Written by: Olivera Tolimir

In the previous post, we mentioned grammatical cases and their importance in the Serbian language. If you didn’t find it appealing to even think about learning 7 grammatical cases in singular and plural, this post will help you. You’ll realize that, with some tricks, starting to learn Serbian grammatical cases is not as hard as it may have seemed.

What Are the Serbian Cases

Grammatical cases are our little helpers. They help us understand the function of some words in a sentence. To make it clearer: they tell us who does what in a sentence. Why do they help us with “some words” and not all? Well, because not every word can be declined. Declension is a process of changing a word through different cases. For example, nouns and adjectives can be declined, but verbs can’t. Now, let’s see how exactly our little helpers do their job.

Children learning Serbian
Children learning Serbian

Learn Serbian Cases: Step 1 – Nomen est omen

First things first – the names of our 7 cases are:

• Nominative

• Genitive

• Dative

• Accusative

• Vocative

• Instrumental

• Locative.

As the Latin proverb Nomen est omen (The name is an omen) says, someone’s name says a lot about them. The same thing goes for the cases.

For example, Nominative comes from the mentioned Latin word nomen, which means name. It’s the first case, so it represents a basic word form, the name of a word. As soon as you learn a new noun, adjective, or pronoun, you get to know them in the Nominative. We use this case when talking about someone who acts in a certain way. We name them and then attach some attributes or actions to them. In the sentence Marko igra fudbal (Marko plays football), the Nominative is Marko, because he is the one doing something.

Does the word Instrumental remind you of an instrument? It’s not a coincidence! We use this case to name a means for acting or name people whose company we’re in. For example, if you want to say you’re drawing using a pencil (pencil = olovka), you should change the form of the word olovka from Nominative to Instrumental. It sounds like this: Crtam olovkom (crtam = I draw).

Speaking of nomen est omen, locative often shows us a location. If we want to say Ana is in Belgrade (Beograd), we can say Ana je u Beogradu.

Learn Serbian Cases: Step 2 – Tricks

But enough about the names. Let’s see some real tricks!

Here are some facts about grammatical cases that will help you learn Serbian faster:

  • Dative and Locative have the same form (in both singular and plural).
  • Dative, Locative, and Instrumental have the same form in the plural.
  • You’ll know the Nominative as soon as you learn a word.
  • The Vocative is only used to call someone, so memorizing it is unnecessary. Instead, listen carefully to what others call a person you’ve met, so you’ll learn the Vocative naturally!
  • Nominative and Accusative have the same form in the neuter gender. In both singular and plural.
  • Nominative and Accusative (singular) have the same form in the masculine gender if we talk about objects.
  • Genitive and Accusative (singular) have the same form in the masculine gender if we talk about living beings.
  • Masculine and neuter genders often have the same form.

Do I Need to Know Cases to Communicate in Serbian

To be honest, you don’t need to know grammatical cases if you want to learn Serbian to buy food or ask someone what’s their name. Everyone will understand you and won’t have a problem answering to you. But if you want to learn Serbian for real, you need grammatical cases. If you speak Serbian without them, you’re not speaking Serbian. You’re just trying to survive in Serbian. You know, asking about food, drink, and toilet.

I had a lot of students asking me to teach them to just speak in Serbian, without grammar. Grammar is boring, they would say. The thing they didn’t understand (and no one can blame them) was how easier it is to learn to communicate when you know grammar than when you don’t!

If you don’t care about grammar, you’ll never be able to make your own unique, fun sentences. You’ll be stuck with learning phrases such as I would like to order fried meat and an orange juice by heart. But as soon as you’d like to ask for something more, you wouldn’t be able to request it correctly.

Also, without grammatical cases, you often wouldn’t be able to understand others. Imagine you only know the form olovka (pencil). When someone tells you the said sentence Crtam olovkom, you’ll end up confused. What is this olovkom? But if you know about instrumental and when we use it, you’ll automatically recognize it. You’ll also be able to answer by saying, for example, Ja crtam hemijskom (hemijska – pen).

A person behind a lot of books
No more grammar, please!

Will People Judge Me if I Make Mistakes

No one will judge you if you make mistakes! Serbs love to see someone trying to learn Serbian. We find it cute and usually try to help as much as we can.

The only problem can be if you run into someone who wants to help but doesn’t know the right way. They can leave you more confused than you were before. This is why it’s crucial to find a tutor who will guide you through the process of learning Serbian. They’ll know where to start, how to help you with the usual bumps in the road of learning our language, and also, what are the best tricks to start communicating in Serbian as soon as possible.

Bits of Advice

The best advice for learning Serbian cases is to take it easy and not get frustrated if it’s difficult at the beginning. Your teacher will know where to start and how long you should practice one grammatical case before being ready to go to another.

The key is to practice cases in sentences. Endlessly memorizing the endings for every case without the context will get you nowhere. Always connect meaning and grammar. This way you’ll learn Serbian in no time!