54 Giving Orders


Croatian has special forms of verbs used to give orders: imperatives (imper for short). In English, the imperative is just a verb without a personal pronoun for subject:

Wait for me!

In Croatian, there’s a special verb form (it’s quite similar to the present tense forms):

Čekaj me! Wait for me!

Imperatives exist only for the 2nd person singular and plural (I can give orders to you) and for the 1st person plural (I can give orders to us).

If you know the imper-2 form, it’s very easy to get other forms – all are regular – and it’s easy to get the imper-2 if you know its pres-3pl:

pres-3pl imper-2 imper-1pl imper-2pl
-u, -e -i -imo -ite
-ju, (-je) ® -j -jmo -jte
-ku -ci -cimo -cite

For example, here are the imper-2 forms of some frequent verbs:

gledati watchgledaj
učiti learnuči

The imperative gledaj watch! is often shortened to just gle. There’s one completely irregular imperative:

biti (je² +) bebudi

(Alternatively, the present-tense-only verb (bude) can be considered as another present tense form of biti (je² +); from that viewpoint, the imperative is regular, but from bude.)

Most verbs with pres-3 in -a have stress in imperatives like in the present tense:

otvarati («) open otvara = pres-3
otvaraj = imper-2
(Std. stress scheme!)

Most verbs with pres-3 in -i or -e have stress in imperatives like in infinitive, and that distinguishes some forms which are equal in writing for verbs that have stress shifts:

govoriti («) speak govori = pres-3
govori = imper-2
(Std. stress scheme!)

Only a handful of otherwise ‘irregular’ verbs have the pres-3pl ending in -ku. Such commonly used verbs are:

reći (reče, rekao, rekla) perf. tellreci
tući (tuče, tukao, tukla) beat, smacktuci
vući (vuče, vukao, vukla) pullvuci

The verb reći is almost never used in the present tense, but its imperative is often used:

Reci mi, gdje si bio? Tell me, where have you been?

Other very often used imperatives are (I have listed only their imper-2 forms):

čekaj! wait!
dođi! come here!
pazi! take care!
stani! stop!

As you can see, imperative forms of perfective verbs are often used (more details below). One of the most used verbs in imperative is:

oprostiti («) perf. forgive/excuseoprosti

This verb is used with objects (normally persons) in DL, but it’s often used without an object (which is then implied to be the speaker), so you’ll usually hear:

Oprostite! Excuse me. (respectful/to a group)

Oprosti. Forgive me. (to a someone you’re familiar with)

The meaning depends on the context, of course.

Only a few verbs end in -je in pres-3pl; some get imperatives on -j, others on -ji:

bojati (boji) paintboji ®
brojati (broji) countbroji ®
bojati (boji) se² be afraidboj se²

(The verb brojati (broji) is very common, although the Standard Croatian has a slightly different verb brojiti. The same goes for bojati (boji) – the Standard, but seldom used verb is bojiti. For more details, review Variations: Colloquial and Formal.)

For verbs that end in -je in pres-3pl, the imper-2 form is listed in the Core Dictionary.

As in English, there’s no special imperative form for the 3rd person, but you can use neka + verb in present, similar to English let, but without changes in case (English changes case: it’s not let she but let her):

Neka uđe. Let him/her come in.

Neka Ana vozi. Let Ana drive.

The word neka doesn’t change. It has no connection to neki adj. some. You will sometimes see and hear it shortened to nek.

Now, there’s a problem: should you use an impf. or a perf. verb when you use imperatives? With process-completion pairs, if we want someone to complete something, perf. verbs are used:

Pročitaj knjigu. Read the book. (perf. = the whole book)

If it’s not important that someone reads the whole book (e.g. the important part is somewhere in the middle, or just reading a bit of it can be useful), then the impf. verb is used:

Čitaj knjigu. Read the book. (impf. = nothing about completion)

Impf. verbs are also often used to express that someone should do some activity regularly, or when the object is very generic:

Čitajte knjige. Read books.

Peri zube svaki dan. ‘Wash’ your teeth every day. (i.e. brush)

In the last example (with teeth) the perf. verb could be also used, but using impf. verbs is more common.

With event pairs, impf. verbs are used when we want somebody to do something repeatedly, while perf. verbs usually imply that something should be done once:

Baci mi loptu. Throw me the ball. (perf. = once)

Bacaj loptu. Throw the ball. (impf. = one to many times)

Impf. verbs are sometimes used in imperatives to indicate that we want someone to start something immediately.®

This table summarizes when to use impf. and when perf. imperatives:

impf. imperatives perf. imperatives
• do at least a bit
• repeat, do constantly
• indefinite objects
• complete it
• do it once

Negation (don’t sing!) can be constructed in two ways. First, by simply putting the usual word ne¨ in front of the imperative:

Ne čekajte me! Don’t wait for me! (pl.)

Ne pjevaj! Don’t sing!

The stress, in the standard scheme, can shift to ne¨, but never for verbs that have any underline (in my notation). This makes sense of my markings in verbs like:

pisati (piše) write skakati (skače) jump

Neither has pres-3 in -a, so their imperative forms have the same stress as infinitives, e.g. piši and skači; for example:

Ne piši! Don’t write!

Ne skačite! Don’t jump! (to a group)

The stress never shifts for these common verbs:

graditi build
ići (ide, išao, išla) go
nositi carry, wear
voziti drive

Additionally, verbs that have an additional vowel in pres-3 which is underlined, don’t shift the stress too; common ones are:

prati (pere) wash zvati (zove) call

In the ‘western’ scheme, stress shifts to ne¨ only in very short verbs (one syllable in imper-2) e.g. ne daj don’t give (from dati perf. give). Consequently, you’ll sometimes see non-standard spellings such as nedaj and like.

If a verb requires the word se², it’s required in imperative as well:

Ne boj se! Don’t be afraid!

This works for imperfective verbs, but not for most perfective verbs.

Another method is to use a special negative imperative verb and the infinitive of the verb. This special verb has only imperatives: its imper-2 is nemoj. This works for all verbs:

Nemojte me čekati! Don’t wait for me! (pl.)

Nemoj otići! Don’t leave!

If you were careful, you could see that the combination ne¨ + verb behaves as one unit (as usual) so mi², me² etc. come right after it, but nemoj is a word on its own and words that want to be at the second position come right after it (but the verb in infinitive cannot come before nemoj, except sometimes in poetry).

What about impf. and perf. verbs in negative imperatives? In many cases, perf. verbs make no sense in negative imperative. Consider this:

Nemoj pročitati knjigu. Don’t read the book. (perf. = the whole book)

It would mean: you can read the book, just don’t read the whole book. Makes no sense. However, it makes sense with some other verbs and objects:

Nemoj jesti kolače. Don’t eat the cakes. (impf. = not even a tiny bit)

Nemoj pojesti kolače. Don’t eat up the cakes. (perf. = not all of them)

The first sentence means don’t even start eating them, while the second one means don’t finish the cakes, i.e. leave something. This example is also interesting:

Nemoj bacati knjige u smeće. Don’t throw books into the trash. (impf. = any book, anytime)

Nemoj baciti knjigu u smeće. Don’t throw the book into the trash. (perf. = a specific instance/book)

(I’ve used nemoj to negate impf. imperatives, but I could have used ne bacaj and ne jedi in the previous example instead).

The first sentence is about throwing any books, or an unspecified group: you can throw one today, another the next day, etc. It forbids any throwing. The second one is about throwing a specific book, which can be thrown only once, and then it’s gone. In other circumstances, we would use bacati even for a specific object – you can throw a specific ball many times against a wall.

The rule is: when we do something to a specific objectsomething irreversible, so it can be done only once – we use perf. verbs in negative imperative.

For example, we don’t want somebody to open a window. Since windows can be opened, and then easily closed, and opened again, and we don’t want any of it, we would use an impf. verb:

Nemoj otvarati prozor. Don’t open the window. (impf.)

But, for breaking a specific window, we would use a perf. verb, since it’s an irreversible action (true, windows can be repaired, but it cannot be done immediately):

Nemoj razbiti prozor. Don’t break the window. (perf.)

Contrary, if we would speak in general, not about a specific window, or a specific set of them, we would use an impf. verb:

Nemoj razbijati prozore. Don’t break windows. (impf.)

So, this is a way Croatian expresses indefiniteness of objects: by using imperfective verbs for irreversible actions. This table summarizes negative imperatives:

Negative imperatives
impf. verbs perf. verbs
ne¨ + imperative
nemoj + inf
nemoj + inf
• don’t want any of it
• indefinite objects
• easily reversed and repeated
• don’t complete, leave a bit
• irreversible on definite objects

There is another “special verb” – hajde – also having only imperative forms, that is used to encourage (like c’mon!):

Hajde, dođi! C’mon, come!

Both special verbs can be used on their own in speech:

Nemoj! Don’t!

Hajde! C’mon!

The verb hajde has slightly irregular forms and also has several colloquial forms. They are all listed here, together with forms of the verb nemoj:

verb imper-2 imper-1pl imper-2pl
negative nemoj nemojmo nemojte

There’s another verb that can be used colloquially to encourage or strengthen imperatives:

dati perf. give

This is a perfective verb, and its imperative is used together the imperative of the main verb. For example:

Daj, čekaj me! C’mon, wait for me!

There are few exceptions to the rules above, relating to the 1st person plural. For the verb ići (ide, išao, išla) go, instead of the expected idimo, the present tense form idemo is used; it applies only to the imper-1pl – other forms are as expected:

imper-2 imper-1pl imper-2pl
idi idemo idite

Furthermore, in colloquial speech, imper-1pl forms aren’t often used. Instead, hajdemo / ajmo + inf is more common.

However, there’s one imper-1pl frequent in speech and writing: recimo, derived from the already mentioned reći, meaning of course let’s say (and therefore suppose, for example etc.).


® In the “Ekavian” pronunciation, which completely prevails in Serbia, there’s an exception in speech from this rule for the “Ekavian” verb razumeti understand: its imper-2 a bit unexpected razumi, and so on. However, Standard Serbian insists on the imper-2 form razumej – according to the above rules – which is followed by very few people in real life, and a source of endless debates on the Internet about what is ‘right’. Even very educated public figures in Serbia vowed they will stick with razumi, regardless of what the official Serbian grammar says.

Standard Serbian insists on the imper-2 forms boj and broj, which are rare in speech, while Croatian allows boji and broji.

Using impf. verb in imperatives to say that we want somebody to start immediately doing something seems (to me) less common in Croatia, and more common in Bosnia and Serbia.

↓ Examples (click to show)

↓ Exercise (click to show)

5 Easy Croatian: 54 Giving Orders N A  DL  G 24 I Croatian has special forms of verbs used to give orders: imperatives ( imper for short). In English, the impe...

↓ 2 comments (click to show)