There are two most often verbs used to express that you love or like something:
voljeti (voli, volio, voljela)
The first verb is about lasting emotions (you love a person, a city) and the second one about impressions, e.g. when you eat something and you like it, but also when you feel someone attractive.
The first verb is straightforward to use, the object is in the accusative case, as usual:
Goran voli Anu. Goran loves Ana.
Ana voli sladoled. Ana likes ice-cream.
However, the second verb is a bit more complicated: the thing one likes is the subject of the sentence, and who likes it comes in DL. For instance, if you've just eaten a soup and you liked it, you could say:
Sviđa mi se juha. I like the soup.
If e.g. Ana feels attraction or affection to someone (e.g. Ivan) – and it's not necessarily erotic, you can just like someone's personality – one could say:
Ani se sviđa Ivan. Ana likes Ivan.
This is probably quite familiar to you if you know German or Spanish, since both languages have verbs that express like that behave exactly the same (and use the case that corresponds to the Croatian DL):
Spanish: Me gusta el libro.
German: Das Buch gefällt mir.
Knjiga mi se sviđa.
All three sentences above mean I like the book, but the book is the subject in all three sentences, and the person who likes (I, emphasized in the sentences) is not the subject. Therefore, all three verbs – Spanish gustar, German gefallen and Croatian sviđati se² – are above in the 3rd person. The only real difference is the word order, which follows quite different rules in Spanish, German and Croatian.
As with such sentences, in Croatian, what you're talking about comes first: if you are talking about Ana, she comes before the verb, but Ivan (or a book) is really the topic, it can sometimes come to the first position in such sentence.
If you like something in plural, the verb, of course, must come in plural:
Sviđaju mi se cipele. I like the shoes.
Sviđale su mi se cipele. I liked the shoes.
Of course, you can also say:
Sviđaš mi se. I like you.
Sviđaš se Ani. Ana likes you.
Sviđala si mi se. I liked you. (you = female)
The last sentence is in the past tense, and implies that it's no more: something has changed (either 'you' has died, or 'I' doesn't like 'you' anymore).
You have a lot of freedom of what you can like with sviđati se² – it includes places and times, which simply are used as subjects:
Ani se ovdje ne sviđa°. Ana doesn't like it here.
Sviđa° mi se na moru. I like being at the seaside.
English here usually has to use either it or some form of the verb to be, but Croatian does not (recall, there are no dummy pronouns in Croatian).
Since these subjects are not nouns or pronouns, verbs are impersonal, 3rd pers. singular, and past forms must be in neuter singular:
Ani se ovdje nije sviđalo. Ana didn't like it here.
Sviđalo mi se na moru. I liked being at the seaside.
Liking places and times is also often expressed with the adverb l
ijepo nice + DL + je²:
ijepo mi je° na moru. I like being at the seaside.
Bilo mi je l
ijepo na moru. I liked being at the seaside.
Bilo mi je l
ijepo jučer. I liked it yesterday.
The verbs are again impersonal.
You can like doing something: you should then put the right verb into the infinitive and place it after one of the two verbs listed above, usually voljeti (etc.):
Ana voli trčati. Ana loves to run.
The verb in infinitive can have an object, and so on:
Ana voli voziti bicikl. Ana likes to 'drive' bicycle. (= ride)
It's interesting that we don't 'ride' bicycles, but 'drive' them: jahati (jaše) ride is reserved for horses and other animals.
To express that somebody generally likes running (which can imply just watching others running, not running themselves), other words, so-called verbal nouns or gerunds should be used:
Ana voli trčanje. Ana loves running.
You can find more about verbal nouns in 66 Smoking is Dangerous: Verbal Nouns.
You can use adverbs of intensity with all such expressions, mostly jako and stvarno to strengthen expressions, using the usual placement rules for such adverbs (the intensifying adverb usually comes before the verb, but 2nd position words can intervene):
Jako mi se sviđa juha. I like the soup very much.
Bilo mi je jako l
ijepo na moru. I liked being at seaside very much.
Ana stvarno voli trčati. Ana really likes to run.
It's interesting that the more formal word vrlo cannot be used to strengthen verbs.
There's another often used verb:
zanimati («) be interesting to
This verb is used in a similar way; however, the person who feels interest is expressed in A:
Gorana zanima nogomet. Goran is interested in football.
This Croatian sentence could also be translated as football is interesting to Goran (it's interesting that English here kind of follows Croatian).
This verb is used in a very common expression, used when you want to express that you don't really want to hear about something (the expression is not really polite, however):
Ne zanima me. I'm not interested.
Another verb is very similar to voljeti (etc.) but stands for an even stronger feeling:
obožavati («) adore, be fan of, really like
It can be used for people you really love, but also for actors, sports, food, activities (including verbs in infinitive), etc.:
Igor obožava kavu. Igor 'adores' coffee.
Ana obožava plivati. Ana 'adores' swimming.
There are more verbs that use other verbs in infinitive, you'll encounter them later.