44 Pain and Strange Case Uses

• • • Review: Basic Cases of Pronouns

Verbs usually have one or more "arguments", i.e. a "subject", an "object", etc. In Croatian, a subject is in nom., an object in acc. In plain vanilla verbs, subject = person who does something, object = thing or person affected. So,

Ana čisti kuću. "Ana is cleaning (the) house."

Ana works, the house will get clean. However, in the next sentence, object is not really affected:

Ana čeka vlak. "Ana is waiting for (the) train." (vlak = acc.)

Nothing that what Ana does (wait) really affects the train. Really, subject, object, and indirect objects are just "slots" that verb use in diverse ways. And it's not the same in all languages.

Pain and Fear

Now, onto the most often used verbs that use unexpected case assignments! For instance, there are verbs like bolim "cause pain". The verb is almost always used in the 3rd person: it's always some body part that causes pain (the verb is not used when one person hurts or injures another), and one who feels it is the object (in acc.):

Boli. "It hurts." (impers.)
Ruka boli. "(The) arm hurts."
Boli me. "It hurts me." (impers.)
Boli me ruka. "(The) arm hurts me." = "My arm hurts."

The subject in the sentences above is only ruka: if not impersonal, the verb agrees with it:

Boljela me je ruka. "My arm was hurting." (the subject is ruka, the verb and participle agree with it!)
Bole me ruke. "(The) arms hurt me." = "My arms hurt."
Boli me zub. "My tooth hurts."

Similar verb is mučim "torture"; when its subject is not a person, it gets much a weaker meaning "bother":

Muče me dugovi. "(The) debts bother me."
Muči me škola. "(the) school bothers me."

There are some expressions that use je and an experiencer in acc.:

Strah me je. "I'm scared."
Anu je strah. "Ana is scared." (Anu = acc.)

If you want to say what are you scared of, add it in the gen.:

Strah me je visine. "I'm scared of height." = "Height scares me."
Anu je strah bolesti. "Ana is scared of disease." (Anu = acc., bolesti = gen.)

It means almost the same thing as bojim se, where a thing you're afraid of is in the gen. too.

Body Parts

[under construction]

Liking, Joy, Wonder

Several verbs (that always use se) have an object in dative. For instance:

sviđam se ~ svidim se

This verb means "cause sympathy, appeal to", it's the Croatian counterpart of "like". So if you want to say "I like Ana" in Croatian, or "Ivan likes Ana" the only way is:

Ana mi se sviđa. "Ana appeals to me. = "I like Ana."
Ana se sviđa Ivanu. "Ana appeals to Ivan. = "Ivan likes Ana."

The word in dat. is obligatory! This permits Croatian to make sentences as:

Ana je zgodna i sviđa mi se. "Ana is pretty and I like her."
Zgodna si i sviđaš mi se. "You are pretty and I like you." (talking to a female)

Ana is the subject of both sub-sentences in the first sentence, and "you" in the second!

Unfortunately, you cannot really make an imperative out of it (e.g. "like Ana!" "like that post!"), because it would be an order to Ana (or to a post), not to the one who actually likes her (Ana is the subject in the sentence Ana mi se sviđa).

Another verb is very like sviđam se ~ svidim se, but stands for a slightly weaker emotion. All said about grammar is identical:

dopadam ~ dopadnem, dopao

Another verb:

gadim ~ z- "disgust"

This is a completely opposite meaning of dopadnem, but the same syntax:

Meso mi se gadi. "Meat digusts me."

Remember, all three verbs have a mandatory se and a mandatory object in dat., so their grammar looks like:

N se DD likes N

More complex verbs are:

veselim ~ raz- (perf-s.)
radujem, radovao ~ ob- (perf-s.)

These two verbs have a similar meaning and use, but can be used in two ways:

xN yAx gives joy to y
yN se xDy enjoys x

For example, both lines mean more or less the same:

Raduje me Ana. Vesele me praznici. (me = acc., Ana, praznici = nom.)
Radujem se Ani. Veselim se praznicima. (Ani, praznicima = dat.)

One more verb uses the same system:

čudim ~ za- "wonder"

For example:

Čudi me pitanje. "(The) question wonders me."
Čudim se pitanju. "I wonder about the question." (more or less the same meaning as the first sentence!)

Dative Reflexives and Others

There are few verbs where person who does the action is only in the nom., and an object in the dat. They always have a se:

divim "admire, marvel"
smïjem, smïjao "laugh"
rugam "mock"
smilujem, smilovao perf. "have mercy"
osvećujem, osvećivao ~ osvetim "revenge"

For instance:

Nadam se pobjedi. "I hope for a victory." (pobjedi = dat.)
Divim ti se. "I admire you." (ti = dat.)
Rugala mu se. "She mocked him."
Ivan se osvetio Ani. "Ivan took revenge on Ana."

Then, there's a group of 'helping/not helping' verbs, they don't have a se:

lažem, lagao ~ s- "lie"
pripadam ~ pripadnem, pripao, pripala, pripasti "belong"
služim "serve"
sudim ~ pre- "judge"
udovoljavam ~ udovoljim "satisfy", "fulfill a wish"
ugađam ~ ugodim "please"
vjërujem "believe"

The affected party is always in the dative:

Ivan je lagao Ani. "Ivan lied to Ana."
Auto je pripadao Ani. "(The) car belonged to Ana."
Ana je vjërovala Ivanu. "Ana believed in Ivan."

This group is as the previous one, but can also include an additional 'instrument' object in ins.:

odgovaram ~ odgovorim "answer"
prijëtim "threaten"
smetam "interfere, obstruct, be in the way, hamper"
pomažem, pomagao ~ pomognem, pomogäo, pomogla, pomoći "help"

For example:

Ivan je pomogäo Ani. "Ivan has helped Ana."
Ivan je pomagao Ani. "Ivan was helping Ana." (aspect difference! don't forget it!)
Auto je smetao Ani. "(The) car hampered Ana."
Ana je prijëtila Ivanu. "Ana threatened Ivan."
Ivan je pomogao Ani novcem. "Ivan has helped Ana with money." (novcem = ins.)
Auto je smetao Ani bukom. "(The) car hampered Ana with noise." (bukom = ins.; buka "noise")
Ana je prijëtila Ivanu policijom. "Ana threatened Ivan with the police." (policijom = ins.)

These were major exceptions to the rule "X eats Y" → Y = acc. There are some verbs that have objects in genitive, but most of other verbs have an object in accusative, if any. Bur recall, reflexive verbs have never objects in accusative, since the object-in-acc. position is filled by se.

Dative of Whom It Matters

There's a feature often called ethical dative, but it has nothing to do with ethics.

Recall, how in Croatian, it seems that it can be just cold ("to everyone") or cold "to someone", in the same way that a letter can be "to someone", and in all those cases Croatian uses the dative, to note who "gets" it:

Hladno mu je. lit. "It's cold to him." = "he's cold." (but not his body, he just feels the cold!
Kasno mu je. lit. "It's late to him." = "He feels it's late."

Other people maybe think it's not late: it happens to him. This notion "things happen to someone" is then extended all over the place:

Ti si prijatelj. "You're a friend." (a general statement)
Ti si prijatelj Ani. "You're a friend to Ana." (a statement about what goes on with Ana) = "you're Ana's friend."

Škola je počela. "(The) school has started."
Škola mi je počela. "(The) school, I have something to do with, has started." = "My school has started."

Sestra mi se vratila. "My sister came back."
Juha mu je hladna. "(the) soup is cold for him." (but someone else would maybe think it's ok)

Dijete mi se razboljëlo. "My child got sick."
Hlače su joj preuske. "(The) trousers are too tight for her." (but may be ok for someone else)

Don't ever think that dijete mi always implies "my child": it just means that the whole action happened "to me", it happened in "my" house, "my" family, "my" life, and "my" child is just a consequence. Since people talk about things that matter, and since mi "to me" is shorter than the possessive moj "my", people use dative like this a lot! It's similar to colloquial English "The school started on me."

Some more examples:

Vlak joj je kasnio. "her train was late."
Ivanu se brat zaposlio. "Ivan's brother got employed."

Sometimes, it can have ambigous meanings:

Žena mi je pripremila ručak.

Does it mean "(The) woman prepared (a) lunch for me" or "My wife prepared (a) lunch."?

It depends on the context. Žena can be someone unrelated to you (meaning both "woman" and "wife") - but it's sure that you have something to do with the whole thing! Likely, you will eat...

More ambigous sentences:

Djëca su mi razbila prozor.

It could mean:

"My children broke (a) window."
"Children broke my window."
"My children broke my window."


Knjiga je zanimljiva. "(The) book is interesting."
Knjiga mu je zanimljiva. "He considers (the) book interesting." (the usual meaning) or "(The) book he wrote is interesting." (seldom)

Sometimes, usually in the spoken Croatian, one can add the dative ti or vam, trying to say that what is said should matter to the listener, it's just asking for attention, or trying to produce compassion (hence the 'ethical' in the name of a similar use of the dative in Latin):

Ja säm ti umorän. "You know, I'm tired." (only a rough translation!)

Is this all 'gramatically correct'? English has a similar feature: "on me", "on him", that's considered non-standard.

One last remark: Spanish and some other languages have exactly the same construct (only the word no is moved left in the Spanish example):

Spanish: El computador no me funciona.
Croatian: Računalo mi ne radi.
English: (lit.) "It happens to me, the computer is not working."


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

Fill in appropriate words:

čokolada. "He likes chocolate." (use the verb sviđam se)
Glava . "His head hurts."


Updated 2014-09-18 (v. 0.4)


Joan Semone said...

Dear Daniel - - - I see part of this is still under construction. When you finalize it, you’ll want to fix a typo – “simpathy” to “sympathy.” - - - BR, Joan

Daniel N. said...

Thanks! I overlooked it, since almost everything is underlined red by the spellchecker :(

br Daniek

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