60 More Useful Verbs and Verbal Patterns


Now, let me introduce a couple of very useful verb pairs. The first one is the main way to express success and failure in Croatian:

uspijevati («) ~ uspjeti (uspije, uspio, uspjela) succeed ®

The impf. verb has the Standard stress shift to the 1st syllable (-ije- is usually one syllable when inside a word), but the perf. verb is pronounced as three syllables in the present tense: us-pi-je, like piti (pije) drink.

Unlike English, this verb takes a verb in inf – or an infinitive clause, i.e. an inf with an object and possibly other words attached – as its object. It can be translated with English succeed or manage:

Uspjeli smo riješiti problem. We succeeded in solving the problem. ®

Uspjela je otvoriti prozor. She managed to open the window.

Nisam uspio pročitati knjigu. I failed to read the book.

This verb is not used to ‘manage household’ and similar things – only to manage to do something.

Like trebati need/should, this verb pair can be – and often is – used in the ‘reverse’ mode: what is achieved (or not) is the subject (in N), and the person (or animal) who was responsible is optionally expressed in DL. As usual, if the subject is a verb in inf, it behaves like neuter singular:

Uspjelo nam1pl DL je riješiti problem. We succeeded in solving the problem.

Uspjelo joj3f DL je otvoriti prozor. She managed to open the window.

Nije mi1 DL uspjelo pročitati knjigu. I failed to read the book.

Note that problem, prozor and knjiga are not the subjects: the subjects are now the verbs in inf: riješiti and so on.

In this mode, the verb pair is more versatile: the subject can be also a noun: something that you succeeded in making (or failed to make). Now you must observe the gender of subject in the past tense:

Kolač je uspio. The cake turned out fine.

Uspio nam1pl DL je kolač. We succeeded in making the cake.

I have already explained important verbs derived from ići (ide, išao, išla) go and stajati (staje) ~ stati (stane) stand, now I will show you two more important ‘families’. The first one is derived from the verb pair:

stavljati ~ staviti put, place

These verbs are simple to use – just use A for what you put, and a destination (unlike in English!) for where you put something:

Stavio sam pivo u frižider. (colloq.) I’ve put the beer in the fridge.

(I marked this as colloquial, but the Standard Croatian noun hladnjak is very rare in real life.) Of course, you can also specify the location of the destination, i.e. where the fridge is (e.g. u frižider u kuhinji).

The verbs are derived from this pair in the same way as with the stand pair: the same prefix is attached to both verbs and we get a new pair with a different meaning than the original one. Two pairs we have already encountered:

ostavljati ~ ostaviti leave (a thing)
pretpostavljati ~ pretpostaviti suppose, assume

The verb pair ostavljati ~ ostaviti is frequently used with a metaphoric location na miru in peace, in meaning leave alone, that is, not interfere:

Ostavio sam ga3m/n A na miru. I left him alone.

Another frequently used verb pair is:

nastavljati ~ nastaviti keep on, continue

This pair is usually used with another verb in inf (it can be also used with an object in A, usually some activity). This is another phase verb – the verb after it should be impf., since we describe action, and not outcomes:

Nastavio sam čitati. I continued reading. ®

This can be also translated as kept on reading – this verb pair is the way to express that meaning in Croatian. Also, you likely noticed that the prefix na means on.

This verb pair translates to several meanings in English:

postavljati ~ postaviti set

The basic meaning is set, in the meaning fix, put on an elevated place, erect (a monument), but also make ready (e.g. set the table). It’s not used in the meanings set free, set in motion (Croatian has specific verbs for such actions):

Ana je postavila stol. Ana has set the table. ®

When you want to express where something is placed or fixed, you have to use destinations, like for the base pair, but again unlike in English:

Postavit ću sliku na zid. I’ll put the picture on the wall.

Interestingly, this verb is also the most common verb used to formulate and ask questions:

Postavio sam dva pitanja. I asked two questions. (I = male)

These two verb pairs have exactly the opposite meaning:

rastavljati ~ rastaviti take apart, disassemble
sastavljati ~ sastaviti put together, assemble

When you disassemble something, the result is expressed in na¨ + A (usually in plural):

Goran je rastavio igračku na dijelove. Goran has disassembled the toy to its parts.

The following table summarizes this verb pair and its (common) family:

stavljati ~ staviti
prefix used with meaning
none A (+ dest) put, place
po- A (+ dest) set, place, erect
o- A leave
A na miru leave alone
na- A / inf continue
pretpo- da + clause suppose that...
ra- A (na A) take apart (to...)
sa- A put together

There are more verb pairs derived from this base pair; these were just the most common ones.

Another very common verb family is derived from:

davati (daje) ~ dati give

The verb pair is simply used with two objects, one in A (what is given) another in DL (who got it):

Ana je dala Goranu čokoladu. Ana has given Goran a chocolate.

This pair is used first in literal meaning of ‘give’, not when e.g. ‘giving a lecture’. However, it has more uses than this basic one (it could be argued that dati behaves as a ‘modal’ verb in some circumstances). They will be explained gradually.

It’s interesting that the perf. verb dati is often used in the present tense, especially when negated, to indicate intentions:

Ne dam ti2 DL loptu. I don’t want to give you the ball.

The perf. verb is short (its pres-3 is only one syllable) so it’s one of few verbs where stress shifts to the negative particle ne¨ even in the ‘western’ stress scheme. This is the cause of quite frequent (but non-standard) spellings like nedamo we don’t want to give and like.

This verb pair is also used in an interesting phrase:

davati (daje) ~ dati + sve od sebe do his/her/their best

For example:

Dali smo sve od sebe. We did our best.

All verbs derived from this pair follow the same pattern, e.g.:

dodavati (dodaje / dodaje) ~ dodati

I’ll show you three common derived verb pairs. Each of them behaves like the base pair: there are two objects, one in A, another, optional, in DL.

With the prefix do-, the meaning is add, but also pass (e.g. salt or ball in a game):

Ivan je dodao loptu Marku. Ivan passed the ball to Marko.

This verb can be used for mathematical addition, but there’s another verb pair with the specifically mathematical meaning:

zbrajati ~ zbrojiti add (in math)

With the prefix pro-, the meaning is sell:

Darko je prodao automasc. Ani. Darko sold the car to Ana.

Ivan prodajeprodavati jabuke. Ivan sells apples.

The third common verb pair is derived with pre-, with the meaning hand over:

Poštar je predao pismo Ani. The postman handed the letter over to Ana.

The impf. verb from this pair is also used in meaning give lectures (for more information, check 73 Learning and Renting: Verbs Shifting):

Ivan predajepredavati matematiku. Ivan teaches math.

All three pairs have also alternative forms of present tense of the impf. verb, which are regularized, i.e. dodavam, etc. They are much less common that the standard forms.

This table summarizes the four verb pairs:

davati (daje) ~ dati
prefix used with meaning
(none) A (DL) give
do- A (DL) add
pre- A (DL) hand over
pro- A (DL) sell

There are more common verbs derived from this pair. One of them is derived with u-. It behaves differently than the pairs above, and has a bit unexpected meaning: marry. Moreover, its use is rather specific; for more details, check 89 Customs and Traditions.

All the pairs we have seen are simply derived from the base pair, by prefixes. This pattern of derivation can be called symmetric.

The pair opposite to davati (daje) ~ dati give is:

dobivati («) ~ dobiti (dobije) get

This verb pair is used with an object in A (more or less mandatory):

Ana je dobila poruku. Ana has got a message.

The origin can be expressed by adding od¨ + G:

Ana je dobila poruku od Ivana. Ana has got a message from Ivan.

There is also an alternative, non-standard present form of the impf verb: dobija.

If you know only English, you should pay attention that this pair is used in a very restricted manner compared to English get: only when you physically get something, but also when you get an e-mail, disease, idea or chance.

It’s not used to express it’s getting dark, somebody got (understood) something, they got busy, or a plane got delayed...

Instead of the English multi-purpose get, other verbs (i.e. verb pairs) must be used in Croatian in the following common situations:

English get Croatian verb(s)
I got beer from the fridge donositi («) ~ donijeti (donese,...) bring
I got what you said razumjeti (razumije,...) understand
I got home, got to work dolaziti ~ doći (dođe, došao, došla) come
I’ve got the tickets imati have
I’ve got to go, gotta go morati must
I got hungry postajati (postaje) ~ postati (postane) become
I’ve got my hair cut
I got my car repaired
rephrase, use specific verbs

However, if you say that you literally got the tickets (i.e. you wasn’t sure there were any tickets left, but you got them) you should use dobivati («) ~ dobiti (dobije) get. This is an example where English is quite imprecise.

Some of the specific verbs in the table above have been already explained; expressing bring will be explained in the following chapters. The last line (got my car repaired) is called causative. It can be also expressed with the verb have:

I have my car repaired.

It’s impossible to express exactly this in Croatian. Usually, it’s expressed either impersonally (popravili su moj/mi automasc. they repaired my car) or using passive constructions (matching English my car was repaired). A Croatian passive construction will be introduced right in the next chapter.


® “Ekavian” forms, which dominate in Serbia, apply to the perf. verb uspjeti, in the same way as for razumjeti (razumije,...) understand: its “Ekavian” form is uspeti, the verb is fully regular, but the pres-3pl is uspeju.

In Serbia, infinitives are less often used in speech (and they get rarer more you go southeast), the form da + present prevails. In Serbia, it would be much more common to say:

Uspeli smo da rešimo problem. We succeeded in solving the problem.

Uspela je da otvori prozor. She managed to open the window.

. . .

Nastavio sam da čitam. I continued reading.

The noun stol table has the form sto (stol-) in Serbia and most of Bosnia, but it’s still masculine.

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5 Easy Croatian: 60 More Useful Verbs and Verbal Patterns N A  DL  G 24 I Now, let me introduce a couple of very useful verb pairs. The first one is the main way to express success and f...

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