Variations: 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 later).

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.

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, 10:1 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, 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.

Many verbs with inf in -jeti also have a standard and a colloquial form. For example, these are standard forms:

smrdjeti (smrdi, smrdio, smrdjela) stink
starjeti (stari, stario, starjela) grow old
svrbjeti (svrbi, svrbio, svrbjela) itch
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
svrbiti itch
štediti save (money, resources) 
vrtiti spin, turn
quite common

Just compare Google™ statistics for past-f forms on the Internet (.hr domain):

  ...jela   ...ila
smrd... 2100 9700
star... 310 1200
svrb... 2800 2200
šted... 11000 7000
vrt... 14000 24000

Bear in mind that the Internet also includes edited text (laws, newspapers) where colloquial forms are quite rare.

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

There are nouns that are used in two forms in real life, one masculine, another feminine – and the feminine form actually prevails – while Standard Croatian insists on the masculine form only. The common ones are:

Standard common (colloq.)
handle, hold držak (dršk-) drška
planet planet planeta
visit posjet posjeta

Some colloquial feminine nouns are much more common, e.g. za dršku is 14 times more frequent (on the Internet) than za držak.

Then, Standard Croatian insists on three-way demonstrative adverbs of place and destination:

Standard loc. dest.
close ovdje ovamo
mid tu tamo
distant ondje onamo

However, the adverb ondje is quite rare in real life – you can find it mostly in books – most speakers use only two-way distinctions, while tamo serves two roles:

colloq. loc. dest.
not close
tamo tamo

For example, on the newspaper site, the adverb tamo is 5 times more frequent than ondje. On the discussion site, it’s 27 times more frequent. The adverb onamo is also less frequent than the others, so I’ve put it into brackets.

Sometimes, Standard Croatian slowly accepts forms actually used. One example is the word kazeta casette. Standard Croatian insisted on the form kaseta for decades – which was completely marginal in real life – but it seems the form kazeta has been finally accepted recently.

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5 Easy Croatian: Variations: 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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