32 Love and Like

  You can also read this chapter in French.


There are two most common verbs used to express that you love or like something:

voljeti (voli, volio, voljela)  
sviđati se²


The first verb is about lasting emotions (you love a person, a city) and the second one about impressions, e.g. when you eat something and you like it, but also when you feel someone attractive.

The first verb is straightforward to use, the object is in the accusative case, as usual:

Goran voli Anu.  ▶  Goran loves Ana.

Ana voli sladoled.  ▶  Ana likes ice-cream.

While you can say in English I tried it and I love it or I watched it and I love it, you cannot use voljeti (...) in such a sentence in Croatian: you have to use the other verb, because it’s not a lasting emotion; it’s rather an impression after an experience.

However, the second verb is a bit more complicated: the thing one likes is the subject of the sentence, and who likes it comes in DL. For instance, if you’ve just tasted a cup of tea, and you liked it, you could say:

Sviđa mi se čaj. I like the tea.

If e.g. Ana feels attraction or affection to someone (e.g. Ivan) – and it’s not necessarily erotic, you can just like someone’s personality – one could say:

Ani se sviđa Ivan.  ▶  Ana likes Ivan.

This is probably quite familiar to you if you know some German, Greek, French, Italian or Spanish, since all these languages have verbs that express like that behave exactly the same (and use a form that corresponds to the Croatian DL):

(Spanish)Me gusta el libro.
(Italian)Mi piace il libro.
(French)Le livre me plait.
(German)  Das Buch gefällt mir.
(Greek)  Μου αρέσει το βιβλίο.
Knjiga mi se sviđa.  ▶ 

All six sentences above mean I like the book, but the book is the subject in all six sentences, and the person who likes (I, emphasized in the sentences) is not the subject. Therefore, all six verbs – Spanish gustar, Italian piacere, French plaire, German gefallen, Greek αρέσω and Croatian sviđati se² – are above in the 3rd person. The only real difference is the word order, which follows quite different rules in Spanish, Italian, German, Greek and Croatian (the French word order is here quite similar to the Croatian order, though).

As with such sentences, in Croatian, what you’re talking about comes first: if you are talking about Ana, she comes before the verb, but Ivan (or a book) is really the topic, it can sometimes come to the first position in such sentence. (Of course, second position words are always placed in the second position.)

Since what you like is the subject, and subjects are usually left out, this sentence can have multiple meanings, depending on the context:

Sviđa mi se.  ▶  I like it/him/her.

The same holds for Spanish (me gusta) and Italian (mi piace), since both languages usually omit subjects, if known from the context.

If you like something in plural, the verb, of course, must come in plural:

Sviđaju mi se cipele.  ▶  I like the shoes.

Sviđale su mi se cipele. I liked the shoes.

(If you are a fan of the standard stress scheme: the verb sviđati se² has non-movable stress in the pres-3pl.)

Of course, you can also say:

Sviđaš mi se.  ▶  I like you.

Sviđaš se Ani. Ana likes you.

Sviđala si mi se. I liked you. {to f}

The last sentence is in the past tense, and implies that it’s no more: something has changed (either ‘you’ has died, or ‘I’ doesn’t like ‘you’ anymore).

You have a lot of freedom of what you can like with sviđati se² – it includes places and times, which simply are used as subjects:

Ani se ovdje ne sviđa°. Ana doesn’t like it here.

Sviđa° mi se na moru. I like being at the seaside.

English here usually has to use either it or some form of the verb to be, but Croatian does not (recall, there are no dummy pronouns in Croatian).

Since these subjects are not nouns or pronouns, verbs are impersonal, 3rd pers. singular, and past forms must be in neuter singular:

Ani se ovdje nije sviđalo. Ana didn’t like it here.

Sviđalo mi se na moru. I liked being at the seaside.

Liking places and times is also often expressed with the adverb lijepo nice + DL + je²:

Lijepo mi je° na moru. I like being at the seaside.

Bilo mi je lijepo na moru. I liked being at the seaside.

Bilo mi je lijepo jučer. I liked it yesterday.

The verbs are again impersonal.

You can like doing something: you should then put the right verb into the infinitive and place it after one of the two verbs listed above, usually voljeti (voli,...):

Ana voli trčati. Ana loves to run. ®

The verb in infinitive can have an object, and so on:

Ana voli voziti bicikl.  ▶  Ana likes to ‘drive’ bicycle. (= ride) ®

It’s interesting that we don’t ‘ride’ bicycles, but ‘drive’ them: jahati (jaše) ride is reserved for horses and other animals.

To express that somebody generally likes running (which can imply just watching others running, not running themselves), other words, so-called verbal nouns or gerunds should be used:

Ana voli trčanje.  ▶  Ana loves running.

You can find more about verbal nouns in 66 Smoking is Dangerous: Verbal Nouns.

This summarizes when to use each verb:

voljeti (voli, volio, voljela) sviđati se²
• family members
• boyfriend, girlfriend
• close friends
• people you like,
   but you’re not close with,
   or you’ve just met them
• things you regularly do
• food you regularly eat
• your homeland
• places you visit again and again...
• things you’ve tried,
   places you’ve visited, and
   got a positive impression,
   no matter how great it was
• a book you often read
• a movie you watch over and over...
• a book you’ve read once
• a movie you’ve watched...

These verbs are not like English love and like. English verbs are about intensity; Croatian verbs are more about permanent or less permanent states.

You can use adverbs of intensity with all such expressions, mostly jako and stvarno to strengthen expressions, using the usual placement rules for such adverbs (the intensifying adverb usually comes before the verb, but 2nd position words can intervene):

Jako mi se sviđa knjiga. I like the book very much.

Bilo mi je jako lijepo na moru. I liked being at the seaside very much.

Ana stvarno voli trčati. Ana really likes to run.

It’s interesting that the more formal word vrlo cannot be used to strengthen verbs.

There’s another often used verb:

zanimati («) be interesting to

This verb is used in a similar way; however, the person who feels interest is expressed in A:

Gorana zanima nogomet. Goran is interested in football. ®

This Croatian sentence could also be translated as football is interesting to Goran (it’s interesting that English here kind of follows Croatian).

This verb is used in a very common expression, used when you want to express that you don’t really want to hear about something (the expression is not really polite, however):

Ne zanima me. I’m not interested.

Another verb is very similar to voljeti (voli,...) but stands for an even stronger feeling:

obožavati («) adore, be fan of, really like

It can be used for people you really love, but also for actors, sports, food, activities (including verbs in infinitive), etc.:

Igor obožava kavu. Igor ‘adores’ coffee.

Ana obožava plivati. Ana ‘adores’ swimming.

The verb with the meaning opposite to love and like is:

mrziti hate ®

It’s used in the same ways as voljeti (voli,...):

Ana mrzi te cipele.  ▶  Ana hates these shoes.

Goran mrzi čistiti kuću. Goran hates to clean the house.

Another verb that’s frequently used with another verb in inf is:

znati (+ inf) know how ®

This verb with a normal object in A means just know, but with inf it covers also knowledge how to do something:

Ana zna plivati. Ana knows how to swim.

Ne znamo plivati. We don’t know how to swim. = We can’t swim.

Actually, Croatian uses only znati in many instances where English would use can, i.e. can read, can sing would be always expressed with znati in Croatian. Colloquially, znati is also used for things that are done occasionally, or are known to happen occasionally, like English may:

Snijeg zna padati i u desetom mjesecu. (colloq.) Snow may (is known to, does sometime) fall in October as well. ®

(The use of i¨ to express as well will be explained later.)

There’s a fine difference: while moći implies just a possibility, znati implies that something is known to happen (you see the connection with the verb know). It’s possible not in principle, but because it does happen. This use is a bit colloquial, but common.

There are more verbs that use other verbs in infinitive, you’ll encounter them later.


® In Serbia, infinitives are much less often used: in speech, the form da + present prevails. For instance, such sentences would be much more common in Serbia:

Ana voli da trči. Ana loves to run.

Ana voli da vozi bicikl. Ana likes to ‘drive’ bicycle.

Knowledge of doing something is usually expressed in parts of Bosnia and Montenegro with the verb umjeti (umije, umio, umjela) know how. In Serbia, the same verb has the “Ekavian” form umeti, a regular verb. So, the sentences about knowing how to swim would be like this in Serbia:

Ana ume da pliva. Ana knows how to swim.

Ne umemo da plivamo. We don’t know how to swim. = We can’t swim.

The verb is fully regular, and like “Ekavian” razumeti understand, its pres-3 is umeju:

Ne umeju da plivaju. They don’t know how to swim. = They can’t swim.

This verb is also used in Serbia to express that something happens occasionally, besides znati.

In Serbia and most of Bosnia, instead of nogomet, fudbal is used.

In Serbia, the verb mrziti hate has the unexpected “Ekavian” form mrzeti (mrzi).

In Serbia and Bosnia, colloquial expressions like deseti mjesec October are not used, months are usually referred to using names.

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