Written by: Olivera Tolimir
Did you know that using personal pronouns is much rarer in Serbian than in English? And that their use is often optional?
For example, in English, we have to say, you are eating; I am fine; they are leaving. But in Serbian, there are two ways to form those exact sentences.
- Ti jedeš. / Jedeš. (You’re eating.)
- Ja sam dobro. / Dobro sam. (I’m fine.)
- Oni odlaze. / Odlaze. (They’re leaving.)
The Serbian personal pronouns in the sentences above are ti, ja, and oni. But what does the pronoun system even look like in Serbian? Let’s see.
There are the same personal pronouns in Serbian as there are in English:
- ja (I)
- ti (you, sg.)
- on (he), ona (she), ono (it)
- mi (we)
- vi (you, pl.)
- oni (they, masculine), one (they, feminine), ona (they, neuter gender).
As you can see, the only difference is in the pronoun they. This pronoun can have three different genders in Serbian. When we speak of a group consisting of men and women, we use the masculine gender.
It doesn’t seem difficult, does it?
But there’s a slight bump on that road. You see, learning all Serbian personal pronouns in Nominative is easy. But their declension is somewhat tricky to memorize.
Some of the forms in other grammatical cases are similar but slightly different. For example, the Dative of the personal pronoun ja (I) is meni (mi), and the Accusative is mene (me). They differ in the last letter only.
To clear up this confusion, let’s go through the Serbian pronouns in Dative and Accusative step by step.
Serbian Personal Pronouns in Dative and Accusative: Learn the forms
Nom. JA — Dative MENI (MI)
Nom. TI — Dative TEBI (TI)
Nom. ON / ONO — Dative NJEMU (MU)
Nom. ONA — Dative NJOJ (JOJ)
Nom. MI — Dative NAMA (NAM)
Nom. VI — Dative VAMA (VAM)
Nom. ONI / ONE / ONA — Dative NJIMA (IM)
Nom. JA — Dative MENE (ME)
Nom. TI — Dative TEBE (TE)
Nom. ON / ONO — Dative NJEGA (GA)
Nom. ONA — Dative NJU (JU / JE)
Nom. MI — Dative NAS (NAS)
Nom. VI — Dative VAS (VAS)
Nom. ONI / ONE / ONA — Dative NJIH (IH)
It seems overwhelming. Don’t worry, you won’t be memorizing all forms of pronouns at once when you start learning Serbian. The table above serves as a general review. It helps you see the differences between the two grammatical cases.
But first, let’s explain the words in parentheses. Serbian personal pronouns in Dative, Accusative, and Genitive have two possible forms: the long and the short.
We mostly use short forms, except:
- at the beginning of a sentence (Njima su rekli da dođu),
- after a preposition (Idem ka tebi),
- when you want to emphasize the particular pronoun (Pitali smo tebe, a ne nju).
Some other things need to be clarified. Look at the Serbian pronouns in Accusative. You notice that the pronoun ona, which means she, has two short forms (ju / je). In most cases, we use the form je. The form ju is used next to the auxiliary verb je (for example, Video ju je). We do it to avoid repetition (it would sound silly to say, Video je je).
In the example above, video je is a past form of the verb videti (to see) in the singular of masculine gender. The word ju means her. So, the whole sentence translates as He saw her.
And the last thing about Serbian pronouns in Accusative: look at the pronouns mi and vi. You notice that the words in the parentheses are the same as those outside them. It’s not a mistake. The difference is in the stress of those words. The sound a in the full form is pronounced longer than the same sound in short forms.
Now that we’ve cleared all that, let’s answer the crucial question: How to differentiate between Serbian personal pronouns in Dative and Accusative? Here are some easy tips.
It depends on the verb
Every verb in Serbian asks for a specific grammatical case (or it asks for no grammatical case at all).
For example, there’s a verb voleti (to love). This verb needs a Nominative to show who loves (someone or something), and an Accusative to show who or what is loved.
So, if you’d like to say Ana loves Milan in Serbian, you should say, Ana voli Milana. Nominative is the basic form of a noun, adjective, or pronoun. So, that’s why the noun Ana stays the same in the sentence. Milan is a male name that ends in a consonant. This makes it a typical masculine-gendered noun in Serbian. The norm says that singular masculine nouns get an ending -a in Accusative.
So, if the verb voleti asks for nouns in Nominative and Accusative, the same thing applies to pronouns. With this verb, we have to use personal pronouns in these grammatical cases.
So, we can switch the noun Ana with the pronoun ona (she) in Nominative. We can also switch the noun Milan with the pronoun on (he) in Accusative. So, the sentence can sound like this: Ona voli njega. Or, if you don’t want to emphasize this sentence, simply say, Voli ga. If you’re unsure what happened to that sentence, don’t worry. We omitted the pronoun in Nominative (we usually do it, since the verb shows us enough information about the subject). We also used the short form of the pronoun on in Accusative (ga). Simple as that!
Emotional and physiological states
We use the pronouns in Dative and Accusative to express our emotional and physiological states. We usually use Accusative when specifying what body part hurts us. Dative is often reserved for feelings like vertigo, or sleepiness.
Here are some Dative examples:
- Spava mi se. (I’m sleepy.)
- Vrti mu se u glavi. (He’s dizzy.)
- Neprijatno ti je, zar ne? (You’re uncomfortable, aren’t you?)
- Ne radi nam se to. (We’re not in a mood for it.)
Here are some Accusative examples:
- Boli me glava. (My head hurts.)
- Boli ga zub. (His tooth hurts.)
- Bole ih leđa. (Their backs hurt.)
Serbian personal pronouns in Dative are often used to show possession. It’s too long for us to pronounce: Njegova tetka je stigla (His aunt arrived), so we shorten it: Došla mu je tetka (same meaning). So, instead of possessive pronouns (my, your, his, etc.), we use personal pronouns in Dative.
- Eno ti brata! (There’s your brother!)
- Lepe su vam frizure. (Your hairdos are nice.)
- Mama mi ima 57 godina. (My mom is 57 years old.)
For more tables of Serbian personal pronouns in other cases, check out our free resource here!