35 Tools and Means, With and Without

  You can also read this chapter in French.


It’s time to introduce one more case. It’s called instrumental (just I for short), and among other things, it has to do with instruments and tools. We’ll learn it in singular first. The endings are:

noun type (N) I
nouns in -a (≈ fem.) -a-om
neuter nouns (≈ in -o, -e) add -m
masc. nouns not in -a add -om (some -em)
fem. not in -a (e.g. noć) add -i

Some masculine nouns get ending -em instead of -om if they end in a Croatian-specific letter – the same principle as for DL of adjectives. Two masc. nouns that get plural on -evi despite not ending in a Croatian-specific consonant, get -em in instrumental as well:

car emperorcarem put wayputem

This is often seen with other nouns in -r as well, but it’s optional for them. Most nouns ending in -c get -em as well:

otac (oc-) fatherocem stric unclestricem

This is a general principle: masculine (and neuter) nouns get -e- instead of -o- in case endings, if they end in a Croatian-specific letter – with very few exceptions. However, that -e- behaves differently in I. In N-pl of masc. nouns, it causes the change cč – this also happens when forming possessive adjectives – but the change does not happen in I:

stric uncle strič-ev poss. adj.
strič-evi N-pl
stric-em I (no change cč)

As with other cases, to help you recognize I forms while you’re learning them, they will be highlighted  yellow , if you place your mouse over an example sentence – or touch it, if you use a touchscreen, as for the other cases.

There are many uses of the instrumental case – some quite surprising, involving time and so on – but the use it got named after is for tools and means. For instance:

Pišempisati olovkom.  ▶  I’m writing with a pencil.

Putujemputovati vlakom.  ▶  I’m traveling by train. ®

Note that the instrumental noun can be placed anywhere: the position after the object is just the most common one, others are used to emphasize the instrument:

Pišempisati pismo olovkom. I’m writing the letter with a pencil.

Pišempisati olovkom pismo. (the same, an emphasis on with a pencil)

Olovkom pišempisati pismo. (again an emphasis on with a pencil)

These are often used nouns for means of transportation:

auto (aut-) m car
autobusʷ¹ bus
avion (») airplane
bicikl bicycle
brod ship
taksi (taksij-) m taxi
tramvaj tram
vlak train ®

For example:

Na posao idemići biciklom. I go to work by bicycle.

The instrumental case of noga foot is not used to express that you walk, it’s used only as a ‘tool’, e.g. if you kick something with your foot. There are specific adverbs in Croatian to express ‘by foot’, as a way of transport:

pješke / pješice by foot

There’s another way to express tools, mostly when you want to emphasize that you used a tool, especially an unusual tool for the task:

pomoću + G using

Certain verbs use objects in the instrumental case. One of them is:

baviti se² + I be engaged in/with, pursue

This verb looks hard to translate, but it simply means you are doing something (often regularly), either as your paid job, as a kind of duty, work at home, or as recreation. For example:

Marko se bavi sportom.  ▶  Marko is doing sports.

Some verbs use objects expressed by za¨ + I. They aren’t very common; the most important are:

plakati (plače) + (za¨ + I) weep
tugovati (tuguje) + (za¨ + I) mourn

So, in effect, in Croatian you always mourn for, but the object is in instrumental, not accusative! For example:

Goran tuguje za psom. Goran is mourning (for) the dog.

The personal pronouns have the following forms in the instrumental case (there are no shorter and longer forms in instrumental, only one form exists):

pers. (N)  I
1st (ja) mnom
2nd (ti) tobom
refl. (self) sobom
3rd f (ona) njom
3rd n (ono) njim
3rd m (on)

The instrumental case of nouns and pronouns is often used with several prepositions. The most common preposition is:

s¨ / sa¨ + I with

This is the same s¨ / sa¨ as used with G, it just has a different meaning with I. It’s often used with the following verbs:

igrati se² play
razgovarati («) talk, discuss

For example:

Ivan razgovara s Marijom. Ivan is talking to Marija.

Goran se igrao sa mnom. Goran was playing with me.

(More prepositions using the instrumental case will be introduced in the next chapter.)

With the I of the pers. pronoun jamnom – the longer sa¨ is always used, and both words are pronounced together, with the stress on the preposition: "samnom". Otherwise, normal rules for s¨ vs. sa¨ apply; the rules are often violated in real life in favor of sa¨.®

Don’t forget that some words get -em in the instrumental case:

Ana je razgovarala s prijateljem. Ana was talking to her (male) friend.

The opposite meaning is expressed by another preposition with the genitive case:

bez¨ + G without

For example:

Goran se igrao bez mene. Goran was playing without me.

According to the rules of Standard Croatian, you shouldn’t use s / sa for tools, only for company, but, colloquially, it’s not always so; you’ll often hear and read pišem s olovkom.

The following two adverbs mean more or less the same, but skupa is a bit informal:


For example (these words can go to any place in the sentence):

Gledali smo zajedno film. We watched the movie together. {m/mixed}

They are often used together with s¨ / sa¨ to emphasize something is done together (with someone else), as English together with:

Gledao sam film zajedno s prijateljem. I watched the movie together with my friend. {m}

Then, there’s an adjective that’s opposite to company:

sam alone

Since it’s an adjective, it must adapt to the gender of the subject (usual rules for plural apply):

Goran se igrao sam. Goran was playing alone.

Martina se igra sama. Martina is playing alone.

Igramo se sami. We play alone. {m/mixed}

Like in English, this adjective is not attached to the noun, it’s just a word in the sentence (but it must change the case, gender and number in Croatian!). Such additional adjectives are often called secondary predicates.

In the instrumental case, adjectives get the following (fairly simple) endings (you might notice they are identical to endings of the 3rd person pronouns, and that there are again only 2 endings to remember: one for feminine, another for everything else):

gender adj. I example
fem. -om velikom ribom
big fish
neut. -im velikim jezerom
big lake
masc. velikim konjem
big horse

When you compare adjectives in DL, G and I, you see there are only two different endings in singular:

gender adj. DL adj. G adj. I
fem. -oj -e -om

Therefore, Croatian adjectives have much fewer different endings than they could in principle have!

Instrumental case forms of some nouns and adjectives have specific meanings, and can be remembered as separate words. The most common are:

word unexpected I
put way putem on the way
sreća luck, happiness srećom fortunately
jedan (jedn-) adj. one jednom once

Pay attention how putem has irregular -em (you’ll also see putom once a while). So, if you encounter srećom, you shouldn’t worry what kind of tool it is.

Question-words tko who and što what have the following forms in instrumental (as expected, as they change like adjectives):

 N  I
who tko kim(e)
what što čim(e)

To ask about means, you can use either kako how or čim(e):

Kako ideteići na more? How do you go to the seaside?

Autom. By car.

With verbs of motion, such as trčati (trči) run, šetati (šeće/šeta) ® stroll, walk, etc. the instrumental case can be used to indicate where the whole action happened. It’s usually translated with through:

Trčali smo šumom. We were running through the forest. {m/mixed}

Three final remarks: first, certain feminine nouns that don’t end in -a have alternative I forms, e.g.

riječ f wordriječju sol f saltsolju

Both forms are standard, some people prefer the forms in -ju, but the forms in -i are actually much more common in speech.

Second, masculine names in -io (which always have -ij- whenever anything is added to them) have two possible I forms, and both are used:

Mario (Marij-) → Mariom

Third, according to Standard Croatian, most one and two syllable masc. nouns which would get -em, but have the vowel -e- before it, get -om instead. Classic examples are:

jež hedgehogježom
muzej (») museummuzejom
     according to standard

However, in speech and casual writing, versions with -em are common too: you’ll see and hear ježem as well, and muzejem is likely more common in speech. This never applies to longer nouns (e.g. prijatelj friend), which get always -em, and doesn’t apply to some two-syllable nouns as well – the feature is actually irregular.


® Instead of vlak, the word voz is used for train in Serbia and most of Bosnia. The pres-3 form šeće is specific to Croatia; in Bosnia and Serbia, the form šeta is used. The shorter form of the preposition s¨ / sa¨ is quite rare in Bosnia and Serbia, and even sometimes spelled as s’, which is not standard.

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