38 Space and Time

• • • Review: Telling When and How Long

There are basically two ways to express space and time: using constructs with prepositions and using adverbs. I have already covered the some of the most important space prepositions (e.g. u "in", iz "from"), now it's the time to cover other means. I will explain words like "left", "close", "before", etc.

There are several words described here that are different in Serbian (and such different words are often used in Bosnia as well). Words that are mostly not used in Serbian are marked with an asterisk (*), and the differences are summarized below.

Croatian distinguishes space and time adjectives from adverbs: in English you can use e.g. "back" both as an adverb ("going back") and an adjective ("the back door"). In Croatian, there's always a distinction, even though it's minimal for some adverbs, which have form of neuter sg. adjectives.

Location and Destination

While space prepositions are used with nouns (e.g. u sobi "in the room") an adverb can be more abstract, e.g. just "inside" and used without any noun! Some adverbs can be used with nouns as well (e.g. "inside the room").

In a similar way to prepositions-with-cases, some adverbs distinguish 'static location' and 'direction':

vani * static location
van * destination
sprijëdastatic location
"at front"
straga, otragastatic location
natrag, nazaddestination

Some examples:

Idem van. "I'm going out."
Ana se igra vani. "Ana is playing outside."
Ne vraćam se natrag. "I'm not going back."

The adverb natrag is often used with verb vraćam ~ vratim "return" to emphasize its meaning. In everyday use, destination adverbs naprijëd, natrag and nazad are used for location as well.

Other adverbs do not distinguish direction from location, and stand for both:

unutra"inside, inward"
lijëvo "left"

Some examples:

Idem van. "I'm going out."
Ana se igra vani. "Ana is playing outside."
Što je unutra? "What is inside?"
Trebamo se vratiti unutra. "We should return inside."
Izlaz je lijëvo. "The exit is on the left."

Such adverbs usually have associated adjectives derived from them, with meanings like "outer" (related to "out"), "upper" (related to "up"), and so on (see below). Adverbs gore and doljë are also used to express meaning "upstairs" and "downstairs".

Warning. There's a similar-sounding adverb gore "worse" from the adjective gori. Don't confuse those two words, although they are spelled exactly the same.

Colloquially, the adverb vani means also "abroad".

Closeness Adverbs

There are three adverbs often used to indicate relative distance:

blizu (!)"close"
daleko"far away"
nedaleko"not far"

The last one, nedaleko, is seen more in writing, while in speech mostly the first two are used. Some examples:

Bio säm blizu. "I was close."
Amerika je daleko. "America is far way."

Use With Nouns and Space Adjectives

The following adverbs listed above can be used in relation to nouns ("close to..", "left of"...):

blizu + gen.
daleko + od + gen.    
desno + od + gen.
lijëvo + od + gen.
nedaleko + od + gen.
van + gen.

You should use the preposition od before a noun, except for blizu and van (as shown in the list above). Nouns after the adverb are, of course, in genitive:

More je daleko od kuće(G). "The sea is far from the house."
Izlaz je lijëvo od kuhinje(G). "The exit is to the left of the kitchen."

The adverb van can be used with nouns, but it means just "outside", not "outward".

Bio säm blizu mora(G). "I was close to the sea."
Živim van grada(G). "I live outside of the city."

However, it's more common to use the preposition izvan, described in 40 More Prepositions. The space prepositions and adverbs are summarized in the Summary of Space and Time.

The following space adjectives can be attached to nouns (as in "the upper floor"):

adjectivemeaning adjectivemeaning
vanjski * "outer" prednji"front"
"inner" stražnji"back, rear"
gornji"upper" lijëvi "left"
donji"lower" desni"right"


Bole me donji zubi. "My lower teeth hurt."
Otvorio sam stražnje prozore. "I have opened back windows."
Desna vrata su zaključana. "The right door is locked."

You'll sometimes see doljnji is used instead donji (look it up by Google™). That's non-standard.

Another set of adjectives is related to closeness adverbs:

blizäk"close" (see remarks below)
dalek"far, distant"
nedalek"not far"


On je blizäk prijatelj. "He's a close friend."
Putovali smo u daleke zemlje. "We traveled to far countries." (note u + acc. = "to")

The adjective blizäk is mostly used metaphorically, as "close friend"; to attribute a noun with physical closeness, relative clauses are used; check 47 Relational and Similar Clauses.


There are several adverbs and adjectives for time relations:

prošli"last, previous"
sljëdeći"next, following"

Some examples:

Vratili smo se käsno. "We came back late."
Sunce izlazi rano. "The sun comes out early."

There is an adjective skorašnji and adverb skoro and but they are not often used in Croatian; they mean both "soon" and "recently", so they are much less precise.

Adverbs prijë and poslijë can be used with nouns (in gen., of course!)

Moraš oprati ruke prijë jela. "You have to wash hands before meal."

There's no real difference between nakon and poslijë when used with nouns, but nakon cannot be used on its own, as an adverb.

Adjectives rani "early" and käsni "late" have comparatives raniji and käsniji, and 3rd pers. neuters (ranije, käsnije, etc.) are often-used adverbs:

Käsnije ćemo jesti kolač. "We'll eat the cake later."
Ana je jela ranije. "Ana has eaten earlier."

(Regardless of advices in some language manuals, poslijë and käsnije are mostly interchangeable in everyday speech.)

Time with Clauses

Read in Easy Croatian:
While, Until, Before, After

If you want to express time in relation to some other event, you have to use time clauses. The most simple type simply referring to time of some other event; you can simply use a clause started with kad(a):

Ne vozim bicikl kad pada kiša. "I don't drive bicycle when it's raining." (lit. "rain falls")

When used with perf. verbs, kad(a) means "when the event happens":

Idemo van kad prestane kiša. "We're going out when the rain stops."

Next, there's a conjunction dok used to express "while" and "until". When used with impf. verbs, it means "while":

Kuham dok su djëca u školi. "I cook while children are at school."

This implies: the action lasts while the action in the clause lasts (which is a period of time, since it's a impf. verb)

The same conjunction is often used with negated perf. verbs, meaning "until":

Kuham meso dok ne postane mekano. "I cook meat until it gets soft."
Kuhala säm meso dok nije postalo mekano. "I cooked meat until it got soft."

This implies that the action lasts until the event in the dok-clause happens (which is an instant, since it's a perf. verb). While it still didn't happen (therefore the negation), the main action (kuham) will be ongoing.

This is another use of perf. verbs in all tenses, including the present tense, and an example of special meaning of negation with perf. verbs. (The verb pair postajem ~ postanem, postao "become" is discussed in 42 Main Verb Complex).

Another conjunction is čim, meaning that action in the main sentence starts "as soon" the action in the čim-clause happens (this uses perf. verbs again):

Idemo spavati čim padne noć. "We are going to sleep as soon the night falls."

Instead of dok and čim, generic kad(a) "when" is used sometimes.

All three conjunctions (kad(a), dok, čim) hold the first position in clauses, short words come right after it!

Kuhala1 säm2 dok1 su2 djëca bila u školi. "I cooked while children were at school."
Išla1 säm2 spavati čim1 je2 pala noć. "I went to sleep as soon the night fell."

It's possible and not uncommon to start a sentence with a time clause:

Čim padne noć, idemo spavati. "As soon the night falls, we are going to sleep."

Adverbs prijë, nakon etc. can be used with clauses as well: check 50 Advanced Space and Time.

Croatian vs. Serbian

There are different adverbs and adjectives for "out" and "outside" that prevail in Serbian (they are also used in Bosnia):

adverb (Serbian)meaning
napolju (static) "out(side)"
napolje (direction) "out(side)"

Likewise for the related adjectives, Serbian chiefly uses:

adjective (Serbian)meaning
spoljni, spoljašnji"outer"

You will hear napolju in some regions of Croatia as well; however, it's not standard. I personally don't use any of napolju, napolje, etc.


JavaScript must be enabled. You don't have to use my special notation (e.g. ë) in answers, normal spelling will do as well; letter case does not matter.

Fill in right adverbs:

Idemo . "We're going upstairs."
More je . "The sea is far away."

Check your answers:


Updated 2014-11-07 (v. 0.4)


Giulio said...

Hello Daniel,
speaking of quantity adverbs, how do you say "mostly"? Ex. "I mostly travel during the warm season".

Thanks a lot

Daniel N. said...

Hi, you can say najčešće "most often", or uglavnom "mostly". I will add such words to this post!

br Daniel

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