13 She Loves Me: Pronouns and Properties

Let me introduce more pronouns and continue with uses of adjectives and of the verb biti (je² +) be.

We have learned some personal pronouns (ti, vi, on...) but not all. Also, we’ve seen only their subject forms, i.e. the nominative case. What if we want to use pronouns as objects? What if we want to say I am? How to say I love you? How to say she loves me?

As in English, the forms of pronouns are not regular and have to be learned. Fortunately, they are not too complicated (and two of them are similar to English pronouns). Here are the forms for the first two persons (I, you, we):

singular plural
pers. N A     N A
1st ja me² mi nas²
2nd ti te² vi vas²

Like the word se², personal pronouns in accusative must be put to the second position in a sentence (check 7 Verbs with Obligatory Objects.) For example:

Ana¹ me² čeka.  ▶  Ana is waiting for me.

As usual, the second position should not be understood mechanically. Two or more words, if they form a phrase, can occupy the first position. It’s normal to say:

Moj prijatelj¹ te² čeka. My friend is waiting for you.

(I’ll explain the possessive adjective moj my in the next chapter. It’s a bit special, e.g. it never gets an -i in masc.)

Again, you’ll find sometimes in books and newspapers that the second position is forced, even splitting combinations adjective + noun. That’s never used in speech (except maybe in very formal speeches, e.g. in the news on the public radio, or in some rural areas):

Moj¹ te² prijatelj čeka. (the same meaning, very formal, in writing)

Then, of course, there’s the famous example:

Volim te.  ▶  I love you. (to someone you’re familiar with)

To help you learn forms of personal pronouns not in N, they will be displayed in dark blue, and you can get a pop-up by placing your mouse over them (or by touching them on a touchscreen) containing basic information, e.g. 1 A = 1st person, accusative; 2pl A = 2nd person, plural, A, and so on. Check the examples above!

As I’ve already explained, Croatian vi/vas stands both for plural (y’all, you guys) and respect (you sir/madam). The second use is usually distinguished by using a capital V in writing:

Ana vas čeka. Ana is waiting for you (guys).

Ana Vas čeka. Ana is waiting for you (sir/madam).

(There are also longer, ‘stressed’ forms of personal pronouns, but they are used only in specific circumstances, and will be introduced later.)

And here are the forms in the 3rd person singular (he, she, it):

3rd person
fem. ona  ▶  je² / ju²
neut. ono ga²
masc. on  ▶ 

As you can see, the 3rd person accusative pronouns have one form for all genders except the feminine. You’ll see that pronouns have much fewer forms than you have maybe expected. For example:

Volim ga.  ▶  I love him/it. (depending on the context)

Ona ga ne poznajepoznavati.  ▶  She doesn’t know him/it. (depending on the context)

The accusative case of ona she has two forms which are used interchangeably ®. For example, if you’re talking about a knjiga book – a feminine noun – both are acceptable and used:

Čitam je. I’m reading it. (lit. ‘reading her’)

Čitam ju. (the same meaning)

(Since the form of pronoun je² coincides with the pres-3 of biti (je² +) be, it’s avoided when the verbal je² appears in the same sentence; we’ll see such sentences a bit later).

Pay attention: the noun knjiga book is feminine. The same goes for voda water and kuća house. And the same goes for noć night and obitelj family. You have to use feminine pronouns (ona, ju², je²) when referring to them, as you would use for your sister.

Likewise, nož knife and auto (aut-) car are masculine nouns. You have to use same pronouns to talk about a knife, a car and your brother.

Pronouns are often used to describe what something is. Both what’s described and the description should be in the default, dictionary form – the nominative case. For example:

Ivan je student. Ivan is a (university) student.

On je student. He’s a (university) student.

English has only one word – student – for both male and female students. For most such roles, Croatian has two words, one for male, another for female. (English has such a difference for only a couple of words, e.g. actor vs. actress.)

There’s no straight rule how male and female words relate, but most often, the word for female is made by adding -ica to the word for male (the suffix -ica has other uses as well):

male female
actor, actress glumac (glumc-) glumica
professor profesor profesorica ®
(univ.) student student studentica ®
teacher učitelj učiteljica

For example, if a female person is a student, you would say:

Vesna je studentica. Vesna is a (university) student.

Pay attention. In sentences where we use the verb biti (je² +) be to describe something, both what we describe and the description are in the nominative case. The accusative case is not used then.

Croatian has two words that correspond to English man:

čovjek man/human ®
muškarac (muškarc-) man (focus on masculinity)

You would use čovjek in all normal circumstances (you can and should use it in generic sense, for someone you don’t know sex of), and the other word is used only when it’s important that someone is male, e.g. when talking about how he looks:

Ivan je marljiv čovjek. Ivan is a hard-working man. (≈ person)

On je zgodan muškarac. He’s a handsome man.

For most animals (humans included) the default gender is masculine: you can use masculine nouns when you have a mixed group, if you simply don’t know someone’s sex or you want to speak about people or some animals in general. The masc. gender is so generic that it can be sometimes used for women too:

Ana je dobar čovjek. lit. ‘Ana is a good man/human.’ (≈ person)

Ona je novi profesor. She’s the new professor.

It’s all nice, but how to say I’m a student (male or female)? For that, we need another personal pronoun introduced above (the N form, of course), and the right verb form:

biti (je² +) bepres-1 sam²

For example:

Ja sam student. I’m a student. (male)

Ja sam studentica. I’m a student. (female)

Croatian does not use personal pronouns as subjects often, but in such sentences, they are used. Also, note that these English sentences carry less information than the Croatian ones: sex of the speaker is not revealed, while Croatian sentences also reveal the sex of the speaker. Instead of (male) and (female), I’ll shorten this information, when in Croatian sentences, but not in English translations, as {m} and {f}:

Ja sam student. I’m a student. {m}

Ja sam studentica. I’m a student. {f}

When you are describing a condition at the moment, something that can change in any minute, using adjectives, pronouns are usually omitted. Instead of ja sam..., this is the most often used form:

Gladan sam.  ▶  I’m hungry. {m}

Gladna sam.  ▶  I’m hungry. {f}

Pay attention: although ja and ti don’t distinguish gender, you still have to adjust the adjective to the sex ‘hidden’ behind them. This is similar to Romance languages like Italian and Spanish:

(Sp.) Estoy cansado. I am tired. {m}

(Sp.) Estoy cansada. I am tired. {f}

If you know some Spanish, it could interest you that the use or dropping of personal pronouns in Croatian sentences like I am... basically matches Spanish verbs ser vs. estar (but there are some exceptions):

Soy estudiante. Ja sam student.
Estoy cansado. Umoran sam.

If you would add an adverb (i.e. opet again, možda maybe, jako very etc.), it never behaves as attached to the adjective, so second position words easily come in between.

Goran je jako gladan.  ▶  Goran is very hungry.

Jako sam gladan. I’m very hungry. {m}

(Normally the adverb comes left from the adjective, but it can be tweaked too to emphasize the adverb.)

What about saying you’re not hungry? The same principle works as for other forms of present of the verb biti – just add ni- ®; the resulting form is not restricted to the second position and in fact, usually comes before the adjective (but adverbs modifying the adjective usually come in between):

Nisam gladan.  ▶  I’m not hungry. {m}

Uopće nisam gladna. I’m not hungry at all. {f}

Nisam jako gladna. I’m not very hungry. {f}

The second person pronoun is ti in singular and vi in plural (also used for polite addressing). The corresponding forms of verb biti we have already learned.

Nisi gladan. You are not hungry. {to m}

Gladna si. You’re hungry. {to f}

Now, the sex of the person you’re speaking to is revealed: I’ll shorten it to just {to m} and {to f}.

In nominative plural, adjectives get ending -i in the masculine gender, for mixed-sex groups, but also in all polite sentences, regardless of the real sex of person you’re addressing politely:®

Gladni ste. {to all-m}

Gladni ste. {to mixed}

Gladni ste. {politely to one person, male or female}

All sentences above, of course, translate to English as just you’re hungry. Feminine plural adjectives get -e in nominative; it’s used only for groups where all members have feminine sex:

Gladne ste. {to all-f}

The same rule works for 1st person plural (we are) where the personal pronoun is mi and the verb to be has the following form:

biti (je² +) bepres-1pl smo²

(This is an exception to the rule that pres-1pl is simply pres-1 + o.)

For instance:

Umorni smo.  ▶  We’re tired. {m/mixed}

Umorne smo.  ▶  {all-f}


® In Serbia and usually in Bosnia, the accusative form ju² is used only if there’s the pres-3 form je² in the same sentence.

In Serbia, instead of profesorica and studentica, profesorka and studentkinja prevail, but učiteljica is used everywhere.

In Bosnia and Montenegro, the word čovjek means – in speech – both man and husband, depending on the context (the double meaning holds for the noun žena woman/wife everywhere). The same holds for the word čovek (») in central regions of Serbia (this is the “Ekavian” form; the » mark for nouns will be explained in the following chapters).

In Montenegro, negative present tense forms of the verb biti (je² +) be have always nije-, i.e. nijesam, nijesi etc., but the 3rd pers. is just nije.

In some western parts of Croatia, Zagreb included, when speaking politely to women, people sometimes colloquially use singular feminine adjectives with 2nd person plural pronouns and verbs, e.g. gladna ste. This is considered non-standard, and even a mark of uneducated speech. The same happens in Slovenia, and it’s also considered non-standard and non-educated there. The equivalent expression is, however, completely acceptable in Czech, but that language is too far from Croatia to be discussed here, although there are many similarities and some mutual understanding...

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5 Easy Croatian: 13 She Loves Me: Pronouns and Properties Let me introduce more pronouns and continue with uses of adjectives and of the verb biti ( je ² +) be . We have learned s...

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