This is a short overview of the grammar of the Serbian language. It is not meant to be a comprehensive set of lessons, but rather a reference to complement word entries in Wiktionary. Although this is an overview of Serbian grammar.
- 1 Grammar
- 2 Proper writing (orthography)
There are three grammatical genders in Serbian: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Each noun has its own grammatical gender, while adjectives correspond to the gender of the noun.
|Masculine, singular||taj||muškarac (man)|
|Feminine, singular||ta||žena (woman)|
|Neuter, singular||to||dete (child)|
|Masculine, plural||ti||muškarci (men)|
|Feminine, plural||te||žene (women)|
|Neuter, plural||ta||deca (children)|
Gender of the subject also affects the verbs in the past tense. For example, if a person was working, the verb to work (raditi) will change depending on the gender of the subject. If the subject is the first person singular I (ja), the verb will change depending on who is speaking to either male or female form. E.g. a male may say: "Ja sam radio" (I worked), while a female may say: "Ja sam radila".
There are two grammatical numbers: singular and plural. Three common suffixes for plural are i (usually for masculine nouns), e (usually for feminine nouns), and a (usually for neuter nouns). For example:
- automobil -> automobili
- flaša -> flaše
- pismo -> pisma
Some nouns have only plural form, so one word has to be used for both. E.g. pantalone or naočare.
A special case of nouns are collective nouns. They are not a separate grammatical number but a basic noun form and designate a group of things which are numerous and uncountable. For example:
- javorov list ("maple leaf", designates just one leaf)
- listovi u herbarijumu ("leaves in a haerbarium", there are several leaves and the exact number is known)
- lišće u šumi ("bunch of leaves in a forest", designates a bunch of leaves as an entity)
The Serbian language uses seven cases, for both singular and plural, for nouns and adjectives. Adjectives follow the noun in declension.
Singular case examples
|Case name:||Answers question:||Used to describe:||Sentence example:*|
|Nominative||Who? What?||Usually the subject of a sentence and predicative||Dečak piše pismo. (The boy is writing a letter.)|
|Genitive**||Of who? Of what?||Possesion, a part of something||Pismo dečaka. (The letter of the boy.)|
|Dative||To whom? To what?||The person to whom a thing is given, shown, etc.||Dajem olovku dečaku. (I give a pencil to the boy.)|
|Accusative||Whom? What?||Usually the object of a sentence||Upitali smo dečaka. (We asked the boy.)|
|Vocative||Calling||Used to address somebody or something||Hej, dečače! (Hey, boy!)|
|Instrumental||Using, with, whom? Using, with, what?||Company (with preposition s) or utilization of something or someone to accomplish an action||Idem s dečakom. (I am going with the boy.)
Dečak piše olovkom. (The boy writes with a pencil.)
|Locative||Where? About whom?||Location, Relation||Znamo više o dečaku. (We know more about the boy.)|
Plural case examples
|Case name:||Answers question:||Used to describe:||Sentence example:*|
|Nominative||Who? What?||Usually the subject of a sentence||Dečaci pišu pismo. (The boys are writing a letter.)|
|Genitive**||Of whom? Of what?||Possesion, a part of something||Pismo dečaka. (The letter of the boys.)|
|Dative||To whom? To what?||The person to whom a thing is given, shown, etc.||Dajem olovke dečacima. (I give pencils to the boys.)|
|Accusative||Whom? What?||Usually the object of a sentence||Upitali smo dečake. (We asked the boys.)|
|Vocative||Calling||Used to address somebody or something||Hej, dečaci! (Hey, boys!)|
|Instrumental||Using, with, whom? Using, with, what?||Company (with preposition s) or utilization of something or someone to accomplish an action||Idem s dečacima. (I am going with the boys.)
Dečaci pišu olovkama. (The boys are writing with pencils.)
|Locative||Where? About whom?||Location, relation||Znamo više o dečacima. (We know more about the boys.)|
- *Please note that there are several declension patterns depending on the word that is being used. Normally, words of same ending and gender follow the same pattern. Sometimes, even if the gender is the same, the word might not have the same declension pattern.
- **Please note that in Serbian, in the genitive case, the question asked is of who or of what and NOT whose. There is a difference between of who (od koga) and whose (čiji) in Serbian.
Proper writing (orthography)
Serbian language can be written either using Latin (latinica) or Cyrillic (ćirilica) script, the ONLY slavic language to do so. Both scripts were in common usage in much of Yugoslavia. Each letter represents only one sound and vice versa. The two alphabets can be transliterated between each other letter for letter.
- Please note that in the Latin script Lj, Nj, and Dž are each considered as one letter corresponding to Cyrillic Љ, Њ, and Џ respectively.
- Also, because of the different fonts and keyboard styles, the Latin letter Đ is sometimes written as Dj. Both are accepted and correct, however, Đ is the more preferred one because it is the official letter in the alphabet.
Serbian Latin alphabet compared to Serbian Cyrillic alphabet in azbuka order:
Serbian Cyrillic Unicode fonts
Please note that it is recommended for better viewing of Wiktionary, Wikipedia, and their other sister sites that you use fonts which support the Unicode system. The Unicode Cyrillic font includes Cyrillic characters for Russian, Serbian, and most other languages that use Cyrillic fonts. However, there is a flaw to the Unicode Cyrillic fonts when it comes to Serbian. The flaw is in the italic forms of five characters and in the roman (regular) form for one of those characters. The five characters are: b, g, d, p, and t. Those glyphs displayed currently with Unicode Cyrillic fonts are based on Russian Cyrillic and not Serbian Cyrillic. Serbian variants can be applied automatically ONLY if supported by the fonts used. The following is a Unicode Cyrillic letter t displayed in its roman form first and italic form following:
If the italic form appears as a Latin letter m, then the font is displaying it using the Russian Cyrillic (or current Unicode Cyrillic) system. The difference in the italic glyphs for the current Unicode Cyrillic font system and the Serbian Cyrillic can be seen and explained on the following links:
- Serbian Cyrillic Letters BE, GHE, DE, PE, TE
- Microsoft's Typography: Glyph Processing
- Unicode.org - Where is my character?
Serbian Italicized Cyrillic letter ш
Please note that until recently in Serbian the letter ш used to be displayed as it is displayed currently (ш), except that it had a line under it. It is very unlikely that you will come across this letter online, but if you do, just remember that it is the letter ш. Some older fonts do support it and use it instead of ш.
Capitalization of words
The following words are capitalized in the Serbian language:
- The first word in a sentence: Čovek je šetao gradom.
- The first word in a quoted text: Petar reče: "Sutra ću kupiti automobil".
- Personal pronouns and pronoun adjectives used in formal speech: Predlog koji ste Vi izneli je dobar.
- Personal names, nicknames and surnames: Ana, Petar, Boris, Jovana, Jela, Jovanović, Petrović.
- Adjectives of personal names only: Anin, Petrov, Borisov.
- Names of buildings: Stari most, Beograđanka, Ajfelova kula, Kip slobode.
- In the names of towns, countries and continents all nouns and adjectives are capitalized: Novi Sad, Sarajevo, Evropa, Sjedinjene Američke Države.
- Ethnicities and nationalities: Amerikanac, Francuz, Nigerijac.
- Citizens of towns: Novosađanka, Sarajlija, Parižanin.
- The first word of a street name is always capitalized, others are capitalized if it is a proper noun: Ulica neznanih junaka, Njegoševa ulica, Ulica Nikole Tesle.
- Names of geographic locations, such as mountains, lakes or rivers are written with the first word capitalized, and the others if they are proper nouns: Jadransko more, Dunav, Bokokotorski zaliv, Ada Ciganlija.
- Names of space bodies: Sunce, Mesec, Mars, Zemlja, Mlečni put.
- The first word of names of institutions are always capitalized, others are capitalized if it is a proper noun: Srpska akademija nauka i umetnosti, Osnovna škola "Petar Petrović Njegoš", Nacionalna štedionica.
- The first word of names of books, magazines and other publications are always capitalized, others are capitalized if it is a proper noun: Vojna enciklopedija, Na Drini ćuprija, Đavo u Sarajevu.
- Names of holidays: Nova godina, Bajram, Božić.
Question particle li
- The question particle li is always written separately from other words. For example:
- Da li čitaš knjigu? (Are you reading a book?) or
- Čitaš li knjigu?
- Unless, it is used to form contractions. A contraction formed by li particle (normally) occurs by dropping the i and joining the l with the previous word. For example:
- Da l' čitaš knjigu?
Negation particle ne
- In front of verbs, ne is almost always written separately, for example:
- ne umem (I do not know how)
- ne želim (I do not want/wish)
- ne volim (I do not like)
- The following verbs are written as one word. They are not really an exception, as they are verbs of their own.
- neću (I do not want) (I will not)
- nemam (I do not have)
- nemoj (do not, imperative)
- nisam (I am not)