Introduction to Noun Case Endings

To comprehend sentences correctly, the different ways in which nouns are used has to be understood. They have several different roles which are called 'cases'. Cases of nouns are expressed through word order (eg: by following verbs and prepositions) and/or by distinctive word endings.

In English, we must rely on word order to understand how a noun is acting, as word endings have virtually died out. There are a handful of survivors, such as a few pronouns which retain their case endings such as 'he', 'him' and 'his'.
In Serbo Croat, on the other hand, nouns must use distinct endings expressing seven different grammatical concepts. Each of these endings has several variations depending on the gender and number of the noun.

Example English Sentence: 'He sees him.'

This sentence has a typical simple structure of Subject-Verb-Object. The subject is the noun that is doing the action. This is in the Nominative case. The object on which the verb is acting takes the Accusative case so the ending of 'he' changes to 'him'.

Example Srpski Sentence: 'On crta sliku' [He draws a picture]

'On' is performing the action and is nominativ whilst the object of that action, the picture (slika), is akusativ. Therefore the sentence is constructed as follows:

nominativ verbakuzativ

If 'in the studio' (atelje) is added to the sentence it must take the lokativ case to denote location:

nominativ verbakuzativlokativ
Oncrtaslikuu ateljeu

If he uses a pencil (olovka) then the instrumental case is used to denote 'with' and if the picture is of a woman (žena) then the genitiv case is used to denote 'of':

nominativ verbinstrumentalakuzativgenitivlokativ
Oncrtaolovkomslikuženeu ateljeu
Hedrawswith a pencila pictureof a womanin the studio

The Seven Cases in Serbian

The full list of seven cases, with a simplified explanation is:

Nominativ The subject of a verb
GenitivDenoting 'of'
DativDenotes recipient
AkuzativThe direct object of a verb.
VokativFor addressing someone
InstrumentalDenotes 'with'
LokativDenotes location

Note: The normal form of the word listed in dictionaries is the nominativ. For a list of all the various endings see Noun Declensions. Pronouns change also. Adjectives have changeable endings which have to match the case of the noun they describe. See Adjective Declensions for a list.

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