18 This and That

  You can also read this chapter in French.


Croatian has three useful demonstrative adjectives. Let’s list them and compare with not only English, but also Spanish demonstratives (as they are more similar to Croatian); I’ll list with them another adjective with a related meaning:

Croatian English Spanish
ovaj (ov-) this este/esta
taj (t-) that ese/esa
onaj (on-) that over there (yonder) aquel/aquella
drugi other otro/otra

They can be used as normal adjectives:

Ona kuća je velika.  ▶  That house is big.

Marko živi u ovom stanu.  ▶  Marko lives in this apartment.

Unlike most other adjectives, the three adjectives listed above – ovaj (ov-), taj (t-) and onaj (on-) – cannot get -i in masculine nominative singular. (Recall that the same restriction applies to moj my).

As in English, it’s quite common in Croatian to use certain adjectives on their own, without any noun, as pronouns (compare to English each, others, and so on). However, regardless how they are used, words that are originally adjectives still change as adjectives, that is, get case endings for adjectives.

Demonstrative adjectives, in the neuter gender (i.e. ovo, to, etc.) are often used as generic pronouns, in questions, explaining things, etc.; the adjective-used-as-pronoun to is frequently translated with English it:

To je mačka. It’s a cat.

Ovo je pas.  ▶  This is a dog.

I’ll call such sentences demonstrative. They behave a bit strange: nouns in them (e.g. mačka, pas) are subjects, so the verb biti (je² +) be agrees with them. It applies to using to with another pronoun as well:

To sam ja.  ▶  It’s me. (lit. ‘It I am.’)

Since there are two words in N, to show you which one is the actual subject, it will get additionally marked with a blue frame when you place your mouse over an example (or touch it, if you use a touchscreen). Try the examples above!

Note you have to use nominative forms in Croatian (ja, mi, ona...) in such sentences, while in English it’s common to use object forms (me, us, her...).

If you use to + adjectives, it’s a different type of sentence: you are talking about something else, already known. Now the word to is the subject, be careful that you use the neuter gender of adjectives:

Ovo je teško.  ▶  This is heavy/hard.

This is completely different from how e.g. pronouns ja I or ti you (singular) behave: with them, you have to think what the pronoun represents, and adjust the gender accordingly. With to you have to use the neuter gender, regardless of what the pronoun represents!

This is very often used to express that something belongs to someone, using possessive adjectives:

To je moje.  ▶  It’s mine.

(Recall that moj gets -e in neuter, since it ends in a Croatian-specific consonant.)

This explains why neuter gender is used when adjectives are used on their own on signs (e.g. reserved, closed): these are simply shortened sentences. However, ovo is still implied, so the adjective keeps the neuter gender:

(Ovo je) rezervirano.  S▶   W▶  (This is) reserved.

So, if you wanted to write a note mine! on something, or just warn somebody when they want to take it, you would use:

Moje!  ▶  Mine!

Croatian has the 3rd person neuter pronoun ono it, but the demonstrative adjective/pronoun in the neuter gender – to – is almost always used instead, so a frequent phrase goes always like this:

To je to!  ▶  That’s it!

You can use to (or ovo, etc.), with the verb zvati (zove) call + se² to express what is the name or word for something:

Ovo se zovezvati džep. This is called a pocket.

To ask what is something called, use kako how (again, as in Spanish or Italian):

Kako se to zovezvati (na hrvatskom)? What is that called (in Croatian)?

Don’t forgetovo and to usually come first, but they aren’t always the subjects:

To je mačka. It’s a cat. mačka is the subject
To smo mi.  ▶  That’s us. mi we is the subject, so you must use the right verb form
To je lako.  ▶  That’s easy. to is the subject, so the adjective (lako) must be in neuter

This is unlike English, where all these sentences have the same verb form (is). It will become quite important once we start using the past tense.

Although Croatian has no articles – words like English the, a or an – you can use taj (t-) or onaj (on-) as an adjective, if you want to emphasize that something is strictly defined, already known:

Čekam taj vlak. I’m waiting for that train.

Ona žena je ovdje. That/The woman is here.

The opposite can be expressed with two adjectives that express that something is not really known:

jedan (jedn-) one neki some

For instance:

Neka žena je ovdje.  ▶  A woman is here. (or some woman...)

The adjective jedan (jedn-) one also serves as a number – for instance, you can say that you have one son (recall, masculine nouns standing for people or animals change in accusative, and adjectives get -og or -eg):

Imam jednog sina.  ▶  I have one son. (or a son)

In Croatian, demonstrative and possessive adjectives can be combined freely, unlike in English, so you can say:

jedna moja knjiga one of my books (lit. ‘one my book’)
jedan moj prijatelj one of my (male) friends (lit. ‘one my friend’)
ta moja knjiga lit. ‘that my book’

The last phrase is hard to translate, but the meaning is obvious: a specific book that belongs to me. For example:

Poznaješpoznavati jednog mog dobrog prijatelja.  ▶  You know a good friend of mine. (lit. ‘one my good friend’)

The normal order of adjectives in such phrases is demonstrative-possessive-descriptive, but it can be changed in principle.

There’s another, very subtle way to express indefiniteness of the subject in sentences without objects – put the subject after the verb:

Dolazi vlak. A train is coming. ®

(This explains the common order of words in sentences like pada kiša lit. ‘a rain is falling.’)

The adjective drugi is often translated as English another. While English e.g. another apple is a bit ambiguous, Croatian drugi means not this one, and Croatian uses još + jedan (jedn-) in meaning one more:

Želim drugu olovku.  ▶  I want another pencil. (a different pencil)

Želim još jednu olovku.  ▶  I want another pencil. (one more)

We have used here the following noun and verb:

olovka pencil željeti (želi) want

While jedan (jedn-) usually translates as one, Croatian has no “noun” like English one. When you would use this one, another one in English, only the adjective-as-pronoun corresponding to this or another is used in Croatian – but don’t forget to adjust its case and gender! For example:

Želim ovu jabuku.  ▶  I want this apple.

Želim ovu.  ▶  I want this one. (lit. ‘this’, fem. A)

Želim još jedno pivo.  ▶  I want one more beer.

Želim još jedno.  ▶  I want one more. (lit. ‘one’, neut. A)

Želim još jedan sendvič.  ▶  I want another sandwich.

Želim još jedan.  ▶  I want another one. (lit. ‘one’, masc. inanim. A)

This is one instance when it’s clear why adjectives show gender in Croatian – they are more specific when used without nouns. Observe how these examples are different:

Želim drugog učitelja.  ▶  I want another teacher.

Želim drugog.  ▶  I want another one. (lit. ‘other’, masc. anim. A)

Želim drugi sendvič.  ▶  I want another sandwich.

Želim drugi.  ▶  I want another one. (lit. ‘other’, masc. inanim. A)

This is, of course, due to the difference between the masc. animate and inanimate genders!

The adjective jedan (jedn-) one can be negated, by appending ni-:

nijedan (nijedn-) + negation not even one

Like with other negative words starting with ni-, the verb must be negated too:

Nemam nijednu olovku.  ▶  I don’t have a single pencil. (lit. ‘I don’t have not even one pencil.’)

Ne znam nijednu riječ.  ▶  I don’t know a single word. (lit. ‘I don’t know not even one word.’)

The words jedan (jedn-) and nijedan (nijedn-) are often used in short replies, but pay attention that they of course adjust to the gender of the thing they refer to (here olovka pencil = feminine):

Trebam olovku.  ▶  I need a pencil. ®

— Imam jednu.  ▶  I have one.

— Nemam nijednu.  ▶  I don’t have any. (lit. ‘I don’t have not even one.’)

The neuter form to (properly changed for case, of course) is also used to refer to facts, statements, events and actions:

Kuham čaj. I’m making tea. (lit. ‘cooking tea’) ®

To je dobro! That’s good!

Here, the word to refers to what is previously said. Only to can be used in such references, ovo or ono cannot be used.

Croatian has specific demonstrative adverbs for manner (how) and quantity (how much/many) that don’t have exact English counterparts:

manner quantity
ovako in this way, like this ovoliko this much/many
tako in that way, so toliko so much/many
onako in that way, like that onoliko that much/many

Out of them, ovako, tako and toliko are most often used. For example:

Ovaj auto je tako brz.  ▶  This car is so fast.

In fact, Croatian has a wide array of demonstrative adverbs, covering every category of adverbs: destination, origin, reason, location, time, etc. Some of them are frequently used, others less so.

However, certain meanings are expressed with a demonstrative + noun, and the whole phrase gets a special meaning. The noun put (meaning way on its own) is often used in such phrases:

ovaj put this time (around)
taj put that time

Croatian has also demonstrative adjectives corresponding to quality and size:

ovakav (ovakv-) such, like this
ovolik this big

Don’t forget these words are adjectives, that is, change in gender, case and number. For example:

Imam ovakvu majicu.  ▶  I have such a T-shirt.

Other forms are derived in the same way as for other types of demonstratives, i.e. by replacing ov- with t- or on-.

Don’t worry too much about the difference between ovakav (ovakv-) and takav (takv-) – they are often used interchangeably by Croatians.

English has specific time adverbs for ‘on, during this day’ (today) and ‘this night’ (tonight). Croatian has a bit expanded scheme. They all end in -s:

danas today
noćas tonight
jutros this morning
večeras this evening

For example:

Večeras idemoići u restoran. We’re going to the restaurant this evening.

The word to is also used in the phrase to jest (where jest is an archaic form of je², the pres-3 of biti).

Another demonstrative, tako, is used in another frequent phrase, i tako dalje. Both are very common expressions, so they have standard abbreviations (the periods are mandatory; matching English abbreviations are also given):

phrase abbreviated
to jest that is tj. i.e.
i tako dalje and so on itd. etc.

This demonstrative is also used in two very frequent phrases:

Tako je.  ▶  That’s right. / That’s so.

Nije tako.  ▶  That isn’t so. / Not correct.

(Observe how je² requires the 2nd position.)


® Instead of vlak train, the word voz is used in Serbia and most of Bosnia. Instead of kuhati, the form kuvati is used in Serbia, and in parts of Bosnia and Croatia (however, it’s not standard in Croatian).

In Serbia, instead of trebam olovku, the construction treba mi olovka is used. It’s also used in Croatia. It will be explained in the following chapters.

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