Grammatical Cases Trip No 1

Language Thoughts

Grammatical Cases Trip No 1

The words 'grammatical cases', 'padeži'/'падежи', 'sklonidba' and 'deklinacija' make us worried. This text helps us understand Nominative and Accusative in Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian.

We know that Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian (BCS) use grammatical cases. Basically, each Slavic language uses cases, and there is a silly opinion that this makes Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian difficult compared to English. This is, however, a misunderstanding as we nowadays know that there are no easy and complex languages. Each language is, to some extent, challenging. At this point, we try to understand what we should pay attention to when approaching this aspect of BCS.

BCS contains 7 cases. They are called ‘padeži’, and the process of their usage is called ‘sklonidba’ in Bosnian/Croatian or ‘deklinacija’ in Serbian. Their names are Nominative (nominativ), Genitive (genitiv), Dative (dativ), Accusative (akuzativ), Vocative (vokativ), Instrumental (instrumental) and Locative (lokativ). Grammatical cases are noun modifiers. They correspond to one or more potential grammatical functions for a nominal group in a wording. I know, it sounds odd to say that. I’ve been there too! So, let’s see what it means in reality.

Although some prominent linguists say that we cannot compare BCS and English, by claiming that the cases in BCS do the same thing as prepositions in English, we can rely on certain English language patterns to understand what the 7 cases actually do in BCS. Contemporary English doesn’t use grammatical cases. This is out of the question. However, we can find the same structural patterns in English that correspond to some cases we use in BCS. So let’s start with the first one.


Mr. Nominative says ‘Hi’

You see the word ‘Nominative’ reminds us of the word ‘name’, right? This case is always a subject in a sentence. Let’s look at these examples.

Student ima knjigu.
A student has a book.

Studenti imaju knjigu.
Students have a book.

The subjects of these phrases are ‘student’ (singular) and ‘studenti’ (plural). This is a lovely masculine noun. In this case, the noun ‘student’ is someone who has something. Therefore, the subject of the activity given that ‘to have’ vs ‘having’ is an activity. We can also jump on the noun ‘žena’ (feminine):

Žena ima knjigu.
A woman has a book.

Žene imaju knjigu.
Women have a book.

As we follow these nouns, we can keep playing:
Knjigu imaju studenti.
A book have students.

Or furthermore:
Knjigu žena ima.
A book a woman has.


Mr. Accusative says ‘Hi’

Why are we talking like this? We are talking like this because we can do so. As long as the endings of the nouns are correct, we understand who or what does whatsoever to/on who(m) or what. Even though BCS is a usual SVO (Subject – Verb – Object) language, we can play all the time with the word order. This leads us to Accusative as this grammatical case is (usually) applied to objects.

If we say that ‘A woman has a book’, the object of this sentence is ‘a book’ (‘knjiga’). This object is, in this example, possessed by someone or something.

Now, let me share a few more examples in which we can use the nouns ‘telefon’ (‘phone’, masculine), ‘mladić’ (‘young man’, masculine) and ‘knjiga‘ (‘book’, feminine). We can say:

Muškarac koristi telefon.
A man uses a phone.

Muškarac koristi telefone.
A man uses phones.

Muškarac gleda mladića.
A man watches a young man.

Muškarac gleda mladiće.
A man watches young men.

We can notice that both Accusative singular words are masculine. However, the first word (‘telefon) is the same as the Nominative noun, while the second word (‘mladić’) has got the letter ‘a’ at the end. This phenomenon occurs because ‘telefon’ is not a being and this change goes only for singular masculine nouns in the Accusative case. Ladies are here much more friendly, and we can be relaxed when we deal with singular feminine nouns in Accusative. It doesn’t matter whether they are beings (alive) or not. We can apply the same suffixes whenever we deal with feminine nouns ending with the letter ‘a’ in Nominative.

Žena čita knjigu.
A woman reads a book.

Žena čita knjige.
A woman reads books.

There is one more secret about this case. Accusative sometimes uses the prepositions ‘u’ (rather ‘in’ or ‘to’ than ‘at’) and ‘za’ (‘for’). Let me give you a few more examples. When we go, travel or head to some place, we say ‘I go to Italy’ or ‘I travel to Italy’. We rarely hear ‘I go in Italy’ or ‘I travel in Italy’. In this context, we need the Accusative case, because the place we go to is not the place we are in/at. At least BCS thinks so. This is why we say ‘Idem u Italiju’ or ‘Putujem u Italiju’. Keep this in mind, because it will help you understand how the Locative case is different from Accusative although Locative often uses the same preposition ‘u’ (plus ‘na’ (‘on’) and ‘o’ (‘about’)).

In addition, the Accusative case is often followed by the preposition ‘za’. Some verbs sometimes need this preposition, and when you find these verbs, you can easily understand what you need to use after that. BCS sometimes even has the same sentence structure as English:

  • This present is for a woman.
  • Ovaj dar je za ženu.
  • Ovaj dar (Nominative, masculine) je za ženu (Accusative, feminine).


It’s time for you to shine

Let’s see what you have understood. You can complete a few sentences and share them with me via email. If you are already my learner, do not hesitate to contact me via Slack. Besides your brain, feel free to use your hand.

  • _____ (muškarac) jede _____ (torta).
  • A man eats a cake.
  • _____ (žena) putuju u _____ (Bosna).
  • Women travel to Bosnia.
  • Ovaj _____ (mladić) radi za _____ (tvrtka/kompanija).
  • This guy works for a company.
  • (Ja) gledam _____ (film) svaki dan.
  • I watch a movie every day.

This is a simple explanation. Keep in mind that not only nouns have grammatical cases in BCS. Pronouns, adjectives and numbers have them too. Next time, we will talk about Dative and Locative. Stay tuned!

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).