Grammatical Cases Trip No 3

Language Thoughts

Grammatical Cases Trip No 3

This text is about the grammatical cases Genitive and Instrumental in Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian language(s).

Finally, we are just about to conclude our declension journey. Here you can find more about Nominative and Accusative. Here you can read more about Dative and Locative, and now we will talk about Genitive and Instrumental.

You might notice that we skip the Vocative case. The Vocative case is used when we call someone, usually for personal names. We can use this case in a few ways in BiH, Croatia and Serbia, and we sometimes hear that Vocative is the same as Nominative. Of course, there are some expressions such as ‘Ljudi moji!’ (‘Hey, folks!’) and we will adopt them step by step when discovering the language in a real-time context. Now, let’s learn the endings of Genitive and Instrumental.


Genitive Endings

Genitive Masculine Singular

  • Filozof – Filozofa

Genitive Masculine Plural

  • Filozofi – Filozofa

Genitive Feminine Singular

  • Knjiga – Knjige

Genitive Feminine Plural

  • Knjige – Knjiga

Genitive Neuter Singular

  • More – Mora

Genitive Neuter Plural

  • Mora – Mora


Instrumental Endings

Instrumental Masculine Singular

  • Filozof – Filozofom
  • Put – Putem

Instrumental Masculine Plural

  • Filozofi – Filozofima
  • Putevi – Putevima

Instrumental Feminine Singular

  • Knjiga – Knjigom

Instrumental Feminine Plural

  • Knjige – Knjigama

Instrumental Neuter Singular

  • Vino – Vinom
  • More – Morem

Instrumental Neuter Plural

  • Vina – Vinima
  • Mora – Morima


Mr. Genitive says ‘Hi’

How and when should we use the Genitive case? The simplest answer is that we use it in the same constrictions in which the English language needs the prepositions ‘from’ and ‘of’. When we come from somewhere, we use the preposition ‘iz’ or ‘sa’. For example, if we come from ‘Palermo’ (a masculine noun in BCS), we will say that we come ‘iz Palerma‘. We need the preposition ‘iz’ because Palermo is that place for which we use the preposition ‘in’ in the Locative case (‘u Palermu‘). On the other hand, ‘Sicilija’ (Sicily) is an island. In BCS, we can’t be ‘in Sicily’ but rather ‘on Sicily’. For this reason, if we come from Sicily, in BCS, we will say that we come ‘sa Sicilije‘.

If you want to say that you hear someone, this ‘someone’ entity will be an object. Therefore we need Accusative: I hear Mariju. If we want to say that we have heard something from someone, this ‘from someone’ form needs Genitive: ‘I have heard a/the story od prijatelja’. Through this example, we get familiar with the preposition ‘od’. This preposition is tricky because there are many constructions in which we skip this preposition. We don’t need it because the Genitive case helps us understand the relationship of the nouns we use in our speech.

For example, those combinations such as ‘a glass of water’, ‘a land of pride’ or ‘a house of dreams’ do not contain the preposition ‘od’ as the nouns ‘water’, ‘pride’ and ‘dreams’ need the Genitive case. Thus, we say: ‘čaša vode‘, ‘zemlja ponosa‘ or ‘kuća snova‘. On the other hand, we sometimes use the preposition ‘od’, and we can hear it in some examples: ‘čovjek/čovek od riječi/reči‘ (someone who keeps their word) or ‘osoba od povjerenja/poverenja‘ (someone who deserves our trust). In addition, if we look at modern English constructions such as ‘language politics’, which is the same as ‘(the) politics of (a/the) language’, we say ‘politika jezika‘ in BCS.

We also use Genitive with ‘many’/’much’ or ‘a lot of’/’lots of’ (‘puno’/’mnogo’ + Genitive Plural), ‘a few’/’several’ (‘nekoliko’ + Genitive Plural) and ‘a little’ (‘malo’ + Genitive Plural). This rule doesn’t include a few expressions such as ‘puno/malo vode’. Besides this kind of examples, ‘many books’ is ‘puno/mnogo knjiga‘ for example. Numbers 2, 3 and 4 need Genitive Singular while 5, 6 and so on use Genitive Plural. Therefore, we have ‘2 automobila‘, but ‘8 prijatelja‘.

Many prepositions go with Genitive Singular or Genitive Plural. Some of them are: ‘od’ (from), ‘do’ (to), ‘pored’ (next to), ‘iza’ (behind), ‘ispred’ (in front of), ‘između’ ((in) between), ‘prije’/’pre’ (before/ago), ‘poslije’/’posle’ (after), ‘bez’ (without). If we want to say that Rome is (in) between Milan and Palermo, we will say that ‘Rim je između Milana i Palerma‘.


Mr. Instrumental says ‘Hi’

This case has nothing to do with Genitive. Although this case uses the preposition ‘sa’, ‘sa’ in Genitive means ‘from’ for those locations that need ‘on’ in the Locative case. The most frequent meaning of ‘sa’ is ‘with’ or even ‘by’. This is what ‘sa’ means in Instrumental. Basically, whenever someone or something is ‘an instrument’ of our activity, we need this case.

If we speak with a/the friend, we will say that we speak ‘sa prijateljem‘. If we struggle with (our) thoughts, we will say that we struggle ‘sa (našim/svojim) mislima‘. If we travel by car, we will say that we travel ‘autom‘. If we speak on/by/over (the) phone, we will say that we speak ‘mobitelom/telefonom‘. We can speak with the professor by phone, and then we will say that we speak ‘sa profesorom telefonom‘. Your logical question is why no ‘sa’ when we have the nouns ‘car’ or ‘phone’, but the answer is simple. Cars and phones are not beings. Therefore we skip the preposition ‘sa’ (with).


Let’s Go Home

Now that we have a piece of basic knowledge of the BCS cases, a real battle starts. Some people say that the Slavic languages are more complicated due to their cases, although this grammar concept allows us to use the language more flexibly too. This is why we can even say that the Slavic languages are not as precise as English or Italian. We sometimes need more words, detailed explanations or more adverbs to precisely describe what we intend to say. At the same time, we can use more than one way to transfer the same message. For example, we can ‘misliti na + Accusative’ (someone/something) or ‘misliti o + Locative’ (someone/something).

Case endings are sometimes confusing. However, they open new horizons of unpredictable creativity through the process of thought expression. We should let alone the myth that grammar cases and their endings make the Slavic languages difficult for language learners. Besides Greek and Latin, we can find them in German or Hungarian, for instance. Indeed, logic matters and logical ‘directions’ could be affected by the culture we come from, but yet we are here to beat them up.

Let me see what you have understood. You can contact me via email or if you are already my learner, contact me via Slack. So, take a look at these sentences and filter out all the nouns in Genitive and/or Instrumental.

  • Kada je imao malo novca, putovao je biciklom.
  • When he had a little money, he travelled by bike.
  • On je imao sreće u životu, pa sada ima puno novca i putuje privatnim helikopterom.
  • He was lucky and now he has lots of money and travels by private helicopter.
  • Neki studenti imaju 3 lekcije, a neki studenti uče bez učitelja.
  • Some students have 3 lessons, but some students learn without a teacher.
  • Oni vole čitati knjige i gledati filmove s vremena na vrijeme/vreme, ali ne svaki dan.
  • They love reading books and watching movies from time to time, but not every day.

NOTICE: This text is not peer-reviewed. It aims to inspire and motivate language learners of Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian to think about possible cultural patterns when learning this/these language(s).