Can You Count to One in Serbian? It’s Fucking Harder Than You’d Fucking Think!

by  Mose Hayward
LAST UPDATED ON  2020-09-28
PUBLISHED ON  2018-04-06
Jedan americanac sa jednom rakijom — One American with one Serbian brandy, learning to count

Today we’ll learn to count in Serbian / Bosnian / Croatian. But this South Slavic linguistic shitshow is crazy, so all we’re really going to understand is the number one.

If we get really masochistic, we may cover the numbers two, three, maybe even four and more in some other article. This is a grammar post on the number one and is not intended for the faint-hearted. We suggest other posts for learning very basic, essential Serbian and Bosnian.

In this post we’ll stick to Serbian for our contextual examples but note that the rules for the word “one” itself are the same in Croatian and Bosnian.

Here goes.

The Nominative Form of One in Serbian

The base, dictionary form of the word “one” is jedan. Unlike other Serbian numbers, jedan is like a pronominal adjective, meaning that it should agree in case and gender with the noun that follows it.

So here are the male, female, and neuter versions of the nominative case (that is, when modifying the subject of a sentence).

jedan koktajl — one cocktail

jedna rakija — one rakija

jedno vino — one wine

Now let’s see that nominative case in a sentence!

Jedna rakija nije dovoljna za pričanje srpskog. — One brandy is not enough for speaking Serbian (Lit. speaking of Serbian).

The Number One in Other Serbian Cases

But that, of course, is hardly all. The number one gets modified in all three genders according to regular case endings for adjectives. Let’s dive into that disaster together, shall we? For the sake of brevity (though obviously not our sanity) we’ll limit these examples to the female gender.

Jednu rakiju, molim vas. — One rakija, please. (Accusative)

Pitaj jednu ženu. — Ask one woman. (Accusative)

Dajem srce u jednoj srpkinji. — I give my heart to one Serbian. (Dative)

Igram sambu sa jednom ženom. — I dance samba with one woman. (Instrumental)

Ne mogu da živim u samo jednoj zemlji. — I can’t live in just one country. (Locative)

Beži od jedne srbe luckaste. — I run from one crazy Serbian woman. (Genative)

Likewise and so on with the masculine and neuter genders; jedan is modified for each according to the rules for adjectives. If you don’t know them, there are books for learning Serbian, which are obviously better than a blog devoted to worldwide drunken mayhem like this one.

Now think for a moment. What do you do if you have one of something that only exists grammatically in the plural? Hot damn, that’s going to be fun, huh?

Yes, There Are Goddam Plural Forms for the Serbian Word “One” !!!#!#$!%$#&$&

You are perhaps wearing “pants” as you read this, if your life is as boring as mine, but in spite of that S on the word you are not wearing multiple such clothing items over your lower half. “Pants” is a plural-ish word in English.

Likewise, certain Serbian words, like those for “door” or “car” are always considered grammatically plural. Thus, to talk about there being one of such items, you have to use the plural form of the adjective jedan.

jedna vrata — one door (neuter plural form)

jedna kola — one car (neuter plural form)

jedne naočare — one pair of glasses (feminine plural form)

That’s pretty fucked up, huh?

Other Uses for the Serbian Word Jedan

Let’s see what other disasters await.

Jedni as “Some”

Jedan is used for counting one of something, but it can also be used to fill in for Serbian’s infamous, screwball “lack” of an indefinite article (“a” or “an” in English).

And it can thus be put in the plural to have “some”.

Jedni su išli na splav, a drugi u bar. — Some went to the barge (drinking nightclub on the riverside); some went to the bar.

Jedni su učili srpski jezik, a drugi su živeli razumno. — Some learned Serbian, while some lived sanely.

In this sense, you could use the word neki (some) to replace jedni in the sentences above.

One and Only

You can also use the word romantically with a strongly heteronormative monogamous flavoring as jedan jedini, meaning “one and only”. Or it can smack of desperation:

Ti si moja jedna jedina kres kombinacija. — You are my one and only fuck buddy.

One another

Whereas other languages might use more reflexive verbs, Serbian uses jedan drugog or jedna drugu to talk about doing things to each other reciprocally.

One su uvredile jedna drugu. — They insulted each other.

Maybe that is a new verb for you? Hot damn, you gotta take a detour to figure out the imperfective and perfective forms of this prelazni glagol (transitive verb, takes the accusative).

vređati – uvrediti

vređam – uvredim

Let’s give that story a happy ending.

Jedna drugoj su se izvinile. — They apologized to each other.

Here’s a masculine example.

Marko i Miloš poštuju jedan drugog. — Marko and Miloš respect each other.

Note how the first part jedan stays in the nominative while the second part drugog gets modified according to case.

That’s all I can take for today. Someday soon we’ll move on to the number two, and perhaps beyond.

You can learn more about this subject in lovely (if slightly dry) prose with less exasperated swearing on pages 44 and 328 of the masterpiece  Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, a Grammar by Ronelle Alexander.

Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, a Grammar: With Sociolinguistic Commentary
  • Alexander, Ronelle (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 464 Pages - 07/01/2006 (Publication Date) - University of Wisconsin Press (Publisher)

I came up with the examples in this post and checked them with the help of a couple of wonderful Serbian teachers on from Italki, which I also highly recommend for learning Serbian.

Please also consider pouring yourself a shot of rakija — slight drunkenness is proven to drop language ego boundaries and improve learning.

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