11 Colors, More Adjectives and Adverbs

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

Words for colors are adjectives as well. The main color adjectives in Croatian are:

bijel  ▶  white ®
crn  ▶  black
crven  ▶  red
ljubičast  ▶  violet
narančast  ▶  orange ®

plavi  ▶  blue
siv  ▶  gray
smeđ  ▶  brown ®
zelen  ▶  green
žut  ▶  yellow

For example:

Jabuka je crvena.  ▶  The apple is red.

List je zelen. The leaf is green.

The adjective smeđ is one of adjectives that get an -e in neuter instead of the usual -o:

Oko je smeđe. The eye is brown.

There’s a simple but effective rule to determine which adjectives get an -e: ones that end in a Croatian-specific letter, that is, a letter that’s not pronounced like in English or even does not exist in English.

Beside smeđ, often used adjectives that get an -e are:

loš  ▶  bad vruć  ▶  hot

(You’ll encounter more such adjectives as you go.)

If you want to say that something is e.g. dark green, put tamno- to the front of the color adjective – the result is one, long word. Likewise, light + color is expressed with svjetlo-:

Majica je tamnocrvena. The T-shirt is dark red.

Auto je svjetlozelen. The car is light green.

Two color adjectives have a specific meaning with some nouns, quite different from usage in English:

plava kosa blond hair
crno vino red wine

Literally, in Croatian, wines can be ‘black’, and blond-haired people have ‘blue’ hair. (If you want to know why, the adjective plavi meant pale thousand years ago.)

There’s another adjective for ‘color’ frequently used in Croatian:

šaren multicolored, motley

It doesn’t really translate into English: it’s used when in English you would describe something having colored stripes or many colors, especially bright, live colors:

Majica je šarena. The T-shirt is multicolored. (has bright colors)

There are two adjectives for colors that are used colloquially. Both have a special behavior – they don’t change their form at all, neither in plural, nor in gender, nor in cases. They have only one form. Such words are called indeclinable (indecl. for short). They are:

lila pale violet  
roza pink ®
    colloquial &

(The colloqual adjective for pink exists also as a normal adjective rozi.)

With colors and some similar adjectives, you can use the following adverbs that stress completeness:



  completely, fully

The adverb potpuno is much more common in speech. For example:

Soba je potpuno bijela. The room is completely white.

You can also combine colors: the first one is always in neuter N, and the second one changes; they are usually spelled with a hyphen between:

crno-bijeli televizor black-and-white TV set

crno-bijela košulja black-and-white shirt

crveno-plava zastava red-and-blue flag

Some adjectives have a slightly different form in the masculine nominative (which is the dictionary form) and whenever anything is attached to them (e.g. when they get an -a for the feminine gender).

For instance, the adjective dobar good has the feminine form dobra, that is dobr + a. Other forms that have any ending are also formed as dobr + ending.

In the same way as for some nouns, can say that dobr- is the case-base of the adjective dobar and list it together with the dictionary form. For most adjectives their case-base is the same as their masculine form, so we list it only when it’s needed. A good Croatian dictionary should list it too (or something equivalent to it, e.g. the feminine form).

Often used adjectives that have a specific case-base are:

dobar (dobr-) good
gladan (gladn-) hungry
hladan (hladn-) cold
mokar (mokr-) wet
mračan (mračn-) dark
opasan (opasn-) dangerous
prazan (prazn-) empty
ružan (ružn-) ugly
sladak (slatk-) sweet
sretan (sretn-) happy ®
strašan (strašn-) terrible
taman (tamn-) dark
tužan (tužn-) sad
umoran (umorn-) tired
važan (važn-) important
žedan (žedn-) thirsty

You see that two adjectives have meaning dark. The adjective mračan (mračn-) means not well-lit, or gloomy (e.g. movie), while taman (tamn-) means something painted in a dark paint, or having a dark color (e.g. hair).

The ‘case-base’ usually looks like nominative masculine form without the last a, but sometimes there are other kinds of alternations:

bolestan (bolesn-) sick topao (topl-) warm

Warning. Some books give a rough rule that -a- is always lost, whenever anything is added. This is true for most adjectives with more than one syllable – but not for all. Also, it’s not the complete rule, as you can see from additional consonant changes that sometimes apply.

Let’s put the adjectives above to use:

Ivana je žedna. Ivana is thirsty.

Ivan je žedan. Ivan is thirsty.

As I have already explained, adjectives usually get an -i before masculine nouns, especially colloquially; but it doesn’t happen with all adjectives, e.g. dobar (dobr-) good is almost always used without -i:

On je dobar prijatelj. He’s a good friend.

Compare this with:

On je stari prijatelj. He’s an old friend.

Other adjectives with a specific case-base are often used without -i before masculine nouns as well.

The following adjectives are used a bit differently than in English:

debeo (debel-) thick
lagan light(weight), ‘easy’
kratak (kratk-) short
mastan (masn-) fat
nizak (nisk-) low
težak (tešk-) heavy, ‘hard’

Croatian uses težak heavy and lagan light in the literal sense:

Kamen je težak.  ▶  The stone is heavy.

Kutija je lagana. The box is light.

Croatian also uses these two adjectives to indicate difficulty, in a quite different fashion than in English (the word dosta is here just to practice adverbs a bit):

Knjiga je dosta teška. The book is quite ‘heavy’. (= hard)

Problem je lagan. The problem is ‘light’. (= easy)

(If you know some German, you will recall the adjective schwer, with exactly these two meanings.)

Next, the adjective nizak (nisk-) low is used to specify low height of things in Croatian:

Polica je niska. The shelf is low.

Unlike English, it’s also used for short people (who are ‘low’ in Croatian):

Ana je niska. Ana is ‘low’. (= short)

The adjective kratak (kratk-) short is used in Croatian only to describe movies, bridges, roads, pieces of wood, etc.

In a similar fashion, books and people can be debeo (debel-) thick:

Knjiga je debela. The book is thick.

Ivana je debela. Ivana is ‘thick’. (= fat, plump)

Furthermore, Croatian has two adjectives corresponding to English free:

besplatan (besplatn-) free (of charge)
slobodan (slobodn-) free (of restrictions), unoccupied

You would use the first adjective only when something is offered without payment, e.g. a free sample, free show etc., and the other adjective in all other circumstances. This is basically the same difference as German kostenlos vs. frei, or Spanish gratuito vs. libre.

You will notice that neuter forms of adjectives are often used as adverbs, i.e. words that modify verbs and other adjectives. For example, the adjective spor slow in the neuter form sporo means slow (before a neuter noun, or when describing it) or slowly when used without a noun:

Ana vozi sporo.  ▶  Ana drives slowly.

Many adjectives are used like that, and it usually corresponds to English -ly, e.g. užasno is the neuter form of užasan (užasn-) terrible, but also stands for English terribly.

However, some adjectives when used as adverbs change meaning. They are best remembered as separate words. The most often used ones are:

adjective adverb
jak strong jako very / very much
mali small, tiny malo a bit, a little
pun full puno a lot ®

For instance, the first sentence contains an adjective, but the others contain adverbs of intensity:

Vino je jako.  ▶  The wine is strong. (about vino wine = a noun)

Jako je vruće.  ▶  It’s very hot. (about vruće hot)

Auto je jako brz. The car is very fast. (about brz fast)

Goran jako voli čokoladu. Goran likes chocolate very much. (about the verb)

When used with another adverb or adjective, jako corresponds to English very (e.g. very hot); with a verb, it corresponds to very much.

There’s one more useful, but very colloquial word, mostly used by younger people. It can be used as an adjective and as an adverb of intensity with another adjective or a verb. (Its use with verbs is very colloquial!) When used as an adjective, it’s indeclinable:

super (colloq.)      adj. indecl. great, excellent, superb
adv. super, very

For instance, you’ll hear and sometimes read:

Imam super majicu. (colloq.) I have a great T-shirt.

Auto je super brz. (colloq.) The car is super fast.

Ana super pjeva. (colloq.!) Ana sings great.

Finally, there’s one very useful word used for comparisons:

kao like, as

While English has two words used to compare against something else, Croatian has one multipurpose word. It’s used like this:

More je hladno kao led. The sea is cold as ice.

The word kao doesn’t affect the case of the following word, and never changes case etc. In speech, it’s often shortened to ko, spelled also as k’o.


® In Serbia, where “Ekavian” forms dominate, the adjective white has the form beo (bel-).

Instead of narančast, a slightly different adjective is used in Serbia: narandžast. It’s also common in Bosnia. Besides smeđ, there’s another, but indeclinable adjective for brown, used in Bosnia and Serbia: braon. It completely prevails in Serbia, where smeđ is really only used to describe eyes, hair and color of pets.

Instead of roza, a slightly different word roze is common in Serbia and Bosnia. It’s very uncommon in the regularized form rozi there.

Instead of sretan (sretn-), a slightly different word srećan (srećn-) is used in Serbia and most of Bosnia.

Some style guides in Serbia discourage using puno as an adverb and advise mnogo is used instead.

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