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05 Accusative Case

In the previous chapters you’ve learned how to use nouns that end in -a (in their dictionary form) as objects, that is, how to make their accusative (object) form (also called case). But what about other nouns?

First, there are general nouns that end in -o or -e. They usually don’t change at all in the accusative case, that is, they can be used as objects in their dictionary (or nominative) form. For instance:

auto car
jutro morning
meso meat
mlijeko milk
nebo sky, skies

more sea
pismo letter
pivo beer
vino wine
voće fruit, fruits

We can (and must!) use them as objects without any change:

Pijem pivo. I’m drinking beer.

Ana gleda more. Ana is watching the sea.

Goran pije vino. Goran is drinking wine.

Jedem voće. I’m eating fruits.

Ivan pije mlijeko. Ivan is drinking milk.

Pišem pismo. I’m writing a letter.

Ivana vozi auto. Ivana is driving a car.

Then, there are nouns that end in a consonant (nouns that end in -i or -u are very rare in Croatian). Their behavior depends on what they stand for. If they stand for anything except people or animals, they also don’t change in accusative:

brod ship
film movie
kruh bread ®

ručak lunch, dinner
sok juice
vlak train ®

Let’s introduce a couple of useful verbs:

poznavati (poznaje) know (someone)
rezati (reže) cut

Croatian has a special verb for knowing people (and cities), like French connaître. (Also, this is not an error, the verb poznavati has a different stress in infinitive and present. Such shifts specific for individual verbs is what makes stress complex in Croatian.)

Again, we can use the nouns listed above as objects without any change:

Ana gleda film. Ana is watching a movie.

Režem kruh.  ▶  I’m cutting bread.

Goran pije sok. Goran is drinking juice.

Ivana kuha ručak.  ▶  Ivana is cooking lunch.

Čekam vlak. I’m waiting for a train.

However, nouns that end in a consonant, but stand for people or animals do change in accusative. You must add an -a to them. This applies to e.g. following nouns:

brat brother
čovjek man/human
galeb (sea)gull

konj horse
sin son
muž husband

Let’s put them to use:

Ana gleda konja. Ana is watching a horse.

Ivan čeka brata.  ▶  Ivan is waiting for his brother.

Goran sluša galeba. Goran is listening to a seagull.

The accusative ending applies to names as well:

Ana čeka Gorana. Ana is waiting for Goran.

Josip poznaje Ivana.  ▶  Josip knows Ivan.

When you hear or read a sentence where names are expected to be in the accusative case, you have to be able to work them back to the default (nominative) forms. You simply cannot understand Croatian without understanding cases – that’s why I have introduced them from the start:

Čekam Ivana. I’m waiting for Ivan. (Ivan = male)

Čekam Ivanu. I’m waiting for Ivana. (Ivana = female)

When endings are added to certain nouns ending in a consonant, they don't get added to their nominative form, but to a usually slightly different form. One example is pas dog. In the accusative case, it looks like this:

Ana gleda psa.  ▶  Ana is watching a dog.

The accusative ending is not added to pas, but to a slightly shorter form (ps). We can call that form the ‘case-base’ and list it after such nouns, in parentheses:

      nominative
   
      ‘case-base’
                       
         
magarac  (magarc-) donkey
pas (ps-) dog
vrabac (vrapc-) sparrow

The case-base form has usually just the last syllable shortened, but sometimes there’s a consonant alternation as well. (This form is also called oblique stem, or just stem; I’ve invented a simple name for it.)

A few male names that end in either -o or -e behave as if they end in a consonant and have a specific case-base, usually just without the last vowel (j is added if the word ends in -io):

Darko (Dark-)
Hrvoje (Hrvoj-)
Marko (Mark-)

Dario (Darij-)
Mario (Marij-)
Silvio (Silvij-)

For example:

Ana čeka Marka. Ana is waiting for Marko.

Josip poznaje Hrvoja. Josip knows Hrvoje.

The j is sometimes carried even to the nominative (that is, dictionary) form: according to the official statistics, there are 32708 Mario’s and 4066 Marijo’s in Croatia.

Finally, there are common male names that change as if they end in -a. They end in -e or -o, but that’s just in the nominative case. All other forms are like for nouns in -a. Such names are historically nicknames. For example, Ante is a nickname for Antun (corresponding to English Anthony), but it’s used as an official name as well (there are 35457 Ante’s in Croatia).

Two more names that behave like that are Ivo and Kruno. For a more exhaustive list, check L1 Common Names.

To mark such strange names, I’ll use (A -u) as a reminder that they change like any other nouns in -a, i.e. get an -u in the accusative case. For example:

Čekam Antu. I’m waiting for Ante.

Ne poznajem Krunu. I don’t know Kruno.

Now you know how to make accusative case of almost all nouns! We can summarize the rules we have learned in a table:

noun type (N) A (object)
nouns in -a -a-u
nouns in -o or -e no change
nouns in a consonant
(not people or animals)
no change
nouns in a consonant
(people or animals)
add -a

(These rules are not completely precise, but will work for almost all nouns; I will give you the exact rules a bit later.)

Finally, let me explain how you can ask about objects. Start questions with the following question words:

kog(a)  ▶  who (as an object)
što  ▶  what

For example, you can ask what Ana is watching, or who Goran is waiting for. There’s a very important point: the answers must be again in the accusative case, as they are still considered objects:

Što Ana gleda?  ▶  What is Ana watching?

— Film. A movie. (A!)

— Konja. A horse. (A!)

Što Ivan pije? What is Ivan drinking?

— Kavu. Coffee. (A!)

Koga Goran čeka? Who is Goran waiting for?

— Anu. Ana. (A!)

Again, you’ll often hear and read the colloquial word šta ® instead of što. I’ll explain details of who and what questions later, in 28 Asking Who and What.

________
® Instead of kruh, hljeb is used in Bosnia and Serbia; instead of vlak, voz is common in these countries.

The form šta is Standard in Serbia and most of Bosnia.

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5 Easy Croatian: 05 Accusative Case In the previous chapters you’ve learned how to use nouns that end in -a (in their dictionary form) as objects, that is, how to make their a...

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