Introduction

This is my Croatian language blog. I have been trying to put together a language blog for some time. I have collected some materials, and I'll be posting some Croatian lessons here.

I think there's not enough information on the Internet about the Croatian language basics. A good thing about blogs is that I'm able to edit them easily, people are able to post questions and comments, etc.

Some explanations and descriptions I will use are different from ones found in the textbooks. I had two goals:

  • simplify things wherever possible
  • attempt to create a more logical descriptions — hence easier to memorize.

Beware, Croatian is not a simple language. It's complicated even with my simplifications.

New. If you only want to know very basics of Croatian and you're not really interested in all details of grammar, etc. you could try first my spin off blog, Easy Croatian. It's less technical, gives just the important stuff and has a much steeper learning curve. It could be enough for you at the moment, and you can always try to learn all details later.

Aim

I will concentrate mostly on spoken, everyday language. If you take a look at an average Croatian language book, or read about Croatian grammar on Wikipedia, there are actually many things that almost nobody uses nowadays. Some features are used only on TV and in some books. My aim is to give important things first, and such fine points will be 'for those who want to learn more'.

I will also consider various dialects: most people actually everyday speak a somewhat different (some would say — quite different) language from the Standard Croatian!

Similar languages

If you would really like to learn e.g. Serbian or Bosnian, it's useful to learn Croatian first and specifics of similar languages can be learned later. Grammatical specifics of Serbian are mentioned whenever they occur, Cyrillic script can be learned later, and Bosnian is basically Croatian with some changes in vocabulary and optional changes in spelling. All four languages (including Montenegrin) are extremely similar, and some consider them variants of a single language.

Main vocabulary and spelling specifics of similar languages are covered in 80 Bosnian, Serbian and Montenegrin.

About this work

I'm not a professional linguist or teacher of Croatian. This work is not finished but nevertheless I hope you will find it useful. All suggestions are welcome. I'm not likely to expand this blog with more entries, I will rather work to expand already written posts.

Updated 2014-11-11

Sample Word List

This is preview of my list of the most often used words in Croatian (sample):

All comments are welcome!

Recent Updates

Here are some recent developments on this blog.

The CHM and PDF files are updated to ver. 0.24, now contain the latest changes!

Moved:

New or recently changed entries:

All comments are welcome!

NEW: Support for Tablet Devices

A CHM file, containing most chapters, is ready for download, and tested on Android 4.0 "ICS" (see right). I recommend iReader (offline) by Zhangyue. It's quick, stable, free to use, and perfectly renders the CHM file.

I have recently updated several posts. I have decided to remove a summary chapter and split the genitive case to two chapters.

Also, the past tense is updated with past of existential forms (e.g. ima vode => bilo je vode).

The recently updated chapters are:

Additionally, a new version of PDF (0.20), incorporating most of the updates, was uploaded on 2013-06-08.

Any feedback will be appreciated.

1 Basic Features

Croatian is a Slavic language. It's almost the same as Serbian or Bosnian, and similar to Czech and Russian. Its grammar resembles Old Greek and Latin, so it's quite complex (but don't get afraid!). Here's a map of Slavic languages:

Relation to Serbian, Bosnian and Montenegrin

Basically, you can say that you almost learn 4 languages with one effort: Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin. Yes, there are some differences, but they are mostly in vocabulary. And you can get by with Croatian in Slovenia and Macedonia as well, so that's all together 6 countries!

It's incredible that some web sites offering (costly) language courses say:

'Not surprisingly, Croatian vocabulary has much in common with Serbian and Bosnian. In many cases, speakers of these languages can even communicate between one another.'

(Transparent.com)

On Croatian TV and in cinemas, Serbian or Bosnian films are shown always without any subtitles or dubbing. Statements by people from Serbia (politicians, etc.) are shown on TV also without any dubbing or subtitles! "Much in common" is a terrible understatement. To "even communicate" is laughable. I have read many books in Serbian without any difficulties...

We will also see that 'Croatian' is a standard language, and spoken variants have considerable variation, much more than e.g. in English. We will see later that there's no simple way to describe relations of Croatian to similar languages (a similar situation exists in Scandinavia), but for now let's just say that Croatian has internal diversity and also a lot in common with surrounding languages, even with more distant ones like Russian.

Basic Features

Let's take a dive and look at some basic features of Croatian. Maybe it's best to see how some simple sentences in English translate to Croatian.

English: John has a big house. John's son came to visit him. John's house has three bedrooms.

Croatian: John ima veliku kuću. Johnov sin je došao posjetiti ga. Johnova kuća ima tri spavaće sobe.

This is almost a word-to-word translation, except:

  • Croatian has no articles like English a, the (now you see why I miss articles sometimes — my native language has no articles!)
  • English form to visit corresponds to one Croatian word posjetiti
  • English verb came translates to the two-word Croatian form je došao
  • English bedroom translates to Croatian phrase spavaća soba (literally, "sleeping room")

Johnhasabighouse.
Johnima velikukuću.
John'ssoncameto visithim.
Johnovsinje došaoposjetitiga.
John'shousehasthreebedrooms.
Johnovakućaimatrispavaće sobe.

Have you noted that some words look somewhat similar (sin "son", and tri "three")? You can read something about reasons for such similarities here.

Now, if we take a closer look, we see that kuća "house" (we don't worry about pronunciation for now) has a different form when it's in the sentence where it's possessed (kuću). We say that it's in a different case.

So, Croatian has cases.

Next, we see that "John's" translates to Johnov and Johnova. This is so-called possessive adjective. And it has a different form (as every adjective has) depending whether is describes a male noun (sin "son"), female (kuća "house" is female in Croatian), or neuter! Therefore, gender is much more pervasive in Croatian than in English: all adjectives and words similar to them must change according to the gender of nouns. Also, adjectives can and do change case.

So, the bulk of Croatian grammar will be just cases of nouns and adjectives.

Note that English has a very limited case system, for pronouns only. So him is "object case" of pronoun "he". Likewise, Croatian ga is "object case" (more commonly known as "accusative") of pronoun on "he".

I once saw someone wrote 'I don't know cases in English for start, I should learn them first'. No, you should not: cases are simply a concept that some languages have a some do not. In a similar fashion, Croatian has no articles: there's no way to learn articles in Croatian before trying to learn English ones. Even better, the 'accusative' case in one language is not really the same as 'accusative' in another! German and Latin also have cases, but those cases are a bit different than Croatian ones (there are a lot of similarities, of course) — even their number do not match (e.g. neither German nor Latin have any equivalent of Croatian instrumental case).

There's one feature that you will probably find quite weird, since it has no equivalent in German or English. In many languages, nouns have basically two forms: singular ("room") and plural ("rooms", "big rooms"). If you want to say exactly how many rooms there are, you just use plural forms ("five big rooms"). It's a bit more complicated in German.

It's a lot more complicated in Croatian, as you can see:

EnglishGermanCroatian
"room"Zimmersoba
"big room"großes Zimmervelika soba
"big rooms"große Zimmervelike sobe
"five big rooms"fünf große Zimmerpet velikih soba

So please, be prepared that things very simple in English or German are sometimes complex in Croatian. Of course, there are also things that are simpler in Croatian than in English or German...

You will probably note that my approach to some issues is a bit different than in other books and internet sites. That's intentional.

Updated 2014-11-07 (v. 0.4)

2 Spelling

Usually, basic language courses give pronunciation rules. I find that somewhat strange — after all, a language is primarily spoken, writing can vary. If fact, over centuries, Croatian writing system did vary, but nowadays it settled to a quite simple one. Roughly, there is a rule: one sound = one letter. However, some "letters" are actually "double". But they are really considered as true letters, and have own entries in dictionaries and like.

Croatian has 6 vowels. They can be either long (like English feel) or short (like sit) but difference is not really big and not much important. They are pronounced as in Spanish or Italian (except for one). Here are vowels with approximate English sounds (for completeness, there are IPA symbols in square brackets as well). Courtesy of Brandon Bertelsen (thanks again!), you can hear these sounds as well.

letterIPAEnglish correlate
a[a][listen]father
e[ɛ̝][listen]bed
i[i][listen]sit
o[ɔ̝][listen]port
u[u][listen]look
r[r̩][listen]somewhat like her, but clearly pronounced

Consonants are more complex. Since you are not probably aiming for a speaker job at the Croatian Radio, it's OK if you don't distinguish č from ć, and đ from . Many people in Croatia don't distinguish them either!

letterIPAEnglish correlate, and some others
b[b][listen]bag
c[t͡s][listen]somewhat similar to cats; also in Russian tzar, German Zimmer, etc.
č[t͡ʃ][listen]church
ć[t̠͡ɕ][listen]softer than č (don't worry too much)
d[d][listen]did
đ[d̠͡ʑ][listen]softer than (don't worry too much)
[d͡ʒ][listen]jump
f[f][listen]fun
g[ɡ][listen]give
h[x][listen]similar to Scottish loch, rougher than English hat
j[j][listen]yes
k[k][listen]sky
l[l][listen]live
lj[ʎ][listen]somewhat like million; also in Portuguese olho, Italian figlio
m[m][listen]meet
n[n][listen]neat
nj[ɲ][listen]somewhat like onion; also in Spanish señora, Italian bagno
p[p][listen]spy
r[r][listen]it's hard to match; it's somewhat "clearer" than English rough
s[s][listen]sea
š[ʃ][listen]shoe
t[t][listen]stop
v[ʋ][listen]between very and wave (don't worry too much about this one)
z[z][listen]zero
ž[ʒ][listen]vision; Portuguese jogo; Turkish jale

Croatian spelling does not use letters q, x, y, and w, except in foreign names and like.

How to know when an r is used as a vowel, and when as an consonant? Well, if it's in an "impossible" position, then it's surely a vowel, e.g.:

prst "finger"
trg "square" (in a city)
smrt "death"
svrha "purpose"

I took some liberty to introduce "matres lectionis" — symbols I have personally invented, that are never used in the real life, or by anyone else — but indicate important letters that are not distinguished in ordinary writing at all.

First, on some e's I have placed two dots (ë) to indicate that it's somewhat special. It's because the sequence ijë is by most people not pronounced as /ijë/, but much closer to /je/ (that is, not as two syllables), except when it's at the end of the word, then it's pronounced just like /ije/. But when an e is not marked, it means that everybody pronounces it as /ije/:

prijë "before" — pronounce just as written, because it's at the end
nijedan "no one" — pronounce just as written, because the e is not marked
uvijëk "always" — pronounce actually much closer to /uvjek/ (two syllables, /u-vjek/), since the e is marked

If an i is not pronounced, why did I mark the e following it!? One reason is that it can change in plural of some words — i is just dropped:

cvijët "flower" — most people pronounce it much closer to /cvjet/
cvjëtovi "flowers" — (mind the spelling!)

I must confess that spelling of ije (and its mutation to je) was responsible for 90% of my spelling errors in primary school. It's a nightmare for many people. It's impossible to learn for many, since it's pronounced as if spelled as je, so many people are guessing all the time where to spell ije and where je. It's frequently called "the infamous ije".

Second, on some a's I have placed the dots (ä) to indicate "inconstant a". It's that in some words an a is "automatically" inserted in consonant clusters at the end of the word. Now, nobody makes mistakes with this, but you will — because you'll like learn the forms with an inserted a, and will be unsure where it disappears! For instance, let's see the word "dog":

psi "dogs" — you'll see later, plural of some nouns is made by adding an -i
päs "dog" — the singular cannot be ps, an a is automatically inserted

That's how it looks from the standpoint of the plural, but from the standpoint of singular, the a was dropped. Now, there are words ending on -as (e.g. pojas "belt") where nothing is dropped (pl. pojasi "belts") — how are you going to know which a's are dropped? Hence the notation. Of course, the ä is pronounced just like another a.

If an ä is found in the middle of the word, then it's not dropped at all, it means something completely different, e.g. mägla "fog". Just pronounce it as any a until it gets important!

Finally, I have added two dots on some i's (ï) — just disregard them and treat is as any other i until it gets important.

Special notation

There's a special notation invented for this course. It consists of two dots (¨).

Most people actually pronounce sequence ijë when not at the end of the word as /je/

Otherwise, pronounce an ä, ï, or ë just if there were no dots.

The notation ä signifies an a that likely disappears in some forms of the word, but only if it's the last vowel. If it's not, it never disappears.


The Baška Tablet, one of oldest Croatian writings, not written in the modern alphabet

A short video on letters and spelling (not my creation, found it on the net):

3 Basic Phrases

I will here list some basic phrases, and some basic patterns of simple sentences. First, most basic words and politeness:

da"yes"
ne"no"
možda"maybe"
molim"please" [listen]
hvala"thank you" [listen]
oprostite"excuse me", "sorry"

How to ask does someone know a language:

Govorite li..."Do you speak..."
Razumijem..."I understand..."
Znam..."I know (speak)..."
Ne razumijem..."I don't understand..."
... engleski"English"
... hrvatski"Croatian"
... njemački"German"
... francuski"French"
... talijanski"Italian"
... španjolski"Spanish"
... japanski"Japanese" (slim chance for this one!)

Some other useful phrases:

Možete li mi pomoći?"Can you help me?"
Gdjë je...?"Where is...?"
... toalet?"... the toilet?"
... izlaz?"... the exit?"
... policija?"... the police?"
... bolnica?"... hospital?"
... pošta?"... post office?"
... banka?"... bank?"
Trëbam(o)..."I (we) need..."
... pomoć"... help"
... doktora"... doctor"
... vode"... water"

Yes, we are rude; please don't ask for a bathroom, you want a toilet really! Ask for a bathroom if you want to take a shower...

You will often hear people saying to you izvolite. That means two things: "can I serve you", and "here it is". For instance, you come to a post office:

  • a clerk says izvolite
  • you ask for postcards, and give him/her the money
  • the clerk gives you postcards and says again izvolite.

That's just a polite word.

Also, when someone says hvala "thank you" other side will usually respond with molim, a word that usually means "please".

Finally, some greetings:

Dobär dan!"Good day", "Good afternoon" (the basic formal greeting when meeting someone) [listen]
Dobro jutro!"Good morning" [listen]
Dobra večer!"Good evening" [listen] (she says dobär actually; some people do it)
Laku noć!"Good night" [listen]
Do viđenja!"Good bye" (this is formal) [listen]
Bok!"Hi" (this is informal, both meeting and leaving)

You can find other useful words using a free online dictionary; it's comprehensive, but it translates some sentences slightly incorrectly. You can also use Google™ Translate (http://translate.google.com).

4 Types of Words

This chapter should prepare you for what lies ahead, to introduce some basic concepts.

For some reasons, English grammar divides words into various "parts of speech". I would rather use a phrase "types of words". In scientific use people prefer "word classes". I would rather use class to sub-divide various types.

I hope you know at least about nouns (e.g. "Sun") and verbs (e.g. "shine"). There are also adjectives (e.g. "yellow"), etc. Croatian has all these types, similar to English.

However, there comes a twist. One can divide words by various criteria. In Croatian, there are basically three ways to divide words:

  • by meaning: whether they describe a being, action, some property, quantity, etc.
  • by syntax: how the word behaves grammatically, what forms it has, etc.
  • finally, one can divide among "full words" and "short words" ("short" are usually called clitics, but they are... short).

This mixture can be also seen in English: there are nouns with verbal meaning, like in the sentence "Leaving was not easy". "Leaving" is called verbal noun (that is, word that behaves like a noun, and has a meaning of an action), or sometimes gerund.

In Croatian, there are a lot of words that behave like adjectives and represent something else — actions and quantities, for instance.

Let's take a look at some types of words in Croatian, not by meaning, but by their grammatical properties:

Nouns stand for persons (John), beings (pas "dog"), various objects (soba "room"), feelings (bol "pain"), or abstractions (odlazak "departure").

  • more or less all nouns have different forms in various cases, for both singular and plural,
  • each has pre-determined gender which may be anything for non-living things: e.g. odlazak is masculine;
  • from most nouns, a possessive adjective can be created (Ivan - Ivanov "Ivan's")

Pronouns stand for nouns and describe some already known thing, sides of conversation (ja "I", mi "we"). Words standing for some undetermined beings (netko "someone") are also usually classified as pronouns.

  • more or less all pronouns also have different forms in various cases, for both singular and plural,
  • there are pronouns for the first and second persons in conversation;
  • some pronouns have different forms for various genders (the same is in English - check "he", "she", "it");
  • from most pronouns, a possessive adjective can be created (on "he" - njegov "his")
  • some pronouns have special "short forms" that are placed in pre-determined place in a sentence;

Adjectives describe nouns somehow (žuti "yellow") or are derived from nouns to describe possession (Ivanov "Ivan's") or pronouns (njegov "his") or from verbs (more about it later).

  • more or less all adjectives also have different forms in various cases, for both singular and plural, and they adapt to gender of a noun, so adjectives have quite a lot of forms;
  • many adjectives have comparison (velik "big", veći "bigger", etc.);

Verbs describe actions or states.

  • they have various forms that describe tenses (past, present, future) and persons in a conversation;
  • some nouns and adjectives can be formed from verbs; such adjectives are further used to create compound forms for various tenses;
  • there are some auxiliary verbs used to create compound tenses;
  • there are some forms describing orders (like "go there") or possibilities (like "you could").

Besides that, there are prepositions (u "in", iz "from"), adverbs (lako "easy"; they have relations with adjectives), and conjuctions and particles (i "and").

However, there's another way of looking at it. Words can be divided what meaning they carry. For instance, some words point to some real person (like personal names, Ivan, for instance), and on the other extreme other words have only pure grammatical use (like English "in", "of", "and"), called "function words".

More or less completely independent of this, there's another division regarding that some words describe things and persons ("nouns"), possessions ("possessives"), properties ("adjectives"), actions ("verbs"). But there can be generic possessions ("his") and individual ones ("John's"). It could be described in a neat table:

individualcommongeneralizations
people
and
things
personal names:
Ivan, Ana
fixed gender, change case
objects and concepts:
soba "room", bol "pain"
fixed gender, change case
personal pronouns:
ja "I", mi "we"
change gender and case
possesion
and
dependance
possessives:
Ivanov "Ivan's", Anin "Ana's"
change gender and case
quasi-possessives:
sobni "room", bolni "painful"
change gender and case
pronominal possesives:
moj "my", naš "our"
change gender and case
attributes
and
properties
  adjectives:
velik "big", hladan "cold"
change gender, case and degree
demonstratives:
taj "that", ovo "this"
change gender and case
modes
and
means
  brzo "quickly", malo "little"
change degree
kako "how", ovako "like this"
have only one form
time
and
place
  jučer "yesterday", noćas "this night"
have only one form
kada "when", ovdje "here"
have only one form
actions
and
states
  verbs:
pišem "I'm writing", spavam "I'm sleeping"
change tense and person
 

The yellow-shaded cells are adjective-like words, the major part of Croatian. You see that verbs are a separate part of the scheme; but fully apart from all described above are fully functional words, like u "in", i "and" — prepositions, conjuctions, particles and so on.

There's a major system linking most of "generalizations", similar to English words "where"/"anywhere"/"nowhere"/"there"....

5 Basic Sentences

In this post I'll describe the structure of simple sentences. I have a serious problem - English is, in a sense, a very peculiar language. Regarding the sentence structure, most languages of the world are not so rigid as English is. In fact, even Mandarin Chinese is (in this aspect) more similar to Croatian. Germanic languages (English included) and French are somewhat different from the bulk!

Let's take a look at a simple sentence:

English: I am eating an apple.

Croatian: Ja jedem jabuku.

However, in Croatian, the subject pronoun ja "I" is almost always ommited:

Jedem jabuku.

One says ja... only in very special circumstances!

Some words: jedem "am eating"; jede "is eating"; jabuka "apple".

There are some verbs that are called "0-argument" (don't worry about technical terms for now) - they really don't have a subject, because it's how they are. In English, such verbs have a "dummy pronoun" it:

English: It rains.

Croatian: Kiši.

In Croatian, you cannot use any subject with such verbs - there are no dummy pronouns!

There are some "2-argument" (or "transitive") verbs than have a subject and (mostly optional) object:

English: Iva is drinking water.

Croatian: Iva pije vodu. (pije "is drinking"; voda "water")

In English, this is the only word order. This is the normal order for Croatian, but sometimes people use other word orders:

Croatian: Iva vodu pije.

Croatian: Vodu Iva pije.

Croatian: Vodu pije Iva.

Croatian: Pije Iva vodu.

Croatian: Pije vodu Iva.

These variants are used when someone wants to emphasize some words.

If we use a pronoun as the subject, we get:

English: She is drinking water.

Croatian: Ona pije vodu.

Croatian: Pije vodu. (this is the most common)

Croatian: Vodu pije.

There are some verbs that have a subject and two objects (they are called "ditransitive" or "3-argument"). One such verb is dajem "give". One can shuffle words in such English sentences a bit, but must insert a word to. In Croatian, there are so many possibilities that I'm not going to list all:

English: Iva is giving Ana an apple.

English: Iva is giving an apple to Ana.

Croatian: Iva daje Ani jabuku. (daje "is giving")

Croatian: Iva daje jabuku Ani.

Croatian: Ani Iva daje jabuku.

Croatian: Jabuku Ani daje Iva.

etc.

Again, first possibilities are most common in Croatian. If you use a pronoun (e.g. she) for the subject, you usually drop it in Croatian.

There's usually no possibility for confusion when shuffling words in Croatian sentences, since subject, direct and indirect object are in different cases. So when one finds a noun in the "subject case" wherever in a sentence, that's the subject. The same goes for object(s). Therefore, it's important to learn the so-called cases.

6 Cases Survival Guide

Introducing Cases

This post will introduce you to grammatical cases. English has 2 cases (the subject case and the object case). However, their forms are different only for pronouns ("we" vs. "us").

Cases are forms of words when used in various places in a sentence (subject, object, indirect object, etc.)

If the sentence "Ivan is writing a letter to Ana." is translated into Croatian, all three nouns (Ivan, letter, Ana) must be put in cases corresponding to their roles. In English one uses just word order and preposition "to".

Case changes apply to nouns, adjectives and pronouns. For instance, the phrase moja sestra "my sister" (adjective + noun) and the pronoun ona "she" change like this:

Moja sestra je ovdje. "My sister is here" Ona je ovdje. "She is here."
Vidiš moju sestru. "You (can) see my sister"     Vidiš je. "You (can) see her."

We see that the adjective moja and the name change only a bit (only the ending), but the pronoun changes completely (this is actually similar to English, where "she" changes to "her" — a complete change). This example illustrates only two cases, but that's the principle.

So, a noun has different forms in various cases, an adjective has them too, but generally they don't follow the same pattern (although they are similar). Even worse, the pattern for an adjective depends on the gender of the noun! (That's actually the definition of gender I'm using here: it tells you which form of an adjective you should use).

As we've seen from the example, pronouns have yet another pattern... This is a hard thing to learn, and there's no other way but to memorize it. Therefore, it's worth learning the often used cases first. This chapter will introduce you to the cases, and the next two chapters will introduce forms for adjectives and nouns for the two most often used cases, and we will leave pronouns out for now.

Cases are roles of words in sentences.

Nouns ("cat"), including names ("Ivan"), adjectives ("big", "my") and pronouns ("I", "you") have different forms in various cases according to specific patterns.

I don't want to oversimplify things. Cases are a hard-to-learn concept, and which case is used where even harder. So I want to introduce basic cases as soon as possible. Don't be impatient and jump into conclusions, you must learn gradually where each case is needed and how to put a word into that case!

Some languages have more than 10 cases, like Hungarian. Georgian, Latin, Old Greek, Sanskrit, Old English, and most Slavic languages have 5-8 cases. Most textbooks say that Croatian has 7 cases.

Cases are woven together with singular/plural, so every Croatian noun has 7 forms for cases in singular, and additional 7 for plural = 14 all together. Adjectives have even more forms — one for each gender and case combination! Hopeless? Not completely.

A Quick Survey

First, one case (the nominative, or 'subject case') is the 'default' case — you have to know the dictionary form of a noun if nothing else, and there are rules how to make a plural. So, 6x2 left.

Second, two of the remaining 6 cases are always exactly the same in both singular and plural (except for a small difference in accent; also they are not equal in some dialects); they are called locative and dative — I'll call them both 'dative'. We are down to 5x2.

Next, there is a case (the vocative) used only when calling someone, or yelling at someone (like in "John, come down!" or "You, idiot!"); we can live without it for a while, and yell in nominative. Besides, a vocative plural is always the same as the nominative plural (there's again a small difference in accent for some words). Did you know that in fact, many languages have special forms for yelling and giving orders? This leaves us with 4x2.

We can postpone learning of two more cases — the before mentioned genitive (which is in many aspects the most difficult case!) and instrumental — because they are not used in simplest sentences; they are however used in some constructions, and we will have to learn them a bit later (otherwise we would not be able to say "two apples" in Croatian).

(The genitive case is introduced in 13 Genitive Case, and the instrumental case is introduced in 21 Instrumental Case. The vocative case is explained in 41 Imperatives, Permissions and Vocative Case.)

This leaves us with just 2x2 cases — precisely one for objects (the accusative), and another for indirect objects ('to-case', before mentioned dative). And, of course, there's the default case found in every language — the nominative. Sorry, I cannot make it simpler than that!

And you don't need to remember all 6 forms for every noun — there are rules how to make all of them.

Cases are usually abbreviated to three letters (e.g. acc. = accusative) or to one letter (N = nominative, A = accusative, etc.), and singular and plural to sg. and pl.

If you are worried about the locative case and how it got lost and absorbed into the dative case, you are free to call that case dative/locative. In practice, in colloquial conversation they are always identical. Let's keep things simple.

How They Work

Let's take a look how the noun Ana (a personal name) looks in various cases. I will indicate cases with superscribed letters N (nominative), A (accusative) and D (dative):

Ana(N) jede. "Ana is eating."
Hranim Anu(A). "I am feeding Ana."
Pišem Ani(D). "I am writing to Ana."

This doesn't look too complex! Don't forget, the nominative is the 'normal', unchanged form. From standpoint of Croatian, you could say that English nouns are always in the nominative case.

Now, some fun: every noun must be squeezed into this scheme! So, if one is writing to somebody else, let's say, to George Bush, it will be:

George(N) Bush(N) piše Ani. "George Bush is writing to Ana."
Pišem Georgeu(D) Bushu(D). "I am writing to George Bush."

You may also note two things: first, we changed every word in his name (that's normal); second, we added -u and not -i as we did to Ana (that's because Ana ends on -a, and we really changed that -a to -i).

Warning: most verbs use accusative, and some can use dative (like "write", "give"). But not all. That's not important at this time, but just remember that use of cases ultimately depends on the verb. The verb is the boss.

There's another use for acc. and dat. They are used with prepositions (words that correspond to English "in", "on", etc.). Croatian has a system of prepositions that is not too different from English (there are languages without prepositions!), and quite similar to German. The main point is that after a preposition a noun must be put in appropriate case. However, for some prepositions we can use more than one case, and that affects the meaning:

u + D = "in something"       u + A = "to something"
na + D = "on, at something"       na + A = "onto something"

In short, with these two prepositions (u, na), the accusative is used with directions (u grad "to the city"), and dative with static locations (u gradu "in the city"). German speakers will recognize a lot of similarities.

Summary and Final Remarks

Let's summarize:

Nominative is the default, "dictionary" case, and is used as a subject of sentence ("she is writing").

Accusative case is used as an object ("feed her"), and with prepositions u, na meaning motion to somewhere ("to", "onto").

Dative case is used as an indirect object ("write to her"), and with prepositions u, na meaning static location ("in", "on", "at").

Please, bear in mind these are only some uses of those cases. There are of course more. Much more :)

Don't ever think that acc. itself means 'direction'. It gets such meaning only with several prepositions. And there are other prepositions that require accusative but don't mean directions! That's why it's a complex thing to learn. (Again, exactly the same complexity exists in German).

Many people in Croatia always list cases in the 'standard' order (nom., gen., dat., etc.) That's a very bad choice since it makes cases much harder to learn (you'll see later why). I decided to completely disregard the so-called standard order. If hear from anyone that there's 'the standard order of cases', please ask that person to explain reasons for it, and they will not be able to say anything (except that it's a tradition).

Finally, you will maybe read somewhere that cases 'answer to questions'. That's the way Croatian children are taught cases in school. However, such approach is useful only if already you know Croatian — as children do — but you don't know the names of cases. For instance, the page learn-croatian.com gives a completely useless introduction to cases, and even tells that the word školu is in the locative case, while it's of course in the accusative case (I'll show you case patterns soon, so you'll be able to figure it out yourself). If you find any resource for learning Croatian mentioning 'cases answering to questions', you can safely conclude that their author didn't understand what cases really are, and you can safely disregard it...

Updated 2013-11-06 (v. 0.4)