putujem u Hrvatsku.
Radim na Šolti
Živim na Hvaru
Dolazim na Kubu
Putujem na Krk.
Cardinal points
Sjever (north), jug (south), istok (east), zapad (west), sjeveroistok (northeast), sjeverozapad (northwest), jugoistok (southeast), jugozapad (southwest)
Hrvatska se nalazi na jugu Europe. 
Dubrovnik je na jugoistoku
Idemo na sjever
Putujemo na jug Europe.
! More* (sea) and selo (village/countryside)
*As well as other water surfaces: rijeka (river), jezero (lake), bazen (pool)
Mi smo u selu. – We are in the village.
Mi smo u moru. – We are in the sea (water).
Idemo u selo. – We are going to the village.
Idemo u more. – We are going into the sea (water).
Mi smo na selu. – We are in the countryside.
Mi smo na moru. – We are at the seaside.
Idemo na selo. – We are going to the countryside.
Idemo na more. – We are going to the seaside.

And that’s pretty much all there is to know about when to use u and when to use na with places and events! However, if you don’t feel like learning every situation from the table by heart, just remember the very basic difference as explained above: u + closed spaces, na + open spaces or surfaces and activities or events. That trick should work well for most situations when in doubt.

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Bonus part for the sharp-eyed

If you have noticed that the nouns after u or na in the table above are in different colors because they are in different cases – congratulations, your attention to detail is awesome! The nouns in the locative case are all about location, while the nouns in the accusative case are all about destination. We will write more about this in a separate blog post. 

Do you have any questions about using u or na with places or events? Tell us in the comment section below!

Are you ready now for some exercises?

Learning Croatian continues! Next Tuesday we’ll learn about the instrumental case in the Croatian language. If you would like 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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