13 Properties

We continue with uses of adjectives and of the verb biti (je² +) be.

First, we can use that verb to describe what something is: both what’s described and the description should be in the default, dictionary form – the nominative case. For example:

Ivan je student. Ivan is a (university) student.

English has only one word – student – for both male and female students. For most such roles, Croatian has two words, one for male, another for female.

There’s no straight rule how male and female words relate, but most often, the word for female is made by adding -ica to the word for male (the suffix -ica has other uses as well):

male female
cook, chef kuhar ® kuharica ®
singer pjevač pjevačica
professor profesor profesorica ®
(univ.) student student studentica ®
teacher učitelj učiteljica

(Observe that for most such feminine words, stress is located on the syllable before the added -ica.) The word kuharica also means cookbook.

For example, if a female person is a student, you would say:

Vesna je studentica. Vesna is a (university) student.

Croatian has two words that correspond to English man:

čovjek man/human
muškarac (muškarc-) man (focus on masculinity)

You would use čovjek in all normal circumstances (you can and should use it in generic sense, for someone you don’t know sex of), and the other word is used only when it’s important that someone is male, e.g. when talking about how he looks:

Ivan je marljiv čovjek. Ivan is a hard-working man.

On je zgodan muškarac. He’s a handsome man.

I will introduce a bit later the concept of the default gender – how to talk about people and animals in a generic way. For most animals (humans included) the default gender is masculine: you use masculine nouns as generic. The masc. gender is so generic that it can be sometimes used for women too:

Ana je dobar čovjek. lit. ‘Ana is a good man/human.’

Ona je novi profesor. She’s the new professor.

It’s all nice, but how to say I’m a student (male or female)? For that, we need the personal pronoun ja I and the right verb:

biti (je² +) bepres-1 sam²

(Again, the mark ² means the word must be placed in the second position; check 7 Verbs with Obligatory Objects.) For example:

Ja sam student. I’m a student. (male)

Ja sam studentica. I’m a student. (female)

Croatian does not use personal pronouns as subjects often, but in such sentences, they are used.

However, when you are describing a condition at the moment, something that can change in any minute, using adjectives, pronouns are usually omitted. Instead of:

Ja sam gladan. I’m hungry. (male)

Ja sam gladna. I’m hungry. (female)

This is the most often used form:

Gladan sam. I’m hungry. (male)

Gladna sam. I’m hungry. (female)

What about saying you’re not hungry? The same principle works as for other forms of present of the verb biti – just add ni- ®; the resulting form is not restricted to the second position and in fact, usually comes before the adjective:

Nisam gladan. I’m not hungry. (male)

Uopće nisam gladna. I’m not hungry at all. (female)

The second person pronoun is ti in singular and vi in plural (also used for polite addressing). The corresponding forms of verb biti we have already learned.

Nisi gladan. You are not hungry. (male)

Gladna si. You’re hungry. (female)

In nominative plural, adjectives get ending -i in the masculine gender, for mixed-sex groups, but also in all polite sentences, regardless of the real gender of person you’re addressing:

Gladni ste. (group of males)

Gladni ste. (mixed group)

Gladni ste. (politely to one person, male or female)

All sentences above, of course, translate to English as just you’re hungry. Feminine plural adjectives get -e in nominative; it’s used only for groups where all members have feminine gender:

Gladne ste. (group of females)

The same rule works for 1st person plural (we are) where the personal pronoun is mi and the verb to be has the following form:

biti (je² +) bepres-1pl smo²

(This is an exception to the rule that pres-1pl is simply pres-1 + o.)

For instance:

Umorni smo. We’re tired. (all males)

Umorni smo. (mixed group)

Umorne smo. (all-female group)

Pay attention: although ja and ti don’t distinguish gender, you still have to adjust the adjective to the gender ‘hidden’ behind them. This is similar to Romance languages like Italian and Spanish:

(Sp.) ‘Estoy cansado.’ I am tired. (male)

(Sp.) ‘Estoy cansada.’ I am tired. (female)

Croatian often uses just adjectives to express properties. Compare these sentences in English:

She’s still little. (a bit colloquial)

She’s still a little girl. (more formal)

The corresponding sentence in Croatian will always be just:

Ona je još mala.

Finally, there’s one very useful word used for comparisons:

kao like, as

While English has two words used to compare against something else, Croatian has one multipurpose word. It’s used like this:

More je hladno kao led. The sea is cold as ice.

The word kao doesn’t affect the case of the following word, and never changes.

Let’s review the personal pronouns and forms of the verb to be we have learned:

sing. plur.
pres-1 ja sam² mi smo²
pres-2 ti si² vi ste²

Forms in the 3rd person:

pres-3 singular
fem. ona  ▶  je²
masc. on  ▶ 

® In Serbia, forms kuvar and kuvarica prevail; they are also seen in Bosnia. Instead of kuharica, cookbook is kuvar there. Instead of profesorica and studentica, profesorka and studentkinja prevail there.

In Montenegro, negative present tense forms of the verb biti be have always nije-, i.e. nijesam, nijesi etc., but the 3rd pers. is just nije.

↓ Exercise (click to show)

5 Easy Croatian: 13 Properties We continue with uses of adjectives and of the verb biti ( je ² +) be . First, we can use that verb to describe what something is: bot...

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