Why does Croatian have no articles?

Articles in Croatian

In the majority of European languages indefinite and definite articles – in English the words the and a – are a fundamental and familiar aspect of how the language works. As with many slavic languages, this concept doesn't exist in Croatian.

What are definite and indefinite articles?

An article is a word that gives us some information about the noun that follows. In English, for example, it defines a noun as general or specific (a and the). In German, in addition it reveals the gender of the noun and its case.

The Croatian language, on the other hand, has no articles at all!

How can a language work without articles?

The idea of a language without the words the and a might sound confusing at first, but it quickly becomes intuitive. In fact, not having to think about articles in addition to case declination, gender and pronunciation actually makes learning to speak Croatian simpler.

Here are a few English sentences that use articles, translated into Croatian:

I see a house. The house is red. – Vidim kuću. Kuća je crvena.
Literal translation of Croatian I see house, house is red

There is a dog. The dog is hungry. – Tamo je pas. Pas je gladan.
Literal translation of Croatian There is dog. Dog is hungry.

There is a tent. I’ll sleep in the tent. – Tamo je šator. Spavat ću u šatoru.
Literal translation of Croatian There is tent. I will sleep in tent.

Imagine learning to use the words the and a for the first time ...

Native speakers of many Slavic languages are faced with this new and unfamiliar concept when learning languages like German or English, which is arguably a far bigger challenge than learning to speak without articles.

This is also the reason that stereotypical Russian characters in Hollywood films say things like "I put money in car! You drive car to airport!".

Using indefinite adjectives to denote indefinite nouns

Although there are no articles in Croatian, there are “indefinite adjectives”, which receive special endings when describing indefinite nouns. However, these are not commonly used in everyday communication. We’ll write more about them in one of the future posts.

In the following examples we've underlined the adjectives which are used here once each in their definite and indefinite forms:

This is a new car. The new car’s red. – Ovo je nov auto. Novi auto je crven.

A hat is green. I like the green hat. – Šešir je zelen. Sviđa mi se zeleni šešir.

Today a bought a blue bicycle. I ride the blue bicycle everywhere. – Danas sam kupio plav bicikl. Vozim plavi bicikl posvuda.

Exercise: The following sentences demonstrate omission of articles, how would you say the same things in English?

Kuhar priprema ručak.  Answer The cook is preparing the lunch.

Žena vozi auto.  Answer The woman is driving the car.

Danas spavam u hotelu.  Answer Today I'll sleep in the hotel

U hrvatskom jeziku nema članova.  Answer In the Croatian language there are no articles.

Profesor čita knjigu.  Answer The professor/teacher is reading the book.