25 Plural

  You can also read this chapter in French.


So far we have learned three cases (apart from the default, nominative case, where there’s nothing to learn). All forms we have seen were in singular: we couldn’t say I’m eating apples or birds are singing.

Let’s now see how nouns look in plural. We’ll start with the simplest possibility: nominative and accusative plural for nouns ending in -a and for neuter nouns (that is, more or less all nouns that end in -o or -e).

The rules are very simple:

jabuka applejabuke  ▶  apples
pismo letterpisma  ▶  letters
more seamora  ▶  seas

So, how to say birds are singing? We need to make plural of the first Croatian verb form we have learned, pres-3. How to make it? The rules are a bit more complicated than for other verb forms, it depends on the last letter of the pres-3:

pres-3pres-3pl example
-a-aju pjevati singpjevaju
-i-e voziti drivevoze ®
-e-u ® jesti (jede) eatjedu

It’s interesting that pres-3pl for any verb ends in either -u or -e. For example:

Ptice pjevaju.  ▶  Birds are singing.

Then, there’s pres-3pl form of the verb to be:

biti (je² +) besu²

We can use it for past tense:

Ptice su pjevale.  ▶  Birds were singing.

And we are able to say:

To su ptice.  ▶  These are birds. (lit. ‘Birds are that.’)

Pay attention that in demonstrative sentences, to stays in singular, unlike in English, and to is not the subject if there’s a noun in the sentence (normally in N).

Most verbs that end in -a in pres-3, and have a stress shift left in the present tense – of course, in the Standard scheme – have the stress in the pres-3pl on the same syllable as in the inf, unlike in all other present forms:

seem, look izgledati izgleda izgledaju
reply; suit odgovarati odgovara odgovaraju
plan planirati planira planiraju
enjoy ivati uživa ivaju
speak govoriti govori govore
jump over preskakati preskače preskaču

For example:

Izgledaju odlično.  ▶  They look great.

This happens only with verbs ending in -a in pres-3, as you can see from the verbs govoriti («) speak and preskakati (preskače) jump over, which have the same stress in all present tense forms. This is a rather small detail, and even if you’re trying to learn the Standard stress, you might just ignore it. (Also, in real life, some people who speak with something close to the Standard scheme seem to have stress in pres-3pl like in all other present tense forms. Also, did I say that the Standard stress scheme is quite complicated, even watered-down?)

If we want to express what more than one subject is doing (or their state) we can link them with the following word:

i¨ and

For example:

Ana i Goran pjevaju.  ▶  Ana and Goran are singing.

Ivan i Damir jedujesti.  ▶  Ivan and Damir are eating.

There’s a common way to express mutual action, corresponding to English each other – just use se²:

Ana i Ivan se vole.  ▶  Ana and Ivan love each other.

As you can see, here se² is actually the fourth word, since the words Ana i Ivan are treated as one ‘unit’.

This use explains farewells like vidimo se and čujemo se – they mean we see each other (later, again) and so on. If you know a Scandinavian language, e.g. Swedish, you’ll notice it has exactly the same construction:

(Swedish, Danish, Norwegian) Vi ses! = Vidimo se!

This literally translates as we see-s, where the appended -s means each other. A difference is that Croatian uses a separate word se², and of course, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian have (like English) mandatory pronouns with verbs.

We can also say (we use oni for an all-male or mixed group):

Oni se vole.  ▶  They love each other.

We would use the plural form one only for all-female groups.

Now we now know how to make the nominative form in plural, but what about the accusative case? What about I’m eating apples? It turns out that for such nouns, the accusative plural is equal to the nominative plural! Nothing to learn, we can say:

Jedemjesti jabuke.  ▶  I’m eating apples.

Pišempisati pisma. I’m writing letters.

What about expressing states and properties, like birds are beautiful? We must first be able to put adjectives to plural as well, both to nominative and accusative! Good news – accusative will be equal to N (we can list both together as NA-pl). Even better news – for feminine and neuter adjectives, endings will actually be the same as for nouns:

genderadj. NA-pl example
fem. -e velike ribe
big fishes
neut. -a velika jezera
big lakes

So now we can say:

Ptice su lijepe.  ▶  Birds are beautiful.

Pisma su duga.  ▶  The letters are long.

This is maybe the right place to describe ‘impersonal plurals’ – like in the English sentence they’re building a new road. This is exactly the same in Croatian, but you have to leave the pronoun out:

Grade novu cestu.  ▶  They’re building a new road. (cannot add oni)

If you would add oni, it would then be a reference to some particular, known group of people, e.g. when you see a group of workers and explain what they’re doing. In the past, use masc. pl.:

Gradili su novu cestu.  ▶  They were building a new road.

What about feminine nouns in a consonant (bolest disease, noć night, etc.)? It’s quite simple – they just get an -i in their N-pl, and the accusative is the same as nominative (of course, adjectives get feminine plural endings):

Noći su duge.  ▶  Nights are long.

Couple of feminine and neuter nouns exist only in their plural forms; they will be indicated with their gender and ‘pl.’:

gaće  ▶  f pl. underpants ®
hlače  ▶  f pl. pants, trousers ®
naočale  ▶  f pl. eyeglasses ®
novine  ▶  f pl. newspaper(s)
škare  ▶  f pl. scissors ®
traperice  ▶  f pl. jeans ®
kliješta  ▶  n pl. pliers
leđa  ▶  n pl. back(s)
pluća  ▶  n pl. lung(s)
vrata  ▶  n pl. door(s)
usta n pl. mouth(s)

Some English nouns, including translations of the Croatian nouns listed above have the same property – there are only scissors and pliers.

To help you with recognizing such nouns, they will be displayed in dark blue, and you can get a pop-up by placing your mouse over them (or by touching them on a touchscreen) containing a reminder about them having only plural forms. For example:

Ovo su moje naočale.  ▶  These are my eyeglasses. (lit. ‘this are...’)

Now, there’s something unexpected. If you have 2 nouns connected by i¨ and, and you want to put an adjective before them, what form should you use? Believe it or not, the most common way is to use the form which depends only on the first noun:

Moja mama i baka su ovdje. My Mom and Grandma are here.

You might be inclined to use the fem. plural form moje since both are yours, and both are female, but for some reason it works differently. Just check hits by Google™, on the .hr domain:

"moja mama i baka" 1800
"moje mama i baka" 30

So, the completely prevailing way is the ‘weird’ one!

Remember: if you use a phrase with two nouns joined by i¨ and (or more, with commas etc.) adjectives before the whole phrase usually ‘see’ only the first word of the phrase!

With some frequently used expressions (which will be described later) you have an option to use plural, besides this weird-but-common way.

After a lot of good news – and some weird news – some bad news: some neuter nouns have certain complications in plural.

First, there are couple of neuter nouns that don’t have regular plurals; if you want to express plural you will have to use something called collective noun that will be explained a bit later. Often used nouns with such problem are:

dijete (djetet-) child
janje (janjet-) lamb
pile (pilet-) chick
štene (štenet-) puppy

Such nouns are easy to distinguish: they all get an additional t in their case-base.

Then, four frequently used neuter nouns shift their stress in plural forms:

ime (imen-) nameimena  ▶ 
jezero lakejezera  ▶ 
rame (ramen-) shoulderramena  ▶ 
vrijeme (vremen-) time/weathervremena  ▶ 

I will list them as:

ime (imen-, pl ») name jezero (pl ») lake

The noun vrijeme (vremen-) means both time and weather, depending on the context. However, in plural, it means only times:

Vremena se mijenjaju.  ▶  Times are changing.

(We’ve used the verb mijenjati change, which requires either an object in A or se².)

A few neuter nouns have alternative, more expressive and poetic, longer plural forms in -esa; the most common is:

nebo skynebesa  ▶ 

There are few verbs – otherwise irregular – that have a bit irregular pres-3pl as well. They end in -ći in infinitive, have pres-3 in -če, but the pres-3pl in -ku. Common ones are:

peći (peče) bakepeku
teći (teče) flowteku
tući (tuče) beat, smacktuku
vući (vuče) pullvuku

If a verb has pres-3 in -če, but its infinitive ends in -ti, there’s no such complication: the pres-3pl is completely regular:

vikati (viče) yellviču

There’s one more small problem. Croatian has usually specific words for male and female people/animals – pairs like prijatelj friend (m) and prijateljica friend (f).

How do you call a group of friends, if some of them are male, some female? Croatian has then a notion of default gender. For most terms, the default gender is masculine. You simply use the masculine noun in plural, but the meaning is rather generic or mixed.

However, for some animals, the default gender is feminine. Such animals are:

feminine masculine
cow krava bik bull
vol ox
fox lisica lisac (lisc-)
cat mačka mačak (mačk-)
duck patka patak (patk-)

(There are more.) So, if you see a bunch of cats, either of mixed sex, or you don’t know their sex, you simply refer to them as if all were feminine.

Let’s summarize changes of feminine (and all nouns that end in -a) and neuter nouns in plural:

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

Plural of masculine nouns and the corresponding adjective forms are a bit more complicated, so they will be explained a bit later.


® In Dalmatia, you’ll sometimes hear and read -u in all verbs, for example from trčati (trči) run, pres-3 is trču; this not standard.

In the “Ekavian” pronunciation, which completely dominates in Serbia, there’s a small group of verbs which have another pattern. The most common is razumeti understand: its pres-3 is regular, but pres-3pl has a specific pattern:

pres-3 razumepres-3pl razumeju

You can think about them in this way: verbs which change -e to -u in pres-3pl also change vowel from inf to pres-3; they are all kind of ‘irregular’. However, the “Ekavian” verb razumeti is completely regular, as e.g. čitati read which gets -ju in pres-3pl, it just has a different vowel before it.

In the “Ikavian” pronunciation (which is used colloquially in parts of Croatian coast, including Split), such verbs behave usually like other verbs in -iti (i.e. the verb is razumiti).

In Serbia, and often in Bosnia, the following nouns are used instead of the nouns listed above (forms used there are given after arrows); they have plural forms only as well:

hlačepantalone f pl.
naočalenaočare f pl./ naočari f pl.
škaremakaze f pl.
trapericefarmerke f pl.

Note that the variants have the same gender!

In all of Dalmatia (including Split), in everyday speech, the word gaće f pl. means pants, trousers, while the words for underpants are mudante f pl. or gaćice f pl.

This leads to occasional funny misunderstandings with the people from inland regions of Croatia, when people can’t understand why someone from Dalmatia mentions buying ‘underpants’ so often...

In Istria and around Rijeka, yet one more word has been used for pants, trousers in everyday speech: brageše f pl.; however, you’ll seldom hear that word today.

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5 Easy Croatian: 25 Plural →   You can also read this chapter in French . N A  DL  G So far we have learned three cases (apart from the default, ...

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