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Learning Serbian: The Definitive Chart of Serbian Cases 🇷🇸

Focused on a combination of comprehensiveness, simplicity, and ease of use. Get the world’s best learner’s chart for the seven cases of Serbian grammar: nominative, accusative, genitive, locative, dative, instrumental, and vocative.

See also: Serbian verbs.

Serbian is a hard language for native English speakers. Reading and writing Serbian is super easy (since its spelling is phonetic, and it can be written in Latin script in addition to Cyrillic), but like other Slavic languages, the grammar is no joke. The US Department of State has been teaching languages to US diplomats for 70+ years, and based on their experience they helpfully break down the average duration needed for students to achieve proficiency in 66 different languages. Serbian (listed as Serbo-Croatian) is a “category 3 language,” surpassed in difficulty only by Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. While Italian or Spanish, for example, take English speakers ~600 class hours on average to learn to a reasonable level, Serbian takes ~1,100.

Since I’m also learning Japanese, I’ll note that contrary to popular belief, spoken Japanese is easy compared to many other languages—certainly easier than Serbian. What’s not to love about a language with no cases, genders, plurals (!), or tones, almost no use of pronouns (pronouns in Serbian are hard), only two tenses (past and present/future), verb conjugation that works the same for all subjects, almost no irregular verbs, and a simple pronunciation system. The challenge and reputation of Japanese comes mostly from how it’s just so different than English, and from reading and writing all those damn kanji. 幸運を祈る!

Perhaps the thing that makes Serbian the most difficult for English speakers is its seven cases (English has none, except with pronouns where you get e.g. they/them/theirs). Having so many cases would be hard enough on its own, but then the cases go and mix with Serbian’s three different genders and singular vs plural. Plus there are different case declensions for nouns and adjectives.

I’m still very much a beginner in Serbian, but while studying Serbian grammar under fabulous teacher Neda Djurovic at the Serbian Language and Culture Workshop in Belgrade, I gradually built up my own chart to fully capture the details I needed. I made this since I couldn’t find existing charts that were easy to follow but also comprehensive. It includes singular and plural word endings for the seven cases and three genders, along with many exceptions, prepositions, and more. Numerous Serbian natives and language learners have told me it’s the most comprehensive and well organized chart for Serbian cases they’ve ever seen.

Here it is, in hopes that it helps you, too. I’m sharing this under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, which means you should feel free to give it away, reuse it, or adapt it with appropriate credit. Click the image to view the full PDF.

Serbian cases chart
Serbian Cases Chart PDF (PPTX for editing; A4 size PDF)

How can I improve this in future versions? Did I make any mistakes? Are there important aspects missing? Leave a comment to let me know!

Bonus: Here are a couple fun, related videos from friend, YouTuber, and Serbian language lover Liz Duong (the videos are in Serbian, so turn on English subtitles): 10 Reasons Why Serbian is Difficult for English Speakers and 10 Reasons Why Serbian is Better Than English.

Version History

  • V2.0 (2021-07-14): Corrections, changed the order of cases, and other tweaks.
  • V3.1 (2021-07-21): Added the -i declension, complications for genitive plurals, more details for vocative and instrumental, and more.

Want more Serbian language charts? See my definitive chart for Serbian verbs.

Visiting Serbia? Check out my recommendations for what to see and do in Belgrade.

11 thoughts on “Learning Serbian: The Definitive Chart of Serbian Cases 🇷🇸”

  1. Reddit
    It already looks really great I’d say! And it is a really good idea.

    There are only three things coming to my mind.

    1. I didn’t see female words in there that end with a consonant. They have their own declination but it doesn’t have many endings and is relatively easy (eg. stvar).

    2. There are two declinations of adjectives but you don’t need the other one often, as far as my teacher said.

    3. I wouldn’t say that drvo, ime and such are irregular, they just follow a different declination pattern which is regular in itself.

    But I think it would maybe lose its comprehensiveness if you would include these so I would just leave it like that.

  2. Reddit
    Ha ha ha, this is nuts! Hats off for making the effort, I would never be able to do so.

    I learned Russian it was a part of my middle school (grade 5-8) curriculum. I remember how frustrating it was having a vocabulary that is so similar but also having to re-learn cases, adverbs, preposition rules. It drove me nuts. Nothing caught on at the end.

    Good luck to you!

  3. Reddit
    Hey Steve! Fancy seeing you here 😁 I got to say, this has got to be the most comprehensive and well organised list I’ve seen on cases ever!

    I would also include the declensions for dece and brate because they have quite unique exceptions that just have to be rote learnt.

    Also would agree with the comment for the feminine words ending in consonants like, ljubav, um and most words that end in “OST”.
    Also I vaguely remember that there are a group of words that include oči for example that have some rules in the genitive form that make it become očiju.

    You should post your final version in the Serbian language subreddit too!

  4. Great chart, just two suggestions:

    I don’t know why you don’t put dative/locative and instrumental side by side. If you did that it would be obvious that they are identical in plural.

    Another suggestion: you don’t need “questions” for cases. They are useful only for native speakers who know forms already, and can immediately produce a noun form given a question.

    Minor things:

    među is also used with ins. (među lišćem). Likewise pod, nad, pred (Jazavac pred sudom).

    Not all words in -an have the movable a. duvan, bostan, Balkan, stan,… adjectives kuvan, slan… the same is for -ac: madrac, mudrac or -ar: požar, star, many words on -ar for people (cvećar, pekar, zidar, neimar, matematičar…) The feature is irregular.

    [For reading Serbian] it’s not completely trivial. First, the place of stress is not marked. Second, most speakers in Serbia clearly distinguish short from long vowels, esp. when stressed. But it’s not visible in spelling. So all texbooks for foreigners introduce additional marks for stress, many for length, and I haven’t mentioned rising and falling stress…

    Endings -ovi/-evi is added to some disyllabic nouns as well: pojas-evi, labud-ovi, galeb-ovi etc, and to many nouns that have 2 syllables in nominative, but not to all:

    • vetar, vepar, lakat – vetrovi, veprovi, laktovi
    • but: metar, glumac, nokat – metri, glumci, nokti

    The ending -evi is added to nouns in -c but it changes that -c to -č: zec – zečevi, stric – stričevi, princ – prinčevi

    Also, some nouns in -s get the -evi ending: nos-evi, pojas-evi

    This is also imprecise when describing k – ci, g – zi in masc. plural: “Applies for all cases, if after changes the word ends with “i”.”

    It’s actually if an ending added starts with -i, e.g. jezik – jezic-ima, putnik – putnic-ima etc.

    Also, you have left out all the complications in gen.pl.: bajka – bajki, majka – majki, sat – sati, not to mention pismo – pisama, sestra – sestara, metak – metka – meci but gen.pl. metaka..
    You also left out the whole i-declension (noć, reč, smrt, bolest, radost, jesen, novost, ludost, misao) – a lot of feminine nouns with specific endings…

    Distinguishing dative and locative pronouns – actually, dative and locative case – makes no sense for contemporary Serbian. Differences in stress in some nouns found by Vuk Karadžić are basically gone.

    [More:]

    It’s a good stuff but it could be both improved a bit and simplified a lot. For example, for ALL neuter nouns there’s a rule nom = acc in both singular and plural. The rule is NOT -e in acc for č, š, ž etc but nom = acc. If you look like that then you see bure, more, dete, lane, pile… the same in nom and acc., you don’t have to think about endings at all. So just “= NOM” is enough.

    I strongly suggest the placement of cases N A G DL I. Then it becomes obvious that nom = acc for many nouns (all feminine plural nouns!) and dat/loc = ins. You can then merge columns or just write = DAT/LOC for ins.pl. And so on.

    And, no, this is not definitive by any means. Many nouns move stress in cases, they move in plural, some endings are pronounced with long vowels, some with short…

    [For sto ‘table’] the plural stolovi is not irregular. The noun sto gets the -l- whenever it gets ANY ending. Like na stolu, pod stolom, kod stola. So the plural stolovi, stolove etc are fully regular. It’s just that sto gets ‘extended’ whenever it gets and ending, while pas ‘dog’ and pisac ‘writer’ get ‘shortened’ (psa, psu, pisca, piscu). Nouns can have other types of ‘extension’, like vreme – u vremenu, iz vremena… (likewise: rame, pleme, vime, ime…). This property is not linked to plurals or any particular case — it’s a property of the noun.
    [From accusative] this is likely a simple mixup:

    • u — to (with open space), on (day of week)
    • na — to (with closed space or event)

    u is actually with closed spaces (u sobu, u dvoranu) and na with open (na dvorište, na polje), tops of surfaces (na sto) and events/activities. This is regardless which case follows (acc or dat/loc)

  5. Thanks for the amazingly detailed and fantastic feedback, Daniel! I’ll definitely incorporate parts of it in future versions.

    (Since you posted this as a series of many comments spread across Reddit and my blog, I’ve gone ahead and edited your comment above to combine them all into one place to make it easier to follow. I hope you don’t mind!)

  6. I’ve just updated the chart, incorporating much of the feedback I’ve received since first posting this. I’ve also marked the sections of comments above that I’ve addressed in at least a minor way. E.g. I changed the word “irregular” to “special”, but didn’t list all the examples of additional outliers.

  7. Hi Steven! That’s an excellent summary.

    You could add that -ima ending in masculine plural (Locative, Dative and Instrumental) also changes K, G, H to C, Z, S.
    Examples:

    radnik – radnici – radnicima
    psiholog – psiholozi – psiholozima
    tepih – tepisi – tepisima

  8. Thanks, Magdalena! That was called out implicitly where I mentioned the rule applies to all added endings that start with -i, but I’ve gone ahead and updated the chart to describe it explicitly and I used your examples. I’ve also added the rule for vocative masculine plurals.

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