35 Tools and Means, With and Without

It’s time to introduce one more case. It’s called instrumental (just I for short), and among other things, it has to do with instruments and tools. We’ll learn it in singular first. The endings are:

noun type (N) I
nouns in -a (≈ fem.) -a-om
neuter nouns (≈ in -o, -e) add -m
masc. nouns not in -a add -om (some -em)
fem. not in -a (e.g. noć) add -i

Some masculine nouns get ending -em instead of -om if they end in a Croatian-specific letter – the same principle as for DL of adjectives. Two masc. nouns that get plural on -evi despite not ending in a Croatian-specific consonant, get -em in instrumental as well:

car emperorcarem put wayputem

There are many uses of the instrumental case - some quite surprising, involving time and so on - but the use it got named after is for tools and means. For instance:

Pišem olovkom. I’m writing with a pen.

Putujem vlakom. I’m traveling by train.

These are often used nouns for means of transportation:

auto (aut-) m car
autobus bus
avion airplane
bicikl bicycle
brod ship
taksi (taksij-) m taxi
tramvaj tram
vlak train

For example:

Na posao idem biciklom. I go to work by bicycle.

The instrumental case of noga foot is not used to express that you walk, it’s used only as a ‘tool’, e.g. if you kick something with your foot. There are specific adverbs in Croatian to express ‘by foot’, as a way of transport:

pješke / pješice by foot

There’s another way to express tools, mostly when you want to emphasize that you used a tool, especially an unusual tool for the task:

pomoću + G using

Question-words tko who and što what have the following forms in instrumental (as expected, as they are kind of adjectives):

who tko kim(e)
what što čim(e)

To ask about means, you can use either kako how or čim(e):

Kako idete na more? How do you go to the seaside?

Autom. By car.

Certain verbs use objects in the instrumental case. One of them is:

baviti se² be engaged in/with, pursue

This verb looks hard to translate, but it simply means you are doing something (often regularly), either as your paid job, as a kind of duty, work at home, or as recreation. For example:

Marko se bavi sportom. Marko is doing sports.

The personal pronouns have the following forms in the instrumental case (there are no shorter and longer forms in instrumental, only one form exists):

pers. (N) I
1st (ja) mnom
2nd (ti) tobom
refl. (self) sobom
3rd f (ona) njom
3rd n (ono) njim
3rd m (on)

The instrumental case of nouns and pronouns is often used with several prepositions. Often used ones are:

pred¨ + I in front of s¨ / sa¨ + I with

This is the same s¨ / sa¨ as used with G, it just has a different meaning with I. It’s often used with the following verbs:

igrati se² play
razgovarati («) talk, discuss

For example:

Ivan razgovara s Marijom. Ivan is talking to Marija.

Goran se igrao sa mnom. Goran was playing with me.

With the I of the pers. pronoun jamnom – the longer sa¨ is always used, and both words are pronounced together, with the stress on the preposition: "samnom". Otherwise, normal rules for s¨ vs. sa¨ apply; the rules are often violated in the real life in favor of sa¨, as on this (officially installed) parking sign in Zagreb:

Don’t forget that some words get -em in the instrumental case:

Ana je razgovarala s prijateljem. Ana was talking to her (male) friend.

The opposite meaning is expressed by another preposition with the genitive case:

bez¨ + G without

For example:

Goran se igrao bez mene. Goran was playing without me.

According to the rules of Standard Croatian, you shouldn’t use s / sa for tools, only for company, but, colloquially, it’s not always so; you’ll often hear and read pišem s olovkom.

Both prepositions can be used with other cases, and then they have other meanings: pred¨ can be used with the accusative case, and then it stands for a destination.

The following two adverbs mean more or less the same, but skupa is a bit informal:


They are often used together with s¨ / sa¨ to emphasize something is done together (with someone else), as English together with:

Gledao smo film zajedno s prijateljem. I watched the movie together with my friend.

Then, there’s an adjective that’s opposite to company:

sam alone

Since it’s an adjective, it must adapt to the gender of the subject:

Goran se igrao sam. Goran was playing alone.

Martina se igra sama. Martina is playing alone.

Igramo se sami. We play alone. (all male/mixed group)

Like in English, this adjective is not attached to the noun, it’s just a word in the sentence (but it must change the case, gender and number in Croatian!). Such additional adjectives are often called secondary predicates.

The preposition pred¨ refers to a location – simply in front of something (that goes in the instrumental case):

Ana je pred kućom. Ana is in front of the house.

In the instrumental case, adjectives get the following (fairly simple) endings (you might notice they are identical to endings of the 3rd person pronouns):

gender adj. I example
fem. -om velikom ribom
big fish
neut. -im velikim jezerom
big lake
masc. velikim konjem
big horse

When you compare adjectives in DL, G and I, you see there are only two different endings in singular:

gender adj. DL adj. G adj. I
fem. -oj -e -om

Therefore, Croatian adjectives have much fewer different endings than they could in principle have!

With verbs of motion, such as trčati (trči) run, šetati (šeće/šeta) ® stroll, walk, etc. the instrumental case can be used to indicate where the whole action happened. It’s usually translated with through:

Trčali smo šumom. We were running through the forest.

The preposition za¨ is used with the instrumental case, to indicate that you’re sitting behind something or at something. It’s usually used with the following expressions, and the verbs biti (je² +) be and sjediti sit:

za stolom at the table
za volanom     behind the
  (steering) wheel
za upravljačem  

(Both volan and upravljač mean steering wheel; the former noun is colloquial, the latter is standard.)

With verbs of motion, za¨ + I indicates following something or someone:

Trčali smo za njom. We were running after her.

One final remark: certain feminine nouns that don’t end in -a have alternative I forms, e.g.

riječ wordriječju sol saltsolju

Both forms are standard, some people prefer the forms in -ju, but the forms in -i are actually much more common in speech.

® The pres-3 form šeće is specific to Croatia; in Bosnia and Serbia, the form šeta is used.

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5 Easy Croatian: 35 Tools and Means, With and Without It’s time to introduce one more case. It’s called instrumental (just I for short), and among other things, it has to do with instruments an...

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