19 Your, Ana’s: Possessives

  You can also read this chapter in French.


We know how to say the red apple, even my apple, but not your apple or Ana’s apple. So, let’s learn it.

As I have already explained, words like my (or Ana’s) are simply adjectives in Croatian (more accurately, possessive adjectives). They are not adjectives in English, where you cannot say the my apple, but you can say the red apple. That’s one example where Croatian is simpler than English.

As the rule, possessive adjectives never get the optional -i in masc. N.

Each possessive adjective corresponds to one pronoun. There are three sets of pronouns with similar forms; the first set is:

pronoun possessive
ja I moj my
ti you (sg.) tvoj your

All three end in -j, so they get -em and -eg instead of -om and -og, but, like moj, the other two adjectives above have additional, shortened forms in neuter and masculine genders as well:

alt. endings for moj, tvoj, svoj
masc. / neut. DL: -ojem = -om
masc. p/a A: -ojeg = -og

You can use them as any adjective:

Čekamo tvog brata. We’re waiting for your brother.

Čekamo tvojeg brata. (the same meaning, bit less common)

Pišempisati poruku tvojoj sestri. I’m writing a message to your sister.

The following two adjectives don’t have any special forms, they change as normal adjectives (of course, since they end in an , they get -em and -eg in neuter and masculine):

pronoun possessive
mi we naš our
vi you (pl./resp.) vaš your (i.e. y’all’s)

The last set contains the 3rd person pronouns. Here Croatian does not distinguish neuter from masculine possessive:

pronoun possessive
ona she njen her
njezin her ®
ono it njegov its/his
on he
one they (f)
ona they (n)
oni they (m)
njihov their

For example:

Knjiga je njihova. The book is ‘their’. (= theirs)

Čitam njegovu poruku. I’m reading his message.

There are two possessive adjectives that correspond to ona she. Both are used, you can use any you like.®

If you were careful, there was a mysterious possessive svoj. It should be used when something belongs to the subject of the sentence. For instance, if Ana is writing a letter to her brother, you would use it:

Ana pišepisati pismo svom bratu. Ana is writing a letter to her (= Ana’s) brother.

In real life, it’s not always used in 1st and 2nd person, so you will hear and sometimes read e.g.:

Pišempisati pismo mom bratu. (colloq.) I’m writing a letter to my brother.

The main purpose of svoj is distinguishing between two or more possible possessors in a sentence – it always points to the subject:

Ana vraća Ivani svoj ključ. Ana is returning her (= Ana’s) key to Ivana.

Ana vraća Ivani njen ključ. Ana is returning her (= Ivana’s) key to Ivana.

The reflexive possessive svoj doesn’t distinguish owner’s gender and number, i.e. it’s the same in masc. and fem., singular and plural – and that elegantly solves a classic problem in English, obvious in these three sentences:

Everyone loves his mother. or

Everyone loves his or her mother. or

Everyone loves their mother. ?

The first option is problematic since everyone includes women too; the second option is too long, and the third option is condemned by some. Croatian simply uses:

Svatko voli svoju majku. ®

(The indefinite pronoun svatko will be explained in 48 Everybody, Each and Everything Else)

How to make possessives out of names? In English, you just add ’s, but it’s slightly more complicated in Croatian. It’s simplest for names ending in -a: just replace it with the -in, and (usually) you’re done. It works also for nouns in -a standing for people (e.g. tata Dad):

mama Mommamin
sestra sistersestrin
tata m Dadtatin

For nouns and names that end in -ca, the c changes to č when -in is added:

prijateljica friend (f) → prijateljičin

The noun majka mother also has a change in consonants, but not other nouns ending in -ka:

majka mothermajčin
baka grandmotherbakin

What about male names that change as if ending in -a, like Ante? They also make possessives with -in:

Čekamo Antinu sestru. We’re waiting for Ante’s sister.

This also usually applies to female names that don’t end in -a and therefore don’t change at all (however, some people use alternative methods, to be described a bit later). For example:

DorisDorisin InesInesin

For male names ending in a consonant or names like Marko, you should add an -ov (or -ev after Croatian-specific letters). It works for nouns standing for people as well:

sin sonsinov
prijatelj friend (m) → prijateljev

If a noun ends in -c (or its case-base), it turns to č when -ev is added:

otac (oc-) father (formal) → očev
princ princeprinčev

All these words are adjectives, they change in case and gender! For example:

Čekamo Aninu sestru. We’re waiting for Ana’s sister.

Sjedim u Hrvojevoj kuhinji. I’m sitting in Hrvoje’s kitchen.

Ana je Goranova mama. Ana is Goran’s mom.

Since they are adjectives, they are more flexible than English possessives:

Automasc. je Anin. The car ‘is Ana’s’. (= belongs to Ana)

I’ve already explained that possession of body parts is usually expressed with the DL case. Is there any difference in meaning when possessive adjectives are used? Usually, there’s no difference, and DL is preferred with such nouns. However, here’s a difference in some circumstances: DL implies a kind of close possession, while possessive adjectives don’t. Compare these sentences:

(1) Ana pereprati Goranu kosu. Ana is washing Goran’s hair. (lit. ‘washing the hair to Goran’)

(2) Ana pereprati Goranovu kosu. (lit. ‘washing Goran’s hair’ – the same meaning?)

They don’t mean exactly the same. The sentence #1 implies that the hair is growing from Goran’s head, while the sentence #2 could also apply to cut hair being washed for whatever reason.

This is a very fine distinction not important in most circumstances. (The ‘close possession’ is sometimes called ‘inalienable’, but the name is not precise – the hair can be cut.)

Pay attention: in the DL possession, used for body parts, the noun for person is simply in DL (GoranGoranu). When you use a possessive adjective – which you have to do to express possession of a ball, dog, house etc. – you have first to turn the person into a possessive (GoranGoranov) and then add the right ending for case and gender to it (e.g. GoranovGoranovu for feminine A).

With relatives, it’s normal to use poss. adjectives, as above (check the sentence about Ana’s sister). I’ll explain later when it’s more common to use DL for relatives as well.

Possessives in Croatian are often used in street names, for example Branimir street – one of major streets in Zagreb – is actually Branimirova ulica Branimir’s street. The word ulica street is often dropped when it’s obvious what we’re talking about. (With specific streets, you should use the preposition u¨):

Ivan živi u Branimirovoj ulici. Ivan lives on ‘Branimirova’ street.

Ivan živi u Branimirovoj. (the same meaning, but shorter)

The forms above apply to foreign names as well. From e.g. Shakespeare, we derive Shakespeareov:

Hamlet je Shakespeareova drama. Hamlet is a Shakespeare’s drama.

In such cases, you’re supposed to pronounce the foreign name as best as you can, and the possessive suffix is pronounced as usual.®

There’s just one problem: you can create a possessive adjective in Croatian from a single noun only. In English, you can just turn the last word into a possessive, but not so in Croatian. Here’s what I mean:

sestra sister sestrin sister’s
moja sestra my sister ? my sister’s

Croatian uses a completely different construction for the latter phrase, and we’ll learn it immediately.


® The possessive adjective njezin is considered archaic outside Croatia.

Instead of svatko, a bit simplified form svako is used in Serbia and most of Bosnia; it’s also colloquially used in Croatia.

Foreign names are usually respelled in Serbia and most of Bosnia, according to an approximate pronunciation, so you’ll see e.g. Šekspir and Šekspirov in these countries.

↓ Something Possibly Interesting (click to show)

↓ Examples (click to show)

↓ Exercise (click to show)

5 Easy Croatian: 19 Your, Ana’s: Possessives →   You can also read this chapter in French . N A  DL  We know how to say the red apple , even my apple , but not your a...

↓ 27 comments (click to show)