34 Degrees of Adjectives, J-Softening

• • • Easy Croatian: 63 Bigger and Better: Comparatives

Many adjectives and some adverbs in Croatian have comparatives (e.g. "bigger", abbreviation: comp.) and superlatives ("the biggest"). However, possessives (Ivanov "Ivan's", moj "my"), ordinals (drugi "second") or material adjectives (voden "watery") don't have them, together with many adverbs.

The basic form ("big") is called positive.

Comparatives and superlatives of adjectives behave as normal adjectives regarding the case/number/gender forms. The normal rules for making case forms apply. The only slightly complicated thing is creation of comparatives.

Comparatives on -iji

Most adjectives that have comparatives form them by adding -iji to the "original" (a.k.a positive) form:

crven "red" → crveniji
ispran "washed out" → ispraniji    
mršav "thin" → mršaviji
pažljiv "careful" → pažljiviji
zelen "green" → zeleniji
zdrav "healthy" → zdraviji

If there's an inconstant ä at the end of the adjective, it will disappear (recall that it disappears whenever any suffix or ending is added):

dosadän "boring" → dosadniji    
gladän "hungry" → gladniji
hladän "cold" → hladniji
läžän "fake" → läžniji
mokär "wet" → mokriji
mudär "wise" → mudriji
prazän "empty" → prazniji
ružän "ugly" → ružniji
strašän "terrible" → strašniji
tämän "dark" → tamniji

Some adjectives have always -i in nom.sg.m or even have an -o that disappears and an -l appears in other forms. For such adjectives — for all adjectives, actually — the simplest way to make comparatives is to discard -a in the nom.sg.f and then add any endings used. This will take care of any ä as well, so it's worth remembering (recall that the same applies to making infinitives out of past participles — the feminine form is much more useful):

prazän, prazn-a "empty" → prazn-iji
veseo, vesela "cheerful" → vesel-iji

This method is used by all adjectives having more than two syllables. It's used by many adjectives having 2 syllables, and by the following common adjectives having only one syllable (that is, one vowel):

crn "black" → crniji     
loš "bad" → lošiji
nov "new" → noviji
plavi "blue" → plaviji
pun "full" → puniji
rani "early" → raniji
slab "weak" → slabiji
slan "salty" → slaniji      
spor "slow" → sporiji
star "old" → stariji
strm "steep" → strmiji
zdrav "healthy" → zdraviji

There's a small twist: if the original adjective ("positive") contains a sequence ijë, it's shortened to in the comparative:

smijëšän, smijëšn-a "funny" → smšn-iji
svijëtäo, svijëtl-a "luminous" → svtl-iji

Since it's the default and simple method, I will only indicate when adjectives deviate from it (I will also indicate cases like smjëšniji).

Comparatives on -’ji and J-Softening

Now things get complicated: most short, one-syllable adjectives add a -ji. Unfortunately, the j from this suffix fuses with the final consonants, according to not really a simple pattern. It does not happen only in comparatives, it's found elsewhere in Croatian as well. Not every j does that — observe the word vidjëla (past part. f of verb vidim) where a j happily coexists with a d. Only some j's cause it. I will mark such j's with an apostrophe: ’j.

It's sometimes called 'iotation' and I will call it j-softening. The j-softening acts on all consonants in the final 'cluster' (on all consonants from the last vowel to the end of the word). All consonants that are 'shiftable' are 'softened' in this way:

original k, c g, z h, s d t l n
softened č ž š đ ć lj nj

Observe that the results are all Croatian-specific letters. It is so because this process is specific for Slavic languages, and we had to invent symbols for all those sounds... For example:

jak "strong" → jak-’jijač-’ji
dug "long" → dug-’jiduž-’ji
brz "fast" → brz-’jibrž-’ji
suh "dry" → suh-’jisuš-’ji
    mlad "young" → mlad-’jimlađ-’ji
žut "yellow" → žut-’jižuć-’ji
gust "thick" → gust-’jigušć-’ji
glup "stupid" → glup-’jiglup-’ji

Next, either the inserted j disappears, or it turns into a lj if the sound immediately left of it is a b, p, m or v (note that all those sounds are made with lips, that's one way to remember them). This happens to the the adjectives above:

brz "fast" → brz-’jibrži
dug "long" → dug-’jiduži
gust "thick" → gust-’jigušći
glup "stupid" → glup-’jigluplji
    jak "strong" → jak-’jijači
mlad "young" → mlad-’jimlađi
suh "dry" → suh-’jisuši
žut "yellow" → žut-’jižući

Two-syllable adjectives ending on an -äk, -ek, -ok mostly drop that suffix, and then behave as one-syllable adjectives (the j-softening still applies!):

dalek "far" → dal-’jidalji
debeo, debela "fat" → deb-’jideblji    
dubok "deep" → dub-’jidublji
kratäk "short" → krat-’jikraći
nizäk "low" → niz-’jiniži
plitäk "shallow" → plit-’jiplići
širok "wide" → šir-’jiširi
uzäk "narrow" → uz-’jiuži
visok "high" → vis-’jiviši
tänäk "thin" → tän-’jinji
It's possibly a good place to introduce terms root, stem, suffix and ending for adjectives on such examples:

dubljanom.sg.f comp.dublja
anom.sg.f comp.uža
mlađanom.sg.f comp.mlađa

In Croatian, the root is not the "untouchable" part of a word: sound changes can affect it by sound mutations; however, the root is still a meaningful concept — at least in my opinion.

The rule can be simplified and summarized as this:


In certain endings, when ’j is added, to a word ending on a consonant, there's a shift of all consonants from the end to the rightmost vowel. The ’j itself is consumed.

These consonants are affected:

sound all after the last vowel only the last one
original k, c g, z h, s d t l n b m p v
+ ’j = č ž š đ ć lj nj blj mlj plj vlj

For instance: čist-’ji → čišći, glup-’ji → gluplji

Alternatively, you can just learn such comparatives by heart, as "irregular". I'm sorry that Croatian has such complicated rules. Since the rule is quite complicated to learn and apply, I will simply list the resulting comparative forms in the Basic Dictionary. Therefore, there's no real need to learn this rule. However, it is not used only to make comparatives, so you will probably revisit it.

There are some adjectives that have more or less the same meaning, for example mek and mekan; people use them interchangeably, and so their comparatives mekši and mekaniji — a lot of people would say that comp. of mekan is mekši, but they all mean the same, so it's not a problem.

Certain adjectives can use both endings:

čist "clean, pure" → čišći but also čistiji
sladäk "sweet" → slad- + ji = slađi, but sometimes slatkiji (d + k = tk)
žut "yellow" → žući and sometimes žutiji

For some -iji is understood as colloquial.

Comparatives on -ši and Irregular Ones

The third, and least used way to create comparatives is to add -ši to the original adjective. This way is used for these three adjectives only:

lijëp "nice" → ljëpši (note an ijë alternation)
mek "soft" → mekši
lak "light" → lakši

Finally, there are few adjectives that use a completely unrelated form for its comparative (English has the same thing with e.g. "good" — "better"):

dobär "good" → bolji
zäo, zla "evil" → gori (historically; today it means "worse")
mali "small" → manji
velik "big" → veći

Use of Comparatives

The comparative is often used in sentences "X is A", and often with od + gen. "than":

Moj auto je brži. "My car is faster".
Moj auto je brži od bicikla. "My car is faster than bicycle". (bicikla = gen.)
Moj auto je brži od tvog. "My car is faster than yours". (tvog = gen.)

You can say that a car is faster than all other cars; the meaning is similar to superlative:

Moj auto je brži od svih drugih automobila(G pl.). "My car is faster than all other cars".

A comparative can be used as any other adjective; then, it's 'selecting' the noun, so the question-word for it should be koji "which one" (in the appropriate case, of course):

Uzet ću brži auto. "I'll take the faster car."
Q: Koji ćeš uzeti auto? "Which car will you take?" (koji = acc.)
A: Brži. "The faster one."

Next, how to indicate how much e.g. a car is faster (or a cake better)? Here's a list of often used adverbs, essentially they are relative measure adverbs (but not all of them can be used, stick to the list below):

adverbmeaning adverbmeaning
ništa, nimalo (neg!)"not... at all" nedovoljno"not enough"
nešto, malo"little, a bit" dovoljno"enough"
puno, mnogo"a lot" dosta, prilično"quite", "considerably"

As with quantities, if you use adverbs ništa, nimalo before the comparative in expressions like "X is better (than...)", you have to negate the verb — it's really not better (at all):

Novi auto je malo brži. "The new car is a bit faster".
Novi auto nije nimalo brži. "The new car is not faster at all".

The adverbs of fulfillment have the usual use:

Novi auto je dosta brži. "The new car is quite faster".

Emphasis can be done using adverbs stvarno "really", zaista "actually", baš "really":

Novi auto je stvarno brži. "The new car is really faster".

You can use expectation adverbs zapravo and naravno, and frequency adverbs as well:

Novi auto je zapravo sporiji. "The new car is actually slower" (we didn't expect it to be).
Novi auto je naravno sporiji. "The new car is of course slower" (we expected so).
Novi auto je ponekad sporiji. "The new car is sometimes slower"

Often used are also multiples (check 33 Ordinals, Other Numbers and Dates) and words like duplo:

Moj auto je triput brži. "My car is three times faster".
Moj auto je duplo brži od tvog. "My car is two times faster than yours".
Moj auto je dvostruko brži od tvog. (the same meaning, just more formal)

Finally, there's a ubiquitous adverb još, implying additional amount of some property — what is compared against has the same property. Sounds complicated but it's easy to explain on an example:

Moj auto je brži od tvog. (telling nothing about your car, just about mine)
Moj auto je još brži od tvog. (your car is fast too, but mine is faster)
Ovaj kolač je još bolji. "This cake is even better." (the other one was good too.)

The approximate translation of još in this use to English would be "even".

Comparative Quantities

Adverbs više and manje represent comparative quantities:


They can be used to compare quantities:

Moja žena zarađuje manje noväca od mene. "My wife earns less money than me."
Pet jabuka je malo više od četiri. "Four apples is a bit more than four."

To further qualify comparative quantities, the adverbs listed above (e.g. malo, puno...) are often used.


A superlative ("the biggest", abbreviation: super.) is made just by prefixing naj- to a comparative, without any exceptions:

velikvećinajveći "the biggest"
dubokdubljinajdublji "the deepest" etc.

Some adverbs exist only as superlatives and comparatives — no positive form exist. For instance:

prijë "before" → najprijë "first"

Superlatives used similarly to positives:

Moj auto je najbrži. "My car is the fastest".
Moj auto je brži od svih automobila(G pl.). "My car is the fastest of all cars".
Uzet ću najbrži auto. "I'll take the fastest car."
Q: Koji ćeš uzeti auto? "Which car will you take?" (koji = acc.)
A: Najbrži. "The fastest one."

Excessives (Absolute Superlatives) and Summary

There's yet another degree — the excessive (abbreviation: exces., also called 'elative' or 'absolute superlative'; the name is my invention).

In Croatian, there's one word for "too big", "too loud", "too salty", or anything that has a positive and can have a comparative (this excludes "too mine" and "too before"). It's made very simply: just prefix pre- to an adjective (in positive), without any exceptions:

lijëp "nice" → prelijëp "too nice"    
dug "long" → predug "too long"
mršav "thin" → premršav "too thin"
zelen "green" → prezelen "too green"

The resulting adjective has all normal forms as any adjective does, and has case forms identical to the adjective you started with, but with a prefixed prë-.

Most books don't list this as an degree, but as an separate adjective; however, note that you cannot make a comparative or superlative from prevelik, it actually does behave as a special degree. So, why not simplify things when possible, and just say there's a fourth degree? Here's the full scheme:

the basic form

star "old"

see rules
the comparison form

stariji "older"
(prefix pre-)
(prefix naj-)
"too much" form

  prëstar "too old"  
"the most" form

  najstariji "oldest"  

Updated 2014-06-01 (v. 0.4)


Duja said...

Hej, baš mi se dopada taj pristup s ekscesivom (da li bismo ga tako nazvali?). Je li tvoja ideja ili nešto što se vrti po hrvatskim gramatikama?

Daniel N. said...

Ne, to se obično ne nalazi u školskim gramatikama ali je očito poseban stupanj, budući da se od pridjeva prevelik ne može napraviti ništa drugo (preveći??) i budući da svaki pridjev koji ima komparativ ima i stupanj s pre-.

U nekim radovima se nalazi elativ ili apsolutni superlativ, recimo:


Meni se prvi naziv čini nerazumljiv, a drugi se lako pobrka sa superlativom, pa sam izmislio svoj (u svrhe pojednostavljivanja, edukacije...)

Osim toga, ovo sve čini nekako simetričnim, a meni se čini da je simetrične stvari lakše naučiti. lp Daniel

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