Written by: Olivera Tolimir
“The greatest teacher, failure is.”
Yoda has a point. The best way to learn is from our own mistakes.
He doesn’t learn from his own, though. At least speaking of syntax.
Although there’s a theory that Yoda wants to nurture the language of the Old Jedi this way, his signature way of speaking isn’t right in modern English.
So, if you don’t want to sound like the famous Star Wars character while speaking Serbian, read these seven easy steps to learn Serbian word order!
Subject + Verb
Although the Serbian order of words is pretty loose, there are some rules to make your sentence as natural as possible.
According to the Serbian word order, we can use both sentences below.
Ana govori. (Ana speaks.)
Govori Ana. (Ana speaks.)
But these sentences don’t deliver the same meaning. While the first one is neutral, the second emphasizes that Ana is speaking, not someone else.
So, we should stick with the first example (except when Ana participates in a stand-up night and her boyfriend is late, so you call to tell him to hurry up).
Subject + Verb + Object
One more time, the Serbian and the English language show similarity.
The most common way to form a Serbian sentence is this:
Ana čita knjigu. (Ana is reading a book.)
We can change the order and say, for example, Knjigu čita Ana.
Again, we’re emphasizing who the reader is, not what’s happening.
So, speaking of these simple sentences, English rules will help you learn Serbian. They’re similar (S + V + O).
Adjective + Noun
To describe what’s something like, we use adjectives. For example:
- malo dete (a small child)
- zanimljiv tekst (an interesting text)
- pametna žena (a smart woman).
To learn Serbian word order, remember that adjectives mostly stand in front of the noun they describe. That’s why we say:
- Ana čita zanimljivu knjigu. –> Ana is reading an interesting book.
- Juče sam upoznala veoma pametnu ženu. –> Yesterday, I met a very smart woman.
Verb + Adverbial / Adverbial + Verb
An adverbial is a word or a group of words that closely defines the verb of a sentence. To learn Serbian word order accurately, you should know that adverbials can stand before и after the verb. They also don’t need to stand next to the verb.
- Ana danas ne radi. –> Ana doesn’t work today.
- Ana ne radi danas.
- Danas ne radi Ana.
- Ne radi Ana danas.
If you want to learn Serbian, remember we have four different accents. But not only that – some words are stressless. And they’re vital when we talk about the word order in Serbian.
As much as the Serbian word order is loose, some ground rules apply to these short stressless words. They might be stressless, but those trying to master word order in Serbian definitely won’t be.
The accentless words crucial for Serbian word order are:
- short forms of personal pronouns
- auxiliary verbs
- the word “li” (as in the question: Da li se zoveš Ana?).
So, these are the rules:
- Never place these words after a comma or any other punctuation.
- Never start a sentence with any of these words. For example,
- Kupiću im poklon. –> I’ll buy them a gift.
- Odgovori joj. –> Answer her.
- Daj mi to! –> Give me that!
- Doći će sutra. –> He (or she) will come tomorrow. (doći će – the future tense of the verb to come in the 3rd person singular)
- Došao je juče. –> He came yesterday. (došao je – the past tense of the verb to come in the 3rd person singular, masculine gender)
You can use the long form of a personal pronoun and place it at the beginning. But you should know that by doing so, you’re emphasizing the personal pronoun. A sentence like this isn’t neutral in tone. For example,
- Njima ću kupiti poklon. –> I’ll buy them a gift (not to you).
- Njoj odgovori. –> Answer her (not me).
To learn Serbian word order, remember a longer form of a personal pronoun doesn’t have to be at the beginning of a sentence. It’s a lot more flexible than the short form.
For example, all these sentences are correct:
- Njima kupujem poklon. –> I’m buying them a gift.
- Kupujem njima poklon.
- Kupujem poklon njima.
Learn Serbian Present Tense (Again): Negative Verb Forms
One of the strict rules according to the Serbian word order is negative verb forms in the present tense.
You’ll learn Serbian present tense rules in our blog post. One of those rules applies to the negative verb forms.
To form a negative verb form, we add the word ne (which means no) in front of the verb. For example, below, you can see the affirmative verb forms.
- Čitam. (I’m reading.)
- Razgovaramo. (We’re talking.)
Negative verb forms sound like this:
- Ne čitam. –> I’m not reading.
- Ne razgovaramo. — We’re not talking.
Now, to learn Serbian word order considering these present tense forms, it’s crucial never to separate the word ne and the verb. Most other items in a sentence can change places, but ne and its verb always stay together. Let’s look at the examples together.
- Nikad ne čitam knjige uveče. –> I never read books in the evening.
- Ne čitam nikad knjige uveče.
- Knjige ne čitam nikad uveče.
- Uveče nikad ne čitam knjige.
- Knjige nikad ne čitam uveče.
You get the point.
Serbian Past and Future Tense: Negative Verb Forms
- Nisam uopšte razumela šta mi je rekao. –> I haven’t understood at all what he told me.
- Neću ti više nikada ništa pozajmiti! –> I won’t lend you anything anymore!
So, did you learn Serbian word order already?
Prove it then and make a sentence out of this words:
ne; sestru; Ana; sluša; nikada.