Serbian Teacher Explains: Present Tense in the Serbian Language

A young boy holding a book, with a surprised face.

If you are studying Serbian and you’ve already mastered the basics, it’s time for some grammar. But, at this point, all the tenses and verb forms look like a terrifying monster ready to devour your motivation and force you to give up. So, will the present tense in the Serbian language be the breaking point?

Luckily, we have good news. Present tense in Serbian is not only manageable, but you already know how to use it, you’re just not aware of it yet. For complete understanding, we’ll show you how to form the present tense, as well as when to use it. Plus, we’ll include plenty of examples. So, dive right in!

Why You Shouldn’t Fear the Present Tense

Your first encounter with the grammar of a new language is rarely fun. Then it’s no wonder you’ve been putting it off. But would it help if you knew you’d already been using the present tense? 

Chances are the first thing you learned in Serbian is how to introduce yourself. So, what’s the most common way to say your name?

Ja sam [name]. 

There you go, a perfect example of the present tense. 

Another good news is that, unlike English, Serbian has only one present tense – prezent. Since there’s only one, it has to be versatile. For this reason, prezent can express:

  1. Habitual actions
  2. Actions occurring at the moment of speaking
  3. Future events

 

We’ll dig into these later. First, let’s talk about formation. 

A cat looking at something with a scared expression.
Are you afraid of the Present Tense as much as this cat is? 😨

Formation of the Present Tense in the Serbian Language

Here’s the formula for building the present tense: 

the present stem + endings for the present tense

The Present Stem

So, what’s the present stem? The present stem is 3rd person singular in the present tense. Of course, now you might ask if you need to know the present tense to identify the stem. If that’s the case, what’s the point of this formula? Your questions are valid. So how can you overcome this hurdle?

Naturally, when you open a dictionary, you’ll find infinitive forms of verbs. Unfortunately, these alone can’t help you form the present tense. That’s why it’s a good idea to get a dictionary that contains both the infinitive and the present form of verbs. Let’s see a few examples:

Infinitive

Present stem 

Sentence

raditi (to work)

radi-

Radim svaki dan.

(I work every day.)

ići (to go)

ide-

Idemo u školu.

(We go to school.)

At this point, you probably wonder how to turn the stem into the present form. That’s where the present tense endings come in. 

Present Tense Endings

Here are the endings for the present tense:

 

singular

plural

1. 

-m

-mo

2.

-te

3.

/

-e/-u/-ju

So, let’s see how the endings work in an example. To demonstrate, we’ll use the verb čitati (to read). Firstly, we need to determine the present stem, and in this case, it’s čita-.

 

singular

plural

1. 

čitam

čitamo

2.

čitaš

čitate

3.

čita

čitaju

This looks easy, but how do you choose the correct ending for the 3rd person plural? It may seem arbitrary, but luckily that’s not the case. The last letter of the 3rd person singular will tell you which ending to use. 

3rd per. sing. -e……….3rd per. pl. -u

3rd per. sing. -i………..3rd per. pl. -e

3rd per. sing. -a……….3rd per. pl. -ju

For instance:

On ide. (He goes.)

Oni idu. (they go.)

On radi. (He works.)

Oni rade. (they work.)

On čeka. (He’s waiting.)

Oni čekaju. (They’re waiting.)

Finally, you know all the rules. But what about the exceptions? To be fair, if there were none, it wouldn’t be Serbian. So here we go: 

Exception 1: hteti and moći 

Hteti (to want) and moći (to be able to) are the only verbs that don’t end with -m  in the 1st person singular. Instead, they end with -u: hoću and mogu

Exception 2: changing the infinitive stem

Soon you’ll notice that forming the Present tense is not always only about adding the endings. Many verbs will have their suffixes replaced or some consonants changed due to different alternations. This is a whole new topic (that requires a separate blog post), but let us show you this with just a couple of examples:

a) verbs with the suffixes –ova/-ava/-iva in infinitive will have these suffixes replaced in their Present forms, for instance:

putovati: (ja) putujem, (oni) putuju;    kupovati: (ja) kupujem, (oni) kupuju;

davati: (ja) dajem, (oni) daju

posećivati: (ja) posećujem, (oni) posećuju

b) verbs that end with -e in the 3rd person singular will very often be the victims of an alternation. It sounds pretty bad, especially for a Serbian language learner, who has to remember what is going on in each of these verbs:

pisati: pišem

skakati: skačem

kazati: kažem

Pro tip: do not try to learn these alternations by heart – all the verbs in this group are irregular, which means that they do not follow a predictable pattern. The best way to remember them is to seek opportunities to use them actively, and after a while, you will even notice certain similarities among them.

A woman looking at a lap-top, biting a pencil.
Trying so hard to memorize all the exceptions in the Serbian language 😁

Negative Forms

Now that we got the main rules out of the way, negative forms will feel like a walk in the park. 

To make a negative form of the present tense, you only need to put ne (no) in front of the present tense verb. For example.

+ Spavam. (I’m sleeping.)

–  Ne spavam. (I’m not sleeping.)

+ On ide u šetnju. (He’s going for a walk.)

– On ne ide u šetnju. (He isn’t going for a walk.)

Simple, right? Still, there are a few exceptions. But, there always are. 

Four verbs are slightly different. These are:

  • Neću (I don’t want)
  • Nisam (I’m not)
  • Nemoj (Don’t)
  • Nemam (I don’t have)

As you can see, with these four verbs, ne is merged with the verb. 

Interrogative form

While the negative form is simple, the interrogative form is even easier. All you need to do is add “da li” at the beginning of the sentence. 

 

+ Ideš na posao. (You’re going to work.)

? Da li ideš na posao? (Are you going to work?)

 

+ Tvoja sestra lepo peva. (Your sister sings well.)

? Da li tvoja sestra lepo peva? (Does your sister sing well?)

How to Use the Present Tense

As you know by now, the present tense is extremely useful. Just by mastering this one tense, you’ll be able to express a variety of ideas in Serbian. So, let’s see how we can use it.

1. Habitual actions

Firstly, you can use prezent to discuss recurring or habitual actions or occurrences. In this respect, it functions similarly to the present simple tense in English. For example:

Idem u muzej svaki dan. (I go to the museum every day.) 

Obično jedem zdravu hranu. (I usually eat healthy food.)

Moja sestra često ide u kupovinu. (My sister often goes shopping.)

2. Actions occurring at the moment of speaking

Another way to use this tense is similar to the present continuous tense in English. In other words, you can use it to talk about things happening at the moment of speaking. Here are a few examples:

Sada čitam knjigu. (Now I’m reading a book.)

Mačka spava na drvetu. (A cat is sleeping in the tree.)

Moje sestra pije pivo, a ja pijem sok. (My sister is drinking beer, and I’m drinking juice.)

3. Future events

Although prezent implies…well, present, it can also express future events. When we discuss fixed schedules, appointments, or plans, this tense gets the job done. For instance:

Čas srpskog počinje u 8 ujutru. (The Serbian language class starts at 8 am.)

U nedelju idemo na žurku. (We’re going to go to a party on Sunday.)

Pijemo kafu sutra? (Are we having a coffee tomorrow?)

People dancing and splashing colors.
U nedelju idemo na žurku.

Practice Makes Perfect

We might not have present simple tense in Serbian, but prezent is amazingly simple now that you know how to form it and use it. So, before you move on to the future or past tenses, make sure you thoroughly understand this tense. Of course, the best way to master the present tense in the Serbian language is through practice. As they say, practice makes perfect. 


And what better way to practice than with our experienced teachers, who will answer any questions and help you get the hang of prezent? So, book a lesson and tackle Serbian grammar in a fun and easy way! 

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