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Croatian (hrvatski jezik) belongs to the South Slavic group of the Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, Serbo-Croatian, the common language of Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, and Montenegrins, officially split into three mutually intelligible languages — Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian. Though the term ‘Serbo-Croatian’ went out of use with the dissolution of Yugoslavia, it continues to be controversial due to its historical, cultural, and political connotations and to the lack of precision in the definition of the term ‘language’. Suffice it to say that these three languages are largely artifacts of political, rather than linguistic decisions.

The eastern part of Yugoslavia, i.e., SerbiaMontenegro, and portions of Bosnia and Hercegovina, were religiously and culturally distinct from the western part of of the country, i.e., Croatia, and other portions of Bosnia and HercegovinaSerbia was part of the Ottoman empire, while Croatia was under Austro-Hungarian rule. As a result, Serbian and Croatian are based on different dialects and are written with different alphabets. Serbian and Croatian became one language in the 19th century as part of an effort to create an independent South Slavic state (yug means ‘south’).

Croatia mapAlthough Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian differ in a number of ways, these differences do not impede mutual intelligibility and, in fact, are not as great as the dialect differences within the languages themselves. This is not surprising since the continuous migrations of Slavic populations during the five hundred years of Turkish rule produced a patchwork of local dialects that cross more recently established national boundaries.


Standard Croatian is the official language of Croatia. It is spoken by 4.8 million people in Croatia in all areas of public and private life. It is also spoken in Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, Slovenia, Australia, U.S., and Canada. Ethnologue estimates that about  4 million people worldwide speak Croatian in Croatia, and  5.5 million worldwide.

In 1967, Croatian scholars and writers issued the Declaration Concerning the Name and Status of the Literary Language, calling for wider use of Croatian in public life. In 1974, the Yugoslav constitution allowed each republic to identify its own official language. With the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Croatian played a significant role in helping to establish Croatia’s identity as an independent state.


The dialect picture of Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian is quite complex and is shared by all three languages. The major dialectal difference is based on the pronunciation of the initial consonant in the word for what.



Shtokavian is spoken in Serbia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and the southern part of Austria. The primary subdivisions of Shtokavian are based on two principles: one is whether the subdialect is Old Shtokavian or Neo-Shtokavian, and different accents according to the way the old Slavic phoneme jat has changed. Linguists distinguish seven Shtokavian subdialects. 


Sound system

Croatian has 5 vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that differentiate word meaning.



Croatian has 25 consonant phonemes, i.e., sounds that differentiate word meaning. The consonants of Croatian are given in the table below.

  • /x/ = ch in Loch, no equivalent in English
  • /ʃ/ = sh in shape
  • /ʒ/ = s in measure;
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chat
  • // = j in jet
  • /tɕ/ = t in nature
  • /dʑ/ = j in juice
  • /ɲ/ = first n in canyon
  • /ʎ/ = ll in million
  • /ɾ/ has no equivalent in English; it is similar to r in Spanish pero ‘but’
  • /ʋ/ has no equivalent in English
  • /j/ = y in yet


Like all Slavic languages, Croatian allows a variety of consonant clusters. These are either all voiced or all voiceless. The last consonant in the cluster determines whether the entire cluster is voiced or voiceless. This rule does not apply to nasalslaterals, or rhotics. The consonant /r/ can be syllable-forming, e.g., drvo ‘tree’.

Croatian has a pitch stress. Monosyllabic words always have a falling tone. Words with two or more syllables may also have a falling tone, but (with the exception of foreign borrowings and interjections) only on the first syllable. However, they may instead have a rising tone, on any syllable but the last. The final syllable is never stressed. Some loanwords may not have a standard placement of stress.


Croatian grammar is similar in complexity to the grammar of most other Slavic languages.

Croatian nouns are marked for gender, number, and case. The three are fused into one ending, as is the case in all Slavic languages.


Croatian verbs agree with their subjects in person and number in the non-past, and in gender and number in the past. They are marked for the following categories:

  • There are three persons: first, second, third; like all Slavic languages, Croatian is a pro-drop language, i.e., personal pronouns can be dropped because the verb ending makes the person clear.
  • There are three tenses: present, past, and future.
  • The past tense forms are pluperfect, imperfect, aorist, and perfect. Imperfect is considered to be an archaic form.
  • There are two forms of the future tense.
  • There two aspects: imperfective and perfective.
  • Perfective and imperfective verbs are formed from basic verb roots by adding prefixes and suffixes.
  • There are three moods: indicativeimperativeconditional.
  • There are two voices: active, passive.


Word order
The neutral word order in Croatian is Subject-Verb-Object. However, other orders are possible since inflectional endings take care of clearly marking grammatical relations and roles in the sentence. Word order is principally determined by topic (what the sentence is about, or old information) and focus (new information). Constituents with old information precede constituents with new information, or those that carry the most emphasis.


The differences between Croatian on the one hand and Serbian and Bosnian on the other, are mostly lexical, even though the bulk of the vocabulary comes from a common Slavic stock. Croatian has preserved more native Slavic words, while Serbian, and to some extent Bosnian, have borrowed more from Russian and Western European languages. For instance, hile Serbian and Bosnian borrowed the names from Western European languages, Croatian uses inherently Slavic words, e.g., Serbian/Bosnian april and Croatian travanjSerbian/Bosnian oktobar and Croatian listopad, literally ‘leaf fall’.

Below are some common phrases in Croatian.

Good bye
Thank you
Excuse me
Man Muškarac

Below are the numerals 1-10 in Croatian.






The original alphabet used by both the Serbs and Croats was Glagolitic. It was created by the monks Cyril and Methodius in the 9th century for Old Church Slavonic, the liturgical language of the time. In the Orthodox areas of Serbia and Bosnia, Glagolitic was replaced by the Cyrillic alphabet in the 12th century.

The Cyrillic alphabet (along with the Latin alphabet, which was adopted in Catholic areas) was reformed by linguists in the 19th century to create a greater one-to-one correspondence between sounds and letters as well as between the symbols in the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. The Serbian Cyrillic alphabet was revised by Vuk Karadžić in the 19th century. The Croatian Latin alphabet was revised shortly afterwards by Ljudevit Gaj who added five extra symbols to the standard Latin alphabet by borrowing letters from Czech and Polish, and inventing the digraphs dž, lj, and nj. The two alphabets map quite well onto each other.

Croats in Croatia, and Bosniaks and Croats in Bosnia and Hercegovina use the Latin alphabet.

A a
B b
C c
Č č
Ć ć
D d
Dž  dž 
Đ đ
E e
F f
G g
H h
I i
J j
K k
L l
Lj lj
M m
N n
Nj nj
O o
P p
R r
S s
Š š
T t
U u
V v
Z z


Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Croatian.

Opća deklaracija o ljudskim pravima
Članak 1
Sva ljudska bića rađaju se slobodna i jednaka u dostojanstvu i pravima. Ona su obdarena razumom i sviješću i trebaju jedno prema drugome postupati u duhu bratstva.
Universal declaration of human rights
Article 1
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.


Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Croatian?
Croatian is considered to be a Category II language in terms of difficulty for speakers of English.

9 Responses to Croatian

  1. Miha

    I’d like to say that, although I respect your effort to describe Croatian language, you did make some mistakes here.

    Firstly, “Ikavian” varietie of “Shtokavian” does not serve as basis for standard Croatian. Standard Croatian was formed in the 19th century and is based on Western Herzegovian dialect, which was “Ijekavian” (Serbian, on the other hand, was based on Eastern Herzegovian, which was also “Ijekavian”, but they took “Ekavian” reflex from “Torlak” dialect”).
    Secondly, ije/e/i are indeed vowels that replaced Slavic “jat”, but it was never pronounced like [æ]. It was pronounced like [ie], and had his own symbol in Cyrillic and Glagolitic alphabet. Pronounciation [æ] is something that is not related to the Croatian language.

    Thirdly, stress. Croatian stress system is complicated indeed. You mostly did a good job explaining it, but I would like to add some more to it. Last syllable should never be stressed in Croatian. It doesn’t matter whether the stress is rising or falling, in standard language it is never stressed. Of course, interjections are an exeption here, simply because it is not natural to “standardize” them. Foreign borrowings are a story to themselves. For example, “nivo” (eng. level) can have two accents. First, the “standard one” would be nìvō. Second, the “less standard one” would be nivȏ. Both can be heard here in Croatia.

    Croatian verbs are described really complex. It seems to me that you copied your description of Russian to Croatian.
    Tenses are many in Croatian. For past we have pluperfect, imperfect, aorist and perfect. Mostly we only use perfect, although many people use pluperfect and aorist aswell. Imperfect is mostly archaic to the vast majority of Croats.
    For present we have present tense. Imperfective and perfective verbs can form present tense, although perfective present tense in that case has a meaning that is not easy to explain if I want to be as short as possible in this comment. For future there are two tenses, one for “normal” future and the other one for use in subordinate clauses.
    Both imperfective and perfective verbs form “normal” future tense with the short form of the auxiliary verb “htjeti” (to want) in the present tense + the infinitive form. For example: Doći ću sutra. = (I) will come tomorrow. (where “doći” is the infinitive form and “ću” is the short present form of ‘htjeti’). Verb “byt” does not exist. In Croatian it is “biti” and is used for the other future tense.
    Also, verbs of motion do not constitute a special subcategory of verbs like in Russian.

    You have some mistakes in common phrases in Croatian: Excuse me = Oprostite. Izvinite is mostly used in Serbian. Man = Čovjek or muž. Čovek is also Serbian form for Croatian čovjek. Number 4 is četiri, not cetiri. You should also remove Cyrillic alphabet from this article because contemporary Croatian is written only in Latin.

    Lijep pozdrav iz Hrvatske.

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for the detailed and helpful comment. We will use it as a basis for making the necessary corrections. Merry Christmas and happy New Year.

  2. Native speaker

    Just one correction. The accurate translation for man is muškarac. Čovjek is the Croatian word for a human and it covers both men and women.

  3. Emina

    Great 🙂 Except one more thing I’d like to note: Letter h /x/ has an English equivalent, it doesn’t sound like ch in “loch” (we don’t have that sound in Croatian), it sounds like “h” in “heaven”. Best regards! 🙂

    • Irene Thompson

      The English phoneme /h/ as in ‘heaven’ is a glottal fricative. Scots Gaelic has /x/,/ɣ/,and /h/. Loch, a Scots Gaelic word has the final consonant /x/. Croatian has a velar fricative /x/. This is based on phonemic analyses of these languages. What are your sources?

      • Emina

        I’m a native speaker. I wrote my comment on the basis that I heard a native Scottish person say “Loch”, and “ch” sounded nothing like our “h”. It was very hard for me to repeat the “ch” sound. Croatian “h” sounds much softer. I don’t want to make mistake in describing the right way of pronouncing, so I’ll give you an example of both sounds. This is Croatian “h”, as in “hvala”:, while a guy from Scotland pronounced “loch” like user ohnat here I hope this helps. 🙂

        • Irene Thompson

          The phonetic realizations of the phoneme /x/ may differ from one language to another, i.e., the degree of friction, tension, etc. Thus a Scottish /x/ may be phonetically different from the Croatian or Russian. Because the Scottish, Croatian, and Russian sounds share the same manner of articulation (fricative) and place of articulation (velar), they are all phonemically notated as /x/ and not /h/, the latter being a fricative too but with a glottal place of articulation. You might want to clearly understand what all the terms “phonemic”, “phonetic”, “manner of articulation”, “place of articulation, “fricative”, “velar”, “glottal” mean.

          Incidentally, /x/ in Russian, for instance, may have less frication before a vowel than before a consonant, e.g. ‘xorosho’ vs. ‘xvala’. I am a native speaker of Russian, and the Scottish /x/ as in Loch also sounds different from the Russian /x/. But this is a matter of phonetics, not phonemics.

          • Emina

            Yes, I didn’t mean to question /x/ and /h/ thing (I apologize if I wasn’t clear on that), but wanted to note that the “loch” example could be misleading without noting that “ch” should be pronounced much softer.


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