The simplest sentences are of type Ana is sleeping or Ivan is running. Such sentences are in the present tense and in the 3rd person.
To make them in Croatian, you need the 3rd person present tense form or the verb (I’ll call it pres-3 for short).
(Verbs are words that mean an action or state, like listen, wait, eat, sit.)
Verbs are normally listed in Croatian dictionaries in the so-called infinitive form (inf for short). For most verbs, you just need to remove the ending -ti and you have the form you need now. For instance, let’s take these verbs right from a dictionary:
kuhati cook ®
pjevati sing ®
učiti learn, study
It’s very easy to make simple sentences like the following:
Ana čita. ▶ Ana is reading.
Marko kuha. ▶ Marko is cooking.
Ivana spava. ▶ Ivana is sleeping.
Goran uči. ▶ Goran is studying.
Here one Croatian word (e.g. čita) really corresponds to two English words (e.g. is reading). Croatian present tense is just one word.
If you are new to learning languages, a warning: in very few instances you can just translate from English word-for-word and get a meaningful sentence in another language. For example, these two sentences in English have three words each and differ in only one word:
I am cooking.
I like cooking.
However, the matching sentences in Croatian have 1 word and 2 words respectively – and no words in common. Croatian, generally, uses less words than English in an average sentence.
There are few verbs where you need to change the last vowel in the present tense, from a to i. One of them is:
trčati run → trči
If the pres-3 form is not straightforward, I’ll list it after the infinitive form of a verb, in parentheses. A good Croatian dictionary should list it too:
|ležati (leži) lie down, recline||trčati (trči) run|
Ana trči. ▶ Ana is running.
Marko leži. Marko is lying.
There are more verbs where you have to remember the present form, but it’s not a simple change of a vowel; it again should be listed in a dictionary (you can call such verbs ‘irregular’). For such verbs, the pres-3 form almost always ends in -e:
jesti (jede) eat|
pisati (piše) write
piti (pije) drink
plakati (plače) cry|
plesati (pleše) dance ®
skakati (skače) jump
(Recall that in words like pije, ije is pronounced as two syllables, since it comes at the very end: pi-je.) Let’s put these forms to use:
Ana jede. ▶ Ana is eating.
Marko piše. ▶ Marko is writing.
Ivana pleše. Ivana is dancing.
Goran plače. Goran is crying.
Instead of names, you can use the following pronouns:
|on ▶ he||ona ▶ she|
You can even leave out the pronoun if it's obvious who you're talking about:
Plače. He/she is crying.
That’s fine, but how do you say I’m eating or I’m cooking? Such sentences are in the 1st person. Croatian does not use personal pronouns (I, you...) often, the preferred way is just to use a special verb form. (This is actually common in most languages: English, German and French obligatory pronoun is an exception, from the standpoint of the majority of languages in the world.)
It turns out that for almost all verbs, you just need to add an -m to the pres-3 form to get the pres-1 form you now need:
Čitam. ▶ I’m reading.
Kuham. I’m cooking.
Učim. I’m studying.
This works regardless of the verbs being ‘irregular’ or not:
Since pijem is derived from pije, the pronunciation of ije is the same as in pije – it’s pronounced clearly as two syllables: pi-jem. This holds to all similar verbs as well.
A Croatian dictionary could list either pres-3 forms or pres-1 forms for the ‘irregular’ verbs, but it’s easy to distinguish them, since they end in different letters (almost all pres-1 forms end in an -m: for just two irregular verbs they end in -u).
We can introduce two useful words to add information to such sentences (they are both adverbs):
|još ▶ still||već ▶ already|
We can put them in front of the verb to say that something is still ongoing or it has already started:
Ana već spava. ▶ Ana is already sleeping.
Goran još plače. Goran is still crying.
The adverb još, when used in this role, is often emphasized as još uv
ijek, giving it a bit stronger meaning:
Ana još uv
Ana is still dancing.
This is a bit colloquial. It’s usually pronounced as u-vjek, since the ije does not appear at the very end (and so I marked it).
If you’re now asking how to say I write or Ana sleeps, there’s no such difference in Croatian: pišem means both I’m writing and I write.
® In most of Serbia, and in the prevailing variant of Standard Serbian, most words that have -
ije- or -je- in Croatian, have -e- instead, e.g. instead of pjevati, the verb is pevati. That’s called “ekavian pronunciation” (the name is misleading – it’s not just a matter of pronunciation, since spelling follows the pronunciation). However, pjevati is also standard in one variant of Serbian. I will not mark all such words.
Instead of kuhati, the form kuvati is used in Serbia, and in parts of Bosnia and Croatia (however, it’s not standard in Croatian).
In Serbia, meaning dance is usually expressed with the verb igrati which has other meanings (play) in both Croatia and Serbia.