82 Visible and Unreadable: Potential Adjectives


There’s a group of adjectives derived from many verbs (but not all!) that stand for potential. They are kind of similar to passive adjectives. English has such adjectives too: examples are visible and readable.

They are usually derived by adding -ljiv to the verb root (that is, the infinitive form without -ati, -iti, -jeti, etc.):

čitati readčit-čitljiv readable
vidjeti seevid-vidljiv visible

They are frequently derived from perf. verbs:

prihvatiti perf. acceptprihvatljiv acceptable
shvatiti inch. understandshvatljiv understandable
zapaliti («) perf. ignitezapaljiv flammable

(Of course, inch. is short for inchoative, i.e. start-of-state or start-of-action.)

The stress of such adjectives seems to be always on the syllable just before the last one (that is, one before -ljiv).

Few verbs that end in -siti or -sati have pot. adj. ending only in -siv. Common ones are:

podesiti perf. adjustpodesiv adjustable
prenositi transportprenosiv portable

If the consonant that would come before -ljiv is n or nj, it gets fused with lj; some adjectives have both forms:

promijeniti perf. changepromjenjiv / promjenljiv variable
hraniti feedhranjiv nutritious
sumnjati suspectsumnjiv suspicious

(You will sometimes see the spelling sumljiv; that’s considered non-standard and a gross error by some people.)

Verbs that have pres-3 ending in -e usually don’t derive such adjectives with -ljiv, but with -iv, and they appear more similar to the infinitive form:

jesti (jede) eatjestiv eatable
opisati (opiše) perf. describeopisiv describable
saviti (savije) perf. bendsavitljiv flexible

If the verb contains a sequence -ije-, it’s shortened in the potential adjective to -je- or just -e- (after r, preceded by another consonant):

dijeliti divide, sharedjeljiv divisible
lijepiti glue, stickljepljiv sticky

As in English, negated versions of some potential adjectives are more common then non-negated. The negation is done by simply appending ne- to the front. Common negated potential adjectives are:

nerazumljiv incomprehensible
neshvatljiv inexplicable
neuništiv indestructible
nevidljiv invisible

The verb piti (pije) drink doesn’t have a regular potential adjective, but a specific adjective is used:

pitak (pitk-) drinkable, potable

Also, a frequent negative potential adj. has an unexpected form:

nezaboravan (nezaboravn-) unforgettable

Some potential adjectives stand for active ability, especially when someone likes to do something, or often does something; this happens mostly for verbs related to talking. For example:

paziti take carepažljiv careful
pričati tell (stories) → pričljiv talkative
šaliti se² jokešaljiv funny, humorous
šutjeti / šutiti be silentšutljiv silent
uvjeriti convinceuvjerljiv persuasive

Few more adjectives have (apparently) non-potential meaning and often active meaning:

dirati touchdirljiv touching, emotional
hraniti feedhranjiv nutritious
osjetiti inch. feelosjetljiv sensitive
smrdjeti / smrditi stinksmrdljiv foul-smelling
strpjeti / strpiti se² perf. be patientstrpljiv patient
štedjeti / štediti save (money, resources) → štedljiv thrifty, economical
uzbuditi («) perf. exciteuzbudljiv exciting
zanimati («) be interestingzanimljiv interesting

Today, the main meaning of uzbudljiv is exciting – something or somebody that excites others – but you’ll sometimes see it used in meaning excitable – something or somebody that can be excited by others.

With the adjective osjetljiv, you can express what you’re sensitive to:

osjetljiv + na¨ + A = sensitive to

Croatian has a great number (likely, thousands) of verbs ending in -irati; most of them have been borrowed from German and other western languages. Examples are:

analizirati («) analyze
ignorirati («) ignore
imitirati («) imitate
pakirati («) pack

(As you have probably already learned, such verbs always have the stress on the same syllable). In English, you can create potential adjectives from these verbs – analyzable, ignorable, imitable and packable. Unfortunately, this is not possible in Croatian! There’s no “ignorirljiv” or “ignoririv” (try entering these words into Google™).

There are more examples where English has a potential adjective, but there’s no matching potential adjective in Croatian; for example:


You should remember that not all verbs have potential adjectives, even if it would make sense. You’ll have to use relative clauses if you need such meanings.

Unlike passive adjectives, most potential adjectives are comparable (and always use the -iji suffix). The stress moves to the suffix (ljiv):

pažljiv carefulpažljiviji more careful
vidljiv visiblevidljiviji more visible

Similar in form to potential adjectives – but not in meaning – are adjectives derived by adding -av. There are only a couple of them derived from verbs in frequent use:

brbljati chit-chatbrbljav chatty
prljati soil, polluteprljav dirty

This suffix is used to derive adjectives from certain nouns:

dlaka body hair, animal hairdlakav hairy
hrđa rusthrđav rusty ®
krv f bloodkrvav bloody
mišić (») musclemišićav muscular

These adjectives never have a case-base with the -a- dropped, while adjectives which end in -av for other reasons sometimes have, e.g. mrtav (mrtv-) dead. (Do you remember when I wrote, way back, that -a- is not always dropped?)


® In Serbia and Bosnia, words for rust and rusty don’t have the initial h: they have forms rđa and rđav.

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5 Easy Croatian: 82 Visible and Unreadable: Potential Adjectives N A  DL  G 24 I V There’s a group of adjectives derived from many verbs (but not all!) that stand for potential . They are kind ...

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