9 Common Serbian Phrases You Won’t Find in the Textbook

A woman sitting on the bed with books flying around her.

Let’s face it! Your Serbian language guidebook will only take you so far. If you want to nail all the ins and outs of the language, you need to dig deeper and pick up real-life common Serbian phrases you won’t find in the textbook.

Admittedly, these gems might be hard to discover. But once you do, they’ll spice up your conversations, helping you sound less bookish and more natural. Besides, learning real-world phrases won’t make you yawn, unlike your dusty textbook.

So, get ready to have a blast because we’ll lay out the common Serbian phrases you won’t find in the textbook.

Serbian Phrases You Won't Find in the Textbook

As we said, there are some things you just can’t learn from a textbook. If you’re asking Where the heck should I learn them then?, we have a few ideas. For starters, if you’re staying in Serbia, you’re in luck! Whether you’re shopping, getting a haircut, or chilling at a café, you’ll expose yourself to the language and pick things up naturally.

But even if you’re not, you can create an immersive environment for yourself. Namely, following Serbian influencers on Instagram, watching YouTube videos, or chatting with Serbian people on language exchange apps are all practical ways to learn authentic Serbian.

At last, here’s our list!

1. Ma idi (bre)!

First off, here’s a phrase you can use in many situations. In most cases, though, it expresses surprise or disbelief. For instance, if someone told you they won the lottery, had a car accident, or lost their wallet, you can reply with a simple — ma idi!

And when something is extra shocking, adding bre to this phrase will help you express that — Ma idi, bre!

In addition, this expression is a life-saver when you’re having trouble focusing during a conversation. So, if a friend is talking your ear off about their new boyfriend while your thoughts are miles away, just nod and throw in an occasional Ma idi! That way, you can fake interest in even the most boring topics.

2. Marš!

Now, saying marš to someone isn’t exactly nice. By all means, steer clear of it on any formal occasion. Still, it’s a common phrase, so you should know how to use it.

In simple terms, marš means get lost or get the hell out of here. Naturally, people say this when they’re angry or upset. If you want to tell someone to get bent, this phrase will help you do that without actually cursing.

In addition, you can use it as a playful reply when someone’s teasing you, for instance. Here’s how that might look:

Your friend: Taj džemper ti stoji kao piletu sise.

(Literal meaning – that sweater looks on you like boobs on a chicken. Actual meaning – it looks terrible in you.)

You: Marš!

(Get bent!)

An angry-looking emoji artwork.

3. Ma nemoj!

While ma is a particle without exact meaning, it usually expresses mild frustration and similar feelings. Nemoj means don’t.

In short, you can use Ma nemoj! as a reply to anything you find untrue, ridiculous, or unacceptable. For example:

Daughter: Mama, nisam gladna. Neću da večeram.

(Mom: I’m not hungry. I don’t want to eat dinner.)

Mom: Ma nemoj! Ima da jedeš i da tražiš još!

(You don’t say! You’re gonna eat and ask for more!)

4. Kakav si ti car/carica!

This one literally means You’re such an emperor/empress, and it’s a compliment that young people (read: teenagers) often give each other.

So, if you say a really funny joke, your young friend might say: Kakva si ti carica!

However, things might get tricky since this phrase can also be used ironically. So, if you have too much rakija one night and do silly stuff, an eye-witness might tell you: Kakav si ti car! In this case, it’s far from a compliment, so instead of saying hvala, you can reply with a simple marš!

5. Malo sutra

Little tomorrow? What the hack is that? Before we explain, take a look at this exchange:

Son: Tata, kada češ da mi kupiš auto?

(Dad, when are you going to buy me a car?)

Dad: Malo sutra, sine.

If you’ve never heard this expression, you’d likely assume that the dad will buy his son a car tomorrow. But Serbian sons know that malo sutra means never ever.

So, next time someone asks you when you’ll do something that you don’t want to do, just say — malo sutra!

6. Nema frke

This one means no problem! Sure, you can say nema problema, and it’ll mean the same. But if you want to mix things up and use young people’s slang, go with nema frke.

For instance, if someone accidentally steps on your foot and says sorry, you can be all cool and understanding and say Nema frke!

7. Nigde veze

Imagine someone telling you about their dream, and as is usually the case, nothing makes sense. In fact, it’s all gibberish. Well, saying nigde veze (no connection) will help you express that feeling.

Conveniently, you can use this one whenever something makes no sense, whether it be a movie, a made-up story, or something happening to you.

8. Ko te šiša

Another head-scratcher, this phrase has little to do with the original meaning — Who cuts your hair? Instead, it’s a common way to say You got what you deserve!, or Who cares about you?

To illustrate, let’s say your friend is always complaining about their relationship but refuses to change anything. Meanwhile, all your well-intentioned advice is going to waste. Once you’re fed up, you might say — Ma ko te šiša! Radi šta hoćeš. (Do what you like, I’m done!).

9. Jok

Originally from Turkish, jok is a common way to say no in Serbian. For example:

Grandma: Sine, jesi gladan?

(Sweety, are you hungry?)

Grandson: Jok, baba. Već sam jeo.

(Nope, grandma. I already ate.)

Meme with Drake and words ne and jok in Serbian
Drejk zna! 🙂

But be careful. Depending on context and tone, jok can sometimes be used ironically, and in that case, the meaning is quite the opposite. For example:

Grandma: Sine jesi li gladan?

(Sweeaty, are you hungry?)

Grandson: Jok ti si. Umirem od gladi.

(Why are you even asking? I’m starving.)

Of course, these nuances are hard to spot. But, body language can give you a clue whether the speaker means to say nope or hell yeah.

Speak Like a Serb With Common Serbian Phrases You Won't Find in the Textbook

There you go — top common Serbian phrases you won’t find in the textbook. If you learn how to use these, you’ll not only sound more natural — it’ll also be easier to make sense of what Serbs are trying to say to you.

As you might imagine, we’ve merely scratched the surface with these phrases. To be fair, there are too many of them to fit into a single article — or ten articles, for that matter. So, you know the drill. Get out there and pick up as many phrases as you can.

And if you ever run into an expression that you can’t decipher, just book a class, and our teachers will gladly solve that mystery for you.

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