A7 Stress (u/c)

This chapter uses specific stress symbols,
different than in the rest of Easy Croatian.

I will give you an overview of stress in Croatian, both Standard Croatian, non-standard and in closely related languages. Everything that follows applies to Standard Croatian and Standard Bosnian and Standard Serbian unless otherwise is explicitly stated.

General Issues

First, in the Standard Croatian, each vowel can be either short or long. There can be more than one long vowel in one word. I will mark the vowels as:

Vowel length
short vowela
long vowelā

This holds also for "vocalic" r: there's long ; however I will mark it as ŕ, since just a line over r is, unfortunately, not rendered right in some browsers and mobile phones.

The stress can be either falling or rising. The falling stress has a tone that's audibly first high and then falling and staying low. Since the stressed vowel can be either short or long, there are 4 combinations — the 4 classic "accents" as described in the 19th century:

  short vowel   long vowel


  ri -



    sūn -



vo -



    rū -


I have introduced here the following, special, non-standard markings:

  • if only one vowel is underlined, it's the stressed vowel with the falling intonation;
  • if two vowels are underlined, one after another, the first of them is the stressed vowel with the rising intonation;
  • as a special case, if no vowels are underlined, the first vowel is stressed with the falling intonation (you'll see the reason a bit later).

(There are also standard stress markings in Croatian. However, these markings are not really transparent, so in certain books and linguistic works, alternative marks are often used.)

Now, most textbooks (including the schoolbooks in Croatia) mention two classic rules that restrict the place of stress:

#1 the falling intonation can appear only on the first syllable;
#2 the rising intonation cannot appear on the last syllable (therefore it cannot appear at all in one-syllable words).

Now, the restriction #2 is actually obvious from my notation: you have to underline two vowels, therefore, you need a word with at least two vowels! There's no way to set a rising stress on the last vowel — only the first vowel you underlined will be stressed.

However, the restriction #1 is not obvious, and it's actually not always respected in the real life, even in areas where people use stress very close to the standard at home (enter non-initial falling tones into Google™).

This all so far is only the introduction to real issues. The main feature of stress in Standard Croatian is that it changes in various forms of one word. Moreover, the vowel length changes in some forms! For example, the word lonac pot has all possible alternations (rising vs. falling, short vs. long vowel):

sing. plur.
N lonac lōnci
G lōnca lonācā

On the other hand, there are words that have the same stress in all forms. To make it even more complex, stress sometimes shift to prepositions.

Noun Stress

However, there's an underlying system, bizarre but regular. Let's first visit the noun stress: nouns are basically divided into three groups. Let's first see how the a-nouns (nouns ending in -a in N) behave:

"A" "B" "C"
N riba žena voda
DL ribi ženi vodi
G ri ženē vodē


V ribo ženo vodo
NA-pl ribe žene vode

We see one thing all nouns have in common: the vocative case has the "automatic" falling stress — no vowels are underlined. Another thing that's not obvious from the usual spelling — the case ending in G is a long e.

The nouns in the group "B" are boring: the stress stays on the same syllable and is same in all forms (except in the vocative, but that's a special form anyway).

The group "A" gets interesting when an unstressed preposition (e.g. u) is placed before the noun: the stress "spreads" to it, i.e. moves one syllable to the left, but gets the rising intonation.

This stress shift we still see in such nouns is called Neoštokavian stress shift. It's the origin of the rising intonation in the Standard Croatian: whenever (well... almost whenever) there was another syllable before the stressed syllable with the falling intonation, the stress moved left, and changed the intonation. It also happened centuries ago to nouns like žena. There are still regions in Croatia where that noun keeps the older stress, žena (we are sure that stress is older because such nouns in Russian have the stress at the "old" position as well).

This is why a rising stress cannot appear on the last syllable — there have to be one syllable after it, one that had the original (falling) stress. We can simply show what has happened and what still happens:

Neoštokavian stress shift
centuries ago ženažena
we see todaypo + ribupo-ribu

Such stresses are called 'new' (this is relative: they are centuries old), hence the neo- in Neoštokavian.

This shift happens only to falling stresses. They were transformed almost always when they were not on the first syllable — this is the reason for the classic rule #1.

Now, we examine the nouns in the group "C". They are completely unlike "A" or "B" nouns: their stress varies according to noun case. In the accusative case, when there's an unstressed preposition before the noun, the stress again shifts to it, but it's still falling. In fact, it shifts as leftward as it can:


Such shift is the reason for my "special case" notation — when no vowels are underlined, as in A and N-pl of "C" nouns — there's a falling intonation stress on the very first syllable, including all unstressed words before the noun that are pronounced together with it.

There's no way to tell which nouns are in the group "C" just by looking at them in the nominative — they must be remembered. Textbooks say there's about 60 such a-nouns. The common ones are:

daska plank
grāna branch
grēda wooden beam
igla needle
kosa hair (on scalp)
metla broom
ovca sheep
ela bee
pēta heel
rosa dew
srijēda Wednesday
srijēla arrow
sŕna fem. roe deer
stijēna rock
strāna side
vōjska army
zora dawn
zīma winter
zvijēzda star

The nouns above have the strange "automatic" falling stress only in A. However, a couple of common nouns can have such stress in DL as well:

dūša soul
glāva head
noga leg
rūka arm/hand
voda water
zemlja ground, country, Earth

(The rest is coming soon...)

5 Easy Croatian: A7 Stress (u/c) This chapter uses specific stress symbols, different than in the rest of Easy Croatian. I will give you an overview of stress in Croatia...

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