Understanding the Cases in Croatian
Croatian Language Series
What are the cases in Croatian?
In Croatian each noun, adjective, pronoun, and number can change their form depending on their function in the sentence.
They can have 7 different forms which are a grammatical category we refer to as a case.
In this article, I would like to show you what each of these cases is called and how are they used in the Croatian language.
For more information about each case I’ve included an explanation video.
In this video Lucas and I discuss the topic of cases in the Slavic languages.
If we look for similarities in English, you can recognize how some words change their form in English as well, depending on their role in the sentence.
Observe at the following example:
I saw Mark. (The pronoun is in the role of a subject.)
Mark saw me. (The pronoun is in the role of an object.)
As you can see, the pronoun I has changed its form depending on its role in the subject. The same happens in Croatian, only it’s a bit more complex.
There are 7 cases in the Croatian language:
Let’s look at a brief summary of each case and their function in the sentence:
When you first start learning nouns, you learn them in their nominative case.
The subject in the sentence is always in their nominative case and it remains unchanged. It answers the questions who?, or what? (tko?, što?)
Djevojčica bere cvijeće.
[A girl] [is-picking] [flowers].
A girl is picking flowers.
You would use this case when you want to express or indicate possession or origin. It answers the questions whose?, or of what? (čiji?, od čega?).
This case exists in English as well. You would usually use the word of, or you would simply add “s” to indicate possession.
Ovo je djevojčicina kuća.
[This] [is] [girl’s] [house].
This is a girl’s house.
Dative expresses a goal or an intention. It indicates that something is being given to someone. It answers to the questions to whom?, to what? (komu?, čemu?)
Loptu sam dala djevojčici.
[Ball] [am] [I-gave fem.] [to-girl]
I gave the ball to the girl.
The accusative case is normally used in the role of an object in the sentence. It answers to the questions whom or what (do I see)? (koga?, što? vidim)
I’m looking for a girl.
The vocative case is used when you’re addressing someone or calling out for them. The word in the vocative case is always separated by a comma in a sentence.
Watch out, girl!
This video explains the “prepositional case” in the Russian language, but it can be applied to the locative case in Croatian.
The form of this case is often the same as the dative case and is often confused even by native speakers.
It also answers to the questions to whom?, to what? (komu?, čemu?), but it indicates a position, a place or surroundings where the action is taking place. Often to distinguish it from the dative case, we would add in (u) to the questions – in whom?, in what? (u komu?, u čemu?).
U djevojčici raste znatiželja.
[In] [girl] [is-growing] [curiosity].
The curiosity arises in the girl.
The instrumental case indicates companionship. It answers to the questions with whom? with what? (s kim? s čim?), and the word is most often accompanied by the preposition s, sa (with). This, however, refers only to the living beings.
Dječak se igra s djevojčicom.
[Boy] [himself] [he’s-playing] [with] [girl].
A boy is playing with the girl.
However, if the word in an instrumental case is an inanimate object, it loses the s, sa preposition.
Dječak se igra loptom.
[Boy] [himself] [is-playing][ball].
The boy is playing with the ball.
I’ve already mentioned that nouns, adjectives, pronouns and numbers in Croatian can change their form, depending on their role in the sentence, and this form is known as the grammatical case.
Changing these words through cases is called the grammatical declination.
The declination follows a couple of rules, and below I will give a couple of examples:
A girl – djevojčica – feminine noun
a boy – dječak – masculine noun
a child – dijete – neuter noun
There’s no easy way around this but to memorize all the endings by heart.
However, memorizing these endings wouldn’t be a very effective method.
When you learn cases, or any other grammar rule, it’s very helpful to put it into context. You will remember a rule better when you understand the context in which it is used.
But, as what we at Langaugeboost love to do is not focus on grammar but learn different phrases in which grammar appears, and then some rules on how to change different cases of the words will come to you naturally.
Besides the cases, Croatian has quite complex verbs and grammar in general.
However, once you start learning Croatian, or any other language, we at Languageboost like to encourage you to not get tangled up with the grammar too much at the beginning.
If you learn certain phrases and words, you will notice certain grammar patterns and will learn grammar without actually studying it.
Below are some pointers that can help you to make your language learning more effective.
I’ve already mentioned things to avoid, such as grappling with grammar right at the start. Some language books have lots and lots of grammar rules in them.
While this isn’t in itself bad, it can be very difficult to grasp the language well if you get stuck on memorizing grammar rules at the beginning of your learning, without even being able to use them. These types of books are best used to help you look up certain grammar rules when you need them.
Remember to choose the resources that focus on the important vocabulary and simple sentence structures first, which will help you to form many sentences on your own.
Resources for learning Croatian might be scarce, but I’ve put together a list of great resources for you that can help you get started.
When you start learning a new language, the first thing that you will have to learn is words.
But, when you start studying vocabulary, don’t simply memorize words, but start combining them as soon as possible. Check out my other post where I’ve spoken more about the importance of making combinations.
In the meantime, let’s look at a couple of examples so you can see how powerful this method is:
Let’s say you’re learning new words. You first decide that learning basic greetings is important so you learn about 10 words. Now you know ten words, but you can’t make any combinations with them.
Next, you decide to learn the days of the week, so you know another 7 words, but you can’t make any combinations with them.
A better approach is learning words that you can combine right at the start.
Here’s how it works:
Now you know: 1 word
and you can make 0 combinations.
2. The word for ‘’To want’’ is ‘’Željeti’’.
Now you know: 2 words
and you can make 1 combination.
3. And – I
4. You – Ti
Now try to translate the English sentences below into Croatian:
I want and you want.
Ja želim i ti želiš.
You want and I want.
Ti želiš i ja želim.
Now you know: 4 words
and you can make 4 combinations.
Later you learn and add new words and keep making combinations of your own.
Using this method, you may have already noticed that the verb “željeti” changes its form.
You can conclude that the endings in the present tense can be used on other verbs as well, and you have also learned a grammar rule without actually studying grammar.
If you learn words like učiti (to learn), gdje (where), ovdje (here), tamo (there) you will be able to make over 100 sentences…
Although it’s important to be able to make combinations as soon as possible, you will still need to memorize certain phrases to get you started.
So, learn how to say main greetings, how to introduce yourself, etc.
Zdravo! – Hello!
Dobar dan! – Good day!
Doviđenja! – Goodbye!
Zdravo! Zovem se Ivan. – Hello! My name is Ivan.
Kako se ti zoveš? – What is your name?
Drago mi je. – Pleased to meet you.
You can find a short list of useful Croatian phrases with the audio pronunciation here.
When learning Croatian, it will help you a lot if you find a good teacher to help you out. A teacher can point out the grammar rules that are important to know and remember, and you can also practice speaking from day one.
One important thing to mention here is that you must find a teacher that has experience in teaching Croatian as a second language. There are many teachers in Croatia who teach Croatian as a first language, but this is vastly different from teaching someone to speak from scratch.
Try to find a teacher on iTalki or another platform that offers online teaching lessons. I have also listed a couple below that you can check out.
Language immersion doesn’t mean you must move to the country where the language is spoken.
If you already live in Croatia, great! Use that to your advantage and force yourself to speak to locals as much as possible!
However, if you don’t live in Croatia, you can still immerse yourself in the language. Surround yourself with books, videos, TV series’, movies, music, podcasts in Croatian, etc., so you can get used to hearing the language, and it will be easier for you to pick it up.
I hope this introduction to Croatian tenses has helped you get started or find the necessary resources to begin your language learning journey.
Remember, even though Croatian may be complex, there are several benefits of learning this language. All you need is to find a strong motivation to keep you going when the going gets tough.
We are here to help you with your language learning journey. If you have any questions, contact us and we’ll be happy to help.
Feel free to share this article with a friend eager to learn Croatian.
Sretno! (Good luck!)
This article is a part of a set of articles called The Croatian Language Series. If you would like more information about different aspects of Croatian, please visit the related posts:
Jan van der Aa traveled to over 100 countries and learned 10 languages before he turned 30. On this website, he shares his language learning experience and helps people from all over the world to learn languages faster.
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