45 Quantities and Existence


Quantities (some water, many people) can be expressed in several ways in Croatian. It’s important to make first a distinction between countable and uncountable nouns:

countable uncountable can be both
auto m car
jabuka apple
problem (») problem
prozor window
Ana (name)
kosa hair (on head)
sol f salt ®
sreća luck
vrijeme (vremen-) time
zrak air ®
kava coffee ®
kruh bread ®
papir (») paper
sok juice
voda water

In English, you can e.g. use few with countable nouns (few cars) but not with uncountable ones (no few salt but rather little salt). And you cannot use numbers with uncountable ones (that’s why they are called so). Finally, there are nouns, such as water, which can be both countable and uncountable. But let’s look at the simpler nouns first.

In Croatian, there’s a shortcut: if you want to express some quantity of an uncountable noun, used as an object, you can use just the noun in the genitive case (instead of A):

Imam soli. I have some salt.

If you want to express the same thing, but for countable nouns, you should use the genitive case in plural:

Imamo jabuka. (G-pl) We have some apples.

Note how English uses the noun in singular in the first sentence, but the noun in plural in the second sentence, exactly corresponding to the Croatian forms (except for the genitive case, of course).

Of course, the verb imati have normally demands A. But using G instead of A is a shortcut to express few or some of the object. This can be done with other verbs as well, but it’s common with imati. A lot of meaning in Croatian is expressed with just tweaking cases!

With nouns of the third type, you can use them in G, but also count them:

Imamo kruha. We have some bread. ®

Imamo dva kruha. I have ‘two breads’. (two loafs of bread)

Imam soka. I have some juice.

Molim dva soka. ‘I’m kindly asking for two juices.’ (Two bottles/glasses of juice, please.)

As you can see, the meaning changes if you count them – they then refer to some default ‘package’ of them.

When you use negation of the verb imati have, uncountable objects are normally in G instead of A – meaning ‘any’:

Nemam vremena. (G) I don’t have any time.

On nema sreće. (G) He has no luck.

The same goes for questions: you’ll see basically only G in questions with such nouns:

Imaš li vremena? (G) Do you have some time?

Da li imaš vremena? (G) (a bit colloq.)

Imaš vremena? (G) (colloq.)

Just check these results from Google™ (on the .hr domain) for negative sentences and standard-form questions:

"nemam vremena" 109000
"nemam vrijeme" 154
"imaš li vremena" 1000
"imaš li vrijeme" 4

With some nouns that can be both uncountable and countable, you can use both A and G in positive and negative sentences, expressing different meanings. The most common examples are these nouns:

noun countable uncountable
mjesto place place (as space, room)
posao (posl-) m job work

For example:

Imam posao. (A) I have a job.

Imam posla. (G) I have some work. (i.e. I’m busy.)

Nemam posao. (A) I don’t have a job.

The noun mjesto when used as countable, has an additional meaning: inhabited place.

Even with countable nouns, you can use G-pl in negative sentences to express any: it’s mostly used for things that are often found in large numbers, and, of course, it’s optional:

Nemam jabuka. (G-pl) I don’t have any apples.

Soba nema prozora. (G-pl) The room has no windows.

This is virtually never done with things that always come in small numbers or are individualized (parents, passport, husband, wife, forum avatar, etc.) – the plain old A is used then.

Next, before nouns in genitive, you can place one of the following adverbs of quantity:

malo a bit / few
dosta quite a few
dovoljno enough
premalo too little / few
previše too much / many
nedovoljno not enough

While English distinguishes few (for countable nouns) vs. little (for uncountable ones), no such distinction exists in Croatian – you can use the adverbs above for both – but you still need to pay attention to put countable nouns in G-pl and uncountable ones in G! Then, there are two words that mean the same:

     much, many, a lot of

The word puno is more colloquial than mnogo. These words can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns, but the nouns should be in genitive singular (if uncountable) or plural (if countable):

Imamo premalo kruha. (G) We have too little bread.

Imamo puno jabuka. (G-pl) We have a lot of apples.

Such quantities – if only a genitive is used and if a quantity adverb is used – act as being neuter singular, so verbs and other words must be set accordingly if such quantities are used as subjects:

Puno ljudi je bilo ovdje. A lot of people were here.

This is quite unlike English! You can use personal pronouns instead of nouns (again in G-pl, there’s no change in grammar of other parts):

Puno ih je bilo ovdje. A lot of them were here.

As you can see, you can use the short forms of pers. pronouns, but they must be at the second position. Unlike English, words like puno a lot can be separated from the nouns and pronouns, without much change in meaning:

Puno je ljudi ovdje.

Ovdje ih je puno.

It’s obvious that puno refers to ljudi and ih, since the noun and the pronoun are in G-pl.

There are two more words, used to for indefinite amounts of countable nouns only; they behave grammatically exactly as other quantity adverbs:

nekoliko several
par a couple of

For example:

Imamo nekoliko jabuka. We have several apples.

Par ljudi je bilo pred kućom. A couple of people were in front of the house.

(Many Croatian language manuals condemn using par for anything than exactly two, but, like in English, a couple of can be more than a pair. There’s also a noun par meaning couple, pair, but these words don’t behave the same; more in the following chapters.)

There’s another word reused to express small and indefinite quantities, like English some:

nešto some (adverb) ®

The word nešto does not change in case when in this role, and behaves like malo, but it emphasizes that the quantity is small and not really known. It can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns:

Imam nešto šećera. (G) I have some sugar.

Imam nešto limuna. (G-pl) I have few lemons.

Next, we’re able to express existence of any, usually indefinite amount of something (e.g. there are some apples). While English uses dummy there, Croatian uses the verb imati have in the impersonal form (without any subject, in the 3rd person singular). The nouns are again in G-pl for countable nouns, G-sg for uncountables:

Ima° jabuka. (G-pl) There are some apples.

Ima° vode. (G) There is some water.

Pay attention that countable nouns always use G-pl in any constructions involving quantities. The only exception is with numbers 2-4, neki and koji.

Since these sentences are impersonal (literally: it has some apples), as with any impersonal sentence, the past tense forms must be in neuter singular. Like in the negative existential construction, in the past and future tenses, you have to use the verb biti (je² +) be instead of imati:

Bilo je jabuka. There were some apples.

Bilo je vode. There was some water.

Bit će krvi. There will be blood. ®

We have already encountered negative existential constructions, which behave exactly the same, but use negative forms. They include a very common phrase, corresponding to English no problem (enter it into Google™):

Nema° problema. There are no problems.

Such sentences are no way limited to indefinite amounts ("some") – they can express existence (or negation of existence) of any quantity:

Bilo je previše problema. There were too many problems.

Ima° dosta ljudi. There are quite a few people.

However, to express existence of a definite quantity of something countable, such impersonal constructions are less used. This verb can be used instead:

postojati (postoji) exist

Another way is to use definite (i.e. counted) quantity, but in the nominative case with the existential constructions – however, they have to be counted then, i.e. you can’t omit even jedan (jedn-) one. For example:

Postojipostojati (jedan) otok gdje... There’s an island where... ®

Ima jedan otok gdje... (the same meaning, but jedan is mandatory)

If you use such nominative expressions, they are subjects, but there’s still the switch imatibiti (je² +) be in the past and future tenses:

Postojao je (jedan) otok gdje... There was an island where... ®

Bio je jedan otok gdje... (the same meaning, but jedan is mandatory + verb changes!)

You can use any expression (I personally prefer the first one). You can also use such existential expressions to say that there’s someone (but I then prefer the exist verb even more).®

If you want to express existence of indefinite quantity at some location, the neutral expression is:

Ima° vode u boci. There is some water in the bottle.

Bilo je vode u boci. There was some water in the bottle.

The following expression specifically talks about what’s in the bottle, literally in bottle is water (the noun voda is in the nominative case):

U boci je voda. (N) There is water in the bottle.

If we change the word order, there’s a subtle change in meaning: we’re no more talking about the bottle, we’re talking about the water, and where it is:

Voda je u boci. The water is in the bottle.

The word order in Croatian is mostly such that what we’re talking about comes first, and the information we want to give comes later. This is also a way of expressing definiteness, since Croatian has no articles. Another example:

Ključevi su u ladici. The keys are in the drawer. ®

U ladici su (neki) ključevi. There are (some) keys in the drawer.

In the first sentence, we’re talking about where the keys are, but in the second, we’re discussing what’s in the drawer, what we have found.


® In Serbia, and most of Bosnia, the following words and forms are used instead (on the right side of arrows):

kava coffeekafa
kruh breadhljeb, hleb
otok islandostrvo
sol f saltso (sol-) f
zrak airvazduh

In Bosnia, in parts where Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) live, kahva is used for coffee as well.

While ladica is used in Serbia as well, the word fioka is much more common there for the drawer.

Using nešto as a quantity-adverb few, some is much rarer in Serbia, and using it to express few people (nešto ljudi) is very rare there.

Recall that the future tense is not spelled bit će, but biće in Serbia and often in Bosnia.

It seems that expressions like ima jedan prijatelj and like are much more common in Bosnia and Serbia.

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5 Easy Croatian: 45 Quantities and Existence N A  DL  G 24 I Quantities ( some water , many people ) can be expressed in several ways in Croatian. It’s important to make fi...

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