It might be a surprise to you that in Croatian, most prepositions require nouns in genitive.
There are various types of prepositions, let's start with the following spatial prepositions:
ispod + G under|
iznad + G above
ispred + G in front of|
iza + G behind
All four prepositions have shorter forms as well (pod¨, nad¨...) which require the instrumental case. They are used sometimes, including pred¨, introduced with the instrumental case. However, za¨ + I is quite archaic in Croatian.
Auto je iza kuće. The car is behind the house.
There are more spatial prepositions that indicate closeness; they are shown here from the closest to the most distant:
do¨ + G by|
uz¨ + A next to
oko¨ + G around
pored¨ + G beside|
kod¨ + G at, by
blizu + G near
Not all prepositions listed above use the genitive case, but are listed here because they belong to this group. The word blizu is not strictly a preposition, as it can be used on its own.
There a very interesting preposition that indicates (when used with DL, you'll see other uses later!) that a motion is along surface, broadly understood:
po¨ + DL on the surface of
For example, if somebody (e.g. a child) is crawling on the floor – Croatian has the verb puzati (puže) – you would use this preposition to indicate space where the motion happens. It's not a direction (you don't indicate what the goal is) but a kind of location:
ijete puže po podu.
The child is crawling on the floor.
The preposition na¨ + DL is not used when you describe motion.
Another classic use of this preposition with DL is to describe a motion that's constantly against some surface, e.g. jumping or banging:
Goran skače po krevetu. Goran is jumping on the bed.
The difference between na¨ + A and po¨ + DL when expressing motion can be nicely illustrated with the following sentences:
Trčim na plažu. (A) I'm running to the beach.
Trčim po plaži. (DL) I'm running on the beach.
The first sentence expresses destination, the second location (as a surface) where the entire motion happens.
Then, there are some prepositions we're already familiar with, used in unexpected ways. The first one is na¨ + A, mostly placed after a noun, used as a predicative, or used as a kind of (secondary) object. First, it can describe basically sources of power and energy:
peć na drva wood stove
svjetiljka na baterije battery-powered lamp
igračka na navijanje wind-up toy
It can be also used with the verb raditi work, do describing how something works:
Fen radi na struju. The hair dryer runs on electricity.
This use of na¨ + A is, a bit paradoxically, used to express ways of entering or leaving – which door to use – e.g. on this notice (I found it on a bakery) that the entrance is through the other door:
This is a bit unexpected if you consider it a location. But it's not – it's how to enter, and the ‘modal’ na¨ + A is used.
There are four very common, fixed combinations of na¨ + a noun in A, with non-trivial meanings (except for one, which translates to English literally):
na primjer for example
na sreću fortunately, luckily
ijeme on time
na žalost unfortunately
All four are sometimes spelled as one word, e.g. naprimjer (both ways are standard). The phrase na primjer is so common that is has a standard abbreviation (the period is mandatory):
npr. = e.g.
Then, there are many verbs that use na¨ + A as ‘secondary object’ (sometimes because the main object is blocked by se²). It often corresponds to English at, but not always:
podsjećati XA (na¨ + XB) remind X (of Y)
ljutiti se² (na¨ + XA) be angry (at/with X)
vikati (viče) (na¨ + XA) yell (at X)
Here XA and YA are Croatian nouns or pronouns in A, while X and Y are the corresponding English words. You’ll find more verbs that use ‘secondary objects’ as you learn them.
There’s another preposition:
prema + DL towards / according to
This preposition is used to describe orientation or direction, not a destination, e.g. when you tell someone to move two steps in the direction of something, or you turn towards something (which can be a cardinal direction).
It’s also used to express ‘according to’, either a person or something else:
Ovo nije prema pravilima. This is not according to the rules.
Prema karti, imamo još dva kilometra do vrha. According to the map, we have two kilometers more to the top.
Together with the generic pronoun to, it’s used in a frequent phrase to start a sentence:
Prema tome,... ‘According to that,...’ = Therefore,...
Some nouns have specific meanings with prepositions. One of most common is red. This noun has one generic meaning: order. For instance, the TV series Law & Order is translated as Zakon i red.
A common phrase that includes a preposition and this word is:
u redu alright, OK
This is, for example, used in a frequent phrase:
Sve je u redu. Everything is OK.
However, there’s a derived meaning of this noun: an order of waiting, either a physical waiting line, or a waiting list. When you are waiting and someone else is also waiting, there are specific meanings with prepositions u¨ and na¨:
u¨ + red (DL / A) waiting, in line
na¨ + red (DL / A) at the front, about to be served
I wrote (DL / A) to remind you that the usual distinction of location (DL) vs. destination (A) applies here as well, no matter how metaphorical the place is. For instance, when you want to tell someone that it’s his or her turn to be served, you should say (politely, or to a group):
Vi ste na redu. You’re next.
(The Croatian expression is also used when people are talking turns, it corresponds to It’s your turn. then.). However, there’s another way (a bit rarer) to express this, which used ‘rotated’ cases, now one who is about to be served is expressed with na¨ + A:
Red je na vas. (the same meaning)
Another example, if you ask who should be served (you can hear it in shops, when more than one person is waiting at one counter):
Tko je na redu? Who’s next?
There’s yet another preposition which is used in waiting:
preko reda bypassing the line
There's another often used preposition:
o¨ + DL about
It's mostly used with the following verbs:
brinuti (brine) se² care|
pisati (piše) write|
razgovarati («) talk
For example (recall, you must use a stressed pronoun with a preposition):
Sve ovisi o njemu. Everything depends on him.
However, with the verb misliti think, this preposition is not used in the way you maybe expect. It’s rather:
misliti na¨ + A think about
misliti A o¨ + DL have opinion on
Ne mislim na nju. I'm not thinking about her.
There are more ‘quasi-locations’. One example, which corresponds to an English phrase, is:
u obliku + G in the shape of
(The word oblik (oblik-) is an exception to stress-shift rules.) For example:
Imam kutiju u obliku srca. I have a heart-shaped box.
There’s something interesting when prepositions are used with indefinite pronouns and adverbs. When they are used with ones starting with ni-, the prefix ni- gets detached and becomes a separate word that is placed before the preposition. As you can see from the table, this doesn’t happen for other indefinite pronouns, and it doesn’t happen when the preposition bez¨ without is used:
|od nečega||ni od čega|
|za nešto||ni za što|
|o nečemu||ni o čemu|
|bez nečega||bez ničega|
The same holds for e.g. nitko nobody and adverbs like nikuda. However, in colloquial communication, the ‘split pronoun rule’ is not really respected, so you’ll hear and see od ničega quite often.
(the rest is coming soon...)