We know how to say I was swimming for hours or I was swimming for a long time, and we know how to say two hours, but do we already know how to say I was swimming for two hours? Not really.
If you want to say that something took a specific amount of time (two hours, three days, etc.) you don't have to use any prepositions in Croatian, the only thing you need is to put the time period into the accusative case:
Plivao sam dva sata. I was swimming for two hours.
Ana je živjela u Zagrebu pet godina. Ana lived in Zagreb for five years.
Recall that constructs with numbers greater than 1 look the same in all cases. However, when something took one year (or one week, etc.), both words must go to the accusative case, since jedan (jedn-) one is an adjective:
Trčao sam jedan sat. I was running for one hour.
Ana je živjela u Zadru jednu godinu. Ana lived in Zadar for one year.
Don't forget that G-pl, used with numbers 5 and on, often has a slightly specific form:
dva tjedna two weeks (G) ®
pet tjedana five weeks (G-pl)
Now, there's a very important rule, the time-phrase rule, basically saying that you have to say how many hours (or years, weeks...) something took: you cannot just say "trčao sam sat"!
Additionally, there are four often used special phrases:
|1 year||godina dana|
|1 month||mjesec dana|
|1 week||tjedan dana ®|
|1 hour||sat vremena|
They are just words for time periods + another word, dan day or vr
ijeme (vremen-) time/weather in the genitive case. Literally, they mean a year of days, and so on.
The first word is free to change case, so the two sentences above often look like this when phrases are put to the accusative case as they must be if used as time periods:
Trčao sam sat vremena. I was running for an hour.
Ana je živjela u Zadru godinu dana. Ana lived in Zadar for a year.
You don't have to use numbers, can use parts, or adjectives. Grammar rules we already learned for expressing parts still apply, of course:
Plivao sam pola sata. I was swimming for half an hour.
Ana je živjela u Os
ijeku c ijelu godinu. Ana lived in Osijek for a whole year.
You can use nouns like dio (d
ijel-) part as well (don't forget that the noun after it must be in the genitive case).
These rules apply when you use other nouns for time periods such as:
prijepodne (prijepodnev-) time before noon
popodne (popodnev-) afternoon
noć f night
večer f evening ®
trenutak (trenutk-) moment
vječnost f eternity
Plesali smo c
ijelu noć. We were dancing for the whole night.
Such use of c
ijeli also translates English phrases like all day long. It applies to seasons as well:
Kiša je padala c
ijelu zimu. It was raining for the whole winter.
The time-phrase rule holds when you use the verb trajati (traje) last:
Film je trajao dva sata. The movie lasted for two hours.
With almost all perfective verbs, it's impossible to say how long the action lasted, but it's possible to express the ‘time frame’ of the action, and the meaning is more or less the same. Interestingly, English also distinguishes duration from ‘frames’: ‘time frames’ use the preposition in. In Croatian, you should use the preposition za¨ + time phrase:
Čitao sam knjigu dva dana. I was reading the book for two days.
Pročitao sam knjigu za dva dana. I've read the book in two days.
This gives you a good clue when to use perf. verbs in Croatian: if you feel that an expression like in a day would fit into the sentence, use a perf. verb in Croatian. Pay attention that Croatian za¨ usually translates to English for, but it's not so here.
The time-phrase rule is a bit relaxed when you use za¨, so you'll occasionally hear expressions with only one word:
Pročitao sam knjigu za jedan dan. I've read the book in a day.
Pročitao sam knjigu za dan. (the same meaning, sometimes heard)
Now, the English preposition for is also used in sentences like this:
1 I'm leaving for two days.
2 I'll leave for a week.
There's a subtle difference. In Croatian, ‘leave’ is a motion, going somewhere else. It won't take two days (or a week) to get there, you will rather go somewhere, spend some time there, and then you'll return, and the whole thing will take two days (or a week).
In Croatian, if you want to express duration of the whole ‘round-trip’, that is, going somewhere – staying there – going back, where going back is implied, you have to use the preposition na¨ + A:
1 Odlazim na dva dana.
2 Otići ću na tjedan dana.
If you construct the sentence #1 without the na¨, it will sound extremely weird, as if you spent two days trying to leave, but you haven't left yet. The sentence #2 will be ungrammatical without a preposition, since the verb is perfective (the verb otići (...) is the perf. counterpart of odlaziti leave).
Such ‘round-trip periods’ apply to all motion verbs that imply going somewhere, e.g. ići (ide, išao, išla) go.
It's possible to express relative ‘round-trips’ with na¨ + adverbs kratko or dugo (introduced in 39 For Days: Indefinite Periods), but not with indefinite ones, e.g. danima for days. Both are used also with vr
ijeme, e.g. na dugo vrijeme.
This summarizes common time periods in English and Croatian (the accusative time phrases, marked with A*, must consist of two or more words, special phrases may be used.):
for two days
in two days
|za¨ + A(*)
za dva dana
|‘round-trip’ (e.g. leave)
for two days
|na¨ + A*
na dva dana
for a short time
for a long time
na kratko (vr
na dugo (vr
To ask how long something lasted, you can use koliko dugo (lit. ‘how much long’) or just koliko:
Koliko dugo si živio tamo? How long did you live there?
— Jednu godinu. For a year.
— Jako dugo. For a very long time.
Koliko ste bili u Hrvatskoj? How long were you in Croatia?
— Tjedan dana. For a week.
— Kratko. For a short time.
Answers must be proper time periods, that is, in A, at least 2 words, special phrases can be used, prepositions according to the rules for time periods.
To ask about a ‘round-trip period’, you have to use na¨ before the question words explained above. Answers will be again ‘round-trip periods’:
Na koliko odlaziš? How long are you leaving for?
— Na tjedan dana. For a week.
These were ways to express how long something took. You often have to express something else – when something was going on, in relation to the present or some other moment. For example:
Živio sam u Zagrebu prije dvije godine. I lived in Zagreb two years ago.
Živio sam u Njemačkoj prije godinu dana. I lived in Germany one year ago.
Now, the time periods – if special phrases are not used – can be sometimes in G as well.
This is relative reference to something else said before, not to the present:
Radio sam u Splitu dvije godine ranije. I worked in Zagreb two years earlier.
Živio sam u Americi jednu godinu ranije. I lived in America a year earlier.
Now again, you must use time expressions in A, and ranije comes after them. Instead of ranije, you can use prije toga before that, or even just prije – but it must be placed after the time expression. A similar expression is used to refer to a time after something else:
Radio sam u školi dvije godine kasnije. I worked in a school two years later.
Again, instead of kasnije, you can use posl
ije toga, or even only posl ije. Also, it's common to put these reference at the front:
Dvije godine ranije radio sam u Splitu. Two years earlier, I worked in Zagreb.
Dvije godine kasnije radio sam u školi. Two years later, I worked in a school.
References to the future times, relative to now, use the same ‘time frame’ way in both English and Croatian:
Vraćam se za dva mjeseca. I'm coming back in two months.
This table summarizes relative time references:
a year ago
|prije + A* (G*)
prije jedne godine
in a year
|za¨ + A*
za jednu godinu
a year earlier
jednu godinu ranije
|A* prije (toga)
jednu godinu prije (toga)
a year later
jednu godinu kasnije
jednu godinu posl
To ask about references to the past or future time, use the question-word kad(a) when. The answer is a proper past reference (for the past) or a proper ‘time frame’ for the future. Of course, absolute times can be used as well (e.g. a month, date, etc.):
Kad si se vratio? When did you come back?
— Prije dva mjeseca. Two months ago.
— U trećem mjesecu. (colloq.) In March. (lit. ‘in the 3rd month’)
Kad se vraćaš? When are you coming back?
— Za mjesec dana. In a month.
— U desetom mjesecu. (colloq.) In October. (lit. ‘in the 10th 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; so you'll hear and read nedjelja dana or nedelju dana. The word sedmica is also sometimes used in Serbia and Bosnia.
The word večer has the form veče in Serbia and most of Bosnia. It's neuter, but all case forms are derived from večer- and then it's feminine.