14 My and Adjectives in Accusative

  You can also read this chapter in French or Spanish.

We now know how to say:

Jedemjesti jabuku. I’m eating an apple.

Jabuka je crvena. The apple is red.

But we still don’t know how to say I’m eating a red apple! If you want to put an adjective before a noun in accusative, you have to put the adjective into the accusative as well.

To put an adjective into the accusative case, you have to take into the account the gender of the noun beside it. Jabuka is feminine, so what’s the feminine accusative ending for adjectives? Not really complicated, it’s -u, so we have:

Jedemjesti crvenu jabuku.  ▶  I’m eating a red apple.

In this example, the adjective gets the same ending as the noun, but consider it a coincidence. If you would take a weird feminine noun that ends in a consonant (e.g. krv f blood) the adjective would still get the -u:

Imam crvenu krv. I have red blood.

This is what gender means: what adjective or pronoun forms you have to use. Nouns have fixed gender – jabuka is ‘feminine’ because its default, nominative form ends in -a, and krv blood just simply is – but adjectives adapt to the ‘class’ the noun belongs to, and that ‘class’ is called ‘gender’ by tradition.

And now we’re going to see the four genders in Croatian. The masculine gender is really two genders: one for masculine people-and-animals, another for everything else masculine. Adjectives for masculine people-and-animals will get -og:

Imam crnog psa.  ▶  I have a black dog.

These are all accusative adjective endings you need to remember. For neuter nouns, and masculine other than people-and-animals, adjectives are the same as in the nominative – of course, the N form depends on the gender. This table summarizes the scheme (I’m here using p/a for ‘people and animals’):

genderadj. A example
fem. -u veliku ribu
big fish
neut. same as
veliko jezero
big lake
(not p/a)
same as
velik(i) zid
big wall
(some -eg)
velikog konja
big horse

Usually, the two masculine genders are called masc. animate (the gender for masculine people and animals) and masc. inanimate (the gender for everything else ‘masculine’).

You might ask: why is the gender of nouns like zid wall called ‘masculine’ at all, when it has no people or animals in it? How is a wall masculine? Name of that gender is simply a tradition; also, looking at the endings in the nominative case, adjectives referring to these nouns get the same endings as for the nouns konj horse and brat brother. The pronoun referring to a wall will be on, usually translated as he.

If your brain still short circuits because of the term masculine inanimate, shorten it to just ‘inanimate’.

Strictly speaking, the gender of masculine people and animals includes also beings that are neither, e.g. gods, angels, ghosts, all creatures from Lord of the Rings, snowmen – and robots! It’s important that something is perceived as having its own will (or mind), even if it’s a microscopic worm. Such ‘genders’ are not at all uncommon among world languages.

(You’ll often see that, in most textbooks, only three genders are mentioned and the difference in the accusative case is not called gender. The division to four genders is the simplest explanation, in my opinion at least.)

Something interesting: only in accusative (singular) adjectives have different endings for all 4 genders. In most cases – I will introduce them later – there’s one adjective ending for the feminine gender, and another for everything else. This makes everything much simpler than it could be.

Examples for all 4 genders:

Imam crnu mačku.  ▶  I have a black cat.

Vozim crni auto.  ▶  I’m driving a black car.

Vidim crnog konja.  ▶  I see a black horse.

Vidim žuto sunce.  ▶  I see the yellow sun.

(The noun auto, despite ending in -o, is a masculine inanimate noun, one of exceptions I have already listed when I introduced genders.)

Since in the masculine inanimate gender adjectives have the same form in N and A, the -i is optional in A as well – but it’s almost always used when adjectives are placed before nouns, as here. (Standard Croatian insists on a small difference in meaning between adjectives with -i and without; it will be described later.)

There’s an alternative ending in masculine-people-and-animals (-eg). It’s attached to adjectives that get an -e in the neuter nominative (and accusative) – i.e. to adjectives that end in a Croatian-specific letter:

Vidim smeđeg konja.  ▶  I see a brown horse.

You will sometimes see (in books and newspapers) adjectives having the ending -oga or -ega instead of -og or -eg. There’s no difference in meaning: it’s just an older form that’s sometimes still preferred in writing.®

As promised, here are the exact rules for the accusative case of nouns (instead of ‘same as nominative’, or ‘no change’, I wrote just ‘= N’):

noun type (N) A
nouns in -a (≈ fem.) -a-u
neuter nouns (≈ in -o, -e) = N
not in -a
(not p/a) = N
(p/a) add -a
fem. not in -a (e.g. noć) = N

(They differ from the previous, approximate rules only for a few nouns, e.g. kokoš f hen and zvijer f beast – the approximate rules didn’t take the gender into account.)

I’ve included the approximate rules (≈) for gender in the table, e.g. nouns that end in -a in N are usually feminine, etc. The important criteria have nothing to do with the approximate rules: all nouns than end in -a change it in A to -u. As some masc. nouns end in -a, I’ve stressed that the masc. endings apply only to nouns not ending in -a.

I will introduce here a very useful adjective, moj my. This is simply an adjective in Croatian, but it’s not so in English. For example, you can say:

the red apple; the apple is red

If you try to replace the word red in the sentences above with my, you’ll see the problem. Not so in Croatian, where you simply say:

moja jabuka

Jabuka je moja.

While moj is used as any other adjective, it still has two peculiarities:

First, unlike other adjectives, it never has the optional -i in masc. N.

Second, in masculine (also in neuter gender, we’ll see later) it has special, shorter forms. There’s absolutely no difference in meaning, use, you can use longer or shorter forms wherever you like, but shorter forms are much more frequently used:

gender N A
fem. moja moju
neut. moje = N
(not p/a)
moj = N

There’s nothing special about forms for the feminine gender, they are in the table above just for completeness sake. (There’s nothing special about neuter forms either, since j is Croatian-specific.)

In fact, you’ll see that some adjectives and adjective-like words in Croatian tend to have specific forms, but never in the feminine gender: all specific forms of any adjective are limited to masculine and neuter genders.

For example:

Ana vozi mog brata na posao.  ▶  Ana is driving my brother to work.

Ana vozi mojeg brata na posao.  ▶  (the same meaning, but rarely used)

(As with other adjectives, you will sometimes find the form in A mojega, and the shorter form moga – there’s no difference in meaning, such forms are just a bit archaic.)

In the previous chapter, I’ve explained how there are two words for man in Croatian. It’s interesting there’s only one word for both woman and wife:

žena woman, wife

If you use that word with a possessive adjective like moj (or any of the possessive adjectives we’ll learn later) it’s understood as wife:

Vidim ženu. I (can) see a woman.

Poznaješpoznavati moju ženu. You know my wife.

There is a word meaning precisely wife in Croatian, but it’s very formal and used only in official records, in very formal speech and so on. The same double meaning holds for the words for boy/boyfriend and girl/girlfriend – but there are formal and colloquial words for them:

girl, girlfriend boy, boyfriend
formal djevojka mladić (»)
colloq. cura dečko (dečk-) m (Zagreb, etc.)
momak (momk-) (Dalmatia)

In everyday speech and casual writing, words djevojka and mladić are quite rare. Keep in mind, here both formal and colloquial words have double meanings. Additionally, colloquial words vary by region (you’ll learn more regional variations later). So, you’ll mostly read and hear:

Ana je lijepa cura. (colloq.) Ana is a pretty girl.

Ana je moja cura. (colloq.) Ana is my girlfriend.

Marko je lijep dečko. (colloq.) Marko is a handsome boy.

Marko je moj dečko. (colloq.) Marko is my boyfriend.

Marko je moj momak. (colloq., Dalmatia) Marko is my boyfriend.

These words are completely unrelated to the Croatian words for friend: prijatelj (male) and prijateljica (female)!

Note that possession can also be expressed with the verb imati have, and then meanings also switch:

Imam ženu. I have a wife. (i.e. I’m married.)

Nemam curu. (colloq.) I don’t have a girlfriend.

Imam dečka. (colloq.) I have a boyfriend.

Imam momka. (colloq., Dalmatia) I have a boyfriend.

If all these endings seem overwhelming, here are nouns and adjectives in a nutshell – just learn this like a poem:

gender example N A
fem. big fish velika riba veliku ribu
neut. big lake veliko jezero no change
big sea veliko more
m. inan. big wall velik(i) zid no change
m. anim. big brother velik(i) brat velikog brata

Finally, you’ll see sometimes, in writing, that certain adjectives in A have endings like nouns, e.g. vidim crna konja. This is never used in everyday life and casual writing. Such indefinite adjectives will be briefly described in 99 Aorist Tense and Other Marginal Features. You can safely ignore them for now.


® Such longer endings are extremely rare in Serbia and Bosnia.

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