If you’ve been learning Croatian, you’ve noticed that a word can appear in several different forms. The reason for this is a feature in the Croatian grammar known as the grammatical case (or padež).
Cases are often a pain when learning Croatian, but understanding what they are and how they are determined in the sentence will help you get a better grasp of them.
So, in this article, you will learn:
- What is a grammatical case
- How many cases are there in Croatian
- How do you determine a case
Without further ado, let’s dig in!
What is a Grammatical Case?
A grammatical case is a grammatical category that reflects the function of a word in a sentence.
This means that the same word, depending on its function in the sentence, can change its form. This is why a noun can appear in so many different ways in Croatian (or seven, to be exact).
What are the parts of the sentence?
So, which functions are we talking about? The main and general parts of the sentence are a subject (tells us who or what the sentence is about), and a predicate (the verb, telling us what the subject does).
A cat is sleeping.
A simple sentence made up of a subject (a cat) and a predicate (is sleeping).
Other optional parts of the sentence can be an object, complements, adverbials, and modifiers.
A cat is looking for a bed. (object)
The cat is the laziest creature. (complement)
The lazy cat is sleeping. (modifier)
The cat is sleeping soundly. (adverbial)
To make a sentence in English, you don’t really need to be aware of all of that.
However, in Croatian, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and numbers change their form depending on what part of the sentence they are or what function in the sentence they have.
So, for example, the noun cat from a previous sentence will change it’s form if the cat becomes an object, rather than the subject.
A cat is sleeping. (subject: Mačka spava.)
I’m looking for a cat. (object: Tražim mačku.)
Pronouns can help you understand grammatical cases
Let’s look at these two sentences in English:
Mom is beautiful.
I saw mom.
These are two instances where the noun mom changes its function. In the first sentence, Mom is beautiful, the noun mom is the subject (the subject performs the action in the sentence).
However, in the sentence, I saw mom, the noun mom is no longer a subject, the one who is doing the action in the sentence, but she is an object.
If you were to substitute the noun mom with a pronoun, these sentences would be:
Mom is beautiful. – She is beautiful.
I saw mom. – I saw her.
As you can see, the pronouns reflect certain cases even in the English language. How so? Well, you wouldn’t say that you ‘saw she’, but you ‘saw her’.
This happens because the function of the noun mom changed through these different sentences.
In the first sentence – Mom is beautiful, the noun mom is a subject. The subject is the part of the sentence that performs an action.
In the second sentence – I saw mom, the noun mom is no longer a subject but an object.
English pronouns reflect certain grammatical cases as well, so we can’t really say that a grammatical case is a total mystery.
The difference between the cases in English and Croatian, however, is that there are more cases in Croatian. So, Croatian words change their form in order to reflect a certain case (mainly meaning that the words will have different endings).
And here’s where all the trouble starts…
How many cases are there in Croatian?
There are seven grammatical cases in Croatian (still considerably less than Hungarian with 18!). This simply means that a noun can have seven different functions in the sentence and we’ll look at each one below.
The seven cases are:
|The case||Example in Croatian||Translation in English|
|Nominative||Mama je lijepa.||Mom is beautiful.|
|Genitive||Sjećam se mame.||I remember mom.|
|Dative||Mami sam dao cvijet.||I gave the flower to mom.|
|Accusative||Vidio sam mamu.||I saw mom.|
|Vocative||Hej, mama!||Hey, mom!|
|Locative||Pričamo o mami.||We are talking about mom.|
|Instrumental||Šetam s mamom.||I’m talking a walk with mom.|
Let’s look at each one of the cases.
For example, the subject of the sentence is almost always in the nominative case. This case is the basic form of every word. When you learn new words, you learn them in their basic form – nominative.
Genitive is used to indicate origin, possession, belonging, partiality, or a trait.
Dative is used to express a goal or an intention. It’s best remembered as the case of giving or selling something to someone.
Accusative is normally used in the function of the object in the sentence.
You need to change the form of the noun when you, address someone, call out or call after someone, and this case is known as a vocative. The noun in this case must always be separated by a comma.
Locative usually determines the place and the surroundings of the action taking place. It normally comes with the prepositions such as u, na, o (in, on, about), etc.
You probably noticed that the noun in the dative and locative has the same form. This is normally the case for the majority of nouns, with a few exceptions. However, you can tell them apart by recognizing that the locative always comes with a preposition.
The instrumental case indicates that the noun is the means by or with which the subject performs or accomplishes an action. These nouns will be accompanied by a preposition s or sa (with) if he noun indicates a living being.
If you are interested to know more about each case, they are covered in separate articles that you can find on our page. But, now, let’s see how you determine a case.
How do you determine a case?
Since there are more cases in Croatian than there are in English, you will need to learn how to determine which case the words need to be in so you would know which form of the word to use.
For instance, you learned earlier that the subject of the sentence is almost always in the nominative case.
To indicate possession, you need a genitive case.
To address someone, you need to use a vocative case, etc.
Each case has a corresponding question you ask in order to determine the case in Croatian. These are:
Nominative Tko? Što? (Who? What?)
Genitive Koga? Čega? (Who? Who’s?)
Dative Komu? Čemu? (Whom or what am I going toward?)
Accusative Koga? Što? (Whom? What? do I see)
Vocative Oj! Ej! (Oi! Hey!)
Locative O komu? O čemu? (About who or about what?)
Instrumental S kime? S čime? (With whom or with what?)
These questions may not be very helpful for an English speaker since answers to these questions will produce the words of the same form in English.
That’s why it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with the next grammar feature.
The words change their form as they are transformed from case to case. This is called declension.
Knowing the typical endings in declension could help you determine what case the word is in, or to figure out which end you need to use for a word when making a sentence yourself.
Words that are subjected to declension in Croatian are nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and numbers.
There are three types of declension:
- e-declension, and
Note: The declension type is determined by the word endings in the genitive singular.
A-declension (masculine and neuter nouns)
This declension is mostly used for masculine and neuter nouns. Let’s look at the example and the common endings for a-declension.
|singular||son, masculine||jezero, neuter|
As you can see, the endings are very similar for masculine and neuter nouns.
You need to remember, though, that masculine nouns that end on a consonant č, ć, dž, đ, š, ž, j, lj, or nj have different endings in vocative and instrumental. In vocative, they end on -u, and in instrumental they end on -em, unlike what you have just seen. Isn’t Croatian “complexly” beautiful!?
Here’s an example of the masculine noun that ends on one of the above-mentioned consonants.
Another helpful thing to remember is that masculine noun that represents an inanimate object has the same form in nominative and accusative.
E-declension (feminine nouns ending with -a)
This declension is mostly used for feminine nouns. In our article about grammatical genders, you can learn that feminine nouns usually end on -a, but there’s a number of feminine nouns that end on a consonant.
This declination is used for feminine nouns that end on -a, and here’s an example:
There are two feminine nouns that end on -i and have distinct endings in declension. These nouns are kći (daughter) and mati (one form of the word mother). This is their declension:
|singular||daughter, feminine||mother, feminine|
I-declension (feminine nouns ending with a consonant)
The rest of the feminine nouns (all the ones that end on a consonant) follow this declension. Here’s an example:
Here’s the summary of the different endings for each declension:
(masculine and neuter nouns)
|e-declension(feminine nouns ending with -a)||i-declension(feminine nouns ending on a consonant)|
|Accusative (A)||-a or the same as N*||-u||same as N|
|Vocative (V)||-e or -u or the same as N**||-o||-i|
|Instrumental (I)||-om or -em||-om||-i or -ju|
*For inanimate objects and neuter nouns
**For neuter nouns
These are general rules for transforming (declining) the word into a proper case. The easiest way to master this is to remember which case in usually used in different sentence functions.
The easiest way to learn the cases is to remember which case the noun normally has depended on its function in the sentence, or in which instances they are normally used.
Here is a short list:
Nominative – the basic form of a word; the subject of a sentence
Genitive – expressing possession, substance, property or origin
Dative – expressing a goal or intention – giving or selling something to someone
Accusative – usually an object in the sentence
Vocative – addressing or calling out to someone, separated by a comma
Locative – normally expressing location, same form as dative but comes with prepositions such as u, na, o
Instrumental – the case of companionship and instrumentality, comes with prepositions s, sa with nouns that express a living being
Important notice: These are general rules. Croatian has many exceptions to the rules which you will undoubtedly run into as you learn.
I hope you’ve gotten some insight into the grammatical cases. Even though this is the trickiest part of the language, they can be learned with a little practice and persistence.
If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to contact us! As always, I’m here for you.