Written by: Olivera Tolimir

Have you encountered the verbs želeti и voleti during your Serbian learning journey?

Since they’re some of the most common Serbian verbs, you probably have. But just in case, let’s write their conjugations in the present tense before we start.

Želeti

  1. (ja) želim –> I want
  1. (ti) želiš –> you want
  1. (on/ona/ono) želi –> he/she/it wants
  1. (mi) želimo –> we want
  1. (vi) želite –> you want
  1. (oni/one/ona) žele –> they want

Voleti

  1. (ja) volim –> I love
  1. (ti) voliš –> you love
  1. (on/ona/ono) voli –> he/she/it loves
  1. (mi) volimo –> we love
  1. (vi) volite –> you love
  1. (oni/one/ona) vole –> they love

Serbian Learning Tips: “Želeti” or “Voleti”?

So, good news for your Serbian learning-related troubles: the distinction between these verbs is the same as in English!

When we want to get something we don’t have, we use the verb želeti. When stating our affection towards something or someone, we use voleti.

Many other languages don’t have such a clear distinction between these two verbs. If your mother tongue is one of them and you’re learning Serbian, it’s best not to translate Serbian phrases into your language. Instead, use the English verbs want и love.

Examples

Let’s look at some examples together.

  • Volim čokoladu. –> I like chocolate.
  • Želim čokoladu. –> I want chocolate.
  • Volim pse. –> I like dogs.
  • Želim psa. –> I want a dog.
  • Volim da spavam. –> I like sleeping.
  • Želim da spavam. –> I want to sleep.

Grammatical Explanation

Serbian learning doesn’t consist only of learning word meanings by heart. To speak Serbian properly, you should learn how to combine new words and make sentences.

In the first four sentences in the examples, there are nouns after our verbs (chocolate, dog(s)).

In the last two, there is another verb (to sleep).

If the verbs želeti и voleti are followed by a noun, the noun has to be in accusative.

As you can see in the previous examples, the word čokoladu is in accusative singular. Because it’s a noun of the feminine gender, it ends in -u.

The noun psa is also in accusative singular, but it’s a noun of masculine gender, and it marks a living being, so it ends in –a.

The word pse means dogs, so we can conclude it’s in the plural. Since its gender is masculine and it’s also accusative, this word ends in -e.

If the verbs želeti и voleti are followed by another verb, the formula looks like this:

voleti/želeti + da + the verb in the present tense (Volim da spavam.)

or

voleti/želeti + the verb in the infinitive (Volim spavati.).

Both forms are correct, although using the first one has become more common.

OX game with three hearts put diagonally.(Serbian learning tips: learn to say who or what you love in Serbian!)
Serbian learning tips: learn to say who or what you love in Serbian!

Voleti and Želeti as Synonyms

As we explained, the verbs voleti и želeti have different meanings.

However, there’s one situation when we can use either of them. It’s when we want to ask for something in a polite manner.

It has its English equivalent, so it will make learning Serbian form easier. In English, we say: I would like…

In Serbian, we also use a specific tense: potencijal. It’s the conditional tense. So, if you’re a male person who would like to ask for a glass of water in the nicest possible way, you can do it like this:

  • Voleo bih čašu vode. –> I would like a glass of water. (čaša vode = a glass of water)

or

  • Želeo bih čašu vode.

If you’re a female person wanting to do the same, say this:

  • Volela bih čašu vode.

or

  • Želela bih čašu vode.

Serbian Learning Tips: “Sviđati se” or “Voleti”

Did you notice how at the beginning, we said that voleti means to love? But in the examples above, we translated all the sentences with the verb voleti with like instead of love (I like dogs, I like sleeping, I’d like a glass of water)!

It didn’t happen by mistake.

In Serbian, the verb to love is used more often than in English. And we use it in contexts that would be inappropriate in English. So, you should use it the same way during your Serbian learning!

(For example, you wouldn’t say you love wearing jeans unless you want to emphasize your fascination with this piece of clothing. But in Serbian, it’s a neutral statement.)

To talk about our preferences in food, drink, colors, activities, or other stuff, we mostly use the verb to love (voleti). For example:

  • Volim picu i limunadu –> I like pizza and lemonade.
  • Milica voli žutu i zelenu boju, a ne voli narandžastu. –> Milica likes the colors yellow and green but dislikes orange.
  • Volimo da razgovaramo pre spavanja. –> We like to talk before sleep.

Of course, we also use this verb when expressing our love towards someone we care about deeply.

  • Deca najviše vole mamu i tatu. –> Children love their mom and dad the most.
  • Dejan voli Katarinu. –> Dejan loves Katarina.

But what if you started seeing someone who you like but aren’t in love with them yet?

Don’t worry! There’s another Serbian verb for liking someone or something. It’s sviđati se.

Serbian Learning Tips: How to Use “Sviđati se”?

This verb is a bit more complicated grammatically because we need to specify who likes what/whom. Because of this, we require different grammatical cases.

The person who likes is in the dative, while the thing or person they like is in the nominative. For example:

  • Sviđa mi se Miloš. –> I like Milos. (mi is the dative form of the personal pronoun ja (which means I))
  • Sviđa ti se Jelena. –> You like Jelena.
  • Jeleni se sviđa Miloš. –> Jelena likes Milos.
  • Milošu se sviđa Jelena. –> Milos likes Jelena.

When speaking about our preferences, we can sometimes use sviđati se и voleti interchangeably, but not always.

If you’re unsure which one to use during your Serbian learning process, try using the following logic.

If you’re talking about something you generally like, use voleti. If you’re talking about something you just saw or are experiencing at the moment, use sviđati se.

For example:

  • Talking about your favorite music: voleti
  • Complimenting a DJ at a party: sviđati se
  • Talking about your favorite color: voleti
  • Complimenting the color of a friend’s shirt: sviđati se.

We hope our Serbian learning tips helped you realize whether to use voleti or želeti or sviđati se in your sentences!

Schedule your individual Serbian class with us here if you’d like more guidance on your Serbian learning journey!