20 At My Friend's: Genitive

There’s another case to learn, and it’s a very useful case. It’s used in constructions like my sister’s apartment and car keys, but also in measuring, counting, with many prepositions, etc. It’s called genitive (just G for short). In some other languages (e.g. German) the genitive case is mainly associated with possession. In Croatian, expressing possession is just one of many uses of the genitive case, and it’s not its main use!

Nouns get the following endings in genitive:

noun type (N) G
nouns in -a (≈ fem.) -a-e
neuter nouns (≈ in -o, -e) -o or -e-a
masc. nouns not in -a add -a
fem. not in -a (e.g. noć) add -i

We can put it immediately to use. First, it’s used when English uses something-of-something, e.g.:

kraj filma end of the movie

The second word is always in G, regardless of the role the whole phrase gets. If you use the phrase when e.g. the DL case is required, only the first word changes:

To je na kraju filma. That’s at the end of the movie.

Such construct is frequently used when something ‘belongs’ to something, but it’s not possession:

broj telefona phone number
vlasnik bicikla bicycle owner
ključ auta car key
vrh planine mountain top

While such expressions in English, phone and car are used like adjectives, in Croatian they are nouns in genitive (lit. number of the phone, top of the mountain, etc.) If you want to describe a noun (e.g. vrh peak) with an adjective, you need to adapt the adjective to the noun gender and case, and normally place it in front of the noun (in poetry and some other circumstances, the adjective can be after the noun):

visoki vrh (N, N)
na visokom vrhu (DL, DL)

But if you describe a noun with another noun, you should put it after the noun, in the G case, and it stays in the G case, no matter what! (Another way is to turn the noun into an adjective and follow the previous procedure: it’s described in 57 School Yard: Relational Adjectives):

vrh planine (N, G)
na vrhu planine (DL, G)

The G case is also used by several verbs. The often used ones are:

bojati (boji) se² be afraid
sjećati se² have memories, remember

For example:

Goran se boji mraka. Goran is afraid of dark.

Perhaps the most common use of the genitive case in Croatian is with prepositions. In fact, only a limited number of prepositions in Croatian demand cases other than G. You’ll see that the genitive case is the default case if a preposition, adverb or number is used before a noun. A very common preposition is:

kod¨ + G (roughly) at/by

This preposition covers many meanings. It’s very often used to specify location by a prominent feature, or someone’s home, shop or office:

Čekam te kod mosta. I’m waiting for you by the bridge.

Ana je kod zubara. Ana is at the dentist’s.

Goran je kod tete. Goran is at his aunt’s. (place)

If you refer to someone’s house or apartment as a location, it’s normal just to use such an expression, without stating is it a kuća house or a stan apartment, or something else. In this manner, the Croatian preposition kod¨ is very similar to the French chez.

Also, if you know some German, you’ll see it’s also very similar to e.g. German beim Zahnarzt; however, the German preposition bei requires the German dative case – Croatian and German cases are not completely equivalent.

When kod¨ is used before people, the ‘location’ can be understood figuratively, including the person as well, so it can be sometimes translated with English have:

Ključ je kod Ane. (roughly) Ana has the key.

However, this can be used only for temporary possession of movable things. You cannot use such expression to say Ana has a brother or Ana has a new house, but you can use it for e.g. cars:

Tvoj auto je kod Ane. (roughly) Ana has (= is using) your car.

There’s a special phrase kod kuće – it means simply at home, regardless if you’re living in a house or not:

Nisam kod kuće. I’m not at home.

We must not forget adjectives in G; they get quite different endings:

gender adj. G example
fem. -e velike ribe
big fish
neut. -og
(some -eg)
velikog jezera
big lake
masc. velikog konja
big horse

The endings -og vs. -eg in neut. and masc. follow the usual rule as in other cases in neut. and masc. genders. Again, you will sometimes see longer endings -oga and -ega, mainly in writing.

The G case is used when something is related to descriptions or teaching a language. Recall that languages are usually referred to by simply adjectives:

gramatika španjolskog Spanish grammar

udžbenik hrvatskog Croatian textbook

With nouns rječnik dictionary and gramatika grammar you can also use just adjectives before them – then adjectives change case as nouns do:

španjolska gramatika Spanish grammar

The possessive adjectives similar to moj my have a specific, shortened form in neut. and masc. genders in the G too:

gender N G
neut. moje mog
masc. moj

This example combines a preposition, possessive adjective and a noun:

Ana je kod moje sestre. ‘Ana is at my sister’s.’

We can finally say your sister’s apartment. In Croatian you can make a possessive only out of single nouns. If you want to express possession by something expressed by more than one word, you must put them to G, regardless of the case of the possessed noun and place them after the possessed noun. Here tvoja sestra your sister (G tvoje sestre) owns the apartment:

Ovo je stan tvoje sestre. ‘This is an apartment of your sister’ (= your sister’s apartment)

Ivan je u stanu tvoje sestre. Ivan is in your sister’s apartment.

Observe how changing case of stan apartment doesn’t affect the words tvoje sestre at all.

There’s something interesting with street names. We have already encountered Branimirova ulica, lit. Branimir’s street. However, the official name of the street is Ulica kneza Branimira (knez is a title, roughly prince).

People are talking about the same street either as Branimirova – often leaving out ulica – or as Ulica kneza Branimira, e.g. when writing their address, even business address, some people prefer one form over another. If you’re not aware of the grammar behind it – as foreigners often aren’t – you can get an impression these are two different streets! Here I took a photo of a shop door and an official street sign few meters away from it:

There’s one more issue: with possessives (e.g. Anin), you could say:

Auto je Anin. The car ‘is Ana’s’. (= belongs to Ana)

You cannot do it when something belongs to someone expressed by more than one word (e.g. moja sestra). There are two other ways.

The formal way is to use the verb pripadati belong (introduced in 16 Giving to Someone, Going to Someone). You can use it with any expression that stands for possessor. Keep in mind that this verb requires the DL case:

Auto pripada mojoj sestri. The car belongs to my sister.

Auto pripada Ani. The car belongs to Ana.

Another universal way – but rather colloquial – is to use the verb biti (je² +) be with the preposition od¨ + G:

Auto je od moje sestre. (colloq.) The car ‘is of my sister’.

Auto je od Ane. (colloq.) The car ‘is of Ana’.

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5 Easy Croatian: 20 At My Friend's: Genitive There’s another case to learn, and it’s a very useful case. It’s used in constructions like my sister’s apartment and car keys , but also i...

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