Croatian grammar reference section/Nouns #004
Declension categories of Croatian nouns
How does these nouns change depending on case? And these?
In the Croatian language, most nouns can be categorised into a number of types. In each category, the nouns have a particular gender, and we decline them according to case in a particular way - different from category to category. And then there are, surprise, surprise, some nouns that are not like any other.
Textbooks for learning Croatian usually introduce declension of nouns by reference to those listed below as “regular nouns.”
That is fine, but usually there is no mention that there are so many nouns that don’t fit the declension rules of regular nouns, and I found myself repeatedly being frustrated to find that there was another bunch of nouns that behaved differently – and were regarded as iznimke (exceptions).
With hindsight, I guess that I would have liked to know about the existence of the various types, right from the beginning. And so, I have put together the summary below in the hope that it might save you, my reader, from the same frustrations.
By the way, I don’t regard all non-regular nouns as exceptions – just nouns of different types.
The categories of nouns that I have listed below probably don’t correspond exactly with categories that Croation linguists use – but I guess that there is considerable overlap. I’ll probably need to revise my categorisation as time goes by as I become more experienced and receive more feedback from readers.
Actually, as I compose this post, I can see why the various categories of nouns are introduced to people learning Croatian in a drip-feed fashion: the categorisation is rather complex, and the various compartments are not independent of each other. I realise that I would have drowned in the complexity (and the disbelief).
Nevertheless, I would have liked to know that there is a bigger world “out there” than regular nouns. That would have prevented some frustration.
So, probably as in teaching and learning of all subjects (and certainly in the case of Chemistry, which I have been teaching for a little over 100 years, I think), the teacher has to make decisions between minimising confusion of the students now vs. frustration of the students later.
Now that I think about it, so many times I have been confronted with students exclaiming “Why did we get only half of the truth last year?” My standard reply has been something about confusion vs. frustration!
Anyway, as far as learning Croatian goes, I think that the balance between these competing forces only became about right for me after I enrolled with Mateja at SpeakCro.
Have I been “rabbiting on” a little? Sorry.
Here are my provisional categories of declension types of nouns in the Croatian language:
1. Regular nouns
These are the ones that you will find in the tables of introductory textbooks.
There are three sub-categories (male, female, and neuter) each with their own rules of declension – that is, how the endings of the nouns change according to case in sentences (See Grammar reference section/Nouns #005: Declension of regular nouns).
The rules for deciding which category any regular noun belongs to are simple:
1a. If the nominative singular form of a regular noun (the word that you find in dictionaries) ends in a consonant, it is masculine, and has particular declension rules.
Examples of masculine regular nouns are:
muškarac (man) stol (table)
zrak (air) dojam (impression)
dučan (shop) trg (square)
grad (town, city) tramvaj (tram)
centar (centre) prijatelj (friend)
1b. If the nominative singular form of a regular noun ends in –a, it is feminine.
Examples of feminine regular nouns are:
žena (woman, lady) knjiga (apple)
osoba (person) jabuka (aple)
čaša (glass) zgrada (building)
ptica (bird) riba (fish)
voda (water) rijeka (river)
tradicija (tradition) prijateljica (female friend)
1c. If the nominative singular form of a regular noun ends in –o or –e, it is neuter.
Neuter regular nouns include, for example:
vino (wine) mlijeko (milk)
selo (village) ostalo (remainder)
jedinstvo (unity) prijateljstvo (friendship)
sunce (sun) more (sea)
polje (field) dijete (child)
čekanje (waiting) hodanje (walking)
As well as jedinstvo and prijateljstvo, there are a whole bunch of neuter regular nouns that end in –stvo, such as: bogatsvo (wealth); računstvo (arithmetic, reckoning); društvo (company of people); and susjedstvo (neighbourhood).
I can see that these words have something in common, but I can’t describe it.
The nouns čekanje and hodanje are two examples of the 153 871 neuter nouns that are called gerunds. These are nouns formed from verbs.
The birds are singing. (Ptice pjevaju.) In this sentence, the word “singing” is a verb.
I hear the singing of the birds. (Čujem pjevanje ptica.) In this sentence, “singing” is a noun, called a gerund.
In English, we form gerunds with the ending –ing.
In Croatian, gerunds have the endings –anje, or –enje.
Think of just about any verb, and in many cases you can identify a gerund noun.
plivati (to swim) plivanje (swimming)
skakati (to jump) skakanje (jumping)
trcati (to run) trčanje (running)
govoriti (to talk) govorenje (talking)
2. Masculine nouns that end with –a.
The nouns tata (dad) and gazda (boss) are feminine nouns – despite the masculinity of the people that they refer to!
There are only a few such nouns. Others are:
komšija (neighbour – an alternative to susjed, used in some regions)
starješina (superior, senior)
as well as the names Nikola (Nicholas) and Jura (George)
Just looking ahead, they are declined like regular feminine nouns (my category 1b, above).
But (grimace!) adjectives that describe them, and pronouns that replace them, decline as though masculine!
In fact, my dictionary indicates that they are female nouns. These are strange beasts indeed.
Ne daj se! Don’t give up!
3. Feminine nouns that end with a consonant: i-nouns
There are a significant number of feminine nouns that end in a consonant, and which are declined differently from regular feminine nouns.
Some of the most common of these are:
bol (pain) bolest (sickness)
ćud (temper, mood) dob (age, era)
glad (hunger) jesen (autumn)
kap (drop) kokoš (hen)
kost (bone) krv (blood)
ljubav (love) moć, nemoć (power, weakness)
noć (night) obitelj (family)
pomoć (help) ponoć (midnight)
riječ (word) sol (salt)
smrt (death) stvar (thing)
večer (evening) vijest, povijest (news, history)
There are also many such nouns ending in –ost, such as: budućnost (future); čitljivost (readability); mladost (youth); očekivanost (predictability); pismenost (literacy, ability to read); radost (joy); važnost (importance); žalost (sorrow).
You will see from the way that we decline them (Link when post available) why they are called i-nouns.
4. Collective nouns (zbirne imenice)
These are nouns that refer to a “bunch” of items/objects/animals. The number of items is irrelevant, and in fact they may be uncountable. We use collective nouns when we are not referring to particular individual items in the aggregate of them.
There are sub-categories of collective nouns:
4a. Plural nouns that end in –e.
These are srednji rod (neuter) nouns that do not exist in the singular. Each of these nouns is derived from the noun for one of the items (by what is called iotization). Here are some examples:
cvijeće (flowers), derived from the singular cvijet.
drveće (trees), derived from the singular drvet.
grožđe (grapes), derived from the singular grozd.
lišće (leaves), derived from the singular list.
gošće (guests), derived from the singular gost.
kamenje (rocks), derived from the singular kamen.
grmje (shrubs, bushes), derived from the singular grm.
granje (branches), derived from the singular grana.
4b. Collective nouns that end in –ad.
These are feminine collective nouns for people or animals, and include:
momčad (team), from the singular momak.
pilad (chickens), from the singular pile.
perad (poultry), a general term including hens, chickens, ducks, and turkeys.
siročad (orphans), from the singular sirota.
These are in fact a subset of my category 3: Feminine nouns that end with a consonant( i-nouns)
4c. Djeca, braća
These are plural nouns that decline as feminine singular nouns.
djeca (children), plural of dijete.
braća (brothers), plural of brata.
Although these nouns decline as singular feminine nouns, and related possessive pronouns and adjectives are as for singular feminine nouns, verbs following the nominative noun are as though the noun is plural.
Personal pronouns replacing these nouns are as for neuter plural.
Complex stuff! More in a special post (LINK HERE)
5. Pluralia tantum
This is a fancy name for nouns that only have a plural form, but refer to a single item. Some of these are feminine nouns, and decline as the plural form of feminine nouns. Others are neuter, and decline accordingly.
Feminine: gaće (a pair of pants); hlače(a pair of trousers); ljestve (ladder); novine (newspaper); kolica (shopping trolley).
Neuter: leđa (back), pluća (lungs); prsa (chest); usta (mouth); vrata (door, throat); križa (cross); kola (coach, of a train).
6. Vrijeme, ime, Sljeme
These nouns have a peculiar declension of their own (see LINK)
7. Place names
To anyone learning Croatian, some place names in any but nominative case can seem quite strange. Place names can be of various types, such as:
8. Misfits, exceptions
Of course, there are quite a few nouns that don’t fit into any of my categories above.
I will from time to time list some of them here.
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