As in most Slavic languages, Serbian has cases. The cases are usually the most difficult thing to understand- not so much due to the different endings which should be memorized by heart, but due to their different uses which some other European languages do not recognize. Thanks to cases, the words change often and sometimes it is even impossible to recognize them. There are seven cases in the Serbian language, which means that there are more than seven different forms of the same word. The fourth case is the accusative.
The endings for the singular accusative case are:
- a for masculine nouns, but only animated: doktor - doktora
- u for feminine: profesorka - profesorku
- no ending for neuter: pivo - pivo
The ending for the plural of accusative is e for both masculine and feminine: doktor - doktore, profesorka - profesorke.
The ending is a for neuter: pivo - piva. It is useful to know that the accusative neuter is always the same as the nominative in both singular and plural.
Examples for accusative:
- Ja vidim devojku. I see a girl. (The nominative form is devojka)
- On vidi prijatelja. He sees (his male) friend. (The nominative is prijatelj)
- Mi pijemo pivo. We drink a beer.
- Ja vidim devojke. I see girls.
- On vidi prijatelje. He sees his male friends.
- Mi pijemo piva. We drink beers.
The most important use of accusative is its function as the direct object in the sentence, so the accusative is always used with transitive verbs such as to read, eat, see, bring, love, hate and so on. The usual questions that can help English speakers to recognize when to use the accusative are “What/Who do you love/hate/see” questions.
As such, the emphasis is on the person/thing that somebody loves/hates/sees… and not on the person who actually loves/hates/sees. In English, the best way to recognize the accusative is with the pronouns me/him/her that have a different use from I/he/she.
- I love Viktor. I love him.
- He loves Sandra. He loves her.
These two names in the Serbian language sound the same, Viktor and Sandra, but when used as objects in sentences, they change their forms and become Vikotra and Sandru.
- Ja volim Viktora.
- On voli Sandru.
It is not good to say, Ja volim Viktor or On voli Sandra.
There is one more thing to be said about this function of the accusative. When the object is an inanimate thing with a masculine gender, then the noun stays unchanged in the accusative singular.
- Ja gledam film. (not filma)
A good example for this is the noun miš, meaning mouse.
- Ja vidim miša. I see a mouse (animal).
- Ja vidim miš. I see a mouse (computer mouse).
The accusative has some other functions, but this one is the most important.
The next very important use of the accusative is with the preposition u or na, meaning “in” or “at/on.” The accusative is used with so called “verbs of movement” such as go, come, and enter.
- Ja idem u školu. I go to (in) school.
- On ulazi u prodavnicu. He is entering (in) the shop.
This part can be confusing, as there is one more case that is used with this preposition u/in, which is the locative case. The locative is used with the “verbs of stillness,” such as to be, sit, and stay.
See the sentences:
- Ja idem u školu. I go to school.
- Ja sam u školIi. I am at school.
In the first sentence, we use the accusative because the verb idem means “to go.” There is movement included and the accusative form školu is used. In the second sentence, we use the locative because there is the verb sam meaning “I am,” which denotes that the subject is placed somewhere and no movement is included. The locative case školIi is used.
The accusative is used also for expressing time using the same preposition with days of the week and seasons.
- U ponedeljak idem u Italiju. On Monday I’m going to Italy.
- U nedeljU dolaze moji roditelji. My parents come back on Sunday
- U proleće je drveće zeleno. In the spring the trees are green.
- U jesen je drveće žuto. In the fall the trees are yellow.
It is possible to say u leto and u zimu, although the forms leti and zimi are more commonly used.
This “temporal accusative” is also used in expressions like celu noć and celi dan, such as in the following examples:
- Celu noć nisam spavao. I didn’t sleep all night.
- Radio cam celi dan. I have been working all day.
Last but not least, this case is used also with some prepositions:
- kroz – through
- za – for
- uz – up
- niz – down
- na – on/at
- Vozim kroz gužvu. I am driving through the crowd.
- Ovo je za Anu. This is for Ana
- Idem uz stepenice. I am climbing up the stairs.
- Idem niz stepenice. I am going down the stairs.
- Idemo na posao. We are going to work.
These are the most common functions of the accusative, which is one of the most used cases in all languages having cases. Don’t worry if it is difficult for you to memorize the endings, as it will take some time. Be aware that cases sometimes have the same form and the same endings, but they are used differently in a sentence. It is more important to understand how a case is used than its ending.
Hero Image by José Manuel Ríos Valiente (CC BY-ND 2.0)