66 Smoking is Dangerous: Verbal Nouns


English uses -ing forms for more than one purpose. Compare the sentences:

(1) I am swimming.

(2) I like swimming.

(3) Swimming is healthy.

In sentences #2 and #3, swimming can be replaced with to swim or even apples (I like apples, apples are healthy.). The word swimming behaves similar to a noun in these two sentences. Croatian has a special noun (derived from verbs) that’s used in sentences like #2 and #3: verbal noun or gerund.

It’s basically derived from the pass. adjective. Most of them end in -n; we change it to -nje and that’s the noun we need:

Volim plivanje. I like swimming.

Plivanje je zdravo. Swimming is healthy.

But there’s really no passive adjective ‘plivan’, right? Right. The passive adjective is just a formal step. You can skip it if you think it’s meaningless, but it’s worth remembering that differences between pass. adjectives and gerunds are small, especially when you recall all consonant alternations in passive adjectives. Formally it goes like this:

verb pass. adj. gerund
pušiti smoke pušen pušenje
čistiti clean čišćen čišćenje

We can summarize rules for pass. adjectives and gerunds in one nice table:

inf pres-3 pass. adj. gerund
-ati doesn’t
-an -anje
-nuti -nut -nuće
-eti -et -eće
other -e -en -enje
-i *-en *-enje

The verbs ending in -jeti (e.g. vidjeti) fall into the ‘other’ row.

The asterisk (*) in the table above signalizes a shift of the preceding consonant(s), e.g. tć, cč, etc. Of course, not all words that can be derived according to this scheme are really used.

Gerunds enables us to say:

Pušenje je opasno. Smoking is dangerous.

Trčanje je zdravo. Running is healthy.

When a verb uses an object in accusative, the matching gerund, if it has a noun serving as an object, will use the genitive case instead:

Peremprati kosu. (A) I’m washing my hair.

Pranje kose je dosadno. (G) Washing hair is boring.

The opposite holds for verbs that cannot have objects at all – the noun in genitive after the gerund stands for a subject:

Lišće pada. (N) Leaves are falling.

Volim padanje lišća. (G) ‘I like falling of leaves.’

Some gerunds make possible to express both the subject and the object, in the same way as in English:

Napoleonovo osvajanje Egipta Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt

Objects in other cases are sometimes changed to na¨ + A:

Sjećam se nje3f G. (G) I remember her.

sjećanje na nju3f A (na¨ + A) memory of her

Some gerunds have specific meanings and are no longer felt connected to verbs. Common ones, derived from impf. verbs, are:

mišljenje opinion
pitanje question
putovanje travel, trip
značenje meaning
znanje knowledge

There are also verbal nouns with specific meanings derived from perf. verbs:

iznenađenje surprise
objašnjenje explanation
obećanje promise
olakšanje relief
opravdanje excuse
osvježenje refreshment
upozorenje warning
stanje state
uzbuđenje excitement

There are more, this is not an exhaustive list by any means. Some words have a bit different stress when they have a specific meaning. The same thing happened to some English forms, e.g. painting is derived from paint, but it has a specific meaning as well.

Some perfective verbs which have irregular passive adjectives, have nouns not related to passive adjectives, but basically regular:

otkriti (otkrije) perf. uncover, discover otkriven uncovered, discovered
otkriće discovery

For some reasons I never really understood, some verbs don’t use this pattern at all. For instance, you would expect that from the verb patiti suffer there’s a gerund ‘paćenje’, but there isn’t. There are a couple of other patterns to get gerund-like nouns. One is to add -nja to the verb, after discarding -ti and the vowel before it (some consonants are shifted as well):

ljutiti make/get angryljutnja
mrziti hatemržnja ®
patiti sufferpatnja
paziti be carefulpažnja
prijetiti threatenprijetnja
šetati strollšetnja
voziti drivevožnja

Two more verbs have such gerund-like nouns:

štedjeti/štediti (štedi) save (money) → štednja
šutjeti/šutiti (šuti) be silentšutnja ®

One common verb uses both the regular way and adding -nja:

graditi build građenje

Another way is to change verbs ending in -avati (pres-3 -aje) to -aja:

prodavati (prodaje) sellprodaja
udavati (udaje) se² marry (woman to man) → udaja

Impf. verbs derived from ići (...) go and similar motion verbs have usually gerund-like nouns in -ak which turns into just an -k- before any case ending:

dolaziti comedolazak (dolask-) arrival
odlaziti leaveodlazak (dolask-) departure

There are more common verbs that follow this pattern, some of them perfective:

početi (počne) perf. beginpočetak (početk-) beginning
rastati (rastane) se² perf. separaterastanak (rastank-) parting, farewell
sastati (sastane) se² perf. meetsastanak (sastank-) meeting

Therefore, sastanak (sastank-) meeting is just a gerund-like noun derived from a verb.

Some verbs (with inf in -iti) derive verbal nouns by adding -ba or -dba; common ones are:

boriti se² fightborba fight
izložiti («) perf. exhibitizložba exhibition
ploviti sail, navigateplovidba navigation
usporediti («) perf. compareusporedba comparison ®

There is the verbal noun plovljenje, but it’s very rarely used. The verb vježbati exercise has both vježbanje and vježba; the latter noun corresponds to the English noun exercise.

This verbal noun has an unexpected form:

vratiti perf. returnpovratak (povratk-) return (noun)

The transport verbs (ones derived from nositi carry, voditi lead and voziti drive) often have root verbal nouns, that is, with forms having just -nos, -vod and -voz, without any additional ending:

odnositi («) se² relateodnos relation
ponositi («) se² be proudponos pride
izvoziti («) exportizvoz export (noun)

If the underlying verbs have the prefix pre-, it’s changed to prije- in the verbal nouns:

prevoditi («) translateprijevod translation
prevoziti («) transportprijevoz transport (noun)

However, the noun prijevod really means the result, and not the process – there’s the regular verbal noun prevođenje for the process – therefore, it’s really another type of the verbal noun, associated with the perfective aspect, the outcome.

There are more verb pairs which have two associated verbal nouns – the ‘perfective’ one is usually a root noun:

impf.   perf.
verbs padati pasti (padne, pao) fall
nouns padanje falling pad fall (noun)

Similar ‘perf.’ root verbal nouns are:

doprinos contribution
ispit exam
napad attack
potpis signature
razvod divorce
uvod introduction

Objects of napasti (...) attack are changed with na¨ + A when you use the ‘perfective’ verbal noun (this is the same as in English):

Napoleon je napaonapasti
(A) Napoleon attacked Russia.

napad na Rusiju (na¨ + A) attack on Russia

There are some impf. verbs that have root verbal nouns; common ones are:

boljeti (boli,...) ache, cause painbol f pain
izgledati («) appear, look, seemizgled look, appearance
raditi work / dorad work

Some verbs have verbal nouns in -a, or completely irregular verbal nouns; for example:

verb noun
bojati (boji) se² be afraid of strah fear
brinuti (brine) (se²) care, worry briga worry, care
trebati need / should potreba need
namjeravati («) intend namjera intention
željeti (želi,...) want, desire želja wish

Finally, some verbs have no verbal noun at all:

čuti (čuje) hear ići (ide, išao, išla) go

These verbal nouns behave usually as normal gerunds:

Šećem se šumom. I’m walking through the forest.


šetnja šumom walk through the forest

There are no underlying rules which method should be used for a verb, so it’s better to just remember verbal nouns as words on their own, more or less connected to the base verb.

Sometimes there’s a need to express the subject of the action expressed by a noun which matches the verb which uses objects. When the verb permits no objects, it’s easy (see above). But what about most verbs? Then – mostly in writing, legal documents, etc. – the way is to add od¨ + G (lit. ‘from’) or, controversially, od strane + G (lit. ‘from the side of’):

Ovo je prijevod od strane sudskog tumača. This is a translation by a court interpreter.

This construction is controversial, especially with strane, but you will find it in writing.

It seems that relational adjectives can usually be derived from root verbal nouns by adding -ni:

ispit examispitni
rad workradni
izvoz export (noun) → izvozni
uvod introductionuvodni

However, relational adjectives cannot be derived from most verbal nouns, especially not from regular ones (e.g. čišćenje). Nouns that are used-for-something are described with za¨ + verbal noun:

naočale za čitanje reading glasses
daska za peglanje ironing board (lit. ‘plank’)
papir za pečenje baking paper

The first expression literally means glasses for reading, the second one plank for ironing, and the third one paper for baking.

When you use verbal nouns as a location, that is, you’re ‘in’ or ‘on’ something, some verbal nouns use u¨, especially if it’s a solitary, or short activity:

Ana i Goran su u šetnji. Ana and Goran went for a walk. (lit. ‘are in a walk’)

However, most verbal nouns, especially when they involve more people, are organized, scheduled, done in shops or offices, and so on, use the preposition na¨:

Goran je na šišanju. lit. ‘Goran is on a haircut.’ (at the hairdresser’s)

Verbal nouns or derived relational adjectives are not used for expressions like English flying saucers (saucers that fly): for that, so-called present adjectives are used. They will be introduced in 80 Flying Bugs: Present Adverbs and Adjectives.


® In Serbia, the verb mrziti hate has the unexpected “Ekavian” form mrzeti (mrzi), but the gerund-like noun is the same: mržnja.

Instead of the verb šutjeti/šutiti be silent, the verb ćutati (ćuti) is used Serbia and often in Bosnia as well.

The verb usporediti («) perf. compare has slightly different forms in Serbia and most of Bosnia, without -s-: uporediti («) and porediti («). From the latter verb, the verbal noun poređenje is derived.

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5 Easy Croatian: 66 Smoking is Dangerous: Verbal Nouns N A  DL  G 24 I English uses - ing forms for more than one purpose. Compare the sentences: (1) I am swimming. (2) I like ...

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