Written by: Olivera Tolimir
When you start learning a new language, one of the first things you get familiar with is the present tense. Naturally, it’s no different for those who want to learn Serbian. The present tense is the first tense you should grasp since it’s necessary to introduce yourself, ask for directions, or talk about your hobbies.
Learn Serbian Present Tense: General Rules
We’ve already written about the present tense in our text about Serbian grammar. Since we didn’t go into detail (and also, repetitio est mater studiorum), let’s repeat crucial parts.
In Serbian, we have only one present tense, so we call it simply prezent.
If you want to learn prezent, you should first memorize the general rule for building it: it is made using the base of the present tense + endings for present tense.
The Base of the Present Tense (Present Tense Stem)
If you want to search for a verb in a dictionary, you’ll search for its infinitive form. An infinitive is a basic form of a verb. In every dictionary, you’ll find verbs in the infinitive form. For some languages, such as English, it’s enough to know infinitive to form present tense. In Serbian, however, it’s not. That’s why it’s good to buy a dictionary that contains both infinitive and present tense forms when you start to learn Serbian. But why is that?
The explanation lies in the fact that we can’t know the base of the present tense (which we need to form the present tense) by looking at the infinitive. The base of the present tense is present tense in 3rd person singular. If you’re confused by this, it’s justified. As we already said in one of the previous posts, it’s a circular definition.
You can’t know the 3rd person singular of the present tense if you don’t know how to form the present tense yet. So, what’s the solution to this?
When learning Serbian verbs, it’s necessary to remember both the infinitive of the verb and the base of the present tense. If you apply this advice in your learning, there won’t be any problem for you to learn Serbian tenses! It’s almost all you need to remember them.
We’ll take one verb as an example and show what it looks like to build the present tense in Serbian. Let’s use the verb piti (to drink). As you can see, the infinitive form is piti. If we remove the infinitive ending -ti, we’ll get the base of the infinitive (which we’ll use to form the future tense, as you’ll see in the next blog post).
However, if we want to form the present tense, we can’t just remove the –ti ending. We need the base of the present tense, which is pije. Pije is also the third person singular form of the present tense (He drinks. = On pije.)
The Endings in the Present Tense
Memorizing endings for the present tense in Serbian is much easier than learning the stem. These are the endings:
- -e / -u / -ju
Let’s make all the present tense forms using our verb piti:
Of course, the Serbian language has to make it at least a little complicated, so in 3rd person plural we have three possible endings (-e / -u / -ju). Every verb uses only one of these endings. So, unfortunately, we can’t choose the one we like the most and use it all the time.
What’s great is that there’s a not-so-complicated rule about the endings in 3rd person plural. The ending in the 3rd person plural depends on the ending in the 3rd person singular. So, if you want to learn Serbian present tense, you should remember this rule:
- 3rd person singular: -e —————— 3rd person plural: -u
- 3rd person singular: -i ——————- 3rd person plural: -e
- 3rd person singular: -a —————— 3rd person plural: -ju.
Note: Some verbs with the 3rd person singular ending in –e have 3rd person plural ending in –ju.
You’ve seen the example for the first case (pije – piju). Let’s see the examples for the remaining two cases:
Verb raditi (to work; to do)
Verb spavati (to sleep)
- spavaju (-ju is underlined)
In 3rd person plural, we sometimes use the full form of the verb in 3rd person singular + the ending (spava – spavaju), but sometimes we remove the last letter from it and then add the ending (pije – piju).
There are only two verbs in the Serbian language that don’t end in –m in 1st person singular, and those are hteti (to want) and moći (can). They end in –u: hoću (I want) and mogu (I can). The rest of their conjugation is normal (hoćeš – you want, hoće – he/she/it wants…).
Negative Forms of the Present Tense
Negative verb forms are an easy part of the Serbian language. We guarantee you’ll remember how to make them as soon as you start to learn Serbian!
In Serbian, ne means no. So, if you want to say you don’t drink alcohol (although this sentence is not advisable in Serbia), you’ll say it like this: Ne pijem alkohol. And how would you say you drink alcohol? Well, you’d say it like this: Pijem alkohol.
As you can see, we just put ne in front of the verb we want to negate, and that’s it! Easy-peasy! You only need to remember that the word ne is always written as a separate word from the verb. So, ne pijem, ne spavam, ne radim.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. There are four verbs in Serbian that form a different negative form than all the rest. Those are the verbs: neću (I don’t want / I won’t), nemoj (don’t), nisam (I’m not), and nemam (I don’t have). What’s different about them? They’re the only four examples of Serbian verbs that negation is written joint with.
Interrogative Forms of the Present Tense
If you want to make a question in the present tense, you should add two little words at the beginning of the sentence: da li.
Da li piješ alkohol? (Do you drink alcohol?)
Da li radiš? (Do you work? / Are you working?)
Da li spavaš? (Are you sleeping?)
Do you think this guide will help you learn Serbian? If you have some questions about the Serbian prezent, be free to write them in the comments!