We now know how to say:
Jedem jabuku. I’m eating an apple.
Jabuka je crvena. The apple is red.
But we still don’t know how to say I’m eating a red apple! Adjectives follow nouns in case and gender, so we must learn how to put adjectives to accusative if we want to use them before objects.
In the accusative case, adjectives get the following endings (I’m here using p/a for ‘people and animals’):
For feminine and neuter genders, endings look the same as noun endings, even for masculine-except-people-and-animals; however, for masculine-people-and-animals, there’s a special ending unlike any other.
You now see the four genders in Croatian. Usually, the two masculine genders are called animate (the gender for masculine people and animals) and inanimate (the gender for others). (You will often see in textbooks that only three genders are mentioned and this difference in the accusative case is not called gender. The division to four genders is the simplest explanation, in my opinion at least.)
Strictly speaking, the gender of masculine people and animals includes also beings that are neither, e.g. gods, angels, ghosts, all creatures from Lord of the Rings – and robots! It’s important that something is perceived as having its own will (or mind), even if it’s a microscopic worm. Such ‘genders’ are not at all uncommon among world languages.
As promised, here are the exact rules for the accusative case of nouns (instead of ‘same as nominative’, or ‘no change’, I wrote just ‘= N’):
|noun type (N)||A|
|nouns in -a (≈ fem.)||-a → -u|
|neuter nouns (≈ in -o, -e)||= N|
not in -a
|(not p/a)||= N|
|fem. not in -a (e.g. noć)||= N|
(They differ from the previous, approximate rules only for a few nouns, e.g. kokoš f hen and zv
ijer f beast – the approximate rules didn’t take the gender into account.)
I’ve included the approximate rules (≈) for gender in the table, e.g. nouns that end in -a in N are usually feminine, etc. The important criteria have nothing to do with the approximate rules: all nouns than end in -a change it in A it -u. As some masc. nouns end in -a, I’ve stressed that the masc. endings apply only to nouns not ending in -a.
So, our sentence would be:
Jedem crvenu jabuku. I’m eating a red apple.
Examples for other genders:
Vozim crni auto. I’m driving a black car.
Vidim crnog konja. I see a black horse.
Vidim žuto sunce. I see the yellow sun.
(The noun auto, despite ending in -o, is a masculine (inanimate) noun, one of exceptions I have already listed when I introduced genders.)
Since in the masculine inanimate gender adjectives have the form in N and A, the -i is optional in A as well – but it’s almost always used when adjectives are placed before nouns, as here. (Standard Croatian insists on a small difference in meaning between adjectives with -i and without; it will be described later.)
There’s an alternative ending in masculine-people-and-animals (-eg). It’s attached to adjectives that get an -e in the neuter nominative (and accusative) – i.e. to adjectives that end in a Croatian-specific letter:
Vidim smeđeg konja. I see a brown horse.
You will sometimes see (in books and newspapers) adjectives having the ending -oga or -ega instead of -og or -eg. There’s no difference in meaning: it’s just an older form that’s sometimes still preferred in writing. ®
I will introduce here a very useful adjective, moj my. This is simply an adjective in Croatian, but it’s not so in English. For example, you can say:
the red apple; the apple is red
If you try to replace the word red in the sentences above with my, you’ll see the problem. Not so in Croatian, where you simply say:
Jabuka je moja.
While moj is used as any other adjective, it still has two peculiarities:
First, unlike other adjectives, it never has the optional -i in masc. N.
Second, in masculine (also in neuter gender, we’ll see later) it has special, shorter forms. There’s absolutely no difference in meaning, use, you can use longer or shorter forms wherever you like:
There’s nothing special about forms for the feminine gender, they are in the table above just for completeness sake. In fact, you’ll see that some adjectives and adjective-like words in Croatian tend to have specific forms, but never in the feminine gender: all specific forms of any adjective are limited to masculine and neuter genders.
Ana vozi mojeg brata na posao. Ana is driving my brother to work.
Ana vozi mog brata na posao. (the same meaning)
(As with other adjectives, you will sometimes find the form in A mojega, and the shorter form moga – there’s no difference in meaning, such forms are just a bit archaic.)
It’s probably a bit confusing to remember both patterns – endings of nouns and endings of adjectives. However, there’s one simple rule:
If the majority of nouns (in a gender) have the same form in two or more cases, adjectives (in the same gender) have identical forms as well. If they have different forms, adjectives have different forms as well.
For instance, neuter nouns have the same form in N and A. Therefore, the adjectives in neuter gender have the same form in N and A (you can check the table above). Masculine nouns representing people and animals have different forms (they get an -a in A), so adjectives in masculine gender for people and animals have different forms in N and A (they get -og in A).
You’ll see that nouns ending in -a – by and large feminine – have the same form in nominative plural and accusative plural. Therefore, you can immediately conclude that adjectives in the feminine gender have the same form in nominative plural and accusative plural.
Adjectives follow the pattern (but not the endings) of the majority of nouns in a given gender. For instance, feminine nouns in a consonant (e.g. noć f night, sol f salt) have some cases identical (e.g. N and A singular), but it has absolutely no effect on the pattern of adjectives, since such nouns are really a minority.
Finally, you’ll see sometimes, in writing, that certain adjectives in A have endings like nouns, e.g. vidim crna konja. This is never used in everyday life and casual writing. Such indefinite adjectives will be briefly described in 99 Aorist Tense and Other Marginal Features. You can safely ignore them for now.
® Such longer endings are extremely rare in Serbia and Bosnia.