30 Reflexive Pronoun

• • • Easy Croatian: 7 Verbs with Obligatory Objects

• • • Review: Basic Cases of Pronouns

Reflexives are a really important part of Croatian that has no good English equivalent. However, if you are a bit familiar with a Romance language (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian), you will find many similarities.

Here, you will also learn how to say "have fun" in Croatian!

The Pronoun

Compare the following sentences:

"I see him."
"He sees her."
"He sees him."    
"I see myself."
"He sees himself."
"She sees herself."

There's a special form of pronoun used to indicate the object (one who is seen) is the same as the subject (one who sees). It's really not needed for the 1st and 2nd person ("I", "you"), since there's only one possible "I", but it is nevertheless used.

Now, such 'the same as subject' pronouns are called reflexive pronouns and Croatian uses them a lot — actually, there's only one reflexive pronoun in Croatian, and it's quite similar to other personal pronouns, except for 2 things:

  1. It does not have nominative;
  2. Same forms are used for singular and plural.

Its forms are:

acc.sg./pl. sebe / se
dat.sg./pl. sebi / si
ins.sg./pl. sobom

As usual, 'clitic' forms are shown in boldface, and they are preferred ones. The forms are quite similar to the 2nd pers. pronoun ti The English sentences we started with would be translated to Croatian like this:

Vidim ga.
On je vidi.
On ga vidi.    
Vidim se.   or  
On se vidi.
Ona se vidi.
Vidim sebe.
On vidi sebe.
Ona vidi sebe.

Let's see more examples of its use:

Perem majicu. "I'm washing (a) T-shirt"
Perem se. "I'm washing myself."

Brije bradu. "(He/she) is shaving (the) beard."
Brije se. "(He/she) is shaving himself/herself."

Razgovara s prijateljem. "(He/she) is talking to (a) friend."
Razgovara sa sobom. "(He/she) is talking to himself/herself."

Pišem pismo prijatelju. "I'm writing (a) letter to (a) friend."
Pišem si pismo. "I'm writing (a) letter to myself."

We could have used sebe instead of se, but it's used mostly to emphasize the object of action:

Perem sebe. (not someone or something else!)
Brije sebe.

This is the basic use of the pronoun. But the pronoun has other uses. In reality, it depends on the verb what se will do: for some verbs it's even optional, doesn't do anything. For others, it's mandatory: they always require se.

Important: for any other use of se except the most basic one ("shave oneself") you cannot use the long form (sebe) instead of the short one!

Always-transitive Verbs

There are certain verbs Croatian that must have an object — so, when in English one would use just a verb, in Croatian one must use a se as a 'filler' or 'dummy object':

Vraćam knjigu sutra. "I'm returning (the) book tomorrow."
Vraćam se sutra. "I'm returning tomorrow."

This really cannot be said in Croatian:

Vraćam sutra. (does not work)

Recall, you cannot use the long form sebe with this verb. Some common verbs like that are:

budim ~ pro- "wake up"
dižem, dizao ~ dignem "lift"
igram "play (a game, with toys)"
mičem, micao ~ maknem "move, shift"    
osjëćam ~ osjëtim "feel"
otkrivam ~ otkrijem, pokrio "uncover"
pokrivam ~ pokrijem, pokrio "cover"
spuštam ~ spustim "descend, lower"
vraćam ~ vratim "return"
zaustavljam ~ zaustavim "stop"

That is, in Croatian, you must always "play" something: you cannot just "play"; if you want to express that someone is just playing, you should use a se! You cannot just "wake up", you can either wake up someone or "yourself":

Probudila säm se. "I woke up." (female speaking)
Probudila säm Ivana. "I woke Ivan up." (female speaking)

The verb pair osjëćam ~ osjëtim, when a se is added, is used to express how you feel (with an adverb):

Osjëćam glad. "I feel hunger."
Osjëćam se dobro. "I feel good."

Most such verbs-that-require-an-object-or-se have different meaning in English when used with an object ("return a book") or without ("return"). When you "return a book", the book moves, but when you just "return", you don't move something, it's you who moves.

When se Changes Meaning

There are some verbs where se can be used, and then everything has a different meaning: it again must be a short se:

Našao säm knjigu u sobi. "I found (a) book in (the) room." (a male speaker)
Našao säm se u sobi. lit. "I found myself in (the) room." = "I came to the room."

Common verbs that change meaning are:

verb+ object (acc.)+ se
činim ~ u-"do""appear, seem"
javljam ~ javim"inform""contact, get in touch"
nalazim ~
nađem, našäo, našla, naći
"find""be located, be in/at"
poklanjam ~ poklonim"give (a gift)""bow down"
slažem, slagao ~ složim"assemble, put together""agree"
sjëćam ~ sjëtim"remind" (colloq.)"remember"
zabavljam ~ zabavim"entertain""have fun"
zovem, zvao"call""be named"

For instance:

Ana zove Ivana. "Ana is calling Ivan."
Zovem se Ana. lit. "I call myself Ana" = "My name is Ana."

With the verb pair zabavljam ~ zabavim there's only a small change of meaning: I included it here since it translates a very often used English verbal phrase "have fun":

Ivan zabavlja Anu. "Ivan entertains Ana."
Ivan se zabavlja. "Ivan is having fun."
Ivan i Ana se zabavljaju. "Ivan and Ana are having fun."
Prijatelji se zabavljaju. "Friends are having fun."

There's more to it; actually a se can do all kinds of strange things to a verb, but I will leave it for now.

In dictionaries, such verbs are most often listed twice: once without se, and once with a se.

Company Verbs

With some verbs, an object (or a se) must be always present, but adding the se makes a very little difference. Such verbs always imply company:

dogovaram ~ dogovorim "negotiate, discuss"
srećem, sretao ~ sretnem, sreo, srela, sresti "meet"

With a se, one can add an "object" using s + ins.:

Sreo säm Anu. "I met Ana."
Sreo säm se s Anom. "I met Ana."
Sreo säm. (does not work)
Sreli smo se jučer. "We met yesterday."

Several verbs from this group cannot be used without a se, e.g.:

dopisujem, dopisivao se "correspond, exchange letters"
svađam se "have a dispute"

Mutual se

When you want to express action that is mutual, that is, when more than one person does something with another, you can often use a verb in plural with se:

Ivan i Ana se vole. "Ivan and Ana love each other."
Oni se vole. "They love each other."

Common verbs often used with a mutual se are:

gledam ~ po- "look"    
grlim ~~ za- "hug"
ljubim ~ po- "kiss"
mrzim ~~ za- "hate"
poštujem "respect"
poznajem, poznavao "know (somebody)"
tučem, tukäo, tukla, tući ~~ po- "beat"
volim ~~ za- "like, love"

All company verbs can use a mutual se in plural:

Ana i Ivan su se sreli. "Ana and Ivan met."
Ana i Ivan se svađaju. "Ana and Ivan have a dispute."

Optional se

Finally, there are some verbs where se is purely optional and does not change meaning or behavior of verbs (that is, which cases are needed). Common ones are:

kližem, klizao "slid, skate"
odlučujem, odlučivao ~ odlučim "decide"    
šećem, šetao ~ pro- "walk"
brinem * "worry, care"
selim ~ pre- * "change residence, move"
žurim * "hurry"

For instance:

Šetao säm parkom. "I was walking in the park."
Šetao säm se parkom. (no difference)

Standard Croatian insists that verbs marked (in the list above) with an asterisk (*) must be always used with a se; forms without se are often found in spoken, colloquial Croatian.

With perfective change-of-posture verbs (e.g. sjëdnem, sjëo, sjëla, sjësti perf. "sit") se is sometimes used, without any change in meaning, especially in some areas (including Zagreb). This is a rather colloquial, not standard use. Such verbs are described in detail in 42 Main Verb Complex.

Permanent se

Finally, with some verbs, se must always be used (as with the previous group, sebe cannot be used) — they have their object permanently blocked by a dummy reflexive pronoun. We can call those verbs 'permanently reflexive' (often they are called just 'reflexive'). They are listed in dictionaries together with a se. Some very often used verbs are in this group:

bojim, bojao se (G) "be afraid"
borim se "fight"
kajem, kajao se "repent"
nadam se (D) "hope"
natjëčem, natjëcao se (u D) "compete"
pojavljujem, pojavljivao ~ pojavim se "show up, appear"
raspadam se ~ raspadnem, raspao, raspala, raspasti se "fall apart"
smijem, smijao se (D) "laugh"
trudim se "make effort"
zaljubljujem, zaljubljivao se ~ zaljubim se (u A) "fall in love"

Some verbs can have an indirect object in the indicated case, acting as a 'logical object', for instance:

Bojim se mraka. "I'm afraid of dark"
Nadam se lijepom vremenu. "I'm hoping for fair weather."
Zaljubio säm se u Anu. "I fell in love with Ana."

Some verbs from previous groups could be included in this one as well: e.g. sjëćam ~ sjëtim is not much used without a se.

Further Uses

Believe it or not, that's not all! For example, the verb pair tučem, tukäo, tukla, tući ~~ po- "beat", when used in singular with a se, imply "beat others":

On se tuče. "He's beating others." (or "people", etc.)

There are more uses of se that are explained in 46 Mediopassive.

Order of Words

There's one final subtlety. Words se and si are short forms of pronouns, and take the same place as me and mi among the "second place clitics". However, instead of:

Vratila se je jučer. "She came back yesterday."

The usual (and correct sentence) is:

Vratila se jučer. (this is correct)

If there's a reflexive pronoun se, a je (the short 3rd person present of "to be") is almost always dropped. It works only for je. Recall that it's also the only clitic (among sam, si, je, smo...) to come after short pronouns:

Vratila säm se jučer. "I came back yesterday." (a female speaker)
Vratila si se jučer. "You came back yesterday." (speaking to a female person)
Vratili ste se jučer. "You came back yesterday." (you = a group of people)

etc., but:

Vratila se jučer. "She came back yesterday." (je would come after se, but it's dropped)

Updated 2014-08-21 (v. 0.4)


Anonymous said...

OK, I see you addressed nalaziti se here so my comment at #28; still, it's worth at least forward-referencing it there.

Just a couple of observations: "odlučiti" and "odlučiti se" have subtly different meanings: 'bring a decision' and 'make up one's mind'. I understand that you cannot address all subtleties in a learner's material, though.

*"Sjećati" can never be transitive, IMO; it's only reflexive, "sjećati se".

Regards, Duja

Dragana said...

Hi - does it matter is the se/su comes before or after the verb.
U Dubrovniku su snimali serija Game of Thrones
U Dubrovniku snimali su serija Game of Thrones

Daniel N. said...

Hi Dragana, this blog is no longer maintained. The word su should go to the 2nd position, after U Dubrovniku. It is a verb. snimali is a past form of another verb. You can put it anywhere.

I suggest you switch to Easy Croatian, and ask there. Your question is explained in this chapter: http://www.easy-croatian.com/2014/11/24.html

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