A5 Word Order

The word order consists of two 'components':

  • mandatory order
  • non-mandatory order

Words that have mandatory order cannot be tweaked to emphasize something or carry some information; words with non-mandatory order can be.

Non-mandatory order

The default order in sentences like Ana is watching TV is the same as in English (SVO):

Ana gleda televiziju.

In sentences of type X is PLACE, there are two equally used word orders:

  • when PLACE is first, it's about PLACE and a something new (X) was introduced;
  • when X is first, it's about X, which is something already known.

This roughly corresponds to definiteness:

Pismo je na stolu. The letter is on the table.

Na stolu je pismo. A letter is on the table. / There's a letter on the table.

This also holds for the verb nalazi se² is found, is placed.

The same holds for sentences of type subject + verb (SV). The subject comes first if it's something known, and comes after the verb if it's a new thing introduced:

Film počinje.The movie is starting.

Počinje film.A movie is starting.

However, the word order can be changed as well to emphasize something.

In sentences where somebody experiences something from the environment (cold, heat, boredom) or pain, the experiencer comes first, despite not being the subject:

Ani je hladno. Ana is cold.

Anu boli noga. Ana's leg hurts.

Locations and directions usually come after verbs:

Ana ide na posao. Ana is going to work.

Živimo u Zagrebu. We live in Zagreb.

Adverbs usually come before verbs:

Ana često gleda televiziju. Ana often watches TV.

Ana sutra ide na posao. Ana is going to work tomorrow.

Danas idem u kino. I'm going to cinema today.

The default order of nouns with adjectives is possessive adjective - adjective - noun:

tvoja plava košulja your blue shirt

moja ljubav my love

In poetry and songs, the order can be changed:

tvoja košulja plava

ljubav moja

In the vocative case, the default order of nouns and adjectives is reversed:

ljubavi moja! o my love!

The default order or nouns with genitive attribute is noun - noun in G; it's very rarely tweaked in poetry and songs:

kraj filma end of the movie

With counting, the most common order is possessive adjective - number - adjective - noun:

moje dvije crvene jabuke my two red apples

Mandatory order: enclitics

All second-position words come always in predefined order, in one block:

Order of second-position words
bih², bi², bismo², biste² (conditional verb)
sam², si², smo², ste², su² (all except je²)
ću², ćeš², će², ćemo², ćete²
mi², ti²,... (pronouns in DL)
me², te²,... (pronouns in A and G)
je² (usually left out if se² is present)

Before second-position words, there's one or more words in the "first position". Words like i¨, ni¨ and a¨ (which all translate as and), prepositions (e.g. u¨, na¨, pod¨, etc.) and the negative particle ne¨ don't "count", and cannot fill the first position on their own:

Gladan sam. I'm hungry.

I ja sam gladan. I'm hungry too.

Two or more words that count, if they form a "phrase", can together occupy the first position:

Moj prijatelj je ovdje. My friend is here.

These "phrases" are absolutely never split:

Hold the 1st position: never split
preposition + word U sobi je hladno.
  It's cold in the room.
ne¨ + verb Ne bojim se.
  I'm not afraid.

These "phrases", where one noun is described by another, are very rarely split:

Hold the 1st position: very rarely split
noun + za¨ + noun in A Četka za kosu je u ladici.
  The hairbrush is in the drawer.
noun + na¨ + noun in A Igračke na baterije su jeftine.
  Battery-powered toys are cheap.
noun + od¨ + noun in G Sok od naranče je u frižideru.
  The orange juice is in the fridge.
noun + noun in G Kraj filma je glup.
  The end of the movie is stupid.

These "phrases" are very rarely split in speech, but you can see them split in formal writing:

Hold the 1st position: split in formal writing
adjective(s) + noun Moj stari prijatelj je ovdje.
  My old friend is here.
preposition +
adjective(s) + noun
U mojoj sobi je hladno.
  It's cold in my room.
names Ivana Horvat je ovdje.
  Ivana Horvat is here.
time expressions Godina dana je prošla.
  A year passed.

Standard Croatian manuals often suggest breaking down such phrases and placing the second-position words mechanically; this is very rare in speech (except on Public Radio and TV):

Moj je prijatelj ovdje. (formal)

U mojoj je sobi hladno. (formal)

Names are rarely split even in formal writing, but you can see it sometimes:

Ivana je Horvat ovdje. (very rare)

These "phrases" can hold the 1st position, but are sometimes split even in everyday speech:

Hold the 1st position: splitting is optional
intensity adverb + adverb Jako dugo je čekala.
  She waited for a very long time.
number + noun Troje ljudi te čeka.
  Three people are waiting for you.
quantity + noun Puno ljudi te čeka.
  A lot of people are waiting for you.
baš absolutely
skoro almost
+ adverb Skoro uvijek je hladno.
  It's cold almost always.
Baš svi su ovdje.
  Absolutely everybody is here.

Other combinations cannot form such "phrases". For example, opet again + verb is not such a phrase, and it cannot hold the 1st position:

Opet se igra. He/she is playing again.

Word order in clauses

Clauses have their own second position; if they start with a conjunction (e.g. jer in the following example), any second-position words come right after it:

Trava¹ je² mokra [jer¹ je² padala kiša]. The grass is wet because it has rained.

(the rest is coming soon)...

5 Easy Croatian: A5 Word Order The word order consists of two 'components': mandatory order non-mandatory order Words that have mandatory order cannot be tw...

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