Written by: Olivera Tolimir
Did you know that in Serbian, even numbers have gender?
A word that describes or replaces a noun has a gender that corresponds to that noun. So, every Serbian teacher will explain that nouns, adjectives, some numbers, and pronouns can have one of three genders.
But let’s look at those masculine, feminine & neuter numbers in an example!
Imagine a grandma telling her grandchildren about her fondest memories. She could say things like,
- This is the first book I’ve read! And over there is my first diary. –> Ovo je prva knjiga koju sam pročitala! A tamo je moj prvi dnevnik.
If you’ve ever had a decent Serbian teacher, you’ll guess the words for first in Serbian. They’re both prva und prvi. There are many other forms of this word, but these two are enough for the illustration.
In this example, you can see that the noun knjiga is feminine, and dnevnik is masculine. That’s why prva is also feminine, and prvi is masculine. If we had grandma talk about her first child, she would say prvo dete (neuter gender of both the number and the noun).
So, your online Serbian teacher concludes: the Serbian language has three grammatical genders. The grammatical gender depends solely on the grammatical form:
- masculine (in most cases ending in a consonant; some male names end in -e or -o),
- feminine (in most cases ending in -a; sometimes: ending in a consonant) and
- neuter (ending in -e or -o with only one exception: the noun doba).
Every Serbian teacher will tell you that the noun tata (dad) has both grammatical feminine gender and natural masculine gender. It means that this noun represents a male person, but the noun ends in -a, so it has a grammatically feminine gender.
With this in mind, know that there’s one more category in the Serbian language: natural gender. It belongs to the domain of linguistics, but it represents the male or female sex. So, only nouns that mark living beings of male or female sex can have natural gender.
- deda (grandpa): grammatical feminine gender (it ends in -a), natural masculine gender (it represents a male person);
- devojčurak (little girl): grammatical masculine (it ends in a consonant), natural feminine gender;
- taksista (taxi driver): grammatical feminine, natural masculine gender (A female taxi driver is taksistkinja.)
Serbian Teacher Explains Why is Natural Gender Important
So, the natural gender of nouns is crucial for forming a proper Serbian sentence.
A noun always declines (changes through grammatical cases: tata, tate, tati, etc.) according to its grammatical gender.
Let’s look at these four sentences. They all mean I’ll give a gift to the dad/mom/brother/uncle.
- Daću tati poklon. = Daću mami poklon. (Both grammatical genders are feminine.)
- Daću bratu poklon. = Daću ujaku poklon. (Both grammatical genders are masculine.)
But when you’re describing a person of natural masculine gender, its adjective is also masculine.
- dobar tata (a good dad) –> dobar (masculine gender);
- spor taksista (a slow taxi driver) –> spor (masculine gender);
- najbolji deda (the best grandpa) –> najbolji (masculine gender).
If you’d like to learn more about natural and grammatical gender in Serbian, book your 1:1 class with a Serbian teacher here!