62 Cake is Eaten: Passive Adjectives


English is well-known for reusing various verb forms. For instance, the same word (eaten) has two quite different meanings in the following sentences:

Ana has eaten. (what she did)

The cake is eaten. (state of the cake)

Croatian has a different approach – each meaning has a different word. Words corresponding to the second meaning – adjectives for what happened to something or someone are called passive adjectives.

Passive adjectives are verb forms, but not all verbs have a meaningful pass. adjective. Verbs that cannot have an object (e.g. sleep – you cannot sleep something) won’t have an adjective that’s really used.

There are some verbs (and verb pairs) that can have an object, but their pass. adjective is never used. Some of them are:

čuti (čuje) hear
htjeti (hoće +,...) want
imati have
osjećati ~ osjetiti feel
razumjeti (razumije,...) understand
trebati need/should

It’s difficult to explain why the pass. adj. of razumjeti (...) isn’t used, while the pass. adj. of shvatiti perf., a verb with a very similar meaning, is used. Likewise, željeti (želi, želio, željela) wish, desire has a used pass. adj., but htjeti (...) doesn’t!

Furthermore, there’s no pass. adj. from verbs that don’t use objects in A, such as pripadati belong and pomagati (pomaže) help; English has some passive adjectives (like helped) which can’t be made in Croatian.

Passive adjectives can be made for both impf. and perf. verbs. However, ones made from perf. verbs are used more often. In fact, passive adjectives of most impf. event verbs are not used at all, or are extremely rare. The following impf. verbs have pass. adjectives that are frequently used in speech:

čistiti clean
čitati read
čuvati keep
gledati watch
graditi build
koristiti use
kuhati cook
očekivati (ekuje) expect
peći (peče,...) bake, roast, grill
pratiti follow
pržiti fry
nositi carry/wear
voljeti (voli,…) love
željeti (želi,…) wish, desire

As you can see, all verbs in the list above are process or state verbs; do you remember I wrote that for processes, the action matters even if not completed? Actually, some of these passive adjectives are much more common than ones derived from the matching completion verbs (statistics by Google™, on the .hr domain, in thousands):


You’ve probably guessed that most passive adjectives in Croatian end in -n; a small number ends in -t.

For regular verbs that have infinitive ending in -ati, it’s really simple to make a pass. adjective, just replace -ati with -an:

verb pass. adj.
gledati watch gledan watched
napisati (napiše) perf. write napisan written
poslati (pošalje) perf. send poslan sent

Good news: even verbs with a bit irregular pres-3 follow this simple pattern if their inf ends in -ati.

Since these words are adjectives, they adapt to nouns as any other adjectives do. For example:

Pismo je napisano i poslano. The letter is written and sent.

For verbs that don’t have infinitives in -ati, the rules are more complicated.

For most verbs that have pres-3 ending in -e, their pass. adjective is simply made by adding -n to the pres-3 (I have omitted all past forms for clarity):

verb pass. adj.
naći (nađe) perf. find nađen found
peći (peče) bake pečen baked
pojesti (pojede) perf. eat pojeden eaten
plesti (plete) knit pleten knitted

Finally we can say:

Kolač je pojeden. The cake is eaten.

Since this adjective is derived from a perfective verb, it’s implied that the cake is no more.

For verbs that have pres-3 ending in -i – and there are many such verbs – the -i is removed and -en is added. Unless they are Croatian-specific or an r, consonants before -en get changed, e.g. t is changed to ć (I have again omitted all past forms for clarity):

verb pass. adj.
naučiti («) perf. learn naučen learned
pržiti fry pržen fried
otvoriti («) perf. open otvoren open
zatvoriti («) perf. close zatvoren closed
platiti perf. pay plaćen paid
shvatiti perf. understand shvaćen understood
vratiti perf. return vraćen returned

For example:

Škola je zatvorena. The school is closed.

Stojimstajati pred otvorenim vratima. I’m standing in front of the open door.

Knjiga je vraćena. The book is returned.

Račun nije bio plaćen. The bill was not paid.

Other consonants and consonant groups undergo more complicated changes. Bear in mind, the infinitive is not important here, but the pres-3:

verb pass. adj.
baciti perf. throw bačen thrown
spasiti perf. rescue ® spašen rescued
zaraziti perf. infect zaražen infected
vidjeti (vidi) see viđen seen
voljeti (voli) love voljen loved ®
napuniti perf. fill up napunjen filled up ®
kupiti perf. buy kupljen bought ®
napraviti perf. make napravljen made ®
primiti perf. receive primljen received ®

For example:

Auto je napravljen u Poljskoj, a kupljen ovdje. The car is made in Poland and bought here.

Poruka je već primljena. The message is already received.

Moj auto je popravljen. My car has been repaired.

The last sentence can be used to translate I got my car repaired from the previous chapter (the verb is popraviti perf. repair; it will be introduced in 79 You’re Wrong and Other Phrases).

Other verbs that have pres-3 ending in -i follow the patterns of the verbs above; if there are two consonants before the -i, they both undergo the change; however, if the final consonants are st, some verbs get only št, while others get šć:

verb pass. adj.
izmisliti perf. make up izmišljen made up
čistiti clean čišćen cleaned
koristiti use korišten used ®
pustiti perf. let go pušten released, freed

A few verbs with pres-3 ending in -i don’t have the expected shift; the most common is:

zaposliti («) perf. employzaposlen employed

A few verbs have pass. adjectives that don't follow the above rules, e.g.:

dobiti (dobije) perf. getdobiven obtained
pokriti (pokrije) perf. coverpokriven covered
skriti (skrije) perf. hideskriven hidden

Since pass. adjectives are often used, and the rules described above are far from trivial, the best practice is to remember them as separate words, not regular verb forms.

It’s interesting that most pass. adjectives of perf. verbs have the standard stress on the first syllable (even if neither present nor infinitive has the stress on the first syllable), and the ‘western’ stress on the same syllable where the inf is stressed:

inf pres-3 pass. adj.
pročitati pročita perf. read pročitan read

However, verbs in -sti and -ći that have a rightward stress shift in the present tense have pass. adjectives stressed like the present tense forms:

ispeći (ispeče,...) perf. bakeispečen

This also applies to some verbs in -sti that have a shift only in the ‘western’ scheme:

pojesti (pojede) perf. eatpojeden

Finally, there are verbs with infinitives in -nuti; they are again simple to transform into pass. adjectives – for almost all of them, just discard the final -i and you have a pass. adjective. Unlike others, it ends in -t and not in -n:

verb pass. adj.
gurnuti (gurne) perf. push gurnut pushed
pokrenuti (pokrene) perf. start, move pokrenut started

The same holds for verbs similar to uzeti (uzme) take:

verb pass. adj.
zauzeti (zauzme) perf. occupy zauzet occupied

Infinitives of these verbs are similar to passive adjectives – actually, N-pl masc. forms of pass. adjectives are identical to infinitives. However, stress distinguishes some verbs from passive adjectives (in the standard stress scheme):

pokrenuti verb (inf.)
pokrenuti pass. adj. (N-pl masc.)
zauzeti verb (inf.)
zauzeti pass. adj. (N-pl masc.)

Some passive adjectives can form negative versions by simply prefixing ne-, but some can’t:

pročitan adj. readnepročitan adj. unread
prodan adj. soldneprodan adj. unsold
shvaćen adj. understoodneshvaćen adj. misunderstood

It’s worth knowing Croatian has one more way to express passive, with less restrictions; it will be introduced in the following chapters.


® In Serbia, beside the verb spasiti perf. save, rescue, a similar verb is common: spasti (spase, spasao, spasla), with the same meaning. Its passive adjective is spasen, as expected. There are frequent discussions in Serbia which one of these two verbs is ‘right’ (or ‘better’). A number of Serbian ‘linguists’ have been opposed to spasiti for decades, but it appears to be more common in Serbia than spasti (...)! However, you will occasionally encounter spasti (...) in Croatia as well.

“Ekavian” forms, which completely dominate in Serbia, have e instead of je or ije in almost all places, but this replacement doesn’t apply to suffixes forming passive adjectives! While the “Ekavian” form of voljeti love is voleti, the “Ekavian” pass. adjective is voljen. The same applies to all other pass. adjectives formed with -jen.

In Serbia, few pass. adjectives have the regular šć where they don’t in Croatia: one of them is korišćen. However, forms with šć are also used colloquially in parts of Croatia, including pass. adjectives that have št in Standard Serbian, so you’ll occasionally hear pušćen and others.

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5 Easy Croatian: 62 Cake is Eaten: Passive Adjectives N A  DL  G 24 I English is well-known for reusing various verb forms. For instance, the same word ( eaten ) has two quite diffe...

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