Top 17 Serbian Phrases We Need in English

Scrabble letters that spell out: Choose your words.

Imagine you had the superpower of finding the right words in every situation. Wouldn’t that be a lifesaver? Unfortunately, superpowers aren’t real, and you’ve probably experienced coming up with the perfect thing to say when it was already too late. But who hasn’t? On top of that, it’s even harder when you’re speaking a foreign language. Are you often frustrated by the absence of the perfect Serbian phrases when you need them most?

The struggle is real. Luckily Serbian is a rich language brimming with colorful phrases that perfectly capture emotions and situations. So, here’s a list of the top 17 Serbian phrases we need in English. Take a look!

Serbian Phrases We Need in English

1. Našla krpa zakrpu

A rag found a patch.

So what does it mean? We use this phrase to comment on a relationship between two people we deem unworthy. For example, if an exceptionally annoying person marries an equally annoying individual, this expression perfectly encapsulates the feelings of everyone around them. In other words, they deserve each other.

2. Lepa reč gvozdena vrata otvara

A kind word opens an iron door.

This proverb suggests that you can achieve anything by being kind and polite to people, especially if you need a favor. On the other hand, if you’re rude or aggressive, you’ll only antagonize others. As they say, you’ll catch more flies with honey.

3. Nema ‘leba bez motike

A man working on a farm with a hoe
Nema leba bez motike 🍞

There’s no bread without a hoe.

The meaning is simple – there’s no success without hard work. Admittedly, hard work isn’t a guarantee of success and wealth, but this phrase is a handy comment when you talk to a lazy friend lamenting their misfortune.

4. Ispeci pa reci

First, bake it, then say it.

When your friend is excitedly telling you a story, but it’s so incoherent you have no idea what it’s about, it’s time to say: “Ispeci pa reci.” First, think about it, then say it.

5. Za dobrim konjem prašina se diže

Dust rises behind a good horse.

Naturally, this has absolutely nothing to do with horses. This phrase comments on the tendency to gossip and spread rumors about successful people. So if your friend is upset by others talking behind their back, you can reassure them with this phrase.

6. Ispod Mire sto đavola vire

From under Mira (female name), a hundred devils are peeking.

You’re probably thinking: “Who the heck is Mira?” The truth is, Mira sounds similar to – mirna, which means quiet or peaceful. So when someone pretends to be nice but, given a chance, will show their true colors, hit them with this phrase. Some would even say that the people who pretend to be nice are the worst. But we’ll let you be the judge of that.

A close-up of a horse from a funny angle
Za dobrom konjem prašina se diže 🐴

7. Otvori četvore oči

Open four eyes.

Don’t worry, Serbs aren’t born with a secret pair of eyes they can open at will. It just means you should be extremely careful and vigilant. For example, if your young child is going to school alone for the first time, you can tell them: “Otvori četvore oči.” After all, it’s better to keep our eyes peeled

8. Ko pita ne skita

Those who ask don’t wonder.

Quite literally, if you ask someone for the way, you won’t get lost. However, this phrase is helpful in a variety of situations. For instance, if you don’t know how to finish your task at work, it’s better to ask someone for help than make a mistake and get in trouble.

9. Ko drugome jamu kopa sam u nju upada

Those who dig a hole for others end up falling into it themselves.

In other words, if you’re trying to trick or hurt someone, you might fall into a similar trap. As they say,  if you live by the sword you’ll die by the sword.

10. Oteto prokleto

Stolen things are damned.

This pearl of wisdom suggests that if you gain something by theft or force, it’ll bring you misfortune. By this logic, if you steal from others, what you gain won’t make you happy.

11. Fali mu jedna daska u glavi

He is one plank short in his head.

Can you already guess what this one means? If you want to say someone is behaving oddly, you can say: “Fali mu jedna daska u glavi.” In other words, he has a screw loose. However, be careful since, in some contexts, this phrase can be insulting. Still, it’s alright to use it jokingly if you’re sure it won’t hurt anyone.

12. Zmija u džepu

Ima zmiju u džepu. Nikad neće da plati ništa 😡

A snake in the pocket.

We all have that friend who never reaches for their wallet but doesn’t mind sponging off others. Naturally, you start to wonder if your friend fears putting their hand in the pocket. Is there a snake inside?

13. Čist račun duga ljubav

Clean tab, long-lasting love.

While generosity is essential, avoid borrowing and lending money to friends. Although sharing is caring, owing money or being owed will lead to resentment in the long run. As they say, friends and money don’t mix.

14. Vuk dlaku menja, ali ćud nikada

Wolf changes fur, but never character.

We all know those people who, after committing crimes or behaving immorally, supposedly change their ways and seek forgiveness. Yet, it’s obviously fake repentance. After a while, they repeat their wrongdoings. You might want to shrug your shoulders and conclude: “Vuk dlaku menja, ali ćud nikada.”

15. Izbirač naiđe na otirač

A chooser finds a doormat.

Do you have a friend who is so choosy they can never settle for a partner? Each time they have a date, they’ll find something to complain about. After a while, all the quality people are in relationships or already married. You might warn your friend that, eventually, they’ll have to settle for anyone: “Izbirač naiđe na otirač.”

16. Nema za Marka kape

No hat fits Marko.

Here’s another phrase for choosers. Imagine a friend asks you to go shopping together. She needs a new bag, so you visit every store in the city. Hours later, you’re exhausted but your friend still hasn’t found the perfect bag. You might conclude with resentment: “Nema za Marka kape.”

17. Je l’ igra mečka?

Šta je? Je l’ igra mečka?🐻

Is a bear dancing?

Imagine you’re in a public place with a friend. Suddenly, your friend stumbles and falls. As it tends to happen, a crowd gathers to stare at your injured friend, yet no one offers to help. Naturally, you’ll want to scold that same crowd: “Šta je? Je l’ igra mečka?” (What? What are you staring at?)

Learn More Serbian Phrases We Need in English

They say actions speak louder than words. Sure, there’s truth to that, but as we saw, words have something to say, too. Knowing the perfect phrase for each situation will help you communicate with precision and less effort. On top of that, you’ll impress any local you talk to next time you’re in Serbia. If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

However, this is just a quick peek into the wealth of the Serbian language. Of course, there’s a plethora of Serbian phrases we need in English. So, if you’re eager to enrich your phrase arsenal, book our online lessons and learn everything you need to be a confident Serbian speaker.

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