41 Imperatives, Permissions and Vocative Case

Finally, I'm going to explain how to yell! Or... how to sing an anthem. Here are some parts of the Croatian national anthem Hrvatska domovina "Croatian homeland", a song frequently referred to with the two first words Lijëpa naša...:

Lijëpa naša domovino,
Oj junačka zemljo mila,
Stare slave djëdovino,
da bi vazda sretna bila!

Teci Dravo, Savo teci,
Nit' ti Dunav silu gubi,
Sinje more svijëtu reci,
Da svoj narod Hrvat ljubi.

I have underlined imperatives and vocatives.


The imperative (abbreviation: imper.) is not really a tense, but something like it. We can call it a tense. In English, the imperative is just a verb without a personal pronoun. Croatian has special forms:

Uzmi jabuku. "Take (an) apple."

It's similar to the present tense, but it does not have forms for all persons. It has forms only for the 2nd pers. sg., and 1st and 2nd pers. plural. When talking about imperatives, people often assume the 2nd pers. sg., but of course other two forms are imperatives. Nevertheless, I will list 2nd pers. sg. of imperative as "the imperative" since it's the most often used form, the shortest form, and other forms are derived from it!

The imperative endings are quite similar to present tense endings. The only problem is there are two types of endings, one having an i and another having an j. How do we know which endings to use? I could list verb classes, etc., but a small table is much better. It's only the 3rd pers. pl. of present tense that matters, what it ends on:

pres. 3rd pl. -ju -ku -u, -e
imper. 2nd sg. -j -ci -i
imper. 1st pl. -j-mo -ci-mo -i-mo
imper. 2nd pl. -j-te -ci-te -i-te

Unless the 3rd pers. pl. of present ends on -ju, the last vowel is thrown out, and an -i is added. However, the i added is similar to the plural of nouns — it changes k to c; it happens only for few 0-verbs like pečem (peku), tečem (teku), vučem (vuku) etc. since only such verbs can end on -ku. Therefore, their imperatives are peci, teci and vuci.

For our usual example verbs, imperatives are: imaj, misli, drži, brini, pij, tresi, očekuj and kupuj.

The verb legnem, legäo, legla, leći perf. "lie down, come to horizontal position" has two words as its imperative: legni and lezi.

The imperative of säm, bio "be" is budi. Irregular verbs hoću and mogu have no imperative.

It's quite normal to use imperatives of perf. verbs, even ones with seldom used present like rečem - imp. reci; it's an action that takes a very short time:

skoči!skačem ~ skočim "jump"
stani!stajem ~ stanem "stop, halt"
dođi!dolazim ~ dođem "come"

Of course, perf. verbs also imply completion of an action:

pojedi juhu!jedem ~ po- "eat the (whole) soup"

When an action that will take longer (or a state) is required, impf. verbs are usually used:

čekaj!čekati ~ pri- "wait"
slušaj!slušam "listen"
spavaj!spavam "sleep"

Imperatives are often inserted in sentences, or start sentences in direct communication:

Reci mi... "Tell me..."
Gledaj, ovo sam kupila. "Look, I bought this."
Dođi ovamo. "Come here."
Pazi, nož je oštar. "Take care, (the) knife is sharp."

Imperative gledaj "look" is frequently shortened to gle. Imperative čekaj is in colloquial speech sometimes shortened to ček.

Purpose clauses are also often used with imperatives. For instance:

Ustani odmah da stigneš na posao! "Get up immediately to get to work in time!"

Negation, Encouragement and Allowing

Negation (like English "don't come") can be constructed in two ways:

  1. by adding a ne in front of the imperative (only for impf. verbs!)
  2. with a special verb (we could call it "negative imperative verb") that has only imperative forms and the infinitive of the verb.

For example:

ne + imper.spec. verb + inf.meaning
Ne reci...Nemoj reći..."Don't tell..."
Ne gledajte!Nemojte gledati!"Don't look!" (speaking to a group)
Ne brinite!Nemojte brinuti!"Don't worry!" (speaking to a group)
Ne čekajmo!Nemojmo čekati!"Let's not wait!" (speaking to a group including the speaker)

The first form is a slightly stronger prohibition than the second, in my point of view, but they are used interchangeably for impf. verbs. Surprisingly, for perf. verbs, placing a ne in front of the verb in imperative doesn't work:

Ugasi auto. "Turn off the car."
Ne ugasi auto. (won't work)
Nemoj ugasiti auto. "Don't turn off the car." (must use this form)

Additionally, there is another verb that is used to encourage, similar to English "c'mon", having only imperative forms; it's used on its own or together with an imperative of some other verb.

Hajde! "C'mon!"
Hajde, idi! "C'mon, go!"

Both special verbs are listed here:

imper. 2nd sg. nemoj hajde
imper. 1st pl. nemoj-mo hajde-mo, haj-mo (!)
imper. 2nd pl. nemoj-te hajde (!)

One more imperative is used for encouraging: daj "give!", the imperative form of verb dam perf. "give".

There's a very frequent construct with the imperative this verb: daj da + present, meaning "let", "allow", and ne daj + present, meaning "don't let". Of course, plural forms are possible (ne dajmo da..., ne dajte da...).

The clause after daj is of the desire type, always in present, and often containing perf. verbs. This is actually just a imperative of form dam + desire, described in 39 Verbs 'dajem', 'imam', 'uzimam', kidam'.

For an example of imperatives, including daj + desire, check the song Ne daj performed by Natali Dizdar:

Vozi me po cijëlom gradu    
dok se ne digne sunce
sviraj mi onu pjësmu
što säm tražila jučer
"Drive me over the whole city
Until the Sun rises
Play to me the song
I asked for yesterday
Ljubi me tamo gdjë
najmanje ne volim
štipaj mi obraze
dok ne porumenim
Kiss me where
I dislike the least
Pinch my cheeks
Until I blush
Ne daj da nestanem
ne daj da propustim
dok se gase svjëtla
jedno za drugim

(Marin Ostojić i Marta Muždalo)
Don't let me disappear
Don't let me miss
Lights going out (lit. "while lights go off")
One after another"

Here we have also a preposion za used in meaning "after" ("one after another"). Note also use of perf. verbs in da-clauses after daj.

The construct pjësmu što säm tražila jučer is a relative clause; check 47 Relative and Similar Clauses.

To summarize:

Negative imperatives

To form a negative imperative (that is, a prohibition), use either ne + imper., or forms of the special "negative imperative verb" nemoj, nemojmo, nemojte + infinitive of the verb


There's a word that means a permission, indifference, resignation: neka. It's simply put in front of the verb in present, past, or future and can be roughly translated as "let". However, the verb is usually in 3rd pers. present (either singular or plural):

Neka ode. "Let him/her go."
Ivan neka bude golman. "Ivan should be the goalkeeper."
Neka Ivan bude golman. (the same meaning)
Neka odu. "Let them go."
Neka su otišli. (rarely used) "It's ok that they went."

It does not have to be directly in front, it can be shuffled around a bit, but cannot come after the verb.

The verb puštam ~ pustim "release, let go" is also frequently used to indicate permission:

Pustila me van. "She let me go outside."
Pusti me u sobu. "Let me in the room." (pusti = imperative)

Vocative Case

As verbs have imperatives, so nouns have the vocative case (abbreviation: voc.). It's mush less often used than the imperative, since:

  • For all adjectives and pronouns, it's the same as nominative
  • For all nouns, voc.pl. = nom. pl.
  • For neuter nouns, voc.sg. = nom. sg.
  • Furthermore, many people use nominative instead of vocative.

Let's take a look at the endings:

gen.sg. / dual-a-e-i
ins.sg.-œm-om-i, -ju
voc.sg.-#e, -u-œ-o (-e)-i
nom. / voc.pl.-[œv]+i-a-e-i
dat. / ins.pl.-[œv]+ima-ima-ama-ima

This is the final table, there are no more cases left in the Standard Croatian.

For masculine nouns ending on š, ž, nj or lj -u is usually added, but also for some other nouns. Before e, k/c change to č, g/z to ž, and h/s to š (indicated by a # sign):

puž "snail" → pužu
konj "horse" → konju
päs "dog" → psu
čovjëk "man" → čovjëče    
vuk "wolf" → vuče
bog "god" → bože
otäc "father" → oče
djëd "grandfather" → djëde
stric "father's brother" → striče

With persons names, vocative is usually used, except for male names that end on a consonant (regardless of their noun class):


Affectionate a-nouns, mama and tata, used by children, have voc. same as their nom. For baka "granny" and teta "aunt" both forms are used:

bakabaka, bako
tetateta, teto

Feminine a-nouns, regularly use vocative on -o, except those ending on -ica: they have their vocative on -ice. Names use sometimes vocative, especially if they end on -ica:

žena "woman, wife" → ženo
majka "mother" → majko
sestra "sister" → sestro
krava "cow" → kravo
mačka "cat" → mačko
kuća "house" → kućo
domovina "homeland" → domovino
djëdovina "things inherited from grandfathers, ancestry" → djëdovino
zemlja "earth, ground, soil, land" → zemljo
Sava (name of a river) → Savo
IvanaIvano or Ivana
sestrica "little sister" → sestrice

So, you know now how to say "come here, cow!" And words in the anthem.

Again, a lot of people use just nominatives in everyday communication.

Adjective Inversion

If you carefully examined the anthem, you could see phrases like zemljo mila where adjective mila comes after the noun zemlja "ground, earth, land, country" (in voc. zemljo). It's often so in vocatives, but also in poetry and in older Croatian literature, especially medieval.

Updated 2014-06-24 (v. 0.4)


narukio2000 said...

What is the chart or guide endings for vocative singular and plural nouns and adjectives?

narukio2000 said...

For Vocative: What I don't get is, for neuter nouns can you use either e or o or is there specific grammar rules with the preceding letter before the ending? Also for the a-nouns, am i able to use any letter ending/ -e(-e)? This is regarding the same thing but for dative, for a-nouns am i able to add that "i" or is there grammar rules to that also "(+)i"? For instrumental, am i able to use either -em or -om, depending on my preference?

Daniel N. said...

For neuter nouns, vocative = nominative ALWAYS. Nominative ends on -o or -e, and vocative has exactly the same form.

For instrumental, it's either -om or -em depending on what comes exactly before. It's explained here:


It seems my explanations are not that clear :( I will to clarify it more. However, the vocative is not that important in the real life. br Daniel

narukio2000 said...

I also read on other sites saying that people just use nominative to replace vocative when callingout to something. You do well on explaining things to the best to your ability. It's just I that is confused on something :b

E said...

In the first chart, should the last row be "imper. 2nd pl." and not "imper. 1st pl."? You have 1st plural written twice.

Daniel N. said...

Thanks, E! I fixed it!

Anonymous said...

Dear Daniel, I ran across the vocative "djeco!" (children). I suppose it is an exception as it does not seem to fit your tables?

Daniel N. said...

"djeca" is an a-noun like "žena" (it's a weird collective noun), so it changes like it:

pišem djeci - pišem ženi
šećem s djecom - šećem sa ženom
djeco! - ženo!

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