47 For 7 Hours: Time Periods


We know how to say two hours and five days, and now we are going to make use of these expressions to say how long some action or state lasts (or lasted).

If you want to say that something lasted a specific amount of time (two hours, three days, etc.) you don’t have to – you must not – use any prepositions in Croatian, the only thing you need is to put the time period into the accusative case:


Trčao sam dva sata. I ran for two hours. {m}

Ana je živjela u Zagrebu pet godina. Ana lived in Zagreb for five years.

Recall that constructions with numbers greater than 1 look the same in all cases. However, when something took one year (or one week, etc.), both words must go to the accusative case, since jedan (jedn-) one is an adjective:

Trčao sam jedan sat. I was running for one hour. {m}

Ana je živjela u Zadru jednu godinu. Ana lived in Zadar for one year.

Don’t forget that G-pl, used with numbers 5 and on, often has a slightly specific form:

dva tjedna two weeks (‘G’) ®

pet tjedana five weeks (G-pl)

There’s a very important rule, the time-phrase rule, basically saying that you have to say how many hours (or years, weeks...) something took: you cannot just say "trčao sam sat"!

However, there are four often used special phrases:

godina dana 1 year
mjesec dana 1 month
tjedan dana 1 week ®
sat vremena 1 hour

They are just words for time periods + another word, dan day or vrijeme (vremen-) time/weather in the genitive case. Literally, they mean a year of days, and so on.

The first word is free to change case, so the two sentences above often look like this when phrases are put to the accusative case as they must be if used as time periods:

Trčao sam sat vremena. I was running for an hour. {m}

Ana je živjela u Zadru godinu dana. Ana lived in Zadar for a year.

Of course, you can also say jedna godina, etc. (Observe there are no special phrases for one day or one minute).

You don’t have to use numbers, can use parts, or adjectives. All grammar rules we already learned for expressing parts still apply, of course:

Plivao sam pola sata. I was swimming for half an hour. {m}

Ana je živjela u Osijeku cijelu godinu. Ana lived in Osijek for a whole year.

Ana je živjela u Zagrebu mnogo godina. Ana lived in Zagreb for many years.

As time nouns (i.e. dan day etc.) don’t normally come in pairs, the word par means a couple of with them. Of course, you can use nekoliko several too:

Hodao sam par sati. I was walking for a couple of hours. {m}

Ana je živjela u Rijeci nekoliko mjeseci. Ana lived in Rijeka for several months.

These time expressions look like objects – and are a bit similar to objects: you can eat the whole cake, likewise, you could live the whole year. But they aren’t really objects.

These rules also apply when you use other nouns for time periods such as:

jutro morning
prijepodne (prijepodnev-) time before noon
popodne (popodnev-) afternoon
noć f night
večer f evening ®
trenutak (trenutk-) moment
vikend weekend
vječnost f eternity

For example:

Plesali smo cijelu noć. We were dancing for the whole night. {m/mixed}

Such use of cijeli also translates English phrases like all day long. It applies to seasons as well:

Kiša je padala cijelu zimu. It was raining for the whole winter.

There’s a verb expressing duration of some event or state (e.g. predavanje lecture, kiša rain, oluja storm, etc.) expressed by a noun:

trajati (traje) last, take time

For example (observe that the time-phrase rule still holds):

Film je trajao dva sata. The movie lasted for two hours.

Predavanje je trajalo jedan sat. The lecture lasted for one hour.

But what if you’re still reading or waiting? In Croatian you then use the present tense:

Ivan je dvije godine živio u Zagrebu.
Ivan lived in Zagreb for two years.
(but not now)
Ivan dvije godine živi u Zagrebu.
Ivan has lived in Zagreb for two years.
(and still does)

In English, you should use the Present Perfect tense (have been) in such expressions. This is worth remembering:

not anymore still ongoing
Croatian past tense present tense
English Past Present Perfect

If you use the present tense, it means it still goes on; if it’s something that happened only in the past, use the past tense. Croatian is here much simpler and logical (at least from my point of view) than English.

In all uses described above, the periods in currently ongoing actions are often emphasized with već already, which has a weakened meaning and is often not translated:

Ivan već dvije godine živi u Zagrebu. Ivan has lived in Zagreb for two years.

With almost all perfective verbs, it’s impossible to say how long the action lasted, but it’s possible to express the ‘time frame’ of the action, and the meaning is more or less the same. Interestingly, English also distinguishes duration from ‘frames’: ‘time frames’ use the preposition in. In Croatian, you should use the preposition za¨ + time phrase:

Čitao sam knjigu dva dana. (impf.)
I was reading the book for two days. {m}
Pročitao sam knjigu za dva dana. (perf.)
I’ve read the book in two days. {m}

Note that the sentence with the impf. verb doesn’t say if you got to the end of the book or not; maybe there’s still something left, maybe not!

This gives you a good clue when to use perf. verbs in Croatian: if you feel that an expression like in a day would fit into the sentence, use a perf. verb in Croatian.

Pay attention that Croatian za¨ usually translates to English for, but it’s not so here.

The same works for times until a moment in the future, they are expressed with za¨ + time phrase as well, but the meaning is a bit ambiguous:


Pročitat ću knjigu za jedan dan. I’ll read the book in a day.

Pročitat ću knjigu za par dana. I’ll read the book in a couple of days.

Normally, the time is understood as from the moment the action starts, i.e. you’ll start reading in some moment in future and from that moment, it will take a day (or a couple of days) to read it, but it can easily be understood as from the moment of speaking.

The time-phrase rule is a bit relaxed when you use za¨, so you’ll occasionally hear expressions with only one word:

Pročitao sam knjigu za jedan dan. I’ve read the book in a day. {m}

Pročitao sam knjigu za jednu noć. I’ve read the book in a night. {m}

Pročitao sam knjigu za dan. (the same meaning, sometimes heard)

The above verbs were from process-completion pairs; if we would take an event pair, e.g. vraćati ~ vratiti return, the time period would be normally understood from the present moment (people talk much more often when they will return than how much it will take to return). However, the other meaning is also possible.

As expected for event verbs, you can use both the impf. verb in the present tense or the perf. verb in the future without much difference:

Vraćam se za dva mjeseca. I’m coming back in two months.

Vratit ću se za dva mjeseca. I’ll come back in two months. (the same)

You often have to express something else – when something was going on in the past, in relation to the present moment. Then you use the preposition prije. For example:


Živio sam u Zagrebu prije dvije godine. I lived in Zagreb two years ago. {m}

Živio sam u Njemačkoj prije godinu dana. I lived in Germany one year ago. {m}

Now, the time periods – if special phrases are not used – can be sometimes in G as well. This works for perfective verbs as well:


Vratila sam se u Hrvatsku prije dvije godine. I came back to Croatia two years ago. {f}

There’s one more type of time reference which is a bit unexpected. The English preposition for is also used in sentences like this:

(1) I’m leaving for two days.

(2) I’ll leave for a week.

There’s a subtle difference. In Croatian, ‘leave’ is a motion, going somewhere else. It won’t take two days (or a week) to get there, you will rather spend two days (or a week) away, and then you’ll (hopefully) return.

In Croatian, if you want to express how much time you’ll spend on such a ‘round-trip’, you have to use the preposition na¨ + A:


(1) Odlazim na dva dana.

(2) Otići ću na tjedan dana.

If you construct the sentence #1 without the na¨, it will sound extremely weird, as if you spent two days trying to leave, but you haven’t left yet. The sentence #2 will be ungrammatical without a preposition, since the verb is, of course, perfective.

Such ‘round-trip periods’ apply to all motion verbs that imply going somewhere, e.g. ići (ide, išao, išla) go, and to some other verbs that will be explained later (e.g. meaning borrow, visit, etc.) all meaning something temporary.

This summarizes common time periods and references in English and Croatian (the accusative time phrases, marked with A*, must consist of two or more words, special phrases may be used.):

definite period
  for two days
dva dana
‘round-trip’ period
  (leave) for two days
na¨ + A(*)
na dva dana
‘time frame’ = until completion
  in two days
za¨ + A(*)
za dva dana
before now
  a year ago
prije + A* (G*)
prije jedne godine

To ask how long something lasted, you can use koliko dugo (lit. ‘how much long’) or just koliko:

Koliko dugo si živio tamo? How long did you live there? {to m}

Jednu godinu. For a year.

Koliko ste bili u Hrvatskoj? How long were you in Croatia? {to m/mixed/resp}

Tjedan dana. For a week.

Answers must be proper time periods, that is, in A, at least 2 words, special phrases can be used, prepositions according to the rules for time periods.

To ask about a ‘round-trip period’, you have to use na¨ before the question words explained above. Answers will be again ‘round-trip periods’:

Na koliko odlaziš? How long are you leaving for?

Na tjedan dana. For a week.

To ask about references to the past or future time, use the question-word kad(a) when. The answer is a proper past reference (for the past) or a proper ‘time frame’ for the future. Of course, absolute times can be used as well (e.g. a month, date, etc.):

Kad si se vratio? When did you come back? {to m} (perf., past)

Prije dva mjeseca. Two months ago.

— U trećem mjesecu. (colloq.) In March. (lit. ‘in the 3rd month’) ®

Kad se vraćaš? When are you coming back? (impf., present)

Za mjesec dana. In a month.

— U desetom mjesecu. (colloq.) In October. (lit. ‘in the 10th month’) ®

Also, pay attention that in the first question, we have used a perfective event verb vratiti return. Here we simply ask about an event in the past. In then second question, we used the matching impf. verb, since we used the present tense to talk about a scheduled event in the future. Of course, we can use the future tense of the perfective event verb with the same meaning:

Kad ćeš se vratiti? When will you come back? (perf., future)

To ask about references to the past or future time, use the question-word kad(a) when. The answer is a proper past reference (for the past) or a proper ‘time frame’ for the future. Of course, absolute times can be used as well (e.g. a month, date, etc.).


® Instead of tjedan, the word nedjelja is used in parts of Bosnia, colloquially in parts of Croatia, and in the “Ekavian” form nedelja in Serbia; so you’ll hear and read nedjelja dana or nedelju dana. The word sedmica is also sometimes used in Serbia and Bosnia.

The word večer has the form veče in Serbia and most of Bosnia. It’s neuter, but all case forms are derived from večer- and then it’s feminine.

Colloquial reference to months by ordinals (e.g. deseti mjesec = October) is not used in Bosnia and Serbia.

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5 Easy Croatian: 47 For 7 Hours: Time Periods N A  DL  G 24 I We know how to say two hours and five days , and now we are going to make use of these expressions to say how ...

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