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 (there’s yet another word for that term, which will be explained below).

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
elevator dizalo lift

If you do a Google™ search on the .hr domain for the phrases u liftu and u dizalu (both meaning in elevator, of course), you’ll get results like these:

u liftu 34600
u dizalu 3480

Such results, 1:10 in favor of the colloquial word – in writing! – are common: many colloquial words prevail even in newspapers and fiction books, including translations. However, you will see the rare standard word from time to time.

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 many more):

  Std./inland coast
bed sheet plahta lancun
fork vilica pirun
pillow jastuk kušin
towel ručnik šugaman

As you’ll see later, many such terms are related to home, especially food an cooking.

Often, there are triplets – one colloquial word dominates inland, another dominates coastal areas, and there’s a standard word which is used only rarely:

  Std. inland coast
clothing iron glačalo pegla šumpreš
screwdriver odvijač šrafciger kacavida
shoelaces vezice f pl. žniranci m pl. špigete f pl.
small meal užina gablec marenda
tomato rajčica paradajz pom

So, here’s is the third term used for the clothing iron in Croatia. However, some coastal-specific terms, such as šumpreš, are getting rare, at least in public, while inland (or standard) terms dominate. (Try Googling™ for šumpreš). However, marenda or pomidor are very common.

You can find more about features of language colloquially used in most coastal regions in 78 Dijete vs. Dite. (Note that colloquial use in Croatia includes also many novels, poetry and popular songs.)

Yet other colloquial words are restricted to just one age group, usually teenagers and young adults, e.g. frend friend (feminine version: frendica). 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.

This is only a very shallow outline of the real language diversity in Croatia. If we would add neighboring countries (i.e. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia) we would have more variation, especially in terms related to home and cooking, names of various tools, etc. Terms in Serbia sometimes are more common with colloquial terms in inland Croatia, due to the common German influence, so paradajz is spoken in both Zagreb and Belgrade; however, there are also many terms used in Serbia which are almost unknown in Croatia. A very brief overview of such terms is given in A9 Bosnian, Serbian and Montenegrin.

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 wo...

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