18 This and That


Croatian has three useful demonstrative adjectives. Let’s list them and compare with not only English, but also Spanish demonstratives (as they are more similar to Croatian); I’ll list with them another adjective with a related meaning:

Croatian English Spanish
ovaj (ov-) this este/esta
taj (t-) that ese/esa
onaj (on-) that over there (yonder) aquel/aquella
drugi other otro/otra

They can be used as normal adjectives:

Ona kuća je velika. That house is big.

Marko živi u ovom stanu. Marko lives in this apartment.

Unlike most other adjectives, the three adjectives listed above – ovaj (ov-), taj (t-) and onaj (on-) – cannot get -i in masculine nominative singular. (Recall that the same restriction applies to moj my).

As in English, it’s quite common in Croatian to use certain adjectives on their own, without any noun, as pronouns (compare to English each, others, and so on). However, regardless how they are used, words that are originally adjectives still change as adjectives, that is, get case endings for adjectives.

Demonstrative adjectives, in the neuter gender (i.e. ovo, to, etc.) are often used as generic pronouns, in questions, explaining things, etc.; the adjective-used-as-pronoun to is frequently translated with English it:

To je mačka. It’s a cat.

Ovo je pas. This is a dog.

I’ll call such sentences demonstrative. They behave a bit strange: nouns in them (e.g. mačka, pas) are subjects, so the verb biti (je² +) be agrees with them. It applies to using to with another pronoun as well:

To sam ja. It’s me. (lit. ‘It I am.’)

If you use to + adjectives, it’s a different type of sentence: you are talking about something else, already known. Now the word to is the subject, be careful that you use the neuter gender of adjectives:

Ovo je teško. This is heavy/hard.

This is completely different than how e.g. pronouns ja I or ti you (singular) behave: with them, you have to think what the pronoun represents, and adjust the gender accordingly. With to you have to use the neuter gender, regardless of what the pronoun represents!

This is very often used to express that something belongs to someone, using possessive adjectives:

To je moje. It’s mine.

(Recall that moj gets -e in neuter, since it ends in a Croatian-specific consonant.)

Croatian has the 3rd person neuter pronoun ono it, but demonstrative adjective/pronoun in the neuter gender – to – prevails in use instead.

You can use to (or ovo, etc.), with the verb zvati (zove) call + se² to express what is the name or word for something:

Ovo se zovezvati džep. This is called a pocket.

To ask what is something called, use kako how (again, as in Spanish or Italian):

Kako se to zovezvati (na hrvatskom)? What is that called (in Croatian)?

Although Croatian has no articles – words like English the, a or an – you can use taj (t-) or onaj (on-) as an adjective, if you want to emphasize that something is strictly defined, already known:

Čekam taj vlak. I’m waiting for that train.

Ona žena je ovdje. That/The woman is here.

The opposite can be expressed with two adjectives that express that something is not really known:

jedan (jedn-) one neki some

For instance:

Neka žena je ovdje. A woman is here. (or some woman...)

The adjective jedan (jedn-) one also serves as a number – for instance, you can say that you have one son (recall, masculine nouns standing for people or animals change in accusative):

Imam jednog sina. I have one son. (or a son)

In Croatian, demonstrative and possessive adjectives can be combined freely, unlike in English, so you can say:

jedna moja knjiga one of my books (lit. ‘one my book’)
jedan moj prijatelj one of my (male) friends (lit. ‘one my friend’)
ta moja knjiga lit. ‘that my book

The last phrase is hard to translate, but the meaning is obvious: a specific book that belongs to me. For example:

Poznaješpoznavati jednog mog prijatelja. You know one of my friends. (lit. ‘one my friend’)

(In Italian, you have to use an article before my friend – either indefinite un mio amico or definite il mio amico. Overall, Croatian grammar is much closer to Romance languages than to English.)

There’s another, very subtle way to express indefiniteness of the subject in sentences without objects – put the subject after the verb:

Dolazi vlak. A train is coming.

(This explains the common order of words in sentences like pada kiša lit. ‘a rain is falling’.)

The adjective drugi is often translated as English another. While English e.g. another apple is a bit ambiguous, Croatian drugi means not this one, and Croatian uses još + jedan (jedn-) in meaning one more:

Želim drugu jabuku. I want another apple. (a different apple)

Želim još jednu jabuku. I want another apple. (one more)

We have used here the following verb:

željeti (želi) want

Croatian has no pronoun like English one. When you would use this one, another one in English, only the adjective-as-pronoun corresponding to this or another is used in Croatian – but don’t forget to adjust its case and gender! For example:

Želim ovu jabuku. I want this apple.

Želim ovu. I want this one. (lit. ‘this’, fem. A)

Želim drugog učitelja. I want another teacher.

Želim drugog. I want another one. (lit. ‘other’, masc.anim. A)

Želim još jedno pivo. I want one more beer.

Želim još jedno. I want one more. (lit. ‘one’, neut. A)

This is one instance when it’s clear why adjectives show gender in Croatian – they are more specific when used without nouns.

The neuter form to (properly changed for case, of course) is also used to refer to facts, statements, events and actions:

Kuham kavu. I’m making coffee. (lit. ‘cooking coffee’)

To je dobro! That’s good!

Here, the word to refers to what is previously said. Only to can be used in such references, ovo or ono cannot be used.

Croatian has specific demonstrative adverbs for manner (how) and quantity (how much/many) that don’t have exact English counterparts:

manner quantity
ovako in this way, like this ovoliko this much/many
tako in that way, so toliko so much/many
onako in that way, like that onoliko that much/many

Out of them, ovako, tako and toliko are most often used. For example:

Ovaj automasc. je tako brz. This car is so fast.

In fact, Croatian has a wide array of demonstrative adverbs, covering every category of adverbs: destination, origin, reason, location, time, etc. Some of them are frequently used, others less so.

However, certain meanings are expressed with a demonstrative + noun, and the whole phrase gets a special meaning. The noun put (meaning way on its own) is often used in such phrases:

ovaj put this time (around)
taj put that time

Croatian has also demonstrative adjectives corresponding to quality and size:

ovakav (ovakv-) such, like this
ovolik this big

Don’t forget these words are adjectives, that is, change in gender, case and number. For example:

Imam ovakvu majicu. I have such a shirt.

Other forms are derived in the same way as for other types of demonstratives, i.e. by replacing ov- with t- or on-.

Don’t worry too much about the difference between ovakav (ovakv-) and takav (takv-) – they are often used interchangeably by Croatians.

English has specific time adverbs for ‘on, during this day’ (today) and ‘this night’ (tonight). Croatian has a bit expanded scheme. They all end in -s:

danas today
noćas tonight
jutros this morning
večeras this evening

For example:

Večeras idemoići u restoran. We’re going to the restaurant this evening.

The word to is also used in the phrase to jest (where jest is an archaic form of je², the pres-3 of biti).

Another demonstrative, tako, is used in another frequent phrase, i tako dalje. Both are very common expressions, so they have standard abbreviations (the periods are mandatory; matching English abbreviations are also given):

phrase abbreviated
to jest that is tj. i.e.
i tako dalje and so on itd. etc.

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5 Easy Croatian: 18 This and That N A  DL  Croatian has three useful demonstrative adjectives . Let’s list them and compare with not only English, but also Spanish de...

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