Outshine Native Speakers: 11 Mistakes Serbian Speakers Make

An elderly man covering his mouth with his hand.

Near-native fluency is every language learner’s dream. To many, it may seem like a pipe dream. But this doesn’t mean native speakers make no mistakes. In reality, you’re less careful about your mother tongue, so it’s easy to go wrong. Then, what are the common mistakes Serbian speakers make?

Since Serbs tend to make similar mistakes, consider this article a cheat sheet you can use to outshine them. So, here are the 11 most common mistakes Serbian speakers make.

11 Mistakes Serbian Speakers Make

1. kući sam

(correct – kod kuće sam)

When asked about their whereabouts, many Serbian speakers answer: “Kući sam.” It’s quick and concise. Also, it’s incorrect. The proper answer is “Kod kuće sam.” Since we’re talking about location, we should use the preposition kod (at).

For example:

✘ Gde si? Kući sam.

✔ Gde si? Kod kuće sam.

(Where are you? I’m at home.)

On the other hand, kući implies a direction. Because of that, you can say: “Idem kući” (I’m going home).

A girl sitting in an armchair using her smartphone.
Gde si? Kod kuće sam.

2. u vezi toga

(correct – u vezi sa tim)

When you want to say something is related to something or is about something, you should always use the conjunction sa. And since many Serbs don’t know this rule or don’t bother to speak properly, this is your chance to outshine them. So always say: “u vezi sa tim.”

For example:

✘ Hoću da ti kažem nešto u vezi toga.

✔ Hoću da ti kažem nešto u vezi sa tim.

(I want to tell you something about that.)

3. gledam televizor

(correct – gledam televiziju)

If you’re watching TV, you should say: “gledam televiziju.” Still, many Serbian speakers make a mistake and say: “gledam televizor,” which means they’re looking at the device, not a TV program.

Sure, in some cases, you may be looking at the device. For instance, if you’re at a shop looking to buy a TV, you can say: “gledam televizor.” But in most situations, you’re more likely to watch the program than to be looking at the device.

For example:

✘ Volim da gledam televizor.

✔ Volim da gledam televiziju.

(I like watching TV.)

two feet on a table, in font of a TV.
Gledam televiziju 📺

4. idem sa kolima

(correct – idem kolima)

Many Serbs tend to say: “idem sa kolima,” to explain they’re traveling by car. However, the conjunction sa denotes company, not an instrument. So, if your car is not your travel companion, but merely a means of transportation, you better go with idem kolima.

For example:

✘ Idem na posao sa kolima.

✔ Idem na posao kolima.

(I go to work by car.)

5. gde ideš?

(correct – kuda ideš?)

To understand why the first phrase is incorrect, you need to know that gde implies a fixed location. In other words, you can’t use gde if you’re asking about direction or any movement. So if you want to ask where someone’s going, you better use kuda.

For example:

✘ Gde ideš sutra?

Kuda ideš sutra?

(Where are you going tomorrow?)

6. trebam/-š/-mo da ...

(correct – treba da)

Unlike most verbs in Serbian, the verb trebati (should/need to) doesn’t change depending on the subject. Many Serbs forget this, so they end up saying: “Ja trebam da…” or “Ti trebaš da…” However, all you need to do is keep it simple and always say: “Treba da…”

For example:

✘ Trebam da platim kiriju.

Treba da platim kiriju

(I need to pay my rent.)

7. ja bi

(correct – ja bih)

There’s no dilemma here – ja bih is the only correct option. So why do many Serbian native speakers make this mistake? Ja bi is shorter and easier to say, and most people don’t notice it. Until you write it down. So basically, you should especially pay attention to this rule when writing or texting.

For example:

✘ Ja bi volela da putujem po Srbiji.

Ja bih volela da putujem po Srbiji.

(I would like to travel around Serbia.)

8. odmaram, šetam

(correct – odmaram se, šetam se)

In English, it would be weird to say: “I’m resting myself,” or “I’m walking myself.” But, in Serbian, it’s not weird at all. In fact, it’s the only correct way to say these phrases. The reason? Unlike in English, these verbs are reflexive in Serbian, so they pair with a reflexive pronoun se.

For example:

✘ Odmaram posle posla.

Odmaram se posle posla.

(I’m taking a rest after work.)

 

✘ Šetam pored reke svaki dan.

Šetam se pored reke svaki dan.

(I take a walk by the river every day.)

A lady on a pink sofa reading a book.
Odmaram se posle posla 🙂

9. sa nikim

(correct – ni sa kim)

How do you say: “with nobody” in Serbian? If we try to translate directly, with is sa, and nobody is niko. So, if we use the correct case, we get sa nikim. However, in addition to being incorrect, it also sounds funny or even childish. So if that’s not your intention, you better say: “ni sa kim.” This is just a rule that applies to both negative pronouns in Serbian (niko, ništa) – if you have to use them with a preposition, the formula is:

ni + (preposition) + declinable part of a pronoun in the right case

 

For example:

✘ Ne želim da pričam sa nikim.

✔ Ne želim da pričam ni sa kim.

(I don’t want to talk to anybody.)

10. siđi dole

(correct – siđi)

Have you ever heard about pleonasm? Pleonasam is when you use more words than necessary to convey a certain meaning. For instance, siđi means come down, and dole means down. So, what you’re saying is: “Come down down.” It’s not a huge mistake, but it’s still redundant, so you better go with siđi.

For example:

(context: you’re climbing a tree and your mom scolds you)

✘ Siđi dole. Povredićeš se.

Siđi. Povredićeš se.

(Come down. You’ll hurt yourself.)

11. je l’ / jer

This is a classic their/they’re situation. Both je l’ and jer are correct. However, native speakers sometimes mix them up. But since they’re not interchangeable and are completely unrelated, try avoiding this mixup.  

Je l’ is short for je li, which we use to ask questions.

For example:

✘ Jer idemo sutra u bioskip?

Je l’ idemo sutra u bioskop?

(Are we going to the cinema tomorrow?)

 

On the other hand, jer (because) is a conjunction that introduces a cause.

For example:

✘ Idem da spavam je l’ sam umorna.

✔ Idem da spavam jer sam umorna.

(I’m going to bed because I’m tired.)

Common Serbian Mistakes and When to Make Them

Now that you know the most common mistakes Serbian speakers make, it’s easy to avoid them. But should you avoid them at all costs?

Admittedly, some of these mistakes aren’t horrible and might even make your Serbian sound more natural. Also, without mistakes, there’s no progress.

And, of course, our teachers can tell you all about Serbian mistakes and help you correct them. So, why don’t you book a lesson and take your Serbian to the next level?

2 Responses

  1. Баш након тога што сам прочитао овај пост, прочитао сам у једном мојих уџбеника реченицу “гледам телевизор” 🙂 разумем да све грешке нису тако страшне! Пратим вас овде и на тиктоку, хвала за све!

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