26 Demonstratives and Definiteness

• • • Easy Croatian: 18 This and That

Introducing Demonstratives

Demonstratives are really a kind of adjectives and adverbs, but have a somewhat grammatical role, they are close to 'function words'. Together with some other words they are a part of a larger 'generalization scheme'.

English has demonstratives "this" (pl. "these") and "that" (pl. "those"). The Croatian scheme is more like adjectives, that is, forms for all cases plus a threefold distinction instead of twofold in English.

The threefold distinction is quite alike the one for personal pronouns, where we have three 'persons'. Forms are basically ovaj "this" for things close to speaker, taj "that" for things close to both speaker and listener, and onaj for things not close to speaker and listener, for things distant in space, and, we'll see in a short while, things distant in time, manner and other aspects.

Also, there are demonstrative adverbs which are limited in English to "here"/"there" and "now"/"then". Croatian again has a bigger and more generic scheme of words.

Finally, the demonstrative to has a wide role in Croatian as a special kind of pronoun.

Selection Demonstratives

When someone thinks of demonstratives, usually thinks about selection demonstratives, words like "this" and "that". In Croatian there's a threefold distinction, similar to Spanish demonstrative adjectives. To learn another useful word, we can add word for "other", "not this", although most grammars don't consider it a demonstrative. The words are as follows:

CroatianEnglishSpanish (m, f)
closeovaj, nom.sg.f ova"this"este, esta
midtaj, nom.sg.f ta"that"ese, esa
faronaj, nom.sg.f ona"that (over there)"aquel, aquella
other/elsedrugi"other", "else"otro, otra

Their case forms are no different from everyday adjectives except for nom.sg.m, where an unexpected additional -aj occurs; here's the pattern for taj:

casemamin            f            
nom.sg.taj (!)taj (!)tota
acc.sg.tog, togatu
dat.sg.tom, tome, tomutoj
gen.sg.tog, togate
. . .(the normal adjective pattern)

In exactly the same way, one constructs the case forms for ovaj and onaj, while drugi is an adjective with everyday declension.

Let's see some examples. ovaj refers to something present, current, like a house you're currently in; compare it with other adjectives and you'll see that forms and use are identical:

U ovoj kući je hladno. "It's cold in this house."
U mojoj kući je hladno. "It's cold in my house."
U velikoj kući je hladno. "It's cold in (a/the) big house." (all dat.)

Moj otäc je kupio ovu kuću. "My father bought this house."
Moj otäc je kupio moju kuću. "My father bought my house."
Moj otäc je kupio veliku kuću. "My father bought (a/the) big house." (all acc.)

Ovaj stan ima tri sobe. "This apartment has three rooms."
Moj stan ima tri sobe. "My apartment has three rooms."
Veliki stan ima tri sobe. "The big apartment has three rooms." (all nom.)

Demonstrative taj is used to refer to an exactly known instance, close to both speaker and listener, in place, but also in mind: it refers to last thing discussed, and has something similar to English "the":

Bio sam u njegovoj kući. U toj kući je hladno. "I was at his house. It's cold in that house."
Želim taj bicikl. "I want that bicycle."
Želim ta dva kolača. "I want those two cakes." (an example for "dual" form)
Taj stan je velik. "That apartment is big."

Demonstrative onaj refers to something distant, not present, mentioned much before, belonging to somewhere else, etc. and always contrasts with ovaj. We can translate it to English again with "that", but it's really a pity, since speakers of Croatian sometimes use ovaj instead of taj and vice versa, but never confuse them with onaj; this demonstrative is a world apart from the other two:

U onoj kući je hladno, ali je u ovoj toplo. "It's cold in that house, but it's warm in this one."

All demonstratives, as shown in the previous example, can be used without nouns, meaning "this one", "that one", etc. However, most adjectives can be used like that as well:

U tvojoj kući je hladno, ali je u mojoj toplo. "It's cold in your house, but it's warm in mine."
U velikoj kući je hladno, ali je u maloj toplo. "It's cold in a big house, but it's warm in a small one."
U žutoj kući je hladno, ali je u zelenoj toplo. "It's cold in the yellow house, but it's warm in the green one."

Recall, there's no pronoun "one" in Croatian, instead of "that one", you say just "that".

The adjective drugi is in a way, opposite of ovaj:

Želim drugu majicu. = ne ovu "I want another shirt. = not this one"

As in English, selection demonstratives come before all adjectives and numbers: you cannot say:

dva ta bicikla "two those bicycles"
velik taj stan "big that apartment"

General Pronouns

The demonstrative to has a special use at many places as a 'general pronoun': to is used to refer to any object, regardless of what it is; it is used when we don't know much about something, and sometimes is used for persons as well:

Što je to? To je... pismo "What is that? That is... a letter"
Tko je to? To je... poštar "Who is that? It is... a postman"

People often use the following sentences (both demonstrative and possessive are in neuter, referring to anything):

To je moje. "That is mine."
To nije moje. "That isn't mine."
To je tvoje. "That is yours.", etc.

Demonstratives ovo and ono can have the similar role, as general pronouns, but they are always demonstratives, implying something close or distant. Demonstratives in neuter gender are often used with verb säm, bio "be" to make phrases like "This is..." or "That is...":

Ovo je moja kuća. "This is my house."
To je moja kuća. "That is my house."
Ono je moja kuća. "That (distant one) is my house."

Here ovo etc. were forms for neuter, a kuća is, of course, feminine. Forms ona, ono are identical with personal pronouns of similar meaning, but it's only for nominative, all other forms are quite different.

Furthermore, if you would like to refer to something known just by other (in principle, neutral) demonstrative, to must be used, personal pronouns cannot be used. This sounds complicated, but an example will make it clear:

A Pismo je za tebe, trebaš ga pročitati. "The letter is for you, you should read it."
B Ovo pismo je za tebe, trebaš ga pročitati. "This letter is for you, you should read it."

C Ovo je za tebe, trebaš to pročitati. "This is for you, you should read it."

Sentences A and B have a noun or a noun with determiner as subject — we normally use ga, the acc. of ono (the personal pronoun). However, the sentence C has just a demonstrative ovo and we have to use acc. of to, we cannot use forms of ono! This could be seen as a consequence of ovo being too general — it could be a book, a letter, a document... so there's no way even to tell gender of what we are talking about!

Next, to must be used when one refers to infinitives:

Volim plivati, stvarno to volim. "I like to swim, I really like it."

We'll see even more uses of to later.

The word drugo, nom.sg.n of drugi is more or less the exact counterpart of English "else", the generic otherness:

Želim nešto drugo. "I want something else."

Expressing Definiteness

As I have already written, Croatian has no definite or indefinite articles. Therefore, usually there's no difference between "a friend" and "the friend" in Croatian, one says just "friend".

There are circumstances when one must express indefiniteness, such as "I saw a friend of yours". Croatian uses jedän "one" as marker of indefiniteness. That word behaves like any other adjective, and possessives behave as adjectives as well, so you should just say:

Vidio säm jednog tvog prijatelja. "I saw a friend of yours."

The literal translation would be "I saw one your friend", there's no complication that's apparent in English sentence where "a" and "your" cannot stand together. Another word to express indefiniteness is neki some, used when you don't know which one it was; for example, a dog was barking, but you don't know which one:

Neki pas je lajao. "Some dog was barking."

When in Croatian you talk about "friend"... "friend"... it's of course assumed that it's the same friend. When you want to discontinue it (switch to "another friend"), you should use drugi (recall, it's a kind of opposite to ovaj and taj):

Drugi prijatelj vozi. "Another friend is driving."

In plural, the adjective drugi means "other". The word also means "second"; in Croatian, there's no difference between "another", "other" and "second"!

Drugi prijatelji putuju vlakom. "Other friends travel by train."

On the other hand, if you want to express definiteness, you can always use taj "that":

Taj tvoj prijatelj dolazi sutra. "That friend of yours will come tomorrow."

Again, the literal translation would be "that your friend comes tomorrow"; taj and tvoj are simply adjectives in Croatian, and can come one after another. Don't forget, jedän, neki, etc. are adjectives: they must adapt to the case, number and gender of the noun, that is, they must decline.

Demonstrative Adverbs

Although generally not considered demostratives, such words ("here", "there", "now", "then"...) are really closely connected to demonstratives. Croatian has here a much larger set of such words than English, not only because of the three-fold distinction, but also because there are adverbs for a whole set of question-words, corresponding to "how", "which way", "how many", etc. The scheme is:

time manner quantity
close sad(a) (!)
"like this"
"this much/many"
mid tad(a)
"right then"
"so much/many"
far onda (!)
"like that"
"that much/many"
(inače) (!)

Unfortunately, this scheme is less regular than it could be. If an adverb ends on -a it can be dropped (no change of meaning) but for some reason this does not hold for onda; moreover, tu and sad(a) are forms that do not fit, etc.

Such words are really often used:

Sad ćemo jesti. "We're going to eat now."
Ovako možemo rijëšiti problem. "We can solve the problem this way."
Imam samo toliko brašna." "I have only that much flour."

Although they are quite similar to e.g. nekako "somehow" and other general adverbs, these adverbs don't change under negation:

Ana želi taj auto. "Ana wants that car."
Ana ne želi taj auto. "Ana doesn't want that car."

Demonstrative adverbs of manner can be used to modify any adjective or adverb, and tako is colloquially used to indicate that something is really intense (similar to jako):

Ovaj auto je tako brz. "This car is so fast."
Imam tako malo vrëmena!" "I have so little time!"

There's an adverb zato "for that reason" that also don't fit into the scheme. It can be used to replace what was already said or known for a reason for something (it's discussed in more detail in 27 Likes, Wishes and Purpose):

Auto je star. Zato ne vozim brzo. "The car is old. That's why I'm not driving fast."

As expected, there's a fine difference in location, destination and path in the Standard Croatian:

location destination path
close ovdjë
ovamo, simo
(!) "here"
"this way"
mid tu (!)
"that way"
far ondjë
"over there"
"over there"
"way over there"
(drugim putem)
"other way"

This scheme is rather traditional. In colloquial speech, only a two-fold distinction is used for places: tu "here" vs. tamo "there". Many people confuse destination with location adverbs, so you'll read and hear dođi ovdjë "come here" instead of dođi ovamo, etc. Also, dictionaries list drugud(a) for "other path" but I've never used that word. The colloquial schemes are:

location destination or loc./dest.
ovamo, simo
(!) "here"
far tamo
far tamo

The last row shows "else" adverbs, where inače is not really fitting (it's a quite good translation of English "otherwise"). It's used in conversation when you want to talk or ask about what's going on besides what is going on right now. Word drugdjë is frequenly used:

Drugdjë je još skuplje. "It's even more expensive elsewhere."

English constructions with "else" must be translated to Croatian using the right combination of adverbs:

"how else" kako drugačije
"where else" gdjë drugdjë    
"who else" tko drugi
"what else" što drugo
"somehow else" nekako drugačije
"somewhere else" negdjë drugdjë
"someone else" netko drugi
"something else" nešto drugo

The same holds e.g. for "nowhere else" nigdjë drugdjë and all such constructions! Such constructs with question-words are heard also with inače (kako inače, etc.)

I thought hard but I couldn't find any difference in meaning and use of drugačije and drukčije.

There's a way to rephrase adverbs for path and manner: ovim putem instead of ovuda, etc. likewise, na onaj način instead of onako, etc., but then such phrases cannot modify other adjectives and adverbs (you cannot rephrase tako malo).

More Demonstrative Adjectives

Selection demonstratives are really connected to koji: they select "which one" when used as adjectives. But there are 2 more types of demonstrative adjectives in Croatian, corresponding to question-words kakäv "what like" and kolik "how big", and they mean "this big", "like that", etc. They are (compared with selection demonstratives):

selection quality size
close ovaj ovakäv "like this" ovolik "this big"
mid taj takäv "such" tolik "so big"
far onaj onakäv "like that" onolik "that big"
drugi drugačiji,
drukčiji "different"

(Of course, determiners ovaj, etc. are already introduced above.) For example:

Ona je takva prijateljica. "She's that kind of friend."
Nikad nisam primio ovakvu poruku. "I have never received a message like this."

Takäv "such" is a generic quality, the sentences are ambigous if you don't know what was said previously. Beware, takäv and others are adjectives, changing through cases, numbers and genders, adapting to the noun they describe.

English vs. Croatian Pronoun Use

Here I list the main differences in English and Croatian use of pronouns.

impersonal "Dummy" pronoun "it":
 "It is cold."
No pronoun at all:
 Hladno je.
Indefinite pronoun "one":
 "I bought the green one."
 "That book is mine, this one is not."
No pronoun, just determiner:
 Kupio säm zelenu.
 Ona knjiga je moja, ova nije.
Indefinite pronouns ("one", "some"):
 "I don't have a shirt, I must buy one."
 "I need sugar, I will buy some."
Personal pronouns:
 Nemam košulju, moram je kupiti.
 Trëbam šećer, kupit ću ga.
Personal pronouns:
 "He is here."
 "I saw him"
Personal pronouns*:
 On je ovdjë. Ovdjë je.
 Vidio säm ga.
Pronoun "it":
 "Who is it? It's a postman."
 "It is impossible."
General pronoun to:
 Tko je to? To je poštar.
 To je nemoguće.
to actions
Pronoun "it":
 "I like to swim, really like it."
General pronoun to:
 Volim plivati, stvarno to volim.

In Croatian, personal pronouns in may be omitted when used as subjects; that's marked by the asterisk (*).

Updated 2014-09-26 (v. 0.4)

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