Serbian Grammar Basics

October 20, 2020

Serbian is the mother tongue of about 12 million people. Most live in Serbia and other southern European countries. Serbian belongs to the South Slavic languages and is closely related to Croatian and Bosnian. Serbian grammar basics and linguistics are very similar to Croatian and Bosnian. That is why Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians understand each other so easily.

 

 

Is Serbian A Tonal Language?

The Serbian alphabet has 30 letters. There is a clear excuse for each letter. In terms of accent, there are parallels with classical tonal languages. In Chinese, for example, the meaning of syllables change depending on the pitch.

It is similar to Serbian. But here, only the height of the stressed syllable plays a role. The language structure with a lot of flexions is another characteristic of the Serbian language. This means that nouns, adjectives, and pronouns always use declensions, and verbs are conjugated. If you are interested in grammatical structures, you should definitely learn Serbian!

 

Alphabet

In Serbian, both the Cyrillic and a variation of the Latin alphabet are used. This makes it one of the very few European countries where such a phenomenon can be seen.

There is one thing that makes Serbian so easy to read and to write - the alphabet, which was created to have the phonemic principles in mind. So, each of the 30 letters that constitute it has one single phoneme. That's why it always sounds the same whenever you read it.

Serbians also use the modified version of the Latin alphabet. It has 8 unique letters that were added to it so they can compensate for the missing phonemes that already existed in Cyrillic.

Let's see those letters and their corresponding examples in English:

Č – (ch)ocolate

Ć – (ch)oose

– (G)eor(g)e, (j)unk

Đ – (j)uice

Lj – non-existent in the English Language

Nj – non-existent in the English Language

Š – (s)ure (sh)e, lea(sh),

Ž – plea(s)ure

 

Nouns And Adjectives

As we already said, Serbian is an extremely easy language when it comes to reading and writing. However, when we are talking about using nouns and pronouns, the situation is a bit different. It requires more of your effort to understand the language and put it into practice.

In this beautiful language, you can notice a clear distinction between three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter). So, most masculine nouns have a consonant on its end (eg. “čovek” - “man” ), while most feminine nouns end with a vowel (i.e. “žena” – “woman”). Neuter nouns always end either with the letter “o” or the letter “e” (i.e. “vino” – “wine”).

Serbian Grammar Basics

Unlike nouns, adjectives can belong to all three genders depending on the noun that the adjective describes.

Brz– fast (masculine)

Brza – fast (feminine)

Brzo– fast (neuter)

 

Singular And Plural

The nouns of the Serbian Language also contain information about the number – either singular or plural. So, when we use numbers, just like in English, we need to add the plural ending if we are not using the number “one”.

jedan čovek – one man

dva čoveka – two men

jedna žena – one woman

tri žene – three women

jedno dete – one kid

četiri deteta – four kids

 

Verbs

When we are talking about the infinitive form in Serbian, every single verb ends with “-ti” or sometimes with “-ći“. In the present tense, you’d conjugate the verbs by removing their infinitive ending and adding the respective present tense's endings, which are as follows:

gleda-ti - to watch

ja gleda-m – I watch

ti gleda-š – you watch

on/ona/ono gleda – he/she/it watches

mi gleda-mo – we watch

vi gleda-te – you watch

oni gleda-ju – they watch

 

Auxiliary Verbs

Serbian has two auxiliary verbs: “biti" ( to be)  and “hteti“ (will). They have irregular conjugation:

Biti

ja jesam (sam) – I am

ti jesi (si) – you are

on/ona/ono jeste (je) – he/she/it is

mi jesmo (smo) – we are

vi jeste (ste) – you are

oni jesu (su) – they are

 

Hteti

ja hoću (ću) – I will

ti hoćeš (ćeš) – you will

on/ona/ono hoće (će) – he/she/it will

mi hoćemo (ćemo) – we will

vi hoćete (ćete) – you will

oni hoće (će) – they will

Note: In the brackets are the shorter forms– the ones that you would usually use in everyday conversation, so “I am“ becomes “I'm“, and “I will“ becomes “I'll“.

 

Past Tense

If we want to make the past tense in Serbian, we need to use the auxiliary verb “biti” (to be) in the present tense, combined with the past participle.

Pas je jeo. - The dog ate.

Let's see the complete conjugation of this very same verb:

Ja sam jeo/jela – I ate

ti si jeo/jela – you ate

on/ona/ono je jeo/jela/jelo – he/she/it ate

mi smo jeli – we ate

vi ste jeli – you ate

oni/one/ona su jeli/jele/jela – they ate

Note: For the first and second person singular, there’s a specific form for masculine and feminine. In the third person singular and plural, besides masculine and feminine, there’s also neuter.

 

Future Tense

If we want to to build the future tense, we need to use the auxiliary verb “hteti” (will) in the present and infinitive forms of the main verb, just like in this example:

Pas će jesti. – The dog will eat.

Let's take a peek at the same verb in the future tense:

ja ću jesti – I'll eat

ti ćeš jesti – you'll eat

on/ona/ono će jesti – he'll/she'll eat

mi ćemo jesti – we'll eat

vi ćete jesti – you'll eat

oni/one/ona će jesti – they'll eat

But there’s another scheme to create the future tense and it’s done by using the present tense of “hteti“ + da + present tense of the main verb.

Pas će da jede. – The dog is going to eat.

ja ću da jedem – I am going to eat

ti ćeš da jedeš – you are going to eat

on/ona/ono će da jede - he/she is going to eat

mi ćemo da jede mo – we are going to eat

vi ćete da jedete – you are going to eat

oni/one/ona će da jedu – they are going to eat

Note: This is the most common way to express the future tense. But, if the second scheme is harder for you, in Serbian you can always use the first one with the infinitive.

 

Final Thoughts On Serbian Grammar Basics

This was just a short introduction to Serbian grammar basics. I hope that I answered the question: "Is Serbian hard to learn?". We didn't talk about the cases and propositions this time, since that requires way more explanation. Wait for that "story“ in one of my future blog posts.

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