93 Learn to Crawl: Verbs, Verbs... All Perfective


I’ve introduced the verb aspect many chapters ago, and explained some details in later chapters. This chapter will wrap up all the missing parts.

First, some impf. verbs have special perf. verbs that are sometimes called ‘delimitative’. They are hard to exactly translate to English, but the idea is there was some action or state for some time, or space, not less.

For example, you have to go to work and work there for 8 hours. You can simply say:

Radio sam osam sati. I worked for eight hours. {m}

However, you call also stress that you’ve fulfilled your duty for that day, by using a derived perfective verb odraditi («); nothing else is changed:

Odradio sam osam sati. I worked for eight hours. {m} (focus on the time)

This verb sometimes corresponds to English work off or put in (hours), but there’s no single English construction which has the exact meaning.

Such verbs always start with od- or ot- and are especially used when you fulfill a duty, or what you did is taken off from a bigger requirement (e.g. you have to work 40 hours a week, you did 8 today, 32 to go).

These verbs are an exception from the general rule that you can’t specify how long with a perfective verb. In fact, with many such verbs, you have to specify the duration, because this is the whole point of such verbs.

Another common such verb is:

odspavati («) perf. sleep for a time

For example, you can say:

Odspavala sam deset sati. I slept for ten hours. {f} (focus on the time)

The time doesn’t have to be precise, you can say that you slept for a few hours.

Second, some impf. verbs have two related perfective verbs, making an od/do pair. Such verbs are always related to motion. The most important verb means literally travel:

process (impf.) kind-of-completion (perf.)
putovati (putuje)
otputovati (otputuje) ‘away

doputovati (doputuje) ‘to

At the first look, it might seem it’s a triplet for start (i.e. inchoative), process and completion, but it’s a bit more complicated. The od-/ot- verbs in such triplets emphasize leaving. The do- verbs stand only for completion understood as coming somewhere, to a temporary or permanent “base”.

This is a quite fine difference. For example:

Putujemo u Split. We’re traveling to Split.

Otputovali smo u Split. We’ve departed to Split. {m/mixed}

Doputovali smo u Split. We’ve arrived in Split. {m/mixed}

The second sentence doesn’t focus on really reaching the destination, it’s in principle possible they failed to get there; the third sentence is about coming to the destination. (We can call such two perfective verbs come-go pairs.)

There’s a number of such travel-like triplets; some are:

impf. go-perf. come-perf.
fly letjeti odletjeti («) doletjeti («)
swim plivati otplivati doplivati
sail ploviti otploviti («) doploviti («)
crawl puzati (puže) otpuzati (otpuže) dopuzati (dopuže)
stroll šetati (šeće / šeta) ® odšetati (oeće / oeta) došetati (došeće / došeta)
run trčati (trči) otrčati (otrči) dotrčati (dotrči)

As with other prefixes, the choice of od- vs. ot- vs. o- depends on what is after it:

  • od + f, h, k, pot-
  • od + d, to-
  • otherwise → od-

In real life, these rules aren’t not always respected, so you’ll see e.g. usually the standard spelling otrčala but also, sometimes, the non-standard odtrčala; Google™ says:

otrčala 15700
odtrčala 176

For some of these verbs, there are corresponding inchoative verbs with za- as well, and then it’s clear that the od- verbs are not simply inchoative, but the emphasis is on going away; compare:

zaplivati inch. start swimming
otplivati perf. swim off, swim away

With the inchoative zaplivati you can’t express the origin or destination of swimming; in comparison, it’s very common to express them with otplivati.

Some of the perfective verbs listed above actually have matching perfective verbs, e.g. perf. doletjeti («) arrive (by flying) has the matching impf. dolijetati (dolijeće) but these impf. verbs are quite rare; again Google™ says:


So, even in the present tense, such perf. verbs are much more common than the rare matching impf. verbs. Some of the matching impf. verbs for the verbs in the table above are really rare: the search for e.g. otplovljavao returns only 4 hits, and the expected otplivavao is not found at all (it can’t be found in dictionaries either).

In my opinion, you don’t have to pay attention to these additional impf. verbs at all. Even without them, there are a lot of verbs in Croatian!

The verbs above also have perfective verbs derived with u-, and the meaning is fly in, walk in, etc. These verbs must be used with destinations, and not simple objects:

Uplovili su u luku. They sailed into the harbor. {m/mixed}

For such verbs, matching impf. verbs are a bit more common, because you can repeatedly fly or walk in (or be in a middle of the process). They are ulijetati (ulijeće), and so on.

Third. This was all a bit complicated, I guess, but there was some logic behind it. Now, there are two more prefixes used with these verbs (and some others) where it feels more chaotic. They are pre- and pro-. They roughly correspond to English over and through.

However, with some of verbs above – and some others – the prefix pro- creates very special inchoative verbs:

progledatistart watching
prohodati («) start walking
proplivati start swimming
propuzati (propuže) start crawling  
     ‘absolute inchoatives’
(gain an ability)

They mean: start doing something, what you were previously unable to, uncapable to do. For example, you didn’t know how to swim, and you started swimming for the first time ever. Or a baby learned to crawl. Or a kitten or a puppy opened their eyes (both are born with their eyelids closed).

An example (from an Internet forum):

Kad su vam djeca prohodala? When did your children learn to walk? (lit. ‘start walking’)

(As you see, the possession is expressed by a pronoun in DL, which is common for family members.)

There are no matching impf. verbs for them.

Note that this meaning is quite unexpected. The verb pročitati does not mean ‘start reading because you learned how’, but have read something to the end.

I sometimes get questions like can you please list meanings of all verb prefixes, so I can guess the meaning of prefixed verbs...

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Prefixes did have meanings in a very distant past, but over many centuries, the meaning has changed for many prefixed verbs. (The same holds in English sometimes: there’s no way you can guess the meaning of the verb understand from its parts under and stand. The only possible guess would be stand under some cover, below something.)

Note that the prefix pro- creates such absolute inchoatives only for abilities which are natural for people (and animals considered similar to humans and close to them, i.e. mammals). You would expect that when birds start flying because they learned how, something like proletjeti («) is used, but that verb is simply not used in that meaning, ever. It, if used, means simply fly through, e.g. if a bird flies through an open window.

With the verb cvjetati blossom, this prefix creates a common inchoative procvjetati, which doesn’t imply that plant blossoms for the first time.

A lot of verbs. Including interesting and unexpected verbs.

The other prefix, pre-, creates something a bit less exciting: it simply means that the motion was over, across something, that you got from one side to the other (an example from the Internet, about a 21-year-old girl who decided to swim over major straits across the world):

Hrvatska daljinska plivačica Dina Levačić preplivala je Gibraltarski tjesnac. Croatian long-distance swimmer Dina Levačić has swum across the Gibraltar strait.

The prefix pre- is used with all travel-like motion verbs. This table summarizes the prefixes we’ve covered in this chapter so far, on the example of plivati, which uses all of them:

Typical perfective verbs derived from plivati swim
pro- start swimming (learn how to swim)
za- start swimming (literally, nothing with learning)
ot- swim off, away + orig. / dest.
do- arrive (by swimming)
u- swim into
ot- swim (a distance: meters, km) + A
pre- swim (over a river, lake, bay...)

For this verb, the prefix ot- really has two meanings, the second one is like odspavati («), but with a distance (e.g. if you train swimming, and you have to swim some distance).

For many verbs, the prefix pro- means all through. The main example is the first verb we started with:

proputovati (proputuje) perf. travel all over

Again, there’s no matching impf. verb; the verb means that you have traveled a lot over some territory, expressed as a simple object in A:

Proputovala je svijet. She traveled all over the world.

(Note that pročitati perf. read essentially falls into this pattern: read from the start to the end).

Two important verbs use both pro- and pre- with similar, but different meanings. The prefix pro- here means the action was from start to the end (and possibly more), while pre- means it was uninterrupted in some critical moment or time (like skipping over an obstacle). They are spavati sleep and živjeti live:

prospavati («) perf. sleep (a period of time)
prespavati («) perf. sleep through (something that can wake you up)
proživjeti («) perf. live through
preživjeti («) perf. live through, not getting killed = survive

English doesn’t have so fine differences, but it has survive; however, note that English survive also means live longer than someone else (e.g. his children survived him). Croatian preživjeti («) is used only with things which could (even metaphorically) kill you, and, hopefully, your parents weren’t among them.

These four verbs are all used with simple objects in A; a couple of examples for the pre- verbs:

Prespavala sam budilicu. I slept through the alarm clock. {f}

Preživjeli smo vožnju autobusom. We survived the bus ride. (lit. ‘ride by bus’) {m/mixed}

Now examples for the pro- verbs; the usual object for prospavati («) is noć f night, but you can use other periods of time:

Proživjeli su lijep život zajedno. They lived a nice life together. {m/mixed}

Prospavao sam jutro. I slept the whole morning. {m}

Since these four verbs have objects in A, they can form passive adjectives, and neprospavan sleepless (lit. ‘unslept through’) is quite common.

The verbs preživjeti («) and proživjeti («) do have matching impf. verbs – preživljavati («) and proživljavati («) – that are used sometimes; the pre- verb implies also living poorly, barely, while the pro- verb can be used also if your life is not really in danger. Interestingly, the perf. verbs derived from spavati don’t have matching impf. verbs, at least I’ve never heard or seen them!

Is there maybe a principle behind this, after all? It seems the prefix pro- means, after all, through. Perf. verbs like probušiti («) drill through show this meaning. As we saw, pročitati means read the book all through. Now it’s possible to explain the absolute inchoatives: maybe the first was progledati, because puppies and kittens struggle to look ‘through’ their eyelids. Once their sight makes through them, they look around them for the first time.

But what about verb pairs like:

provjeravati («) ~ provjeriti check, verify
proizvoditi («) ~ proizvesti (proizvede, proizveo) produce, manufacture
propisivati (propisuje) ~ propisati (propiše) prescribe, regulate

It’s hard to connect their meaning with through. The first two pairs are, actually, loans from Russian. Russian is a closely related language and has almost the same prefixes, but their meaning can be a bit different than in Croatian. The second pair is for sure, ultimately based on Latin prōdūcere; however, prō- in Latin means forward and not through. Maybe someone in Russia, centuries ago, did a bad translation from Latin...

The last pair is similar to the German verb vorschreiben with the same meaning, but again German vor- is rather before, while durch- is the prefix meaning through. So close, but not a match. Russian uses a verb which is a literal translation from German (Russian has a lot of verbs like that): predpisat’ (this is the perfective verb, in Croatian spelling, its meaning is obvious). So... I don’t know.

There is a kind of system, but there were so many loans, so many literal translations from other languages where prefixes have wider meanings, that the system is useless for learners. This was only for your amusement.


® The pres-3 form šeće is specific to Croatia; in Bosnia and Serbia, the form šeta is used only.

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5 Easy Croatian: 93 Learn to Crawl: Verbs, Verbs... All Perfective N A  DL  G 24 I V I’ve introduced the verb aspect many chapters ago, and explained some details in later chapters. This chapter ...

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