Just as the Earth revolves around the Sun, the Serbian language revolves around genders. So let’s go on a journey in to the world of noun gender in Serbian!
Unfortunately, if you try to find some kind of logic when categorizing Serbian nouns according to the way that they taste, smell, look, feel, or act... you're not going to have much luck.
For example, in Serbian there are three words that can all be used to describe a road vehicle with an engine and four wheels that carries a small number of passengers. Here they are:
- automil (automobile)
- auto (automobile)
- kola (car)
Note that kola in fact behaves as a plural noun.
Here is a dialogue that should help you understand a little better:
- Da li ide neki auto? (Are there any cars going?)
- Ne, slobodno idi (No, feel free to go).
- Dobro, hvala ti puno (Good, thank you so much).
- Nema na čemu (You’re welcome).
Rememeber that here, I could also ask Da li ide neki automobil? However, we almost never use it; it is much easier for us to simply say auto.
Here is another dialogue between two people:
- Hoću da kupim tati nešto za rođendan. Šta da mu kupim? (I want to buy something for my dad for his birthday. What should I buy for him?)
- Kupi mu neka kola, oduševiće se sigurno (Buy him a car, he will be impressed).
- Dobro, ali koja kola da kupim, Reno Megan ili Pežoa? (OK, but which car; a Reno Megan or a Peugeot?)
- Nemoj nijedna, kupi mu Ladu. (Neither. Buy a Lada for him)
- U redu, hvala na savetu. Ćao (Alright, thanks for your advice. Bye).
- Nema na čemu, ćao (You’re welcome, bye).
Yes, the noun kola grammatically behaves like a plural. However, we all know that this person is going to buy only one car, not two or more cars. This can be a little confusing, so it is best to simply memorize it.
Don’t worry. Despite of all this, there is still some logic to the grammar of Serbian genders! Here is a quick tip to help you determine the gender of Serbian nouns: you should always look at the last letter of the word!
In the Serbian language, there are three genders:
- masculine (muški rod)
- feminine (ženski rod)
- neutral (srednji rod)
This table shows you the golden rule for understanding the difference between the three genders:
|Rodovi (genders)||Muški rod (masculine)||Ženski rod (feminine)||Srednji rod (neutral)|
|Jednina (singular)||suglasnik (consonant)||a||o, ili or e|
Here are a few conversations to demonstrate how the genders are used:
- Ko je on? (Who is he?)
- On je moj drug Majkl (He is my (male) friend Michael).
- A ko su oni? (And who are they?)
- Oni su moji drugovi iz srednje škole (They are my friends from high school).
- Jao, što je lepa ova devojka. Da li je znaš? (Aw, this girl is so beautiful. Do you know her?)
- Da, ona je moja drugarica Ivana (Yes, she is my (female) friend Ivana).
- A ko su one? (And who are they?)
- One su moje drugarice, Marija i Tamara (They are my friends Maria and Tamara).
- Da li više voliš selo ili grad? (Do you prefer the village or the city?)
- Ne volim selo, jer su mnogo teški uslovi za život i mora mnogo da se radi. A ti? (I dislike the village because the living conditions there are really difficult and it requires a lot of work. And you?)
- Slažem se, bolje je u gradu. U svakom slučaju, mnogo volim prirodu pa zato volim da obiđem raznorazna sela. (I agree, it's better to live in the city. However, I love nature a lot, so I like to visit various villages on occassion).
Now, let’s discuss each gender in detail.
Masculine nouns end in consonants. The singular pronoun for masculine nouns is Оn (he). Here are some examples:
- On robot (a robot)
- On hamburger (a hamburger)
- On kompjuter (a computer)
- On miš (a mouse)
- On konj (a horse)
Of course, there are exceptions. There are some nouns that end in consonants that are in fact feminine, and so take on the feminine singular pronoun Ona (she). Many of these are abstract nouns, for example:
- Ona ljubav (love)
- Ona krv (blood)
- Ona bol (pain)
- Ona mladost (youth)
- Ona starost (age)
- Ona smrt (death)
- Ona bolest (illness)
- Ona noć (night)
Most feminine nouns end in a. The pronoun for feminine nouns, as we’ve mentioned, is Оna (she). Here are some examples:
- Оna Porodica (a family)
- Оna Мajka (a mother)
- Оna Sestra (a sister)
- Ona baba (a grandmother)
- Ona olovka (a pencil)
- Ona kuća (a house)
The exception here is deda (grandfather). Yes, grammatically it is a feminine noun. However, due to its meaning it is impossible for it to be treated as such, and must be treated as a masculine noun.
Additionally, all nouns denoting that a person is female are feminine, even if they end in a consonant. For example:
- Оna Mis (miss)
- Оna Madam (madam)
Neutral nouns end in o or e. The pronoun for neutral nouns is Ono (it). Here are some examples:
- Оno More (sea)
- Ono Nebo (sky)
- Ono Dete (a child)
- Ono Drvo (tree)
- Ono Vreme (time/weather)
There is one exception: auto (automobile). Grammatically, this should be a neutral noun. However, as previously explained, auto is simply the shortened form of automobil, meaning that it behaves like a masculine noun.
Now try this activity. Post your answers in the discussion and I will correct them. See if you can identify the gender (masculine, feminine, or neutral) for each of the following words:
- majka (mother)
- otac (father)
- brat (brother)
- more (sea)
- Petar (a Serbian male name)
- Slobodan (a Serbian male name)
- vreme (time/weather)
- biznismen (businessman)
- unuk (grandson)
- krevet (bed)
- muzika (music)
- Srbija (Serbia)
- prozor (window)
- kompjuter (computer)
- telo (body)
Now, write all of these nouns in their plural form.
Animate and Inanimate Nouns
In the Serbian language, there is also a division between animate (živo) and inanimate (neživo) nouns.
Animate nouns refer to living creatures. Here are some examples:
- оna majka (mother)
- оna mačka (cat)
- оna devojčica (girl)
- ona drugarica (female friend)
- on pas (dog)
- on konj (konj)
- оn Tomislav Nikolić (name of the Serbian president)
- on direktor (director)
- on učitelj (teacher)
Inanimate nouns relate to abstract things and objects that are not alive. Here are some examples:
- on sto (table)
- оna tašna (purse)
- оno vreme (time/weather)
- оn telefon (telephone)
- оna ljubav (love)
- оna žurka (party)
- оn strah (fear)
- оna zima (winter)
- оna Srbija (Serbia)
- оno drvo (tree)
The question used to ask about animate objects in Serbian is: Кo je tо? (Who is it?), for example:
- Кo je to?
- To je labud.
- Ko je to?
- To je muškarac.
Another word for “man” besides muškarac, which is used here, is čovek.
The question used to ask about inanimate objects in Serbian is: Šta je to? (What is it?):
- Šta je to?
- To je kompjuter.
- Šta je to?
- To je tašna.
Practice: Animate and Inanimate Objects
Now try this activity. Post your answers in the discussion and I will correct them. See if you can identify which of the following are animate objects and which are inanimate objects:
- muzičar (musician)
- advokat (lawyer)
- drug ((male)friend)
- beba (baby)
- hrana (food)
- žena (woman)
- park (park)
- san (dream)
- taksista (taxi driver)
- nebo (sky)
- stolica (chair)
- krevet (bed)
- sin (son)
- ćerka (daugher)