It’s nice to be able to say Ana is reading or I’m cooking, but it would be even better to be able to say what you are reading or cooking!
Croatian is a language with grammatical cases. It means that words change a bit when used in sentences. For instance, when you express what you are reading or even whom you’re waiting for – that’s called object. This ‘role’ requires a form of a noun that’s usually called accusative case or sometimes the object case. Since accusative is a long word, it’s often shortened to just A.(Nouns are words standing for a more or less specific object, person or idea, something that can perform an action, e.g. sister, cat, or can be an object of an action, e.g. you can eat a pizza).
Not all nouns change in accusative in the same way. Some don’t change at all. A large group of nouns in Croatian end in -a; they all change that ending to -u in accusative. For instance:
The default, ‘dictionary’ forms listed above are also considered a ‘grammatical case’ and are called nominative (just N for short).
We are now able to say:
Ana čita knjigu. ▶ Ana is reading a book.
Kuham juhu. I’m cooking soup.
Ivan pije kavu. Ivan is drinking coffee.
Jedem večeru. I’m eating supper.
Pijem vodu. ▶ I’m drinking water.
In sentences like Ana čita knjigu, the word Ana is called subject. So, the Croatian N case is sometimes called the subject case:
In English, the word order is almost always subject-verb-object. It’s also the most common order in Croatian, but it’s not always so, as you’ll see later.
If you are now puzzled where the English a (in a book) got lost – it does not exist in Croatian, there’s no difference between a book and the book in Croatian. (I’ll show later how you can express a or the if you really need it.)
The majority of verbs require just objects in accusative. For instance:
Let’s put them to use:
Ana gleda televiziju. Ana is watching TV.
Trebam kavu. I need coffee.
Ivan čeka baku. Ivan is waiting for his grandmother.
Slušam pjesmu. I’m listening to a song.
Goran traži knjigu. Goran is looking for the book.
Unlike the English verb have, Croatian imati is a perfectly regular and simple verb:
Ivan ima knjigu. ▶ Ivan has a book.
While in English, verbs listen and wait use prepositions to and for (you wait for something), in Croatian no such special words are needed, you just use nouns in accusative. The same goes for tražiti.
You could also see that in English we have his grandmother while in Croatian it’s just baka (in A). Words like his, my, her are less used in Croatian and are often implied. (English also implies possession in some circumstances: it’s enough to say I’m at home – it’s implied that you’re at your home, not at home that belongs to someone else. When it’s somebody else’s home, then you would say e.g. I’m at your home.)
This change of ending applies to loanwords (that is, words taken from other languages) as well:
Goran jede pizzu. Goran is eating a pizza.
There are also a few words that must adapt in English as well, depending on their role: you cannot say “I’m listening to she”, but I’m listening to her. It’s just that in Croatian, basically all nouns must adapt.
The accusative change -a → -u applies to personal names as well:
Ivan čeka Anu. ▶ Ivan is waiting for Ana.
Goran sluša Ivanu. Goran is listening to Ivana.
Therefore, personal names in Croatian have many forms, as other nouns do, and some of these forms may coincide with other names – as you will later discover. However, there’s always the base, default form – e.g. Ana and Ivana.
Most personal names that end in -a in Croatian are female names. However, there are couple of male names that end in -a as well, e.g. Jakša, Luka, Nikola and Saša. They behave exactly the same:
Ana traži Luku. Ana is looking for Luka.
There are few Croatian female names that don’t end in -a: they don’t change at all, ever. Such names are e.g. Ines and Nives. For example:
Ivan čeka Ines. Ivan is waiting for Ines.
A more exhaustive list of various names, including male names in -a and female names not in -a, can be found in L1 Common Names. ®
(I’ll explain you how to use nouns not ending in -a as objects in the following chapters.)
Finally, I’ll explain how to ask what someone is doing (at the moment, or generally). While English has the special verb do, Croatian uses the verb raditi work in a generic sense. You should start such questions with the word što ▶ what:
As you can see, there’s nothing special about questions in Croatian: no special word order, no special rules. You just have to start them with the right question-word. I’ve also given the literal (lit.) meaning, in quotes; of course, it really means what is doing.
We can here answer only with a verb, no pronouns (e.g. ona she) are needed, since it’s clear who we’re talking about. Generally, Croatian prefers very short answers.
To ask directly what someone is doing, use the 2nd person form radiš:
This form is used only when you ask a single person, someone you’re familiar with, your family member, co-worker, etc; for your superiors, people you don’t know personally, other forms are used (they will be explained later).
In many regions, šta ▶ is used colloquially instead of što®, so you’ll very often read and hear šta radiš, etc. (try it with Google™).
One more remark: there are other languages out there that have grammatical cases, and call one of them accusative, e.g. Finnish, German, Greek, Latin and so on. The accusative case in all languages tends to be similar, but details can be different. If you know a lot how to use the accusative case in e.g. German, be aware that not all of it applies to Croatian.
® Instead of kava, a slightly different word kafa, is common in most parts of Bosnia and Serbia; instead of juha, supa is common in these countries, and in some regions of Croatia as well.
While many names are common in Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia, there are some country-specific names. Actually, there are some names that are specific for a part of Croatia, and uncommon elsewhere – despite the total population of Croatia being just above 4 millions.
The form šta what is considered standard in Serbia, Montenegro and most of Bosnia.