Past Tense in Croatian

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Welcome to our Croatian course for beginners! Today we`re going to talk about the Past tense.

When we describe situations that happen to us, we often refer to what happened earlier. This allows us to maintain a conversation. That`s why the ability to express actions in the past tense is one of the foundations in learning any language.

Speaking about Croatian, it should be noted that there are several forms for expressing the past tense, but most often, the perfect tense is used. There are also aorist, imperfect, and plusquamperfect tenses, but they are more commonly found in literary works than in everyday spoken language. And since it`s impossible to cover all the diversity of Croatian grammar in just a few lessons, we will focus on what is necessary in everyday life, namely, what is used most frequently.

In general, the perfect tense expresses actions that were done or completed in the past. Thus, the perfect tense is a construction that can replace more complex tenses in spoken language and can be formed from any verb, regardless of its aspect. The perfect tense in the singular is formed according to the following formula:
Short forms of the present tense of the verb `biti` + verb stem + ending -o (Masculine) / -la (Feminine) / -lo (Neuter)

In the plural, there are slight changes:
Short forms of the present tense of the verb `biti` + verb stem + ending -li (Masculine or Neuter and Feminine) / -le (Only for Feminine)

We discussed the forms of the verb `biti` in the past lesson. We also explained how to determine the verb stem when talking about verbs in the present tense. So why do we need three different endings, "-o / -la / -lo"?

It`s simple: the verb stem + ending -o / -la / -lo is called the past participle of the verb. And the three different endings indicate gender.
Let`s look at an example of forming the past tense from the verb `gledati,` after which everything should become clearer:
(Ja) sam gledao / gledala (I watched)
(Ti) si gledao / gledala (You watched)
(On / Ona / Ono) je gledao / gledala / gledalo (He watched / She watched / It watched)
(Mi) smo gledali / gledale (We watched)
(Vi) ste gledali / gledale (You all watched)
(Oni) su gledali / gledale (They watched)

In the singular, as you can see from the table, the forms of the verb `biti` change, and depending on gender, the endings of the participles change. The principle is the same in the plural. The only nuance is that when we are talking in the plural about a group of people/objects of only feminine gender, there is a separate ending "-le," which does not exist in Russian. Please pay attention to this when using the plural.

One more feature: in the case of reflexive verbs (for example, `roditi se` - to be born), in the third person singular, the form of the verb `biti` is not used to indicate the past tense. This is an exception to the rule, and you need to remember it.
Ona se rodila u Beogradu (She was born in Belgrade)

Similarly, negative forms are formed. Let`s take a look at the verb `gledati` in the case of negation:
(Ja) nisam gledao / gledala (I did not watch)
(Ti) nisi gledao / gledala (You did not watch)
(On / Ona / Ono) nije gledao / gledala / gledalo (He did not watch / She did not watch / It did not watch)
(Mi) nismo gledali / gledale (We did not watch)
(Vi) niste gledali / gledale (You all did not watch)
(Oni) nisu gledali / gledale (They did not watch)

As you can see from the examples, the short form of the verb `biti` is sufficient for affirmation and negation. However, there is a situation where the full form should be used in the past tense, specifically when you ask a question in a way that ensures a clear answer:
Jeste li gledali ovaj film? (Did you watch this movie?)
Jesam (I watched)

We won`t delve into this aspect in detail for now, as we have a big lesson on "questions in Croatian" ahead. But it`s essential to have an understanding of this concept for now.

In summary, despite having several past tenses, the perfect tense is the most common in Croatian. Its basis is the verb `biti` in the short forms of the present tense and the past participle. Good luck!