79 You’re Wrong and Other Phrases


I will explain various phrases with non-obvious meanings.

The first group is about being right or wrong. There are two ways to express it:

right wrong
biti (je² +) be + u pravu u krivu ®
imati have + pravo krivo ®

These two sentences have the same meaning:

U pravu si. You’re right.

Imaš pravo. (the same meaning, less common)

Expressing right or wrong with biti (je² +) be is more common.

The word krivo is also used as an adverb, to indicate that some action is not done in the ‘proper’ way. For example:

Krivo si me shvatila. You misunderstood me. {to f}

However, to express that something is done right, this word is usually used:

ispravno correctly

For example:

Ispravno si me shvatila. You understood me correctly. {to f}

The word pravo can be also a noun, meaning right. It can be used with the verb imati have and either na¨ + A or another verb in inf, meaning be entitled to, have right to:

Imaš pravo na svoje mišljenje. You’re entitled to your opinion.

There are adjectives with opposite meanings:

pravi true, right kriv false, wrong, guilty
lažan (lažn-) false, fake
pogrešan (pogrešn-) wrong

The adjective with the positive meaning covers both something that really is so, and the right choice:

On je pravi prijatelj. He’s a true friend.

Ovo je pravo mjesto. This is the right spot. (lit. ‘true/right place’)

With such expressions, if we want to say that something is right for someone – even the speaker, so it’s a feeling – za¨ + A is normally used:

Ovo su prave cipele za mene. These are right shoes for me.

You will hear and read DL with some nouns, but the meaning is a bit different, usually possessive:

On mi je pravi prijatelj. He’s a true friend of mine.

With three adjectives with negative meanings, kriv covers both meanings wrong choice and guilty, while lažan (lažn-) is something that looks right, but it isn’t. Finally, pogrešan (pogrešn-) is again only wrong choice.

With the adjective kriv, there is a common phrase expressing fault and blame. It’s best explained by examples:

On je kriv za to. That’s his fault.

Za sve sam ja kriva. It’s all my fault. {f}

It literally means ‘he is guilty for that’. This phrase is often used in negative, clearing someone of responsibility, often additionally expressing someone’s claim is wrong, that it’s actually the responsibility of the one who claims! This is expressed simply by adding the ‘accuser’ in DL:

Mi ti nismo krivi. It’s not our fault (it’s yours). {m/mixed}

Nitko ti nije kriv. It’s all your fault. (lit. ‘nobody is guilty to you.’)

The last example is a very often used phrase, which also corresponds to English you’ve got only yourself to blame.

Then, there’s a verb family derived from the same root as the adjective pravi true, right, and it has very common meanings. It follows an asymmetric pattern:

praviti ~* na- make
po-pravljati ~* po-praviti (a derived pair)

Common derived pairs in this family are:

-pravljati ~ -praviti
prefix used with meaning
is- A correct
po- A repair, fix, mend
se² improve
pre- A reconstruct, remodel
ras- (o¨ DL) discuss

The first pair, derived by is-, is straightforward – you just correct an object in A (which can also be se² or sebe):

Ana je ispravila greške. Ana corrected errors.

The pair derived by po- is also straightforward – something is broken or wrong, and you fix it:

Ivan je popravio bicikl. Ivan fixed the bicycle.

You can also fix yourself, i.e. improve. The meaning is actually mediopassive – from improving on its own to getting improved:

Vrijeme se popravlja. The weather is improving.

The pair derived by pre- is a bit less common. It’s used when you change or reconfigure something, but it’s not necessary a correction or improvement.

The pair derived by ras- has a completely unexpected meaning: discuss. It’s used in the same way as razgovarati («) converse:

Raspravljali smo o planovima za ljeto. We have discussed plans for the summer. {m/mixed}

Raspravljao sam s Anom. I discussed with Ana. {m}

Note that this pair does not use a simple object in A, unlike English!

The perfective verbs have mostly derived verbal nouns of the -ak type:

ispravak (ispravk-) correction
popravak (popravk-) repair
rasprava discussion

Then, there’s the verb ticati (tiče) touch which is mostly used in this phrase:

ticati (tiče) se² + G (f: A) concern, involve

For example, this is a very frequent sentence:

Ne tičeticati me se. It doesn’t concern me. = It’s none of my business.

Now, something unexpected. With feminine nouns, instead of G, A is more frequent in this phrase:®

Anu se to ne tičeticati. It doesn’t concern Ana. = It’s none of Ana’s business. ®

This phrase is mostly used with pronouns, and for most pronouns, A = G, so most people never notice this weird use of cases. What is not of someone’s concern is the subject:

Ta pitanja se te ne tičuticati. These questions don’t concern you. = These questions are none of your business.

Let me explain you more phrases. However, to explain them, I need to explain a few grammar details first.

There are two impersonal constructions we haven’t covered yet: both don’t allow a subject, but normally have objects. The first one looks like the mediopassive, but uses A instead of N, so there’s no subject:

Kava se vrlo brzo skuha. Coffee is (can be) prepared very quickly. (mediopassive) ®

Kavu se vrlo brzo skuha°. One prepares coffee very quickly. (impersonal) ®

What’s the difference? Only cases used, and not much difference in meaning. They mean basically the same. Of course, they aren’t grammatically the same, the second one has no subject (no words in N), so the verb must be neuter singular in the past:

Kava se vrlo brzo skuhala. Coffee was prepared very quickly. (mediopassive)

Kavu se vrlo brzo skuhalo. One prepared coffee very quickly. (impersonal) ®

While the (se² + A) construction is usually called ‘impersonal’, its meaning is really passive. We can call it se²+A-passive. This construction is actually more precise, since the first construction can be also sometimes understood as a reflexive, as in the following example:

pitam se

I ask myself
or: I am asked. ??

pita° me se ®

One asks me.
= I am asked.
no confusion

As you can see, the first construction would rather be understood as a simple reflexive. So people use the second construction to specify that they are being asked. This phrase is especially frequent (where the stressed form mene is often used instead of me², to further emphasize the point):

Ako se mene pita°... If I’m asked... (i.e. if you want to know what I think)

This expression is also common:

Da se mene pita°, a ne pita° me se,...

This is rather rhetorical: if anyone asked me – but nobody does... I’d say....

This construction is typically used in speech when the object is a person, to avoid confusion with the reflexive meaning. For example, this is quite common in speech in Croatian:

Tebe se čeka°. People/We are waiting for you (lit. ‘It’s waited for you.’) ®

Besides pitati ask and čekati wait, verb pairs commonly using such passive are not really common. Some of them are:

nazivati («) ~ nazvati (nazove) call, name
prozivati («) ~ prozvati (prozove) call the roll, single out
spominjati ~ spomenuti («) mention

The first pair is used with meaning e.g. she named him Jack.

Three more phrases are simple impersonal phrases with non-trivial meanings. The first one is:

radi° se² o + DL it’s about / it’s

Some people consider this phrase a bit colloquial. The phrase is used usually when we want to explain what something previously discussed, but not really known, really is. For example:

To nije bio kit. Radilo se o morskom psu. It wasn’t a whale. It was a shark. ®

(Yes, we use the phrase morski pas – literally sea dog – for the shark.)

As expected, the verb raditi work/do is here in neuter singular in the past. To find out what is it about, this expression is frequently used as a question (recall that the preposition must come before the question word, which is, of course, što (č-) what in DL):

O čemu se radi°? What is it (all) about?

This is yet another ‘generic’ use of this verb. A very similar expression is:

riječ je o + DL it’s about / it’s

The verb here is usually understood as having riječ f word as its subject, so in the past it’s bila je riječ.... However, you will sometimes see it impersonal in this expression as well (there’s a number of expressions in Croatian that have the same property; they always have some fixed noun as the subject – recall strah me je from 69 Memories, Expectations and Fear).

Another impersonal phrase involves a common verb pair:

dolaziti ~ doći (dođe, došao, došla) + do + G come up, arise, occur

For example:

je do nesporazuma.
A misunderstanding has arisen.

This sounds quite formal in English, but this is an everyday expression in Croatian. It also corresponds to come about. Instead of a noun in G, a whole content clause can be inserted, attached to a to (in G):

Dolazi° do toga da... It’s getting to the point where...

je do toga da...
It got to the point where...

Observe how the first sentence uses the impf. verb, corresponding to English continuous (progressive) action, while the second one uses the perf. verb, since it has already got to the ‘point’.


® The expression u krivu is very rare and non-standard in Serbia and Bosnia, but very common in Croatia.

In Serbia and Bosnia, the phrase ticati (tiče) se² is used only with G, including feminine nouns: the use of A for feminine nouns in this phrase is specifically Croatian.

Instead of kava, a slightly different word kafa is common in most parts of Bosnia and Serbia. In Bosnia, the form kahva is used as well, especially in parts where Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) live.

Constructions like pita me se and kavu se kuha are very rare in Serbia. Basically, the only use of such construction in Serbia is rhetorical ako se mene pita, which is often condemned by Serbian prescriptivists (i.e. the language police) as ‘corruption of the language’. The construction tebe se čeka is almost unknown in Bosnia and Serbia.

Instead of morski pas, the word for shark in Bosnia and Serbia is usually ajkula.

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5 Easy Croatian: 79 You’re Wrong and Other Phrases N A  DL  G 24 I V I will explain various phrases with non-obvious meanings. The first group is about being right or wrong . ...

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