88 Weird Words and Constructions


There are a few details in Croatian which don’t really fit into the overall scheme of things.

First, there’s a phrase which can be used to express color. It uses a color adjective before the noun boja color, but both are the genitive case (singular):

Majica je crvene boje. lit. The T-shirt is ‘of red color’.

Hlače su plave boje. lit. The pants are ‘of blue color’. ®

Such expressions are old-fashioned and mostly obsolete. However, they are used in questions, i.e. when you ask what color is something. The answer would be just a color adjective, but in genitive singular (feminine, after boja color):

Koje boje je majica? What color is the T-shirt?

Crvene. (G fem.) Red.

Crvena. (N fem.) Red.

Koje boje je auto? What color is the car?

Crne. (G fem.) Black.

Crni. (N masc.) Black.

Alternatively, you can answer with an adjective in nominative, matching gender of the thing the question is about, as in the examples above.

This reminds of English expressions like men of honor, book of great importance, and so on. In fact, you will occasionally see more or less the same expressions in Croatian, using od¨ + G:

Knjiga je od velike važnosti. The book is of great importance.

Then, there are expressions – often overlooked in grammars and textbooks – when two nouns are used together, e.g. king George or Hotel California. The last noun is a proper noun, i.e. a name (e.g. California), and a common noun before it describes its title (e.g. king) or kind (e.g. hotel).

Croatian uses such expressions more often than English, e.g. in names of rivers, lakes, cities and countries:

rijeka Sava the Sava river (lit. ‘river Sava’)
jezero Jarun the Jarun lake (lit. ‘lake Jarun’)
Grad Zagreb the City of Zagreb (lit. ‘City Zagreb’)
Republika Hrvatska the Republic of Croatia

Now, in some of these expressions, both nouns change case, and in others, the last word (the name) is ‘frozen’ in N.

If nouns stand for a person (or an animal, as Croatian almost always treats humans as a kind of animal), both nouns always change (examples show the accusative case):

moj prijatelj Igor my friend Igormog prijatelja Igora
teta Ana aunt Anatetu Anu ®

This also applies to the following nouns:

grad city rijeka river

For example (u¨ + DL):

grad Rijeka the City of Rijekau gradu Rijeci
grad Split the City of Splitu gradu Splitu
rijeka Drava the Drava riveru rijeci Dravi

Since a great majority of rivers have feminine names in Croatian, use of rijeka river with masculine names of rivers is avoided. (Croatian so strongly prefers feminine river names, that even names like the Thames and the Rhine are adapted as feminine Temza and Rajna). You will mostly see ‘frozen’ masc. names of rivers, e.g. u rijeci Dunav:

rijeka Dunav the Danube river → (?) u rijeci Dunavu

After most other nouns, only feminine names can change, but it’s optional – names are usually not changed. Often used nouns are:

hotel (») hotel
jezero lake
kazalište theater ®
općina municipality ®

For example (again u¨ + DL):

hotel Panoramau hotelu Panorama / u hotelu Panorami
kazalište Komedijau kazalištu Komedija / u kazalištu Komediji

You will see changed feminine names now and then. However, masculine names are always ‘frozen’:

hotel Westinu hotelu Westin
jezero Jarunu jezeru Jarun
kazalište Kerempuhu kazalištu Kerempuh

Bear in mind that ‘freezing’ happens only if a general noun is before the name, if the name is on it’s own, it of course always changes, e.g. u Westinu, u Jarunu, etc.

Standard Croatian prescribes that both nouns have to be always changed, but it’s rare, even in writing (e.g. the form u hotelu Westin is more than 100 times more common than u hotelu Westinu on the Internet).

Occasionally, you’ll see a kind of reversal of the structure described above, where a proper noun (i.e. a name) describes a common noun; an example is this tube of mayonnaise:

Such combinations appear as a kind of indeclinable adjective + a noun, in writing and in speech, where the word majoneza mayonnaise ® is in A, but the name preceding it is not:

Voliš Zvijezda majonezu? Do you like Zvijezda mayonnaise?

(The last sentence is an example from the internet, promoting the product.)

We continue with more ‘weird’ things: end-stressed nouns ®. There’s a number of nouns – all loanwords, that is, words taken from other languages – that end on a stressed vowel (other than a). Despite the ending, they are all masculine, and the end vowel is never dropped – case endings are simply attached to it. Examples are:

file filetu fileu
kanu canoeu kanuu
separe restoran boothu separeu

The two consecutive vowels are pronounced separately, e.g. DL kanuu is pronounced as three syllables: ka-nu-u.

Then, most masculine nouns in -a in plural can get feminine adjectives and past forms, although masculine adjectives and past forms are common too ®. For example:

Ubojica je uhvaćen. The murderer was captured. ®

Ubojice su uhvaćeni. The murderers were captured.

Ubojice su uhvaćene. (also possible, the same meaning)

This virtually never happens for the noun tata m Dad – it’s almost always considered masculine in plural.®

There’s one use of masculine gender that’s completely unexpected. The rule is: if two neuter nouns are linked by an i¨, and they are not both in plural, they together behave as masculine plural, i.e. adjectives and past forms are in masculine plural have to be used:

More i nebo su bili crni. The sea and the sky were black.

Jelo i piće nisu uključeni. Food and drink are not included.

However, if both nouns are neuter and both are in plural, the neuter adjectives and past forms in plural are used:

Ramena i koljena su ogrebana. Shoulders and knees are scratched.

This is a completely weird rule, I have to admit. Even weirder, it often applies to feminine nouns not ending in -a:

Sol i mast nisu bili skupi. Salt and lard were not expensive. ®

The last feature seems to depend on the region.

Let’s continue with weird stuff. There’s a group of feminine nouns for various plants which behave a bit unexpected when possessive adjectives are derived from them. Many plants behave as you would expect:

banana bananabananin
naranča orangenarančin
palma palmpalmin
ruža roseružin

However, some plants known for a long time, get -ov or -ev, as if the were masculine or neuter (but they are, of course, feminine):

kupina blackberrykupinov
malina raspberrymalinov
maslina olivemaslinov

All these adjectives – regardless of the suffix – are actually used as relational adjectives, not as possessive ones. For example:

Volim maslinovo ulje. I like olive oil.

Ružine latice su skupe. Rose petals are expensive.

Some plants have irregular adjectives, or can use both suffixes (and some people discuss which forms are ‘better’):

breza birchbrezov / brezin
bukva beechbukov
lipa linden / limelipov / lipin
jabuka applejabukov / jabukin
trešnja cherrytrešnjev / trešnjin

The forms derived with -ov or -ev dominated in the past, but today forms with -in are more common in speech. In place names, which are old, you’ll find only older suffixes, e.g. Jabukovac, Trešnjevka (a part of Zagreb), etc.

(The rest is coming soon)


® Instead of the words above, these words are used in Serbia and most of Bosnia:

hlače pants, trouserspantalone
majoneza mayonnaisemajonez
kazalište theaterpozorište
sol f saltso (sol-) f
općina municipalityopština
ubojica murdererubica

Occasionally in Serbia, the family relation noun is not declined when before the name, so you might hear and read teta Anu, sometimes spelled with a hyphen: teta-Anu.

In some regions, and in parts of Serbia and Bosnia, words like kanu etc. are not stressed on the last syllable. There’s a lot of variation among speakers from various regions.

While Standard Serbian accepts masculine nouns in -a as both masculine and feminine in plural, in actual speech in Serbia such words are understood only as feminine in plural. Check the Google™ statistics (on the .rs domain) for gazda m landlord, boss and tata m Dad:

novi gazde 52
nove gazde 7120
naši tate 4
naše tate 124

And when you examine the small number of occurrences of novi gazde, you find that most of them are written by someone in Croatia.

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5 Easy Croatian: 88 Weird Words and Constructions N A  DL  G 24 I V There are a few details in Croatian which don’t really fit into the overall scheme of things. First, there...

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