10 M-nouns and the o/e Rule

Now let's examine the two remaining noun types — the m-nouns. Unfortunately, they are a bit more complicated.

There are three complications with m-nouns. First, they are divided to mª and mi nouns, but completely independent of that division, they have two ways to create plural (the third complication will be obvious soon).

Nouns with Long and Short Plural

All m-nouns add -i to form nom.pl. (the left column); however, a great number of masculine nouns also insert -ov- or -ev- before that -i and all other endings in plural (the right column):

kolač nom.pl. kolač-i "cake"
konj nom.pl. konj-i "horse"
krevet nom.pl. krevet-i "bed"
prozor nom.pl. prozor-i "window"    
zub nom.pl. zub-i "tooth"
sin nom.pl. sin-ov-i "son"
zid nom.pl. zid-ov-i "wall"

ključ nom.pl. ključ-ev-i "key"
nož nom.pl. nož-ev-i "knife"

The nouns that get longer plural endings are also said to have 'long plural'. Let's see forms for the characteristic m-nouns (the same pattern works for nouns like ključ, they just have -ev- instead of -ov- in plural):

casemª-nouns mi-nouns
dat.sg. konj-usin-u kolač-uzid-u
nom.pl. konj-isin-ov-i kolač-izid-ov-i
acc.pl. konj-esin-ov-e kolač-ezid-ov-e
dat.pl. konj-imasin-ov-ima kolač-imazid-ov-ima

The only difference between two subtypes (mª vs. mi) are forms of acc.sg. (this holds for adjectives as well).

How to determine if a noun has plural -i or -ovi? Well, most short, one-syllable words, and many two-syllable ones insert -ov- or -ev-, that is, have a 'long plural'. All longer masculine nouns do not insert anything.

Common one-syllable masculine nouns that don't insert anything are:

crv "worm"
dan "day"
đak (nom.pl. đaci) "pupil"    
gost "guest"
gumb "button"
keks "biscuit"    
konj "horse"
mrav "ant"
päs (nom.pl. psi) "dog"
prst "finger, toe"
sat "hour"
zub "tooth"

There's no other way but to memorize them. Besides them, one-syllable nouns for members of a nation (e.g. Škot "Scotsman", Rus "Russian") have nothing inserted. This applies also to one-syllable measurement units (e.g. volt, gram) and currency units (e.g. jen, cent).

The noun sat is rather curious. It has two meanings: "watch, clock" and "hour". If it means "watch, clock", it gets a long plural (satovi), but if it means "hour" it gets a short one (sati).

The o/e Rule

How to determine if -ov- or -ev- gets inserted? It's determined in the following way. You may noticed that there is a number of places in Croatian where there can be an o or an e: in adjectives, in neuter nouns, in what we are talking about now. There is always the same rule, we can call it the o/e rule:

The o/e rule

In some endings, o or e is used according to the preceding sound or sounds:

  1. If it is c, č, ć, đ, š, ž, j, lj, nj, št, or žd, then e is always used.
  2. If it is an r, then e is used in some words that must be learned by heart, in others o is used.
  3. Otherwise, o is used (with very few exceptions).

Special notation: in grammar tables, a special symbol œ (it looks like an o glued to an e) will mean either o or e, according to this rule.

The o/e rule applies to all o/e alternations in Croatian; for instance, it applies to dat.sg.m adjective endings:

visok → visok-om "tall" (nom.sg.m → dat.sg.m)
but: loš → loš-em "bad" (there's a š just before the ending)

Not all o's in endings behave like this — for instance, compare visoka–visokoj with loša–lošoj. Not all o's in endings are mutable, but o's that are mutable always use the above rule.

To simplify tables, I have decided to use the symbol œ for mutable o's, meaning 'o or e, according to the o/e rule'. So, it's just a shorthand: it indicates o's that turn to e's.

It's just a fact that some endings have a mutable o! Therefore I had to mark such o's.

Hint. As you will eventually find out, such o/e alternations appear only in m and n genders!

Unfortunately, there's one exceptional noun: put mi "way". It should get -ov-; instead, its plural is putevi (its other forms in pl. have -ev- as well).

The noun kut "corner" frequently gets -evi but it's more colloquial and less Standard Croatian.

Disappearing a

Similar to the situation in adjectives, many m-nouns have an a as the last vowel which is dropped whenever anything is added to the noun. So forms equal to the nom.sg. have the a, and others don't. This issue is completely unrelated to the -œv- in the plural or to their gender (mª vs. mi). This is the third 'complication'.

I have decided to mark such a's with 2 dots over it (ä) to show that this is an "disappearing a". Of course, it's just a reminder, it is normally written just as a and pronounced exactly as any other a. For instance (noväc mi "money", vjëtär mi "wind", magarac mª "donkey"):

nom.sg. vjëtär noväc magaräc
acc.sg. vjëtär noväc magarc-a
dat.sg. vjëtr-u novc-u magarc-u
nom.pl. vjëtr-ov-i novc-i magarc-i
acc.pl. vjëtr-ov-e novc-e magarc-e
dat.pl. vjëtr-ov-ima novc-ima magarc-ima

The endings follow the normal rules, magaräc being mª and others mi. The ä disappears if anything is added, and what is added and when is determined by the common table of case endings.

Assimilations before -i

Certain sounds are changed before -i in the plural of m-nouns. It's a regular thing in Croatian, but, again, it does not happen whenever an -i- is added to any word (e.g. an adjective), just in some cases, one of them is the plural of m-nouns! But in such cases there's always a change:

Special notation:

+ indicates that any k, g, h just before it change respectively to c, z, s

It happens of course only if -œv- is not inserted, because if it is, i not "in contact" with the sound anymore, now it's in contact with the inserted v. Some examples (putnik mª "traveler", uspjëh mi "success", odlazäk mi "departure", bubreg mi "kidney"; and vlak mi "train" as an counter-example):

nom.sg. putnik odlazäk uspjëh bubreg vlak
acc.sg. putnik-a odlazäk uspjëh bubreg vlak
dat.sg. putnik-u odlask-u uspjëh-u bubreg-u vlak-u
nom.pl. putnic-i odlasc-i uspjës-i bubrez-i vlak-ov-i
acc.pl. putnik-e odlask-e uspjëh-e bubreg-e vlak-ov-e
dat.pl. putnic-ima odlasc-ima uspjës-ima bubrez-ima vlak-ov-ima

With odlazäk, there's an additional assimilation because zc changed to sc, and zk to sk. We'll discuss such things later.

An important noun čovjek mª "man" has quite unrelated form ljudi as its plural, but endings are ordinary:


Nouns like auto and radio

There's a not too big group of m-nouns that don't end on a consonant in nom.sg. They rather end on an o, and that o is simply discarded whenever an ending is added to them. An example is auto "car". There is a number of male names (e.g. Marko) that fall into this group as well.

Within them, there's a small subgroup that end on -io in nom.sg. and that's a very unfortunate combination in Croatian! They also lose the -o but get a -j- inserted. An example is radio "radio". There are a couple of male names that fall into this group, like Mario.

Their case forms are as follows:

nom.sg. aut-o radi-o Mark-o Mari-o
acc.sg. Mark-a Marij-a
dat.sg. aut-uradij-u Mark-uMarij-u
nom.pl. aut-i radij-i
acc.pl. aut-e radij-e
dat.pl. aut-ima radij-ima

Common nouns that end on -o and behave like this are:

auto mi "car"
dečko mª "boy", "boyfriend"    
kakao mi "cocoa"
radio mi "radio"
snjëško mª "snowman"
tempo mi "tempo"

Here are common Croatian male names that behave like this. All such male names end on -eo, -io, -ko, -lo, or -je (yes, e):


Warning. There are masculine nouns that end on -äo, e.g. posäo mi "work, job" and oräo mª "eagle". They don't behave like nouns above; they rather lose -äo and get an -l- inserted! If you are curious, they are explained in 66 Final L Lost; Sound Assimilations. Furthermore, there are male names that end on -o (e.g. Ivo) but decline as a-nouns; they are covered in 45 Nouns for Small and Dear.

Summary of Endings

The case endings for m-nouns can be compressed into the following table (leaving out exceptions like radio and Mario):

nom.sg.-, -o -, -o


Common mª-nouns (nouns having long plural are indicated by an asterisk *):

čovjëk "man" pl. ljudi
djëd * "grandfather"
gost "guest"
jež * "hedgehog", "sea urchin"    
konj "horse"
kralj * "king"
magaräc "donkey"
muž * "husband"
päs "dog"
prijatelj "(male) friend"    
puž * "snail"
putnik "traveler"
rak * "crab"
rođak "relative, cousin"
sin * "son"
slon * "elephant"
turist "tourist"
vlasnik "owner"

Common mi-nouns (nouns having long plural are indicated by an asterisk *):

auto "car"
autobus "bus"
avion "airplane"
bor * "pine tree"
brod * "ship"
dan "day"
dolazäk "arrival"
doručäk "breakfast"
dvoräc "castle"
grad * "city"
hotel "hotel"
jastuk "pillow"
jezik "tongue", "language"
kat * "floor", "story" (of building)    
ključ * "key"
kolač "cake"
krevet "bed"
kruh * "bread"
list * "leaf", "(paper) sheet"    
led * "ice"
med * "honey"
most * "bridge"
noväc "money"
nokät "fingernail, toenail"
nos * "nose" pl. nosevi  
nož * "knife"
odlazäk "departure"
papär "peper"
prozor "window"
prst "finger, toe"
račun "bill"
restoran "restaurant"
ručäk "lunch"
ručnik "towel"
prsten * "ring"
sladoled "ice-cream"
snijëg * "snow"
stan * "appartment"
stol * "table, desk"
šećer "sugar"
tanjur "plate"
telefon "telephone"
ured "office"
vjëtär * "wind"
vlak * "train"
zahod "toilet"
zid * "wall"
zub "tooth"


All above words are in the 'dictionary form' — nom.sg. Try putting these words in various cases, and making sentences. Required form is given in brackets. Be careful with the 'long plural', observe the o/e rule, and +i changes in the plural! Recall, acc.sg. for mª-nouns is different than for mi-nouns.

Imam ________(A). "I have (a)..."
Trëbamo _______(A) . "We need (a)..."    
Jedem _______(A. pl.). "I'm eating ..."
_______(N pl.) su dobri. "... are good."
Molim _______(A). "I would like (a)..."
Idem u _______(A). "I'm going to (a/the)..."
Ja säm u _______(D). "I'm in (a/the)..."
_______(N pl.) su čisti. "... are clean."
_______(N) ne radi. "... is not working."
_______(N) je zatvoren. "... is closed."

Be careful with the ä and sound changes in the "short" plural. For instance (I used krevet, kolač, etc.):

Imam krevet. "I have a bed."
Trëbamo krevet. "We need a bed."
Jedem kolače. "I'm eating cakes."
Kolači su dobri. "The cakes are good."  
Molim kolač. "I would like a cake."
Idem u restoran. "I'm going to the restaurant."
Ja säm u restoranu. "I'm in the restaurant."
Ručnici su čisti. "The towels are clean."
Restoran ne radi. "The restaurant is not working."
Restoran je zatvoren. "The restaurant is closed."

Updated 2014-07-02 (v. 0.4)


Lidija said...

Bok Daniel,
Ponovo je Lidija iz Bugarska :)
Vratim se opet na učenje hrvatskog jezika, ali ni je to toliko jednostavno...
Does really "prozor" means "tooth"? Mislila sam da je kako na bugarski- prozorec- window :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Daniel!
I think Lidija is talking about the third line of this article : "prozor, prozori nom.pl. "tooth, teeth""


Anonymous said...

Is there different form of plural for numbers 2,3, 4 and different form for plural from number 5 on?
Thank you

Daniel N. said...

It's more complicated than that. With numbers, you don't simply use plurals, but special forms for counting. It turns out these forms are similar to genitive sg. (2-4) and equal to gen. pl. (5 on).

This does not only apply to counting, generally any quantization requires some construct, mainly with nouns genitive case. For instance:

konj "horse"
konji "horses" (nom. pl.)


puno konja "a lot of horses" (konja gen. pl.)
osam konja "eight horses" (konja gen. pl.)

such things are explained here:


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