How to Sound Polite in Serbian

A sign that says Be Kind next to a heart drawing

Do you wish to sound polite in Serbian but struggle to find the right words? Well, you’re not alone. After all, formal language is more complex than casual speech. Plus, what’s polite in one culture may be rude in another.

But don’t worry; this guide will cover all you need to know about being polite in Serbian and handling formal conversations. Let’s begin!

How to Sound Polite in Serbian: Guide

As we mentioned, what’s polite in one country may be rude in another. For instance, slurping your food is absolutely fine in some Asian cultures. In Europe? Not so much.

Likewise, languages function differently, and judging what’s polite, casual, or rude can be tricky. Still, if you’re staying in Serbia (or only visiting), knowing how to be nice is a helpful skill.

As the saying goes: Lepa reč govzdena vrata otvara! (A nice word can open iron doors). Or, in English — you catch more flies with honey. In other words, if you’re nice to people, they’ll likely treat you nice as well.

All this is even more important if you’re in Serbia for business reasons since it can literally affect your livelihood.

With that said, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty!

1. The Ti vs. Vi Dillema — Persiranje

In Serbian, one of the biggest differences between formal and casual speech lies in the pronoun you use to address the person you’re talking to.

In English, it’s always you. But in Serbian, it can be ti or Vi.

You may know your pronouns already, but here’s a reminder:

  • ti – you (2nd person singular)
  • Vi – you (2nd person plural)

For example:

Singular– Ti si lekar.
(You are a doctor.)

Plural – Vi ste lekari.
(You are doctors.)

However, in a formal situation, it’ll be:

Singular – Vi ste lekar.
(You are a doctor.)

Plural – Vi ste lekari.
(You are doctors.)

So, in formal language, ti becomes vi. This way of speaking is known as persiranje.

As you can see in the above examples, the auxiliary verb si also changes to ste. At the same time, the noun remains singular — lekar.

Now let’s look at this example:

Casual – Ti si lep.
(You are beautiful.)

Formal – Vi ste lepi.
(You are beautiful.)

Since lep (beautiful) is an adjective, it also takes the plural form — lepi.

Subject, Object, and Possessive Pronouns

Now, here are a few examples, including the possessive and objective pronouns.

 

Casual

Formal

 

Subject pron.

Ti si pametna.

Vi ste pametni.

You are smart.

Object pron.

Hvala ti.

Hvala Vam.

Thank you.

Possessive pron.

Tvoj sto je spreman.

Vaš sto je spreman.

Your table is ready.


Notice how in Hvala Vam, the first letter of the pronoun is capitalized? That’s an indicator that it’s the formal form and not plural. Of course, you can’t use uppercase letters when speaking, but, even then, it’s easy to tell from the context.

Omitting Pronouns

Finally, Serbian often omits pronouns. In that case, verbs and adjectives can tell you if someone’s using casual or formal speech.

Casual

Formal

 

Kako si?

Kako ste?

How are you?

Kako se zoveš?

Kako se zovete?

What’s your name?

Baš si duhovit.

Baš ste duhoviti.

You are very humorous.

When Should You Use Formal Pronouns?

We’ve covered how to speak formally, but when should you do it? You’ve probably noticed by now that Serbs are pretty easy-going and friendly. So, formal talk is reserved for specific situations, like:

  • Business situations (speaking to your higher-ups or clients)
  • Talking to your teachers at school or university
  • Conversing with people you don’t know well, especially if they are older than you

If you’re unsure whether you should talk to someone formally, it’s safer to use polite language. Then, if they prefer to be casual, they’ll say one of these phrases:

  • Nemoj / ne moraš da mi persiraš
  • Hajde da pređemo na ti
A woman holding a man's hand at a cafe.
Lepi ste! Ona: Hajde da pređemo na ti😍

2. Thanks, Sorry, Please

Whether you’re at work, on the street, or hanging out with friends, saying thanks, please, and sorry will help you sound polite.

 

Casual

Formal

Thanks!

Hvala.

Hvala.

Thank you very much!

Mnogo ti hvala!

Mnogo Vam hvala!

Sorry.

Izvini.

Izvinite.

Excuse me.

Izvini.

Izvinite.

Please.

Molim te.

Molim Vas.

You’re welcome.

Nema na čemu.

Molim.

 

You can see from the above table that Serbs use one word for sorry and excuse me. While that may seem confusing, it’s easy to see the difference in the context.

For instance, if you accidentally step on someone’s foot, you’ll say: Izvinite.

But if you want to know the time and don’t have a watch, you can ask someone: Izvinite, koliko je sati?

When you accidentally on purpose eat someone else’s piece of cake

3. Greetings

Likewise, whether you’re speaking to your boss or best friend, you should use proper greetings.

Formal Greetings

Here are the most common formal greetings in Serbian:

  • Dobar dan – good afternoon
  • Dobro jutro – good morning
  • Dobro veče – good evening
  • Doviđenja – goodbye
  • Laku noć – good night
  • Prijatno – have a nice day

Causal Greetings

Next, let’s cover some casual ways to say hello and goodbye:

  • Zdravo – hello
  • Ćao – hi
  • Vidimo se –see you
  • Ćao – bye


Conveniently, ćao can be both hi and buy, so just by learning one word, you’ve covered two greetings.

4. Using Titles

In Serbian, we don’t use titles that often. However, they can come in handy when you don’t know someone’s name, but you don’t want to say: Hey, you over there, with a big mustache, I’m talking to you!

Instead, you can refer to people as:

  • gospodine – Mr.
  • gospođo – Mrs.
  • gospođice – Ms.

 

In addition, when talking to people in certain professions, you should refer to them by their title:

  • doktore (m.) | doktorka (f.) – doctor
  • profesore (m.) | profesorka (f.) – professor
  • nastavniče (m.) | nastavnice (f.) – teacher

5. Avoiding Directness

An easy way to sound more polite in Serbian is to avoid speaking directly. In particular, you should start your sentences with — da li bi (could you/would you).

For instance, instead of saying:

Hoćeš da idemo u šetnju?
(Do you want to go for a walk?)

Say:

Da li bi išla u šetnju sa mnom?
(Would you go for a walk with me?)

Or, instead of saying:

Pozajmi mi pare.
(Lend me some money.)

Say:

Da li bi mogao da mi pozajmiš pare?
(Could you lend me some money?)

6. Polite Phrases in Serbian

No matter the setting, there are some phrases that Serbs use when they want to be nice to others. If you make it a habit to use them yourself, you’ll sound more polite with little effort.

Here are the expressions you should add to your word bank:

  • Prijatno! – Enjoy your meal!
  • Nazdravlje! – Bless you! (when someone sneezes)
  • Lep provod! – Have a nice time! / Enjoy!
  • Srećno! – Good luck!
  • Čestitam! – Congratulations!
  • Živeli! – Cheers!
Two people at a party, toasting with wine glasses.
Živeli! 🍸

Extra Tips: How to Be Polite in Serbia

Of course, it’s not all about how you speak — your actions matter just as much. Luckily, good manners in Serbia aren’t that different from the rest of Europe. Although, Serbs are less concerned with punctuality than, say, Germans.

Anyway, follow these tips if you want to leave a good impression!

Shake Hands

When greeting someone you don’t know well, you should shake their hand. If it’s a close friend, though, you can kiss them on the cheek or go for a hug.

Don’t Be (Too) Late

Again, Serbs aren’t the most punctual crowd. Still, you don’t want to be late for work or your business meeting. For casual events, most people won’t mind if you’re 5 or 10 minutes late.

Either way, if you do end up being late, you can fix it with a simple apology. Here’s how you can say I’m sorry I’m late in Serbian:

Casual: Izvini što kasnim.

Formal: Izvinite što kasnim.

Finally, the following phrase works well whether you’re late to work, school, or a party:

Izvinjavam se što kasnim.

Open Gifts Immediately

When you receive a present, open it in front of the person who gave it to you. And, of course, say thanks!

A man holding a gift in his hand.
When in Serbia, open gifts immediately and say hvala 🎁

Visiting Someone? Bring a Gift

If you’re invited to someone’s home, it’s good manners to bring a small gift, nothing too fancy, though. For instance, a chocolate or bottle of wine is more than enough. And even though your host will say that you shouldn’t have (Nije trebalo!), it’ll help you leave a good impression.

No Shoes Indoors

Most Serbs don’t wear shoes inside their homes. So, unless your hosts tell you not to, leave the shoes at the entrance, and you’ll probably get a pair of indoor slippers.

Being Polite in Serbian Isn’t Hard

Finally, we’ve covered the most important aspects of being polite in Serbian. As Serbs say, nije teško biti fin (it’s not hard being nice). And indeed, being nice is about little things, like saying hvala and izvini or holding the door for someone. 

And if you can’t nail the formal expressions from the get-go — no worries! It’s the thought that matters. Besides, since Serbian isn’t your native language, no one will judge you if you don’t use formal pronouns perfectly. Just keep practicing, and you’ll be fine.

Need a nudge in the right direction? Book our online Serbian free trial lesson, and we’ll create a customized learning plan to meet your unique needs! Whether you wish to use the language for work, traveling, or talking to your Serbian in-laws, we’ll help you get there!

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