56 Indeclinable Nouns and Adjectives

We have seen a long ago how Croatian treats all nouns and adjectives — squeezes them into a scheme of case endings; all adjectives additionally adapt to the gender of the noun they describe. The scheme of endings in far from obvious and logical and not easy to learn at all.

However, there are exceptions, so-called indeclinables (that is, nouns and adjectives that don't change case and gender, don't "decline").

Indeclinable nouns

All names must be declined, except feminine names that don't end on -a. This applies to both first names and last names. To illustrate this:

Ana Ivković (woman) → Vidio sam Anu Ivković. (Ivković can't change here)
Ivan Ivković (man) → Vidio sam Ivana Ivkovića. (Ivković can change now)
Ines Ivković (woman) → Vidio sam Ines Ivković. (neither can change now)
Ana Kournikova (woman) → Vidio sam Anu Kournikovu. (both can change)
Ivković (woman) → Vidio sam Ivković. (Ivković can't change here)
Ivković (man) → Vidio sam Ivkovića. (Ivković can change now)

There are no special last names for women in Croatia, contrary to e.g. Czech Republic (where most last names exist in two variants: male and female; until fairly recently it was mandated by law that women in Czech Republic can have only last names with female endings!). Therefore, for the majority of women in Croatia, their last name is not declinable. Occasionally, for some women both names are indeclinable: one example is Natali Dizdar, a singer. Since neither of her names ends on -a, both are indeclinable.

Next, there are some feminine nouns that don't end on -a (I don't mean i-nouns!) and they are indeclinable as well — all of them are recent loans:

ledi f indecl. "lady (a title)"
mis f indecl. "beauty queen, miss something"

Since such words cannot be declined, there's no way to express plural. So you will hear people adapting mis to misica, a completely normal a-noun (see also below).

Indeclinable adjectives

There's a group of adjectives, used only colloquially, that don't change at all — they have the same form for all genders, numbers and cases! They are all loanwords. Often used ones are:

super "great, awesome"    
bež "beige"
kul "cool"
lila "violet"
mini "mini, very small"
reš "crispy (meat)"
roza "pink"
seksi "sexy"

For instance (this is a colloquial talk, also found in commercials):

Imamo super cijëne. "We have awesome prices."
Knjiga mi je super. "I find the book awesome." (lit. "The book is awesome to me")
Ona je jako seksi. "She is very sexy."
Kupila säm roza majicu. "I bought a pink shirt." (I = female)

For example, the sticker on a package of cold cuts says "awesome price" (see the picture on the right).

All such words have "official" counterparts (odličän, ljubičast, ružičast), but these words are longer and less cool.

Super is used as an adverb as well, as many adjectives are, but its neuter form is — of course — same as all the other forms! Therefore you'll see:

Novi kompjuter je super brz. (colloq.) "The new computer is super fast."

Adapting Nouns and Adjectives

Sometimes you will hear people adapting first and last names of women and turning them into a-nouns, to be able to decline them, especially when talking about someone using the last name only. This is in my view a strange practice. The last names are adapted into feminine possessives, or a -ka is added and it looks like this:

Ivković (woman) → Vidio sam Ivkovićevu. (IvkovićIvkovićeva and then declined)
Ivković (woman) → Vidio sam Ivkovićku. (IvkovićIvkovićka and then declined)
Ivković (man) → Vidio sam Ivkovića. (Ivković can change)

I personally don't do that, but many people do: don't be surprised to read or hear constructs like those above.

Next, sometimes, informally, even indeclinable first names are adapted by adding -ica or -ka (seemingly, it does not happen if the first name ends on -i):

InesInesica or Ineska
NivesNivesica or Niveska

This happens for indeclinable feminine general nouns as well, and it's not just informal, since there's no way to express plural, or to count indeclinable nouns. Historically, it also happened to i-nouns kći "daughter" and mati "mother": they exist in two variants today — the original i-noun and adapted a-noun:

barbi "Barbie doll" → barbika    
mis "beauty queen" → misica
"Uggs" → uggsica
mati "mother" → majka
kći "daugher" → kćerka
kokoš "hen" → kokoška (in some regions)

When some new noun comes up, it gets quickly an adapted form: for instance, members of Croatian pop-group Divas were known as Divasice (that was plural; each was a Divasica). Check also uggsica in the list above: since both cipela "shoe" and čizma "boot" are feminine, the new brand of boot was understood as a feminine noun!

There's also a problem with masculine nouns meaning plural. Croatian language would like them to end with an -i; since English (and Spanish) nouns have different endings, usually an -i is just appended, and we see:

"The Rolling Stones" → Stonesi    
"The Beatles" → Beatlesi
"The Smiths" → Smithsi
"Microsoft Windows" → Windowsi

If a foreign nouns already ends on an -i (as happens often with Italian nouns) it's simply understood as the Croatian ending:

(Italian) spaghettišpageti m pl.

Adaptation of longer adjectives is very simple: they just get phonetically adapted and get an -än (shorter ones often remain indeclinable, check the list above):

"exclusive" → ekskluzivän    
"inclusive" → inkluzivän
"hectic" → hektičän
"sequential" → sekvencijalän

The meaning of Croatian adjective is often not identical to the meaning of English adjective: e.g. eventualän means only "possible under specific circumstances".

Masculine nouns like taksi and kanu

Masculine nouns representing singular, and ending on 'strange' sounds are often just declined just like they are; if they end on -i, they get an -j inserted before any ending (and consequently have ins.sg. ending -em). Examples are taksi "taxi", and kanu "canoe"; the same holds for the male name Toni (also spelled Tony to make it fancier):

. . .. . .. . .

Some nouns get adapted: for example, "cafe bar" was adapted to kafić.

Updated 2014-06-09 (v. 0.4)


E said...

If you wanted to make a plural form of a family name (like "The Smiths") for a regular Croatian name, would it be "Babići" or would something like "Obitelj Babić" be more common?

If the first form is acceptable, how would you make a name like "Soldo" plural? I assume it would be treated as an Ma-noun (similar to first names in 10 M-nouns and the o/e Rule), but would it have an extended plural? i.e. "Soldi" or "Soldovi"?

Daniel N. said...

It would be both Babići and obitelj Babić (the latter would be more formal).

With last names like Soldo I think it would be Soldovi. I don't know, not many people around me (in Zagreb) have that last name :)

Soldovi is not an extended plural. It's making the last name into a possessive, and then taking a (short) plural (the result is the same, though). It's like his family, since Soldo sounds/feels like a male name.

Daniel N. said...

Uh, one correction: it might well be Soldini (-in possesive + plural), since Soldo declines like voda (it's an a-noun). Check the following headline:


lp Daniel

Post a Comment