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Serbian for Beginners

In this course we will use the Serbian Latin Alphabet in the beginning. The reason is that some people may have difficulties with handling the Cyrillic script at this stage.

Part one of this course is only intended for absolute beginners.

Part One - The Basics

Lesson 1: The Serbian Alphabet

Alphabet

Serbian can be written in either the cyrillic or latin alphabets. In this course, we will be using just the latin alphabet. Wondering how the Serbian Latin Alphabet differs from the English one? Take a look at the chart below. You will note that some letters aren't there (like q,w,x,y) and that there are some new letters (like č,ć,š,ž and đ). You will also notice that there are three digraphs: lj, nj and dž. This digraphs are considered as one letter in Serbian, as they represent one phoneme. We will not go further into the pronunciation at this moment, we will leave that for later.

Cyrillic
Latin
А а
A a
Б б
B b
В в
V v
Г г
G g
Д д
D d
Ђ ђ
Đ đ
Е е
E e
Ж ж
Ž ž
З з
Z z
И и
I i
Cyrillic
Latin
Ј ј
J j
К к
K k
Л л
L l
Љ љ
Lj lj
М м
M m
Н н
N n
Њ њ
Nj nj
О о
O o
П п
P p
Р р
R r
Cyrillic
Latin
С с
S s
Т т
T t
Ћ ћ
Ć ć
У у
U u
Ф ф
F f
Х х
H h
Ц ц
C c
Ч ч
Č č
Џ џ
Dž dž
Ш ш
Š š

Lesson 2: The Verb "To Be"

To Be

In our first lesson we will learn how to conjugate the verb biti ("to be") in the present tense. This verb is really a special case: Not only its present forms have nothing to do with its infinitive, but it also has two forms: the stressed (or the long) form and the unstressed (or the short) form. Today we will learn only the short (unstressed) one and the negation of the whole verb (which again is built differently from other verbs).

 BITI  TO BE
 Ja sam  I am
 Ti si  You are (sg.)
 On je  He is
 Ona je  She is
 Ono je  It is
 Mi smo  We are
 Vi ste  You are (pl.)
 Oni su  They (pl. of "He") are
 One su  They (pl. of "She") are
 Ona su  They (pl. of "It") are

Personal Pronouns

As you can see we've also introduced the personal pronouns. I hope they are not hard to remember. Unlike in English, Serbian has different pronouns for the singular and plural of the 2nd person. Also Vi is used for formal addressing (like Vous, Usted, Sie, etc.), but in that case it's always spelt with a capital letter. Ono (and the plural Ona) is not the exact equivalent to the english "it", it's used rather to replace nouns of the neuter gender. The biggest surprise might be the fact that we use 3 pronouns for the 3rd person plural: Oni, One and Ona. Simply put:

On + On = Oni
Ona + Ona = One
Ono + Ono = Ona

In the general case (when the gender is unknown) or when the case is mixed (e.g. On + Ona), we use Oni.

Now lets get back to our verb "Biti". For bulding the negative form, just add the preffix "ni-" to the present form.

 Ja nisam  I am not
 Ti nisi  You are not (sg.)
 On nije  He is not
 Ona nije  She is not
 Ono nije  It is not
 Mi nismo  We are not
 Vi niste  You are not (pl.)
 Oni nisu  They (pl. of "He") are not
 One nisu  They (pl. of "She") are not
 Ona nisu  They (pl. of "It") are not

Isn't that easy?


Vocabulary

 ovde  here
 tamo  there
 u  in
 Srbija  Serbia
 škola  school
 prijatelj (pl. prijatelji)  friend
 napolju  outside
 kod kuće  at home
 odsutan  absent
 park  park
 slika  picture
 lep  beautiful
 dobar  good

Exercises

Exercises A: Fill out the blanks in the following sentences. (either with the short form of the verb biti, or the corresponding personal pronoun.)
1) Ja _______ Marko.
2) Mi _______ tamo.
3) On i ona _______ u Srbiji.
4) Vi _______ ovde.
5) Ti i ja _______ prijatelji.
6) Ona _______ Marija.
7) Ti i Aleksandar _______ u školi.
8) One _______ napolju.

Exercise B: Give these phrases a negative meaning.
1) Ja _______ kod kuće.
2) Ana _______ odsutna.
3) Mi _______ u parku.
4) Marko i ti _______ prijatelji.
5) Slika _______ lepa.
6) Oni _______ dobri.

Solutions

Solution of Exercise A:
1) Ja sam Marko.
2) Mi smo tamo.
3) On i ona su u Srbiji.
4) Vi ste ovde.
5) Ti i ja smo prijatelji.
6) Ona je Marija.
7) Ti i Aleksandar ste u školi.
8) One su napolju.

Solution of Exercise B:
1) Ja nisam kod kuće.
2) Ana nije odsutna.
3) Mi nismo u parku.
4) Marko i ti niste prijatelji.
5) Slika nije lepa.
6) Oni nisu dobri.


Lesson 3: Nouns and adjectives (part 1)

In the exercises for the previous lesson we encountered some words like slika, prijatelj, lep, dobar. These are nouns and adjectives, and in this lesson we are going to learn some basic things about them.

Gender

First, you should know that the Serbian language has three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. That means that every noun in the Serbian language is either masculine, feminine or neuter. You're probably wondering how you will know the gender of a noun. Well, the only real solution is to look it up in the dictionary and remember it. But don't be scared, there are some rules which can help you determine the gender of the noun:

  *  Masculine nouns usually end in a consonant: prijatelj (friend), učitelj (teacher), prozor (window), mrav (ant)
  *  Feminine nouns usually end in -a: žena (woman, wife), majka (mother), mačka (cat)
  *  Neuter nouns end in -o and -e: selo (village), polje (field), more (sea)

Unfortunately this formula is pretty much fallible, because:

  *  Some masculine nouns end in -o and -e: Đorđe, Marko, Mile, Slavko. (those are usually masculine proper names.)
  *  Some masculine nouns end in -a: sudija (judge), vođa (leader)
  *  Some feminine nouns end in a consonant: stvar (thing)

But the above formula can help a bit, now you know that feminine nouns can never end in -o or -e, and neuter nouns can never end in -a or a consonant.

Plural

Now let's learn how to make the plural of a noun. For this lesson we will only get to know the basic concept of things.

  *  The nouns that end in a consonant (both masculine and feminine) build their plural by adding an -i : prijatelj -> prijatelji, stvar -> stvari
  *  The nouns that end in -a (both masculine and feminine) build their plural by changing that -a into -e: žena -> žene, sudija -> sudije
  *  The nouns that end in -o and -e (both maculine and neuter) build their plural by changing -o/-e into -a: polje -> polja

You're now probably thinking how it's very easy to make plural in Serbian, but I must disappoint you. Not all nouns build their plural this way. In future lessons we will return to this.

Adjectives

Adjectives are words which are closely tied to nouns, and they must follow the nouns in gender and number. That means that if you want to put an adjective which describes žene, you must put it in the feminine plural form.

How do we do this? Well, again we're going to learn just the basic concept and leave the complicated irregularities for the future lessons.

When you open a dictionary, you will find the adjectives put in the masculine singular indefinite form, such as lep (beautiful). This form is fit to describe only masculine nouns in singular: lep prozor (a beautiful window). Lets see how other forms are made:

  *  For the feminine singular form add -a : lepa žena (a beautiful women)
  *  For the neuter singular form add -o : lepo selo (a beautiful village)
  *  For the masculine plural form add -i : lepi prozori (beautiful windows)
  *  For the feminine plural form add -e : lepe žene (beautiful women)
  *  For the neuter plural form add -a : lepa sela (beautiful villages)

Don't be fooled by the noun ending: the gender of the noun is what determines the adjective ending. Nouns that are of a feminine gender and end in a consonant will still have the adjective ending in -a (lepa stvar - a beautiful thing). There is only one exception (Remember this!!!): The masculine nouns that end in -a will in singular take the basic (masculine singular) adjective form (jak vođa - a strong leader), whereas in plural they will take the feminine (!) plural form (jake vođe - strong leaders; not "jaki vođe" as one might expect).


Vocabulary

 mlad  young
 kuća (f)  house
 sluga (m)  servant
 glup  stupid
 slan  salty
 marljiv  hardworking
 kolega (m)  collegue
 Knjiga (f)  book
 nov  new
 tih  quiet
 visok  tall
 velik  big

Exercises

Exercises A: Translate into Serbian:
1) a young servant
2) a beautifil house
3) stupid things
4) a salty sea
5) hardworking collegues
6) young cats

Exercise B: Rewrite the following phrases into plural:
1) Učitelj je lep.
2) Sudija je tih
3) Knjiga je nova
4) Ja sam visok
5) Kuća je velika

Exercise C: In order not to forget what we learned in the past lesson, rewrite these phrases into the affirmative form:
1) Ja nisam visok.
2) On nije lep.
3) Mi nismo ovde.
4) Majka nije mlada.
5) One nisu jake.

Solution of Exercise A:
1) mlad sluga
2) lepa kuća
3) glupe stvari
4) slano more
5) marljive kolege
6) mlade mačke

Solution of Exercise B:
1) Učitelji su lepi.
2) Sudije su tihe.
3) Knjige su nove
4) Mi smo visoki.
5) Kuće su velike

Solution of Exercise C:
1) Ja sam visok.
2) On je lep.
3) Mi smo ovde.
4) Majka je mlada.
5) One su jake.


Lesson 4: Nouns and adjectives (part 2)

In the previous lesson, we learned the basics of building the plural of the nouns. Unfortunately for you, things aren't that simple. Today we're going to learn more about some peculiarities of the plural forms in some word.

More Nouns

We've said that masculine nouns ending in a consonant form their plural by adding -i (prijatelj -> prijatelji). This practically means that 'prijatelj-' is the stem for forming plural. But some nouns (that are masculine and end in a consonant), don't add the suffix -i directly, but they broaden the stem with -ov- or -ev- and then add -i. Let's take an example: for the word grad (town, city) you would expect that the plural is gradi. But no, it isn't. Between grad- and -i you must insert -ov-, so the correct plural of grad is gradovi.

Let's look at some of the nouns that have this -ov-/-ev- broadening:

 cvet (flower) ->  cvetovi (flowers)
 stan (flat/appartment) ->  stanovi (flats/apartments)
 ključ (key) ->  ključevi (keys)
 muž (husband) ->  muževi (husbands)

If you're wondering how you'll know when the noun has an -ov- broadening or when it has an -ev- broadening or when it has no broadening at all, the only advice I can give you is to learn them by heart. Alternatively, if you have a really good dictionary, it will tell you all the peculiarities about the noun.

There are some nouns that have double forms - with and without broadening - and both are corect: lišaj (lichen) -> lišajevi or lišaji (lichens) (more examples below). This practically means that you can use both forms equally. In some dialects, one form may be more common than the other but in standard language both forms are correct.

Now let's move on to some on to some "easier" stuff. There is another irregularity concerning the plural of masculine nouns ending in a consonant, this time specifically ending in -k, -g and -h. These 3 are the only velar consonants in the Serbian language. The irregularity consists of changing these 3 dental consonants: c, z and s. So, before adding the suffix -i, you will change the final k into c, g into z, and h into s.

 učenik (student, pupil) ->  učenici
 jezik (language) ->  jezici
 bubreg (kidney) ->  bubrezi
 kovčeg (coffin) ->  kovčezi
 orah (nut) ->  orasi

This rule does not apply to those nouns that have stem broadening with -ov-/-ev-, k/g/h are left unaltered there:

 rak (crab) ->  rakovi
 strah (fear) ->  strahovi
 krug (circle) ->  krugovi

But for those nouns that have double forms double forms I mentioned above, in the the unbroadened form you will change k/g/h into c/z/s, while in the broadened form k/g/h, will of course alter:

 vuk (wolf) ->  vukovi or vuci
 pauk (spider) ->  paukovi or pauci
 duh (ghost, spirit) ->  duhovi or dusi
(though dusi is less common in ordinary speech, both are standard)

More Adjectives

Now that we've hopefully processed all that, let's go back to the adjectives. We've said the basic form is the masculine singular (lep), and then we add -a for femenine singular (lepa), -o for neuter singular (lepo), -i for masc.pl (lepi), -e for fem.pl. (lepe), and -a for n.pl. (lepa).

But look at exercise 1B, sentence 6 ("Oni su dobri") and the vocabulary explanation below ("dobar = good"). How come dobar has an "a", but dobri doesn't? This has to do with a very common alternation in Serbian, which we can call "the disappearing a". It happens that in some words that end in consonant + a + consonant and that have more than one syllable (dobar, kratak, vredan), that a drops out in other forms of the words (mostly when you add a vowel suffix). Let's see how we will make other forms adjectives.

dobar (good) - dobar, dobra, dobro, dobri, dobre, dobra
kratak (short) - kratak, kratka, kratko, kratki, kratke, kratka
vredan (hardworking; valuable) - vredan, vredna, vredno, vredni, vredne, vredna

Note that this doesn't apply to monosyllabic words like mlad (young), star (old), jak (strong) - they keep their a's in all forms.

Why does this alternation happen? Well, long ago the Proto-Slavic language had a semivowel ь (yer), which in Serbian developed either into an a or it dropped out. I assume before that happened the forms of the adjective dobar were: добьр, добьра, добьро. In the first case ь became a, and in the next two it dropped out.

It's worth mentioning that this alternation also happens in some nouns when they form plural.

 lovac (hunter) ->  lovci
 starac (old man) ->  starci
 lanac (chain) ->  lanci

Numbers

And at the end of this lesson I'll give you the numbers from 0 to 10:

 0  nula
 1  jedan (jedna, jedno)
 2  dva (dve, dva)
 3  tri
 4  četiri
 5  pet
 6  šest
 7  sedam
 8  osam
 9  devet
 10  deset

The numbers 1 and 2 follow the gender of the noun. (Jedan prijatelj = one friend, jedna žena = one woman, jedno selo = one village; dva prijatelja = two friends, dve žene = two women, dva sela = two villages)

Exercises

Exercise A: Give the plural of these nouns:
1) put (m. -ev-) = road
2) knjiga (f.) = book
3) plan (m. -ov-) = plan
4) radnik (m.) = worker
5) krst (m. -ov-) = cross
6) jutro (morning) = morning
7) siromah (m) = a poor man
8) vuk (m., double form) = wolf
9) duh (m., double form) = ghost

Exercise B: Complete the following table:
1) dobar - _________ - _________ (good)
2) ljubazan - _________ - _________ (polite)
3) _________ - dosadna - _________ (boring)
4) _________ - _________ - sitno (tiny)
5) tanak - _________ - tanko (thin)

Solutions

Solution of Exercise A:
1) putevi
2) knjige
3) planovi
4) radnici
5) krstovi
6) jutra
7) siromasi
8) vuci/vukovi
9) duhovi/dusi

Solution of Exercise B:
1) dobar - dobra - dobro
2) ljubazan - ljubazna - ljubazno
3) dosadan - dosadna - dosadno
4) sitan - sitna - sitno
5) tanak - tanka - tanko


Lesson 5: The verb TO HAVE / The Accusative case

To Have

First, a review: we've learned the present form of the verb biti, how to make the plural forms of nouns and how to make forms of other genders of adjectives. Now it's time to move a bit further and learn another important verb in the Serbian language: the verb imati (to have).

 Imam  I have
 Imaš  You have (sg.)
 Ima  He / she / it has
 Imamo  We have
 Imate  You have (pl.)
 Imaju  They have

While we're here, we might as well learn the negative form.

 Nemam  I don't have
 Nemaš  You don't have (sg.)
 Nema  He / she / it doesn't have
 Nemamo  We don't have
 Nemate  You don't have (pl.)
 Nemaju  They don't have

Accusative Case

Now in order for you to use this verb with nouns, you must know how to form the accusative case. For you who only speak languages that don't have cases, you should know that the accusative is one of the 7 cases Serbian has and it shows that the word (noun, pronoun, adjective) in question is the direct object of the verb, i.e. it is affected by the action of the verb.

For now we will only learn the nominal forms.

Let's start with the nouns that end in -a. We've learned that they can be both masculine and feminine and that in plural they change that -a into an -e (knjiga -> knjige, sudija -> sudije). That is, of course, only the Nominative case. You'll need need 12 more forms (6 in singular and 6 in plural) to know the know the complete declension of a word.

The forming of the accusative for these nouns is very simple: in singular you change that -a into an -u, and in plural the accusative is the same as the nominative (plural) form.

 Knjiga je dobra  The book is good (N - sing)
 Imam knjigu  I have a book (A - sing)
 Knjige su dobre  The books are good (N - pl)
 Imam knjige  I have books (A - pl)

Now let's move to the neuter nouns. They end in -o or -e in Nominative singular and change that -o/-e into an -a in Nominative plural. (selo / polje -> sela / polja). Well, guess what.. for these nouns the accusative is the same as nominative. One thing less to learn.

 Selo je lepo  The village is beautiful (N - sing)
 Vidim selo  I see a village (A - sing)
 Sela su lepa  The villages are beautiful (N - pl)
 Vidim sela  I see villages (A - pl)

Now we come to the masculine nouns that end in a consonant. I've left this for the end, since it's a bit more complicated. For this group of nouns, it's important to know their meaning, more specifically whether they are animate (living - people and animals) or inanimate (dead - things, abstract concepts, plants) objects.

We know from the earlier lessons that the Nominative singluar is formed by adding an -i (profesor -> progesori) to Nominative singular. Some nouns get a -ov-/-ev- broadening (grad -> gradovi, put -> putevi), and those nouns that end in k, g, or h change those into c, z, s (vojnik -> vojnici)

Accusative, in singular: animate objects will get one -a: Vidim profesora (I see the teacher), vidim vuka (I see a wolf) while inanimate objects will stay the same: Imam prozor (I have a window)

In plural, the -i from the nominative will change into an -e regardless whether it's animate or not. (profesori -> profesore, prozori -> prozore). If the noun has the -ov-/-ev- broadening, it will stay in the accusative plural (gradovi -> gradove), but the k/g/h -> c/z/s alternation will disappear, because we don't have an -i anymore.

I hope you have understood the basic concept of the accusative case, now let's go to the exercises.

Exercises

Exercise A: Fill in the blanks with the affirmative form of the verb imati:
1) Ja ______
2) Oni ______
3) Mi ______
4) Ana ______
5) Ana i Bojan ______
6) Ti i ja ______
7) Vi ______
8) Ono ______
9) Ti ______

Exercise B: Choose 10 words form this list (or you can use also the words you know already), and make sentences with the meaning "I have ..." or "I don't have ...":
Avion - airplane
Bašta - garden
Bluza - blouse
Cvet - flower (-ov-)
Drug - friend (-ov-)
Flaša - bottle
Grlo - throat
Ispit - exam
Majka - mother
Mantil - coat
Most - bridge (-ov)
Olovka - pencil
Rad - work (-ov-)
Sveska - notebook
Svet - world (-ov-)
Učitelj - teacher

Exercise C: Change those sentences from B into plural.

Solutions

Solution of Exercise A:
1) Ja imam
2) Oni imaju
3) Mi imamo
4) Ana ima
5) Ana i Bojan imaju
6) Ti i ja imamo
7) Vi imate
8) Ono ima
9) Ti imate


End Of Part One

This is the end of part one. Now you've learned some of the basics of the Serbian language. In the future we might create a part two of this course but for now this is all.

Thanks for your interest in this course! If you discovered any mistakes or you just want to say something then please let us know . We do need feedback!

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