58 Wholes, Parts, Heaps and Pairs


How to express half an apple? Or third? If you think you can just use ordinal numbers (e.g. treći third) to express parts (e.h. third of an apple), you cannot. They must be ‘adjusted’ a bit.

In English, third is both an adjective (the third man) and a noun (two thirds). The Croatian form treći corresponds to the adjective meaning only!

However, it’s simple to make a noun from it: just add -na and you have the partial noun you need (except for the word for half does not fit to this scheme at all). For 1/2 and 1/4 there are additional words that behave like adverbs:

noun adverb
1/2 polovina pol(a)
1/3 trećina
1/4 četvrtina četvrt
1/5 petina
part dio (dijel-) m ®

I have listed also a generic noun meaning just part. How to use them? Well, just use the above nouns as any nouns on -na, and the other noun (one you want to express part of) goes after it, in the genitive singular:

Ovo je trećina jabuke. This is a third of an apple.

Imam trećinu jabuke. I have a third of an apple.

Instead of polovina, adverb pol(a) is much more frequent; it doesn’t change, of course, since it’s not a noun, but an adverb:

Ovo je pola jabuke. This is half an apple.

Imam pola jabuke. I have half of an apple.

Such partial quantities are in singular; pol(a) is neuter and other partial nouns are feminine, as expected:

Pola jabuke je bilo na stolu. Half of an apple was on the table.

Trećina jabuke je bila na stolu. A third of an apple was on the table.

Just remember that you are talking about a third (of something) and not about something.

In Croatia, bread is usually sold in loaves and some types are cut in half if required by the customer. So you can ask at the bread counter, or in a bakery:

Molim Vas pola kruha. lit. ‘A half of bread, please.’ (i.e. a half of a loaf of bread) ®

It’s possible to use parts with nouns in genitive plural, meaning a part of some plural quantity, possibly the total quantity; then partial quantities get verbs in plural sometimes:

Pola jabuka je bilo zrelo. Half of apples were ripe.

Pola ljudi su bili žene. Half of the people were women.

The use of plural in such sentences prevails with people and animals, while singular is common with other things (apples, stones...).

The generic dio (dijel-) m part can be used with both singular and plural nouns (in genitive, of course):

Imam dio jabuke. I have a part of an apple.

Imam dio jabuka. I have ‘a part’ of apples. (i.e. a part of some set of apples)

This is unlike English, where part cannot be used with plural nouns!

The quantity in Croatian has always gender of the quantity-word (neuter for adverbs). For instance, since dio (dijel-) is masculine, the whole quantity is masculine singular:

Dio jabuke je bio na stolu. A part of the apple was on the table.

Dio ljudi je plesao. Some people were dancing.

There’s an adjective used to express the opposite of parts:

cijel whole (adjective!) ®

This word behaves like any adjective – it doesn’t affect the noun, but agrees with it (i.e. change case, gender, singular/plural according to the noun). For example:

sam cijelu jabuku.
I ate a whole apple. {f}

You can combine numbers with parts, but observe different behaviors:

Imam dvije trećine limuna. I have two thirds of an lemon.

Imam dva cijela limuna. I have two whole lemons.

In the first sentence, two counts thirds – so we have feminine gender – while in the second, it counts (whole) lemons.

There are two very useful words:

komad piece ® kriška slice ®

The word komad is very often used, in a similar way as English piece ®. You can have a piece of something, but all countable, material stuff (e.g. screws) is very often expressed in pieces:

Jedemjesti komad kruha. I’m eating a piece of bread. ®

(You will maybe occasionally hear the word also stressed as komad.)

The word kriška slice usually gets -i in G-pl, so you would ask:

Molim Vas deset kriški šunke. Ten slices of ham, please.

(Besides the word kriška for slice, you’ll often hear and read colloquial words šnita and feta: the former prevails inland, while the latter dominates on the Croatian coast.)

There are two more useful generic quantity nouns:

manjina minority većina majority, most

These nouns can be used either as measures or on its own:

Većina ljudi je gledala utakmicu. Most people watched the match. (more than a half)

Većina je gledala utakmicu. Most watched the match.

As you can see, English here usually uses most. However, most has another meaning, more than anyone else, and this translates to another Croatian word, adverb najviše:

Danas imam najviše posla. I have most work today. (more than on other days)

Ta kuća ima najviše soba. That house has most rooms. (more than other houses)

Using većina in these sentences would make no sense, the same as using najviše in previous ones. Since it’s an adverb it behaves as neuter singular:

Najviše ljudi je gledalo utakmicu. Most people watched the match. (more than anything else)

There are several other nouns that can be used as measures of countable nouns in plural and uncountable in singular:

gomila bunch, crowd
hrpa heap
kutija box
šaka fist, fistful
vreća bag, sack
žlica spoon ®

The result behaves as the quantity noun. For example:

Gomila ljudi je bila na trgu. A large crowd of people was at the town square.

Hrpa pijeska je bila u dvorištu. A heap of sand was in the yard.

While gomila is very generic, there are specific words for various groups of animals (which are, nevertheless, a bit less specific than in English):

krdo herd (of wild animals, sometimes cattle)
stado herd (of domesticated animals)
jato flock / school (of fish)
roj swarm
čopor pack (of carnivores)

For example:

Vidim stado ovaca. I see a herd of sheep.

(The noun ovca sheep is one of nouns that shift their stress to the inserted -a- in G-pl.)

Then, there’s a noun which is also used as an adverb:

par pair

This noun is used primarily with things that come in pairs, like gloves, shoes, socks, and such pairs can be counted:

Imam dva para cipela. I have two pairs of shoes.

Of course, the noun which is in pair comes in G-pl. Exactly like in English, this noun is often used to enable counting of the noun f pl. pants, trousers since that noun cannot be counted by normal means – it doesn’t have singular forms at all, including the form needed after numbers 2, 3, 4 – but it has G-pl:

Imaš tri para hlača. You have three pairs of pants. ®

Be careful: with nouns that don’t normally come in pairs, the word par is rather a quantity adverb which doesn’t change, and, when subject, causes verbs to be in 3rd person neuter singular:

Imam par majica. I have a couple of T-shirts. (adverb)

U ormaru je bilo par majica. A couple of T-shirts were in the wardrobe. (adverb)

U ormaru je bio par cipela. A pair of shoes was in the wardrobe. (noun)

Croatia uses the Metric system. Main measures are:

dekagram 1/100 kilogram
tona metric ton
kila (colloq.) kilogram
deka (colloq.) 1/100 kilogram
litra liter

All these words are nouns. The 1/100 kg unit, decagram, is frequently used to measure food ®. For example, if you would like a specific amount of cheese, you would ask at the counter:

Molim Vas deset deka sira. (colloq.) Ten decagrams of cheese, please. ®

There are more units and it’s interesting the masculine ones always have plural in just -i, regardless of the number of syllables:


As you can see, the noun sat in the meaning hour fits into this group too.

There are three more words used to express quantities – only of countable nouns – they behave like adjectives too:

koji few (+ sing.)
mnogi many (+ plur.)
neki one, some (+ sing./plur.)
    adjectives used with
countable nouns

Words neki and koji are of course adjectives (koji has special shortened forms as well). They are used with countable nouns only and don’t change the case of the following noun, they don’t use the G-pl. For example:

Imam koju jabuku. (A) I have few apples.

Imam neku jabuku negdje. I have an apple somewhere.

The word neki just expresses indefiniteness, while koji stands for a unknown, but likely small number of things of some kind. Here singular is used with koji, but the meaning is plural.

Now the confusing part: the adjective mnogi is used with nouns in plural. The problem is that its neuter singular form – mnogo – is used as a quantity adverb. So both can be said:

(1) Mnogo ptica leti na jug. A lot of birds fly south. (the verb is in singular!)

(2) Mnoge ptice lete na jug. (more or less the same meaning, the verb is in plural!)

Observe the different verb forms: the subject of the sentence #1 behaves as neuter singular (due to the quantity adverb), while the subject of the sentence #2 is just a noun (in plural) with an adjective, as if we said big birds or gray birds. In the past tense:

(1) Mnogo ptica je letjelo na jug. A lot of birds were flying south.

(2) Mnoge ptice su letjele na jug. (more or less the same meaning)

If there’s any difference in meaning, it’s so subtle that I don’t have any idea. However, sentences like #2 are much more common with nouns like ljudi pl. people, žena woman/wife.

Of course, like other generic adjectives, mnogi can be also used as a pronoun:

Mnogi ne vole mlijeko. Many don’t like milk.

Razgovarao sam s mnogima. I talked to many. {m}

Such use is more common than in English. However, the related adverb mnogo can be used as a pronoun, but only for things and stuff:

Mnogo je ostalo u boci. A lot remained in the bottle. (some stuff)

Nemam mnogo. I don’t have a lot. (things, money...)

To use it generically for people or animals, you have to add some pronoun, most often the 3rd pers. plural pronoun (this doesn’t affect the verb in any way, though):

Mnogo ih leti na jug. A lot of them are flying south.

Mnogo ih je letjelo na jug. A lot of them were flying south.

Wih a pronoun in G there are no implications: it could be anything, including things and people – only the context tells us:

Imam ih mnogo. I have a lot of them. (no implications!)

Also, observe the word order – the pronoun ih² goes to the 2nd position, regardless of the placement of mnogo!

This holds generally: quantity adverbs, such as malo a bit, par a couple of, nekoliko several, puno a lot, mnogo, etc. cannot be used as pronouns for people or animals. They need a noun or a pronoun (in G) beside them (usually 3rd person G ih²).

For example:

Dodajte malo. Add a bit. (some stuff)

Treba mi puno. I need a lot. (things, money...)

Compare with:

Malo ih je ovdje. A few of them are here. (no implications)

Puno ih je ovdje. A lot of them are here. (no implications)


® In Serbia, the word dio (dijel-) m part has an unexpected “Ekavian” form deo (del-) m.

In Serbia, komad is used only in meaning whole piece, i.e. as a unit (e.g. buy two pieces, get one for free), while piece as a part (e.g. piece of pizza or piece of cake) is expressed with the noun parče (parčet-).

Colloquially, inland, the word šnita is also used for slice; on the coast, the word feta is used colloquially.

Instead of kruh, in most of Bosnia, the word hljeb is used for bread; in Serbia, it has “Ekavian” form hleb.

In Serbia and most of Bosnia instead of žlica spoon, kašika is used.

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

Using deka (colloq.) decagram to measure food is uncommon in Serbia – grams are used there, so one would ask for 100 grams of cheese. This is very rare in Croatia.

In Serbia, the word cijel whole has an unexpected “Ekavian” form ceo (cel-).

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5 Easy Croatian: 58 Wholes, Parts, Heaps and Pairs N A  DL  G 24 I How to express half an apple ? Or third ? If you think you can just use ordinal numbers (e.g. treći third ) to e...

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