58 Colloquial and Formal

If you look into a Croatian dictionary and look for a word for clothes iron (the thing to iron your shirt) very likely you'll find the word glačalo. However, that word is extremely rare in real use: a large majority uses another word, pegla.

The word glačalo is considered 'standard' and 'formal' and will be used only in formal circumstances, in written formal language; in casual writing, even in newspapers, pegla dominates, it's more than 20 times more common. We say that the word pegla is colloquial.

However, there are more "levels of formality" in Croatia than just formal & colloquial. Roughly, they form a multi-layered cake:

  • Standard / Formal
  • Formal ('Substandard')
  • Colloquial
  • Slang

We have already encountered many colloquial words. Some colloquial words (e.g. pegla) are universal: everyone uses it, in Croatia, Bosnia, etc., while formal words are found in the Standard Croatian only.

There are some formal nouns that are almost never used in speech, for example:

  Std. Croatian colloq.
airplane zrakoplov avion
fridge hladnjak frižider
cloth iron glačalo pegla

Sometimes, the Standard Croatian uses a whole phrase, while in everyday use, there is a simple word:

  Std. Croatian colloq.
whipped cream tučeno slatko vrhnje šlag
semolina pšenična krupica griz

The following adjectives are common but colloquial; however standard words are often used as well:

  Std. Croatian colloq.
fresh svjež friški
violet ljubičast lila
pink ružičast roza

There are couple of verbs as well, again the standard words are heard as well:

  Std. Croatian colloq.
lack, miss nedostajati (nedostaje) faliti
fry pržiti frigati

There are some nouns that are specific to Croatian, and feel more formal, but they are used alongside other, international-sounding nouns, and there's even a small difference in meaning (that's not always observed):

library knjižnica biblioteka
music glazba muzika
system sustav sistem

Then, there are some verbs that are usually used in a form that's slightly different than in a (Standard Croatian) dictionary. Two common verbs are:

  Std. colloq.
count brojiti brojati (broji)
paint bojiti bojati (boji)

On the internet, colloquial forms are 3-4 times more common than the Standard forms (which are basically limited to newspapers, books, and official writings), and the colloquial forms completely prevail in speech. The meaning paint above doesn't include art, only when you paint a fence, wall, etc.

More such verbs are:

smrdjeti (smrdi, smrdio, smrdjela) stink
starjeti (stari, stario, starjela) grow old
štedjeti (štedi, štedio, štedjela) save (money, resources)
vrtjeti (vrti, vrtio, vrtjela) spin, turn

Instead of these forms, you'll very frequently see – especially in casual writing and conversation, but also in some newspapers – the following simplified forms, having just -i-:

smrditi stink
stariti grow old
štediti save (money, resources) 
vrtiti spin, turn
 quite common

For instance, the colloquial past-f form vrtila is about 50% more common than the Standard form vrtjela on the Internet, while smrdila is about 4 times more common than smrdjela. However, štedila has about the same frequency as štedjela. Bear in mind that the Internet also includes edited text (laws, newspapers) where colloquial forms are quite rare.

This applies also to derived verbs, simple ostariti is much more common than Standard forms. For more information about such verbs, check A3 Verbs.

I will list all those verbs with both forms in the infinitive, e.g.

vrtjeti / vrtiti spin, turn

Other colloquial words are regional, they are known only in one region, e.g. šlapa house slipper, to the point that frequently people from other regions will not be able to understand it.

The following colloquial nouns are commonly used in the coastal region (this is just a short list, there are hundreds of such words; the standard words are again given in square brackets []):

lancun bed sheet [plahta]
kušin pillow [jastuk]
marenda snack, small lunch [užina]
pirun fork [vilica]

Yet other colloquial words are restricted to just one age group, usually teenagers and young adults, e.g. frend friend. It's used at many places, but not by many grandmothers.

English has many word pairs, where one word is an inherited Germanic word, and another came from French or Latin (e.g. freedom/liberty, stay/remain, etc.). Croatian has similar pairs, where one word is inherited from Slavic, while another is Turkic or Greek:

  Slavic Turkic/Greek
bed postelja krevet
well zdenac (zdenc-) bunar
kerchief rubac (rupc-) marama

Both words are used, and interestingly, often Turkic or Greek words prevail in standard use, even in actual speech, while Slavic prevail in some (western and coastal) regions, which were less influenced by Turks, and are found in poetry.

Besides colloquial words, there are colloquial ways of expressing various things. One such thing is telling time in 12-hour manner, and in quarters and halves. It has two variants, inland and coastal:

time inland coast
14:00 dva dva
14:15 frtalj tri dva i kvarat
14:30 pol(a) tri dva i po(l)
14:45 tri frtalj tri
tri frtalja tri
tri manje kvarat
dva i trikvarat
15:00 tri tri

Observe that inland, number of quarters is relative the last full hour, but expressions use the next hour! This is a quite non-obvious way to express time. This is similar to ways in Southern Germany and Austria (and frtalj comes from German 'viertel', meaning quarter). The same non-obvious scheme is common in Hungarian.

(the rest is coming soon...)

5 Easy Croatian: 58 Colloquial and Formal If you look into a Croatian dictionary and look for a word for clothes iron (the thing to iron your shirt) very likely you'll find the ...

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