16 Giving to Someone, Going to Someone

  You can also read this chapter in French or Finnish.


There’s another use of the dative/locative case (DL), but without any prepositions: you can state recipient of some action, for instance if you write a letter to someone, you must express someone in DL in Croatian:

Ana pišepisati pismo Ivanu. Ana is writing a letter to Ivan.

Ana pišepisati pismo Ivani. Ana is writing a letter to Ivana.

When you rearrange words in English, you don’t need to use to anymore, but case forms in Croatian don’t change at all:

Ana pišepisati pismo Ivanu. Ana is writing a letter to Ivan.

Ana pišepisati Ivanu pismo. Ana is writing Ivan a letter. (a bit less common order)

To help you decipher cases while you’re learning them, they will be highlighted with different colors:  blue  for N,  red  for A,  green  for DL, if you place your mouse over an example sentence – or touch it, if you use a touchscreen. Moving your mouse (or touching somewhere else) will remove the highlight. Try it on the examples above!

Furthermore, there will be a small legend with case colors in the top right corner of each chapter that uses case highlighting.

Such use of DL is quite common with the following verbs, where something is given (or shown, or offered) to someone:

davati (daje) give
nuditi offer
pokazivati (pokazuje) show
prodavati (prodaje) sell
vraćati return
slati (šalje) send

The following nouns are also useful:

čestitka (DL -ci) greeting card
dar gift
pismo letter
poklon gift poruka (DL -ci) message, note
razglednica (picture) postcard

The verbs are used simply: what goes/is offered/shown to another person (gift, postcard, whatever) is put in the accusative case, and the recipient in DL:

Ana šaljeslati čestitku Ivanu. Ana is sending a greeting card to Ivan.

Ana dajedavati poklon Goranu. Ana is giving a gift to Goran.

Croatian has two more verbs that have a very similar meaning to davati (daje), but with them what’s given is a gift, possibly for a special occasion:

darivati (daruje)  
    make a gift, donate

The verb poklanjati is a bit more common in speech, and the other verb in formal writing and newspapers. For example:

Ana poklanja knjigu Goranu. Ana is giving a book to Goran (as a gift).

There’s a very rough but often effective rule: when an English verb takes two objects – and you order them without the word to – the first object corresponds to the Croatian DL case, and the second one to the A case:

I’m writing Ana a letter.
He told Ivan the truth.
She will buy Goran a new bike.
I wish you a nice day.
In Croatian:  DL     A

Of course, I haven’t explained past and future tenses yet, and I haven’t shown forms of pronouns in various cases – but it doesn’t matter, case use doesn’t depend on the tense, and whether you use nouns or pronouns. It’s always the same scheme.

There are two more useful verbs that use DL, but it does not have anything to do with receiving something – it’s just the way the verbs are. They are:

pomagati (pomaže) help
pripadati belong

For example:

Ana pomažepomagati Goranu.  S▶   W▶  Ana is helping Goran.

Auto pripada Ani.  S▶   W▶  The car belongs to Ana.

(German uses here the same grammar as Croatian: German verbs gehören and helfen use the German Dative case. However, keep in mind that German cases are really not identical to Croatian cases!)

The DL case is used in thanking, which is useful when you get something. The phrase is:

hvala na¨ + DL thanks for

Croatian za¨ usually corresponds to English for, but not in this phrase. For example, you could say:

Hvala na... Thanks for the...

    ... čestitci. ...greeting card.

    ... poruci. ...message.

    ... poklonu. ...gift.

    ... pomoći. ...help.

Here we’ve used another feminine noun that doesn’t end in -a: pomoć f help, assistance.

I already explained how in Croatian, words like my are less often used and possession is simply implied, especially with body parts and family members:

Ana pereprati kosu. ‘Ana is washing hair.’ (= her hair)

However, if she’s washing someone else’s hair, a common way – very common in speech – to express it, is to add the person – the one whose hair it is – in the DL case:

Ana pereprati Goranu kosu.  ▶  Ana is washing hair ‘to Goran’. (i.e. Goran’s hair)

This is the preferred word order in such sentences – it’s, of course, possible to rearrange words if you want to stress something. This is the same structure as with the verb send or write – Goran will ‘get’ his hair washed, in the same way as he will get a message, letter or gift.

Pay attention that in the sentence above, kosu is in A – it is the object, after all – while Goranu is in DL. These two words are not attached to each other, don’t depend on each other: this is just the most common word order in such sentences.

Croatian has possessive adjectives – I’ve already shown moj my, others will be shown a bit later – but with body parts, using the DL is the preferred way. If you are familiar with German, you’ll notice it uses the same system: the sentence above would translate exactly as Ana wäscht Goran die Haare. Dutch and Romance languages do it in the same way.

In fact, English is famous for using a lot of possessive adjectives, while a great majority of European languages use them much less often. In most languages, possession of body parts and many other things is simply implied – it’s expressed only if something belongs to someone else, often by dative or something equivalent.

If your brain is spinning now failing to comprehend how DL can mean possession of a body part, here’s another way to look at the sentence above: Ana is washing the hair, and doing it to Goran.

The accusative case of neuter nouns is equal to their default, nominative form. It’s not so for the DL case, and it becomes important that some neuter nouns have specific case-base as well, not shortened (like masculine ones) but lengthened:

dijete (djetet-) child pile (pilet-) chicken

Pay attention how ije in dijete changes to je in its case-base (such alternations are a cause of misspellings for many native speakers).

The next two verbs use DL and have a obligatory se² always with them (as explained already, it must be the second word, if possible):

diviti se² marvel, admire
smijati (smije) se² laugh ®

For example:

Goran se divi Ivanu. Goran marvels at Ivan.

Ana se smijesmijati se Goranu. Ana is laughing at Goran.

So in Croatian – if the DL case kind of corresponds to English to — you literally ‘marvel to someone’ and ‘laugh to someone’... (which sounds wrong in English, of course).

There’s another, completely different use of the DL case. It is possible with verbs of motion:

ići (ide) go trčati (trči) run

If you are going or running to someone, it’s expressed in Croatian ® with DL:

Ana ideići Ivanu. Ana is going to Ivan. (where he is) ®

Trčimtrčati mami. I’m running to my mum.

(You see again that it’s implied whose mum it is.)

It’s often used when you go to some shop or office held by someone, e.g.:

frizer (») hairdresser zubar (») dentist

For example:

Ivan sutra ideići zubaru. Ivan is going to the dentist tomorrow. ®

These nouns are two more examples of the standard stress moving (zubarzubaru) indicated by my markings.

As a very special use, the DL of the noun kuća house can be used as destination: it means home, even if you live in an apartment:

Ana danas ideići kući. Ana is going home today.

Warning. This applies only to DL of this noun, when used without any prepositions. With the preposition u¨, this noun has the expected meanings:

Ana ideići u kuću. Ana is going to the house. (u¨ + A)

Ana je u kući. Ana is in the house. (u¨ + DL)

The same meaning special meaning, especially in western and northern regions of Croatia, can be expressed with the following adverb:

doma home (as destination)

There’s yet another use of the DL case, with certain nouns and adjectives. For example, this adjective is often accompanied by a noun in DL (this again corresponds to English to):

sličan (sličn-) similar

For example:

Višnja je slična trešnji. Sour cherry is similar to cherry.

In the previous sentence, trešnja cherry was put in DL.

This is also used to express look like:

Ona je slična Ani. She looks like Ana.


® In the “Ekavian” pronunciation, which completely dominates in Serbia, the verb smijati (smije) se² has the unexpected form smejati (smeje) se².

The use of DL of persons to express destinations seems to be much less common in Serbia, especially in speech. Another expression, which will be explained in the next chapters, is used instead.

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