Serbian, Bosnian, and Croatian have a way of showing who belongs to what that corresponds to apostrophe+S in English. It is called the derived possessive adjective.
- Milan’s rule — Milanovo pravilo
- Marija’s pool — Marijin bazen
As you can see the endings are not quite as uniform as the English version, but as Serbian language things go, this one is not too horrifying to learn.
In this article I’ll cover only making possessive adjectives from nouns, not the pronominal adjectives like njen, njihov (her, their), etc. This is upper-beginner material and assumes the learner is aware of the existence of cases and a bit of basic vocabulary.
Let’s take a look.
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Forming Serbian Possessive Adjectives
Let’s stick with our possessive heroes, Milan and Marija, and see how we can have those two own some stuff.
- Take the stem of the possessor (remove any vowels).
- Add –ov if the possessor is masculine or neuter, and –in if the possessor is feminine.
- Add the appropriate endings for the gender, number, and case of the thing being possessed. Here are some examples with various genders and numbers in the nominative.
- Milanov sastanak, Milanova predrasuda, Milanovo stanje, Milanove kokice — Milan’s date, Milan’s prejudice, Milan’s situation, Milan’s popcorn
- Marijin sastanak, Marijina predrasuda, Marijino stanje, Marijine kokice — Marija’s date, Marija’s prejudice, Marija’s situation, Marija’s popcorn
Exceptions and adjustments:
- If the masculine possessor ends in a soft consonant, use the ending -ev instead.
- učiteljeva verenica — teacher’s fiancée (učitelj — teacher)
- Đorđeva crkva — Đorđe’s church
- Masculine things ending in -a get the feminine-style possessive ending -in.
- tatina rakija — dad’s rakija
- dedina rakija — grandpa’s rakija (the best rakija that one traditionally drinks, the brandy made by one’s grandfather, typically in the countryside)
- Nikolina klopa — Nikola’s grub (food)
- Acina džigerica — Aca’s liver
- If the stem ends in -k or -c, that letter changes to -č.
- Miličina zgrada — Milica’s building
- majčin verenik — mother’s fiancé (from majka — mother)
- If the stem of the possessor already ends in -ov, add -ljev after that for the possessive.
- Čekovljeve knige — Chekhov’s books
- Jakovljeva devojka — Jakov’s girlfriend
We’re dealing with adjectives here, and all of the examples we’ve seen above are in the nominative. You will, of course, in addition make any changes as required by Serbian adjective case endings (a story to explain ad nauseum on another day). But here’s a quick example.
- Ne poznajem Marinog muža. — I don’t know Mara’s husband. (Adjective in the accusative masculine ending for a human)
These Forms Are Limited; When Not to Use These Possessive Adjectives Derived from Nouns
These forms are only used when individual people and things possess something.
So what if there is more than one fiancée, let’s say two, and the two of them are having a wedding?
You cannot combine using the above form:
- verenici — fiancés
- svadba — wedding
verenici????? svadba— the fiancés’ wedding
Instead you simply use the genitive to talk about it like it’s the wedding “of the fiancés”):
- svadba verenika — the fiancés’ wedding (this could also be interpreted as the wedding of the single male fiancé, since the genitive masculine singular is the same as the genitive plural ending in this case)
Other examples with plural owners of things:
- igračke tih majumuna — those monkeys’ toys
- projekat navijača — the fans’ project
- soba sestra — the sisters’ room
Likewise if you have a full name (first plus last) or an adjective plus a noun as the possessor: You must just use the genitive.
- mržnja nezdravog predsednika — the unhealthy president’s hate (lit. the hate of the unhealthy president)
- sat televizijske emisije — the television program’s time (lit. the time of the television program)
- pesme Gorana Bregovića — Goran Bregović’s songs (lit. the songs of Goran Bregović)
Further Practice in Learning Serbian Possessive Adjectives
I have not covered Serbian possessive pronominal adjectives — hopefully someday soon. But you may want to take those on directly before or after learning the material covered here, as they function similarly and can be practiced together.
A good way to practice Serbian possessive adjectives is to:
- Make a list of Serbians whom you know (or just a list of nice, common Serbian names like Miloš and Jelena).
- Make a list of the things they own, following the rules above, to say things like Miloš’s shirt, Jelena’s beer, etc.
- Try to also add in context about the things that is true to life and the things you have experienced: Jelenino pivo je gorko. (Jelena’s beer is bitter.) This makes the phrases memorable and more interesting, and assures that you’re rehearsing vocabulary you’d actually want to have in Serbian.