05 Accusative Case

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In the previous chapters you’ve learned how to use nouns that end in -a (in their dictionary form) as objects, that is, how to make their accusative (object) form (also called case). But what about other nouns?

First, there are general nouns that end in -o or -e. They usually don’t change at all in the accusative case, that is, they can be used as objects in their dictionary (or nominative) form. For instance:

auto  ▶  car
jutro  ▶  morning
meso  ▶  meat
mlijeko milk
nebo  ▶  sky, skies
more  ▶  sea
pismo  ▶  letter
pivo  ▶  beer
vino  ▶  wine
voće  ▶  fruit, fruits

We can (and must!) use them as objects without any change:

Pijempiti pivo.  ▶  I’m drinking beer.

Ana gleda more. Ana is watching the sea.

Goran pijepiti vino. Goran is drinking wine.

Jedemjesti voće. I’m eating fruits.

Ivan pijepiti mlijeko. Ivan is drinking milk.

Pišempisati pismo. I’m writing a letter.

Ivana vozi auto. Ivana is driving a car.

There are two useful and similar verbs:

vidjeti (vidi) (can) see voljeti (voli) like, love ®

These two verbs change from -jeti in inf to -i in pres-3. That happens for almost all verbs in -jeti, and can be considered regular, therefore, I usually won’t list pres-3 forms for such verbs. Some examples:

Vidim more. I (can) see the sea.

Ana voli pivo. Ana likes beer.

Then, there are nouns that end in a consonant (nouns that end in -i or -u are very rare in Croatian). Their behavior depends on what they stand for. If they stand for anything except people or animals, they also don’t change in accusative:

brod  ▶  ship
film movie
kruh  ▶  bread ®

ručak lunch, dinner
sok juice
vlak train ®

Let’s introduce two more useful verbs:

poznavati (poznaje) know (someone)
rezati (reže) cut

Croatian has a special verb for knowing people (and cities), like French connaître. (Also, this is not an error, the verb poznavati has a different stress in infinitive and present. Such shifts specific for individual verbs is what makes stress complex in Croatian.)

Again, we can use the nouns listed above as objects without any change:

Ana gleda film. Ana is watching a movie.

Režemrezati kruh.  ▶  I’m cutting bread. ®

Goran pijepiti sok. Goran is drinking juice.

Ivana kuha ručak.  ▶  Ivana is cooking lunch.

Čekam vlak. I’m waiting for a train. ®

However, nouns that end in a consonant, but stand for people or animals do change in accusative. You must add an -a to them. This applies to e.g. following nouns:

brat  ▶  brother
čovjek  ▶  man/human ®
galeb  ▶  (sea)gull

konj  ▶  horse
muž  ▶  husband ®
sin  ▶  son

Let’s put them to use:

Ana gleda konja. Ana is watching a horse.

Ivan čeka brata.  ▶  Ivan is waiting for his brother.

Goran vidi galeba. Goran sees a seagull.

The accusative ending applies to names as well:

Ana čeka Gorana. Ana is waiting for Goran.

Josip poznajepoznavati Ivana.  ▶  Josip knows Ivan.

This applies to names having more than one word (e.g. with the last name) and to non-native names as well – each word in the (masculine) name has to get an -a:

Čekamo Ivana Horvata. We’re waiting for Ivan Horvat.

Gledam Brada Pitta. I’m watching Brad Pitt.

When you hear or read a sentence where names are expected to be in the accusative case, you have to be able to work them back to the default (nominative) forms. You simply cannot understand Croatian without understanding cases – that’s why I have introduced them from the start:

Čekam Ivana. I’m waiting for Ivan. (Ivan = male)

Čekam Ivanu. I’m waiting for Ivana. (Ivana = female)

When endings are added to certain nouns ending in a consonant, they don’t get added to their nominative form, but to a usually slightly different form. One example is pas dog. In the accusative case, it looks like this:

Ana gleda psa.  ▶  Ana is watching a dog.

The accusative ending is not added to pas, but to a slightly shorter form (ps). We can call that form the ‘case-base’ and list it after such nouns, in parentheses:

magarac  (magarc-) donkey
pas (ps-) dog
vrabac (vrapc-) sparrow

The case-base form has usually just the last syllable shortened, but sometimes there’s a consonant alternation as well. (This form is also called oblique stem, or just stem; I’ve invented a simple name for it.)

A few nouns have two possible forms of their case-base. However, the difference is only in spelling, as in sequences -dc- and -tc-, only -c-; is pronounced. Common ones are:

sudac (sudc- / suc-) judge
svetac (svetc- / svec-) saint ®

A few male names that end in either -o or -e behave as if they end in a consonant and have a specific case-base, usually just without the last vowel (j is added if the word ends in -io):

Darko (Dark-)
Hrvoje (Hrvoj-)
Marko (Mark-)

Dario (Darij-)
Mario (Marij-)
Silvio (Silvij-)

For example:

Ana čeka Marka. Ana is waiting for Marko.

Josip ne poznajepoznavati Hrvoja. Josip doesn’t know Hrvoje.

The j is sometimes carried even to the nominative (that is, dictionary) form: according to the official statistics, there are 32708 Mario’s and 4066 Marijo’s in Croatia.

Finally, there are common male names that change as if they end in -a. They end in -e or -o, but that’s just in the nominative case. All other forms are like for nouns in -a. Such names are historically nicknames. For example, Ante is a nickname for Antun (corresponding to English Anthony), but it’s used as an official name as well (there are 35457 Ante’s in Croatia).

Two more names that behave like that are Ivo and Kruno. For a more exhaustive list, check L1 Common Names.

To mark such strange names, I’ll use (A -u) as a reminder that they change like any other nouns in -a, i.e. get an -u in the accusative case. For example:

Čekam Antu. I’m waiting for Ante.

Ne poznajempoznavati Krunu. I don’t know Kruno. ®

Now you know how to make accusative case of almost all nouns! We can summarize the rules we have learned in a table:

noun type (N) A (object)
nouns in -a -a-u
nouns in -o or -e no change
nouns in a consonant
(not people or animals)
no change
nouns in a consonant
(people or animals)
add -a

(These rules are not completely precise, but will work for almost all nouns; I will give you the exact rules a bit later.)

Finally, let me explain how you can ask about objects. Start questions with the following question words:

kog(a)  ▶  who (as an object)
što  ▶  what

For example, you can ask what Ana is watching, or who Goran is waiting for. There’s a very important point: the answers must be again in the accusative case, as they are still considered objects:

Što Ana gleda?  ▶  What is Ana watching?

— Film. A movie. (A!)

— Konja. A horse. (A!)

Što Ivan pijepiti? What is Ivan drinking?

— Kavu. Coffee. (A!)

Koga Goran čeka? Who is Goran waiting for?

— Anu. Ana. (A!)

Again, you’ll often hear and read the colloquial word šta ® instead of što. I’ll explain details of who and what questions later, in 28 Asking Who and What.

You can, of course, answer with just:

— Ne znam. I don’t know.

The verb znati know is one of a very few verbs which shift their stress to ne¨ even in the ‘western’ scheme, since its pres-3 has only one syllable (zna). I’ve indicated it with an underline under ne¨. (People feel it’s pronounced differently than other ne¨ + verb combinations, so you’ll see sometimes non-standard spellings as one word i.e. neznam.)


® In Serbia, where “Ekavian” forms prevail, verbs like vidjeti have inf videti, but the pres-3 is just vidi.

Instead of kruh, hljeb is used in most of Bosnia, and in the “Ekavian” form hleb in Serbia (often colloquially leb); instead of vlak, voz is common in these countries.

It’s actually a bit more complicated. In mainland parts of Dalmatia and adjacent parts of Herzegovina – including the city of Split – you’ll often hear, colloquially, kruv for bread. However, on the islands nearby, kruh is used. These differences often don’t follow country borders or ethnic lines. For example, all people in western parts of Bosnia – including the city of Banja Luka – traditionally use kruh, regardless whether they consider themselves to be Bosniaks, Croats or Serbs. In central Bosnia, hljeb prevails. This rough map illustrates regional differences of the term for bread:

While you can use just kruh and be understood in all these countries, be prepared to hear (in speech, traditional and pop songs) and see (in writing) other forms as well.

Of course, other words which vary can have other regional variations. In principle, I should draw a map for each word!

In Bosnia and Montenegro, the word muž is rare in speech; the word čovjek means both man and husband, depending on the context (the double meaning holds for the noun žena woman/wife everywhere). The same holds for central regions of Serbia.

Standard Serbian spelling allows only case-bases suc- and svec-.

In most of Serbia, Kruno has forms like Marko, so it would rather be ne poznajem Kruna, but the name is really rare in Serbia.

The form šta is Standard in Serbia and most of Bosnia.

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