15 Quantities and Existence

• • • Review: Genitive Case

Check in Easy Croatian: 45 Quantities and Existence

This chapter continues exploring some uses of the genitive case (there are many more uses!). Uses in this chapter are related to measured or approximate quantities (counts are covered in the next chapter). It's important to distinguish two types of nouns:

  • countable (e.g. jabuka "apple", krava "cow"...)
  • uncountable (e.g. šećer "sugar", voda "water", vino "wine"...)

Basically, uncountable nouns have singular only. Some nouns can be both, depending on the context: čokolada can be just uncountable "chocolate", but can mean "chocolate bar" and then it can be counted.

Quantities use genitive plural of nouns (yes, it's the hardest-to-make case), but since uncountable nouns don't have plural, they use gen. sg.!

Existential Constructs ("there is...")

The existential construct is a way of expressing that something exists somewhere. In English, it's chiefly expressed as "there is/are", e.g. "there are apples on the table". It's so-called "dummy" or "existential there". In French, its il y a, in German es ist/gibt, etc.

In Croatian, it's completely different to English and more similar to German. There are several ways to express existence:

ima jabuka(G pl.) na stolu"there are apples on the table"unknown quantity
nema jabuka(G pl.) na stolu"there are no apples on the table"non-existence
jabuke su na stolu"apples are on the table"specific, known "apples"
postoje zelene jabuke"green apples exist"fact, truth

Forms ima + gen. and nema literally mean "it has" / "it has not", therefore they are impersonal -- and the impersonal "it" is never expressed in Croatian, so such sentences always lack any subject. Note that imam is otherwise used as a normal verb "have"; this use is distinguished by being in the 3rd person sg. with omitted subject and an object in genitive:

Imam jabuku(A sg.). "I have an apple."
Imam jabuke(A pl.). "I have apples."
Imam jabuka(G sg.). "I have some/enough apples."
Ana ima jabuku(A sg.). "Ana has an apple."
Ana ima jabuke(A pl.). "Ana has apples."
Ana ima jabuka(G pl.). "Ana has some apples."

Ima jabuka. (no subject, 3rd pers. sg., gen. pl.) "There are some apples."

This is quite similar to Spanish hay and Portuguese tem or , however it's a bit more restricted. Forms ima/nema are mainly used to express temporary states, availability of things, especially uncountable ones, and similar:

Ima vode(G sg.). "There's water.", "Water is available."
Nema plina(G sg.). "There's no gas.", "Gas is not available."
Ima kave(G sg.). "There's coffee.", "Coffee is available."
Nema problema(G pl.). (gen. pl., as problems can be counted!) "There are no problems.", "Everything is OK."

The last phrase, nema problema, is very frequently heard.

Important: the "non-existing" phrase nema... can be used with individuals, but ima... cannot!

Nema Ivana. "Ivan is not here." (OK)
Ima Ivana. (wrong!)
Ivan je ovdjë. "Ivan is here." (use this instead!)

It also applies to all known, defined persons, not just named individuals:

Nema mog brata. "My brother is not here." (OK)
Ima mog brata. (wrong!)
Moj brat je ovdjë. "My brother is here." (use this instead!)

The past tense of existential ima/nema is not formed from imam or nemam, but from the verb säm, bio in the 3rd person sg. and neuter gender (you'll see that all impersonal forms use neuter). Therefore, the past form of the existential construct is bilo + je/nije:

Ima jabuka.
    "There are (some) apples."
Bilo je jabuka.
    "There were some apples."
Nema plina.
    "There's no gas."
Nije bilo plina.
    "There was no gas."
Nema problema.
    "There are no problems."
    "Everything is fine."
Nije bilo problema.
    "There were no problems."
    "Everything was fine."
Ana ima jabuku.
    "Ana has an apple."
Ana je imala jabuku.
    "Ana had an apple."

The last sentence is not existential, it's about possession, and therefore it's past is formed as usual.

Expressing "Some"

Sometimes genitive is used instead of accusative of uncountable nouns to express "some" quantity (sometimes implying "enough"):

Trëbam vode(G sg.). "I need some water."
Imamo kruha(G sg.). "We have some/enough bread."
Imamo riže(G sg.). "We have (some/enough) rice."
Nemamo šećera(G sg.). "We don't have (any) sugar."

This is optional, as there are words for "some" and "enough" in Croatian. This is just a shorter version which one can use.

Expressing Quantities using Adverbs and Nouns

Quantity expressions in Croatian almost always in the form: (quantity) (noun-in-genitive).

Quantity can be an adverb or a noun. Nouns are used in expressions like "cup of tea", "bag of sand", "glass of water", "kilogram of rice", etc.

Imam vrëću(A sg.) pijëska(G sg.). "I have a bag of sand."
Vrëća(N sg.) pijëska(G sg.) je bila(sg.f) teška(sg.f). "The bag of sand was heavy."

The measured noun has the same form, regardless of how it's used in a sentence: always gen.sg. pijëska. It's 'locked' in case! The verb sees only the "bag", it does not care what it is of, what it contains!

Next, an example for countable nouns:

Vidim stado(A sg.) krava(G pl.). "I see a herd of cows."
Stado(N sg.) krava(G pl.) je bilo(sg.n) veliko(sg.n). "The herd of cows was big."

Please note that we are talking about a "herd" (stado) which is a neuter, singular noun, so verbs in the past tense and adjectives must adjust to it! (In the first example, they adjusted to vrëća — a feminine noun).

In the same way, one can ask for a kilogram (usually shortened to kila) of sugar, or half or it.

Molim kilu(A sg.) šećera(G sg.). "I would like a kilogram of sugar."
Molim pola kile(G sg.) šećera(G sg.). "I would like a half kilogram of sugar."

Again, the verb "sees" only kila, which is a noun of f gender. Common measure nouns are:

boca "bottle"
čaša "glass"
hrpa "heap"
gomila "bunch"    
kila "kilogram"
kutija "box, pack of cigarettes"  
litra "liter"
paket "packet"
šalica "cup"
vrëća "bag"
žlica "spoon"
žličica "teaspoon"

Other measures are generic quantity adverbs. They exist in three flavors; the often used ones are:

relative adverbs
ništa (neg!)"no... at all" (for uncount.)
nimalo (neg!)"no... at all"
nešto"some" (for uncount.)
malo"little, a bit"
nekoliko"several" (for countables)
par (!)"couple" (for countables)
mnogo"lot" (for countables)
partial adverbs
pola"half" (sg. or pl.)
četvrt"quarter" (sg. or pl.)
fulfillment adverbs
premalo"too little"
nedovoljno"not enough"
dosta"enough, quite lot"
previše"too much"

I have basically invented their names. Some of them apply only to uncountable nouns (for uncount.), some only to countable ones, as indicated above.

Remember that these words are adverbs, not nouns or adjectives. Verbs agree with them in neuter singular:

Nekoliko ljudi je bilo u sobi. "Several people were in the room."
Puno knjiga je bilo u smeću. "A lot of books were in the trash."
Par jabuka je bilo na tanjuru. "Couple of apples were on the plate."

Important: observe that English verbs are in plural, but Croatian verbs are in (neuter) singular in such sentences!

Verbs can "see" only the adverbs, which to verbs appear as "impersonal" words, in neuter singular; nouns come after the adverbs, always in genitive sg. (uncountable) or pl. (countable), but verbs don't "see" them.

It helps that ending for adjectives in gen.pl. is the same (-ih) for all genders, since the general rule is that any adjectives must adapt to the gender of the noun they describe. However, endings are different in singular:

Imam puno crnog papra. (gen. sg.) "I have a lot or black peper." (papär mi)
Imam puno crne kave. (gen. sg.) "I have a lot or black coffee." (kava f)
Imam gomilu crne kave. (gen. sg.) "I have a bunch of black coffee." (gomila changes case to acc., it's a noun)

You see, it's impossible to be fluent in Croatian without mastering endings of adjectives in various cases and genders! That's why I have introduced them quite early.

Another important rule: when you use adverbs ništa and nimalo, you have to use negation (that is, put a ne in front of the verb). It's useful to remember that only these two measure adverbs begin with ni-:

Nemam ništa crne kave. "I have no black coffee at all."
Nisam imao nimalo šećera. "I had no sugar at all."

The word par "pair" can be a noun and then it means exactly "a pair" as well as an adverb when it means "couple, several"; unlike other measure-adverbs, it does not end on a consonant.

The adverbs pola and četvrt (also sometimes nešto) can be used with nouns in gen.sg. to mean "half of a..." and gen.pl. to mean "half of...", that is, half of one thing, or half of count of things:

Pojeo säm pola jabuke. (gen. sg.) "I ate half of an apple."
Pojeo säm pola jabuka. (gen. pl.) "I ate half of apples."

Noun dïo mi "part" has the same role. Unfortunately, it has very weird forms in other cases: dat.sg dijëla, nom.pl. dijëlovi: whenever it gets an ending, it's attached to dijël-!

Expressing Additional Quantities

There's an adverb još which is used to express additional quantities: it is used with measures to express that although there's some quantity, an additional quantity exists or is needed. It's used similar to English "more" when used at the end of the sentence:

Imam nekoliko jabuka. Trëbam još par. "I have several apples. I need a couple more."

Expressing Quantities using Adjectives

There are some adjectives that can be used to express quantity, e.g. cijëli "whole". The behavior is completely different — the measured noun behaves as a normal noun, it can be in any case, the adjective adapts to the noun, etc. There's no difference in behavior to other adjectives, e.g. velik "big":

Imam cijëlu čokoladu. "I have a whole chocolate (bar)."
Cijëla čokolada je bila na stolu. "The whole chocolate (bar) was on the table."

Vocabulary and Exercise

Using these words, construct "I need (some) [stuff]", "I need a [measure] of [stuff] (e.g. trëbam žlicu brašna), and "I have a lot of [stuff]:

brašno "flour"
čaj "tea"
kava "coffee"
mlijëko "milk"    
pijësäk "sand"
riža "rice"
ocät "vinegar"
senf "mustard"    
sol f "salt"
šećer "sugar"
ulje "oil"

Observe that sol is an i-noun.

Updated 2014-06-01 (v. 0.4)


Anonymous said...

I found your site and think it's really good. I am taking a class in BSC at the University of Pittsburgh and this is a great supplement.

Lore said...

ej daniele, i was just glancing over your blog and will surely get back to it in order to take a closer look. really liked it so far!

there're some copy-paste mistakes on this site regarding the translation of the numbers as in: Imam tri djëteta. "I have two children."
Imam četiri djëteta. "I have two children."

učila sam hrvatski već jedan i po godine (ili a?!), pa brojevi stvarno su komplicirani.

Lore said...

Hvali ti, Daniele,

your corrections are what I need! :)

My interest in Croatian.. Well, I went there on holiday a few years ago and fell in love with your country so that I decided to learn the language. I started off with a language course in Zadar which I really enjoyed. And since then I visited Croatia a couple of times...
So you see that Slovenian would not be an option for me ;)


Osam krava je jelo. "Ten cows were eating." and
Jedan je sat. "It's three o'clock."

Lore said...

Dobro, razmislit ću o učiti slovenski kad sam naučila hrvatski *g*
Nije neučitiv tvoje pitanje. Iz Njemačke/ Berlina sam. Nije tako daleko.. :)
Pročitala sam da ti učiš njemački?

Anonymous said...

Hi Daniel,
Please note under Telling Time:
second should be on the right "English" side and
sekunda should be on the left "Croatian" side

Thanks so much for your most helpful site!

DrDicty said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Great site, thank you for all the effort in putting it together! Well explained and clear. In fact much better than most of the published text books.

Daniel N. said...

please visit also http://easy-croatian.blogspot.com

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