30 Three Beers: Less than 5 Things

  You can also read this chapter in French.


We’re now able to say two, able to say apples, able to say beers... but do we really know how to say two apples or three beers in Croatian? Sadly, not really. So let’s learn it!

Surprisingly, Croatian uses two different ways of counting things: one for numbers 2-4, and another for larger numbers! I’ll show how to count less than 5 things first.

Words for some numbers adapt to the gender of the noun you count:

fem. neut./masc.
both obje  ▶  oba  ▶ 
obadvije obadva (colloq.)
2 dvije dva
3         tri
4         četiri

I have included the Croatian words for both, since they behave identically as the words for two. The alternative forms obadvije and obadva are considered a bit colloquial (opinions vary).

But what form of nouns comes after the number? If you have expected N-pl, you’ll be surprised. It’s genitive singular (although it’s more than one thing). We can count apples and ships now!

dvije jabuke  ▶  two apples

dva broda  ▶  two ships

dva prijatelja  ▶  two friends

But what about using them in a sentence? Do they change as single nouns, e.g. in accusative, etc.? No, such forms number-noun normally not change at all:

Imam dvije jabuke.  ▶  I have two apples.

Vidim dva broda.  ▶  I see two ships.

(Standard Croatian insists that numbers also change according to case. That’s very rare in speech. If you’re interested, check 99 Aorist Tense and Other Marginal Features.)

What about using adjectives (red, my) with counted nouns? Somehow, a special thing happens – adjectives get special endings:

gender adjectives (2-4)
fem. -e
neut./masc. -a

It’s simple to remember, since the endings are identical to noun endings for the majority of nouns, and to the end vowels of the number two:

Imam dvije crvene jabuke.  ▶  I have two red apples.

Vidim dva crvena broda.  ▶  I see two red ships.

Of course, the endings are different if you take masculine nouns in -a or feminine nouns in a consonant:

Ovo su dvije duge riječi.  ▶  These are two long words.

You are maybe puzzled: why adjectives get the special endings? Why not just G forms? Why genitive singular at all?

Actually, I oversimplified things a bit. After these numbers, nouns and adjectives really have a special, so-called ‘dual’ form (also called ‘paucal’ form). It historically had specific endings, but today its endings – for nouns – look like G endings. If we were paying attention to vowel length, we’d see that the G ending for nouns ending in -a, e.g. kod žene is a long vowel e, while the ending in e.g. dvije žene is a short e. The forms just look the same in writing. However, since many people in Croatia don’t distinguish short from long vowels, these endings often coincide in speech as well. But ‘deep down’, the forms after numbers 2, 3, 4 and both are not plain G forms. Adjectives still have specific endings.

To help you recognize these special forms of nouns and adjectives used with numbers 2-4, they will be highlighted  gray , if you place your mouse over an example sentence – or touch it, if you use a touchscreen, as for the other cases.

When such counted nouns are subjects, verbs come in plural:

Dva prijatelja me čekaju.  ▶  Two friends are waiting for me.

Since past forms of verbs are really a sort of adjectives, they get special endings as well:

Dva prijatelja su me čekala.  ▶  Two (male) friends were waiting for me.

Dvije prijateljice su me čekale.  ▶  Two (female) friends were waiting for me.

(What about two friends, one male, one female, waiting for you? You’ll see below.)

As in English, possessives often come before the number; since they are really adjectives, they must get special endings as well:

Tvoje dvije knjige su kod Ane.  ▶  Your two books are at Ana’s place.

Moja tri prijatelja su ovdje.  ▶  My three friends are here.

This implies that plural is used in Croatian less than in English. For example:

dva čovjeka two men
tri djeteta three children
dva brata two brothers
četiri broja four numbers

As you can see, you talk about children and brothers without using their plural forms (which are yet unexplained) if there’s not more than four of them:

Imam dva brata i jednu sestru.  ▶  I have two brothers and a sister.

However, numbers are mandatory. If there’s no number 2 to 4, you have to use plural forms.

Sometimes you don’t know the exact number, it could be 2, it could be 3; one way to express it is by joining numbers:

Imam dva-tri piva.  ▶  I have two or three beers.

Imam dvije-tri jabuke.  ▶  I have two or three apples.

You will see this written with a comma instead of hyphen, e.g. dva, tri. It’s also common to join numbers 3 and 4 (tri-četiri).

There’s a twist: I’ve written above that numbers adapt to the gender of the noun. And I’ve written that dva prijatelja means two friends.

That’s not the full story. The numbers described above cannot adapt in some circumstances.

In the case of mixed groups of people, where masculine nouns are used as a default (e.g. when you use prijatelji friends for a group of friends of mixed sex), you cannot use the numbers I have just described! This restriction holds even for četiri, a form common for both genders.

That’s because Croatian has a specific set of numbers used for mixed groups or people, also used to count children: they are described in detail in 49 Of Flowers, Thorns and Counting Children. Now, don’t jump to that chapter: with these numbers, you’ll need a case form we haven’t covered yet. (And it turns out it’s the most complicated case form in Croatian.) Until then, maybe you could stick to only all-male or all-female groups of friends.


(both male)dva prijatelja two friends
(both female)dvije prijateljice two friends
(mixed) ? → will be explained

However, if you are talking about animals, you can and should use the numbers above even for mixed groups. For example, konji horses can mean an all-male group, or a mixed group, so you’re free to say:

dva konja two horses (all-male or mixed)

Now, there’s a word that’s quite common in Croatian: još. We have seen it long ago. It’s also used with numbers: you can place if before any quantity, to indicate it’s an additional quantity:

Želim dvije jabuke.  ▶  I want two apples.

Želim još dvije jabuke.  ▶  I want two apples more.

Don’t forget, if you place it before a verb, it has another meaning – still:

Još želim dvije jabuke. I still want two apples.

There are two more useful words that are often used before quantities:

bar / barem at least
čak even, as much as

There’s no difference between bar and barem. For example:

Trebam bar dvije čaše.  ▶  I need at least two glasses. ®

Imam čak tri tanjura.  ▶  I have even three plates. ®

So, you can finally order food and drink (basically all waiters in Croatia speak English as well, so you could do it without any knowledge of Croatian as well). The most common conversation would be something along these lines:

Imate li (A) ? Do you have...?

— Imamo. We have. / — Nemamo. We don’t.

Što imate? What do you have?

Molim Vas (A) = a polite way to ask for something

For example, the last line could be:

Molim Vas dvije kave.  ▶  Two coffees, please. ®

Molim Vas tri mala piva.  ▶  Three small beers, please.

Molim Vas jedan hamburger.  ▶  One burger, please.

Molim Vas dva čaja.  ▶  Two cups of tea, please. (lit. ‘two teas’)

Molim Vas tri velike pizze.  ▶  Three large pizzas, please.

Normally, we don’t say cup of coffee, bottle of beer etc. when we are ordering food, because there’s no other option. But when ordering food that’s served on the plate, and it’s not pizza, the word porcija serving, portion is often used. Of course, what you are ordering comes after porcija, in G, while the word porcija changes to A or to the 24 form:

Molim Vas (jednu) porciju piletine. One serving of chicken, please.

Molim Vas dvije porcije piletine. Two servings of chicken, please.

The number one is optional, but it’s often used in such sentences.

You’re maybe puzzed what the word piletina exactly is. It’s a word meaning chicken meat, like English pork means pig meat. You don’t ask for “pig” in a restaurant, you ask for pork.

The same holds for wine, you can sometimes order it by glasses:

Molim Vas (jednu) čašu vina.  ▶  A glass of wine, please.

(Note you’re counting glasses now, the word vino wine is always in G.)

Of course, you can always order more:

Molim Vas još dva piva.  ▶  Two more beers, please.

Finally, it’s interesting that the verb moliti has two objects in such sentences, and both are in A: the person asked, and what is asked.

There’s another way of asking for (and offering) food and drink, and it will be introduced in the following chapters, but we’ll visit some interesting things first.


® The verb trebati need is used in Serbia in the inverse way (which is also common, but not mandatory in Croatia); in Serbia, the example would be trebaju mi bar dve čaše (also, note the “Ekavian” form dve for 2 f).

Instead of tanjur (») plate (to eat from), a slightly different word tanjir (») is used in Serbia and most of Bosnia. In the coastal areas of Croatia, you’ll often hear pjat or pijat for plate.

Instead of kava, a slightly different word kafa is common in most parts of Bosnia and Serbia. In Bosnia, the form kahva is used as well.

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