73 Learning and Renting: Verbs Shifting


There are couple of verbs in Croatian that show a bit bizarre behavior (such behavior is not limited to Croatian and even to related Slavic languages, though).

First, there are verbs that can have two distinct objects in A at the same time. Common verbs and verb pairs with that feature are:

pitati ~ u- («) ask
učiti ~ na- («) learn, teach

In all such verbs, two objects are clearly distinguished: one object is a person (or animal) and another is not. For example:

Goran je pitao nešto Anu. Goran asked Ana something.

In this sentence, both Ana and nešto something are in A, i.e. objects, but one object is "who", and another "what", so there’s no ambiguity.

Another example:

Ana je učila Gorana plivati. Ana taught Goran to swim.

Here, instead of the second object ("what"), we have a verb in inf, so it’s clear what is taught.

Now, you’re probably scratching your head: doesn’t učiti mean learn, study? Yes, it does. It has both meanings.

When the verb pair učiti ~ na- («) is used with a single object in A, which is a thing ("what"), it means learn, study. However, when its object is a person (or animal), then it means teach, and then another object in A ("what") can be used to express what is taught. (The second object is not mandatory). The "what" object in both "configurations" can be a verb in inf. Compare:

Ana uči Gorana plivati. Ana is teaching Goran to swim.

Goran uči plivati. Goran is learning to swim.

Therefore, whenever this verb pair gets an object that’s a person (or animal), its meaning shifts!

But what if someone is a teacher, and we want to say e.g. Ivan teaches math? One solution is to express a person-object with some generic word, to shift the verb meaning. For instance, you can hear:

Ivan uči djecu matematiku. Ivan teaches math to children.

(Beware, here the Croatian noun djecu is in A, while English has to, often corresponding to the Croatian DL case.)

We cannot say just Ivan uči matematiku, since it has exactly the opposite meaning, however, we can in principle say (but this sounds quite incomplete to me):

Ivan uči djecu. Ivan teaches children.

Another way is to use a more formal verb pair:

predavati (predaje) ~ predati teach, give lecture

So we can say:

Ivan predaje matematiku. Ivan teaches math.

There are more verbs that have two opposite meanings, depending on other words around them. Common ones are:

iznajmljivati (-uje «) ~ iznajmiti («) rent
posuđivati (-uje «) ~ posuditi («) borrow/lend ®

Both verb pairs have two meanings, depending on the cases used. What is rented/borrowed/lent is always in A. If you add a person (or animal, but also an institution, and so on) in DL, it denotes someone receiving:

Posudio sam kišobran Ani. I’ve lent the umbrella to Ana.

Iznajmili smo im3pl DL kuću. We’ve rented (out) the house to them.

However, if you instead of DL use od¨ + G, the meaning shifts, and G represents the source (i.e. the owner):

Ana je posudila kišobran od mene. Ana borrowed the umbrella from me.

Iznajmili su kuću od nas1pl G. They’ve rented the house from us.

It’s interesting that English rent shows the same double meaning. If you use the verbs without DL or od¨ + G, the meaning is ambiguous, and depends on the context.

(There's a suggestion to use another verb pair in the formal Croatian – unajmljivati (-uje «) ~ unajmiti («) – for the meaning rent something from someone, but virtually nobody uses it.)

The Croatian verb pairs for rent and borrow/lend are ‘round-trip’ verbs, that is, they imply that the state of things will be restored after some time. Therefore, they are used with ‘round-trip periods’, that is, preposition na¨ + A:

Iznajmili smo im3pl DL kuću na dva tjedna. We’ve rented (out) the house to them for two weeks.

Unlike the verbs above, which shift their meaning according to cases used, there are some verbs that use cases in two distinct ways – but there’s not much difference in meaning. Common ones are:

čuditi wonder, be surprised, marvel
radovati (raduje) look forward to
veseliti (very similar meaning)

They are usually used in a way that what causes emotions is in DL, the person affected is the subject (in N), and a se² must be used:

Radujem se odmoru. I’m looking forward to the vacation.

But these verbs can be used in the 'inverse' as well, where the person affected is in A, and what causes emotion is the subject (there’s no se² now):

Raduje me1 A odmor. (the same meaning, less frequent)

This way of using the verb čuditi is often considered non-standard in Croatian; however, it’s very common, especially when the subject – what makes you wonder – is a content clause:

Čudi me1 A [da je3f G nema]. I am surprised [she’s not here].

Check the Google™ results on the .hr domain:

form   hits
"čudi me da" 46800
"čudim se da" 28900

When translated to English, čuditi corresponds to several English verbs:

čuditi se² (+ DL) wonder, marvel (at DL)
čuditi (+ A) amaze, surprise

Finally, there are two common verbs where the affected person is in either DL or (non-standard) in A. They are:

lagati (laže) lie (tell lies)
smetati be nuisance, disturb, annoy

For example, this is both common and standard in Croatian:

Kamenčić smeta Ani. A pebble annoys Ana.

But you will occasionally see A used instead of DL with these two verbs.

® In Serbia, and often in Bosnia, pozajmljivati (-uje «) ~ pozajmiti («) is used in meaning borrow/lend.

5 Easy Croatian: 73 Learning and Renting: Verbs Shifting N A  DL  G 24 I There are couple of verbs in Croatian that show a bit bizarre behavior (such behavior is not limited to Croatian ...

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