15 Locations

  You can also read this chapter in French.

We’re able to say that we are going to school or to work, but what about being in school, or at work?

It turns out we again need the prepositions u¨ and na¨, but with another noun form – the dative or locative case (just DL for short) ®. Most books list them as separate cases, but they are really the same in all everyday situations. (There’s a difference in tone of some words in Standard Croatian, but most people don’t have it in their speech.)

This table summarizes rules to put nouns into the DL case, starting from the nominative (dictionary) form:

noun type (N) DL
nouns in -a (≈ fem.) -a-i
neuter nouns (≈ in -o, -e) -o or -e-u
masc. nouns not in -a add -u
fem. not in -a (e.g. noć) add -i

As you can see, all nouns get an ending now, and there’s no distinction for people and animals – that applies only to the accusative case. There are again only two endings to remember: one for nouns in -a and feminine nouns not in -a, and another for all other nouns. Let’s take the following nouns:

kolač cake
kuća house
kuhinja kitchen
ladica drawer ®
ormar closet, wardrobe ®
peć f oven, furnace
soba room
stan apartment

With them, and other nouns we have already learned, can make sentences like these:

Ana je u kući. Ana is in the house.

Ivan je u Zagrebu. Ivan is in Zagreb.

Spavamo u hotelu.  ▶  We sleep in a hotel.

Riba pliva u moru. A fish is swimming in the sea.

Ivan je u školi. Ivan is at school.

Kuhamo u kuhinji. We’re cooking in the kitchen.

Kolač je u peći. The cake is in the oven.

Of course, we can use objects as well:

Kuham čaj u kuhinji. I’m cooking tea in the kitchen.

Gledamo televiziju u sobi. We’re watching TV in the room.

You will find this verb useful:

živjeti (živi) live

Verbs having infinitives ending in -jeti have almost always -i in their pres-3, so they are not really irregular. Let’s put it to use:

Ana živi u Zagrebu. Ana lives in Zagreb.

Živim u Splitu. I live in Split.

As you hopefully remember, some nouns when used as destinations require na¨ instead of u¨. When they are used as locations, you still have to use na¨ with them:

Živimo na Braču. We live on the island of Brač.

Ivana je na plaži.  ▶  Ivana is on the beach.

Ana je na trgu. Ana is on the (main) town square.

With locations, Croatian u¨ roughly translates as in, and na¨ as on or at. Here are a couple of ‘activities’ – you finally know how to say on vacation or at university:

Ivan je na fakultetu.  ▶  Ivan is at university.

Ana je na odmoru. Ana is on vacation.

Goran je na večeri. Goran is on dinner/supper.

Ivan je na putu. Ivan is on a trip.

Don’t forget that certain Croatian nouns require na¨ where English uses in (the Core Dictionary marks such nouns). For example (nouns are here listed in DL, of course):

na nebu in the sky
na slici in the picture
na svijetu in the world
na ulici in the street

It also applies to appearing on electronic media, including movies and phone:

na filmu in the movie
na radiju on the radio
na telefonu on the phone
na televiziji on TV

The preposition na¨ also applies to weather conditions – being exposed to blowing wind, sun, etc:

na hladnoći in the cold
na kiši in the rain
na snijegu in the snow
na suncu in the sun, exposed to sun
na vjetru exposed to the wind
na zraku in the (fresh) air ®

Some nouns can be used with both u¨ and na¨ – then the u¨ gives an ordinary meaning, and na¨ a derived, metaphorical one:

u moru in the sea (below surface / swimming)
na moru at the seaside; on the sea (sailing)
u selu in the village
na selu in countryside

So, when you tell in Croatian that someone’s na moru he or she can be just on vacation; when somebody is u moru, it’s swimming or diving.

However, the noun svijet world can use both u¨ and na¨, with not much difference in meaning.

What about at work? Again, we use na¨ with activities like these:

posao (posl-) m work, job
ručak (ručk-) lunch
sastanak (sastank-) meeting

For example:

Ivan je na poslu.  ▶  Ivan is at work.

Ana je na sastanku. Ana is in a meeting.

Damir je na ručku. Damir is at lunch.

Croatian doesn’t distinguish in a meeting from at the meeting. In fact, Croatian doesn’t have anything similar to English at – it’s always ‘in the park’, ‘on the beach’ etc.

To ask where something or someone is, just start a question with the following word (this word varies a lot in everyday speech, e.g. you can hear di colloquially in some parts of Croatia, including cities of Zagreb, Split and Rijeka):

gdje where ®

Nothing else is needed, there’s no change of word order; as usual in Croatian, it’s normal to answer with just a location, or you can give a longer answer if you want to emphasize the rest of the sentence:

Gdje je Ivan?  ▶  Where is Ivan?

— Na putu. On a trip.

— Na putu je. He’s on a trip.


Gdje je Damir?

— Na telefonu. On the phone. (i.e. talking)

Standard Croatian (and many people in speech) always distinguishes gdje where from kamo where... to, but many people in speech use gdje where for both.

If you have examined the sentences above very carefully, you might have noticed that the stress of fakultet changed in DL. The same happens to balkon balcony, kolač cake, vojnik soldier, život life, and to many other nouns:

N + DL ending
kolač  S▶   W▶  kolaču  ▶ 
fakultet  S▶   W▶  fakultetu  ▶ 
telefon telefonu
život životu

This happens whenever these nouns get any case ending, not only DL. Now, I could write them as papir (papir-), and so on, but as with verbs where the present form only differs from the expected one by a stress shift, it’s much simpler to add only an indication of the stress shift:

balkon (») balcony
kolač (») cake
fakultet (») university dept.
ormar (») closet
papir (») paper
problem (») problem
vojnik (») soldier
život (») life

For almost all such words, only the Standard stress shifts (to the ‘western’ position):

Standard stress shift in nouns
papir (») paper
adding any ending shifts the standard stress:

na papiru on the paper

There are very rare exceptions, the most common being život (») life, where the stress position shifts for basically all speakers; it’s easy to recognize them, because the ‘western’ position is not marked in them.

There’s another change in DL that applies only to nouns that end in -ka or -ga. For most of them, their ending changes to -ci or -zi, but only in DL. For example:

Živimo u Americi. We live in America.

Ivan je na slici. Ivan is in the picture.

Goran ima ranu na nozi. Goran has a wound on his leg.

Primjer je u knjizi. An example is in the book.

It does not apply to all nouns, there’s no such change in personal names and family terms like baka grandmother. (Note again how we used just the noun noga, and English always likes a possessive, e.g. his, before parts of body.)

Unfortunately, we are still not able to say that we’re in Croatia, but I will explain it in a short while, don’t worry.


® In informal speech in Montenegro, locations are often formed as destinations, i.e. with A. For example:

Zoran živi u Podgoricu. (A) Zoran lives in Podgorica.

This is not standard in Montenegro, but you will find it in popular songs, movies and writing.

While ladica is used in Serbia as well, the word fioka is much more common there for the drawer.

Besides ormar, orman is also used in Bosnia, Serbia and parts of Croatia, mostly in speech.

In most of Bosnia and in Serbia, the word for air is vazduh, so it’s na vazduhu there.

In Montenegro, the form đe where prevails and is used as standard.

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