68 Sneeze Once and Start Blooming


Croatian often uses patterns of verb derivation where meanings are derived by simply adding prefixes. For instance, let’s take the following verb pair:

padati ~ pasti (padne, pao) fall

From it, you can derive e.g. the following verb pairs with specific meanings:

ispadati ~ ispasti (ispadne, ispao) fall out
raspadati ~ raspasti (raspadne, raspao) se² fall apart
upadati ~ upasti (upadne, upao) fall into

All such pairs are of the same kind like the base pair: there’s a process or repetition of an event (involving a kind of ‘falling’). But what about if we add pri- to the base pair:

pripadati ?? pripasti (pripadne, pripao)?

The verb pripadati of course means belong, but what should the perfective verb mean? Belonging is a state, it’s not a repetition of an event or a process. Is that verb used at all?

Yes, the perfective verb is used, but in the meaning begin to belong, start to belong. For imperfective state verbs, there are sometimes associated perfective verbs meaning entering the state. Such verbs are often hard to translate into English. The verb pripasti (...) will be usually translated as given, assigned and so on, or the sentence would be rephrased.

To emphasize that the perfective verb has a very unusual meaning ‘getting into a state’, I’ll use a double tilde (~~):

impf. (state)
         perf. (start-of-state)
pripadati  ~~  pripasti (pripadne, pripao) belong

Such perfective verbs that don’t mean a completion or a discrete event, but entering a state, have a fancy name: inchoative verbs (abbreviated as inch.).

The prefix za- is often used to make such verbs:

mrziti ~~ za- («) hate ®
šutjeti / šutiti ~~ za- («) be silent ®
voljeti (voli, volio, voljela) ~~ za- («) love/like

As you can see, for some state verbs, including emotions, the start matters a lot.

For example:

Ana je zavoljela zeleni čaj. Ana started to love green tea.

Some pairs don’t follow this scheme:

cvjetati ~~ pro- bloom
spavati ~~ zaspati (zaspi) sleep
shvaćati ® ~~ shvatiti understand, realize
sviđati se² ~~ svidjeti (svidi, svidio, svidjela) se² like
vjerovati (vjeruje) ~~ po- believe

The verb zaspati has an alternative, non-standard pres-3 form zaspe that’s quite common in more eastern regions of Croatia (and in Serbia, but it’s not accepted as standard anywhere). The perf. verb usually corresponds to English fall asleep:

Goran je brzo zaspao. Goran quickly fell asleep.

Likewise, the verb zašutjeti / zašutiti («) corresponds to English fall silent. (Historically, the pair meaning sleep was also derived with just za-; however, the verb spati (spi) sleep is now archaic in most of Croatia; it has been replaced by a more regular spavati, but the older verb is still used in some dialects; you will also find in it poetry and some songs.)

Many inchoative verbs can be rephrased using phase verbs, e.g.:

zaplakati (zaplače) start crying = početi (počne) plakati

However, some frequent verbs like zaspati (zaspi) are never rephrased – they are basically the only way to express the meaning fall asleep.

With state verbs which have associated inchoative verbs, it’s common to use inchoative verbs in imperatives, and not impf. verbs; for instance, the imperative of the verb shvaćati understand ® is very rarely used: if you want somebody to understand something, shvatiti is almost always used.

An exception is the pair meaning sleep, where the impf. verb is used in imperative; the likely reason is that falling asleep voluntary is unlikely. (For the record, shvati is more than 200 times more common than shvaćaj.)

Inchoative verbs referring to states can be used with ‘frame’ and ‘round-trip’ time expressions. When used with ‘frame’ expressions (za¨ + time), it means how long it took to enter the state. For example:

Shvatio sam sve za pet minuta. I understood everything in five minutes. {m}

When used with ‘round-trip’ expressions (na¨ + time), it means how long the state entered held. For example:

Zaspala sam na sat vremena. I fell asleep for an hour. {f}

You’ll sometimes see inchoative verbs used with ordinary time expressions (i.e. with no prepositions) in the latter sense, i.e. how long the state lasted:

Zaspala sam sat vremena. I fell asleep for an hour. (sometimes used)

Some process verbs have a meaningful start and completion, and they sometimes have two associated perfective verbs! For such verbs, I will list both perfective verbs:

plivati  ~*  ot-  ~~  za-  swim

Such groups of verbs can be called aspect triplets. Such common triplets are:

igrati ~* od- («) ~~ za- («) play (game)
pjevati ~* ot- ~~ za- sing
svirati ~* od- («) ~~ za- («) play (music)

As you can see, the stress behaves the same in both perf. verbs. It really depends on the base verb.

With such triplets, it’s common to use impf. verbs in imperatives, e.g. sviraj sing; using zasviraj – the imperative of the inchoative verb – sounds a bit archaic to me, but you’ll find it in writing and poetry, including popular songs. (For the record, sviraj beats zasviraj 4:1 on the .hr domain of the Internet.)

While English often uses get + adjective to express entering a state, Croatian has specific verbs:

ogladniti («) inch. get hungry
ozdraviti inch. recover, get healthy
razboljeti (razboli, ...) se² inch. get sick

These verbs don’t have corresponding impf. verbs, or they are very rarely used. For example:

Goran je brzo ozdravio. Goran quickly recovered.

Odmah smo ogladnili. We got hungry immediately. {m/mixed}

For some meanings, you can either make someone something, or get something; the second meaning requires a se² in Croatian, i.e. it’s another example of mediopassive se², when the subject changes ‘on its own’:

perf. verb + A + se²
rasplakati (rasplače) drive to tears burst into tears
rastužiti («) make sad get sad
razljutiti («) make angry get angry
razveseliti («) cheer up (someone) cheer up
uvrijediti («) offend take offence

Such verbs usually start with ras- or raz-, as you can see. Such verbs sometimes don’t have impf. pairs at all. For example:

Goran se rasplakao. Goran bursted into tears.

For some meanings in Croatian, there’s a full verb pair that indicates getting into a state; the impf. verb sees entering a state as a process (e.g. it can take a while to become sick, it can take a while to get old, etc.), and the perf. verb is then of course the completion:

pokretati (pokreće) ~* pokrenuti (pokrene) get moving
starjeti/stariti ~* o- grow/get old

Therefore, there are verb triplets with two verbs for entering the state: one impf. and another perf. A parallel in English would be:

I was getting hungry. = entering process (impf.)

I got hungry. = entering completion (perf.)

I am hungry. = state (impf.)

There are three such triplets for body position verbs, one of them I’ve introduced in 52 Stand, Become, Exist, Cease; we can also list verbs be and become as a kind of triplet:

enter-impf. enter-perf. state (impf.)
lie lijegati
(legne, legao, legla)
sit sjedati sjesti
(sjedne, sjeo)
stand stajati
be postajati
(je² +)

It’s interesting how all verbs in the last row can have same arguments, i.e. nouns or adjectives in N:

Goran postaje gladan. Goran is getting hungry.

Goran je postao gladan. Goran got hungry.

Goran je gladan. Goran is hungry.

If we look further, we can find more inchoative triplets, for example:

enter-impf. enter-perf. state (impf.)
learn, study
naučiti («)
doznavati (doznaje)
find out,
get to know
find out,
get to know
upoznavati (upoznaje)
get acquainted with
get acq. with
poznavati (poznaje)
know (person, city),
be acquainted with

The pair doznavati (doznaje) ~ doznati is for simple facts, with little effort, while učiti ~* na- («) is for complex topics (driving a car, Croatian, calculus, etc.). The last triplet is mostly for ‘knowing’ people and cities.

There is one more type of perfective verbs, where action consists of bits – one example is sneezing: it’s a sequence of individual sneezes. Croatian has verbs for both continuous sneezing and for a single sneeze:

kihati (kiše) sneeze (series) ®
kihnuti (kihne) sneeze (once)

Again, kihnuti (kihne) belongs to perfective verbs – you cannot use it in the present tense, you cannot tell how long it took, and so on. However, there’s no completion – only one ‘atomic’ event. To indicate such perf. verbs, I’ll use a tilde with a small, superscript number one (~¹). Such pairs frequently exist for various body functions:

prdjeti / prditiprdnuti (prdne) fart
štucatištucnuti (štucne) hiccup
treptati (trepće) ~¹ trepnuti (trepne) blink
zijevatizijevnuti (zijevne) yawn

As you can see, such verbs usuallly end in -nuti, with the regular -ne in pres-3. Perf. verbs with this ‘once’ meaning have a fancy name: semelfactive (abbreviated as smlf.); the corresponding impf. verbs are sometimes called iterative. More such pairs:

kapatikapnuti (kapne) drip
kucatikucnuti (kucne) knock

The last pair actually has yet another verb – simple perfective pokucati, where a number of knocks is not specified, but it’s understood as ‘enough’. (As you probably have guessed, Croatian has a lot of verbs.)

This doesn’t apply to all verbs where it could make sense: for instance, there’s no verb for “cough once”.

Wait a second! This also holds for pairs like bacati ~ baciti throw. Isn’t bacao simply bacio, bacio, bacio... that is, a repetition? Is there any difference?

Yes, there’s a subtle difference. The verb bacati also means be about to throw. You can say bacam loptu I’m throwing a ball even before you actually throw it, because you’re preparing for it, you’ll do it in the next moment. You can say it even if you’re going to throw the ball only once. There’s a shade of process-completion in this pair, and in most other event pairs. Vraćam se sutra I’m coming back tomorrow means very likely you’ll come back only once, and you’re preparing for it. It doesn’t imply repetition, but completion. Impf. event verbs can be understood in two ways.

But there’s no such shade in kihati (kiše) sneeze. If you’re about to sneeze, you will very likely use the future tense with the semelfactive verb. I’m sneezing tomorrow sounds a bit weird; also, you’ll likely sneeze more than once. These pairs are purely repetition and single events.

We can put everything into another nice table, which basically sums up everything I wrote about aspect pairs in Croatian so far:

statestart    +
processcompletion    +    +
repetitionevent    +    +

Another, more practical difference, is that these events repeat often in real life, so impf. verbs are common in the past tense as well. (For the record, kihala vs kihnula is about 1:2).

There are verb pairs where the perf. verbs have meaning similar to ‘atomic’ – they mean for a short while, a bit. I will classify them as kind-of semelfactive, with the same mark (~¹), but you should be aware of the small difference. Three most common pairs like that are:

mislitipo- think
nadati se² ~¹ po- («) hope
osjećatiosjetiti feel

The perf. verbs above mean think for a short time and hope for a short time, or have a thought. They are often used in negative, to emphasize that somebody didn’t think even for a moment.

Don’t forget that there’s a substantial difference in meaning between verbs like zavoljeti (...) and pomisliti. The former verbs indicate entering a state which can last any amount of time – we don’t say how long, and if we want to express when the state ended, we have to use another verb. The latter ones are ‘atomic’, or small ‘pulses’, indicating that action or state lasted for a small amount of time:

(atomic / brief)

zaspati (zaspi)
  fall asleep
zavoljeti (zavoli,...)
  start to love

kihnuti (kihne)
  sneeze (once)
  think for a moment

However, there are perf. verbs where the two meanings are mixed. Two common ones are:

zaželjeti (zaželi,...)
poželjeti (poželi,...)
    ‘perf.’ wish

From what I’ve explained above, you would expect that poželjeti (...) means wish for a moment, and that zaželjeti (...) start to wish, but it’s not so – both have meaning somewhere in between, and are used interchangeably.

There are also secondary, ‘iterative’ impf. verbs derived from some semelfactive verbs. For example:

pomisliti smlf. think for a momentpomišljati («)

The relation of these two verbs is like kihnuti (...) vs. kihati (...) – the impf. verb stands for a series of individual short thoughts, with unspecified time between the thoughts (it could be hours, or days, or weeks, or more):

misliti impf. think
pomisliti smlf. think for a moment, once
pomišljati («) impf. think once a while

All three verbs are sometimes translated as think, which unfortunately hides various shades of meaning. We can write these verbs in a compact way:

mislitipo- ~˙˙˙ pomišljati («) think

(The series of dots should imply a series).


® In Serbia, the verb mrziti hate has the unexpected “Ekavian” form mrzeti (mrzi).

In Serbia and parts of Bosnia, the verb meaning be silent has the form ćutati (ćuti); the inchoative verb is created in the default way, prefixing za-.

In Serbia and most of Bosnia, the verb shvaćati understand has a bit different form shvatati; there’s no difference for the inchoative verb.

Although the verb kihati (kiše) sneeze is sometimes used in Serbia, a slightly different verb kijati is much more common for series of sneezes; for an individual sneeze, the verb kinuti (kine) prevails in Serbia.

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5 Easy Croatian: 68 Sneeze Once and Start Blooming N A  DL  G 24 I Croatian often uses patterns of verb derivation where meanings are derived by simply adding prefixes. For insta...

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