10 Gender

  You can also read this chapter in French, Spanish or Finnish.

In many languages, including Croatian, each noun is assigned a gender. This is a slightly misleading term – it simply means what forms of other words you must use whenever you refer to a noun.

For example, in English, when referring to a noun, you must use either he, she or it, depending on the noun, but there’s no difference for most other words.

In German, you must use not only different pronouns, but also different articles (der, die, das) and you have to adapt adjectives (kleiner, kleine, kleines) in some situations.

In Spanish, you have to use different pronouns, different articles (el, la) and different forms of adjectives (rojo, roja).

Since there are three different forms of pronouns in English, and three different forms of articles in German, we can say that English and German have three genders (in singular, there’s no difference in plural). There are two different forms of articles and adjectives in Spanish, therefore Spanish has two genders.

There are four genders in Croatian, but the difference between two of them is very small (and there’s no difference in plural). The gender in Croatian is similar to gender in Spanish: it’s usually assigned according to the last letter of a noun. For instance, kuća house is ‘feminine’ (since it ends in -a) in the same way as Spanish casa!

If you are familiar only with genders in English, this might be a bit surprising. Consider genders simply the way nouns are grouped. Houses are not feminine in real world. The gender that kuća house and sestra sister belong to is called ‘feminine’ simply because a lot of words for really feminine beings (e.g. for woman, sister, daughter) happen to belong to it.

It’s straightforward to tell gender of a noun for almost all nouns in Croatian. The rules are:

noun ends in gender some exceptions
-afeminine (f)
e.g. riba fish
tata m Dad
Luka m (name)
-o or -e neuter (n)
e.g. pivo beer
auto m car ®
Marko m (name)
consonant masculine (m)
e.g. stol table ®
kost f bone
noć f night

But there are four genders, right? Well, for masculine nouns there’s an additional division. It will be important a bit later.

(In case you’re surprised that one gender is called neuter – that’s a fairly standard name for a gender that’s neither male nor female.)

There are exceptions – e.g. names Luka and Marko look as if feminine and neuter; in fact, both are masculine, and frequent male names. All personal names (for people and animals) are either masculine or feminine (names ending in -o are typically masculine).

Another exception – the noun tata – is actually masculine, it means Dad.

It’s actually only important to remember (and indicate) gender for exceptional nouns, and there are only 50-100 such nouns used in everyday life. For example:

most bridge  —  masculine as expected, no need to indicate gender
kost f bone  —  feminine, contrary to the common rules, so we must indicate its gender (f)

The biggest group of nouns that have unexpected gender are feminine nouns not ending in -a. Almost all of them end in a consonant. Common ones are:

bol  ▶  f pain ®
bolest  ▶  f disease
jesen  ▶  f fall, autumn
kost  ▶  f bone
krv  ▶  f blood
ljubav  ▶  f love
noć  ▶  f night
obitelj  ▶  f (close) family ®
ponoć  ▶  f midnight
riječ  ▶  f word
sol  ▶  f salt ®
večer  ▶  f evening ®

To help you with nouns that have unexpected gender, they will be shown in dark blue, and you can get a pop-up with their gender by placing the mouse over them, or by touching them (on touchscreens), for example:

Vidim krv. I see blood.

Vozim auto. I’m driving a car.

Gender of words for people normally matches their natural sex (there are some exceptions, though). Consequently, many terms represented by only one noun in English have two nouns in Croatian: one for male and one for female (the same holds in Romance languages like French, Italian or Spanish):

male female
English           friend
French ami amie
Spanish amigo amiga
Croatian prijatelj prijateljica

In Croatian, main words that must adapt to noun gender are adjectives – words that indicate properties like big, red. In Croatian, adjectives also include words like my and Ivan’s. They all must adapt to noun gender and case.

So, what forms of adjectives do we need to use in each gender? In simple sentences like the house is big, nominative forms of adjectives are used, and they are very simple:

gender adj. N example
feminine -a velika riba big fish
neuter -o (some -e) veliko jezero big lake
masculine optionally -i velik(i) stol big table ®

You probably notice that there are two possible endings for the neuter gender. Most adjectives use -o; adjectives that need -e will be shown a bit later. Here’s a list of often used adjectives:

brz  ▶  fast
čist  ▶  clean
dubok deep
dug long
gotov  ▶  ready, done
jak strong
jeftin cheap
lijep nice, beautiful
mali small, little
mlad young
nov new
poznat well-known
pun full
slab weak
skup expensive
spor slow
star old
širok wide
suh dry ®
velik big
visok high, tall
zdrav healthy, in good health

We can use them to assemble sentences like these:

Riba je velika.  ▶  The fish is big.

Velika riba jedejesti kruh.  ▶  The big fish is eating bread. ®

Sunce nije jako. The sun isn’t strong.

Jezero je duboko. The lake is deep.

Ana je zdrava. Ana is healthy.

Restoran nije skup. The restaurant isn’t expensive.

Visoka je. She’s tall.

You can see that adjectives got an -o regardless of nouns having the final -o or -e: it’s only gender that matters, and both jezero and sunce are neuter.

In Croatian (like in other Slavic and Romance languages) adjectives always adapt to the noun, even if they are not right next to the noun. In German, adjectives in sentences like The fish is big don’t adapt. That’s one detail where Croatian requires words to change and German doesn’t. This makes pronouns mostly redundant, and consequently not used, as in the last sentence, where ona she is implied by the form of the adjective.

Pay attention that in Croatian, kuća house and pizza are also she, so visoka je could be a statement about a house!

It’s possible to put the adjective first in sentences "X is Y", which emphasizes it:

Duboko je jezero. The lake is deep. (really deep)

Neuter forms of adjectives are common in stand-alone signs. For example, you’ll often see neuter forms otvoreno and zatvoreno on shops, meaning open and closed, respectively.

One more detail is still not answered: adjectives have an optional -i in the masculine gender. It’s not used when you use adjectives on their own, but it’s usually used when an adjective is placed before a noun:

Hrast je star. The oak is old.

Stari hrast još rasterasti. The old oak is still growing.

We have here used the verb rasti (raste) grow; the verb is not used to grow something (i.e. cultivate).

Some adjectives (e.g. mali small, little) have always the -i in masculine, regardless where they’re used, and they’re listed so. Its feminine form is mala and so on.

The adjective gotov is used to express that something is prepared or ready, e.g.:

Ručak je gotov. The dinner is ready.

The adverbs of intensity are also used with adjectives, and must be placed right before them (or fused, in case of pre-):

Riba je jako velika. The fish is very big.

Jezero je dosta duboko. The lake is quite deep.

Restoran nije preskup. The restaurant isn’t too expensive.

Sunce je stvarno jako. The sun is really strong.

Vlak je strašno spor. The train is terribly slow. (colloq.)

The adverb of intensity jako is exactly the same as the neuter form of the adjective jak strong, but its meaning is not equal. More about that in the next chapter.

Don’t forget: nouns and adjectives really don’t have the same endings. And you should always keep in mind that there are couple of nouns having unexpected genders (from their endings, at least):

Tata je zdrav. Dad is healthy.

Noć je duga. The night is long.


® In southern parts of Croatia (i.e. in Dalmatia) and parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina, auto car is very often neuter in colloquial speech, so you’ll sometimes read and hear novo auto.

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

The noun bol f pain is almost always masculine in Serbia, and is often understood as masculine in Bosnia as well.

Instead of obitelj, words familija and porodica are common in most of Bosnia and Serbia, and in some parts of Croatia.

The noun sol f salt has the form so (sol-) in Serbia and most of Bosnia; its gender and case endings are the same.

The noun večer f evening has the form veče (večer- f) in Serbia and often in Bosnia, with an additional twist: it’s considered neuter in the nominative case (since it ends in -e), and feminine whenever any ending is attached to it (as indicated by an f after its case-base)! It changes like other feminine nouns not ending in -a.

Instead of suh, suv is used in Serbia, and parts of Bosnia and Croatia (it’s non-standard in Croatia).

Instead of kruh, hljeb is used in most of Bosnia, and in the “Ekavian” form hleb in Serbia (often colloquially leb); the actual spread of various words for bread is not trivial, as you can see in the chapter 05 Accusative Case.

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5 Easy Croatian: 10 Gender →   You can also read this chapter in French , Spanish or Finnish . In many languages, including Croatian, each noun is assi...

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