Written by: Olivera Tolimir
Bet grammatical cases are your favorite thing about learning Serbian!
Ha-ha. We know you hate them. And we don’t blame you. But they’re not that bad either.
As we’ve already mentioned, grammatical cases are our little helpers. Thanks to them, we realize who does what in a sentence. If you haven’t grasped the concept of Serbian cases, check out our blog post where you have it all explained!
If you’re interested in learning when and why we use each Serbian case, you’re at the right place! Ensuring not to make it too complicated, we made sure each grammatical case’s explanation comes with one or more groups of three example sentences.
The first sentence represents a noun of masculine gender, the second one is feminine, and the third is neuter. Also, all bolded words are singular. To learn all about the endings for each Serbian case in singular and plural, check out our table of Serbian cases! It’s helpful to have it all in one place. This table is about nouns, but you can find more if you browse the free resources on our website.
We’ll start easy and chronologically. Nominative is the first Serbian case. It answers the questions ko (who) and šta (what).
For example, someone can ask you:
- Ko to sluša muziku? (Who‘s listening to music?)
And here are three of the infinite possible answers:
- Milan sluša muziku. (Milan is listening to music.)
- Moja sestra sluša muziku. (My sister is listening to music.)
- Ivanovo dete sluša muziku. (Ivan’s child is listening to music.)
We also use Nominative to describe someone or something by using the verb to be + a specific adjective or noun. For example:
- Orman je prostran. (The closet is spacious.)
- Milena je doktorica. (Milena is a doctor.)
- Njeno ime je neobično. (Her name is unusual.)
So, we use Nominative to name and explain the concepts.
Genitive is the second and most complex of the seven Serbian cases. It can have more than twenty different meanings! It’s crazy, we know.
But let’s hold on to the ones you’ll mostly use at the beginning when speaking Serbian.
First, let’s teach you two ways to say where you’re from!
- Iz / sa (insert your country in Genitive here) sam.
- Dolazim iz / sa (insert your country in Genitive here).
The preposition iz means from, and we use it in front of most countries’ names. The preposition sa translates the same as iz in this context, but we use it for island countries and states, such as Cuba, Hawaii, New Zealand, Iceland, etc. Note: We don’t use it for Australia, the UK, and Japan, even though they’re islands, too.
If your country’s name ends in a consonant, you’ll add an -a at the end of it, and if it ends in -a, you’ll turn it into -e. For example:
- Iz Kanade sam. (Nominative: Kanada)
- Iz Irana sam. (Nominative: Iran)
Another use of Genitive is for the explaining the exact position of something. It’s used with the prepositions:
- iznad (above)
- ispod (below)
- između (between)
- levo od (left from)
- desno od (right from)
- pored (next to)
- blizu (close to).
Also, we use it to say from (od) – to (do), as well as of (od).
Here are some examples in the masculine, feminine, and neuter gender:
- Lopta je ispod/pored/blizu automobila. (The ball is below/next to/close to the car.)
- Torta je od čokolade. (The cake is made of chocolate.)
- Uzeo je igračku od deteta. (He took the toy from the child.)
We use Dative to explain to whom we do something (give a gift, tell a story, etc.) and towards what we go.
- Idi prema automobilu, tamo te čekam. (Go towards the car, where I’m waiting for you.)
- Jesi li ispričao to Mariji? (Did you tell that to Marija?)
- Dali su slatkiše detetu. (They gave candy to the child.)
The dative form of personal pronouns often expresses the possessive meaning.
- Košulja ti je uflekana. (Your shirt is stained.)
- Roditelji su nam strogi. (Our parents are strict.)
Accusative is the main Serbian case for expressing the object of a sentence. The object of a sentence is a word affected by the actions of a verb.
- Kupili smo novi automobil. (We bought a new car.)
- Pojela sam ti čokoladu. (I ate your chocolate.)
- Vodili su svoje dete na igralište. (They took their child to the playground.)
Also, we often use Accusative to explain direction. Its prevalent prepositions are u (in) and na (on/at):
- Stavi tanjir na sto. (Put the plate on the table.)
- Idem u Nemačku. (I’m going to Germany.)
- Otputovaću na selo preko leta. (I’ll travel to the countryside during the summer.)
If you aren’t sure which preposition to use, here’s our blog post with five rules to help you distinguish between the prepositions u and na!
There’s one crucial thing to remember about the masculine gender in Accusative. If the word represents an inanimate object, its form is the same as in Nominative. If the word represents a living being, its form is the same as Genitive.
- Videli smo autobus. (We saw the bus. Nominative: autobus)
- Videli smo našeg prijatelja. (We saw our friend. Nominative: naš prijatelj)
Vocative is technically not a part of the Serbian case system. Actually, it is. But for real, it’s not. Ahem… Let’s start from the beginning.
All Serbian grammatical cases serve some function. They’re either subjects, objects, adverbials, or something else in a sentence.
And the good old Vocative serves nothing. Not to say it’s useless, far from it. But its sole purpose is communication. We use it to refer to someone (or to shout someone’s name from a hill nearby.)
So, when we talk with someone and want to use their name, we have to put their name in Vocative. It doesn’t have to be a name, of course. It can be mom, dad, brother, sister, friend… You get the point.
The Vocative rules for names can be confusing since they depend on the accent and the number of syllables. Here’s the best advice about the Vocative of Serbian names: ask the person you meet how to address them or listen to how other people do it, and remember. It will save you tons of time counting syllables in women’s names and memorizing the exceptions in men’s.
Here are some examples of Vocative in Serbian:
- Milane, kako si? (Milan, how are you?)
- Ivo, da li dolaziš na žurku? (Iva, are you coming to the party?)
- Dete drago, šta to radiš?! (Dear child, what are you doing?!)
Here’s some good news: although nouns change their form, adjectives in Vocative stay the same as in Nominative!
Instrumental is a go-to Serbian case if you’re talking about your company (people, not a firm) and utilities.
It answers the questions: with whom and with what. Here are examples for the company:
- Idem na kampovanje s bratom. (I’m going camping with (my) brother.)
- Razgovarala sam s Milicom. (I’ve talked with Milica.)
- Često se igramo žmurke s našim detetom. (We often play hide-and-seek with our child.)
Here are some examples of utilities:
- Filip plače jer ga je Darko pogodio sunđerom. (Filip is crying because Darko hit him with a sponge.)
- Poslaću ti pismo poštom. (I’ll send you a letter by post.)
- Deca više ne pišu naliv-perom. (Children don’t write with the fountain pen anymore.)
Good news for the end: Locative has the exact same form as Dative! So, you have one Serbian case less to memorize!
As its name says, Locative often shows us the location. It’s the only one of the seven Serbian cases that always appears with a preposition. The prepositions you’ll mostly use with this case are:
- u (in)
- na (on/at)
- o (about)
- po (across).
Both Locative and Accusative use the prepositions u and na. But Accusative always goes with the verbs marking direction, and Locative with those signifying location. Here are some examples:
- Radim na fakultetu. (I work at the university.)
- Irena nije u školi. (Irena isn’t in school.)
- Jeste li razgovarali o prezimenu? (Have you talked about the last name?)
We hope our guide helped you grasp a better understanding of Serbian cases! If you’re interested in exercises to ensure you master all of them, check out our Serbian online courses for beginners!