There are two very frequent words used to express relative duration of some state or action:
dugo for a long time
kratko for a short time
While English uses both for a long time and long in different sentences (e.g. long is used in questions), Croatian uses only one word in all kinds of sentences. The words can be placed at any position, but they are often found at the first position. For example:
Dugo smo gledali filmove. We watched movies for a long time.
Kratko je padala kiša. It rained for a short time.
It's possible to modify the meaning, using adverbs of intensity (except for malo):
Jako dugo sam čitao knjigu. I was reading the book for a very long time.
Then, the instrumental case can be used to express time, when something lasted for days, for years, and also that something happens on Tuesdays.
Simply put, when something was going on for days, you should use instrumental plural. You will find the following words useful:
sat (N-pl sati) hour|
tjedan (tjedn-) ® week
Čitao sam knjigu tjednima. I was reading the book for weeks.
Čekao sam te satima. I was waiting for you for hours.
Both sentences mean the action or state is over now, that is, you are no longer reading the book or waiting.
But what if you're still reading or waiting? In English, you should use the present perfect tense (have been), but in Croatian you should use the present tense:
Ivan je godinama živio u Zagrebu. Ivan lived in Zagreb for years. (but not now)
Ivan godinama živi u Zagrebu. Ivan has lived in Zagreb for years. (and still does)
The same applies to all kinds of time periods:
Ana je dugo živjela u Splitu. Ana lived in Split for a long time. (but not now)
Ana dugo živi u Zagrebu. Ana has lived in Zagreb for a long time. (and still does)
So, Croatian is here much simpler and logical (at least from my point of view) than English.
If you want to say that something happens on Fridays, that is, repeats, you should use weekdays in instrumental singular:
Petkom igramo nogomet. We play football on Fridays.
Vikendom idemo u kino. We go to cinema on weekends.
The word vikend weekend is of course not a day of week, but has a similar role.
If you use the present tense, it means it still goes on; if it's something that happened only in the past, use the past tense – the same as with for years. It's a principle that's worth remembering:
|not anymore||still ongoing|
|Croatian||past tense||present tense|
Finally, if you want to express duration of a noun that expresses some event or state (e.g. predavanje lecture, kiša rain, oluja storm, etc.) you can use the following verb:
trajati (traje) last, take time
Predavanje je trajalo satima. The lecture lasted for hours.
In all uses described above, the periods in currently ongoing actions are often emphasized with već already, which has a weakened meaning and is often not translated:
Ivan već godinama živi u Zagrebu. Ivan has lived in Zagreb for years.
This table summarizes indefinite and relative time periods:
for a short time
for a long time
Next, it's possible to say that something happens or is done during something else. If that ‘something else’ is expressed by a noun (with optional adjectives to describe it), the most common way is to use:
ijeme + G during
When something happens or is done in winter (or other season), one option is to use specific adverbs:
zimi in winter|
u proljeće in spring
ljeti in summer|
najesen in fall
Ljeti idemo na more. We go to the seaside in summer. (regularly, usually)
The most common way to express roughly when something happened or will happen is to use combinations of ‘determiners’ (specific adjectives, really) and nouns for time periods, in A (only A forms are listed, which are identical to N for these nouns and masculine inanimate gender): ®
sljedeći next *
tjedan week ®|
Instead of sljedeći, sometimes idući is used, without any difference in meaning.
With the noun dan day, the A is also used, however, instead of ovaj dan etc. special adverbs are used (danas, etc.).
However, with the feminine nouns godina year and noć f night, it's more common to use phrases in G (all words are here listed in G):
sljedeće next *
Again, sometimes idući is used. There are two specific (and a bit old-fashioned) adverbs that can be used instead of prošle godine and prošle večeri:
|lani last year||sinoć last evening|
Ove godine putujemo u Pariz. We're traveling to Paris this year.
Prošli tjedan sam bila bolesna. I was sick last week.
Sljedeći mjesec odlazimo na more. We're leaving for the seaside next month.
® Instead of tjedan, the word nedjelja is used in parts of Bosnia, colloquially in parts of Croatia, and in the Ekavian form nedelja in Serbia; as other feminine time nouns, it prefers G, so you'll hear and read svake nedjelje.
Use of the accusative case for phrases like prošli mjesec is much more common in Croatia than in Serbia; in Serbia and parts of Bosnia, the genitive case prevails for all nouns, regardless of gender.