59 Whose, What Thing and What Like


There are two questions that look quite different in English:

Whose is this book?

What is this book like?

However, they are quite similar in Croatian, since both use question-words that are really adjectives:

čiji whose
kakav (kakv-) what... like / what kind

The questions above look like this in Croatian:

Čija je ova knjiga? Whose is this book?

Kakva je ova knjiga? What is this book like?

As with other special adjectives, kakav is normally used in that form before masc. N, i.e. the optional -i is rare.

Bear in mind that both words change in case, gender and number as any other adjectives: you can ask questions whose or what...like not only for subjects, but for any noun in a sentence:

Čiju knjigu čitaš? Whose book do you read?

You would answer with a possessive adjective, in the right case, matching the case of the question-word (obviously, the accusative case here), number (singular) and gender (feminine):

Aninu. Ana’s.

Tvoju. Yours.

You can ask questions of type whose X is that. The word to is always in singular then (recall to su moje knjige) and it’s not the subject:

Čija knjiga je to? Whose book is that?

Čija je to knjiga? (an alternative word order)

Moja. Mine.

With kakav (kakv-), it’s possible to ask two kinds of questions – about kind and impression.

To ask about impressions, use the verb biti (je² +) be. An answer is basically an adjective standing for a subjective experience:

Kakva je ta knjiga? What is that book like?

— Malo dosadna. A bit boring.

It’s also possible to ask about kind – then the noun we’re asking is usually placed immediately after the question-word:

Kakvu knjigu čitaš? What kind of book are you reading?

Ljubavnu. A romance book. (lit. ‘Love.’)

Pay attention how both kakvu and ljubavnu are forms that again exactly match the gender and case of the noun you are asking about – here, feminine singular, the accusative case – as obvious from their endings!

(For adjectives like ljubavni love, recall 33 School Yard and Bunk Bed: Relations.)

Of course, it’s also possible to ask:

Kakva knjiga je to? What kind of book is that?

Kakva je to knjiga? (an alternative word order)

Ljubavna. lit. ‘Love.’

Colloquially, it’s possible to ask about personal opinions by adding the person in DL (recall 23 I’m Cold: Basic Impressions):

Kakva ti je knjiga? (colloq.) lit. ‘What is the book like to you?’

Dosadna. Boring.

This question would be best translated how you like the book. As you can see, superficially similar words (ta, to, ti²) produce completely different meanings.

Finally, it’s possible to ask what book. Pay attention, not simply what (answers could be a book, a magazine, newspapers etc.), but what book.

For questions of type what book, what car, Croatian uses a specific question-adjective:

koji (a bit specific forms) what... / which

Its forms basically follow the same pattern as moj my – there are longer and shorter forms. You can in principle use both forms, but longer, regular ones – kojeg, kojem – are much more common, and standard in Croatia:®

gender  N  A  DL  G  I
fem. koja koju kojoj koje kojom
neut. koje = N kojem(u)
kom(e) ®
kog(a) ®
(not p/a)
koji = N
= G

(Forms for the fem. gender are, as usual, plain adjective forms, they are listed here just for completeness sake. Only singular forms are listed, as plural is completely regular.)

Some forms also have optional vowels at their end. There’s absolutely no difference between kojeg and kojega, and both forms are used (unlike common adjectives, where such vowels are used only occasionally in writing). For instance:

Koju knjigu čitaš? What book are you reading?

(you would answer with the title of the book)

Croatian makes no difference between such questions and which-questions (asking what item from a given selection). In fact, the word koji is often translated as which and I personally have problems when to use what and when which in English, since my native language has no such distinction!

Croatian has no pronoun matching the English one. You can answer such questions using the determining adjective only (in the right case, gender and number, of course):

Koju jabuku želiš? Which apple do you want?

Zelenu. The green one.

Koje vino želiš? Which wine do you want?

Crno. Red. (lit. ‘black’)

Don’t forget that prepositions also go before the question word, but with these questions, prepositions can be left out in answers:

Na kojem trgu je koncert? ‘Which city square is the concert on?’

Na glavnom. On the main one.

Glavnom. The main one.

Likewise, if the context is known, you can ask just:

Koju želiš? Which one do you want?

The word to that can be added to most čiji, kakav (kakv-) and koji questions, emphasizing they’re about something present, visible, close to speaker:

Čiju to knjigu čitaš? Whose book are you reading? (I saw you reading it)

Kakvu to knjigu čitaš? What kind of book are you reading? (I saw you reading it)

Such questions are often used as content clauses, usually with the verb znati know in the main clause:

Ne znam [čiji je to pas]. I don’t know [whose dog is it].

Znaš li [kakav auto je kupila]? Do you know [what kind of car she bought]?

Ne znam [koja knjiga je tvoja]. I don’t know [which book is yours].

Znam [koju jabuku želiš]. I know [which apple you want].

From the adjectives čiji and kakav (kakv-) there are the following generic adjectives (sometimes called ‘pronouns’):

svačiji everybody’s
nečiji someone’s
ničiji nobody’s
svakakav (svakakv-) of every kind, diverse
nekakav (nekakv-) of some kind
nikakav (nikakv-) of no kind, of poor quality

The adjectives derived from kakav (kakv-) cannot be easily translated into English.

For example:

Nečiji pas je pred ulazom. Someone’s dog is in front of the entrance.

Nekakav pas je pred ulazom. A dog of some sort is in front of the entrance.

Adjectives above starting with ni- require the verb to be negated as well, as usual:

Ne vidim nikakvog psa. I don’t see any dog. (lit. ‘I don’t see no kind of dog.’)

Here nikakav (nikakv-) has meaning close to English no, but keep in mind it requires negation of the verb.


® Shorter forms of the adjective kojikog(a) and kom(e) – prevail in Bosnia and Serbia, and are also standard there (beside the longer forms).

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5 Easy Croatian: 59 Whose, What Thing and What Like N A  DL  G 24 I There are two questions that look quite different in English: Whose is this book? What is this book like? ...

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