23 Questions, Part 1

• • • Easy Croatian: 26 Yes or No?, 28 Asking Who and What

This one and the next chapter will introduce to composing questions and the question-words (sometimes called 'relational pronouns', but they are not really all pronouns)

Yes/No Questions

The simplest questions are those where one just answers with a yes or no. Such short answers are, by the way, acceptable in Croatian. In the Standard Croatian, recipe for such simple questions is quite simple: move the verb to the beginning if it isn't already there, and then insert a 'particle' li to the second place (before all other 'clitics'):

S1: Ideš u školu. "You're going to (the) school."
Q1: Ideš li u školu? "Are you going to the school?"
A1: Da. "Yes." or Ne. "No."
A1: Idem. "I'm going." or Ne idem. "I'm not going."

If an auxiliary verb is used (säm/si.. or ću/ćeš...) it's put at the beginning of the sentence in its full form. The full forms for ću/ćeš... are obtained by prefixing ho- (check 22 Infinitive and Future Tense). The full forms of säm are listed here:

fullshort fullshort
1st jesäm säm jesmo smo
2nd jesi si jeste ste
3rd je (!) je jesu su

We see that long forms are just short ones with je- at the front, except for je, where nothing changes. It has another long form (jest), but it's used only in books and it's quite archaic.

When answering, a simple da "yes" or ne "no" is sufficient, but one can answer with just the full form of the auxiliary verb used:

S2: Vratili smo se. "We came back."
Q2: Jesmo li se vratili? "Did we come back?"
A2: Jesmo. "We did." or Nismo. "We didn't."

S3: Napisao je pismo. "He wrote a letter."
Q3: Je li napisao pismo? "Did he write (a) letter?"
A3: Je. "(He) did." or Nije. "(He) didn't."

S4: Kupit ćemo bicikl. "We will buy (a) bicycle."
Q4: Hoćemo li kupiti bicikl? "Will we buy a bicycle?"
A4: Hoćemo. "We will." or Nećemo. "We won't."

This holds as well for sentences where säm is the only verb (not an auxiliary):

S5: Gladna si. "You are hungry." (to a female)
Q5: Jesi li gladna? "Are you hungry?"
A5: Jesi. "You are." or Nisi. "You aren't."

Next, if there's a verb with a se in the past tense, je is usually left out; now it must re-appear in questions, to be moved to the front:

S6: Vratila se. "She came back." (je left out)
Q6: Je li se vratila? "Did she come back?" (je reappears)
A6: Je. "(She) did." or Nije. "(She) didn't."

This box summarizes rules for making sentences in the Standard Croatian:

Making Yes/No Questions

1. Find a verb in the sentence, and move it to the beginning.

2. If the verb is a short (clitic) form of säm/si/smo... or ću/ćeš... convert it to the full form.

3. Add a particle li immediately after the verb at the beginning.

There's a special case of Yes/No questions, when asking about advice or opinion. In English, such question begin with "should I..." or "should we"; in Croatian, the common way to form questions can be used, but it's preferred to use a special construct with da li da + present, without the 'modal' trëbam. For instance:

S7: Trëbamo kupiti auto. "We should buy a car."
Q7: Trëbamo li kupiti auto? "Should we buy a car?"
Q7: Da li da kupimo auto? (special way !)

This works for present only, If you want to ask questions about past or future, use the standard way:

S8: Trëbali smo kupiti auto. "We should have bought a car."
Q8: Jesmo li trebali kupiti auto? "Should we have bought a car?"

Colloquial Yes/No Questions

In colloquial, everyday speech and often in writing, there are other ways to make the simplest questions. First, a question can be made by just putting words da li to the front (the short words follow it immediately), nothing else is done to the rest of the sentence, short forms of auxiliaries stay:

Q1: Da li ideš u školu? "Are you going to the school?"
Q2: Da li smo se vratili? "Did we come back?"
Q3: Da li je napisao pismo? "Did he write (a) letter?"
Q4: Da li ćemo kupiti bicikl? "Will we buy a bicycle?"
Q5: Da li si gladna? "Are you hungry?"
Q6: Da li se vratila? "Did she come back?"

In an even more colloquial mode, in especially in some regions, je li is put to the front, and auxiliary je is removed from the rest if it exists:

Q1: Je li ideš u školu? "Are you going to the school?"
Q2: Je li smo se vratili? "Did we come back?"
Q3: Je li napisao pismo? "Did he write (a) letter?" (remove je)
Q4: Je li ćemo kupiti bicikl? "Will we buy a bicycle?"
Q5: Je li si gladna? "Are you hungry?"
Q6: je li se vratila? "Did she come back?"

Words da li and je li are in speech often fused to dal and jel, spelled usually as da l' and je l':

Q1: Jel ideš u školu? "Are you going to the school?"

Colloquially it's also possible to remove li from Standard questions (however, other transformations like putting the verb to the front still apply):

Q1: Ideš u školu? "Are you going to the school?"
Q2: Jesmo se vratili? "Did we come back?"

Colloquially, it's normal to remove da li from the "should I..." questions:

Q7: Da kupimo auto? "Should we buy a car?"

Finally, it's possible to use just a original sentence with a intonation of a question as a question:

Q2: Vratili smo se? "Did we come back?"
Q3: Napisao je pismo? "Did he write (a) letter?"

Questions about Nouns ("who", "what")

Now, to more complex questions: one can ask questions about any part of a sentence. In such questions, answer is not a simple yes or no, but can be any information. It's possible to ask questions about subject, object, means, time, place, etc. For instance:

"I came here yesterday."
Q: "Where did I come yesterday?"

"I came here by car."
Q: "How did I come here?"

"I came here yesterday."
Q: "Who came here yesterday?" (in English, such questions use a different mechanism from others)

"I rented a car."
Q: "What did I rent?"

In English, such questions are sometimes called wh-questions, and words to make them are called wh-words. Croatian has a very similar way to make such questions and similar k-words — also called question words or 'relative pronouns'.

Question words that replace nouns, pronouns, adjectives or noun phrases are 'declinable' — they have cases like nouns, personal pronouns and adjectives do. Question words that replace adverbs and prepositional phrases are not declined.

Two most often used relative pronouns stand for nouns and noun phrases. Tko is used for people (sometimes for animals) and što for everything else. Here are their forms:

nom.tko što
acc.koga (kog)
dat.kome, komučemu
gen.kogačega (čeg)
ins.kim, kimečim, čime

We see that — nominative aside — forms are like for some fictional adjectives k- and č-, including variants with and without final vowels. Well, kind of. Let's put them to use to make some questions about the indirect object, object and subject of a sentence — in Croatian, they are just questions about nouns in a sentence:

Ivan(N) piše pismo(A) Ani(D). "Ivan is writing a letter to Ana."

Q: Kome(D) Ivan piše pismo?
A: Ani(D). (kome = person)

Q: Što(A) piše Ivan?
A: Pismo(A). (što = non-person)

Q: Tko(N) piše pismo?
A: Ivan(N). (tko = person)

We use što in the second question, since you cannot write somebody, just something; in other questions we use forms of tko.

We see the recipe: just take appropriate form (case) of the right relative pronoun, and put it in the beginning to make a question. Answer is in the same case as the word in the original sentence, and in the same case as the relative pronoun in the question. Word order plays no role, except for the relative pronoun in the beginning, and verbs are not changed in any way — in Croatian, verbs have nothing to do with composing this type of questions!

We can ask questions about nouns after a prepositions. Both preposition and a pronoun are moved to the beginning of the sentence:

Išao säm s bratom(I). "I was going with (the) brother."
Q: S kim(I) säm išao? "Who was I going with?"

Kuham jelo bez mesa(G). "I'm cooking a dish without meat."
Q: Bez čega(G) kuham jelo? "What am I cooking a dish without?"

You probably noticed that tko and što have only forms for singular and no forms for gender. So, what about plural? Simply put — there's no plural! When asking questions about subjects, you must change verbs to their singular form (English does it too):

Ana i Ivan pjëvaju. "Ana and Ivan are singing."
Q: Tko pjëva? "Who is singing?"

Unfortunately, since adjectives and participles also show number and gender, you must change them to masculine singular if you use tko in questions about subjects:

Ana i Ivan su gladni. "Ana and Ivan are hungry."
Q: Tko je gladän? "Who is hungry?"

Ana i Ivan su otišli. "Ana and Ivan left."
Q: Tko je otišao? "Who left?"

If you use a što, you should change any adjectives and participles to neuter singular in questions about subjects:

Jabuke su bile na stolu. "There were apples on the table."
Q: Što je bilo na stolu? "What was on the table?"

Kruške su trule. "Pears are rotten."
Q: Što je trulo? "What is rotten?"

There's one final complication: there are sentences where properties are expressed with nouns, e.g.:

Ana i Ivana su mala djëca. "Ana and Ivana are little children."

In such sentences, if you ask what is someone, you should use što:

Što su Ana i Ivana? "What are Ana and Ivana?"

But if you ask questions about subject, you can optionally keep the verbs in plural, but such questions sound rather odd:

Tko su mala djëca?

An important thing to remember: there are two relative pronouns used to stand for nouns, one (tko) is used for people (and other animals, sometimes), and another (što) is used for everything else. One is in masculine sg., and another in neuter sg.


JavaScript must be enabled. You don't have to use my special notation (e.g. ë) in answers, normal spelling will do as well. Letter case is ignored.

Ask questions about all nouns in the following sentences:

A Ana kuha ručak za Ivana. "Ana is cooking a lunch for Ivan." (Ivana = acc.)
B Ivan loži vatru ugljenom. "Ivan feeds the fire with coal."
C Ključevi su na stolu. "The keys are on the table."
D Ana se boji aviona. "Ana is afraid of airplanes." (aviona = gen.)

For instance, questions about nouns in the sentence A would be:

Ana: Tko kuha ručak za Ivana? (tko = nom.) "Who is cooking a lunch for Ivan?"
Ručak: Što Ana kuha za Ivana? (što = acc.) "What is Ana cooking for Ivan?"
Ivan: Za koga Ana kuha ručak? (koga = acc.) "Who is Ana cooking a lunch for?"

Now ask questions about nouns in the sentence B (use longer forms of questions words, e.g. koga and not kog):

loži vatru u peći ugljenom? (about "Ivan")
Ivan loži? (about "fire")
Ivan loži vatru u peći? (about "coal")

For the sentence C:

na stolu? (about "keys")
Na su ključevi? (about "table")

For the sentence D:

se boji aviona? (about "Ana")
se boji Ana? (about "airplanes")


Updated 2014-10-07 (v. 0.4)


luKpo said...

What happens if the subject is in plural? so I still use "sxto" or something like "sxta"?
My keyboard doesn't support diacriticals so I use the x-system.
Thanks for this site, it's really helpful!

Daniel N. said...

No -- as I wrote: "there is no difference between singular and plural" :)

You're welcome, don't hesitate to ask anything as it helps me to improve this blog...

lijep pozdrav, Daniel

luKpo said...

thanks! and what's the difference between kome and komu?

Daniel N. said...

In practice, none. Many words in Croatian have a couple of forms (like sad, sada, mojem, mojemu...) and you can use one you like.

As I wrote above, forms koga, kome, komu are similar to adjectives (e.g. velikog, velikoga, velikome, velikom, velikomu....) -- and they have more than one possible endings. Shorter endings are more frequently used.

lp Daniel

luKpo said...

thanks a lot! Yours is the best blog I've ever been to!

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