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23 Basic Impressions

Croatian has a special way of expressing feelings and subjective opinions that’s quite unlike how it’s done in English. However, if you know some German, this will all likely be very familiar to you.

First, we can start with a general statement, such as:

Hladno je.  ▶  It’s cold.

It’s a general statement, it’s simply cold. This statement is impersonal.

But what if someone (e.g. Ana) feels it’s cold? Croatian then adds one who feels something into such sentences, but in the dative/locative case (DL):

Ani je hladno. ‘It’s cold to Ana.’ = Ana is cold.

The one who feels it, the ‘experiencer’ (here: Ana, DL Ani) is usually put to the beginning of the sentence, as above.

In such sentences, pronouns in DL are very often used, when you want to express what you personally feel:

Hladno mi je.  ▶  ‘It’s cold to me.’ = I’m cold.

If you pay attention, you might have noticed that we again have two words trying to get to the second position: mi² and je² (the pres-3 form of the verb biti). If something like that happens, je² always comes after any pronouns.

Such words with fixed second-place position always come in a ‘block’ and cannot be rearranged:

Često mi je hladno. ‘It’s often cold to me.’ = I’m often cold.

Gramatically, the sentence is still impersonal: there’s no subject anywhere. The ‘experiencer’ is in the 1st person, but the verb is the 3rd person, singular. The verb je doesn’t change, regardless of who feels cold:

Hladno nam je.  ▶  ‘It’s cold to us.’ = We’re cold.

This use of impersonal je² with DL is frequently seen with the following adverbs:

bučno noisy
dosadno boring
hladno cold
lijepo nice
loše bad (see below)
toplo warm
vruće hot
zabavno entertaining

These words don’t adapt to the gender of subject. Actually, there’s no subject in such sentences – they have quite different form in English and Croatian:

Dosadno mi je.  ▶  ‘It’s boring to me.’ = I’m bored.

With the adverb loše, there’s a slightly shifted meaning when used with DL:

Ani je loše. Ana is sick.

It’s interesting that German uses exactly the same construction, using the dative case of personal pronouns: in sentences like these, the pronoun mir is in the German dative case, and the verb is in the 3rd person:

(Ger.) Mir ist kalt.

(Ger.) Mir ist langweilig.

(Ger.) Mir ist schlecht.

All three sentences translate word-for-word from Croatian, the only difference is word order, which follows quite different rules in German.

You can freely use adverbs of intensity, including the prefix pre-:

Prevruće nam je. It’s too hot ‘to us’. (= for us)

Jako mi je dosadno. I’m very bored.

There's also a verb that means feel:

osjećati feel

When used just with an object in A, it means feel something, an object, or something more abstract, e.g. pain. But when used with a se² and an adverb, it describes how someone feels:

Ana se osjeća odlično. Ana feels great.

Osjećam se grozno. I feel terrible.

This verb with se² is used only for internal states. You cannot say “osjećam se bučno” if you’re in a loud environment, but you can say osjećam se loše if you don’t feel well. Note that for some feelings, there is more than one way to express them:

Umoran sam. I’m tired.

Osjećam se umorno. I feel tired.

To ask how someone feels, use kako, but don’t forget se²:

Kako se osjećaš? How do you feel?

— Dobro. Alright. (‘Good.’)

There’s an interesting way to ask about ‘situation’:

Kako je?  ▶  lit. ‘How is it?’

Kako ide? lit. ‘How is it going?’

Such questions mostly mean how are you (doing). However, if we add a place, then we’re asking about a general information somewhere:

Kako je na poslu?  ▶  How is it going at work?

Kako ide na poslu?  ▶  (more or less the same meaning)

An answer can be a general description, what is done there, nothing necessarily personal. But if we add a person in DL, the questions become specific, about someone’s experience there:

Kako ti je na poslu?  ▶  How are you doing at work?

Kako ide Ani na poslu? How is Ana doing at work?

It seems to me there’s a subtle difference in these two questions: ones with ići (ide) go are more specific about the work done, while ones with biti are a bit more about everything, (e.g. co-workers, salary, etc.)

There are two often used expressions that cannot be used without someone in DL:

Drago mi je.  ▶  I’m glad.

Žao mi je.  ▶  I’m sorry.

Of course, instead of mi², other pronouns and nouns in DL can be used:

Ani je žao. Ana is sorry.

The first expression is used when you are introduced to someone (like I’m glad to meet you) and the second one is the usual way to express that you are sorry (when something bad happens to someone else).

This construction with DL is used only for statements that can be either general or subjective. For instance, you cannot say gladno mi je since there’s no statement gladno je – hunger is not an objective, external situation (at least in Croatian language).

However, it’s possible to take statements like these:

Obitelj je važna. The family is important.

Knjiga je dosadna. The book is boring.

Majica je lijepa. The shirt is nice.

And convert them into personal opinions, using DL in the exactly same way:

Obitelj mi je važna. The family is important to me.

Ani je knjiga dosadna. The book is boring ‘to Ana’. = Ana finds the book boring.

Majica mi je lijepa. (colloq.) The shirt is nice ‘to me’. = I find the shirt nice.

While English uses such expressions only with certain adjectives (e.g. important) in Croatian, they are much wider used, especially in the spoken language. (It’s seen less often in formal writing, with adjectives like lijep beautiful, nice, such use of DL is regarded as colloquial.) We again see that the Croatian DL case often corresponds to English to + noun or pronoun.

Such expressions are often used to express what English expresses with favorite:

Ovo je omiljena knjiga. ‘This a beloved book.’

Ovo mi je omiljena knjiga. This is my favorite book. (‘beloved to me’)

Ani je ovo omiljena pjesma. This is Ana’s favorite song.

The adjective omiljen doesn’t really mean favorite, it’s more beloved, popular, preferred.

You can express the same using a possessive adjective, but it’s less common in speech:

Ovo je Anina omiljena knjiga. This is Ana’s favorite book.

Instead of the adjective omiljen, you’ll hear also these adjectives in this role:

najbolji best najdraži most liked, most dear

For example:

Ovo mi je najdraža pjesma. This is my most favorite song.

(The use of najbolji best in these expressions is quite colloquial. These two adjectives, starting with naj-, are superlatives; they will be described in 63 Bigger and Better: Comparatives.)

There are a couple of verbs that behave kind of similar to expressions above. The most important one is:

trebati need/should

When used with the meaning need, it can be used simply as any verb that uses the accusative case:

Trebam čašu. (A) I need a glass.

However, it’s a bit more common to use this verb with what you need as the subject (in N) and one who needs in DL:

Treba mi čaša. (N) (the same meaning!)

Observe how the verb in the second sentence is in the pres-3 form, since čaša glass is its subject!®

Finally, there’s a way to express that there’s enough of something, or too little or too much:

dosta je² + G there’s enough G
previše je² + G there’s too much G
premalo je² + G there’s too little G

This is used mainly with uncountable nouns (e.g. salt, sugar, coffee) and persons. For example:

Previše je šećera u kavi. There’s too much sugar in the coffee.

Again, you can add who feels it in DL. The expression dosta je + DL usually translates as had enough (of):

Ani je dosta kave. Ana had enough (of) coffee.

As in English, this also implies negative emotions:

Ani je dosta Damira. Ana had enough of Damir.

Dosta mi ga je. I had enough of him.

Pay attention how words mi² (DL), ga² (G) and je² (a verb) are ordered in the second sentence – there’s only one possible order.

For countable nouns, the same expression will work, but you must use genitive plural – the form I didn’t explain yet. (Such use of the genitive case is explained in a greater detail in 45 Quantities and Existence; for the genitive plural, see 44 Genitive Plural.)

So far, we have seen three uses of the DL case (without prepositions, on its own). One was a recipient of something (1), another was person who is somehow involved in the action, usually because he or she is connected to the object (a body part, a personal item, kin) (2), and this one is about personal impressions and feelings (3):

(1) Ana daje šalicu Goranu. Ana is giving a cup to Goran.

(2) Ana pere Goranu kosu. Ana is washing Goran’s hair.

(3) Goranu je hladno. Goran is cold.

As you can see, in all these uses, DL represents a person who is not causing something to happen.

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® Using trebati with DL seems preferred in Standard Serbian.

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5 Easy Croatian: 23 Basic Impressions Croatian has a special way of expressing feelings and subjective opinions that’s quite unlike how it’s done in English. However, if you know...

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