18 Basic Cases of Pronouns

• • • Easy Croatian: 22 Pronouns, 34 For Them: Stressed Pronouns
• • • Review: Basic Pronouns, Adverbs, Verb "To Be"

Cases of Pronouns

Now, let's take a look at forms of personal pronouns in accusative, dative and genitive. I have already shown forms in nominative singular and plural.

There are two important points. First, forms in other cases are quite different than in the nominative. There are no nice rules like in adjectives, despite some forms being quite similar to adjectives.

Second, in some cases (but never in the nominative) each pronoun has two forms: 'full' and 'short'. Short ones (also called 'clitics') are used in most circumstances, but when used, they cannot be just shuffled around in a sentence — they must go to a predefined place!

Here are the forms:

case1st2nd3rd m    3rd n    3rd f   
nom.sg. ja ti on ono ona
acc.sg. mene / me tebe / te njega / ganju / ju, je
gen.sg. nje / je
dat.sg. meni / mi tebi / ti njemu / munjoj / joj
nom.pl. mi vi oni ona one
acc./gen.pl. nas / nas vas / vas njih / ih
dat.pl. nama / nam vama / vam njima / im

So, some, but not all pronouns have two forms, full and short (shown in boldface italic, e.g. ih).

Note that the genitive is very similar to the accusative — the only difference is one form (3rd sg. f). So I rearranged the order of cases to emphasize it.

Using Pronouns, Placement Rule

Let's put them to use, for example in sentences meaning "I see you" ("you" is here actually "thee", representing just one person):

Vidim tebe.
Tebe vidim.
Vidim te. (this one is normally used)

You should normally use the third form, but then te (and all other 'clitics') cannot be anywhere except at the second place. If we add a personal pronoun for the subject (the sentence still means the same), only these sentences are permitted with te:

Ja te vidim.
Vidim te ja.

Ja is not short, so it can go anywhere. 'Shortness' has nothing to do with number of letters in a word.

With acc. of ona, there are two possibilities: ju and je. Form je can be used when there's no auxillary verb je present in a sentence (to avoid confusion):

Ja ju vidim. "I see her."
Ja je vidim. (same meaning)
Ja sam je vidio. "I saw her."
On ju je vidio. "He saw her." (we must use ju, since there's a different je as well!)

Some 'correct usage guidelines' suggest using je as often as possible, others suggest using ju... in reality, it does not matter much.

Of course, if there are direct and indirect objects, both can be represented with pronouns:

Daješ mi(D)ga(A). "You're giving it/him to me."

No other arrangement is allowed — pronouns in dative must come before ones in accusative when using short forms - and both must be at the second place! (I wrote "it/him" since the Croatian pronouns in accusative are the same for m and n genders, check the chart above!)

This is something that most native speakers never think about, this placement rule is completely automatic. Unfortunately, it's not so easy to learn, since there are other 'clitics' as well that 'compete' with pronouns for the second place.

So, how these short pronouns work together with short verbs (säm, si..., ću, ćeš)? These sentences will illustrate the arrangement:

Dao säm ti ga. "I gave it to you."    
Dao si mi ga. "You gave it to me."
Dao mi ga je. "He gave it to me."
Dali smo im ga. "We gave it to them."
Dali ste mi ga. "You gave it to me."
Dali su joj ga. "They gave it to her."

You see that a short present of "be" (säm, si...) always precedes short pronouns, except for the 3rd person singular je "is" that comes right after all short pronouns. More examples:

Ja säm ti ga dao. "I gave you it."
On ti ga je dao. "He gave you it."

It's not uncommon to have 2-3 clitics in a 'chain' at the second place in a sentence. Normally there's only one word before 'clitics', but there can be more than one — a phrase that still behaves as 'one word':

Moj brat ti ga je dao. "My brother gave it to you."
Ana i Ivan su ti ga dali. "Ana and Ivan gave it to you."

You will sometimes hear and read 'clitics' splitting such phrases, but it's more bookish and poetic:

Moj ti ga je brat dao. "My brother gave you it."

You maybe recall some verbs that have a se (called a 'reflexive') always with them; it's positioned at the end of chain of 'clitics':

Bojim ga se. "I'm afraid of him."
Vratio säm mu se. "I came back to him."

To summarize:

The Placement Rule

Short ('clitic') forms of pronouns and auxiliary verbs are always put in the second place in a sentence, in the following order:

  1. auxiliary verbs, including present of "be" (säm, si, smo...) except for je
  2. pronouns in dat. (mi, ti, mu, joj...)
  3. pronouns in gen. and acc. (me, te, ga, je and ju...)
  4. the 3rd pers. of "be" (je) and the 'reflexive' se

I must emphasize that short forms of pronouns are almost always used, full forms are used only when emphasizing words:

Moj ga je brat tebi dao. "My brother gave it TO YOU."
Tebi ga je moj brat dao.
Dao ga je moj brat tebi.
Dao ga je tebi moj brat.

Words can be shuffled around, but 'clitics' stay together, always at the second place.

Expressing Feelings with Dative

Regarding the case use, the biggest difference between Croatian and English is with expressions for feelings and emotions. Recall the following expression:

Hladno je. "It's cold."

It just states there's a feeling of coldness experienced by someone, maybe all, or it waits to be experienced. If you want to say that Ivan (or you) feels it, add the person who feels it in the dative:

Ivanu je hladno. lit. "It's cold to Ivan." = "Ivan is cold.", "Ivan feels cold."
Hladno mu je. lit. "It's cold to him." = "He's cold."
Hladno mi je. lit. "It's cold to me." = "I'm cold."

If you translate literally "I'm cold" to Croatian, it has a different meaning:

Hladän säm. lit. "I'm cold." = "My body is cold."

The expression hladno (mi) je is impersonal, the verb is always in the 3rd pers. sg. and past part. must be in nom.sg.n:

Ivanu je bilo hladno. "Ivan was cold", "Ivan felt cold."
Bilo mi je hladno. "I was cold."

How many people felt like that does not matter to the verb:

Ani i Ivanu je bilo hladno. "Ana and Ivan were cold"
Bilo nam je hladno. "We were cold."

Several general states and feelings are expressed in the same way, using adjectives in neuter:

dobro "good"
dosadno "boring"    
grozno "awful"
hladno "cold"
jasno "clear, obvious"
lijëpo "nice, pleasant"    
loše "bad"
strašno "terrible" *
toplo "warm"
ugodno "nice, pleasant"
vruće "hot"
zagušljivo "suffocating"

The adjective strašno is similar to "terrible": it can imply bad things or good things (colloquially).

For instance, if somebody asks you how a presentation was, you can say:

Bilo je dosadno. "It was boring."

You are not talking about the presentation itself, but about the general atmosphere there, how it felt. If you want to emphasize that you felt bored (but maybe not everyone else), you could say:

Bilo mi je dosadno. "I was bored."

Expression loše je + dat. frequently means "feels sick":

Loše mi je. "I'm sick."

All feelings that can be expressed with an impersonal statement in Croatian, can get a 'who-feels-it' in dat.

Next, there are several expressions that are always used with somebody-who-feels-it in dative; most often used are:

drago mi je "I'm glad, pleased"
žao mi je "I'm sorry"

These two expressions are often used when meeting someone (the first one) and expressing sympathy for someone's pain or misfortune (the second one). Here the 'who-feels-it' is mi, but any other pronoun or noun in dat. can be used as well:

Ani je žao. "Ana is sorry."
Ivanu je bilo drago. "Ivan was glad." (or "happy, pleased")

Not all feelings are expressed with such constructs; if you want to say "I'm happy" you should just say e.g. srëtän säm.

Used as English "some" and "one"

There's an important difference between English and Croatian: English has special pronouns "one" and "some" used as replacement of kind, in sentences such as:

"I didn't have a shirt, so I bought one."
"I needed sugar, so I bought some."

Croatian does not have "one" and "some" and simply uses personal pronouns in the right gender:

Nisam imao košulju, pa säm je kupio. (lit. "I bought her")
Trëbao säm šećer, pa säm ga kupio. (lit. "I bought him")

Therefore, in Croatian, personal pronouns can mean something not really determined, referring to a "kind". To replace "one" used as subject ("one should wash hands frequently") other constructs are used.

Updated 2014-06-04 (v. 0.4)


Anonymous said...

good explaination

luKpo said...

Thank you very much for all this, really. This is the best (and only) blog on the subject I've found.

Daniel N. said...

You're welcome. Please comment on all things you find unclear / hard / whatever. br Daniel

narukio2000 said...

Am I able to use the long form, for example(On njega tebi je dao. "He gave you it."), with the auxiliary (je) in this sentence for 3rd person?

When using reflexive pronouns, for example(Vratio sam se u grad. "I came back to the city."), why cant I just say(Vratio sam u grad.)? How does (se) play it's part in that sentence or the other example you provided(Bojim ga se. "I'm afraid of him.")? Why can't I just say (Bojim ga.)?

Daniel N. said...

1. Yes you can use the long form but people prefer the shorter form since it's... shorter :) auxillary is perfectly fine.

2. Because the verb is just like it, you have to use either an object (what did you return) or a se (if you returned)

See http://basic-croatian.blogspot.com/2009/06/30.html

narukio2000 said...

In your example(Dao mi ga je. "He gave me it."), does this also mean "She gave me it"? When using the long form(Dao njega meni je), does this also mean the same thing for when using the long forms?

Daniel N. said...

No, check the longer form with pronouns for subjects:

Ona mi ga je dala. "she gave me it"
On mi ga je dao. "he gave me it"

The past participle shows gender of the subject, and of course it works even if subject is omitted:

Dala mi ga je. "she gave me it"
Dao mi ga je. "he gave me it"

You cannot say Dao njega meni je, since je must go in the second place chain, therefore you should say:

Dao je njega meni.

You can say that, but it emphasizes njega and meni, like if you want to say "he gave it TO ME (not to you)" and similar things.

As a rule, short forms are normally always used since they are shorter and easier to pronounce. Yes I know it's difficult :(

narukio2000 said...

I wanted to say e.g(I'm giving him the book, would it translate to (Dajem njega knjigu), would book be in Accusative case, because you are not saying TO him?

Daniel N. said...

No, in English if you put "him" right after the verb, you just don't need "to". That's rule in English. Croatian is a different language and has its own rules. Something that is given is always in accusative, one who will get the book is always in dative etc.

Correspondence English "to X" = Croatian "X-in-dative" is very rough, and I just used it to illustrate what dative is about.

narukio2000 said...

So, the example (Dajem njega knjigu`Acc`), is not in correct translation for "I'm giving him the book"? but not in direct context of TO.

Daniel N. said...

Your example makes no sense in Croatian, it's ungrammatical.

narukio2000 said...

What is the correct grammatical structure for the sentence (I'm giving him the book)? Also, I don't see how it's not grammatically structured right, what am I doing wrong?

Daniel N. said...

That's a perfect English sentence. "I'm giving the book to him" is another perfect sentence in English. Once you need "to", once you don't.

But in Croatian, you always need "he" in dative and "book" in accusative; you can say:

Dajem mu knjigu. (the default)

Dajem njemu knjigu.

Dajem knjigu njemu.

Unknown said...

Učiteljica je pitala sve učenike. Is this correct?

Daniel N. said...


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