52 Stand, Become, Exist, Cease


There’s a very important group of Croatian verbs having similar forms, so it’s worth learning them together. It’s also interesting that some of them can behave as imperfective verbs, despite being basically perfective.

First, the following verb has a simple meaning, just physically stand somewhere. Unfortunately, it’s a bit irregular:

stajati (stoji) stand

For example:

Stajala sam tamo satima. I was standing there for hours. {f}

There’s an important verb similar to it, but more regular:

postojati (postoji) exist

It’s used without objects, just to express that something exists (or not):

Jeti ne postojipostojati. The Yeti doesn’t exist.

You will sometimes hear its present forms stressed as postoji.

Next, there is a verb pair that means stop, come to stand:

stajati (staje) ~ stati (stane) stop

Since this verb pair implies a kind of motion (that’s coming to stand), it’s used with destinations, while stajati (stoji) is a static verb, therefore it’s usually used with locations:

Stao sam pred ulaz. I stood in front of the entrance. {m} (pred¨ + A = dest.)

Stajao sam pred ulazom. I was standing in front of the entrance. {m} (pred¨ + I = loc.)

However, you will also see this verb pair used with locations (it’s a bit less common):

Stao sam pred ulazom. I stood in front of the entrance. {m} (pred¨ + I = loc., less common)

This verb has one more meaning: fit into (e.g. wine into a bottle, clothes into a suitcase). In that meaning, the perf. verb is common in the present tense as well, including the true present (that is, things going on at the very moment of speaking):

Hlače ne stanustati u kofer. The pants don’t fit into the suitcase. ®

Be careful: this means only fit into physically, it doesn’t cover the meaning belong (e.g. fit into the crowd): for the second meaning, use the verb pripadati belong. Furthermore, the verb stati (stane) needs destinations, including this use.

The past form of the perf. verb, in neuter singular, is used in a phrase:

DL + biti (je² +)° + stalo (+ do¨ G) = DL cares (about G)

This phrase is a way to express that someone cares about somebody or something. Here the word stalo has no past meaning: it’s used as an adverb, like žao or dosadno. The verb biti is here impersonal, and can be in any tense:

Nije mu stalo. He doesn’t care.

Ani je° stalo do Gorana. Ana cares about Goran. / Goran matters to Ana.

Ani je bilo stalo do mene. Ana cared about me.

Compare it with e.g. Ani je bilo drago – it’s exactly the same structure, apart from the do¨ + G.

The infinitive (and consequently, past forms) of the impf. verb stajati (staje) are exactly the same as for the verb meaning stand, but since the impf. verbs are mostly used in the present tense, confusion is rare.

The pair stajati (staje) ~ stati (stane) is likely the most important pair in Croatian, since there’s a number of very common and important event pairs derived from it:

nastajati (nastaje) ~ nastati (nastane) come to exist
nestajati (nestaje) ~ nestati (nestane) disappear
ostajati (ostaje) ~ ostati (ostane) stay, remain
postajati (postaje) ~ postati (postane) become
prestajati (prestaje) ~ prestati (prestane) stop (doing something), cease

The perf. verbs in the pairs above are sometimes stressed as nastati (nastane) – the ‘western’ stress is on a different syllable in present forms. (The stress never moves to the negation in the present tense of these pairs.)

If you are confused by similarity of impf. and perf. verbs listed above, there’s one simple difference: the impf. verbs have a -j- in all their forms – infinitive, present, past, some forms I haven’t explained yet – and the perf. verbs never have it in any form. Also, these impf. verbs are quite rare in the past and future tenses.

The verb pair derived with o- has come curious properties. The perf. verb ostati (ostane / ostane) behaves a bit like an imperfective verb. For example, it can be used with time periods, unlike other perf. verbs. Compare:

Ostao je u bolnici dva sata. He remained in hospital for two hours.

Čekao je u bolnici dva sata. He waited in hospital for two hours.

You cannot do it with e.g. napisati (napiše) perf. write. Therefore, the impf. verb ostajati (ostaje) is basically used in the present tense only.

Otherwise, the verb is very similar to English stay and remain: you can stay somewhere, something, with someone, etc. It’s a very versatile verb:

Ostao je kod kuće. He stayed at home.

Ostali su zajedno. They stayed together. {m/mixed}

The past form of the perf. verb is used as a real quantity adjective (as with other past forms used as adjectives, the form with -i, ostali is the basic form):

Ostalo tijesto je u frižideru. The remaining pastry is in the fridge.

It’s often used as a pronoun as well; in the same way as other adjectives, e.g. sav (sv- +), the neuter singular forms are used for things, and masc. plural forms for people:

Ostali će doći sutra. The rest (of them) will come tomorrow.

Ostalo će doći sutra. The rest (of it) will come tomorrow.

These two adjectives-used-as-pronouns are often used together, meaning all the rest:

Svi ostali su u dvorištu.All others are in the yard.

Sve ostalo je u kutiji. All the rest is in the box.

The verb pair derived with po- is similar to biti (je² +) be – it corresponds to English become or to English get with adjectives:

Postat će tata. He’ll become a dad.

Postajempostajati gladna. I’m becoming/getting hungry. {f} (impf.)

This verb, like be, usually uses objects in N (e.g. tata dad is obviously in N)! It’s also used with weather expressions and subjective experiences of the environment, again in the similar way as biti (je² +) be:

Postajepostajati° vruće. It’s getting hot. (impf.)

Postalo je hladno. It became cold.

Postajepostajati° nam vruće. We’re getting hot. (impf.)

Postalo mi je hladno. I got/became cold.

The verb pair derived with ne- means roughly disappear, but it also covers meaning run out, and is also used when e.g. there’s suddenly no electricity, water... or even beer in the fridge. The prefix comes from negation historically, but it’s always spelled together with the verb in this case.

What is interesting with this verb pair is that often uses indefinite quantities (expressed by nouns in G) as their subjects, and consequently, as default for quantities, the verb behaves as if the subject is neuter singular:

Nestalo je benzina. The petrol ran out.

Nestalo je struje. The electricity is out.

The same thing can be expressed also with the negative existential:

Nema° više benzina. There’s no more petrol.

Nema° više struje. The electricity is out.

The verb pair derived with pre- is usually used with impf. verbs in infinitive, or with some noun that can “last” and then “stop” (e.g. rain, road, danger):

Kiša je prestala. The rain stopped.

Goran je prestao plakati. Goran stopped crying.

Note: when this verb is used only with a subject it’s used for natural events (wind, storm, heat), and when some activities don’t have a regular end, but stop unexpectedly (for example, it wouldn’t be used when a movie ends).

You’ll often see the base pair used in the first construction (just a subject) with more or less the same meaning:

Kiša je stala. The rain stopped.

The opposite meaning – begin, start – is expressed with an unrelated verb pair (the perf. verb has a bit unexpected -n- in present!):

počinjati (počinje / počinje) ~ početi (počne) start, begin

The verb pair is used in the same way as the pre- pair. For example:

Kiša je počela. The rain started.

Goran je počeo plakati. Goran started crying.

Such verbs that indicate start or end points are often called phase verbs. Pay attention that with these verbs, only impf. verbs in inf (e.g. plakati) are used. There’s no accomplishment, the focus in on starting or stopping an activity.

The following verb pair has a very simple meaning:

ustajati (ustaje) ~ ustati (ustane) stand up

The following verbs follow exactly the same pattern:

pristajati (pristaje) ~ pristati (pristane) consent, agree
odustajati (odustaje) ~ odustati (odustane) give up

The first verb is often used with content clauses (I will introduce them in a short while), or with na¨ + A. The second verb uses od¨ + G to describe what you’re giving up:

Ana je pristala na ručak. Ana has agreed to have a lunch.

Ana je odustala od izleta. Ana has given up on the excursion.

The following verb pairs have opposite meanings:

sastajati (sastaje) se² ~ sastati (sastane) se² get together, meet
rastajati (rastaje) se² ~ rastati (rastane) se² split, separate

While English usually makes derived verbs with detached prepositions, Croatian always uses prefixes. You will notice that often these two Croatian verb prefixes match the English prepositions used to derive verb meaning:

ra- / ras- / raz- apart s- / sa- together

Then, there’s a verb derived with nedo- (again, the ne is always spelled together). It’s already covered in 23 I’m Cold: Basic Impressions. There’s no perf. verb corresponding to it.

This table summarizes all verbs derived from the ‘base’ verb pair:

stajati (staje) ~ stati (stane)
prefix used with meaning
(none) (+ dest, rarer loc) (come to) stand
na- come to exist
ne- disappear
o- (N) stay, remain
po- (N) become
pre- (inf) stop
pri- (na¨ A) consent, agree
odu- (od¨ G) give up
ra- se² (od¨ G) split, separate
sa- se² (s¨ I) get together, meet
nedo- (DL) lack

There are more verb pairs derived from this base pair, e.g. with zao- meaning lag, fall behind and so on.

A final remark: the perfective verb stati (stane) is sometimes – mostly in literature and in speech, in parts of Dalmatia, and some rural areas – used as a phase verb meaning start. This is quite unexpected, because it otherwise means stand and even stop! For example, in a novel written by Marija Jurić Zagorka, you can read:

Stao je hodati kolibom. He started walking over the hut. {m}

I don’t use it, but be prepared to hear and read it from time to time.


® In Serbia and Bosnia, instead of hlače f pl. pants, trousers, pantalone f pl. is used.

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5 Easy Croatian: 52 Stand, Become, Exist, Cease N A  DL  G 24 I There’s a very important group of Croatian verbs having similar forms, so it’s worth learning them together. It...

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