Slovenian Grammar and Culture: A Quick and Funny Introduction

Slovenian Grammar

I gathered together some interesting facts about Slovenian grammar and culture, to bring you closer to this beautiful language.

Let’s begin:

  • Slovenian is older than the country of Slovenia, which was created in 1991. The oldest writings in Slovenian are Brižinski spomeniki (Freising Manuscripts), which are more than 1,000 years old. They are also the first Latin-script in Slavic language.
  • Our language has three special letters (known also in other Slavic languages), Č, Š and Ž. We pronounce them like, Č as in the word cherry, Š as show, and Ž as measure.
  • Slovenian is a phonetic language (we mostly speak as we write, this means, one letter-one sound). It is similar to other Slavic languages and Italian.
  • Slovenian is a romantic language: we have dual (in addition to singular and plural) for referring to two people or objects. Using dual, it is clear how many people you refer or speak to.
Slovenian grammar: dual

Onadva sta zaljubljena. (They both are in love.)

  • Slovenians are happy if somebody try to speak their language. But as we also like foreign languages, don’t be surprised if they will answer you back in English. I am very proud when I hear some foreigners trying to speak Slovene, so don’t be shy to try!
  • Slovenian is a polite language: we have two versions to addressing someone (formal and informal). A formal form (‘vikanje’) is used when addressing adults, people you don’t know, in business situations, younger people to older ones. A formal form expresses respect and it is more polite. A formal form first appeared in French (‘vous’). We present it the same as French people, using the 2nd person plural, ‘vi‘. An informal form (‘tikanje’) is used when addressing family members, friends, people you know well, children, young people between themselves. If you have doubts which form to use, I suggest you to use the formal one. You can’t miss. Myself, I usually address in a formal way, and then some people tell me not to use the formal way, because they feel old. But anyway, it’s an expression of politeness if using it.
Slovenian Phrase English Translation Use
Kako vam je ime? What’s your name? formal
Kako ti je ime? What’s your name? informal

The polite formal version is sometimes written with a capital letter, ‘Vi’, which expresses really extreme respect, and it’s surprisingly often used.

  • Good news, Slovenian has only three tenses, past tense, present tense and future tense. In the past it had four tenses, including past perfect tense. Nowadays we don’t use it anymore. It appears just in the literature. Past and future tenses are simple to build.
  • Past tense: jaz sem delal (I worked)
  • Present tense: jaz delam (I work)
  • Future tense: jaz bom delal (I will work)

Past and future participles are the same (‘delal‘). In present tense we conjugate verbs. In past and future tenses we conjugate auxiliary verb ‘to be’ and add a participle, which also expresses a gender and number.

  • Slovenian has 3 genders, masculine, feminine and neuter. The neuter gender is known also in German (article ‘das‘). In Slovenian we recognize it because of the -o and -e endings of the nouns.
    • jabolko (an apple)
  • Slovenian has no articles! So there is no confusion as to which article to put before a noun. The answer is none.
  • Slovenian supports gender equality. As well as the masculine form, there is a special form to express the feminine gender, recognisable by its -a ending (verbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns). Almost all the professions are in the feminine form, too.
    • Feminine: Rada bi šla na morje. (I would like to go to the seaside.)
    • Masculine: Rad bi šel na morje. (I would like to go to the seaside.)

For the end, I saved a hard nut to crack, cases.

I won’t lie, they are not so simple, also Slovenians sometimes incorrectly decline nouns (mostly in spoken language). But anyway, we will understand you in every case, even if you don’t decline properly. Cases are known also in other languages, such as Latin, Sanskrit, Russian (and other Slavic languages) Icelandic, Finnish. So, if you come from any of these language groups, you probably know what I am talking about. In one of the previous blog posts we introduced an example of all 18 variations of the word ‘frog’.

Here is an example of a declension of the word ‘hiša’, ‘house’, in singular, feminine.

Case Declension
nominative hiša
genitive hiše
dative hiši
accusative hišo
locative pri hiši
instrumental s hišo
Brižinski spomeniki - the oldest writing in Slovenian

Brižinski spomeniki – the oldest writing in Slovenian

Slovenian Culture

  • When they meet, Slovenians usually don’t kiss and hug (maybe just some people, usually young ones). Hand shaking is expected. Yes, Slovenians are more reserved about this, but if you come from some more temperamental culture, don’t worry, I am sure they won’t shrink away, if you’ll try to kiss them on cheeks. It would be nice to be more open about this.
  • Regarding gestures, Slovenians are more stiff, they are not lively with their hands, like Italians, for example. We are considered to be calmer, reserved and polite nation. You probably will not see Slovenians dancing on the streets.
  • Our speech is neither loud nor too quiet, something in the middle.
  • Don’t worry, you won’t be a witness of a culture shock, when you will come in Slovenia. Maybe it can be a shock just to those, who are used to more temperamental environment.
  • Slovenia is considered to be a safe country, without a fear you can promenade in the middle of the night on the streets. Because of the empty streets at late night, Ljubljana is called also ‘zaspana Ljubljana‘, ‘sleepy Ljubljana‘.
  • Don’t be surprised if you visit someone at home, and they give you slippers to put on. We like to keep our apartments clean.
  • Also, don’t be surprised if somebody invites you to lunch and you share a salad from the same bowl. I know that foreigners laugh at this, but it’s a Slovenian feature. Definitely we save time when washing the dishes. But the things are changing here, too, I prefer to have my own bowl, so nobody can snatch my favourite morsel of salad.
  • In Slovenia nodding means ‘yes’ (‘ja‘) and shaking the head means ‘no’ (‘ne‘).
  • You have an opportunity to practice Slovenian also while watching foreign films, which are not dubbed. We have subtitles.
  • A phrase ‘Na zdravje!‘ means ‘Cheers!‘, and ‘Bless you!‘, literally ‘To your health!
  • And something about romantic matters: giving compliments is not usual among Slovenians (this does not apply to everybody, there are exceptions), but they like to hear them. Well, if somebody accepts and thanks you for a compliment, depends on the person. You can’t miss by using a magic word ‘Hvala‘, ‘Thank you‘.
  • Other magic words are also ‘Prosim‘, ‘Please‘ or ‘You are welcome‘ or ‘Hello‘ (when picking up the phone), and ‘Oprostite‘, ‘Excuse me‘.
  • Slovenians are usually punctual considering business meetings and also private meetings. I don’t suggest to be late on a date, you can make a bad impression.
  • In my opinion, we are hospitable with our compatriots and foreigners.

Source: Pocket Slovene (Žepna slovenščina)

Maybe you heard some other stereotypes about Slovenia or Slovenians. I will be glad to hear some you might have heard of too. You can share them in the comments below. 🙂

Published on August 5, 2013