34 Stressed Pronouns

  You can also read this chapter in French.


Besides the forms of pronouns we have already learned, there are additional, stressed forms of pronouns. They can be placed to any position in the sentence. They are mostly optional, used when you want to emphasize them; however, they must be used with prepositions and conjunctions. Their forms are similar to the regular, ‘unstressed’ pronouns, but usually a bit longer:

1st & 2nd pers. pronouns in singular
person N A, G DL
1st ja mene meni
2nd ti tebe tebi
refl. sebe sebi

Bear in mind that Croatian completely distinguishes 2nd person singular and plural, while English has just you for both.

This example will illustrate their use when stressing objects:

Ana čeka mene.  ▶  Ana is waiting for me.

You cannot join an unstressed pronoun and another word with e.g. conjunction i¨ and – stressed pronouns must be used before and after i¨:

Vidim tebe i Anu.  ▶  I see you and Ana.

Vidim Anu i tebe. I see Ana and you.

Despite the second position of tebe in the sentence above, the unstressed te² cannot be used, since it cannot be joined with i¨ and with anything else.

There’s the curious third row: A sebe, DL sebi, marked as reflexive. The word sebe is the emphasized form of se². However, you cannot emphasize every se²: you can emphasize it only when used in a specific meaning. Consider these sentences:

(1) Brijembrijati se. I’m shaving.

(2) Oni se vole. They love each other.

(3) Juha se kuha. The soup is cooking. ®

(4) Vraćam se. I’m coming back.

(5) Zovemzvati se Igor. My name is Igor.

(6) Igram se. I’m playing.

(7) Bojimbojati se se. I’m afraid.

You can emphasize only the se² in the sentence #1, not in others:

(1) Brijembrijati sebe. I’m shaving myself.

There’s a simple test to decide what you can emphasize: it can be done if you can use myself and not you (or herself and not him, etc.) in English sentence. For example, if you accidentally called yourself over the phone (e.g. your mobile phone), you can emphasize it:

Zvao sam sebe! I called myself! (or dialed) {m}

To put it simply, you can emphasize se² as sebe only if someone is really doing something to themselves – e.g. shaving, washing and so on. Such use of se² is sometimes called true reflexive.

In other words, sebe never shifts the meaning, where se² does shift the meaning of some verbs. For example:

Zabavljam se. I’m having fun.

Zabavljam sebe. I’m entertaining myself.

The form sebe must be used when prepositions, adverbs and conjunctions are involved (this verb requires u¨ + A):

Vjerujemvjerovati u sebe. I believe in myself.

Like other stressed forms, sebe must be used when you want to want to add something to the object, e.g. use i¨ and. It also must be used whenever you refer to subject and need the genitive case:

Bojao se sebe. He was afraid of himself.

In the last sentence, the se² is the particle, and sebe is the object in genitive.

What about the DL sebi? It’s used when you send something to yourself, and with prepositions. A quite common expression is u sebi, literally in oneself, often corresponding to English in one’s head:

Brojimbrojati u sebi. I’m counting ‘in myself’. (= in my head)

There’s a matching unstressed DL form si²:

Pišempisati si poruku.  ▶  I’m writing a message to myself. ®

Unlike svoj, this form is never replaced colloquially by mi² or like.

I’ve emphasized more than once that possession of body parts (and clothes worn, etc.) is normally implied, and when they don’t belong to the subject, a possessor in DL is usually added. In western regions of Croatia, especially in parts of Istria and the Zagreb region, you’ll sometimes hear that even when a body part or a piece of clothing belongs to the subject, a DL possession is nevertheless expressed by si² – which is exactly the same construction as in German:

Peremprati si ruke. (colloq.!, western parts)      I’m washing my hands.
Ich wasche mir die Hände. (German)

(Of course, it’s not required that you speak like that, but be prepared to hear and see it occasionally in these regions. This feature is likely a German influence.)

Here are the forms for plural – they’re almost identical to the unstressed forms:

1st & 2nd pers. pronouns in plural
person N A, G DL
1st mi nas nama
2nd vi vas vama

Finally, here are the 3rd person forms. They are mostly like unstressed forms with added n- or nje-:

3rd person pronouns
gender N A G DL
f ona nju nje njoj
n (ono) njega = A njemu
m on
f pl. one njih = A njima
n pl. ona
m pl. oni

With the stressed forms of personal pronouns, we are able to use prepositions. One of them is za¨ for, requiring nouns or pronouns in the accusative case:

Sendvič je za Anu.  ▶  The sandwich is for Ana.

Kolač je za njih. The cake is for them.

In the standard stress scheme, the stress shifts to unstressed prepositions (ones marked with ¨), so it’s usually pronounced za mene.®

(In certain regions, you will maybe hear za me or za te, that is, using za¨ with the unstressed 1st and 2nd person pronouns glued to them. It’s a bit archaic.)

In certain expressions, we can use either DL or za¨ + A, with a bit different meaning. The DL stands for someone’s feelings, subjective experience, while za¨ + A is someone else’s opinion or even facts. For example:

Posao je važan Ani. lit. ‘The job is important to Ana.’ (she feels it)

Posao je važan za Anu. The job is important for Ana. (it’s a fact, or opinion of others)

With pronouns (observe stressed vs. unstressed due to the preposition za¨):

Posao joj je važan. lit. ‘The job is important to her.’ (she feels it)

Posao je važan za nju. The job is important for her. (it’s a fact, or opinion of others)

Not all expressions allow both constructions; I will explain what constructions can be used in expressions as I introduce them.

It’s also quite common to use the preposition kod¨ + G with pronouns. The result is a compact way to say where something is:

Knjiga je kod mene. The book is ‘at my place’.

This, as we have already seen, can mean that the book is in your house (even if you’re not in the house at the moment!), your room, your backpack, or even pocket – depending on the context. This is a convenient way to indicate temporary possession of movable things.

Also, this is a very common way to express location ‘at our place’ (this corresponds to German ‘bei uns’). Of course, this ‘us’ can imply your family, your friends, your country – depending on the context:

Kod nas pada kiša. It rains ‘at our place’. (or here, etc.)

Goran je bio kod nas. Goran was at our house/home.

Another frequent use of stressed pronouns is in short responses to what others have said. This is how it works:

Ovaj film je dosadan This movie is boring…

Meni nije.  ▶  lit. ‘Not to me.

— I meni.  ▶  lit. ‘Also to me.

The first sentence tries to be an ‘objective statement’, while the responses are opinions (by adding a person in DL): what I feel/think. Even if you rearrange words, you cannot use short forms of pronouns in such responses.

Then, the stressed pronouns (esp. sebe) are used in A and DL, with the preposition na¨, where someone is understood as either a destination or location, meaning what he or she is wearing:

Goran ima samo majicu na sebi. lit. ‘Goran has only a T-shirt on himself’. = Goran is wearing only a T-shirt.

This use is a bit colloquial. More about the word samo only in 67 Only, Except, Too: Inclusion and Exclusion.

You’ll encounter more situations where the stressed pronouns have to be used as you learn more grammar.


® In Serbia and most of Bosnia, instead of juha soup, supa is used. The verb kuhati cook has the form kuvati in Serbia and parts of Bosnia, and colloquially in some parts of Croatia.

In Serbia, the DL pronoun si² is less common (except in the Southeastern Serbia) and it’s not considered standard.

In Serbia, the stress very rarely shifts from pronouns to prepositions, za mene is much more common.

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