Prepositions are words that somehow denote mode of action when added to nouns or noun phrases. For example, in English, "in", "to", "over", "under", "with", "except", etc. are prepositions.
The complication in Croatian is that the noun phrase after the preposition (that is, a noun with optional adjectives) must be put in the appropriate case. However, for some prepositions, there may be more than one appropriate case, each one giving a different meaning to the resulting prepositional phrase!
We can say that a preposition 'demands' a case, or cases, meaning the noun phrase after the pronoun must be put in the case(s).
This looks incredibly complex, but we have already seen examples: the preposition u means "in" when the noun (or phrase) after it is in dative, and "into", "to" when the noun is in accusative!
Introducing Basic Prepositions
In this chapter I'll introduce seven prepositions (u, na, kod, iz, od, do, s). The first two are used with acc. and dat., the next four with gen. only, and for the last one we're interested only in its use with the genitive.
prep.+case meaning example u + dat. Static location
within something, "in"
Živim u gradu.
"I'm living in the city."
na + dat. Static location
on surface of
something, "at, on"
Vidim brod na moru.
"I see a ship at sea."
u + acc. Destination within
Idem u grad.
"I'm going to the city."
na + acc. Destination on top
of something, "onto"
Idem na krov.
"I'm going onto the roof."
kod + gen. Static location
"at" or "by" something
Živim kod brata.
"I live at my brother's place."
iz + gen. Origin within
"out of", "from"
Idem iz grada.
"I'm going from the city."
s + gen. Origin on surface of
Idem s krova.
"I'm going off the roof."
od + gen. Origin close
to something, start;
Idem od kuće.
"I'm going from the house."
do + gen. Destination, as a
some final limit, end;
Idem do kraja.
"I'm going to (the) end."
The three prepositions for locations (u, na, kod) are quite similar to English "in", "on", "at", but there are some important differences (that was a problem for me when learning English).
Croatian na + dat. is often used when English uses "at". It's used for being "on" a surface, but also metaphorically; the best is to compare Croatian and English phrases:
English Croatian English Croatian "on the wall" na zidu "at the top" na vrhu "on a ship" na brodu "at the bottom" na dnu "on vacation" na odmoru "at the end" na kraju "at work" na poslu "at the door" na vratima "at lunch" na ručku "in the sky" na nebu
Actually, "at" is almost always translated with Croatian na for "location", except in two phrases: kod kuće "at home" and u školi "at school".
Warning. It's not so when "at" is used for precise times ("at midnight"): for precise times, Croatian uses u (u ponoć)! (Review 16 Numbers and Time).
The preposition kod is used when a location is determined by a person or a prominent object. It does not mean that you're exactly where something is, but reasonably nearby it, e.g.
Bio säm kod zubara. "I was at dentist."
Bit ću kod tete. "I'll be at (my) aunt's place."
Čekam te kod mosta. "I'm waiting for you by the bridge."
Nisäm kod kuće. "I'm not at home." (a phrase!)
The last phrase, kod kuće, is very often used, even if you are not living in a house: it simply means "at home". Another way to express such place is just with a single adverb doma:
Bio säm doma. "I was home."
There are rules how to use prepositions with cities, streets, and addresses. Basically, you use u for everything except for squares (trg), shores (obala) and floors (kat), for instance:
Živim u Zagrebu. "I live in Zagreb."
Živim na Britanskom trgu 5. "I live at 5 British Square."
Živim u Jurišićevoj 8. "I live at 8 Jurišićeva Street."
Živim na petom katu. "I live on the fifth floor."
Street names (e.g. Jurišićeva ulica) are often composed of possessive + ulica, it's literally 'his or her street', and street names are often shortened to just possessive (e.g. Jurišićeva) that stays in appropriate gender (f for ulica "street"), which is then declined as any other adjective!
While English distinguishes location and direction with pairs "in/to", "at/to", etc. Croatian just uses different cases, as illustrated with the following examples of na and u, showing 'location' and 'destination':
Ja säm na odmoru(A). "I'm on vacation."
Idem na odmor(A). "I'm going on vacation."
Ja säm u krevetu. "I'm in bed."
Idem u krevet. "I'm going to bed."
Ja säm na ulici. "I'm on the street."
Idem na ulicu. "I'm going to the street."
In Standard Croatian, kod stands for static locations only, but colloquially it's frequently used for directions as well:
Idem kod zubara. "I'm going to dentist." (not Standard, but frequent)
Ići ću kod tete. "I'll go to (my) aunt." (again not Standard)
For direction 'home' there one can use kući and doma as well.
Idem kući. "I'm going home."
Idem doma. "I'm going home."
Notes on na and u
With preposition na, some nouns can have a special meaning. For instance na moru can mean literally "on sea", but is usually means "at seaside":
Ana je na moru(D). "Ana is at the seaside."
Ana putuje na more(A). "Ana travels to the seaside."
Preposition na + posäo mi "job" means "at/to work". Unfortunately, posäo is a bit strange noun, when any case suffix is added, -äo changes to -l-:
Ana je na poslu(D). "Ana is at work."
Ana putuje na posäo(A). "Ana travels to work."
If you use u + dat., there's a bit different meaning:
Ja säm u poslu. "I'm (deeply) in work."
(For a detailed discussion of posäo and similar nouns, check 66 Final L Lost; Sound Assimilations.)
With devices like "phone", "computer", "television" and "radio", and visual content such as "(TV) news" the use of na + dat. is exactly as English on; Croatian uses na for movies as well, but English uses "in":
Ana je dugo na telefonu(D). "Ana is on the phone for a long time." (speaking to someone)
Zovem je na telefon(A). "I'm calling her on the phone."
Ana radi na kompjuteru(D). "Ana works on the computer."
Vidio säm te na televiziji(D). "I saw you on the TV."
Čula säm to na radiju(D). "I heard that on the radio."
Gledala säm na vijëstima(D). "I watched on the news."
Gledala säm ga na filmu(D). "I watched him in a movie."
As in English, with newspapers and books you should use u:
Pročitao säm to u novinama(D). "I read that in the newspapers."
Prepositions od and do are used as a pair with time phrases, meaning "work from", "work to":
Radim od devet sati. "I'm working since 9 o'clock."
Radim do pet sati. "I'm working until 9 o'clock."
Vozim od jutra. "I'm driving since morning."
Otvoreni smo od osam do pet. "We're open from eight to five."
Preposition od has also a meaning comparable with English "of", as in:
Od deset ljudi, pet su žene. "Out of ten people, five are women."
Očekujemo poklon od njih. "We're expecting (a) gift from them."
Preposition do sometimes also mean "next to", "close":
Telefon je do mene. "(The) phone is next to me."
Gurnuli smo stol do zida. "We have pushed (the) table to the wall."
Pairs s/na, iz/u
We have already seen the preposition s/sa when describing the instrumental case; however, when used with the genitive, it has a completely different meaning — one directly opposite to na + acc:
Idem na posao(A). "I'm going to work."
Idem s posla(G). "I'm going from work."
The spelling rules for the preposition are the same as with the instrumental case. It's used as an exact opposite to na + acc., in the same way as iz + gen. is the exact opposite to u + acc.:
Idem u grad. (acc.) "I'm going to the city."
Idem iz grada. (gen.) "I'm going out of the city"
So, motion/time flow opposites are:
u grad (acc.) vs. iz grada (gen.)
na krov (acc.) vs. s krova (gen.)
do jutra (gen.) vs. od jutra (gen.)
Use With Constructions
If you use a preposition with a 'construction', that is, a noun with a number in front of it, some quantity-adverb, you can decline only what can be declined:
Bio säm na dosadnoj(D) zabavi(D). "I was at a boring party."
Bio säm na dvijë zabave(du = G). "I was at two parties."
Bio säm na puno zabava(G pl.). "I was at many parties."
Here n cannot affect the noun (here: zabava) if it was already put to a specific case by a number (e.g. dva "2") or a quantity adverb (e.g. puno "many"). However, it can change both adjective and the noun in dosadna zabava since adjectives do not influence cases in any way!
Updated 2014-09-05 (v. 0.4)